A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that if kids are ready to see the excellent Lord of the Rings movies they're ready to read the trilogy, starting with The Fellowship of the Ring -- though arguably scenes fighting orcs and worse in the mines of Moria and ones with the undead dark riders pursuing the hobbits can seem extra creepy when you take the book to bed. One character almost dies and one is mourned; there's some fighting with swords and bows, but giant battle scenes are saved for the next two books. The hobbits and men like to smoke their pipe-weed and drink wine and beer. They also sing long ballads, sometimes in the author's made-up languages -- Tolkien's Middle Earth is just that fully imagined.
What's the story?
When Bilbo Baggins (adventurer from The Hobbit) decides to retire away from the Shire, he leaves everything to his nephew Frodo, from his lovely hobbit-hole down to the magical ring he found on his travels. The ring that is now Frodo's treasure turns into a horrible burden when the wizard Gandalf discovers its origins: forged by the dark lord Saruman and possessing some of his evil power. The dark lord is rising once again and sends out nine cursed "black riders" on horseback to find it with the words "Baggins" and "Shire" on their lips. Frodo must leave the Shire and everything he knows behind, save three hobbit companions, to find out how to get rid of his ring of power. And after Gandalf goes missing they must set out alone, facing the world of mortals and elves for the first time in search of those that might help them and all of Middle Earth.
Is it any good?
With this spectacular tale, Tolkien invented not only a language and a land in which it was spoken, but also -- unintentionally -- a new literary genre. Tolkien was perhaps the first author to create a fully realized, authentic-seeming world. Brimming with various cultures and creatures engaged in an existence that accepted magic, it is as fully realized as our own.
What is it that draws generations of adolescents -- and latecomer adults -- to Middle Earth? Epic battles, yes, but inner turmoil too; Overwhelming forces of evil, but also temptation and greed within oneself; potent sorcery, but perhaps more so the magical spells of friendship and loyalty and devotion. This is the kind of story the word epic seems to have been invented for, but it's also an intimate tale about the bonds among companions and about the human instinct to do the right thing. From these simple features it derives its true power.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether they decided to read the book or see the Peter Jackson movie first. What was different about the movie?
Since the Lord of the Rings trilogy is an excellent example of a Hero's Journey (thought up before Joseph Campbell ever named it that), it's worth looking up why. What makes something a Hero's Journey? What does Frodo's journey have in common with Odysseus'?
Gandalf, pondering how the ring got to Frodo, says this: "There was more than one power at work, Frodo. The Ring was trying to get back to its master....[the Ring] abandoned Gollum. Only to be picked up by the most unlikely person imaginable: Bilbo from the Shire!...There was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker....Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought."
What do you thing that "something else at work" was?
Did you know that Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, author of the Narnia series, were friends and colleagues? Read more about how they influenced each other.
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