Ten Resources for Enjoying Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

Andy Naselli —  October 19, 2012 — 5 Comments

After living in Narnia with our daughter for about the first half of the year, we moved to Middle-earth.

C. S. Lewis would approve. He wrote this in a letter to a girl named Lucy in 1957:

I am so glad you like the Narnian stories and it was nice of you to write and tell me. . . . Do you know Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings? I think you w[oul]d. like it. (C. S. Lewis Letters to Children [ed. Lyle W. Dorsett and Marjorie Lamp Mead; New York: Macmillan, 1985], 75.)

We’ve lived in Middle-earth for about four months, and it’s been a delight.

Middle-earth has been more challenging than Narnia since only one of J. R. R. Tolkien’s four books is for children (The Hobbit) and since The Lord of the Rings trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King) is so long and complicated. But we persevered, and it was worth it.

Here are ten resources we used to enjoy Tolkien’s world:

1. The Unabridged Books

unabridged_Hobbit unabridged_set

These are classy, sturdy hardbacks with a smattering of illustrations:

  1. The Hobbit
  2. The Lord of the Rings (3 vols.), illustrated by Alan Lee

2. Graphic Novel

graphic_novelI’m surprised that there aren’t more books like this. I wish there were corresponding ones for The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

J. R. R. Tolkien. The Hobbit: An Illustrated Edition of the Fantasy Classic. Edited by Charles Dixon and Sean Deming. Illustrated by David Wenzel. New York: Ballantine Books, 2001. 138 pp.

Although a book like this horrifies purists, I like it. I used it to introduce The Hobbit to Kara, and it helped draw her into the world of Middle-earth. She loves pictures paired with stories; they engage her and stimulate her imagination.

3. NPR Dramatization

NPR1 NPR2

NPR3 NPR4

This isn’t as high-quality as Focus on the Family Radio Theatre, but it’s is a little better than the BBC dramatization (resource #4 below).

(I wish Focus on the Family Radio Theatre would produce a version of these four books! For a list of the stories they have produced, see resource #3 in Ten Narnia Resources.)

To sample the audio, click on the covers above or the Audible links below:

  1. The Hobbit | 4.2 hours | Audible | Amazon
  2. The Fellowship of the Rings | 3.4 hours | Audible | Amazon
  3. The Two Towers | 3.4 hours | Audible | Amazon
  4. The Return of the King | 3.5 hours | Audible | Amazon

NPRset

4. BBC Dramatization

BBC1 BBC2

BBC3 BBC4

To sample the audio, click on the covers above or the Audible links below:

  1. The Hobbit | 1968 | 3.8 hours | Audible | Amazon | Wikipedia
  2. The Fellowship of the Rings | 1981 | 5.5 hours (depending on how you break it up) | Audible | Amazon
  3. The Two Towers | 1981 | 2.8 hours (depending on how you break it up) | Audible | Amazon
  4. The Return of the King | 1981 | 3.1 hours | Audible | Amazon

BBC_set

5. Unabridged Audiobooks

un1 un2

un3 un4

We love audiobooks. Especially when the narrator is Jim-Dale good.

Unfortunately, Rob Inglis, who narrates the four unabridged Tolkien books, is not Jim-Dale good. He’s one of the most boring narrators we’ve listened to. It’s a pity. But his narrations are the only unabridged audiobooks I’m aware of.

To sample the audio, click on the covers above or the Audible links below:

  1. The Hobbit | 11 hours | Audible | Amazon
  2. The Fellowship of the Rings | 19.1 hours | Audible | Amazon
  3. The Two Towers | 16.7 hours | Audible | Amazon
  4. The Return of the King | 18.3 hours (including the long “Annals of the Kings and Rulers”) | Audible | Amazon

unSet

6. Animated Films

animated_Hobbit animated_Lord

animated_Return

  1. The Hobbit | 1977 | directed by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass
  2. The Lord of the Rings | 1978 | directed by Ralph Bakshi
  3. The Return of the King | 1980 | directed by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass

These are cheesy, but they’re not terrible. For young children viewing Tolkien’s story in film, these animated versions are a better entry point than Peter Jackson’s blockbuster films because they’re much less violent and realistic.

The animated figures for the characters aren’t the same in each video (e.g., Gollum looks different in film 2), and films 1 and 3 are practically animated musicals. As is common for books-made-into-films, the storylines don’t match up exactly with the books. Nor do they match up exactly with Peter Jackson’s films.

7. Blockbuster Films by Peter Jackson

extended_edThis is one of the few cases where Jenni and I think that the films are better than the books. We probably just lost all of our literary credibility (not that I had much of it). We find Tolkien’s writing style often tedious.

We agree with Russell Moore:

This will enrage a lot of my friends, but I find Tolkien tedious and even sometimes boring where Lewis is playful and profound and clear. Tolkien fans would probably dismiss that as saying something about my lack of depth, and I’m sure they’re right. But that’s just the point. These decisions are, at bottom, often subjective.*

I watched the extended edition of all three films with my daughter (fast-forwarding and/or turning the volume down for most of the intense parts). She loved it. Twice.

Her favorite scene is in The Return of the King when Frodo wakes up at Minas Tirith and sees Gandalf, then Merry and Pippen, then Gimli, then Legolas, then Aragorn, then Sam. When she watched this scene for the first time, she was bouncing in her seat, giggling and shouting, smiling and crying with joy.

We hope Peter Jackson’s forthcoming three-part version of The Hobbit will be as good.

__________

*I asked Layton Talbert to give me feedback on a draft of this post, and he gave me permission to share one of his shrewd comments:

I’m not sure they’re right. [See Russell Moore’s quote above.] Though I don’t share your sentiment, I understand it. For all their similarities, Tolkien and Lewis were very different literary personalities. Tolkien was an absolute perfectionist—every detail had to be precise and consistent. And every detail invited another detail, and another. Part of what you find boring is precisely what draws others into the world of Middle Earth and makes it so profoundly realistic—the level of detail, both descriptive and “historical,” is astounding. It’s what gives Middle Earth its depth and texture and makes it such a convincing quasi-reality. I think you can simplify the difference between them this way: Lewis wanted to tell a story; Tolkien wanted to create a world—a whole new world with its own history and geography and languages and mythology. It truly was, as Tolkien himself called it, a work of sub-creation.

8. Sketchbook

sketchbookAlan Lee illustrated the unabridged Lord of the Rings trilogy (see resource 1 above) and an edition of The Hobbit. He was also one of the two lead concept artists for Peter Jackson’s blockbuster films, and he’s helping with the forthcoming Hobbit films.

This book showcases and explains his work for The Lord of the Rings films:

Alan Lee. The Lord of the Rings Sketchbook. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005.

It’s fun to read. His fingerprints are all over Peter Jackson’s trilogy.

9. Two Reference Books

I checked out both of these books at the library and then bought the one by Foster because it’s easier to use as a reference tool:

foster tyler

  1. Foster, Robert. The Complete Guide to Middle-earth: From the Hobbit through the Lord of the Rings and Beyond. New York: Ballantine, 1978.
  2. Tyler, J. E. A. The Complete Tolkien Companion. 3rd ed. New York: Thomas Dunne, 2004.

Foster’s book is a handy reference for when your child asks you dozens of specific questions about Tolkien’s complex world that you either can’t recall offhand or have no clue about! Kara asked all sorts of questions about elves (e.g., Do elves ever sleep?), orcs (e.g., Are orcs the same thing as goblins?), wizards (e.g., Can a girl be a wizard?), relationships (e.g., What was the name of Galadriel’s husband?), animals (e.g., What exactly are wargs and oliphaunts?), and much more. This book helped me give accurate and detailed answers.

10. Pretending

Our experience here is similar to Narnia (resource #8).

We (mostly my dear wife!) have spent dozens of hours play-acting with Kara as all sorts of Middle-earth characters. Kara lives in an imaginary world, and she constantly reenacts scenes and improvises new ones using the characters from the stories.

It can get exhausting living in this pretend world, but it’s worth it. It’s good for her on so many levels (e.g., see Nurture Shock, ch. 8).

Guess who Kara wants to be for Halloween later this month? Arwen. (It was a tough decision because she also wanted to be Galadriel and Éowyn.) And guess who she begged me to be? Aragorn. Not a bad choice, though my favorite character in the trilogy is Sam.

Related

  1. Ten Narnia Resources
  2. Douglas Wilson. “Reading for Worldviews: Lord of the Rings.” TGC Blog. September 6, 2012.
  3. Kevin T. Bauder. “The Christian and Fantastic Literature, Part 5: The Lord of the Rings.” In the Nick of Time. March 18, 2005.
  4. Peter Kreeft. The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings. San Francisco: Ignatius, 2005. Justin Taylor lists the the outline.
  5. Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull. The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005. Scholarly and relatively technical. It’s similar to an academic, intermediate-level commentary on a book of the Bible. Impressive. Massive amount of work.
  6. David Day. A Tolkien Bestiary. New York: Ballantine Books, 1979. This book is a beast! (Couldn’t resist.) “A bestiary is a book about beasts. . . . [Tolkien’s work] is the largest, most complex and detailed invented mythological system in our literature” (p. 6).
  7. J. R. R. Tolkien. The Annotated Hobbit. Edited by Douglas A. Anderson. London: HarperCollins, 2002.
  8. Humphrey Carpenter. J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977. The paperback edition published in 2000 “includes all revisions made since the original publication.”

5 responses to Ten Resources for Enjoying Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

  1. Andy,

    Great resources!

    I’m not going to rant and rave about your comparison between the movies and books (though it sounds similar to someone preferring a film version of Pride & Prejudice to the novel), but I will offer this link to the intro of the New City Catechism. There is a section on archaic language, and Tim Keller uses a great illustration from LOTR to explain the need for older forms even today.

    Otherwise, thanks for working to make a masterpiece accessible to our generations and beyond!

  2. Andy, I have have to disagree with you about Rob Inglis is not boring with LOTR. Jim Dale’s performance with Harry Potter is the pinnacle of audio narration!! I agree that no one can match Jim Dale, but I trudged through LOTR/Hobbit with Inglis and was quite delighted. Having listened to many audiobooks through Christianaudio.com and Audible.com with some dreadful narrators, I’d take Rob Inglis any day.

  3. There’s also The Lord of the Rings Online game!

    It’s pretty fun! And it’s free!

    http://www.lotro.com/free.php?

    Don’t judge me…

  4. What about The Silmarillion? I would definitely suggest it.

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