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The Fellowship of the Ring

Spectacular fantasy classic is where Frodo's journey begins.
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What parents need to know

Educational value

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.

Positive messages

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.


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.

Not applicable

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.

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.

Families can talk 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.

Book details

Author:J.R.R. Tolkien
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Adventures
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Houghton Mifflin Children's Books
Publication date:July 24, 1954
Number of pages:423
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 14

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Adult Written byChi to April 9, 2008

A Good Read

Out of the trilogy, I finished this one the quickest. I love Tolkien's style of writing and the words he uses for description. I found in reading this, quite a few good quotes and the like. One of the best parts of this books are the songs or poems told in. Not a lot of authors do that...
Teen, 14 years old Written byKScottA August 19, 2009

An Absolutely Fabulous book to be enjoyed and marveled at by older tweens and up!

The reason I rated this iffy for 12 year olds is not due to content but simply because I am unsure whether kids under 12, and in fact even some 12 year olds, will be able to get through this book. If they can, then by all means let them read it, as this is an enchanting and beautiful masterpiece. The world that Tolkien has created feels just as real as the world we live in. Descriptions wonderfully detailed and in depth, story and story telling absolutely fantastic, and marvelously wonderful and likeable characters fill this book. A must read for anyone who can read a book this deap and thoughtful, especially fantasy lovers.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Parent of a 5, 9, 11, and 14 year old Written byJamesRobertson January 4, 2009