After an incredibly long wait, which is not worth getting into for the purposes of this post, my wife and I are expecting our first child by the end of the year! It’s very possible that by the time you read this, he will already be snuggling in our overtaxed, sleep-deprived arms.
Naturally, like any parent-to-be, my mind of late has been preoccupied with the extremely important business of how to best set him up for success in life, which primarily means figuring out how soon the kid can be introduced to Middle-earth.
For me, The Hobbit (which I read for the first time in 5th grade) was a gateway drug to a life-long love of fantasy. Perhaps one day you will even be able to read my own novel, a comedic fantasy heavily influenced by (and a loving ode to) Tolkien and his world. So it’s safe to say that Lord of the Rings has had an extremely big impact on my own life, and I definitely want my son to have the same experience.
If it’s true that exposing infants to music early in life makes them smarter, then it has to follow that exposing them to Middle-earth early in life makes them fantasy-loving nerds. And I’ll be damned if my kid isn’t going to grow up a fantasy-loving nerd! If you feel the same way, here are some great ways to get kids acclimated to Tolkien, starting early! Of course, these are just suggestions, and when it comes to age-appropriate media and toy consumption, your mileage may vary.
At this age, it’s a little early to dive right into the books, but with a little creativity, there are plenty of ways to introduce your newborn and toddler to Middle Earth!
It’s a well-known fact that no matter how smart your baby is, they will not be able to dress themselves. So what better way to kickstart their Tolkien fandom than by adorning them in a Hobbit or LOTR-inspired bodysuit? Simply searching “LOTR Onesie” on Etsy brings up a number of great options, like the hobbit meal plan, announcing your baby as a halfling, or even one in which they can claim their own precious. My personal favorite is this one, evoking everyone’s favorite LOTR meme.
Goodnight, Hobbiton by Steven Giesbrecht
Forget Goodnight Moon; in this charming self-published parody written by Steven Giesbrecht and illustrated by Anika Loewen, children are introduced to a very unexpected party. Essentially the opening chapter of The Hobbit, the book explains what happens when a group of dwarves suddenly come to Hobbiton to disturb Bilbo’s peace of mind and thrust him into some adventures.
If your kid is made of some sturdy stuff, you may consider swapping out their teddy bear with something like this Gollum plush toy from The Noble Collection. Your little tike will surely have sweet dreams of their most preciousssss possessions, all while fighting the pull of absolute power attempting to turn them into a bald and sniveling cave-dweller. If this is too unpalatable, there are lots of other great plush options, like this crochet Gandalf on Etsy, or this cute collection from Build-a-Bear Workshop.
By this age, kids are ready for longer stories, so it’s the perfect age to start introducing The Hobbit!
The Hobbit: Illustrated Edition by J.R.R. Tolkien and Illustrated by Jemima Catlin
What better way to introduce kids to this classic tale than this stunning unabridged version, illustrated by Jemima Catlin? It’s a little advanced for them to read on their own, but with the gorgeous pictures of the halflings, dwarves, and dragons at the heart of the story, it will certainly make for some exciting bedtime stories for you to read a little bit each night.
By now, if you’ve done things right, your child should be properly intrigued by the land of Middle-earth. If you want to further their education, consider something like this Fisher-Price Little People Collector’s Set of six key Lord of the Rings characters. Styled after the films, your youngster will have a blast with these miniature and age-appropriate versions of Frodo, Gandalf, Aragorn, Lady Arwen, Gimli, and Legolas.
By this age, kids are much more independent and more than ready to enjoy reading The Hobbit on their own! Since The Lord of the Rings is a little more dense, I wouldn’t recommend that just yet — but it’s coming!
At this age, it’s probably been awhile since you’ve read The Hobbit to your kids as a bedtime story. And since they’re reading more on their own, it’s just about time to gift them with their own version. I humbly suggest the copy that made me first fall in love: this special hardcover 75th anniversary edition. It contains the most updated text corrections, all of J.R.R. Tolkien’s original drawings, and a special introduction from his son, Christopher. Plus, it looks cool, so it’s sure to be treasured more than Smaug treasures gold.
Kids this age can also definitely start playing more in the world of Middle-earth on their own. LEGO makes some amazing Lord of the Rings sets, like this “Orc Forge” or the “Council of Elrond.” They’re certainly not cheap, but even though your kids haven’t seen the movies yet, they might have more fun imagining the world for themselves!
By the time they’re teenagers, your child(ren) should be more than ready to feast fully on all things Lord of the Rings. You know what that means: it’s movie time! (Nota bene: no idea if anyone even uses Blu-Ray anymore, but these were the best images to use to encapsulate an entire trilogy in one shot. Thank you for understanding.)
You may or may not want to acknowledge this, but Peter Jackson did make a Hobbit movie trilogy. As someone who only watched the first one and just couldn’t do it anymore, I can’t say I recommend it too highly. But if you want to be a completist with your kids, this is definitely an option. They already know the story well by now, since you’ve been reading it to them since they were little. Just don’t be surprised if they express disappointment that the films don’t live up to their imaginations.
And now, the main event: the moment you’ve all been waiting for….it’s time for your teenager to finally read The Lord of the Rings! At this age, they’re definitely old enough (and have been steeped in Middle-earth for long enough) to get maximum enjoyment out of Tolkien’s three-book masterpiece. There are a lot of box sets out there to choose from, but as the mass market paperbacks, this one is definitely one of the most affordable. It means owning yet another version of The Hobbit, but can you really own too many of those?
After (and I would suggest only after!) your child has read the entire Lord of the Rings on their own, it’s time to hunker down and have a movie marathon. With the extended editions, you’re looking at a total of eleven and a half hours of glorious bonding time. This has been a long time coming, so make a day of it! Heck, make a weekend of it! Or if you really want to go old school, do it like we did back in the day and make them wait a year between each movie. It will certainly heighten the tension, while frustrating them to no end! But you’re the parent (and you loved these first), so it’s your prerogative!
In the end, it doesn’t really matter how you do it. The most important thing is that your kids enjoy this amazing story, and feel like they have something special you can share with them. In whatever way or at whatever time you choose, I hope you and your kids have a great time discovering Middle-earth together.
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