USC Professor Uses Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit to Teach Students About War
Ultimately, real world history is thematically similar to Middle Earth history, with people rising against powers seemingly far greater than them time and again. James offers an anecdote about the protests following Iran's 2009 elections. As controversies regarding Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reelection unfolded, a Lord of the Rings movie marathon played on television. The public's response to the movies was well-documented, Time Magazine ran a story about it and it appears in James' book. "Amazingly enough, the public reacted to the movies as essentially subversive," James notes. "We're going to fight against illegitimate authority. We're going to resist the adversary, Ahmadinejad in the real world."
He continues, "The loser of the election was often compared to Boromir," referencing a complex LOTR character who attempted to gain hold of the Ring. "The books and the movies are creeping into the real world."
James claims that, so far, no one has "stumped" him when asking for a Middle Earth analogy. While his classrooms aren't always filled with LOTR fans, James believes that using the Tolkien tomes has a benefit for all his students. "What they do see, even if they aren't fans of Lord of the Rings, Middle Earth, is that you can use fantasy to, if you will, think outside of the box," he says.
A collaborative effort between James and co-author Ruane, The International Relations of Middle Earth takes two different approaches to the Tolkienverse/real world correlations. James describes his own studies as "observational" and says that most of the book takes that approach of stepping back from the situation and explaining what happened. However, Ruane's studies, also incorporated into the book, place an emphasis on discerning "what is just or unjust."
James mentions a section that discusses the release Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who was convicted of bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Using LOTR examples, like the character Gollum, the authors ask whether or not Scotland's decision to release al-Megrahi was just. "We're reasoning about what is the right or wrong thing to do," says James.
The International Relations of Middle Earth is making its way into classrooms outside of USC. Pepperdine has picked up on it as well. And you don't have to be a student to read up on James and Ruane's work. The book is also available for non-students through Amazon.
*Our review of The Hobbit