What to know – before the show!
While enjoying a nice meal in his home in the Shire, home of the Hobbits, Bilbo Baggins hears a knock at the door. Gandalf, a well-known wizard throughout Middle-earth, enters much to Bilbo’s confusion. Suddenly, more knocks occur, and twelve dwarves are ushered into in the Hobbit’s home. Having been told by Gandalf that Bilbo is a talented thief, the dwarves recount the story of Smaug the dragon killing their people and stealing all their treasure. They ask Bilbo to join them on their quest to return to the Lonely Mountain to reclaim their rightful belongings, to which Bilbo reluctantly agrees.
As the group’s journey begins, Bilbo initially struggles with adjusting to the ruggedness of the outdoors. He keeps a summary of their adventure in his trusty journal. One evening, the group loses their ponies and food while resting in the forest. They soon spot some trolls gathered around a fire and the dwarves instruct Bilbo to steal their food. When he tries taking the food, the trolls catch him and attempt to eat him, but Gandalf comes to the rescue and defeats the trolls.
Days later, Bilbo and the dwarves are in a cave when Thorin’s (the leader of the dwarves) blade begins glowing, signifying that goblins are near. Thorin fights the goblins and the travelers escape. Bilbo later awakens with a pain in his head thinking he has accidentally run into a tree during his escape. Bilbo finds himself in a dark place and feels around on his hands and knees to get an idea of where he is. As he does so, he finds a ring. Bilbo then hears an echo of another creature’s voice that is soon revealed to be to be Gollum. Bilbo asks Gollum for help getting out, but Gollum says the Hobbit must beat him at a riddle game. The two recite riddles to each other until Bilbo ultimately tricks Gollum. Gollum then grows upset upon realizing that Bilbo has the ring. Bilbo, unsure of what the ring does, puts it on, and he becomes invisible, allowing him to escape by following Gollum out of the cave.
Bilbo rejoins the group as Gandalf leaves, stating he has business elsewhere. Weeks later, the dwarves and Bilbo find themselves in Mirkwood Forest where they stray from the path for food. The Wood-elves in the area imprison the dwarves, but Bilbo remains free because of the invisibility granted to him when he puts on the ring. Bilbo follows his companions and the elves to the prison. After some time, he comes up with a plan to hide himself and the dwarves in some old barrels that get dumped in a nearby stream. They escape and make it to Lonely Mountain, where Smaug is hiding with the treasure. The elves, having figured out how their prisoners managed to escape, arrive at the mountain as well and demand their treasure. Thorin argues but eventually agrees when Gandalf comes back and convinces him to give the elves their treasure. Bilbo and Thorin work together to defeat Smaug by striking him in his chest. Once everyone gets their treasure, Bilbo happily makes his way back to the Shire.
Middle-earth is one of the most famous fantasy worlds in all of literature. There are Hobbits, trolls, and talking trees called Ents. But Middle-earth isn’t the only fantasy realm your students might be familiar with. J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Hobbit, was also close friends with C.S. Lewis, creator of the land of Narnia from The Chronicles of Narnia series.
Below is a list of some of the most popular fantasy worlds found in children’s literature:
- Middle-earth (The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien)
- Narnia (The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis)
- The Wizarding World (Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling)
- Neverland (Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie)
- Wonderland (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll)
- Oz (The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum)
Divide students into small groups and assign each group one of the fantasy world. Have them conduct research on their assigned fantasy world. When was the world created (or when was the book published)? What kind of creatures and interesting characters can be found there? Is there a map to show what the world looks like? Is there some sort of magic? Once each group has completed their research, have them present their findings to one another. Ask groups to compare and contrast the worlds. Are the same creatures found in multiple places and do they act or look the same? What physical landforms are similar (e.g. – which realms have forests vs. which ones have mountains)? Which worlds would the students rather live in or explore?
KAS: C.4.5; C.4.6; L.4.3.a
The Journey Begins
Bilbo Baggins keeps a journal during his travels to the Lonely Mountain. In each entry he writes, Bilbo discusses the events that have taken place and the emotions he feels as he works with his companions. Eventually, Bilbo turns his journal entries into a book about his adventures. Have your students keep a journal of their lives for a week. Each day, set aside time for your students to write about their day. Did anything exciting happen during recess? How did they feel about the test they took in math class? What dangers await them when they must journey to the cafeteria for lunch? Allow students to write as realistically or imaginatively as they choose. Perhaps they daydreamed about discovering a mystical world or maybe they just want to write about the funnily shaped rock they found on the playground. At the end of the week, let students share their favorite adventure they journaled about. For added fun, turn their journals into a book like Bilbo’s. Students can name their memoirs and decorate the cover.
KAS: RI.4.4; C.4.2.c; C.4.3.b; C.4.3.c
Bilbo Baggins is just a humble Hobbit from the Shire, but as he goes along his journey, he meets a plethora of characters of varying species and sizes. Have your students move about the classroom as different creatures found in Middle-earth using the descriptions below. Encourage students to think about how the features mentioned in each creature’s description would affect how they move. How does having large feet influence how fast a Hobbit runs? How does having large wings affect how a dragon turns around?
- Hobbits: A race known as “halflings” because of their short stature. They are roughly half the size of a normal human. They have curly hair on their heads and they don’t wear shoes on their leathery feet. Hobbits don’t care for adventure but rather enjoy simple things such as farming, eating, and socializing. They live to be about 100 years old.
- Dwarves: Dwarves are short, rustic, and strong. Dwarves are secretive, love mining for stones and gems, and can live up to 250 years.
- Wizards: Supernatural and angelic spirits that outwardly resemble humans. They possess great physical and mental power. Wizards are wise but can be corrupted by power and evil. They wear long robes that showcase a wizard’s signature color.
- Trolls: Dwelling in the Misty Mountains and Mordor, trolls dislike the sun and some turn into stone if exposed to sunlight. Depending on the type of troll, they aren’t all that clever though they are brutish. Trolls love to eat , have terrible table manners, and often fight amongst each other.
- Dragons: Dragons in Tolkien’s works have four legs and can either be flightless or winged. Some dragons are capable of breathing fire, though dragon-fire isn’t hot enough to melt the One Ring. Dragons have a love of treasure, especially gold. They are intelligent, incredibly cunning, have great physical strength, and possess a hypnotic power called “dragon-spell.” Dragons are extremely powerful and dangerous.
- Elves: Elves are tall, fair, and fine-featured. They are quite smart and hold themselves with pride. Elves are very agile, strong, and most importantly, immortal. They do not get sick. They often walk without leaving any trace they had been there.
- Ents: An ancient race of tree-like creatures. They are tall creatures that often resemble the trees they looked after. Their skin is tough and very much like wood, but they are also vulnerable to fire and chopping from axes. They are patient and cautious. Ents can tear apart rock, but they only use their full strength when provoked.
For an added challenge, have students determine how each creature sounds. Allow students to practice raising or lowering their pitch, varying the tempo at which they speak, or changing their inflection to give words different meaning.
KAS: TH:Cr1.1.4.c; TH:Pr4.1.4.b
Brought to Life – Adapting Middle Earth
J.R.R. Tolkien may have created one of the most mystical and enchanting fantasy worlds our real world has ever seen. In fact, Tolkien is often referred to as “the father of high fantasy.” Middle-earth is a land brimming with colorful characters of varying species, vast, impressive landscapes, and, of course, a desperate fight between good and evil. Who would have thought that a story filled with action, humor, and a morals-driven game of tug-of-war would be the legacy of a simple English author? But that’s exactly the legacy Tolkien created for himself. From the humble beginnings of the Shire to the expansive linguistics of an invented elvish language and its many dialects, Tolkien, Middle-earth, and the stories that take place within have become the pinnacles of fantasy literature. The popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien and his works aren’t just limited to books, though. Keep reading below to find out how Tolkien has managed to stay relevant, even after all this time.
On the Page
In 1937, Tolkien’s children’s novel The Hobbit was published to critical acclaim. The book introduces readers to Middle-earth and Bilbo Baggins, a simple Hobbit who reluctantly joins a quest to reclaim the lost treasure of Lonely Mountain, home of the dwarves. The Hobbit is followed by The Lord of the Rings trilogy which continues world-building and introduces Bilbo’s young cousin, Frodo, who is tasked with destroying the One Ring that Bilbo acquires in the prequel.
The Hobbit has never been out of print and has been adapted for a variety of media including stage, screen, radio, and video games. Go to any popular culture convention like San Diego Comic Con or Dragon Con in Atlanta, and you’ll see fans of all ages in cosplay running and attending panels all about the lore and appreciation of Tolkien and the world he created.
LCT’s production of The Hobbit utilizes the dramatization by Patricia Gray. J.R.R. Tolkien authorized Gray’s adaptation in 1968, 30 years after the book was first published. When playwrights adapt literature for the stage, they often have to make changes to ensure the most interesting story is being told while also keeping in mind what can and can’t be portrayed onstage. In the case of Gray’s adaptation, certain plot points were removed while others were adjusted. For instance, Thorin is given the role of slaying Smaug, a task that was completed by a character named Bard in the original source material. Patricia Gray’s script ends after the defeat of Smaug but doesn’t include the Battle of the Five Armies.
The Hobbit has several other notable stage adaptations including musicals, a one-man production, and Christine Anketell’s puppet adaptation done in the style of Japanese Bunraku puppets.
Middle-earth has also been seen on both big and little screens. The Hobbit was first animated for television in 1967 and again in 1977. More recently, The Hobbit was adapted into a trilogy of live-action films directed by Peter Jackson, the same director who directed the famous live-action adaptation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy (released from 2001-2003). The three films in The Hobbit trilogy include The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014).
Much like adapting literature for the stage, adapting for the screen means ensuring the most interesting story is being told. However, more liberties can be taken in a film due to increased budgets (the trilogy’s budget was about $700-$745 million) and time to tell the story. The original source material was just 300 pages in length (about eight hours for the average reader), but the live-action films divided the story into 3 movies with each film running anywhere from two and a half to nearly three hours apiece.
And starting in fall 2022, Amazon will be releasing the television series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power which takes place thousands of years before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It’s clear from the wealth of adaptations that even after 85 years, the love for Middle-earth isn’t going anywhere. With so much to explore and different ways to present Tolkien’s stories, the adventures of Hobbits, dwarves, and elves alike will continue to be passed down for generations to come.
How to grow – after the show!
Plot Structure: Sequence of Events
The story of The Hobbit is full of adventure. See if your class can put the plot into the correct sequence. Write the key plot points below onto cards or pieces of paper. Then allow students to organize the events in the correct order. After the events have been properly organized, divide students into groups of 4-5 and assign each group a few of the events. Have them create tableaux or frozen images of their plot points using their bodies. Allow time for the groups to practice their frozen images then present them to the class by calling out the events in order.
- Bilbo agrees to go on an adventure with the dwarves.
- The ponies and food are lost.
- Bilbo finds the ring.
- Gandalf enters Bilbo’s home.
- Bilbo is separated from the group.
- The trolls catch Bilbo.
- Bilbo comes up with a plan to help the dwarves escape the elves’ prison.
- The dwarves enter Bilbo’s home and talk about a quest.
- Gollum is tricked by a riddle allowing Bilbo to escape.
- Gandalf comes back to help Bilbo defeat the trolls.
- Thorin works with Bilbo to slay Smaug.
- The elves capture the dwarves.
- Thorin agrees to give the elves the treasure that belongs to them.
- The dwarves fight the goblins.
KAS: C.8.3.d; TH: Cr2.1.6.b; TH: Cr2.1.8.b; TH: Cr.3.1.7.b
Reading the Map
As Bilbo and his dwarf companions traveled to the Lonely Mountain, they used a map to help guide them. While today we have technology like Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to help us get from point A to point B, that technology is based off the use of maps that show us where things are located and what features can be found nearby. Divide students into small groups and give each group a map of a state in the US. Have students locate different features of the map using the list below:
- Circle a lake.
- Highlight a road that takes you from one city to the next.
- Put a triangle around a mountain (if applicable).
- Circle a city that contains the name of a person.
- Trace a river.
- Put a square around a park.
You can add more ideas if you’d like. For an added challenge, time each group to see how quickly they can identify the listed features.
KAS: 7.G.GR.2, 3.G.GR.1, 4.G.GR.1
Create Your Own Fantasy Land
The Hobbit is set in Middle Earth which is split into different regions. Hobbits live in the Shire and the dwarves ancient home is Lonely Mountain. During their adventure, they pass through other lands, such as the Mirkwood Forest. Each area is home to various types of mythological creatures. Now it is time to create your own fantasy land.
Draw a map of your fantasy land. Are there mountains? Rivers? Trees? Remember to draw a compass, so we know which way is North! You can also draw what your creatures look like and provide a short description of what they eat, daily activities, and personalities.
Write a report about your fantasy land. Describe what someone would see when they enter that area. Be sure to mention any major landmarks such as mountains, bodies of waters, or buildings. Describe the creatures in this area. Do they live in cozy cottages, like Hobbits? Or do they prefer to sleep in a cave?
KAS: C.6.3.a-c, C.9-10.3.a-c, VA:Cr2.3.6, C.5.3.a-c
If you like stories of fantasy and the hero’s journey, you might also like these books and plays…
The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
Young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task after his elderly cousin Bilbo entrusts the Ring to his care.
The Secret of Courage adapted by Laurie Brooks
This play uses fantasy to talk about friendship, courage, and imagination.
Joan: The Girl of Arc by Darrah Cloud
Joan hears a voice telling her to go to war for France. Can she help get France to victory? What happens when others question her about these voices?
Sea Girl by Francis Elitzig
Seagirl must find how to open an enchanted gate that has blocked all water from the river from flowing to the valley.
The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black
What will happen when the Grace children discover the world of the faeries who do not want to be found?