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Literary Lessons from The Lord of the Rings Review by Debra Brinkman Diane Wheeler and Kate Kessler

Amelia Harper
HomeScholar Books Publications
2311 Harrison Road
Nashville, NC 27856
(252) 459-9279

Literary Lessons from The Lord of the Rings answered a huge need in my homeschool this year. This full-year English course, suitable for high school or middle school, uses the Lord of the Rings trilogy as the basis, but it most certainly branches off from there. My three teen boys loved The Hobbit, and have seen all of the Peter Jackson movies. To say they were enthused about their English class "making" them read the books is a bit of an understatement. This curriculum thrilled them all.

Most of the course follows the same basic format:

  • Read a chapter of the book.
  • Fill out a Study Guide, which is a basic summary of the chapter.
  • Do some vocabulary exercises based on vocabulary from that chapter.
  • Read "Additional Notes" (more on that below).
  • Work through some comprehension questions.

After every three or four chapters, there are vocabulary quizzes. At the end of each "book" there are review worksheets and a test. (I should note that each title in the trilogy is actually broken into two "books" so there are a total of six "books" in the entire work.)

Once they student gets through a "book," there are also unit studies to work through before moving into the next section of the trilogy.

Since I have three boys doing this study in grades 7, 9, and 11, we do much of this together. The boys read (or listen and read, in the case of my severely dyslexic son) the chapter on their own, and then the three of them get together to work through the study guide, vocabulary, and additional notes. Finally, we all get together to discuss the comprehension questions as a group.

Those discussions are generally the highlight of our day. Some of the questions are pretty straight-forward, serving to assure me that the guys have actually read the chapter. Many of the questions allow us room to debate and explore various issues. Many of those relate to "literary analysis" concepts: theme, foreshadowing, conflict, imagery, and so on.

Unlike how their mother behaved in high school, my teens actually enjoy these discussions. "Lit Analysis" isn't intimidating nonsense. We use it to discuss big issues. A question about whether Frodo is a realist or a pessimist, for instance, was revisited for days afterwards as we discussed the importance of attitude in not just the lives of those in Middle Earth, but in our own. Literature is a great way to talk about what makes a person a hero, to talk about temptations faced, or to talk about the importance of making good choices. This is real life stuff.

As much as we loved the Lord of the Rings books themselves, the unit studies are even better. The first couple, Exploring the Author and Exploring Language, were good, as were the studies on setting and map work. It was the next unit study, though, that helped me to see just how in-depth this course really is.

Unit Study Five, Exploring Epics, brought so much fascinating information to the study. This study covered what makes an epic an epic, and goes through quite a bit about The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid. The Unit Studies have plenty of reading material, and there are also worksheets, quizzes, and additional projects. The discussion questions were simply fantastic. My kids were able to take off with the questions and apply the "epic" qualities to so many other settings. From Star Trek movies to fairy tales, my boys were making connections as to how these "epic literary conventions" work in today's storytelling.

We are just getting started with The Two Towers, but we are already looking forward to the Unit Studies on Beowulf, Monsters and Heroes, Poetry, Fantasy as Literature, Arthurian Romances, and the optional Unit Studies on Movies and the Classics, and Religious Elements. You can tell by the titles of these units that this study pulls in so much besides "just" The Lord of the Rings.

As the kids work through the materials, I am able to follow along with the Teacher's Edition. This includes answers to the daily work (which I find necessary!) and suggestions for written assignments. A suggested lesson plan is part of the Teacher's Edition, which we have tweaked to fit our family.

The only criticism I have had at this point is just that I have to get the student books away from my kids to know what they are covering in the "additional notes" sections. I try to start off our discussion time by asking what they learned from the notes, which helps.

What I really love is that by picking and choosing a bit with the assignments, I am easily able to make this a fun yet challenging seventh grade English class, a great study for my dyslexic early high school student, and an honors-level course for my upper high schooler. The best part, though, is all of the fabulous conversations I am having with my teens. That is worth every penny, and every minute.

Product review by Debra Brinkman, Assistant Director, The Schoolhouse Review Crew, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, February, 2014

Another review:

We Wheelers have a reputation in our circle of friends as Book People. Our decor is something between Henry Higgins' library and an warehouse, and we collect quotes about buying books instead of food and clothing. But, even in our stacks, there are some books that just rise to the top as all-time favorites. They are the stories that we want to hear over and over, and then we want to hear them again. For our family, The Lord of the Rings is on the top of that beloved pile. In fact, one of my all-time favorite family memories is the wintry night we read The Return of the Kingaround the fire pit in the garden. I can still see each child's face, caught in the firelight, eyes wide, imaginations ignited.

There are many joys in working for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, but finding others who are, shall we say, deeply interested in, or maybe more honestly, mutually obsessed by, J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy about Middle Earth has been one of the greatest. The staff member that leads the pack, and that takes "interest" to a new level, is the brilliant and witty Amelia Harper. Her crowning achievement is Literary Lessons from The Lord of the Rings, a complete literature curriculum for secondary level students.

In her introduction to students, Amelia writes: "You are about to embark upon a wonderful adventure. Not only will you be reading one of the greatest adventure stories ever written, but you will also be exploring the elements that make it such a great piece of writing. You will learn much about how the author got his ideas and how he crafted his words to make those ideas come alive. You will learn new techniques for understanding and appreciating all forms of literature." This is an accurate summary of this fantastic resource. Amelia starts with a story that promises to engage the most reluctant reader, and then provides background information, and assists students in examining traditional literary elements; this provides a multi-faceted reward. Not only will your students tackle Tolkien's trilogy, but they will also open doors to the understanding of the literature they read in the future.

The curriculum is divided into six books. Each section includes a summary page and vocabulary exercises, plus additional notes and comprehension questions. There are also three vocabulary review worksheets per book, offering students a chance to assess their understanding of the new words they are learning. Unit tests can be given at the end of each section, and they come complete with an answer key in the teacher's edition.

After each book in the curriculum, there is a unit study that provides a lesson. One of the lessons is on the life of Tolkien; another is on linguistics. Other topics include Middle-earth, exploring epics or the genre of fantasy or Arthurian romances, and the unifying elements of theme and motif. This is what integrates the study of The Lord of the Rings with literature in general; these unit studies will provide countless benefits for future literary endeavors. Each one offers suggested writing assignments.

As any good student of Tolkien can appreciate, there are very thorough appendices that provide extra studies on Movies and the Classics, Religious Elements, a Glossary and a Simple Dictionary of Literary Terms. Amelia has thought of everything you need to make literature studies a positive experience for your students.

There are two volumes - one for students and one for teachers. They are LARGE volumes, 623 and 738 pages respectively, so you know you are receiving something substantial. The teacher's edition not only provides answers to any quizzes and tests, but also learning objectives, and six pages of instructions for the teacher.

This can be a full-year literature course, or it can be more intensively studied in a semester. For further support, there are lesson plans available on the author's website at

As Amelia states in her Teacher's Introduction, "You may decide to let the student do most of the work himself and act only in the role of test administrator and paper-grader. Or you may choose to become completely involved in the process. Either way, I hope that you will find this study as interesting and informative for you as it is for your students. I truly hope that this will be LITERATURE YOU'LL LOVE." Ah, this enthusiasm of Mrs. Harper's really is contagious and can't help but provide hours of discussion, thinking and engaged imaginations for your secondary students.

My husband teaches literature for a living and has had many conversations with parents who find it difficult to teach literature on the high school level. Mrs. Harper has done the work for us, provided us with the information and background we may be lacking, and put it together in a way that is user-friendly and infused with the enthusiasm of a great teacher. I invite you to join in literary studies with your students with the help of Amelia Harper's Literary Lessons from The Lord of the Rings. A marvelous adventure awaits any and all that come along!

Product Review by: Diane Wheeler, Senior Staff Writer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine

One more review:

I have to admit it; I am an avid J.R.R. Tolkien fan. Upon hearing of this curriculum my first thoughts were enthusiastic anticipation. As an eclectic Classical home school family I was intrigued by the historical literary sources that inspired Tolkien. Literary Lessons from The Lord of the Rings (LL)delves into all of this and much more.

LL begins with a thorough teacher introduction explaining what you can expect to accomplish with this course. Here are some of these expectations:

You will become acquainted with over 130 literary terms and over 600 new vocabulary words.
You will be introduced to ancient literary sources.
You will learn to identify literary elements and themes.
You will learn about author thought processes.
You will learn how to create a story for yourself.
You will come away with a love of literature and an appreciation of the value of ancient tales.

The Lord of the Rings in its entirety naturally breaks into six books which Mrs. Harper neatly translates into six whole units. The whole units then divide into chapters. Each chapter is based upon a corresponding chapter of LOTR. Within each chapter in LL you will find a fill in the blank study guide to help break down the story, vocabulary exercises with words taken from the book, additional notes on the chapter, comprehension essay questions, an essay "Challenger," and frequently a suggestion for additional writing practice. At the end of the chapter section she delves into separate units on literary topics related to or directly about LOTR. In Book 2 alone you will investigate Exploring Setting: A Guide to Middle Earth, Exploring Maps: Map Exercises (within Middle Earth), and a well thought-out Exploring Epics: An Introduction to Epic Literature.

Exploring Epics is an amazing study all on its own. Mrs. Harper begins with a summary of The Trojan War, The Iliad, The Odyssey, Vergil, and The Aeneid. She then goes on to discuss modern epic translations, almost six full pages of literary elements and themes within an epic, and Tolkien and the Epic Influence. This is only one of many unit studies within this giant work! Other unit studies within LL are: Exploring the Author: Tolkien as Creator of Middle Earth, Exploring Linguistics: Etymology and Philology, Exploring Old English: Introduction, Beowulf Part One and Two, The Monsters and the Heroes, Exploring Genre: Fantasy as an Art Form, Exploring Poetry, Exploring Arthurian Romances, The Story of Arthur, Arthur in Literature, Exploring Unifying Elements: Theme and Motif, Whatever Happened to the Hobbits? Whatever Happened to the Men, Elves, and Dwarves? There are so many different areas of literary exploration it is almost overwhelming!

At the end of the book she also includes nine appendices: Movies and the Classics, Exploring Religious Elements, Glossary, A Simple Dictionary of Literary Terms, Works Cited, Reproducible Vocabulary Quizzes, Vocabulary Quiz Answer Keys, Reproducible Unit Tests, and Unit Study Answer Keys.

Literary Lessons from The Lord of the Rings is unrivaled in both its content and brilliance. Amelia Harper has taken a much-beloved work of fiction and given us the ability to reap of its bountiful harvest for ourselves. Without a doubt Mrs. Harper's exceptional efforts will benefit the many homeschooling families looking for superior literary resources.

Product Review by: Kate Kessler, Product Reviews Manager, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC