Ethos Education

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: What is the relationship between good and evil?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Understanding of the concepts of good and evil.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon the concepts of good and evil, and seek to define those terms.
  • Evaluate the understanding of light and darkness, good and evil shown in a film clip.
  • Reflect upon the properties of light and assess how this might inform the biblical use of the imagery of light and dark in representing good and evil.
  • Analyse a number of Bible passages that use light and dark imagery when talking about good and evil.
  • Reflect upon the way that a Christian understanding of good and evil might influence an individual’s decisions and actions.
  • Synthesise learning by reflecting on a number of media depictions of good and evil, analysing whether they show a Christian or other understanding of the relationship between the two.

STARTER: 

Ask the students to suggest matching pairs that represent both good and evil. An obvious source of these would be from the world of films, particularly comic book or fantasy adaptations, but try to encourage the students to also come up with some examples from the real world. You will probably need to give them one or more examples to get them started. Here are some suggestions:

  • Harry Potter (good) and Lord Voldemort (evil)
  • Luke Skywalker (good) and Darth Vader (evil)
  • Police officers (good) and criminals (evil)
  • Jam (good) and marmite (evil)
  • Fulham Football Club (good) and Chelsea Football Club (evil). Feel free to change the clubs concerned to either reflect your own footballing allegiance or to annoy one or more football fans in the class.

The real world examples may provoke some discussion. With the more light-hearted suggestions concerning food or football teams, you should concede that some things are neither good nor evil, simply a matter of preference. With other real life suggestions things are less clear-cut. Are all police officers good? Are all criminals evil? Where real people are concerned, is it possible to describe one person as completely one thing or the other?

Ask the students to write down a brief definition of ‘good’ and one of ‘evil’. Tell them that you will be returning to these definitions later in the lesson.

Explain that in this lesson you are going to be thinking about the concepts of good and evil, and exploring the biblical use of light and darkness as a metaphor to illustrate these concepts.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Introduce the clip from the film The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Warner Bros, 2013, certificate 12). Click here to buy the film online.

Explain that Gandalf (Ian McKellen) has travelled to the ruined castle of Dol Goldur to investigate the source of the evil that is spreading through Middle Earth. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the Necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his boasting as he confronts Gandalf.

  • Start time: 1.39.53 (beginning of chapter 29 of the DVD)
  • End time: 1.43.09
  • Clip length: 3 minutes and 16 seconds

The clip begins with Gandalf walking down ruined stone steps. The first line is Gandalf reciting a spell in an indecipherable Middle Earth language. The last line is Gandalf gasping, ‘Sauron’.

Ask the students what the Necromancer claims about darkness and light. If necessary, remind the students of the line, ‘There is no light, Wizard, that can defeat darkness’. Ask them what they think this clip suggests about light and darkness, good and evil.

Explain to the students that a commonly held world view is that good and evil are two equal, opposite forces. Point out to the students that this perspective of good and evil is not one which belongs in orthodox Christian thinking. A more Christian philosophy of good and evil sees goodness as a fundamental reality which is embodied in the person of God, the ultimate example and source of goodness. By contrast, evil is seen as a perversion of goodness – not a fundamental reality in its own right. Although this scene seems, taken out of context, to suggest that good and evil are caught up in an equal struggle, in actual fact the world view shown by J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth books (and the films based upon them) is much closer to the Christian perspective explained above.

To further unpack the imagery of light and darkness when applied to good and evil, ask the students to suggest different properties of light – things that it does or which help to define what it is. They may need some help on this, so use the following to prompt them as necessary:

  • Light can appear to have the form of either waves or particles.
  • Light travels through a vacuum at a constant speed (3×10 to the 8 metres per second), but slower through materials.
  • Light illuminates things.
  • Light is a form of energy.
  • Light is essential to life.

Ask the students to discuss which, if any, of these properties might be helpful in understanding why the Bible uses the imagery of light to represent goodness, and the imagery of darkness to represent evil. You might like to point out that in scientific terms light and darkness are not two similar opposed forces, where one or other may prove more powerful in any given situation. Darkness is defined as the absence of light. By definition, light drives out darkness, whatever the Necromancer may say to Gandalf.

Now ask the students to look at the following Bible passages and to make a note of what they say about light and darkness:

  • John 3:19-21
  • John 12:44-46
  • Ephesians 5:8-16
  • 1 Peter 2:9-12
  • 1 John 1:5-7

If the discussion doesn’t naturally move on from light and darkness to good and evil (as represented in these passages by light and darkness) help the students to make that link. Ask the students to sum up what each passage has to say on the subject of good and evil.

Now introduce a second clip from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. In this scene, Tauriel, a she-elf, has been pursuing some Orc raiders.

  • Start time:       1.16.00 (beginning of chapter 21)
  • End time:         1.17.29
  • Clip length:      1 minute and 29 seconds

The clip starts with Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) by the riverside. The first line is her saying (in Elvish, with subtitles), ‘I thought you were an Orc’. It ends with Tauriel asking, ‘When did we let evil become stronger than us?’

Ask the students why Tauriel thinks she and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) should pursue the Orcs. Draw out that she doesn’t regard evil as something that can be tolerated or ignored, but that she believes it has to be opposed. To what extent does Tauriel’s point of view correspond with a Christian perspective on good and evil? To what extent does it depart from one? It may be helpful for the students to consider the Bible passages earlier in this lesson. You might also like to refer them to Romans 12:9-21. Draw out that Christians are called to stand for good and to oppose evil, as Tauriel says.

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

Ask the students to look again at the definitions of good and evil that they wrote earlier in the lesson. Do they still agree with those definitions, or would they revise them?

Ask students to think of some films (or books, or television programmes) which depict forces of good and evil and to assess whether or not they reflect a Christian perspective on the subject. After allowing some time for discussion, ask the students (possibly as a homework exercise) to write a critical assessment of one or more programmes detailing the ways in which they correspond or depart from a Christian understanding of good and evil.

YOU WILL NEED:

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