I’ll just start off by saying: the flight to New Zealand really does feel like a gazillion hours on an airplane. Especially if you are flying from the east coast, like I do, then you have the connecting flights to get all the way to California, then wait, then fly all the way over the Pacific Ocean. But, I digress, because it is entirely worth it. On a positive note, you get free meals, drinks, movies, and- what a great time to catch up on your reading.

Now, not to be a total cliché, but I have to be. My study abroad semester took place at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand (highly recommended). As you probably know, Lord of the Rings was filmed in New Zealand. I had never read, watched, or otherwise thought about this incredibly popular series. Once in New Zealand, I felt like the only person who didn’t care we were passing Mount Doom. My kiwi host forced a Lord of the Rings movie week and I grudgingly obliged, but slept through most of the movies. I finally gave in and started reading the books, once I was home (a bit of grasping to be back in New Zealand, perhaps) and then all of a sudden, I was hooked. I have always enjoyed books more than movies, and after reading them and properly watching the movies, I turned into a complete Lord of the Rings nerd.  My suggestion is to spend your gazillion hour flight reading them, especially if you’re going to New Zealand.

The first book: Fellowship of the Ring

The survival of Middle-Earth is entirely dependent on a very unsuspecting creature: A hobbit named Frodo. Given the ring by his uncle Bilbo, Frodo learns what he has to do to save Middle-Earth; quite a task for a small hobbit who has never left the Shire.

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Hobbiton | Photo by Katherine Farrell, University of Hartford

The second book: The Two Towers

A company is formed under the guidance of Gandalf the wizard and Elrond the Elven-king, to accompany Frodo on the journey to save Middle-Earth. With more interruptions and life-threatening stops along the way, the likelihood of completing the journey seems unlikely; Aragon the man, Legolas the elf, and Gimli the dwarf the reigning heroes of this book.

This landscape shot is part of the valley where the Rohan filming took place.
This landscape shot is part of the valley where the Rohan filming took place. | Photo by Jane Wilch, University of Iowa

The third book: Return of the King

In this book, we learn of the doings of Frodo, the rest of the company, and Sauron, the enemy threatening Middle-Earth to fall under his everlasting dark shadow.

“Mount Doom” aka Mt. Ngauruhoe | Photo by Colin Phillips, Stonehill College

There are also other books to accompany the series that you might enjoy, particularly the location guidebook. It tells you where in New Zealand all the major scenes were filmed. Additionally, there is the Silmarillion, which gives you the history of Middle-Earth prior to the first book, and Unfinished Tales, which gives you an in depth of some maybe confusing ‘partial-stories’ you pull from the series. You are going on a trip to change your life. Why not kick it off with a book series out of your book-reading comfort zone? Lastly, it will help you understand the Air New Zealand safety videos.

For those of you who just absolutely will not, I brought with me a New Zealand guidebook. I enjoyed going through it, learning a bit on the geography, and noting down any places you really want to visit. This gives you a good idea at the start of the semester what you can start planning for.

I am sure you have all thought of this already, but save on your packing space and don’t back actual books. You can download books on basically any device now- even a cell phone. If you haven’t jumped on board with the e-books yet, it really isn’t that bad! I thought I would hate it, because I love reading, and holding the actual book, but reading on a screen comes pretty naturally. There are great luxuries involved too- like making the screen as dim or bright as you want, text as big as you need, and not having to worry about losing your page! Spend some time before you leave downloading books, and take advantage of your gazillion hour flight.

Nicole Bowley-LeBrun is a TEAN Alum and graduate of the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. She studied abroad with TEAN in Dunedin, New Zealand.