Episode 8: An Introduction to Tolkien for Beginners
I wanted to start out by saying that these are just my opinions based on my love for Tolkien and what I’ve learned, so you may have found a different reading style that works for you and that’s okay!
I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’d like to tweet me @teawithtolkien, or send me an email - there’s a little contact form on my website, teawithtolkien.com.
Q: Should I start with The Hobbit or The Fellowship of the Ring?
This really depends and it’s up to you. If you want to ease yourself into Middle-Earth with something a little simpler and lighthearted, go for The Hobbit.
But if you want to just get straight to it, maybe go for The Fellowship.
Either way, you’re not doing it wrong, because although you’ll understand LOTR better if you read The Hobbit first, you will also be fine if you don’t want to at first.
Q: Should I read the prologue before beginning the Lord of the Rings?
You don’t have to, but you should at least read “Concerning Hobbits” and then read “Of the Finding of the Ring” if you haven’t read The Hobbit because it’s basically a summary of that story.
Q: What’s the pace of the stories? I struggle with slow-paced books.
The Hobbit has a faster pace than The Lord of the Rings. In LOTR, Tolkien takes a lot of time to carefully set the stage for everything to come, so the first two chapters move very slowly. If you can get past those, though, it does pick up a little.
Q: I hate his writing style. It’s way too descriptive for me. What do I do?
I mean there’s really nothing I can do for you if you feel like you hate Tolkien’s writing style, and I get that it’s very particular and so it won’t be for everyone. However, if it does feel to slow or descriptive for you and you find yourself getting lost, I recommend trying out the audiobook versions. I use audible, but you can also find them at pretty much any library.
Q: How do I remember all of their names?
Just like meeting new friends, it can be hard to remember many names when you’re reading them all at once. However, after you get to know the characters and maybe do another re-read, it becomes a lot easier. I’ve also found that watching the films or even looking at illustrations of the different characters helps a lot because it makes it easier to visualize what different characters look like, and if you’re watching the films, a voice.
Q: Which book do I read last?
This question is just absurd because you should never stop reading Tolkien, obviously.
Q: How many books did Tolkien publish?
A quick google search reveals… at least 31. There are so many!!
The most well-known ones of course are: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.
Then you have books expanding upon different chapters or stories from The Silmarillion: The Children of Hurin, Beren and Luthien, The Fall of Gondolin,
You have all of his essays, such as on Beowulf or On Fairy Stories
We have Roverandom, Mr. Bliss, Leaf by Niggle, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Smith of Wootton Major, and more.
And then on top of all of this, we have Tales from the Perilous Realm as well as The History of Middle-Earth, a twelve-volume series of books, compiled and published by Tolkien’s son Christopher (much like the Silmarillion) that basically walks you through Tolkien’s process in the creation of Middle-Earth as a whole as he was working through it.
You can literally probably spend your whole life reading Tolkien if you wanted.
Q: At what age should I introduce my children to Tolkien?
I mean my babies have been immersed in the world of Tolkien since before they were born and I think it’s important to raise lifelong readers, but of course I’m trying to do this in an age-appropriate way. Just for starters, we have this little cloth book from an etsy shop called Sweet Sequels and it’s called “A Baby’s Guide to The Lord of the Rings”. We also have this little Samwise plush that Marigold loves. And then I have a children’s biography of Tolkien called “John Ronald’s Dragons” that my kids (ages 3 & 5) really like.
In terms of actually reading through the stories with them, I think anywhere around 7-9 is a good time to read The Hobbit with your kids, but it really depends on your family and their maturity. And then somewhere around 11-13 maybe we might begin The Lord of the Rings. But again, this depends a lot on your family and my oldest is 5 right now so I’m not sure. We’re just taking our time.
Q: What are your thoughts on the Peter Jackson films?
Lord of the Rings movies: yes.
The Hobbit movies: if you must.
This isn’t a question I’ve received but it’s a sentiment I’ve seen expressed on various, cursed corners of Twitter and it’s that people hate Tom Bombadil. So I just wanted to take a minute to say, I get it, I used to be annoyed by him too. He’s very goofy and his character doesn’t fit easily into a box and that bothers people, so they try to hate on him as if he wasn’t straight up amazing. If you’re annoyed by Tom’s songs, again, I recommend listening to the audiobooks. I love the one in particular narrated by Rob Inglis and I feel like he does a great job of the songs. I’m also including an article on Old Tom that you all might like in the show notes.
Bonus Q (from Kyle Helmick): Can I sing the songs to the tune of Mr. Brightside?
Yes, Kyle, please do this. I tried for a few minutes and couldn’t, so it’s up to you.
I hope you’ve found these questions and answers helpful! Again, I might know a bit about Tolkien but I’m by no means a Tolkien scholar yet, and I know everyone has different learning styles or preferences. I’m also including a few helpful links in the show notes, such as the Frequently Asked Questions page from the Tolkien Society’s website as well as links to some books that can help you get started with Tolkien.
And of course speaking of books, I should probably mention that I’ve written a companion journal and guide to help you read through The Lord of the Rings while also reflecting on the different elements of Catholicism we see in his work and with a goal of helping you grow in hobbitness and holiness. It’s called To Middle-Earth and Back Again and it’s available on Amazon in the US currently. I’m working on getting it printed and shipped worldwide, so if you wouldn’t mind saying a little prayer for me that the process would go smoothly, I would appreciate that! I’ll also include the link to the book in the show notes.
I also just wanted to put it out there that I’d love if you’d share this podcast with a friend who might also love it! That would mean the world to me! And if you think what Tea with Tolkien is doing is cool and you wanna be cool too, consider supporting us on patreon at patreon.com/teawithtolkien.
I hope you all have a wonderful week and I’ll be back next Tuesday to talk about Lembas and the Eucharist.