After about many years of teaching in-depth classes on The Lord of the Rings, I’ve decided to do the next round online. As my kids and I work our way through 20th century history, we are centering our literary focus on Tolkien. (Read my post Teaching History and Literature with J. R. R. Tolkien.) So as I prepared to begin The Fellowship of the Ring with my youngest kids, I thought it would be fun to create a Lord of the Rings Online Book Club.
The Lord of the Rings is one of the greatest stories of the 20th century. Written by J. R. R. Tolkien as a sequel (at first) to his immensely popular Hobbit, it became a much deeper and longer story of good vs. evil. Tolkien said, “...an equally basic passion of mine was for myth (not allegory!) and for fairy-story, and above all for heroic legend on the brink of fairy-tale and history, of which there is far too little in the world (accessible to me) for my appetite.” He went on to say, “Anyway all this stuff is mainly concerned with Fall, Mortality, and the Machine.”
Whether you’ve read the books, watched the movies, or both (or neither), you are welcome to join us.
When: The study begins January 6, 2020 with 8 weeks on The Fellowship of the Ring.
Where: Facebook. I’ve created a special group just for this.
How: This group is set up as a “social learning” group. Each week there will be a “lesson,” including discussion, questions and answers, links, and more.
Who: Everyone is welcome. It’s a group for anyone willing and able to read (or listen to) the books– kids, teens, adults, and families!
“When I tried once to explain briefly to a friend what it was all about, I found that with the exercise of severe economy I took 41 pages and 10,000 words.“
-J. R. R. Tolkien, 1953
How it Works
A reading schedule is provided. We will read 2-3 chapters each week. As we read, I’ll share more information about the story, the characters, and Middle Earth from Tolkien’s other books (The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, The Hobbit, and others) as well as his personal letters. Where applicable, I’ll share video links, too.
This is a combination book club/literature course. I say “fan club” because I am a fan of Tolkien’s work, and I love to have fun exploring all the little details and connections in his writings. I also call it a “literature” course, because you’ll get a complete Tolkien education. But this is not school. This is fun.
The Facebook group is a “social learning” group, with each week devoted to one “unit.” The units will be completed in order. This is especially helpful if you start late or get behind. Just follow the units in order and you won’t get lost in a Facebook newsfeed nightmare!
I am the leader and sole moderator for this group. Members must agree to keep the discussion clean and friendly. I want all ages to be welcome in the group, so topics and language will be strictly moderated for this. I am a Christian mom, homeschooler, and avid reader. I will moderate this group as such. : )
Feel free to join as a silent observer or as an active participant. And please invite your friends. The more the merrier!
Questions or Concerns?
Over the years that I have taught these books, I’ve answered the genuine concerns of friends and blog readers. As Christians, we are definitely right to guard what goes into our minds and the minds of our children. I am right there with ya! (See my post “At Least They’re Reading” Isn’t Good Enough.) I have some pretty strict standards for what my children read, and The Lord of the Rings meets those standards.
However, two main concerns that I know Christians have is about 1) wizards and magic, and 2) whether Tolkien was really a Christian. I’ll address those briefly here.
On Wizards and magic: Tolkien’s own words may help to clear up the difference between wizards in Middle Earth and witches/witchcraft. The words Quenta and Sinadarin (below) refer to Tolkien’s Elvish languages. Istar and Istari are elvish words for wizard.
Wizard is translation of Quenya istar: one of the members of an “order (as they called it), claiming to possess, and exhibiting, eminent knowledge of the history and nature of the World.” The translation (though suitable in its relation to “wise” and other ancient words of knowing, similar to the use of Istar in Quenya) is not perhaps happy, since the “order of wizards” was quite distinct from the “wizards” and “magicians” of later legend…
Emissaries they were from the Lord of the West, the Valar (in Tolkien’s history The Silmarillion, the Valar were similar to angels sent to earth) who still took counsel for the governance of Middle Earth, and when the Shadow of Sauron first began to stir again, took this means of resisting him. For with the consent of Eru (God) they sent members of their own high order, but clad in bodies of Men, real and not feigned, but subject to the fears and pains of weariness of earth, able to hunger and thirst and be slain; though because of their noble spirits they did not die, and aged only by the cares and labors of many long years…and to seek to unite in love and understanding all those whom Sauron, should he come again, would endeavor to dominate.
…the last comer (Gandalf) was named…the Grey Pilgrim, for he dwelt in no place, and gathered to himself neither wealth nor followers…Warm and eager was his spirit…Merry he could be, and kindly to the young and simple, and yet quick at times to sharp speech and the rebuking of folly; but he was not proud, and sough neither power nor praise, and thus far and wide he was beloved among all those that themselves were not proud. -Unfinished Tales by J. R. R. Tolkien
For further consideration, I recommend that you read “What About Wizards?” at Well Planned Gal.
On Tolkien’s Christian faith: You can read plenty of opinions on this topic, but as is my custom, I go to the source. Was Tolkien a Christian?
“As for Eden, I think most Christians, except the very simple and uneducated or those protected in other ways, have been rather bustled and hustled now for some generations by the self-styled scientists, and they’ve sort of tucked Genesis into a lumber-room of their mind as not very fashionable furniture, a bit ashamed to have it about the house, don’t you know, when the bright clever young people called: I mean, of course, even the fideles (Latin: faithful) who did not sell it secondhand or burn it as soon as modern taste began to sneer…”
But partly as a development of my own though lines and work (technical and literary), partly in contact with C.S. L. (C. S. Lewis), and in various ways not least the firm guiding hand of Alma Mater Ecclesia, I do not now feel either ashamed or dubious on the Eden ‘myth.’ It has not, of course, the historicity of the same kind as the NT, which are virtually contemporary documents, while Genesis is separated by we do not know how many sad exiled generations from the fall, but certainly there was an Eden on this very unhappy earth. We still long for it, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most human, is still soaked with the sense of ‘exile…’
Of course, I suppose that, subject to the permission of God, the whole human race (as each individual) is free not to rise again but to go to perdition and carry out the Fall to its bitter bottom. And at certain periods, the present (1945) is notably one, that seems not only a likely event but imminent. Still, I think there will be a ‘millenium,’ the prophesied thousand-year rule of the saints, i. e. those who have for all their imperfections never finally bowed heart and will to the world or the evil spirit (in modern but not universal terms: mechanism, ‘scientific’ materialism, Socialism in either of its factions now at war).” (-just one of numerous such quotes in The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien; From a letter to his son Christopher, 1945;
It is well-known and well-documented that Tolkien was the reason that C. S. Lewis made a complete turn from atheism to Christianity. There are many sources for this information. You can read his own story in Surprised by Joy, as well as a retelling of it in The Inklings of Oxford: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Their Friends by Humphrey Carpenter. I also highly recommend the book A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loconte.
In a letter to a Fr. Robert Murray in 1953, Tolkien states, “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.” For a great exploration of this quote, I recommend this article. Tolkien was a member of the Catholic church. As a Protestant myself, I have found nothing in Tolkien’s work to separate Catholics from Protestants; as the article above says, and as I believe, for Tolkien, the term “Catholic” meant “Christian.” (This is not to open a debate on Catholic vs. Protestant.)
I would like to say, “Just trust me.” But the best I can do is present these quotes and their sources, and let you make the decision for what’s best for your family. I admire any parent who goes above and beyond to determine whether reading material is suitable and appropriate for their children. I am a researcher myself, and prefer to find out on my own, rather than take someone else’s word for something. I respect the same in others.
In my book club, I’ll discuss these topics and many others as best I can. I hope you will join me!
Nicki Truesdell is a 2nd-generation homeschooler and mother to 5. She is a homemaker at heart, and loves books, freedom, history and quilts, and blogs about all of these at nickitruesdell.com. She believes that homeschooling can be relaxed and that history is fun, and both can be done with minimal cost or stress, no matter your family’s circumstances. Nicki is a member of the Texas Home Educators Board of Directors. You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.