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. When evil is finally defeated the victorious show mercy many times against their enemies, and many times against the creature who will unwittingly save them. Friendship and loyalty are also huge themes here, especially among the Hobbits, two of whom pledge alligiance to different kingdoms and two of whom face what they think is certain death together as they approach Mt. Doom. There are also some lovely passages about losing and finding hope again when all seems lost.
Positive Role Models
Merry and Pippin grow into heroes here, both pledging oaths to protect different kingdoms and fighting bravely in battle. Their new confidence helps them defeat enemies of the Shire. Sam continues to show a fierce loyalty to Frodo, even carrying him on his back when the journey was hardest. Frodo's display of mercy toward Gollum ends up saving them all and he reiterates this lesson when he returns to the Shire. Aragorn is the epitome of a just king even before he accends the throne, also showing mercy and respect for all who serve him.
Violence & Scariness
Some gore here that surpases the other LOTR books, including many heads of fallen soldiers catipulted over a beseiged city's walls, a giant flying beast that rips apart and eats a fallen horse, talk of some orcs biting the throats of their kills, a self-conflagration, and a finger bitten off. Some key characters die in battle and are mourned while some depart to another world. Ghost soldiers fight in one scene, destroying everything in their path. The rest of the battle violence is with men against orcs, trolls, and other scary beasts. Orcs also fight and kill each other over riches and some Hobbits die in a battle against ruffians in the Shire.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Some kisses and declarations of love.
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"Ass" said somewhat affectionately.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Still plenty of talk of the pipe-weed Hobbits love to smoke -- Bilbo gives Merry and Pippin his favorite pipes. Some talk of drinking beer too but less time for it.
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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 this last book of the trilogy. This is the end of a momentous quest where evil is finally defeated, so expect the violence to get a bit more intense. Gory moments include heads of fallen soldiers catipulted over a beseiged city's walls, a giant flying beast that rips apart and eats a fallen horse, talk of some orcs biting the throats of their kills, a self-conflagration, and a finger bitten off. Some key characters also die or pass into anther realm, so get the hankies out. Also expect to be touched by the loyalty of Sam who carries his friend on this back when the journey is hardest and the passages about losing and finding hope again. It's not a bad idea to read along with kids and engage them in discussing the deeper stuff and how we are all on our own Hero's Journey -- one of the reasons why this genre is so compelling.
Is It Any Good?
This concluding volume of Tolkien's three-book epic, The Lord of the Rings, maintains the dark desperation of its predecessor. Even amid all the celebration that occurs after the free peoples achieve their victory, sadness is there also, for good magic passes on with the vanquishing of sorcery, and the dominance of the human race begins.
But for all this gravity, the story is laced with humor and beauty, and although it is very much an adult tale, it appeals to younger readers. Tolkien's writing is dense and the writing style veers from heroic to homespun, but the plot unfolds with relentless vigor. He brilliantly describes Middle Earth -- reverently, in the case of magnificent structures and natural features, and with eloquent dread when he depicts the horror of Sauron's works.
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