A Guide Into Reading J.R.R Tolkien Books in Order

Sonia Akavan
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J.R.R. Tolkien is well known for creating Middle Earth in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.

J.R.R Tolkien is one of the most popular writers of our time. His books are loved by fans all over the world. These books have been translated into multiple languages, sold millions of copies, and also won many awards.

However, his stories are widely distributed and may be hard to follow if you have never heard of them. If you have just started, or planning to start reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, then this guide will help you understand the books better.

In this article, I’ll introduce you to the different books and the order they were published in. I’ll also discuss some of the important things you should know when reading the series.

You can use this as a guide to answer many questions regarding how the books are organized, reading order, and other relevant questions. I’ll also provide links to buy the books in case you decide you want to read them all on your own.

NameCategoryProduct
The Lord of the Rings: One VolumeBest OverallThe Lord of the Rings: One Volume
Smith of Wootton MajorBudget PickSmith of Wootton Major
The Silmarillion by J. R. R. TolkienUpgrade PickThe Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien

1. The Lord of the Rings: One Volume

Our rating: 9 / 10

The Lord of the Rings: One Volume

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Pros:

  • Reduces the 3-book set to a single volume making it easier to transport
  • Available in 3 different sizes: 5" x 6 1/4", 6 1/2" x 9", and 8 3/8" x 11"
  • The price is quite reasonable for the edition

Cons:

  • The first two books are strongly related, but The War of the Ring is entirely independent
  • The other two volumes have additional texts, not found in this edition
  • It would be inconvenient to read all three volumes in a single volume

This book is a rendition of the three volumes, A Journey of the Ring, The Treason of Isengard, and The War of the Ring, in a single volume.

This version of The Lord of the Rings is the most commonly found edition. It is a single version of all three original volumes.

The book is simply called The Lord of the Rings. The price is reasonable, and this version is ideal for those who like to refer to the map often, since it just takes one search to find everything you need to know.

2. Tales from the Perilous Realm

Our rating: 9 / 10

Tales from the Perilous Realm

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This one is all about the history of Middle-Earth. It features poems and a few short stories about the history of the world. You will learn about the great wars and how it almost brought about the destruction of the world.

Tales from the Perilous Realm includes the following:

  • Adventures of Tom Bombadil
  • The Stone Troll
  • Leaf by Niggle
  • Smith of Wootton Major
  • Farmer Giles of Ham
  • Reflections on the Nature of Faeries
  • Trolls and Elves
  • Three is Company
  • Beren and Luthien
  • The Silmarillion
  • The Fall of Arthur

3. Smith of Wootton Major

Our rating: 8 / 10

Smith of Wootton Major

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Pros:

  • Beautiful information and illustrations
  • Great for newbies

Smith of Wootton Major is J.R.R. Tolkien's first Middle-earth-based story, although this tale is not set in the famous land. Instead, the story takes us to an island off the coast of Wales. This island is the home base of Smith, a major figure in the novel.

For such a short story, Smith of Wootton Major does an incredible job of establishing Tolkien weaves characters, thoughts, and descriptions into each character that is a joy to read.

J.R.R. Tolkien does a great job of introducing the reader to the world of Middle-Earth. This short story tells its tale in a way that will make you truly want to read more about the characters and the fascinating world that the author creates.

4. Roverandom

Our rating: 8 / 10

Roverandom

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You have to be a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien to enjoy

Roverandom, J.R.R Tolkien’s first published book, published in 1994, tells the story of a dog who makes friends with a frost-bitten wizard on New Year’s Eve.

The wizard on a lark gives Roverandom to a woodcarver as a gift. The woodcarver’s daughter, Lassie, recognizes Roverandom as an intelligent dog. Through an act of kindness, the woodcarver’s daughter and Roverandom stop a witch who was using a spell to turn people into frogs.

5. The Hobbit: Illustrated Edition

Our rating: 8 / 10

The Hobbit: Illustrated Edition

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The amount of details in the paintings is simply astounding. Nielsen's illustrations have that realistically whimsical look which makes the characters appear especially realistic.

The cover is a so-called clothbound edition, which is bound in cloth and boards, just like a regular hardcover book, but with a paper dust jacket. This is a beautiful but sturdy cover that will do a good job of protecting the inside contents of the book.

It is an oversized edition with an 8.25 in. x 11.75 in. format and over 400 pages.

6. Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth

Our rating: 7 / 10

Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth

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7. The Complete History of Middle-Earth

Our rating: 7 / 10

The Complete History of Middle-Earth

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Pros:

  • Book includes a CD-ROM with a digital index of all the published works of Tolkien
  • Offers an in-depth look at Tolkien’s mind and imagination
  • A good point of entry for anyone who wants to learn more about The Lord of the Rings

Want to learn about Tolkein’s inspirations, and the stories that lead to his groundbreaking books? Then this is the perfect guide for you. J.R.R Tolkein’s History of Middle Earth is a six volume collection that offers both a look into the mind of the world’s most revered fantasy writer and prequel stories that lead up to the beginnings of the Lord of the Rings series.

The six books in this collection are : The Book of Lost Tales , The Lays of Beleriand, The Shaping of Middle Earth, The Lost Road and Other Writings, The Return of the Shadow, and The Treason of Isengard.

Of all the books in the set, the titular first book contains a collection of legends and stories from the early beginnings of the lord of the rings series to be used in later works.

8. Farmer Giles of Ham : The Rise and Wonderful Adventures of Farmer Giles

Our rating: 7 / 10

Farmer Giles of Ham : The Rise and Wonderful Adventures of Farmer Giles

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Pros:

  • Excellent start to Middle Earth
  • A gentle, funny, and heartwarming read

Cons:

  • Some readers found the plot predictable
  • Some found it dated

Farmer Giles of Ham is a funny, light and delightfully amusing children’s book by J.R.R Tolkien. It captures the essence of hobbits and presents a modern tale of ancient legend.

It was one of Tolkien’s first attempts at children’s literature. It’s an adventure tale about King Bilbo (of The Hobbit fame) and his nephew, who leave far away lands to help a troubled village.

The Hobbit is where it all begins. Readers who are new to the world of Tolkien will find it much easier to enter his world through this simple but charming tale.

9. The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien

Our rating: 7 / 10

The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien

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Pros:

  • Provides lots of background information
  • Provides context for other Tolkien books
  • Gives readers a more direct insight into Tolkien’s creative process
  • Very good for fantasy and Hindu mythology buffs
  • Provides lots of stories for Tolkien fans to enjoy

Cons:

  • May be hard to follow for some readers
  • Not a complete story by itself

J. R. R. Tolkien was an immensely talented writer who was able to weave historical events, real people, and myths from different cultures into adventures for his characters to embark on. The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien is a detailed account of the lives of the characters that Tolkien invented, as well as the history of the fictional land, Middle-Earth. This book is a must for all Tolkien fans as it provides insights into the writer’s creative process that other novels written by him do not.

10. The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

Our rating: 6 / 10

The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

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Pros:

  • Fairly short story
  • Highly entertaining
  • A nice introduction to Middle Earth
  • The language is more poetic and rhyming

Cons:

  • More for younger children
  • Doesn't advance the main narrative

'Tom Bombadil' is a collection of poems and songs and humorous, whimsical folktales about the character from the world of J.R.R. Tolkien's creations. There are a wide variety of rhymes to keep you amused and entertained.

This was the first book published and the first story published in The Lord of the Rings sequel bundle. It was originally published in Volume III of The Lord of the Rings in 1964. The book was written for a primary audience of children as a primer to the Mid Earth by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Though it's appropriate for all ages, it reads like a collection of children's nursery rhymes and not like a serious work.

11. The Children of Húrin

Our rating: 6 / 10

The Children of Húrin

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Pros:

  • Belongs to the history of Middle-earth and the First Age
  • A fascinating story that bridges the years between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
  • Elaboration of different characters, such as Túrin Turambar
  • May shed some light into the dark time between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
  • Offers an understanding of why Sauron chose Mordor as his base

Cons:

  • The story may be a bit gloomy
  • Much of the story is told in flashback
  • It’s a prequel, which means it isn’t in chronological order

By J.R.R.Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien

There is much to learn about Túrin Turambar, one of the most iconic characters in Tolkien’s legacy. The Children of Húrin tells the story of his childhood and how he came to be called Túrin Turambar, as well as events that lead up to the War of the Jewels.

The central theme is the tragedy of an epic hero who could not be saved from his fate. Tolkien’s short story and treatment of the tale greatly expands what is written in The Silmarillion.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What order should I read the Middle Earth books?

The short answer is: read Tolkien's books in the order he wrote them, or the chronological order.

The recommended reading order for the Middle Earth Series from the author himself:

  • The Hobbit
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • The Silmarillion

Tolkien's four books were written in the following order:

  • The Hobbit (1937)
  • The Lord of the Rings (1954-55)
  • The Silmarillion (1977)
  • Unfinished Tales (1980)
  • The Children of Hurin (2007)
  • Beren and Luthien (2017)

What order should I read Lord of the Rings and Hobbit?

The good news is that The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings can be read in any order you see fit. However, it’s common to read The Hobbit when it was originally published. Currently, there are three published editions of The Hobbit, so be sure to purchase the correct one.

The reason most people read The Hobbit first has to do with the fact that it’s a children’s book. It’s a great book to introduce Tolkien to someone who has never read his trilogy, but it’s also a book that can work as a standalone read. For this reason, there is a lot of pressure on The Hobbit to attract new readers.

Should I read The Silmarillion first?

The short answer is no. The Silmarillion was published in 1977, five years after the death of Tolkien. Its goal is to provide a history of Middle-earth, and the book relies on prior knowledge of the languages, places, and general events of the world. Without this knowledge, the book may be a confusing read. While Tolkien meant this book to be read by Tolkien fans, many readers who haven’t previously explored Middle-earth find it difficult, boring, and rather dull.

This book is best suited for seasoned Tolkien fans who have already read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. However, if you’re a hugh fan of Tolkien, then we recommend reading it before starting The Lord of the Rings.

Where should I start with Tolkien?

This is a question that all fantasy readers are likely to hear many times, and that every fantasy author is likely to hear even more. The complex fantasy world that is Middle-earth is not the easiest thing to jump into. That’s just the reality of it.

If you haven’t read anything at all by J.R.R. Tolkien, it can be a little confusing to just start in the middle of things.

And if you are a fan of The Lord of the Rings movies and not a fan of the books, you may be wondering where to start in the series because movie tie-in novels, particularly with the recent resurgence of popular fantasy films, are far more popular than the actual books.

Conclusion

When reading the Tolkien books, it's easy to wonder what order they go in. This can be confusing. There are few critics who lay down a list of which books they recommend and why. It's up to us to decide which writers to follow.

We've looked at all the leading works of Tolkien criticism in an effort to determine which author offers the most compelling reviews, with the least amount of controversy.

Our Recommendation

NameCategoryProduct
The Lord of the Rings: One VolumeBest OverallThe Lord of the Rings: One Volume
Smith of Wootton MajorBudget PickSmith of Wootton Major
The Silmarillion by J. R. R. TolkienUpgrade PickThe Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien