A few days ago there was a story being shared on Facebook about a school that had suspended a nine-year-old pupil for pretending that he had the hobbit “ring of power” School Suspends 9-Year-Old For Pretending He Had Hobbit ‘Ring of Power’:
Aiden Steward had just watched the third Hobbit movie with his family and he wanted to pretend that he had a ring that could make people disappear, just like Bilbo Baggins. But when he brought the toy ring to school, it ended up getting him suspended.
The ring he brought may not have been the true ring of power, but the Kermit, Texas, school where he attended said the pretend Tolkien “one ring” was used in a “threat” against a classmate.
I shared the story too, and commented that it seemed to be yet another example of zemblanity in education — zemblanity being the opposity of serendipity. Serendipity is the knack of making happy, fortunate and unexpected discoveries by accident. Zemblanity is the facility for making unhappy, unfortunate and expected discoveries by design, and seems to characterise much education.
Now I don’t know about the films, but in the book (The Hobbit) the history of the ring is unknown to Bilbo, and the only properties known to him are that it makes the wearer invisible, and the not fully appreciated one that it makes the holder possessive. So if the kid was pretending to have that ring it did not necessarily mean that he had ambitions to rule the entire world, and so the school was probably overreacting.
After his adventure was over, Bilbo used the ring mainly to hide from unwanted and tiresome visitors, until he staged his spectacular disappearing trick on his eleventy-first birthday. And it was only then that Gandalf revealed to Bilbo and Frodo that there was a great deal more to the ring than invisibility.
And, in thinking about this, I think there is more to this story than just zemblanity in education suppressing the imagination of kids.
We are never told exactly what the ring can do, apart from conferring invisibility on the wearer and possessiveness on the holder. But we are told that what the Dark Lord fears is that some mighty one will get hold of it and come wielding the ring to destroy his power and rule in his place, and the last thing that he suspects are that those who have the ring will try to destroy it.
When Aiden told a student that he could make him disappear since the plastic ring was forged in fictional Middle Earth’s Mount Doom, the school accused him of “threats of violence” against classmates.
“It sounded unbelievable,” Aiden’s father, Jason Steward, said in an interview with the Daily News. But Jason said his son “didn’t mean anything by it.”
He explained that their family had just watched “The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies” that week, and the elementary school boy was just pretending he had a ring like in the movie.
And then I recalled that when I was 7 years old, I was given a policeman kit for my birthday. I forget what else it contained, but there was a truncheon and a pair of handcuffs. The handcuffs actually worked, after a fashion, and were obviously intended for use in games of cops and crooks.
I was staying with an 8-year-old cousin at the time, and it appeared to us a good idea to make use of the equipment in our games, and to that end we abducted a younger kid, handcuffed him, and told him we were arresting him and taking him to the police station, which was about a mile away down a rural gravel road, and we had got a good way down the road before we took him back home and released him. He told his parents what had happened, and they told our parents, who ticked us off for it. Perhaps if we had been at school we would have more than just a ticking off, we might have got a suspension, and it would have been deserved.
Gollum referred to the ring as his “birthday present”, and my birthday present was a policeman outfit, a symbol of authority. And once in possession of this symbol of authority, my cousin and I behaved in an authoritarian way. We used, or misused, this symbol of authority to terrorise a younger child.
The Greek word for authority is exousia (ἐξουσία), and it appears in the New Testament in several places. Pilate had ἐξουσία to release Jesus or crucify him. Jesus had ἐξουσία to cast out demons. In Ephesians 6:12 St Paul says our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against “principalities and powers” (ἀρχάς, πρὸς τὰς ἐξουσίας), which may also be translated as rulers and authorities.
Rulers and authorities, or, if you prefer, principalities and powers, are among the orders of the celestial hierarchy, the angelic ranks. But power, when misused, becomes demonic and evil. The power bearers, the flesh and blood, can become enslaved to the rule and authority that they bear, as my cousin and I became briefly enslaved to a symbol of power, even though it was merely a child’s toy, and used it as an instrument to enslave another.
Power can be used to enslave or set free, to liberate or to oppress, but the temptation is always to become addicted to power, to seek it for its own sake, and this is what Tolkien’s “ring of power” symbolises.
The action of Kermit Elementary School in suspending a pupil for pretending to have the ring of power may indeed have been an instance of zemblanity in education, but on the other hand, children’s games are not always innocent.