The Case for The Lord of the Rings
The world has grown to love the epic adventures of J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books and movies.
Tweens and teens these days may be more familiar with the blockbuster film adaptation of The Hobbit.
There, Bilbo Baggins outfoxes Gollum (formerly Smeagol) to steal the “precious” One Ring. With it, he has the power to turn himself invisible.
Later, the brave hobbit enters the treasure-filled lair of Smaug the Dragon to confirm the beast’s vulnerability—a small opening under its belly, wide enough for a skillful release of an arrow.
But fantasy nerds, like me, hold The Lord of the Rings book series, J.R.R Tolkien’s arguably most famous work, dear to our hearts.
Starting from the idyllic hillside hobbit holes of Hobbiton to the volcanic wastelands of Mordor, to encountering a terrifying Balrog in the depths of the Dwarf Kingdom, down to meeting the fantastical tree creatures known as the Ents, The Lord of the Rings is a classic story offering an enduring hope for fighting the Saurons of the real world.
Countless readers have reaped the benefits of Frodo and Sam’s journey, so should tweens and teens.
Here are three main lessons that will empower young writers and teens, and set them on the right path in life.
The Necessity of Leaving Home and the Promise of Adventure
Set in a bucolic countryside nook in a safe corner of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, life is beautiful, restful, and uncomplicated.
But like his uncle Bilbo Baggins, Frodo’s character taps into a nagging curiosity for the unknown and a certain curiosity to follow his nose.
Although he loves the Shire with its fields, creeks, rolling hills, Second Breakfasts, and profusion of gardens, he finds himself wandering further and further afield to the outskirts of town, restless to explore what might be beyond the world he knows.
His urge for adventure though is met with his own internal resistance to the uncertainty of venturing outwards, and the fear of being saddled with a great and dangerous responsibility.
He doesn’t believe himself capable of being the one to destroy the Ring. He raises the classic question, “Why me?”
Yet, in the end, his love for home and community instills in him the courage to embark on the mystical, dark, and heroic quest to destroy evil.
In this way, Lord of the Rings is a quintessential coming-of-age story, conveying the perplexing feeling of loving something you must leave.
Even for tweens and teens today, ready to step into the first stages of adulthood, or responsibility, Lord of the Rings urges its readers to follow in Frodo’s footsteps.
That is, taking the risk of venturing into new lands for the promise of magic, excitement, and most of all, adventure.
Like all young heroes, they soon discover that there’s always something new to be discovered.
Friendship and Perseverance in Dark Times
Ever the loyal friend to the end, Sam may be the real hero of the story, or perhaps just the beacon of emotional strength that allows Frodo to endure.
With moments of magic, delight, and fantastical elements sprinkled throughout, Frodo and the fellowship is able to persevere under the most impossible odds.
Most of all, after the fellowship dissolves, Frodo’s enduring friendship with Sam is all that holds him together in the end, all the way up to the pits of Mordor.
Fans will recall how Frodo wouldn’t have destroyed the Ring if not for Sam’s insistence, and the fortune of Gollum falling off the edge at the last moment.
“Don’t you let go!” shouts Sam, staring fiercely down at his friend as he hangs by his fingernails, ready to plummet to his death.
It’s Sam’s kind but tough love, that pulls through in the end, and not Frodo’s innate strength.
Empathy for Those We May not Like and the Pitfalls of Power
The character of Gollum, previously Smeagol, provides a lesson in empathy.
Known for eating fish raw, whispering “my Precious” into the darkness, and casting guttural yet tortured threats towards those who cross him, Gollum is probably one of the least likeable creatures in the series, and one of the hardest characters to feel kindness towards.
He’s manipulative, childish yet cruel, hideous, and loyal only to the Ring.
But in the end, he’s a victim of torture from the ring itself.
In the beginning, Frodo criticizes Gandalf for not killing Gollum while he had the chance.
Gandalf warns against this line of thinking, reminding Frodo that mercy can be found for even the most detestable of beings:
“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them?
Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the wise cannot see all ends.”
Here, Gandalf not only preaches empathy, but warns against the dangers of ultimate power, and how it can corrupt.
Today our nation is more divisive than ever. Kids need to be equipped with tools such as empathy to navigate the often cruel and lonely terrain of a society that encourages insular thinking and the creation of the “other.”
The Importance of a Story
Although The Lord of the Rings trilogy may not be all the rage as it was in the past, Tolkien’s story remains a timeless cultural pillar.
The tale exposes us to overarching life themes and leaves us with the lessons that:
- We must–at some point–leave home for adventure,
- Our friends will hold us together when we need them most, and
- Empathy may be more potent a tool than power.
These teachings are as crucial now as ever.
If you want to arm your teens with a toolkit for life, let them read and study Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.