By Maureen Carroll
PhD Dissertation, Australian Catholic University, 2004
Abstract: This thesis argues for the power of story and, in particular, the story of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien to help build optimism and hope. The Hobbit is under-used in primary schools and this thesis demonstrates that it is eminently suitable for children. Without imagination children are vulnerable to sadness and despair. The positive development of imagination through heroic tales is likely to benefit children emotionally and psychologically. The story of The Hobbit can be utilised to develop the concept of the Hero’s Journey, a persistent trope in oral and recorded literature and an archetype for virtually all human experience. In addition, the thesis shows that critical thinking skills and multiple intelligences can be developed through the use of The Hobbit. Depression in young people is now recognised as a serious public health problem in Australia. Research supports the view that children need optimism.
This thesis discusses statistics regarding the increased prevalence of childhood depression and aggression as well as alarming youth suicide reports. The inquiry by the Victorian Parliament into the effects of television violence on children is examined and the scholarly works of Neil Postman, inter alia, are discussed to establish the overall pattern of positive association between television violence and aggression in children. Furthermore, the contention that many contemporary realistic texts do little to promote hopefulness in the young is supported with the opinions of scholars who are respected in the field of children’s literature.
Tolkien was a devout Catholic but, even more importantly, he was able to restate traditional values through his imaginative works of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. This has relevance for Catholic educators who strive to relate Gospel values to popular culture. Christian education must extend imagination beyond morality to help young people to find meaning and purpose in their lives. Through the use of The Hobbit and other books of this kind, children can begin to learn not to fear change, failure or setbacks but to see them as important challenges and opportunities for personal growth. This thesis argues for the likely value of a continuum of this type of learning that begins in early childhood, in order to provide a “buffer” for adolescence, particularly for those children who do not recover easily from setbacks. The story of The Hobbit is a powerful tool for primary education.