Top 4 Reasons Why “The Lord of the Rings” is Not Just for Kids

The Lord of the Rings film trilogy

Image via Wikipedia

When I was in high school, my favorite English teacher told me that you should mention only the best literature on the SAT and AP tests. I completely agreed, but for her, that meant that The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien did not count. In fact, she called the series “juvenile fiction.” I know–*gasp* is right!  LOTR is a literary masterpiece, and not only in the fantasy genre. Most magazines and critics even consider it among the greatest books of all time!

Note: Even though LOTR is three novels, I, like Tolkien himself, consider them one story. So I will mostly refer to it in the singular, just FYI.

So to prove her wrong, [and to celebrate buying my tickets today to the LOTR concert in Fresno!!!] here are my top 4 reasons why LOTR is not just “juvenile fiction:”

  1. It’s quite a hefty read. Clocking in at over 1,000 pages, LOTR often reads more like a history textbook than an adventure novel. You have to be able to stomach long lineages and extremely thorough time-lines in order to appreciate the book. And since Tolkien was, first and foremost, a linguist, get used to fully functional languages, names like Galadriel and Uruk-hai, and antiquated diction (plenty of thee’s and thou’s!). But what do you expect from Tolkien, who began writing at 45 and didn’t finish until he was 57? That’s 12 years of extensive world creation!
  2. Realistic, morally conflicted characters. When I think of children’s books, I think of Captain Underpants and The Boxcar Children. Character archetypes + basic, not too difficult obstacles + moral lesson at end. But I think LOTR is more complicated than that. Gandalf is a good-hearted mentor, but he’s not immune to the Ring’s corruption. Gollum’s out to murder Frodo and Sam, but he’s also a victim worthy of pity. Sure, LOTR can be simplified to a tale of good vs evil, but no character is purely one or the other.
  3. Abundance of violence. Of course, violence can exist in children’s books to some extent, but usually it doesn’t consist of a father trying to burn his son while still alive or biting someone’s finger off for a piece of jewelry. Every character plays a role in the wars of Middle-Earth, regardless of gender or size (unlike in Chronicles of Narnia, which usually excluded the girls). And even other children’s books with excessive violence, such as Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, are not meant for the really young and are just as appealing to adults.
  4. Lots of pints and pipeweed. What can I say? Hobbits sure know how to party!
          So what do you think? Is LOTR just kid’s stuff? Is it worth reading as an adult, even studying in school? Let me know what you’d add to the list!
          I’m now counting down the days ’til I watch “The Fellowship of the Ring” in concert!!!
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8 thoughts on “Top 4 Reasons Why “The Lord of the Rings” is Not Just for Kids

  1. I was never able to get into Lord of the Rings. Not at all interested in the movies, and I tried the books once or twice and actually read all the way through The Hobbit, but I’m just not really into the fantasy genre (excluding Harry Potter, of course). After majoring in linguistics in college, though, I’m considering trying LOTR again, just to experience Tolkien’s linguistic genius. I mean, how many authors do you know who can create an entirely functional language, syntactic/morphological/phonological rules and all?

    From what I know of the books, though, I would have to agree with you. I might even take it one step further and suggest LOTR is not written for children at all, but for adults. The language, certainly, is geared toward older people, and the complex themes don’t exactly scream “bedtime story.”

    As far as writing about LOTR on the SAT/AP exams…this I’m not sure about. Unfair as it may be, I think you’d have to write a REALLY good essay about LOTR to not be written off completely by whoever scores the exams. I’m not saying that’s right, and I don’t know that it would necessarily be because LOTR isn’t a masterpiece, but rather because it’s so popular. Which, I know, doesn’t make sense, but I feel like people who score those exams will probably value some obscure “classic” over a well-known one, whether because it makes you seem better educated, or because they’re snobby, or both, or neither, I don’t know. But that’s the impression that I got from taking those tests in high school.

    So um…sorry for the essay…

    • While I admit that LOTR can be pretty dry, it remains my favorite story of all time. And I don’t think a better film adaptation of a novel exists on earth. I mean, how can you argue with a movie that won 11 Academy Awards??? I’d hope you’d give it another shot, but since I see you’re a big King fan (and I’m a huge scaredy-cat!), sometimes people just have different tastes.

      I think, however, that its literary merit has been established, given that many colleges analyze LOTR’s philosopy, psychology, theology, history, and, of course, linguistics. I teach SAT/ACT prep, and while I understand that a reader would scoff at an essay referencing Sparks or Grisham, I believe that Tolkien has been accepted into the canon.

      Thanks for the response! It’s nice to hear such other opinions!

  2. Aye, while The Hobbit grew out of a story Tolkien told to his children, it’s still a piece of a timeless literature, and LOTR was pretty much written for adults (this becomes even more apparent when you read Tolkien’s letters to his publishers, peers, and son Christopher). And actually, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anyone in the past ten years claim that LOTR is for kids. I’m sure too many people still dismiss it that way, but no one who has actually read it. My college professors in particular recognized its genius–the more knowledgeable they were in history, languages, and myth, the more they admired him!

    • I’m glad that you haven’t experienced any LOTR discrimination, so to speak, but at least where I’m from, reading is not really considered “cool,” especially if the books involves elves, trolls, and little people with hairy feet! But thanks for reading!

  3. I think LOTR belongs in the great classics of literature. It is very dense and has a whole world with a language and history that is very compelling.

    LOTR is definitely my favorite book of all time. My favorite character in it being Samwise the Brave!

  4. Pingback: Top Ten Favorite Film Adaptations of Books | Book Club Babe

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