The Return of the King – J.R.R. Tolkien

Return of the KingReading level: 9
Series: Book 3 of The Lord of the Rings series
Genre: Fantasy, adventure,
ELL-Friendly: No
Library recommendation: High school

Well, I’ve finished The Lord of the Rings series. It was a good ride, but this series just wasn’t for me. Most people absolutely love these books, the movies, and the story in general, and that’s great. But I couldn’t really get into it. There’s nothing inappropriate (except orc killing and whatnot) so I’ll definitely put it on my classroom shelves. The reading level says 9th grade, but there are hundreds of words I didn’t know and that my dictionary didn’t know either. It’s a difficult read.

Not until about a quarter of the way through this book did I realize how to read this series: skip all the crazy names and places. Don’t even try to remember who those random people are or where those places are located. Not important. I was spending way too much time beating myself up about not understanding made-up words for people and places. I suppose I just committed LOTR heresy or something.

There’s a lot of LOTR in the Harry Potter series. For example, Wormtongue is like Wormtale, both bad guys are called the Dark Lord, and both Harry and Frodo let their enemies live (Wormtale/Peter Pettigrew and Sauroman, respectively). I’ll always be a Harry Potter gal. 🙂

In my review of The Fellowship of the Ring, I whined a bit about the lack of women. There are some awesome women in the series as it goes on, but Eowyn was the awesomest. Or so I thought. She went into battle against her father’s wishes, killed an evil thingy, refused to sit idle, put Faramir in his place…and then became all submissive. Whaaat?! Allow me to explain.

After Faramir and Eowyn are hurt in battle and are recovering, Faramir is all, “I’m sad.”

And Eoywn is like, “How come? Can I help?”

And Faramir’s all, “You’re so beautiful. And fair and bright. And pretty.”

Then Eoywn is AWESOME and says, “Alas, not me, lord! Shadow lies on me still. Look not to me for healing! I am a shieldmaiden and my hand is ungentle. But I thank you for this at least, that I need not keep to my chamber…” And then she walks away.

A little bit later, Faramir confesses his love for Eowyn and all of a sudden she’s on board. She says, “Then must I leave my own people, man of Gondor? And would you have your proud folk say of you: ‘There goes a lord who tamed a wild shieldmaiden of the North! Was there no woman of the race of Numenor to choose?”‘

So she turns her “wild shieldmaiden” into something negative, something that must be tamed. I’m just going to end this post here…

The Two Towers – J.R.R. Tolkien

the-two-towersReading level: 8.4

Series: Book 2 of The Lord of the Rings series

Genre: Fantasy, adventure

ELL-Friendly: No

Library recommendation: High school

I don’t have much to say here that hasn’t already been said in my post about The Fellowship of the Ring. I suddenly realized that maybe one of the reasons it takes me so long to get through these books is that nothing really…happy happens. It’s all dark, dangerous, and life-threatening. All the time. It’s sort of bumming me out, really.

The character of Gollum is fascinating to me. At the end of this book, Gollum sells out Frodo and Sam to the nasty spider, but I still don’t find him to be a villain. How much agency does he really have? I get the impression that because he had the Ring for so long, it essentially possessed him. We can still see the bits of goodness in him where he acts as an honest guide to Sam and Frodo. In the cave place with Faramir and other Gondore folk, Frodo shows such tenderness to Gollum, and Gollum in turn trusts Frodo among men who would kill him.

Being cognizant that Gollum isn’t a “good guy” exactly (and I have no proof that he’s entire bad, either. Can you be evil without having agency?), how Gollum is treated speaks a lot to how humans treat one another. Frodo addresses Gollum as Smeagol. Everyone else, especially Sam, calls him Gollum. Frodo treats Gollum humanely, and, in return, Gollum treats Frodo humanely…until his urge to get the Ring gets the better of him. This is an example, if flawed, of treating others how you wish to be treated.

Sam’s love for Frodo really comes through in this book. Yet, I’m still unsure where all that love comes from. Sam might be a loyal friend, but, man, it is kind of annoying how he always beats himself up and worships Frodo. Allow me to quote from Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (this is for you, Samwise Gamgee) —

“You think because he doesn’t love you that you are worthless. You think that because he doesn’t want you anymore that he is right — that his judgement and opinion of you are correct. If he throws you out, then you are garbage. You think he belongs to you because you want to belong to him. Don’t. It’s a bad word, ‘belong.’ Especially when you put it with somebody you love. Love shouldn’t be like that. Did you ever see the way the clouds love a mountain? They circle all around it; sometimes you can’t even see the mountain for the clouds. But you know what? You go up top and what do you see? His head. The clouds never cover the head. His head pokes through, because the clouds let him; they don’t wrap him up. They let him keep his head up high, free, with nothing to hide him or bind him. You can’t own a human being. You can’t lose what you don’t own. Suppose you did own him. Could you really love somebody who was absolutely nobody without you? You really want somebody like that? Somebody who falls apart when you walk out the door? You don’t, do you? And neither does he. You’re turning over your whole life to him. Your whole life, girl. And if it means so little to you that you can just give it away, hand it to him, then why should it mean any more to him? He can’t value you more than you value yourself.”

The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien

fellowship of the rinReading level: 8.1

Series: Book 1 of The Lord of the Rings series

Genre: Fantasy, adventure

ELL-Friendly: No

Library recommendation: High school

I have mixed feelings about this book. The good: it’s a well-crafted adventure story, and the reader can feel the urgency of the situation and the importance of the mission. The interaction between the different members of the fellowship is interesting, and I’m just starting to get to understand who these characters are. Is Boromir such a jerk all the time or is he a legitimately good guy? Why does Sam love so much Frodo so much? Does Frodo return the sentiment? Must keep reading…

What I didn’t like: Tolkien is more a linguist than a novelist, it seems to me. He name-drops like nobody’s business, and I got lost in all the names of people and places. Tolkien seems to have a very clear picture of the land that he tries to help readers visualize, but I just couldn’t keep up with the strange names and directions. The maps didn’t help all that much for specific and in-depth descriptions of most places. The made-up words made my reading slower than usual, and I struggled to keep interest. There’s a also a lot of time committed to planning the next steps of the Company. I understand that planning is of course important, but I think that some of that dialogue and explanation could have been cut down.

Taking the good and the bad, I think high schoolers would like this book more than younger readers, and even high schoolers would need to be strong readers. In addition to made-up words, there are lots of real words with which I wasn’t familiar, and my reading level is far above 8th grade…or so I’d like to think. Die-hard fantasy fans (no matter how young) could certainly power through and learn some new words along the way.

The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien

HobbitReading level: 6

Series: Book 0.5 of The Lord of the Rings series

Genre: Fantasy, adventure

ELL-Friendly: No

Library recommendation: Middle or high school, although middle schoolers may be more likely to lose interest in the slower parts

I’m finally getting around to reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy, beginning with The Hobbit. It was much less dark than I had expected, although I’m only basing my thoughts on the movies. It was also far less confusing (I get confused while watching the movies), so I was pleasantly surprised.

I can’t stop reading books from a teacher’s point of view, which is both a blessing and a curse, I suppose. I liked Tolkien’s whimsical writing style, but I did encounter many sentences and words that confused me. Younger students would probably be confused as well. Also, Tolkien uses sentence structure and punctuation in ways I was taught (and will teach) to not use. But it is an engaging (if more sophisticated) adventure story, so on the classroom bookshelf it goes!

Let’s be real – everyone knows the dragon is killed at the end. But how he was killed I found a huge letdown. Much less exciting than I had hoped. Then everything was sort of not as interesting thereafter. But most of the book was fast-paced enough to keep my interest.

My last critique is WHERE ARE THE WOMEN? An elven lady may have appeared near the beginning, but that’s it. No women. Maybe that’s what happens when old men write books…