At the end of every book club session, I ask my students to show me what they have learned from the text through a creative project. You can see some examples towards the end of a previous post, Reflections of Book Club. I give the students a few parameters, some suggestions for possible products, and then I let them go. I don’t even give them a rubric because I want them to focus on their response to the story, not on any stakes behind the project (I also choose not to give any grades in Book Club, but that is a post for another day). My students have given me incredible results, from clay sculptures to slideshows, from from paintings to stop-motion video presentations. I love seeing their creative imaginations blossom and how their visual art shows their interpretations of the story.
Last May (2021), I had the distinct pleasure of attending and presenting at The Prancing Pony Podcast’s inaugural Moot (Huzzah!). There was one particular presentation that stood out among the rest (though they were ALL fantastic). Chad Bornholdt, affectionately known to the PPP audience as “Chad from Texas,” and PPP producer Jordan Rannells worked together to create a fantastic audio production of “The Council of Elrond” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book II Chapter 2). Chad gathered voice acting volunteers from the “Friends of Mr. Underhill” Smial (a chapter of the Tolkien Society) in Texas, while Jordan used his technological prowess to create an immersive audio experience, complete with soundscape audio and music. I was blown away by this project- it was a wonderful way for these fans and scholars to process, discuss, and experience Tolkien’s words.
Immediately, I emailed Chad and Jordan and begged them to let me interview them for my students. I wanted to share their project as a resource when it came time for us to discuss “The Council of Elrond,” and I wanted to show them how much was possible for their creative projects. I knew that the audio production itself would be a wonderful resource for my Auditory Processing Learners (those whose preferred way to learn is by listening) when it came time to read the chapter.
Jordan and Chad were wonderfully gracious and only too happy to talk with me. They also provided the script they used for the production for the students to read. The chapter itself is told mostly through flashbacks, and the different characters and narrators can be, at times, confusing to keep track of. I include the video here for you to see (sadly, the recording cut off towards the end, and my video editing skills leave much to be desired. However, it is a worthwhile resource and I cannot sing Chad and Jordan’s praises enough).
To hear this incredible audio experience, you can visit Jordan’s podcast, “Music of Middle Earth” on your favorite podcast streaming site, or click this link.
To hear more from Chad Bornholdt, Chad High, and the Texas Tolkien Society, you can listen to “The Texas Tolkien Talk Podcast.”
Many students truly gravitate towards artistic ventures for their projects, and so another pathway I try to take is to make connections with the text through visual media. Additionally, my students mention film adaptations throughout the course of all of my book clubs. In my LotR or Hobbit classes, we will compare images from different film adaptations (Peter Jackson, Ralph Bakshi, Rankin & Bass) and artists such as Ted Nasmith, Alan Lee, or John Howe to see how visual artists and filmmakers have interpreted the text. The students responses often range from “That’s exactly how I imagined ___!” to “That’s not my vision of ___ at all!” As an addendum, I always remind them of the following:
“This is just one artist’s interpretation, one person’s “final creative project.” What you show, share, and imagine could be entirely different.”
This is especially true when talking about Peter Jackson’s adaptations. “P.J. just got the funding for his project. That doesn’t make his work the only adaptation, or the most important one.”
Visual art and multimedia productions provide so many pathways to enjoy and read a text. The creative mind should always be nurtured and these projects and productions give readers, audiences, and students alike the opportunity not only to receive the text and process it for their own, but also to share their experiences and interpretations of the text. The reader experience is multidimensional, and so is art. What beautiful experiences we have when we allow our creativity to flourish!