A few years ago, on a visit to the Tolkien exhibit at the Morgan Library and Museum, I was fascinated to see process documents related to Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Tolkien is someone who in many ways embodies the kind of creativity teachers in the humanities value. It struck me that he approached so much of his work with computational precision. Take his mapping of Middle Earth.
When Tolkien designed his imagined lands, he did so on graph paper. Why, I wondered? Because, for the famed author, it was vital to his narrative that he knew exactly the distance between places and, as a result, write the story more compellingly. Graph paper was essential to his storytelling, computation meets composition. (You can even spy a mark on his map where his pipe is said to have scorched the paper!)
Teachers, parents, and students would be right to pause and reflect on Tolkien’s process. We cannot–should not, even–separate the worlds of the arts and the sciences as breezily as we do.
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