A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
This is one of the best contemporary examples of what scholar Joseph Campbell calls the Monomyth or Hero's Journey (another is the Star Wars series). Tolkien is also greatly admired for his "world building": he paints an unbelievably complete picture of Middle Earth with maps, dense background history of each race (elves, dwarves, different kingdoms of humans, hobbits), poems and songs, and even whole languages and scripts to pen them in.
Good vs. evil is at the heart of this trilogy and the stakes are very high. Many races must come together to fight and the smallest and most innocent carry the heaviest burden. Gandalf teaches a lesson in mercy to Frodo when he spares Gollum after his suffering. And the character Tom Bombadil teaches a profound eco-lesson, believing that "the trees and the grasses and all things growing or living in the land belong each to themselves."
Positive Role Models
Frodo is the unlikely and, at first, reluctant hero who begins to accept his grave responsibility at great personal sacrifice. Sam is incredibly loyal to Frodo and rather untrusting of others. Both Gandolf and Strider are good protectors of the company. Boramir battles with himself to keep the ring from ensnaring him.
Violence & Scariness
Frodo and his hobbit friends are pursued by sinister riders in black, undead and cursed servants of the enemy, for their journey alone. They are also stripped and held captive by Barrow-wights in caves. Frodo is stabbed and nearly dies. The Fellowship faces danger in a snowstorm, from hungry wolves, and then in the creepy, dark mining caves of Moria pursued by orcs and trolls and then a demon; they lose one in their company and mourn. They fight with swords, bows, and some magic. An inner battle is waged at the same time, debilitating anyone who has been a ring-bearer; a story is told of Gollum first strangling a friend who found the ring.
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One use of "ass."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Pipe-weed is smoked often by hobbits, Gandalf, and Strider (the Prologue includes an explanation of how hobbits and then other races came to grow and consume it). Wine and beer are consumed at social gatherings and thought about longingly while traveling.
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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.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.