Society member Carol Robinson pointed out a New York Daily News article on the Society Facebook page on 2 February 2015, Nicole Hensley's 31 January 2015 "Texas Boy Suspended for Saying He Could Make Classmate 'Disappear' with Lord of the Rings Sorcery." The piece and a 30 January 2015 article from the Odessa American (much closer to the incident in question), "Parent: Fourth-grader Suspended after Using Magic from The Hobbit" both note that the child in question was suspended from school after saying to a classmate something about using a ring to make the classmate disappear. The articles raise several points for discussion, including one that goes very much to the heart of what it is that the Society does.
Given the location of the incident--the oil-driven dry and windswept lands of West Texas, known not only for their oil production but also for football and a peculiarly romanticized and execrated public culture--the reaction is unsurprising. Texas, after all, is roundly accused (and with some justification) of being prevailingly backward and insular, of trumpeting entrenched attitudes that did not serve well even when they were new, and are far less wholesome now. Further, schools in the United States, generally, trend towards absolutist, non-nuanced policies that make reflexive overreactions--and suspending a child for a backhanded and patently fictitious comment is an overreaction--obligatory, the threat of lawsuits for unequal treatment and the paranoid fears of relaxed controls being as they are and all too present.
But that the reaction comes as no surprise should not mean that it is condoned. If nothing else, it smacks of a perilous reactionary impetus that corresponds both with "Christian" fundamentalism--something else unfortunately correctly associated with the Lone Star State--and the fears from the late 1980s of a sprawling spiritual threat contained in fantasy literature and its offshoots--materials to which those involved in medievalist study seemingly must attend, given their pervasive figuration of the medieval. Reading that teachers reacted as they did to comments that surely stopped short of the literary Ash nazg dubatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul called to mind the discussion in Michael A. Stackpole's 1990 "Pulling Report," The paranoid fear that I recall from my own youth, not so many miles from Kermit, centering around those very things seems to have resurfaced, if it ever indeed submerged, unfortunately bubbling up around the child in question. I find that I wonder now whether the child will ever again be inclined to be excited about what he reads or to discuss it. Will he do as many others have done and assign shame to learning, and either rack himself with guilt over the love of reading or turn away from in in hate and anger? Will he become yet one more who is placed and places himself beyond the reach of such mystery and wonder as what the Society studies offers, and will those who have seen him in such straits follow him away?
It is, as Robinson points out, "not a very nice tale after Tolkien." One can hope, though, that the next chapter turns it towards a better story.