Talking Tolkien

Students journey to Middle-earth at Cullman Middle School

Students at Cullman Middle School created projects as part of a deep dive into J.R.R Tolkien's The Hobbit. The library team transformed the library into its own version of Middle-Earth. (Photo courtesy of Cullman City Schools)

CULLMAN, Ala. – It might be pushing 85 years old, but J.R.R Tolkien’s classic novel “The Hobbit” is still finding new fans — and just found plenty more at Cullman Middle School.

To give her English language arts classes a bit of fantasy flair this year, CMS seventh grade teacher Katie McGee decided to literally bring the world of Middle-Earth to life as they wrap up a run of four novels students have been reading this year.

McGee divided her classes into the “five armies” from Tolkien’s Middle-earth saga, with groups for goblins, wargs, men, elves and dwarves. The different groups then had their own “battle” for the mythical “Arkenstone” — the coveted gem the heroes are searching for in Tolkien’s 1937 novel. However, instead of on an epic battlefield, this war was raged in the CMS library, which was decorated and transformed into a fantasy world all its own.

“Each student had a specific job. For example, the speaker was to write a speech from the perspective of a villain of their choice, and another had to make an advertisement that included ethos, pathos and logos to persuade the audience to join their army, and so forth,” McGee explained. “I really wanted to find a new way for students to experience Tolkien’s incredible use of descriptive language; to discuss themes, symbols, archetypes and the hero’s journey structure of the book. The day after this ‘Journey to Middle Earth,’ they began writing their own creative narratives.”

Students also created art projects including hand-drawn and printed pieces from the book, as well as detailed digital presentations to accompany their projects. McGee said students were so engaged they literally ran out of time every day digging into the presentations and projects.

“All of the kids were amazing and just loved it,” she added. “It’s always amazing to see how creative these students can be. One brought her ukulele and sang a song from the book to her own tune. Another student wowed us with his own use of descriptive and figurative language in his villain speech as a goblin. Just brilliant, creative ideas.”

Cullman Middle School Librarian Tasha Meyer and library aide Deann Schafer brought the little corner of Middle-earth to life, building sets, creating costumes and hanging scenery to transform the library into its own fantasy world.

“We decided on five different sets: a Hobbit house, the Misty Mountains, Rivendell, Lake Town and The Lonely Mountain. The Lonely Mountain was my favorite — we created a huge mountain with an old pageant backdrop,” Meyer explained. “I painted a dragon and we used a students’ salt lamp as the Arkenstone.  We used whatever we could find. We brought things from home, painted backdrops, just whatever we could do to bring it to life. These are the types of projects these students will always remember, and we want to make it special.”