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. There was a strong eco-message in Fellowship of the Ring with Tom Bombadil and also here when readers meet the Ents and when Frodo and Sam travel near Mordor. Both parties lament over how the drive to war can destroy the environment through deforestation and destruction. Here with the Ents we can see nature directly fighting back against man's folly. Go trees!
Positive Role Models
Frodo becomes a stronger hero figure here as he strikes out with only Sam as company, expecting never to return from his mission. Sam discovers he's as brave as Frodo and as dedicated to defeating the enemy as Frodo is. Merry and Pippin are also growing into heroic figures, helping the cause by befriending the Ents. Gandalf, after his transformation, becomes a commanding presence that helps bring together all the good beings of Middle Earth to fight.
Violence & Scariness
Fierce but nongraphic battle descriptions with beheaded and burned orcs -- Legolas and Gimli keep a tally of their kills. An attack by an enormous spider leaves one main character presumed dead. Frodo and Sam travel into the fearsome terrain of Mordor and through marshes where fallen soldiers are well preserved in the dark water below. Merry and Pippin endure a forced march as captives of savage orcs and escape. Some ents die in battle and there's talk of villages of innocents overtaken by orcs.
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A mention of an "Entish malediction."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A couple joyous scenes of pipe-weed smoking after a battle victory and a reuniting of friends.
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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, including The Two Towers, the second in the series. For the most part this book feels a bit less violent than the movie, which turned the battle at Helm's Deep into a much bigger, bloodier spectacle. There's still a startling near-death of a major character, talk of beheaded Orcs, some macabre imagery of fallen dead lying well preserved in watery graves, and a competitive tally of battle kills between Legolas the elf and Gimli the dwarf. When the story follows Pippin and Merry there are lighter moments, like when they discover a stash of pipe-weed and smoke and feast with friends after a battle. But as the story switches to Frodo and Sam, the mood is much more somber with a feeling that "all hope is lost," just like any really good hero's journey that is far from complete. Readers won't find the mood lightened until the series concludes with The Return of the King.
Is It Any Good?
Where The Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume of the trilogy, starts off slowly, this far more complex novel plunges right into the action, and the straight-ahead story line diverges. The fellowship has been split apart by near treachery and an attack by Orcs, and now the survivors debate whether to aid the Ring-bearer, Frodo, or try to rescue his captive countrymen, but they find no easy answer. After more betrayals and a seemingly hopeless battle, the story shifts to Frodo and Sam as the pair undertakes a grueling journey -- and the book culminates with yet another betrayal.
This is serious business -- especially to readers expecting more of the buoyant adventure of The Hobbit. But even amid all the archaic language, the din of war, and the trauma of little people overwhelmed by the shadow of impending doom, readers can depend on the hobbits' cheerful resilience and courage.
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.