Published Online: November 5, 2003
Published in Print: November 5, 2003, as Children & Families

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Lord of Literacy

As a 3-foot, 6-inch, furry-footed dweller of Middle Earth, he did battle against the Orcs, the fang-toothed, black-blooded cannibals whose only pleasure is inflicting pain on others.

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More information on the literacy projects is available from Verizon Reads and the National Center for Family Literacy.

At the University of Notre Dame, his small-town character scrapped his way onto the Fighting Irish football roster.

Today, no soldiers of Sauron threaten to eviscerate Sean Astin. No collegiate linemen long to knock him back to Nowhereville. The Hollywood actor, known to millions of moviegoers for his roles in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy (the final installment opens Dec. 17) and the gridiron drama "Rudy," has taken up the fight against a vexing, real- world foe: illiteracy.

The 32-year-old star has joined with the National Center for Family Literacy and the Verizon Foundation in a national campaign to promote reading among both adult learners and children.

"It was a pretty obvious and natural choice for me," Mr. Astin said in a telephone interview. "I have a genuine passion and love for language. ... I'm trying to take my role [in films] and leverage that into this project."

As the actor noted, the J.R.R. Tolkien novels on which the "Lord of the Rings" films are based helped steer generations of children into the world of books. Mr. Astin wasn't sure whether his knack for playing on-screen underdogs—personified in his role as the lead character in "Rudy"—would inspire students struggling to learn to read, or adults trying to pick up that skill.

"To the extent that people know my body of work and that draws them to this, that's great," said Mr. Astin, who is the son of the actress Patty Duke and the actor-director John Astin. "I'm just happy to add my voice to the chorus of people involved."

All Orcs, and enemies of the hobbit, take heed.

—Sean Cavanagh

Vol. 23, Issue 10, Page 10

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