nearly all of my friends and relatives read it at college level or higher. i felt my appreciation (and theirs) as a result was far better than had we read in high school or earlier. i know several high school readers who had trouble understanding the ring’s power. i’ll let my kid read harry potter while still in primary school but defer LOTR until all the hype has gone down, maybe in her sophomore year. would you agree?
Oh I can’t tell you how many misguided parents come to the children’s department of my library and want to check out TLOTR to read to their 6 year old daughters. I always start with “you understand it’s not a children’s book, don’t you?” and try to steer them towards something a little more age appropriate, like LHOTP. Or Hop on Pop.
To answer your question, young adulthood, twentysomething, assuming it must be read at all.
For myself, I read LOTR when I was nine…and didn’t “get it.” I only got a vague melange of images. Wonderful ones, to be sure! (For the most part: the Mines of Moria and the Paths of the Dead scared me pretty badly…)
There’s an old adage that the “Golden Age of Science Fiction is…eleven.” The stuff you read (and do) at that age make the most lasting impression on you.
Even at age eleven, there will likely be stuff that will go over the head of most readers. The political intrigue: why do Boromir and Denethor do what they do? Why is Theoden so fussy? Why doesn’t Gandalf just cast a spell and make things better? Why don’t the good guys just work together to defeat Sauron? etc. There’s a lot of moral sophistication, including “good guys” becoming compromised and contrived.
(I may be a bit thicker than the average plank; it wasn’t until I read LOTR for the fourth time – really! – that I “got it” and saw most of the plot elements clearly. Until then, I was, really, just reading it for the “poetry” – for the language and the individual scenes. I think I was fourteen at the time, and, for me, that was when the dawn finally broke. I hope most readers will be a bit more comprehending at, say, eleven, than I was at fourteen!)
IMHO, the violence is very understated, and there isn’t any sex, but the eerie parts can be a bit overwhelming.
I read them at about age 8, but I might have been slightly precocious.
I first read it at about 11, “got it” and loved it. My only conceivable regret was that I wouldn’t be able to have the experience of reading it first later–it was so wonderful, in a way I might have liked to “save” it. But hell, it contributed a little part of who I was from that point on (nod to Trinopus). How could I wish that away? Certainly I have gotten a little more from it on subsequent readings, but that’s true (or should be) of pretty much all great books, regardless of the reader’s age at first meeting.
Well, I was a 6 year old son, but I was being read The Hobbit by Mom (and C.S. Lewis by Dad) and constantly rewatching the Rankin-Bass Return of the King. But I agree, LotR is probably a teenage book at least. And, of course, there’s always this quip:
There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.
Start with The Hobbit, which is a childrens’ book. If your kid is old enough to read chapter books, then they’re old enough for The Hobbit. If, after they read it, they loved it and are looking for more, then point them towards The Lord of the Rings.
And if, after they’ve read The Lord of the Rings (and the Chronicles of Prydain and Narnia, which they’ll probably also like) they still can’t get enough, then get a copy of The Silmarilion, but be advised that kids probably won’t really get the Valaquenta and the Ainulindule (but it’s OK to skip over those parts and go straight to the Tales). And once your kid is able to get the Valaquenta and Ainulindule, you don’t need to be asking the question: By that point, they’re ready to read anything.
Read it in third grade, so… 8-9 years. I think I only got partway through the Two Towers. It was probably tough going and I had to wait till middle school to actually read it. No hard done I think in trying, though.
Never Silmarilion though.
thanks for all the feedback. this IS fascinating.
I was a senior in high school when LOTR came out in paperback. Ah, those Ballantine editions with the psychedelic covers! I could have handled them a few years earlier, but not as a little kid.
Lol. You’d of loved my dad, then. He brought Fellowship of the Rings home from the library when I was in first grade. Not to read to me, mind you, but he thought I’d enjoy reading it since my reading comprehension tested several grades higher. (And The Bastard by John Jakes!) My mom then had a conversation with him about how being an early reader didn’t necessarily translate into being able to understand the themes even if I could read the words.
i had the unwin edition with the weird lidless eye and runes going round it. but the paper quality was excellent.
I think I was in 7th grade when I read them. I’m pretty sure I read The Two Towers during a family camping trip, much to my father’s annoyance.
I liked LoTR a lot as a teen. If I had tried to read the books much later in life, I would have been too irritated by the lack of female characters to enjoy them. As a 12 year old, that didn’t quite register, although I was really fond of Eowyn.
I guess I was a late bloomer. Our 4th grade teacher read The Hobbit to us (I guess I was 9, right?) and I was hooked. At the end (and I so didn’t want it to end) there was a blurb about more adventures in something called The Fellowship of the Ring. I kept asking for the school library to get it, but the school district didn’t have it. I didn’t find it at the city library either. Finally, in high school, I found and bought the paperbacks (1966 or so, I was 16). I don’t think I slept for week, they had me gripped so tightly I didn’t want to let go. Perfect age for me, I think.
Yes, the problem with TLOTR as children’s literature isn’t the big words, but the themes. I guess the problem I have with parents wanting to read it to little ones (well, one of the problems) is that there are so many really really good children’s books that speak directly to children and address the things that matter to them that I don’t see the point of subjecting them to this dry… oh, OK - the other problem I have with TLOTR is that as literature, I find it about as engaging as a day old dinner roll. So I suppose I am not the best doper to attend to this thread. Now I’m gonna get smacked down by all you dopers who think it’s grand. I did watch part of the first movie, though, in Walmart, in Mexico, in Spanish, while my parents were shopping for a washing machine.
I first picked up* The Fellowship of the Ring* in seventh grade, from the ‘library’ that my teacher had in her class. I got maybe halfway through it before putting it aside. I was a freshman in high school before I picked up my own copy, read through it and the other books in the trilogy, then straight on to The Silmarillion. (The Hobbit must have been in there somewhere as well, but I don’t recall when I read it.)
I should say: much younger, I read this wonderful illustrated edition of the Hobbit. Sure it’s abridged some, but it introduced me to the rest of it.
I first read it when I was about 8 or 9 (possibly 10, its hard to remember). There was a lot I did not understand, but I still absolutely loved it. A large part of the charm of LOTR, I think, is the feeling that there is much more here than the surface story, that there are vast hidden depths to both the story and to the world it is set in. That feeling is even stronger when you read it as a child. (In a way I wish I did not know all the stuff I know now about Illuvetar and the Valar and Maiar, and the history of Numenor and Beleriand. It takes away much of the wonder and mystery I originally felt.)
I read the Hobbit in fourth grade (actually because there was an excerpt in our fourth-grade reading book which I loved) and LOTR in sixth (so I would have been 10 or 11) when I figured out it was the sequel to the Hobbit. I certainly did not get everything there was to get (I’m in my thirties now and still find new things when I read it) but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I also read Pride and Prejudice at age 8 or 9 and definitely did not get it – I thought it was a nice but somewhat boringly pleasant romance and did not understand the social satire at all; it wasn’t until college that I reread it and was all “hold on, wait a second, this is really funny!”
In general I don’t see any problems with kids reading stuff that’s above their age level unless it’s something they really can’t handle for whatever reason. (I could handle fantasy and “mature” themes like sex, but I couldn’t do horror, and my one reading regret is that I wish someone had kept the horror books from me until I was a little older.) The only bad thing I can see is that one runs the risk of turning the kid off the book if the book is “too old” for the kid – like my experience with P&P; I might have gone my whole life thinking that Jane Austen was a frumpy romance writer and missed the biting wit, which would have been a great pity.
ETA: On second thought, there is something to be said to the idea of waiting until a work of art can have maximum impact. I didn’t hear Bach’s Mass in B Minor until I was in graduate school, and I’m really glad, because it knocked me upside the head and flattened me in a way that it couldn’t have done had I been familiar with it since childhood. So I see the OP point of view as well.
I read the Hobbit in 5th grade. Went right into The Lord of the Rings. I then tried the Silmarillion, and had to stop for about fifteen years before I tried again.
If the kid shows an interest, let them try it. The series can be enjoyed on many levels.