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Tolkien wrote The Hobbit as a story for children. However, I've never seen a specific age mentioned. Did Tolkien intend the story for young children or for teens?

At what reading level should a child be at to understand and enjoy The Hobbit?

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up vote 41 down vote accepted

When Tolkien began writing The Hobbit in 1930, his children were 13, 10, 6, and 1, and he finished it two years later, so if the story that he wrote it for his own children is true, then presumably he hoped his two oldest children would enjoy it.

According to wikipedia:

In a 1955 letter to W. H. Auden, Tolkien recollects that he began work on The Hobbit one day early in the 1930s, when he was marking School Certificate papers. He found a blank page. Suddenly inspired, he wrote the words, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." By late 1932 he had finished the story and then lent the manuscript to several friends, including C. S. Lewis and a student of Tolkien's named Elaine Griffiths. In 1936, when Griffiths was visited in Oxford by Susan Dagnall, a staff member of the publisher George Allen & Unwin, she is reported to have either lent Dagnall the book or suggested she borrow it from Tolkien. In any event, Miss Dagnall was impressed by it, and showed the book to Stanley Unwin, who then asked his 10-year-old son Rayner to review it. Rayner's favourable comments settled Allen & Unwin's decision to publish Tolkien's book.

So a contemporary 10 year old was able to enjoy the book. If you're trying to ascertain whether your child would be able to enjoy it, you should probably consider whether he knows a high enough percentage of the vocabulary to really understand it. The story of The Hobbit is not especially complicated - it's the language that is difficult. As I recall, studies have shown that as long as children know approximately 85% of the vocabulary in a book, they will have no difficulty filling in the rest from context. (Though I have long since sold back that psych textbook, and I can't seem to find a statistic online.)

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I read it at 12 and loved it. If you have doubts though maybe you could read it to them. Honestly children of 9 and 10 are not too old to be read to and it makes for great family time. – Monkeygirl Dec 22 '11 at 10:30
My dad read it to me over a series of nights when I was 5 or 6, and reportedly I enjoyed it. (I say reportedly because my own memories of this are vague, although I do remember being terrified by the spiders in Mirkwood.) – Plutor Dec 22 '11 at 15:20
I read at 8 or 9, as did most of my friends. My younger siblings read or had it read to them by the time they were 10. One of my brothers had the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy finished by 10, so as long as the child is a good reader, they can enjoy it. – The Fallen Jun 26 '12 at 17:13
My six year old loved it! We did read it together and took turns with the reading so she could ask questions if she needed to along the way - but she got far more than I expected her to and even picked up references to some of the myths and Legends she has studied for history. – balanced mama Dec 8 '12 at 4:55
My daughter is 10, in 4th grade but has about a 7th grade reading level, and she read it and enjoyed it. The last 1/4th or so though (once they arrive at the lonely mountain) is much more LOTR-esque language, and slowed her way down. – zipquincy Mar 25 '13 at 17:06

At what reading level should a child be to understand and enjoy The Hobbit?

The lore states that The Hobbit was written as a story by Tolkien for his children, but it is unclear if he intended them to read it themselves or be read to.

In any event, The Hobbit is not too challenging in terms of writing, and there is enough action and adventure with little in the way of dry, dusty passages which can appear in LOTR. I'd say that any child who has read books like the Narnia series would be able to move onto The Hobbit. Even if a child doesn't understand all of the words, children by the age of 10 can easily learn mostly from context, and as long as there is a willing parent nearby to help with the rest, then there should be no problem.

The various adventures and "action" sequences are well-spaced to keep moderate attention spans occupied, too.

For the record - I was 9/10 when I first read the Hobbit (I'd already read the Narnia books at 7 and 8), and I read the Lord of the Rings almost right after (although, that took me a couple of months or so). The librarian aid it was for 12 years old.

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I remember reading somewhere that the Hobbit was for his children, and LotR was also for his children, and was therefore 3-4 years more adult, as his children were growing up. However, it is probably valid to argue that the children of an Oxford English professor might have a slightly higher reading ability than average.

So I would say it was written for well read and educated 10-12 year olds - I think he was looking at his older children initially.

As to what age it should be read at today, I would say that any young teen or pre-teen should be able to give it a go, depending on their personal reading maturity. Much under this and they may not have the understanding ( of the ideas, not just the words ) to really appreciate and enjoy it.

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I read it the first time when I was about 12 and read it to my daughter the first time when she was about 5 or 6 and she loved it and had no problem following and understanding the story. I'm sure it all depends on the child, of course.

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While it appears your question about Tolkien's intentions for the book itself seem to have been answered, I thought I would address the reading level aspect of the book.

Reading level is determined by vocabulary and sentence structure complexity and actually does not generally consider the content itself at all. The Lexile framework score for The Hobbit is 1000, which puts it at a reading level more diffficult and higher than most of the Harry Potter books, Hunger Games and many other children's and young adult fiction using the same reading level scoring system. This is partially because some of the vocabulary is not current with our modern usage of the words so the reading level expectation has probably gone up simply because of changes in the way we speak even in the not-quite 100 years since Tolkien was working on the story. Using an AR score (which stands for Accelerated Reader and is a different system for measuring reading challenge level) it is considered a level 7 which puts it at the same level as Door in the Wall, and Bridge to Terabithia. RL scoring (Reading Level) which is the older measure for reading challenge says it should be read at about ninth or tenth grade.

Having said all that, since none of those measures truly consider content. I think they are all a bit "off." The story, in my opinion, and based on the experience of many as well as Tales of Tolkien's intentions himself, is that the book is written for a younger audience than any reading level score comes up with. Therefore, my suggestion is to read it together and enjoy it. Kids will often understand a much greater amount of a story when it is read to them, than when they have to read it by themselves. It is a bonding experience for the both of you, helps kids fall in love with books (as it is an awesome story) and The Hobbit is light-hearted enough that your average 2nd or 3rd grader would probably enjoy it very much if he/she didn't have to read it alone. If you have an advanced reader, take turns reading your child can read some, but you'll be there to help and you'll be there for your turn to give your child a break.

I am currently reading the book for a second time with my seven year old. We read it to her when she was five as well and she remembers it well. Admittedly, she has an awesome vocabulary for a kid her age, but has absolutely no problem engaging in discourse about what has happened in the story. She still isn't keen on reading it out loud to others (our babysitter joined us for last night's family read and she wouldn't take a turn reading aloud) but she loves the story and is always excited to read on and even said, "It's still exciting and fun" when it was pointed out that she already knew the end. So, have fun!

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This is an interesting perspective. As you mention, the reading level expectation has probably gone up due to the shift in modern vocabulary. Is there any information regarding what the estimated reading level expectation was at the time it was published? – phantom42 Dec 12 '13 at 14:40
@phantom42, I don't know, however, I too, heard he had his children in mind when writing it and I believe Unwin's son was about ten when he read it (recollections from watching a special feature about the publishing of the books and an interview with Unwin on the matter). – balanced mama Dec 12 '13 at 20:05
As another comparison, Wind in the Willows, with its talking animals and youthful adventures is measured at a lexile of 1140 when looking at an unabridged version - no book by, Ray Bradbury, Aldous Huxley or Frank Herbert are ranked as higher than that (though HG Wells and Orwell both have a couple that come "in range"). Clearly Reading Level may be a good way to measure how challenging vocabulary and sentence structure will be, but not appropriateness of subject matter for the age group at hand. – balanced mama Dec 15 '13 at 5:06

I read the hobbit at 7 years old and continued to read it for many years to come, as it was part of my favourite collection. Even now, I still have the same book and it is still my favourite story. :) And I will surely give it to my kids as well. It teaches that good triumphs over evil, and it was inspiring for me to learn those values at a young age. Now I can't wait for the Hobbit movie to hit cinemas. :)

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I didn't read The Hobbit until I was thirteen, but I probably would have been able to read and enjoy it years earlier.

If I remember correctly, I was given and read Bent's Fort by David Lavender a few years earlier, and I suppose that it was considered a somewhat more gown up type of book.

[1] [1]:

On summer vacation when I was twelve I read The Wizard of OZ and a book of short stories including Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", so I read stories written for widely different age groups.

The minimum age to use the adult section of the local library was sixteen, but I began using it when I was fourteen.

So I think that I could have read The Hobbit by myself and enjoyed it several years before I was thirteen.

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