To have them read Tolkien or not…

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    Shalom, I have an almost 15-year old Yeshiva Ketana bochur at home who loves reading books. Because most fiction (the frum ones) are not particularly appealing. When I was his age I devoured ” the Hobbit” and “the Lord of the Rings” My question is, if it would be okay to give my son Tolkien to read. Mind you I didn’t hail from a Yeshivishe background. Personally I think the Jewish fiction that we have for our children is hardly worth the paper it is written on. Is it wrong to think (or even suggest) this?


    Any fiction itself is a b’dieved in the first place. Goyishe fiction all the more so for so many troubling reasons.


    It depends. What other works has he read so far? Is he a rebellious type of kid? What do his friends read? What sort of yeshiva does he attend? Is he ‘conventional’ in terms of his social standing with the other bochrim?

    And what, if anything, gives you pause in terms of Tolkien?

    For example, the Little House books by Wilder are generally considered wholesome (apart from the contemporary controversy over her treatment of Native Americans, which is an issue in itself) but many frum parents might be uncomfortable with their children reading about the characters’ Xmas celebrations. The Arthurian Legends are considered classic reading in the outside world, but I personally wouldn’t want my children reading them any more than I would want them reading Greek mythology, as religious matter of course.

    You have to trust yourself.


    Levi, I just dont get it. Does he enjoy reading the jewish nonfiction? It seems that he does…and your question is? You dont think its good? Please clarify.


    levi, I understand where you are coming from. I too was a bookworm in the days when Jewish literature was quite limited, and having grown up on the classics, I find the current frum fare far below par, with some notable exceptions.
    Yet, my kids who are also book worms, do have lots of frum literature and don’t make the same comparisons that I do.
    In their pre-reading days, I have read to them some of the English language kids classics (including Little House, the references to holidays were surprisingly devoid of religious content, and since I was the one doing the reading, I was able to put it all in context-I didn’t think there was anything wrong with them knowing that goyim have their own holidays, we actually discussed how strange it was that they had so little religion in their lives. It also spawned discussion of how such a lonely pioneer life would be incompatible with a frum Jewish one.) Now they read on their own, so it is no longer relevant.
    But you are talking about a teenager, you would find it hard to be able to control what he reads.

    As far as Tolkien, although I loved it way back when, I personally would not recommend it or want my kids to read it. First, it is not merely entertainment for some much needed down-time- the series has spawned a cult-like following because of its power- it brings you in to a fantasy world that becomes so real, it has such a grasp on you. They are the type of books that you can’t stop thinking about long after you read it. That could interfere with concentrating on important things, like learning. Also, if you ever read the prequel- I forget what it is called, but it describes the history of Middle Earth’s creation, is very anti-Torah and putting the Lord of the Rings/the Hobbit in that context, makes it questionable IMHO. Which is also why I would not give the Narnia series to my kids, even though when I was young and read them, I had no idea of the theology behind them.


    Have him read B’samim Rosh
    That way he can become a talmid chacham while reading fiction


    Why would you have him read Tolkien? The author’s works are full of only mildly disguised racist notions popular in his times.


    If a person can lead a fulfilling life without following sports or reading non-Jewish literature, if they can get all they need from the world of Torah, then that’s great. If they need something else, I would not call that a b’de’eved; for them it’s a l’chatchilah, in the same way a lactose free diet is a l’chatchilah for someone who is lactose intolerant. A bocher who does not have an intellectual bent, but learns as much as he can and gets a job as a contractor is just as much a l’chatchilah as someone who learns in kollel.

    As for Tolkein, although the author was a strongly believing Christian, there is no overt religion in the Hobit or The Lord of the Rings. The latter books, published after Tolkein’s death, do deal with religion, but AFAIK, in a Theist, not-explicitly Christian way. There is some love interest in the Lord of the Rings story, but (as far as I remember), not even a kiss. The books are informed by a generally accurate moral compass.

    My kids were interested in the Narnia stories by Tolkein’s friend CS Lewis, and I was reluctant to let them loose on them, since they are an obvious allegory for Christianity. Obvious to me maybe, my kids saw it as just more fairy stories.

    Which reminds me of a taxi ride with my eldest son when he was just after bar mitzvah. On the streets of Jerusalem we say a priest in his robes, prompting my son to ask me, “What do the Notzrim believe?”. I gave him a brief explanation of the idea of the man-god and the idea of Yushka being a korban to be m’kaper for everyone’s sins. My thirteen year old listened intently, looked thoughtful for a minute, then cracked a sly grin, “Ha ha, you don’t fool me Aba, what do they really believe?”!

    For my tahor son, raised in Jerusalem, it was literally unbelievable that anyone could believe such things!


    Marcus Lehmann’s books are great. The Adopted Princess, etc. Avner Gold series is interesting too.


    LOTR is awesome. (pun intended) In my mind most of the classics are good reading, mainly Jules Verne, H.B. wells, and books like call of the wild, jeckel& Hyde, ect. Kids don’t get all the references in C.S Lewis’s books, I definitely didn’t. As long as the kid doesn’t get fanatical about reading, why not? BTW ask your L.O.R. who knows your situation.

    Amil Zola

    Tolkiens works deal with those universal topics of good vs evil,love, death, bravery, loyalty, internal conflict cast in the style of a traditional epic. As a parent you may want to choose some book club notes on the specific volume he’s reading, read along and use the discussion points to explore those greater themes.


    In considering Tolkien’s works, consider the following:

    1) No hidden “Christian” messages (unlike many of the author’s discussed by others above, e.g. C.S. Lewis)

    2) While it’s based on European folklore, all theological aspects are deleted, and it has become the pattern for a significant genre of secular fiction. If one rejects Tolkien, one pretty much has to reject a large amount of western literature. Whether one should reject literature is a different issue – one could argue against all fiction, but that would mean the issue of which fiction doesn’t arise at all.

    3) Tolkien was very clearly anti-Nazi, well before the war, and at a time that the British establishment had yet to decide what it thought of Hitler (his correspondence with a would-be German publisher as whether he was “Aryan” make that very clear). For some authors, such as Jules Verne, even if the book has no “Jewish aspect”, one probably needs to remember that the author was involved in anti-Semitism movements of this time, and these movements eventually led to the Holocaust (or at least to decision of many in France to collaborate with the Nazis).

    Avram in MD

    If you are fine with your son reading non-Jewish fiction, then The Hobbit is an excellent novel. It is funny, witty, completely clean, and packed with adventure. The Lord of the Rings is more suitable for teenagers or adults due to darker and scarier content and a much more complex plot, but it is also clean. I personally would not recommend The Silmarillion or other posthumously published works of Tolkein that deals with the “First Age” Legendarium, because he does create a fictional theology there. That religious part of the Legendarium is almost completely absent in The Hobbit (the first edition of the book was a standalone world, and he only later folded it into his larger world of Middle Earth), and primarily appears in The Lord of the Rings as textual ruins, so they are fairly easy to miss or ignore. Disclaimer: I am a big fan of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.


    Uh, Jules Verne…? Huh?

    Avram in MD


    “Uh, Jules Verne…? Huh?”



    Mrs. Plony: Jules Verne was associated with anti-semitic political movements in France. While it doesn’t figure into his books, can you fail to take that into account in reading his works?


    15 year old boys read little house on praire??


    Degas was a very good painter.


    I didn’t know that about Jules Verne. Thanks, akuperma. I knew Roald Dahl was an anti-Semite. But I know people who like his books anyway.

    The truth is that there are a lot of bad people who have produced a lot of beloved artworks. I think that the OP was focusing on the content of the artworks.

    And it’s not like buying a copy of “Around the World in 80 Days” is gonna result in a contribution being made to the Moslem Brotherhood or something. Verne is dead and gone these many long years.

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