Reading TLOTR and/or The Hobbit aloud to children


Nerf Herder
Nov 10, 2007
Sutton, Surrey
I think this deserves a thread in its own right. Has anyone else ever attempted this? How did you get on with the voices? How was your Ian Mckellen doing a JRRT impression impression?
Yes, I've read The Hobbit and LOTR to my four children, individually: The Hobbit to each of my three daughters (1996, 1999, 2005), and LOTR to my son (1994), and two of my daughters (1999, 2001; my wife, rather than I, read LOTR to our third daughter). They'd usually have been around 10-12 at the time. My wife and I homeschooled our children and there was a great deal of reading to the children -- fiction, nonfiction, and things in between (like the Laura Ingalls Wilder "Little House" books). With Tolkien, typically the child followed along in his or her own copy of the book as we read aloud. (I wouldn't have bought them their own copies if I hadn't figured they'd be interested.) One thing that prompted the LOTR reading was that I wanted to make sure they had all read the book before seeing any of the movies.

We wouldn't have persisted in the reading with any child who didn't like Tolkien. They all did. I think at least in some cases a child was "prepared" for Tolkien by my reading the George MacDonald book The Princess and the Goblin, etc.

My wife and I read "with expression," but we didn't worry too much about how to do the various voices -- Tolkien is a good writer, and it isn't necessary to try to sound like one actor here and another actor there, etc.

Depending on various things it might take a few weeks to read LOTR or several months. This Tolkien reading was always a good experience.

I also read Smith of Wootton Major and farmer Giles of Ham to them, but these were often read to more than one child at a time.

None of this Tolkien reading was part of "lessons." My wife and I wanted to establish a family culture that included lots of reading; this was all reading for enjoyment. Of course, since it was Tolkien, it included a very strong element of "teaching" children to love language and nature. Ours was also a household that emphasized walking. We live in rural North Dakota. About four blocks from home is the grocery store, the bank, the movie theater/cinema, a library, etc. About two blocks in the other direction are woods, a river, deer, beavers, bald eagles on rare occasions, wild turkeys occasionally, etc. Without my having to be all overt about it, I could help the children's imaginations be formed by Tolkien and by the smell of chilly wet woods in October, etc. By the way, lest anyone fear the combination of homeschooling and Tolkien would result in passive dreamers -- they're all employed now -- videographer for a Fargo television news outfit, tech for chemical and alcohol dependency in Fairbanks, engineer in medical technology in Minneapolis, secondary school language assistant in Metz, France; so they didn't turn out to be hikikomori or something. The oldest is 30 and the youngest is 22.
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Good result, hats off to you Sir!

I read The Hobbit and TLOTR to my step kids at the same time. They were 6 and 4 when I read them The Hobbit and each night I would have them recount the events we covered the previous night. At the time they seemed to take it in quite well, I gave the dwarves Welsh accents with only Thorin and Balin given a deeper voice and an elderly quiver respectively just to differentiate. And my impression of Ian McKellen doing an impression of JRRT seemed to work ok. I felt it important to do that just to help them recognise each character by voice as well as name. It was quite funny explaining the difference between Wood Elves and Wooden Elves....

It was about three years later when I tried them with LOTR and I insisted they wait till I was done before they saw the film's. The large cast of characters was very challenging, particularly as I struggled to get Gandalf and Saruman to sound different along with many other examples. (I was quite pleased with my Aragorn voice: I did a terrible John Hurt impression!) After I finished I found out my step daughter had only maintained interest because she thought Pippin was a girl (her face when she saw Billy Boyd!). And now, they don't remember me reading The Hobbit. And the only part of LOTR they remember me reading is Gandalf and the balrog.....
I'm not very good with voices or accents, but I do read with inflection so it isn't dry. The only voice I made different was Gollum. I tried to imitate the raspy sound from the 1970's animated "Hobbit" movie. My son thought Gollum's voice was hilarious.

We were able to make The Hobbit a rather interactive book by trying to guess what would happen next in the adventure. My son's favorite part was when Gandalf retold their story to Beorn while the dwarves approaches in twos. He loved the pattern there. He also liked trying to guess Bilbo and Gollum's riddles during their "contest".

The Hobbit is a fun read. I haven't been able to get him into LOTR though. It is a slower moving story with more description and less action, and the tone overall is not similar to The Hobbit.
I'd probably say: If you're going to read these books and have the desire -- and the stamina -- to do differentiated voices, and if you don't think that approach would distract your hearers, then OK; but Tolkien is such a good writer that the "voices" are already distinct, and reading in a fairly natural voice will work just fine. (In one of his books, the great Tom Shippey talks about Tolkien's successful suggestion of varying voices among the talkers at Rivendell in The Fellowship of Ring.)
I'm utterly convinced that without the voices my two would have been so lost they would have been constantly asking who was who and who said what. Then, after a little while, they would have just switched off. Sad, I know.

My Dad did voices when he read it to my brother and I. I don't remember it though...
I'm utterly convinced that without the voices my two would have been so lost they would have been constantly asking who was who and who said what.

I'll bet I inserted some additional tags ("Gandalf said," etc.) from time to time.
I started reading LOTR to my two oldest children. As I recall, they lost interest halfway through. But it was an eye-opening experience for me, how much more I noticed reading it aloud.

After reading a book four or five times, there is a tendency to think you know the book. I found out that I didn't know it quite so well as I thought. But of course it's the kind of book that can be read many more times than they and there are always new insights.
By the way, with your younger children, a good preparation for Tolkien -- and very enjoyable in their own right: the Norwegian folk tales collected by Asbjørnsen and Moe. (For the superlative illustrations and the good translations, I recommend the Pantheon paperback edition, or, better yet, if you can find an affordable copy, its original hardcover edition from 1960.)
I heard that JRRT was heavily influenced by a collection of Finnish folk tales, a translation of which apparently is out there. But I can't remember what it's called....
I heard that JRRT was heavily influenced by a collection of Finnish folk tales, a translation of which apparently is out there. But I can't remember what it's called....

The Kalevala...

I've never read it, but from what I understand some of the premises for the stories and names used in The Silmarillion are taken directly from it.
I heard that in many of the stories the protagonist is a grey clad old man.

Thanks for that, t he Kalevala, will harrang my local library with a title now!
Yes, Kalevala... If you are thinking of reading to children, get hold of Babette Deutsch's Heroes of the Kalevala. This went over well for reading aloud. I don't think it is in print, but libraries in the US may have it, and used copies shouldn't be too expensive.

For adults wanting to read a translation of the whole work, I'd recommend Keith Bosley's rendering for Oxford World's Classics.
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For young listeners/readers, I recommend Astrid Lindgren's The Tomten and The Tomten and the Fox.

Norse mythology for the young: Dorothy Hosford's Thunder of the Gods.

And enjoy together Grahame's Wind in the Willows as illustrated by Shepard.

I would have no hesitation about skipping occasional bits that might be over some youngsters' heads or substituting easier words. I confess to skipping the Pan-bits.

As a lad, Denis Watkins-Pitchford's The Little Grey Men, beautifully and copiously illustrated* by the author (also known as BB), meant a lot to me. These might all be good books prior to the longer Tolkien books.

*If you are going to buy it, you might do better with a used copy of the Literary Guild hardcover, where the pictures are very well reproduced, than some paperback edition that's in print.
I've read the hobbit to my son (he was five at the time).
We have started the lord of the rings, but have stalled half way through. For a period every night he would get a Mr Men Book, a Little Miss book, and then Lord of the Rings until he fell asleep.
We go back to it every so often, but the whole book was too much for him in one hit, so we have been had a long period of other books now.
I read all my kids The Hobbit and LOTR. Twice. The latest was when my eldest were in high school and my youngest in jr. high.

I read to them a lot. By high school it was winding down (LOTR was our last family huzzah). We didn't do voices. We didn't have a lot of discussion about it. It was more like a junkie going straight for the goods. I'd still rather read than talk about what I've read. We did a lot of other fantasy and classics, too, but LOTR still remains as my favorite read with them.
I read The Hobbit to both. Grimlet the Elder simply fell asleep to it (I've failed as a parent!), but Grimlet the Younger kind of liked it ( okay, only partly failed...:D ). I knew better than to try the Trilogy; I'd have lost them both before Frodo and Co. got out of The Shire. :rolleyes:

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