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A Primary school think-tank for all things J.R.R. Tolkien

A Primary school in Derbyshire, England, is at the centre of an unusual educational project. The children involved are at present from years five to seven (ages approximately from nine to eleven). The project, which is based at Ironville and Codnor Park Primary School, is called the Myth & Magic Tolkien Reading and Language Fellowship.

Mick Ennis, who guides the group, explains: “The project, which has been running for about a year, aims firstly to share the wonders of studying Tolkien with younger enthusiasts and, secondly, to function as a mentoring initiative (in an area of severe socio-economic deprivation) with the 13 members staying with the project right through secondary school up until 2017/18. The primary objectives are to increase a love of literature, boost self-knowledge/belief and increase the level of progress to higher education, which is currently very low.”

The group produces an attractive magazine (the latest issue is called Stargazing). Current projects include a 2010 elven calendar, which takes themes from The Silmarillion, a study of the role of the enigmatic Tom Bombadil in J. R. R. Tolkien’s central idea of sub-creation, and a look into the “philological roots of his early poetry”. The school also runs two other after school literacy clubs to ensure pupils of all ages and abilities have the opportuinity to take part.

Mr Ennis explained that four of the older members of the group have already spoken about their innovative work, “at the Tolkien Society annual seminar in London in June, and at the Tolkien Language conference in Whitehaven [Cumbria] in August. This went so well, the four girls who gave the presentation have been invited to the next one in Valencia [Spain] in 2011, which will be a great experience.”

Abbie, one of the lead writers in the group, recorded her experience of the Whitehaven conference, as she pondered the magical impression it had made on her.

“Maybe,” she wrote, “it was the chance to meet academics from all over Europe, who treated me as an equal, rather than an annoying ten year old spoiling their learned discussions. Possibly, it was being away from home with three friends and staying overnight in a guest house, giving us a really adult sense of freedom away from our parents. Both these factors were important, but there was something less tangible which explained why two months on I am still reliving the experience: a feeling of letting my mind fly to a new dimension, simultaneously increasing my love of Tolkien and my own self knowledge about my place in the world, and how to realize future hopes and dreams.”

Another lead writer, Jodi, has prepared a synopsis for a conference in Germany next April, which three of the group hope to attend. It is for a paper on the links between Tom Bombadil and English romanticism (particularly looking at S. T. Coleridge). The focus of their paper will be upon the relevance of Tom Bombadil’s character for the 21st century from the perspectives of both environmental concerns and philosophy. Having completed that synopsis, Jodi and Abbie have turned their enquiring minds to links between the psychologist Carl Jung and J. R. R. Tolkien. In addition, they are 5,000 words into their debut novel, called Drift which moves away from Tolkien into contemporary teenage fiction. Publication is due in July 2010.

The Festival online magazine intends to keep in touch with the group and to include their work from time to time. There is much in the children’s work that is worth quoting, but here are Abbie’s reflections upon her visit to Sarehole earlier this year, where J. R. R. Tolkien and his brother Hilary spent much of their early childhood. It is certain that she spoke for all the children from Ironville and Codnor Park Primary School who took part in the visit.

“On the way home,” wrote Abbie, “it suddenly came to me why the power of Tolkien’s work lives on so long after his death. Firstly, his books are the gateway leading my imagination to places, real or invented, which I never knew existed. Secondly – and I think this very important – anyone who loves Tolkien is drawn to fellow enthusiasts by their mutual love of all that is good, pure, natural, exciting and, above all, optimistic for the future. Yes, like rainbows; and in Sarehole I felt close to touching one as my spirit reached for the sky” (from “Touching Rainbows: Middle-earth Weekend 2009,” by Abbie Taylor, in Amon Hen: Bulletin of the Tolkien Society, 219, September 2009, p. 27).