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:”
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- Lots of pints and pipeweed. What can I say? Hobbits sure know how to party!