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Posted by u/ebneter Galadriel 5 years ago 

Recommended Reading for Tolkien Fans

A frequently asked question in this sub-reddit is, "I'm just getting into Tolkien, and wonder what I should read, and in what order?"
This post is intended to expand on the recommended reading list in the side bar (and is adapted from a response I posted to just
such a question).
Basics: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings
First, read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (which is really one novel, published in three volumes). I'd recommend that
order, but it doesn't matter that much. Keep in mind that The Hobbit was definitely written for children, and The Lord of the Rings
was not. Also, read the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings, especially Appendices A and B.
The Legendarium: The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, The History of Middle-earth
After you've read the basics, you have a choice: You can read The Children of Húrin or go straight to The Silmarillion. To some
extent which you read first depends on how you reacted to the Appendices — if your reaction was, "This is so cool! Where can I
get more of this!", jump straight into The Silmarillion; otherwise read The Children of Húrin, which will give you a somewhat
easier introduction to the style and substance of Tolkien's other works. Overall they are much darker and denser than the better-
known novels. If you enjoy The Children of Húrin, by all means read The Silmarillion. Don't be afraid to skip around in it or take
notes. These should be followed by Unfinished Tales. I also recommend reading Tolkien's Letters at this point.
Both the Letters and the Tales show Tolkien's mind at work as well as providing more details about his world. If you like that sort
of thing and want more, there is the 12-volume (yes, twelve) History of Middle-earth series, which is a blow-by-blow presentation
of the manuscripts Tolkien wrote for his legendarium, including the history of the writing of The Lord of the Rings. Some of us
think this is the greatest thing ever, being able to peer over the shoulder of the Creator at work, while for others it is far too
reminiscent of college English classes. Your call. There's also The History of The Hobbit, by John Rateliff, which does the same
for The Hobbit. On first reading of any of these you may wish to simply read the manuscripts and ignore Christopher Tolkien's
commentary. Also, if you decide that The Silmarillion and related matter is not to your taste, you should be aware that Volumes 5
– 8 of The History of Middle-earth cover The Lord of the Rings, and you may very well find it fascinating how Tolkien developed
his masterpiece.
Some more detail on what's in The History of Middle-earth:
I. The Book of Lost Tales, Part 1
II. The Book of Lost Tales, Part 2
The Book of Lost Tales was Tolkien's first go at creating his mythology. It is sort of a proto-Silmarillion; all of the tales are retold
in other forms in the later works, but here Tolkien is a very young writer feeling his way.
III. The Lays of Beleriand
"The Lay of Leithian" — the tale of Beren and Lúthien, in several variants, and "The Lay of the Children of Húrin", told in rhyming
couplets and alliterative verse, respectively. There are also the fragments of some additional alliterative poems.
IV. The Shaping of Middle-earth
V. The Lost Road and Other Writings
These two volumes comprise the early Silmarillion, a more mature version of what originated in The Book of Lost Tales. The first
part of Volume V, from which it takes its title, is a history of Númenor. Volume V also contains a significant amount of linguistic
information.
VI. The Return of the Shadow
VII. The Treason of Isengard
VIII. The War of the Ring
IX. Sauron Defeated
These four volumes cover the history of the writing of The Lord of the Rings. Volume IX also includes "The Notion Club Papers",
which is another attempt to tell the tale of Númenor.
X. Morgoth's Ring
XI. The War of the Jewels
These two cover the later Silmarillion, that is, Tolkien's work on it following the publication of The Lord of the Rings.
XII. The Peoples of Middle-earth
This final volume covers the writing of the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings and also some other miscellaneous writings and
unfinished tales.
A very complete listing is given at the Mellonath Daeron website.
A very complete listing is given at the Mellonath Daeron website.
The Languages
It's well known that Tolkien considered his invented languages the primary impetus for his creative writing. If this interests you,
you can read Tolkien's Middle-earth linguistic writings, which are being published in the journals Parma Eldalamberon and Vinyar
Tengwar. Of the latter, I highly recommend the freely downloadable copy of VT issue 43, which contains Tolkien's Quenya
translations of the Paternoster ("Our Father"), the Ave Maria, and the Gloria Patri. All of the back issues of Vinyar Tengwar are
available on Lulu.com; some of the issues of Parma Eldalamberon are currently out of print but the others are available from the
site linked above.
The Shorter Works
Tolkien wrote a lot of other things as well, most unrelated to Middle-earth, and some of them fairly scholarly. I'm going to list
these with some brief commentary:
Short fiction

(1) Mr. Bliss: A children's picture book with a motor car, some cantankerous bears, and a girabbit
(2) Roverandom: A story about the adventures of a toy dog, written somewhat before The Hobbit
(3) The Father Christmas Letters/Letters from Father Christmas: Letters Tolkien wrote to his children, profusely illustrated
(4) Farmer Giles of Ham: featuring a very fine dragon
(5) Leaf by Niggle: a curiously allegorical story about a painter and a painting he can't seem to complete
(6) The Adventures of Tom Bombadil: poems "from the Red Book"
(7) Bilbo's Last Song: a poem supposedly written by Bilbo as he traveled to the Havens
(8) Smith of Wootton Major: the last story Tolkien wrote

Academic Work

(9) On Fairy Stories: a classic essay which describes in some detail what Tolkien was attempting with The Lord of the
Rings
(10) Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics: one of the most influential articles ever written about "Beowulf"
(11) "The Homecoming of Beorthnoth, Beorthelm's Son": A brief verse-drama based on "The Battle of Malden"
(12) The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún: Tolkien's verse re-telling of a northern legend
(13) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; Pearl; Sir Orfeo: Tolkien's modern English translations of three famous Middle-
English poems

Many of these shorter works have been anthologized in various collections:

The Tolkien Reader: Contains 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, and 11


Smith of Wootton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham : 4 and 8
Tree and Leaf: 5 and 9; later editions also contain the poem "Mythopoeia," which is referred to in 9
The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays: 9, 10, and several other academic essays on similar subjects
A Tolkien Miscellany: 4, 6, 8, and "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight"
Tales from the Perilous Realm: 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9

Reference Works
These are works that are not by Tolkien but which are highly regarded as accurate.
The maps in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion were redrawn by Christopher Tolkien from his father's work. However,
the scale leaves a bit to be desired, so others have filled in the blanks, based on detailed reading of the texts. The gold standard
here is the late Karen Wynn Fonstad's Atlas of Middle-earth — be sure to get the Second Edition, which includes information
from The History of Middle-earth. Barbara Strachey's Journeys of Frodo is also very good and both will give you an idea of the
difficulties of reconciling Bilbo's journey in The Hobbit with Frodo's later trip over the same territory — a problem even Tolkien
found insoluble.
For a general reference, Robert Foster's Complete Guide to Middle-earth is well-regarded, and has the approbation of
Christopher Tolkien, no less.
Douglas A. Anderson's Annotated Hobbit contains much information about both the history of the text and its allusions and
sources. Similarly, Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull have written The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion , which
contains similar annotations. The same authors have written The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, a two-volume chronology
and encyclopedia of Tolkien's life which is an excellent supplement and extension of the official biography by Humphrey
Carpenter.
Addenda
I've added some comments below about less-common aspects of Tolkien's writing that people may be interested in but which
seem too abstruse for inclusion in the general article.

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ebneter Galadriel  10 points · 5 years


ago
But wait! There's more!
Editions
Tolkien's works were a trial for his publishers and their typesetters, what with Elvish names, antiquated and idiosyncratic
spellings, and so on. Much work has been done in the last 20 years by Christopher Tolkien and several others to correct the text
— finally put into electronic form so a definitive version might actually be possible — so most modern editions are actually very
close to what Tolkien intended, at least as far as can be determined. In the case of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings,
however, there's a slight complication: The versions currently in print are not what was originally printed; unlike most fiction, the
terms second and third edition are actually meaningful for these works, as they were significantly revised.
The Hobbit
There are, for most practical purposes, three editions of The Hobbit. The first edition, published in 1937/1938, was very much a
children's book and references to Tolkien's wider legendarium were more by way of background atmosphere than anything else.
The writing of The Lord of the Rings and the much-enhanced significance of the Ring that Bilbo finds caused Tolkien to re-write
a large portion of Chapter 5, "Riddles in the Dark", and tweak a few other related passages. These changes were incorporated
into the second edition (1951), which became five pages longer. In 1965, in response to an issue over the American copyright of
The Lord of the Rings (see below), Tolkien provided further revisions which were first incorporated into the Ballantine paperback
 
edition and then taken up into the 1966 hardcover Allen & Unwin editions. This latter edition is the one most people have read.
Reading the first edition is an interesting experience, as the changes, although mostly minor, definitely affect the overall
atmosphere of the book. HarperCollins, the successors to Allen & Unwin, announced a planned reproduction of this first edition
earlier this year, which is a good thing: Genuine first editions sell for anywhere from $500 to >$50,000, depending on impression
and condition.
The Lord of the Rings
When Houghton Mifflin first published The Lord of the Rings in the United States, they relied largely on copies printed in the UK,
to which they did not affix an American copyright notice as required by the US law at the time. There were also some clauses in
the US copyright laws of the day requiring that books sold in the US be printed in the US beyond certain limits, and Houghton
Mifflin seem to have violated those clauses as well. In the early 1960s, Ace Paperbacks, after unsuccessfully trying to gain the
rights for a paperback edition, decided that the copyright was invalid and so proceeded to issue a completely unauthorized
edition. Allen & Unwin cried foul, and Tolkien was asked to provide some revisions to the text to allow a firm copyright claim to
be made. This resulted in the second edition in 1965, and the Ballantine paperback editions. The changes to the second edition
were much more minor than those to The Hobbit's second edition; many of them fixed minor errors or clarified details of the
geography. The details of the changes can be found in the Reader's Companion mentioned above.
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davidsmeaton moderator 6 points · 5 years


ago
  great post ebneter. thanks for doing this. we'll add it to the sidebar as a link.
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ebneter Galadriel  5 points · 5 years


ago
More Academic Works
The texts I mentioned in the main article as "Academic Work" are derived primarily from lectures and other writings that, while
academic in nature, were nevertheless intended for a less specialist audience than Tolkien's academic peers. He was, of
course, a professor at Oxford, and as such published various papers and books related to Anglo-Saxon/Old English and Middle
English. Some of these works are listed here.

  The Old English Exodus (ed. Joan Turville-Petre): Tolkien's edition of this poetical version of the Biblical book of Exodus,
a translation, and comments derived from his lecture notes. This is one of the rarest of Tolkien books.
Finn and Hengest: The Fragment and the Episode (ed. Alan Bliss): Like the Exodus, based on Tolkien's lecture notes. The
tale of Finn and Hengest comes from a fragmentary poem called "The Fights at Finnesburg" and an episode in "Beowulf".
Beowulf and the Critics (ed. Michael C. Drout): Tolkien's famous essay was based on lectures he delivered at Oxford, and
Drout presents the texts of those lectures and shows the evolution of Tolkien's thought.

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ebneter Galadriel  1 point · 5 years


ago
  Indeed. This is a vital essay. It's listed under "Academic Works" in the main article.
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Astrogator Beren 4 points · 5 years


ago

Some of us think this is the greatest thing ever, being able to peer over the shoulder of the Creator at work, while for others it
is far too reminiscent of college English classes. Your call.
  The HoME is worth reading alone for part III, the Lays of Beleriand. The Lay of Leithian and the Lay of the Children of Húrin are
probably my favourite things Tolkien wrote, even if he did not finish them. If you ever wonder what Aragorn sang in the
Midgewater Moors, look no further.
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italia06823834 Ithilien 2 points · 5 years


ago
  HoME II is quite amazing as well. The longer version of "The Fall of Gondolin" is fantastic.
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ebneter Galadriel  2 points · 5 years ago · edited 5 years


ago
Books About Tolkien
Obviously there are literally hundreds of books and articles about Tolkien and his works, including an annual review publication
called Tolkien Studies. So this list is merely a somewhat biased selection of a few highly recommended works — and is the list
I'd most like to hear comments on, as well.

Master of Middle-earth, Paul Kocher: Written pre-Silmarillion, it's still an excellent analysis
J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, Tom Shippey
The Road to Middle-earth, Tom Shippey: Shippey's two books are a good starting point
Tolkien and the Critics, ed. Neil D. Isaacs and Rose Zimbardo: An early collection of criticism, including the infamous
review, "Ooo, those awful orcs!" by Edmund Wilson
Understanding the Lord of the Rings, ed. Neil D. Isaacs and Rose Zimbardo: A more recent similar collection by the same
editors
J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment, ed. Michael D.C. Drout: Okay, it's $200+, so look in
libraries
  Recommended Authors and Editors

Verlyn Flieger
Tom Shippey
Christina Scull
Wayne Hammond
Jane Chance
Mark Atherton
Douglas A. Anderson
Walking Tree Press has a whole series of books devoted to Tolkien, most of them collections of papers from various
conferences.

Authors to Avoid
The most obvious one is David Day; despite making a career out of Tolkien-related books, his works are full of errors, bad
assumptions, and other quirks, and are not recommended.
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Jahordon 2 points · 5 years


ago
This is a very wonderful list so far, but I would highly recommend adding The Kalevala and The Saga of the Volsungs which
 
were Tolkien's direct inspiration for the story of Turin, the first story he wrote.
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xhlgtrashcanx 1 point · 5 years


ago
  This is fantastic, thank you so much
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