Have you read Tolkien’s books? What can they teach?

Reading The Hobbit was a pivotal moment in my young life.

I saw at the blog The Art of Manliness a great post about this influential book.

Here is are the bullet points.  You can read the rest there.

The Hobbit has been a favorite of children and adults alike since its publication in 1937. It used to take a backseat to The Lord of the Rings, but with the movie being released last summer, interest has been renewed in Bilbo Baggins’ adventure.

When it was originally published, it was put into the children’s category and even won prizes for best juvenile fiction that year. Tolkien himself, however, said that a simple tale like The Hobbit can be enjoyed by children and adults alike, making it a great story to read with your kids.

In the book, the reluctant Bilbo Baggins is recruited by a wizard, Gandalf, to join a group of dwarves on an adventure. There are 13 dwarves in the party (an unlucky number, hence the recruitment of Bilbo) who have been exiled from their home, the Lonely Mountain, by a dragon. In that mountain are mounds and mounds of treasure, which is what attracted the dragon in the first place. Nobody has yet had the gall to try to fight off the beast and reclaim the mountain, so these 13 dwarves, plus Bilbo, make a run at it. Together they cross valleys, mountain ranges, murky forests, and raging rivers in order to make their way back home to the Lonely Mountain to fight the dragon.

There are many lessons we can glean from The Hobbit, but today we’ll focus on just a few of this classic tale’s most salient takeaways:

1. You can aspire to and achieve greatness no matter who you are and no matter your stage in life. […]

2. A great leader knows when it’s time to step back and let go. […]

3. There are some things in life we just have to accomplish on our own. […]

4. To simply continue on is one of the bravest things that can be done. […]

5. A great story always has conflict or hardship. […]

What lessons have you gleaned from The Hobbit? Which of these five most resonate with you? Tell us in the comments!

A good question.

Have you never read The Hobbit?  The Lord of the Rings?  The Silmarillion?

Don’t, please, for the love of all that is beautiful, let the movies be your only knowledge of the works.

The Hobbit:


The Lord of the Rings:

The Silmarillion:


Dig into these books!


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. McCall1981 says:

    I’ve read them all, wonderful books. Hoping to read The Hobbit to my daughter in a few years.

  2. J Kusske says:

    My mother read both The Hobbit and LOTR to me as a child among other works, and I have loved books deeply ever since. Would that more parents would do the like!

  3. philosoph0123 says:

    So true about the books, and I cannot stand the movies! The director (screenwriter?) simply doesn’t “get” Tolkien. The “humor”…the video-game combat…the HORROR!

  4. Gregg the Obscure says:

    I first read The Hobbit, LOTR and Silmarillion when I was fourteen. Read LOTR and Silmarillion many times since, which infused a great appreciation for poetry. Saw the first LOTR movie and none since as they were too focused on the external elements of the story.

    In the Hobbit I saw not only the need to do some things on one’s own, but the need to accept the help of others when one didn’t want to do so.

  5. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    I see from his blog that Tolkien’s grandson, Simon, read the whole of The Lord of the Rings to his son about the time the first Jackson film came out, noting that it took him about a year! We decided, when the children seemed old enough not to find the films too scary, to do the same, and let them know the whole of the ‘real thing’ (preceded by The Hobbit) before seeing any of the films. I am not sure exactly how long reading them out loud took, but it was delightful and did not seem slow going (except when they were excited to find out what happened next – I did an ‘all-nighter’ or two myself, when I first read it).

    Since then, we have purchased Rob Inglis’s unabridged reading aloud of The Hobbit and listened together and apart many a time with great enjoyment. He is also – amazing man! – responsible for the whole of The Lord of the Rings as audio-book, which at least some public libraries have: we are as far as the Appendices, now, and have enjoyed it all, though we prefer Stephen Oliver’s song-settings for the BBC radio version – also a very enjoyable way to brush up your Tolkien.

  6. drforjc says:

    1) That God can make good come out of evil
    2) Everything happens for a reason (Divine Providence)

  7. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    What can they teach? One thing they can teach by example is patience, and, included or going with it, not to despair. There is a quiet but constant sense of Providence at work, whether a character seems aware of this or not – and however ‘unlikely’ appearances may seem to make it.

    There is a mediaeval manuscript which is our only source for four poems, probably by the same anonymous author, now usually known as ‘Patience’, ‘Cleanness’ (or ‘Purity’), ‘Pearl’, and ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’. It is not the hardest Middle English to read (especially in a well-glossed edition), but Tolkien not only edited ‘Sir Gawain’ but translated it, and ‘Pearl’, as well. For anyone hesitating to take the full ‘scholarly’ plunge into trying to read the originals first, Tolkien’s translations might be a good place to start. His ‘Gawain’ translation was broadcast in dramatized form by the BBC in 1953.

    If there ever were two books interesting to read and compare, they are The Lord of the Rings and ‘Sir Gawain’. Tolkien also has a very good lecture on ‘Sir Gawain’ (including attention to the importance of confession) delivered in 1953, but first published thirty years later in The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays.

  8. TeamAubin says:

    I am currently reading this to my four children (aged 6-11). We read about 20 minutes a night and it has been such a joy. Once we finish with Mr. Baggins’ adventure we will move into the next LOTR series. The children look forward to listening to this every night and on the nights when we are unable there is always a little groan of disappointment. (sometimes from mommy!)

  9. benedetta says:

    Reading aloud, for all ages of children and youth, is an outstanding activity parents can do. There is evidence that it strengthens many sub skills of reading and comprehension in the long term. Reading The Hobbit or LOTR aloud in the evenings is such a perfect alternative to television.

  10. Darren says:

    I first read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as a teenager. I had a brother who read them many times and that inspired me to read them. Then, many years went and the movies came out when I was in my early 30’s. I saw the movies, enjoyed them for what they were worth.

    Then, I decided to read The Lord of the Rings once more. I tell you, chapter after chapter I grew more and more angry with Peter Jackson… and more and more upset over some of the casting of the films. I cannot watch the movies anymore, but for a few scenes here and there that I still enjoy. (However, I do enjoy most of the music of the films). Once I saw some cut scenes and images from The Hobbit film, there was no way I was going to go see it. I have read the book a couple times over the past several years and it is almost time to read it all once again.

    I have so far gotten about halfway through reading The Silmarillion, but I let other things distract me to the point where when I picked it back up I had forgotten much of what preceded that I will have to start over.

    John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was a wonderful and amazing man.

  11. capchoirgirl says:

    Read LOTR and Hobbit. Loved LOTR. Hobbit definitely hit me as a book for sixth grade boys, which makes sense in that 1) I believe Tolkien wrote it for kids? His sons, maybe? (If I’m wrong let me know ) and 2) This is what all the boys in my sixth grade class were reading. :) It was OK, but it wasn’t nearly as awesome as LOTR, not that I expected it to be.

  12. Austin Catholics says:

    “You can aspire to and achieve greatness no matter who you are and no matter your stage in life. […]”

    Hmm, putting it that way sounds Ayn Randish and that the book promotes egoism.

    Of the big cult authors for teens, Tolkien >>> Rand. We need to show teens how much better Tolkien’s worldview was than Rand’s. So they grow up to be Christians, not libertarians.

    LOTR was my favorite book as a kid and probably still is.

    The Silmarillion is under-appreciated by the public. I guess some find the style off-putting.

  13. Pearl says:

    I have read these books numerous times. In high school, “The Fellowship of the Ring” was a required book. Shouldn’t our children be required to read this and NOT “Dreams of Cuba”? Anyway, I have read them so many times I have worn out two paperback sets. I enjoyed the movies only because I assumed that anything coming out of Hollywood would COMPLETELY destroy them, and the movies actually got more right than I had any hope they would. (This is only true for “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy; they completely destroyed “The Hobbit”. I would rather watch the old animated version I saw in the ’80’s than this!) However, I always beg people I know who love the movies without reading the books to please, please read them. One of the things these books reinforced for me is the idea that God takes the lowly and unworthy and uses them to bring about His good and His will. It doesn’t matter what our weaknesses or how small we are in whatever way, He can make us strong.

  14. Magash says:

    On Tolkien and Rand: John Rogers wrote: “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”
    On the movies I mus disagree with the majority here. No book can be turned into a commercially successful or even marginal cult movie without the write and director making choices about what content of the book to include in the movie, (with the possible exception of that incipient trash novella Love Story, book written to be a (bad) movie.) All of the people involved with LOTR were very much Tolkien fans. They made sure most of Tolkien’s themes and words were kept in the movies. The scenes, location and details of Tolkien’s descriptions also were incorporated into the films to a much greater extent than is common in a translation from book to film. Their biggest problem is they are not Catholic, so they don’t understand at a visceral level Catholic themes Tolkien included. Specifically the matter of Faramir, who the writers have lust for the ring while in the books he states he “would not pick up this thing if I found it lying in the road.” Philippa Boyens states in the DVD appendices that was done because after spending one-and a half movies establishing that the Ring was an object of unresistable corrupting evil that the audience wouldn’t accept that he could so casually cast it away. That was because they didn’t understand that Faramir in the book was a Saint archetype (like Aragorn), strong enough to resist the pull of evil and temptation.
    As for the Hobbit, Peter Jackson stated from the beginning that he intended to include material from the Lost Tales (and LOTR appendices) in order to allow the usable material to be expanded to fill three movies. I do agree about the video game sequences in the Goblin (Orc) city, called Goblintown in the books I believe. I put that down to a combination of cross marketing (they want to sell the Hobbit:An Unexpected Journey Video Game) and lack of discipline ( you’ve got all these great tools, developed for the battles in LOTR, and so you want to use them, whether the story needs them of not.)
    Generally I enjoyed the movies, but Father is absolutely right. Read the books. They’re better. The book is always better than the movie.
    When he was a tween my sone and I read the LOTR out loud to each other, alternating chapters. We continued this practice for several years, until he entered High School, at which time he continued to read it yearly. We completely wore out my large Red Book commemorative edition because we read it so many times.

  15. teomatteo says:

    What can it teach?
    … little people are people too, and left to develop they can contribute to the whole, in a big way.
    … Just because you can turn a book into a movie doesn’t mean you should.
    …. like Bombadil there is mystery that need not be figured out but lived.

  16. mamajen says:

    It took me a long time to get into Tolkien. I was an avid reader, but that genre was something I had no experience with. My dad gave me his copy of The Hobbit when I was in grade school, but I hated the trippy cover art, and found the party with the dwarves annoying. I couldn’t get through it. It was my future husband who finally inspired me to read LOTR, his favorite books. I was quickly hooked. Some things that stuck out to me:

    – Evil exists. There is no negotiating with it, it must be defeated. I was reading these books in the aftermath of 9/11, and often thought about how people can’t accept that there is real, actual evil in this world. It’s not just in the movies.

    – Love is patient. Yes, I’m a total girl–I was captivated by Aragorn and Arwen’s love story. It was particularly meaningful because I was in a long distance relationship (my husband is English, I’m American). Both of them were tested, but in the end they knew they were supposed to be together for a greater purpose, and they triumphed.

    – Good exists. The selfless heroism of so many of the characters was inspiring, and I especially loved the stories of redemption. I was so rooting for Gollum, but he was too far gone.

    – Good is always worth fighting for. We must always stand up for what is right, even when it seems futile. And we need to take the fight to the enemy, not hole up and wait for the enemy to come to us.

    I ended up reading The Hobbit after LOTR when I was desperate for more, and I did enjoy it then.

  17. mamajen says:

    I’m surprised people hate the movies. I read the books first, and thought the movies were fantastic. There were a few disappointments because they obviously couldn’t fit everything in, but overall I was very pleased with all of them.

  18. katerosemar says:

    “The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet it is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: Small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.”
    Like some others here, I was 14 when we read H/LotR aloud. I’ve never really stopped reading them since. I heartily recommend The Silmarillion as well as The Lays of Beleriand (two unfinished epics, of which I have 1000 lines or so memorized).

    I’d love to say more here, but I have to leave for work now. Good topic!

  19. Mariana2 says:

    Re-reading thee books more or less constantly.

    The films. Considering that they are a Hollywood product they’re wonderful. Of course I have my beefs, specially about Aragon’s reluctance, and then there is Elrond’s hectoring, and the stupid drinking contest at Meduseld when they could have left that out and included the bit where Aragon heals Faramir (of which I’ve only seen a picture) or where Legolas and Gimli arm Aragorn in Gondor before they ride to the Black Gate (which is in the extra bits on the dvd’s), but all in all, they are as good as Hollywood can make them.
    The first installment of The Hobbit is fairly awful, the dwarves mostly plain silly, and the white orc, being 100% digital, no good at all. And Radagast! And the hedgehog Sebastian! Awful!

  20. Mariana2 says:

    Re-reading THE books, even.

  21. majuscule says:

    I flowed your link to purchase the Kindle version of The Hobbit.

    I was informed that I had already purchased it.

    I sure hope I had used your link the first time!

  22. stroseym says:

    The first time I read The Hobbit, I was also reading a book about Medal of Honor winners (I was a history nerd in Middle School). I was struck by Bilbo’s simple bravery in doing the smallest of things that led to huge victories, much like the stories of the Medal of Honor. It’s very similar to St. Therese of Lisieux’s Little Way or St. Josemaria Escriva’s sanctification of daily work. Being simple and humble is often the most heroic character.

  23. capchoirgirl says:

    Oh I love the LOTR movies. They’re what inspired me to read the books! Eowyn is my favorite, all the way. :)

  24. frahobbit says:

    Oh, what can I say? When I was 22 I read Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit. Silmarillion. Then, hungering for I-don’t-know-what, I read Tolkien’s essay and speech given in honor of Andrew Lang “On Fairy Stories”. Whew. As a 22 yr old I was away from the church just by drifting out. The words of Tolkien’s essay, about how we all wish at some level that fairy-stories were true, culminated in his declaration about “true” fairy-stories. I’ll not do any disservice to his bright words but give you a link, and the last couple of paragraphs: http://public.callutheran.edu/~brint/Arts/Tolkien.pdf

    “It is presumptuous of me to touch upon such a
    15 | P a g e
    theme; but if by grace what I say has in any respect any validity, it is, of course, only one facet of a truth incalculably rich: finite only because the capacity of Man for whom this was done is finite.
    I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many
    marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the
    Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to
    It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be “primarily” true, its narrative to be history, without thereby necessarily losing the mythical or allegorical significance that it had possessed. It is not difficult,
    for one is not called upon to try and conceive anything of a quality unknown. The joy would have exactly the same quality, if not the same degree, as the joy which the “turn” in a fairy-story gives: such joy has the very taste of primary truth. (Otherwise its name would not be joy.) It looks forward (or backward: the direction in this regard is unimportant) to the Great Eucatastrophe. The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind; but it is preeminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous. But this story is supreme; and it is
    true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men—and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.”
    Forgive me it’s length, but the joy still touches me, and I wanted to share it a little. After I read that, it was like lightening fell from a clear sky. I went to confession, after that daily Mass, after that the Secular Franciscan Order…So Tolkien’s works have had the biggest impact – more than any event in my life. That was more than 30 years ago. The grace mediated by Tolkien has not yet ceased, and I hope it always flows, and I keep faithful, until it carries me into eternity. Thank you for your patience with this long post.

  25. Imrahil says:

    The answer is no.

    That is, of course I read the Lord of the Rings (after seeing the first movie, I admit), The Hobbit, the Silmarillion, and the Children of Húrin. But especially under this alias I’ll only say I have read Tolkien’s works once I added the Unfinished Tales and the History of Middle Earth to the list.

    Whenever I have got something done, or sometimes when I intend to get something done, I either read the Lord of the Rings once again, or watch the movies, or both. For information, I am a rather quick reader. I guess much of the fun others have in slow and appreciative reading, I have in reading it another time (though I do read, not only glance through).

    I cannot subscribe to the downright dismissal of Peter Jackson’s adaption present in some comments here. The are, as has been noted by the dear @Mariana2, wonderful Holywood films. The music and the landscape is wonderful. There are surprisingly many direct Tolkien citations, sometimes at a different but surprisingly fitting place (the words of Frodo’s dream in Bombadil’s house, if I remember that correctly, were put into Gandalf’s mouth when talking about death, etc.). I do not understand the criticism you sometimes hear concerning the rather funny nature of many of Merry’s, Pippin’s, Sam’s and Gimli’s scences; I believe they would be quite all right with Tolkien’s intentions. (If I remember correctly “shall I find you a box?” is a direct citation again.) I accept that a director cannot tell everything (like Bombadil – and yes, I do long for logical explanations and am sad that Tolkien did not provide for one…). I accept that Frodo looks like he is a hobbit just come out of his tweens, because in appearance he is (the ring prevents aging). Also I accept that the struggle Aragorn did pass through in “real life”, though before the happenings, has been transferred to be a parallel action. And I’m told that in the development of the book, Aragorn was at some point meant to reciprocate Eowyn’s feelings.

    So much for the good side of the movies.

    While under the term “shortening”, the cutting-out of The Scourging of the Shire could perhaps be justified, I hear that it was done not only for that reason, but also because Peter Jackson did not think it belonged there. Well, it does. It is integral to the plot and represents the “apply what you have been trained for” moment.
    Then, there seems to be a disdain around for Tolkien’s “one-dimensional characters”. What this means is that the modern man cannot suffer a good man to exist. (Of course it is clear that the major characters are not one-dimensional, but that aside.) Jackson has no problem to turn the very complex characters of Denethor (tends to good, yes he does) and Saruman (tends to evil, but, before the Scourging of the Shire, tends to) into downright evil characters. Yet good characters, like Faramir, are changed into undecided characters – is it because the modern man cannot suffer a good man to exist? Also, that Shadowfax throws Denethor into the Fire, that in the SEE (which I have not seen, but I’m told) Aragorn does not hold to diplomatic immunity and Legolas kills Wormtongue does not fit, and above all, Elijah Wood may be a good actor, but he obviously has been told to act Frodo Baggins in a both pathetical and somewhat un-masculine way which does not fit so much a fifty-year-old, cozy (though elf-friend and, forgive the allegorical interpretation, hence “spiritual” as opposed to merely wordly) and in the beginning sturdy estate-owner from Hobbiton in the Shire, even though he is under pain from the burden his Ring is. And where, again, does Gandalf get his staff from in Rivendell? (Though admittedly Tolkien left that question open himself, for while Saruman does not take it away in the books, one wonders why he would leave it to him.)

    All of that could have been evaded without any more extra minutes.

    On the whole (dear @mamajen), I do love the movies, but maybe you understand that there are points of criticism.

    As to the question what do we learn from it,


    I take Tolkien by his word: He principally just wanted to tell a fine and long story.

    Still… In one of the secondary literature which grow like mushrooms (of course, hobbits like mushrooms… er) in the wake of the Hobbit movie (which I merely saw once and did not really include in my opinion above), I saw hobbits described as “somewhat dropouts from society; they do a little farming, working, etc., as much as they need and then enjoy their time” (paraphrase).

    That’s how far our beloved Society has come… he who obviously is quite non-fantasy but realism, which would be true about all country people of the non-modern times (provided they owned their own farms) in all except bodily height, which is celebrated in Bavarian and I guess English folklore if perhaps now really a thing of the past, that is now considered a dropout? Ah brave new world that has (no) such people in’t.

    What else did I learn? “There’s some good in this world and it’s worth fighting for.” It’s a compliment to the movies that I remember it now in its movie form… though I guess it was a direct citation. It’s been a long time that I read the book last time (read: half a year).

    And “hobbits perhaps loved the things even more because they could, if pressed, do without them”. (paraphrase) Seems a healthy attitude to me.

    Dear @Magash: John Rogers wrote: “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.” Thank you for that one!

    Excuse the length (I have some feeling that it will go in moderation).

  26. Imrahil says:

    Two other points:

    I think I remember I read the sentence “There’s only one dragon in …, and that’s Green” in a Chesterton work. Does anyone by chance know where? Of course that was cited.

    There are also some Chestertonian points about fairy stories which seem to have been echoed consciously or subconsciously by Tolkien’s work.

    And… great I did not get into moderation.

  27. Priam1184 says:

    The Lord of the Rings taught me what it takes to actually live as a Catholic in this vale of tears.

  28. pseudomodo says:

    Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

    Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

  29. Choirmaster says:

    Yes. I’ve read all three works, and then some. The biggest “lesson” of all the books comes from the Lord of the Rings:

    “How shall a man judge what to do in such times?” [Asked Eomer.] “As he ever has judged,” said Aragorn. “Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves, and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.”

    Objective truth. Objective morality. While the conscience plays it’s part in ‘discerning’ morality, it is always at the service of the unchanging and objective law of God.

    Aragorn recommends to Eomer that his conscience, properly formed, is all he needs to make moral judgements and to determine the “good” or “ill” of a course of action. There is no need, when making these judgements, to consider whether they involve Elves or Dwarves (other peoples or other cultures), or whether they take place in other lands (the Golden Wood, that is, a nearby realm of Elves, yet culturally entirely alien) or our familiar homes. There is no relativity in morality. God’s law is absolute, knowable, and predictable at all times, in all places, and among all peoples.

  30. Frodo: “What a pity Bilbo didn’t kill him while he had the chance!”
    Gandalf: “Pity? It was pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and mercy.”

    Gandalf (alias): “Even Gollum may have something left to do.”

    Tolkien’s Gollum is perhaps the greatest argument for the right to life ever sketched up by a writer’s pen. No matter how physically and morally repugnant, detestable, even criminal a person may be, God can still use his life, or his death, for the good.

    (Forgive any errors I may have made in the quotes above, Gentle Reader. I’m working from memory.)

  31. William Tighe says:

    I teach a first-Year-Seminar course at the college at which I am a History professor on Tolkien’s works entitled “Middle Earth Stories.” May I make a few recommendations?

    First, get the book *The minsters and the Critics* which republishes a number of Tolkien’s essays: “On Fairy Stories” especially, but also essays on Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Greek Knight, the English and Welsh languages, and others as well.

    Second, get the book *Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien* ed. Christopher Tolkien, which contains numerous interesting letters, including ones on religion, on men, women and marriage, as well as a blistering furious denunciation of the script of a proposed film version of LOTR in the late 1960s.

    Third, search online for a wonderful long poem by Tolkien, “the Lay of Aotrou and Itroun,” which is set in a “faerie” version of early Medieval Brittany. I won’t give the “plot” away, but it is a very moving poem, and not without implicit relevance to “reproductive issues.” The poem is hard to find online; I found it some years ago at the website http://www.tolkien.ru/texts/eng/, but now access seems to require a password (which I do not have).

    I have mixed feelings about the LOTR films. Sometimes it seems pointlessly to weaken the suspense of the written version, as in the crossing of the Mines of Moria. In the book, the fact that the “hidden terror” is a balrog is unknown until it comes upon the fellowship, but in the film they seem to know all along that there is a balrog there, and there is the silly introduction of small orcs crawling down pillars and walls to surround the fellowship until the balrog appears. In “The Return of the King” the passing through “the paths of the dead” is made a bit farcical by the landslide of skulls which Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli encounter. More seriously, perhaps, in the book version Aragorn dismisses the host of ghosts or shades once they have aided him in capturing the corsair fleet at Pelargir, but in the film they accompany Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli to Minas Tirith, where they win the battle almost in a trice. There are many good and gripping aspects of the films, but changes such as those I have mentioned seem rather gratuitous. and what is one to think of substituting Arwen for Glorfindel when the fellowship is saved from the Nazgul at the fords of the Bruinen, or the manner in which Aragorn almost flings himself upon Arwen when she is brought to Minas Tirith to marry him towards the end?

  32. Choirmaster says:

    @RomeontheRange: Yes! Gollum is the perfect character study for forgiveness. While Tolkien had on several occasions commented upon whether or not it was possible for Gollum to obtain salvation, he never included that in his books or elsewhere proposed any definitive answer.

    Note well, however, that Frodo asserted that “we must forgive him”, since without Gollum the quest of the Ring would have ultimately failed. Another great lesson, that while we cannot know God’s ultimate judgement which He imparts in His own perfect justice and mercy, we men have no choice but to forgive.

  33. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    Now coming to the end of the Return of the King, which I’m reading as a bedtime story to my boys. I’m going to have to hurry, though, because my 9 yr old is reading the trilogy behind me, and is in Shelob’s lair now, while I’ve just finished the scouring of the Shire.

    Thoughts about lessons learned:

    1) Way bread.
    2) Dates are extremely important. When was the ring destroyed?
    3) It’s possible (even inevitable) to write a good story and have a moral message, without one being the “cloak” for the other. That is, one needn’t look for the “hidden” message ( viz Dan Brown and the da Vinci nonsense), and one need not infuse a book with moral messages if one is telling a good story, for moral choices are part of human existence.

    I found the movies disappointing. How we can leave out the Scouring of the Shire is beyond me. The Healing of Faramir is important, too. Maybe the lesson is that the visual medium can’t always accommodate the written word?

  34. flasharry says:

    Well, Tolkien was a devout Catholic, and that did influence his works. Indeed before. The publication of the “Lord Of The Rings” , he wrote a letter to a friend and priest, Father Robert Murray, saying, “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion’, to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.”
    “Leaf by Niggle” can bee seen, for example, as an allegory of Purgatory. Look at the other allegories, too, the One Ring as the Cross and Frodo as a Christ figure; the Resurrection in Gandalf the White and in Aragon who returns as king; and the Eucharist in the healing lembas bread of the elves.
    There are some good books out there on the Catholic nature of Tolkien’s works…
    The movies? Well, good effects, excellent as cinema, but .. the books are better, by far…

  35. av8er says:

    Read The Hobbit, LOTR (2x’s) and the Silmarillion as an adult. The last one was a bit tough as I am no genius.

    Had my oldest daughter, 11, read the Hobbit this summer. She really liked it. Next summer my next kid gets it.

    I’ve seen all the movies as well and was surprised that they stuck as close as they did to the novel. I enjoyed the movies.

  36. AgricolaDeHammo says:

    I should expect negative reactions to the movies but “philosoph0123” cracks me up… Sure the Hobbit part 1 had some bad cgi, but the 3 lotr films’ combat sequences and humor are far from the worst things about them.
    I get the feeling some folks would only be happy if the Trilogy was presented on film in such a way that everyone spoke slowly and solemnly, enunciating every syllable in the proper tongue.
    Tolkien had a great sense of humor. You can see it in the Hobbit of course, but my personal favorite example of his dry wit is Farmer Giles of Ham… the book my combox name comes from ;)

    BTW, Joseph Pearce gave a great talk at the recent Chesterton Society Conference about the Hobbit. Buy his book everyone! (and use Fr.Z’s link to do it!)

    One takeaway I thought of from his talk: Bilbo living comfortably in the Shire with his inherited wealth being roused by Gandalf to go out into the dangerous world. -> Parallels to the sort of trads that want to live in a Catholic ghetto, never engaging the outside world.

  37. inexcels says:

    I think my most cherished takeaway from The Lord of the Rings is the portrayal of persistent heroism in the face of a hopeless situation.

    I enjoyed the movies a lot the first time I watched them, but after rereading the novel afterwards, it struck me that a large number of characters’ personalities were changed quite substantially. I realized what cardboard cutouts the film versions of Legolas and Gimli were, for example, compared to their novel counterparts.

    Not that I think the movies are terrible. They’re entertaining to watch. But they are pretty shallow compared to the books. What would you expect? It’s amazing Hollywood managed as well with the source material as they did.

  38. Rose in NE says:

    When our kids were younger, we read The Hobbit together out-loud, each of us taking a turn reading a page. Now that they’re grown, they remember this as something special from their childhood. They continued on their own reading The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. It definitely sparked a love for good literature.

  39. Imrahil says:

    Begging again Tolkien’s pardon for allegoricizing,

    I have for some time had the association of

    Rivendell with the Catholic Church after the Reform of the Liturgy,
    Lothlorien with the Catholic Church in her traditional forms.

    Note (for those who perhaps do not know) that comparison with Rivendell is always a compliment as well.

  40. Desertfalcon says:

    I still have my original copy of ‘The Hobbit’, that I purchased while in Jr. High, decades ago.

  41. Scarltherr says:

    I’ve read Tolkien’s complete works, The LOTR and the Hobbit too many times to count, and there is a book called “The Father Christmas Letters” That is wonderful for children at the holidays. It contains some of Tolkien’s letters (with his own illustrations!) to his children during the depression when the family participated in charity gifts for the young ones, as they could not afford to buy anything. As for lessons learned:

    Temptation is the permanent state of fallen mankind. It is how we respond to the tempted evil that determines the state of our souls.
    (I’m thinking particularly about Bilbo and his initial desire to lie about and hide the ring after finding it, something that is completely out of character for the hobbit before that moment, and his subsequent ability to be the only person who is able to relinquish control of the ring of his own free will.)

  42. teomatteo says:

    isn’t it Bilbo’s birthday on Sunday?

  43. Choirmaster says:

    @Imrahil: Yes, you better beg. ;-) If Tolkien hates “allegoricizing” as much as he despises allegory you’re gonna be in trouble! Maybe your screen-name will earn some points and gain you some clemency.

    (BTW – why no Imrahil in the movies?!? What a great character.)

  44. Mariana2 says:

    I’ve also had the pleasure of reading Tolkien first as a Lutheran and then as a Catholic!

  45. Bruce Wayne says:

    LOTR has an amazing scene of battle rage in the brother caused by thinking that his sister (Eowyn/Eomer, can never remember the names as they were so similar) is dead. I remember thinking that Tolkein was so properly sympathetic with the inchoate desires and wishes of a proto-feminist. That is, he as a good Christian humanist was able to recognize why the daughter of warriors wanted to fight and not be stuck doing “womanly” things and did not denigrate her wishes but rather patiently explained reality to her and us through the events.

    Also, love that Tolkein demonstrates the truth of the Aristotelian/Thomistic understanding of the education of the soul, of the development of character and the fact that the noble and good are not devoid of passion but in control of it and motivated by it in proper degrees and directions.

    Lastly, his portrayal of male friendship is really important. One of the 6 books feels really long and tedious with no action as Frodo and Sam traverse swamps, mountains and deserts (or some such) and to contemporary readers can seem really “gay” but that it because manliness itself has been so debauched that a great depiction of authentic friendship between males cannot be stomached anymore.

  46. Bruce Wayne says:

    As for the films.

    They are the best effort an imbecile like Peter Jackson can accomplish. This for several reasons: 1) he is simply not that bright but has technical skill (ala a Spielberg, another mental midget who is a good craftsman); 2) he is a fairly typical modern (see all his early films, esp. the lesbian loving Heavenly Creatures); 3) he is not Catholic (see points 1/2) and likely at best deist if not agnostic/atheist; 4) the epic is the most difficult genre of film to master and David Lean was unavailable; 5) the popular constraints of Hollywood (see violating the letter and spirit of an Elven princess by having Arwen rescue Frodo at the river).

    My personal biggest complaint about the films, however, is McKellen’s Gandalf the “Gay” treatment of Tolkein’s strongest hero. All those pouty, sad and tired faces he kept making off to the side really ticked me off. As others have said the likes of a Jackson (i.e. moderns) cannot believe that virtue really exists. They have no saints or heroes, only anti-heroes . . . it is the sad revival of tragic Greek paganism.

  47. ghp95134 says:

    I first read LOTR when I was stationed in Germany in 1976, and re-read it about every five years — it takes that long for me to get fully absorbed into the books.

    One of the greatest lines, to me as a retired military man who wore the Ranger tab, comes from the Ranger, Halbarad:

    Little do they know of our long labour for the safe-keeping of their borders. Yet, I grudge it not.”

    It describes most of the professional soldiers I’ve known.


  48. Choirmaster says:

    @Bruce Wayne: It only seemed “gay” in the movies. To me, the section of the book you’re describing just seemed tedious, as you say, for lack of anything happening. I guess you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and so I, for one, find Frodo and Sam’s journey across the Emyn Muil and the Dead Marshes, past the Black Gate, and into Ithilien to be simply boring.

  49. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Choirmaster,

    thanks for your friendly answer!

    As for the 4th book, I too found it boring… the first five or so times I read it.

    Dear @AgricolaDeHammo: takeaway I thought of from his talk: Bilbo living comfortably in the Shire with his inherited wealth being roused by Gandalf to go out into the dangerous world. -> Parallels to the sort of trads that want to live in a Catholic ghetto, never engaging the outside world.

    Interesting… especially in the light of the fact that we are here quoting a book called with the fitting title There and Back Again. Bilbo does not mind the Shire; sure, he sometimes gets the virtuous anger of the enthousiast who thinks that a dragon invasion might just do its comfortable populace good, but when it comes to it, he does love them and excuse them.

    On the other hand, there is a quite sad sentence from the Lord of the Rings: “We set out to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me.” I once linked that to the problem of the priest; he takes up voluntarily the job to fight against evil and for all the good things in the world (it is secondary which of the two is the more important); and even if he succeeds, he cannot take part in their enjoyment.

    It is also said that he can go to Valinor instead.

  50. Alencon says:

    I won’t add anymore to what has been written about ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ except for my favorite quote:

    “It is ever so with the things that man begins: there is a frost in spring, or a blight in summer, and they fail of their promise. Yet seldom do they fail of their seed, and that will lie in the dust and rot to spring up again in times and places unlooked for.”

    Listened to the audio book of ‘The Silmarillion’ while driving through Portugal/Spain/France/Italy visiting shrines in 2005 and heard the final sentence while driving into San Daniele, Italy and literally driving into a ‘Lord of the Rings’ festival in the mountains. Purchased my ‘Atlas of Middle Earth’ there, which is quite amazing in itself.

  51. Angie Mcs says:

    I first read the Hobbit and then LOTR when the Ballantyne Paperbacks came out in the 60s. I was in high school, and they captivated me as nothing ever has- I even loaned the Hobbit to my grandmother, and she enjoyed it.

    There are many lessons one can learn; the list above shows how rich the books are, filled with parallels to our world. Another lesson that strikes me is that nobody is safe from evil, which is always on the move, growing and trying to encroach on everything. The charming little Hobbits, thinking they are secure and safe in their little part of the world, cannot fathom that they may one day be under the rule of Sauron. They are too content and happily caught up in their secure lives to even conceive of any threat to their way of life, or to feel they must contribute to the battle. So must we here constantly fight against the Dark One, who is always laying in wait and building his army against us. We may have our lovely lives, sweet children, food on the table…yet the world is all one place, and that place contains the most ruthless, evil of enemies. In the end, goodness wins over, but it takes extremes courage, the ability to give ones life, the ultimate sacrifice, for the continuation of goodness. Most importantly, people throughout the world must band together in battle against the Dark One. There is nothing evil likes more than the squabbling among good people.

    I also learned that true heroes are made up of those who forge ahead despite their fear and temptation. In the end, it is the little hobbits, Frodo and SAm, who go into the depths of Mount Doom, not someone like Aragorn or Gandalf. They are exhausted and afraid, yet keep going, with simple, sturdy Sam always urging Frodo on. Frodo at the end finds he cannot give up the ring. Here we learn another lesson, that of treating others with kindness and forgiveness despite how much we dislike them. Despite Sam’s suspicions and extreme dislike of Gollum, something in Gollum touches Frodos heart, and he stops Sam from destroying him.. Gollum, of course, wants the ring and cannot be trusted- we all know that. But because Frodo helped Gollum survive, this pitiful creature eventually is responsible for the destruction of his Precious, losing his life as he falls to his death along with the ring and Frodo’s finger. Evil destroys itself.

    Like MAMAJEN and others, I liked the movies very much. To me, they captured the essence of the books as much as any film can capture such difficult books. The scenery , such as the Elven lands, was beautiful, the creation of the various creatures, like the ents, orcs, elves etc are very well done, the music added beautifully to the mood, and the acting was marvelous. It is rare that movies come close to the books because we can use our own imaginations, an endless treasure, when we read. In these movies, we are tied to Peter Jackson’s imagination- and his practical and financial restrictions. I’m sure many people who saw the movies first were inspired to read the books and could then delve deeper into Tolkien’s craft. Either way, Middle Earth can teach us a great deal about good and evil, a war that certainly exists here and now in our own world.

  52. AgricolaDeHammo says:

    @Imrahil Excellent points made in all of your comments. Pearce had much more significant things to say than I can remember at the moment, so I hope my forgetfullness doesn’t do him a disservice.
    On a side note, I love your moniker. He was fascinating character (as so many of the extras of Tolkien’s tales were) and I particularly liked to think of him being this guy.

  53. Lirioroja says:

    How providential – I just started my umpteenth re-read of The Silmarillion and I’ll be following it up with re-reads of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The bindings on all my copies are cracked (save The Hobbit since it’s my least favorite of the tales but given that I really like The Hobbit it only shows how much I love the other works) and I had to tape up my copy of The Silmarillion because it split in two. I did not read them as a child. I first read them when I was 24. It was after 9/11 and before the first of the LOTR films was released the following December. I read and loved The Hobbit and of course I moved on to LOTR and devoured all 3 books before the first films opening night. I cried when I finished the trilogy and I didn’t want to leave Middle Earth. I moved on to The Silmarillion and my fate as a Tolkien geek was sealed. I’ve since read Unfinished Tales a few times and I’ve been slogging through The History of Middle Earth for almost a decade now (now that’s a tough read.) I’ve also read a number of the other works mentioned in previous comments. I really can’t get enough Tolkien.

    I’ll never forget one Sunday morning shortly after I finished reading LOTR longing for Middle Earth and seating myself in a pew for Mass. I asked God, could this be real? Mass began and as it progressed, I realized it was real – and I was in it. The glory of Númenor or Gondolin or of Tirion upon Túna can not compare to the glory of the Mass. (It helped that my parish at the time was beautiful and the priest said the black and did the red and the music was beautiful and fitting for the liturgy.) I can only echo what everyone has said about the lessons they’ve learned from the tales. We fight the long defeat in this valley of tears but it is still worth fighting. Our hope is ultimately in Him who first gave the themes to the great music and He will take all things into His theme and make a greater and more glorious one that all His children will gather together to sing before Him at the end of time. We must trust in His providence.

  54. Venerator Sti Lot says:


    Thank you for these comments! Those who have not tried The Simarillion or find it heavy going, should at least read or reread the Creation story, there, to which you allude at the end.

    Your saying “The glory of Númenor or Gondolin or of Tirion upon Túna can not compare to the glory of the Mass” strikes me as something Tolkien would agree with, and indeed as a deep part of all his “Middle-earth” work. It is imagined as pre-history of our world. It is, in its way, not allegorical, but typological: persons and events and things there have their concrete reality but also look and point forward. For example, as Chris Garton-Zavesky said above, ” Dates are extremely important. When was the ring destroyed?” On the equivalent of 25 March!

    For another example, I think that Gandalf is something like the wrong-headed Christology of Arius worked out right: an angelic being, made flesh (more thoroughly than St. Raphael in Tobit), laboring for the good, killed and raised again transformed with new, greater power and authority – none of which does, or could, make him the Savior, but all of which points to Who and What the Savior must be, and be like, both by its similarities and its insufficiencies.

    On another note, comparable with the Father Christmas letters, Roverandom, written for his children and only published after his death, is a delightful book.

  55. Bruce Wayne says:

    Sorry maybe I wasnt clear about that book four.

    I see how it can be taken as tedious or boring to read, I found it so. I wasn’t trying to say I read it as “gay.”

    I was trying to say that the male friendship developed there and the throughout between Sam and Frodo in itself is taken as uncomfortable/gay-ish BY modern-minded people. I do not think it seemed gay in the movies because I understood it as authentic friendship. I also do not think it seems that way in the book, My point is that moderns have so oversexualized men so that real friendship between them is just no longer understood. Heterosexual male friends have to rather continually assert there hetero-ness and represent their expressions of love and friendship as “not gay.” Think of common phrases at this point like “man hug” or “man crush.” Men are uncomfortable being friends with each other now in a public way unless they do it in a manner that asserts their proper sexual orientation. The reason for this discomfort is quite obvious, the first normalization and the now celebration of homosexuals as true men, manly ideals, the cultural superhero figure for men. ( I lump in the metrosexual phenomenon with the homo-celebration phenomenon).

  56. KAS says:

    When my older kids were old enough, we turned off all tv for Lent and did read-alouds of books and this brought us into the LOTH the year after we did the Hobbit. My children loved it. I did all the voices and ways of speaking as true to the page as I could do and they learned to love good language and understand that a thick book with difficult words could be a treasure trove.

    I can hardly wait until my younger ones are old enough for those books.

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