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On introducing your children to Middle-earth

  • January 01, 2018

Start with The Hobbit, and read to your kids!

It’s something of a pastime nowadays to read stories to your children, something which I fear is happening less and less. Middle-earth is somewhat perfect for this kind of bonding with your child since The Hobbit and the popular character Tom Bombadil originally sprang from the stories Tolkien used to tell his children before they slipped off to sleep. Decades prior to Tolkien transforming his fantasy realm it into a setting of all-out warfare, The Hobbit was originally envisioned as a children’s fantasy book, one filled with simpler themes that kids would understand. Tales of heroism, dark creatures, and talking animals. A huge, muscular man could even turn into a bear in this book, and that’s plain awesome!

The Hobbit is also my all-time favorite book because it reads so smoothly. It might not tell as grand of a tale as Lord of the Rings, but its pacing outperforms it at every turn since it isn’t bogged down with excessive descriptions or Tolkien’s penchant for jamming his created languages into his books.

A young child, maybe age 6 or 7, will understand The Hobbit. Bilbo is a small guy with big, hairy feet. He lives in a hole and becomes friends with a wizard. He crosses mountains, meets a froglike creature, fights spiders, and wages a campaign of wits against a dragon. Nice, clean, and simple, and Tolkien’s descriptions make the action and characters easy enough to understand.

So late at night, when your kid is getting into bed, pull out your copy of the book (I still have my Ballentine printings my Dad gave me as a kid), turn the lights down and read to him or her. The Hobbit takes roughly four to six hours to read from beginning to end depending on your reading speed and how dramatic you are with it, so if you spread that out over a week or two, you’ll have a budding Tolkien fan on your hands.

Fill in the gaps with art, games, and glossaries

As I said before, Jackson’s films will probably survive for quite some time as the definitive Middle-earth for an entire generation, something late blooming Millenials and the following batch of humans can gather around in unison.

When I was a kid, we had no central rallying point for what Lord of the Rings looked like. Instead, we had multiple interpretations from many artists to aid in filling the gaps. Names like the Hildebrant brothers, John Howe, Alan Lee, and Inger Edelfelt graced the art books my dad would bring home to me, and they provided various and alternative ways to see each of my favorite characters. I like Jackson’s visual style, but the films will always be second place to a series of solid paintings.

I also got into the Middle-earth Collectible Card Game for a year or two back in the mid-90s. I never learned to play the game since it is far more complicated than Magic: The Gathering, but the art on those cards was phenomenal.

As for video games, Lord of the Rings didn’t really get a crack at the medium until after the Jackson films came out. At best, you might be able to dig out some early DOS games and text adventures, but depending on how deep your kid is into modern games, that could prove to be tough.

The one I played obsessively as a kid was called Lord of the Rings Vol 1 by Interplay. This game is a brutal, cutthroat RPG that will punish even the most seasoned of video game veterans. Somehow, I always managed to get to the end with the entire fellowship still intact, and that’s a challenge I would issue to any professional streamer out there. Kill the Witch King of Angmar with the fellowship still intact. I’ve done it, and I was probably 13-years-old.

Finally, my most read book in the Tolkien realm was neither The Hobbit nor The Lord of the Rings, but rather, an official glossary called The Complete Guide to Middle-earth written by Robert Foster. I carried around with me EVERYWHERE in my middle school days, and I had it memorized from cover to cover at one point. This easy-to-digest encyclopedia loaded me with information on Middle-earth, and I found Lord of the Rings that much easier to digest equipped with that knowledge.

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