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J.R.R. Tolkien: Master of Sub-Creation

J.R.R. Tolkien: Master of Sub-Creation
This class is currently archived, but if you're interested in it being taught again, you can express your interest here!
09/06/2021 - 01/14/2022
Fall Semester
1.0 credits in Electives
Grade 9

Taught by:

About the course

The Lord of the Rings has become one of the most beloved stories in recent history, and a large part of the reason for that is because of the themes that J.R.R. Tolkien embedded into Middle-earth resonate with the human heart. This course will provide an overview of the themes that Tolkien emphasizes in his sub-creation including, but not limited to, heroism, friendship, fate, death, and immortality. Using the text itself as a primary source, students will become acquainted with not only Tolkien’s masterpiece but also the valuable world of secondary sources that this book has inspired. During this 16-week course, students will read the story of Frodo and the Ring. The course will begin with Tolkien's essay "On Fairy-Stories" as well as his short story "Leaf by Niggle." This will help students understand Tolkien's conception of what a storyteller ought to do before proceeding into Tolkien's masterwork itself. Substantial time will be dedicated to interacting directly with the primary source, reading one book per week (remember, each volume in the series is divided into two books). This will bring students to the halfway point of the semester. The second half of the semester will be dedicated to using our knowledge of Tolkien to engage with secondary sources. By engaging with prominent scholars in the field, students will have the opportunity to think about Tolkien critically. Different scholars will bring different perspectives to these stories, and students will learn to critically evaluate secondary sources and compare the claims they make to Tolkien's work itself. Short reflections of 500 words (approximately two pages double-spaced) will be assigned each week for the first half of the semester along with regular discussion board postings to ensure students are engaged in the text. These will not be formal essays but rather reflections on key moments or themes that are significant to each student. These will be to help students develop their own research papers. At the beginning of the second half of the semester, students will choose a research topic (with instructor approval) to produce a 2500 word research paper (approximately 10 pages double-spaced) to be delivered at the conclusion of the semester. Discussion board posts will continue during these weeks.

Each week students will engage in 90 minutes of Socratic discussion. Prior to the meeting, students will be asked to submit two interpretive questions about the text. The instructor will choose one question from each student's set and use those as the baseline for class discussion that week. Participation is vital for a successful classroom environment

Course Objectives:

  1. To develop an understanding of and appreciation for Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
  2. To identify themes and trace ideas amidst a storyline of great depth.
  3. To engage with secondary sources critically and join in the great conversation.
  4. To express complex ideas clearly in speech and in writing.
  5. To encourage a love of great literature.


  • J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, ISBN: 0618645616
  • J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, ISBN: 0618968636
  • J.R.R. Tolkien, The Tolkien Reader, ISBN: 0345345061
  • Bradley Birzer, J.R.R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-earth, ISBN: 978-1932236200
  • Stratford Caldecott, The Power of the Ring: The Spiritual Vision Behind The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, ISBN: 978-0824549831

About the teacher

Dr. Zak Schmoll Zak earned his Ph.D. at Faulkner University, an M.A. in Apologetics from Houston Baptist University in 2016 and serves as the Managing Editor of An Unexpected Journal, a quarterly publication of cultural and imaginative apologetics.