In what order should Tolkien's writings on Middle-earth be read?

  • I've already read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which I assume would be the best start in any case. I also got about halfway through The Silmarillion several years ago and am quite familiar with the legendarium as a whole, but for the sake of argument let's assume I'm starting from scratch.

    What is the best order for a budding scholar of Middle-earth to read Tolkien's books? Or does it even matter once you've covered the core novels? Chronological order clearly isn't the most logical approach here, and even publication date isn't necessarily best.

    • The Hobbit
    • The Lord of the Rings
    • The Silmarillion
    • The Children of Hurin
    • The History of Middle-earth
    • Unfinished Tales
    • The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
    • Anything else

    Note: After asking this question I found this excellent reference on Reddit. It covers even more material and in more detail than my original question or any answers here.

    "Should" and "best" indicate opinion-based questions with primarily opinion-based answers. Please clarify whether you're looking for the most chronological, published order, or the order in which information is revealed (i.e. reading LoTR before the Hobbit is ill advised because LoTR assumes that the reader is familiar with the Ring's origin).

    It is enough just to read them. Do not be overly concerned about finding 'a reading order' You would be ill advised to take Tolkien's Writings on Middle Earth so seriously that you worry about such things. Read for yourself. when YOU want, How YOU want, IF YOU WANT, & At YOUR own speed.

    From the front of the book to the back, and from the upper left to the lower right.

    Too late for the OP, but I highly recommend reading these to your (young) children, so they can experience them as I did...as a sort of mish-mash of legends and stories half-remembered from early childhood, reinforced when I finally read them for myself - in published order.

    I would consider adding some of his non-Middle Earth short stories, especially "Smith of Wooton Major", after you finish LOTR and the Hobbit. That particular story added a lot of depth to Tolkien's way of thinking (to me) that really enriched my reading of the Silmarillion.

  • Correct answer

    9 years ago

    I believe publication order is the best way, you will experience the reading experience that helped to shape Middl-earth. Although Tolkien left many manuscripts that later became successful books, his central piece is The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit is a preamble and everything that follows are great efforts to close the circle of his creations in a consistent way.

    I read The Lord of the Rings first, and got bored easily with The Hobbit, I loved The Silmarillion but I had to dig through The History of Middle-earth to find pearls that somehow were not included (like the Battle of Gondolin and the death of Glorfindel).

    Follow what Tolkien wanted you to know, then discover what he didn't have time to publish and when you are done with that start learning that Middle-earth is the result of Tolkien's brilliance and many revisions and rewrites... and that Aragorn once was a Hobbit and Treebeard was evil :)

    "Aragorn once was a Hobbit" -- news to me. How is that even possible?

    It says it's a rewrite. It doesn't exist, it's what could have been. I much prefer Aragorn as a Dunedain human though.

    @Scribblemacher The *character* of Strider (who was later changed to subsume Aragorn) was originally *Trotter*, a relation of Frodo's (Frodo was also formerly called Bungo), thus, a Hobbit.

    and Treebead was an evil _giant_ (not tree) :-)

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