It Mirrors Only Starlight and Moonlight


Materials: Liquid Tide (or other premium liquid laundry detergent that “whitens”), “black light” ultraviolet lamp, small paintbrushes or toothpicks


Key Concepts: electromagnetic spectrum





Ø  Teacher will read the following passage from Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring ("A Journey in the Dark") or show the appropriate clip from the film:

"The Moon now shone upon the grey face of the rock; but they could see nothing else for a while. Then slowly on the surface, where the wizard's hands had passed, faint lines appeared, like slender veins of silver running in the stone. At first they were no more than pale gossamer-threads, so fine that they only twinkled fitfully where the Moon caught them, but steadily they grew broader and clearer, until their design could be guessed.

At the top, as high as Gandalf could reach, was an arch of interlacing letters in an Elvish character. Below, though the threads were in places blurred or broken, the outline could be seen of an anvil and a hammer surmounted by a crown of seven stars. Beneath these again were two trees, each bearing crescent moons. More clearly that all else there shone forth in the middle of the door a single star with many rays.

'There are the emblems of Durin'! cried Gimli

'And there is the Tree of the High Elves!' said Legolas.

'And the Star of the House of Fëanor,' said Gandalf. 'They are wrought of ithildin that mirrors only starlight and moonlight, and sleeps until it is touched by one who speaks words now long forgotten in Middle-earth."

Ø  Teacher will have students brainstorm about what physically happened.


Ø  After students have shared their ideas, teacher will direct the conversation toward the most relevant interpretation as a lead in to a discussion about the electromagnetic spectrum and different forms of light.


Ø  Students will create their own “ithildin” using detergent and view the message or drawing with a black light.


Further exploration: Refer to The Hobbit and the map made of “moon letters”, which can only be seen when moonlight of a particular phase shines through it. Have the students draw a simple map using the detergent method.