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“A Sword Day”: Battle Speeches from The Lord of the Rings

Date: Sunday, Aug. 22 | 11:00 AM–12:15 PM EDT

Children and adults alike have been reading the fantasy literature of J.R.R. Tolkein (1892-1973) for nearly a century. The Hobbit (1936) and Tolkein’s epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings (1954-55) are regularly voted among the most popular novels in the English language. What many readers don’t realize is that Tolkein’s depictions of evil, the unnatural severing of man from nature, and both the destruction and glory of war, were not only products of his powerful imagination but were, in part, shaped by his own experiences in the deadly trenches of France and Belgium in World War I. In this seminar, we will carefully read (and watch) two of Tolkein’s most stirring battle speeches: Theoden of Rohan’s Battle Cry at the Battle of Pellenor Fields, and (from Peter Jackson’s film adaptation) Aragorn’s War Speech at the Gates of Mordor. Both speeches evoke the power, glory—and tragedy—of noble war, the honor code of the warrior class, and the stakes of battle against the most feared evils civilized man and woman must face in a world on the brink of destruction.

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