Teaching Students About Tolkien’s Death

J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of the iconic fantasy novels “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, has left an indelible mark on literature and culture at large. Tolkien’s works have been adapted into films, inspired countless imitators, and influenced everything from heavy metal music to video games. Despite this enduring legacy, however, few students are taught about Tolkien’s death, which occurred on September 2nd, 1973.

What can we learn from teaching our students about Tolkien’s death? To start, it can help us understand the relationship between a writer and their work. Tolkien was famously reticent about discussing his personal life, preferring to let his stories speak for themselves. However, his death can remind us that even the most private and reserved figures are mortal beings and that they leave behind loved ones, as well as a legacy.

Teaching students about Tolkien’s death can also be a way of opening a discussion about how we interpret and appreciate texts. Tolkien was an academic and a linguist as well as a writer, and his work reflects his deep knowledge of ancient and medieval literature, mythology, and languages. Helping students understand how these influences shaped Tolkien’s writing can deepen their appreciation for his work and inspire them to explore similar sources themselves.

Finally, studying Tolkien’s death can be a way of discussing the ways in which we remember and commemorate historical figures. Tolkien’s work has had a profound impact on popular culture, and his death is an opportunity to reflect on the ways in which the public has honored his life and work. From annual Tolkien conferences to the recent creation of a monument to Tolkien and his wife Edith in their hometown of Birmingham, England, there are many ways in which Tolkien’s memory has been celebrated and preserved.

Ultimately, studying Tolkien’s death can help students appreciate not just his work, but the way in which literature and culture more broadly are shaped by the lives and deaths of their creators. By reflecting on Tolkien’s legacy, students can learn how to better appreciate, interpret, and enjoy the works of other writers both in and out of the classroom.  

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