Author Topic: JRR Tolkien Books in Chronological Reading Order?  (Read 690 times)

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Online SeanJohnson

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JRR Tolkien Books in Chronological Reading Order?
« on: December 12, 2019, 05:26:05 PM »
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  • It seems there are a bunch of (both loosely and tightly) related books in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings genre:

    Lord of the Rings

    The Hobbit

    The Simarillion

    The History of Middle-Earth

    The Fall of Numenor

    Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-Earth

    The Children of Hurin

    The Tale of Beren and Luthien

    The Fall of Gondolin

    Can anyone tell me whether these books can be read in -more or less- a chronological order (and if so, what the proper ordering from first to last should be)?
    Romans 5:20 "But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more."

    -I retract any and all statements I have made that are incongruent with the True Faith, and apologize for ever having made them-

    Offline TKGS

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    Re: JRR Tolkien Books in Chronological Reading Order?
    « Reply #1 on: December 12, 2019, 05:36:50 PM »
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  • Personally, I would say to read The Hobbit then The Lord of the Rings and the appendices.  Then, the rest of the books can be read in virtually any order.  The books after The Hobbit and LOFR were not completed for publication by Mr. Tolkein but were edited for publication by his son, Christopher.  They are not as entertaining to read (I have not read all of them myself) and, in some respects, read more like histories or dry books of mythology.


    Online SeanJohnson

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    Re: JRR Tolkien Books in Chronological Reading Order?
    « Reply #2 on: December 12, 2019, 05:40:16 PM »
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  • Personally, I would say to read The Hobbit then The Lord of the Rings and the appendices.  Then, the rest of the books can be read in virtually any order.  The books after The Hobbit and LOFR were not completed for publication by Mr. Tolkein but were edited for publication by his son, Christopher.  They are not as entertaining to read (I have not read all of them myself) and, in some respects, read more like histories or dry books of mythology.
    Thank you, TKGS.

    Question: I saw all 6 of the LOTR/Hobbit movies, and it seemed like they alluded to a lot of presumed knowledge/information not explicitly covered, which I hoped was covered in the books.  Is that so?

    Also, regarding the appendices in LOTR: Are these extensive appendices which gie background information?
    Romans 5:20 "But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more."

    -I retract any and all statements I have made that are incongruent with the True Faith, and apologize for ever having made them-

    Online SeanJohnson

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    Re: JRR Tolkien Books in Chronological Reading Order?
    « Reply #3 on: December 12, 2019, 06:07:21 PM »
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  • I found this interesting video, which implies there is a lot more background information somewhere in Tolkien's books:

    Romans 5:20 "But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more."

    -I retract any and all statements I have made that are incongruent with the True Faith, and apologize for ever having made them-

    Offline TKGS

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    Re: JRR Tolkien Books in Chronological Reading Order?
    « Reply #4 on: December 12, 2019, 06:09:39 PM »
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  • Thank you, TKGS.

    Question: I saw all 6 of the LOTR/Hobbit movies, and it seemed like they alluded to a lot of information which I hoped was covered in the books.  Is that so?

    Also, regarding the appendices in LOTR: Are these extensive appendices which gie background information?
    Absolutely.  But when you read the books, try to put the movies out of your mind.  The movies are loosly based on the books and the overall goal in the stories is the same.  But they are not the same stories.

    The Hobbit movies tried (poorly, in my opinion) to weave into them some of the background of the stories from The Lord of the Rings book that had been left out of the movies.  You'll find the books to be both entertaining and a credible story but very different from the movies.

    You will find The Hobbit reads like a children's book in some aspects (though nothing like modern children's books), but it is still very good.  The Lord of the Rings reads like an epic adventure that follows up on The Hobbit.  Make sure that you read the prologue found at the front of The Fellowship of the Ring as it recaps The Hobbit but also provides more information to help understand the world of Middle Earth.

    The appendicies were added for two reasons.  First, when the books were originally published in the United States, the publisher, thinking that they would not do well, did not bother to copyright the story.  When they sold very well, Penguin Books started publishing the books since they were in the public domain.  The British publisher then asked Tolkein to make a few technical corrections and then add the appendicies which include background information that fans were starting to ask about.  Because of corrections and the addition of the appendicies, they were able to copyright the new book and, with a forward by the author specifically asking people not to purchase the unauthorized versions, Penguin found much lower demand for their books and stopped publishing the public domain version.

    While the appendicies give quite a bit of background, I don't think they would be easily understood without the general story of the books in mind.  They are not really overly extensive but they are definitely interesting.

    If you enjoy reading stories set in pre-industrial ages where there are wizards, elves, dwarves, men, halflings, orcs, wargs (wild wolves), monsters, Trolls, royalty, commoners, swords and spears, battles, and intrigues, you will enjoy this story.


    Online SeanJohnson

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    Re: JRR Tolkien Books in Chronological Reading Order?
    « Reply #5 on: December 12, 2019, 06:17:39 PM »
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  • Absolutely.  But when you read the books, try to put the movies out of your mind.  The movies are loosly based on the books and the overall goal in the stories is the same.  But they are not the same stories.

    The Hobbit movies tried (poorly, in my opinion) to weave into them some of the background of the stories from The Lord of the Rings book that had been left out of the movies.  You'll find the books to be both entertaining and a credible story but very different from the movies.

    You will find The Hobbit reads like a children's book in some aspects (though nothing like modern children's books), but it is still very good.  The Lord of the Rings reads like an epic adventure that follows up on The Hobbit.  Make sure that you read the prologue found at the front of The Fellowship of the Ring as it recaps The Hobbit but also provides more information to help understand the world of Middle Earth.

    The appendicies were added for two reasons.  First, when the books were originally published in the United States, the publisher, thinking that they would not do well, did not bother to copyright the story.  When they sold very well, Penguin Books started publishing the books since they were in the public domain.  The British publisher then asked Tolkein to make a few technical corrections and then add the appendicies which include background information that fans were starting to ask about.  Because of corrections and the addition of the appendicies, they were able to copyright the new book and, with a forward by the author specifically asking people not to purchase the unauthorized versions, Penguin found much lower demand for their books and stopped publishing the public domain version.

    While the appendicies give quite a bit of background, I don't think they would be easily understood without the general story of the books in mind.  They are not really overly extensive but they are definitely interesting.

    If you enjoy reading stories set in pre-industrial ages where there are wizards, elves, dwarves, men, halflings, orcs, wargs (wild wolves), monsters, Trolls, royalty, commoners, swords and spears, battles, and intrigues, you will enjoy this story.

    Thank you for this excellent instruction/description; it was exactly what I was looking for.

    I enjoy trying to spot the Catholic symbolism and motifs, and of course, I definitely love all things pre-industrial society.

    Glad that I can more or less just get a good edition of LOTR, and get most of the info.

    Thanks for taking the time to explain it to me.
    Romans 5:20 "But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more."

    -I retract any and all statements I have made that are incongruent with the True Faith, and apologize for ever having made them-

    Offline TKGS

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    Re: JRR Tolkien Books in Chronological Reading Order?
    « Reply #6 on: December 12, 2019, 06:24:01 PM »
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  • Knowing the geography of Middle Earth really does assist in following the story in The Lord of the Rings.  You really don't need a better map for The Hobbit than what is included in any publication of the book.  But when you get to The Fellowship, I recommend you have access to a good map.  You can find a good map of Middle Earth online at:

    http://www.theonering.com/galleries/maps-calendars-genealogies/maps-calendars-genealogies/map-of-middle-earth-j-r-r-tolkien

    Online SeanJohnson

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    Re: JRR Tolkien Books in Chronological Reading Order?
    « Reply #7 on: December 12, 2019, 06:31:50 PM »
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  • Knowing the geography of Middle Earth really does assist in following the story in The Lord of the Rings.  You really don't need a better map for The Hobbit than what is included in any publication of the book.  But when you get to The Fellowship, I recommend you have access to a good map.  You can find a good map of Middle Earth online at:

    http://www.theonering.com/galleries/maps-calendars-genealogies/maps-calendars-genealogies/map-of-middle-earth-j-r-r-tolkien
    Outstanding!
    Romans 5:20 "But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more."

    -I retract any and all statements I have made that are incongruent with the True Faith, and apologize for ever having made them-


    Offline Bonaventure

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    Re: JRR Tolkien Books in Chronological Reading Order?
    « Reply #8 on: December 13, 2019, 09:41:23 AM »
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  • Absolutely.  But when you read the books, try to put the movies out of your mind.  The movies are loosly based on the books and the overall goal in the stories is the same.  But they are not the same stories.

    Having read The Hobbit and LOTR well before any of the movies came out, upon seeing the first movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, and realizing how much of the story was left out, I couldn't stomach watching them any further.  On top of that, trying to get what little story was saved within two hours, it felt as if one was on a roller coaster ride as the hollowed-out plot moved along.  So fast that, as was alluded to earlier, one needed to know a lot of the background/character development from the books just to understand what was happening on the screen.  Not my cup of tea.

    Also, recall that the movies came out in the early 2000's, which was a time when CGI was really coming into its own.  However, it was also a time when television series were just beginning to ramp up their productions as well.  IMO, The Hobbit and LOTR would have been much better served as a television series, with each season being a book (or possibly even several seasons covering a single book).  By doing so, each book could have been given 10 - 15 hours of screen time (20 - 22 hours if it were done by a network), as opposed to 2 - 3 hours it was given for the big screen. This would have allowed for much deeper character development, and a chance to tell a greater portion of the story.  

    Offline Pax Vobis

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    Re: JRR Tolkien Books in Chronological Reading Order?
    « Reply #9 on: December 13, 2019, 11:13:14 AM »
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  • There is a "new" book called "Fall of Gondolin" that was finished by Tolkien's son.  The story was briefly told in the Similrillion, but only partially and very short.  This is supposedly the full story and happens in the 1st Age.  I've not yet read it.

    Offline TKGS

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    Re: JRR Tolkien Books in Chronological Reading Order?
    « Reply #10 on: December 13, 2019, 11:17:43 AM »
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  • Having read The Hobbit and LOTR well before any of the movies came out, upon seeing the first movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, and realizing how much of the story was left out, I couldn't stomach watching them any further.  On top of that, trying to get what little story was saved within two hours, it felt as if one was on a roller coaster ride as the hollowed-out plot moved along.  So fast that, as was alluded to earlier, one needed to know a lot of the background/character development from the books just to understand what was happening on the screen.  Not my cup of tea.

    Also, recall that the movies came out in the early 2000's, which was a time when CGI was really coming into its own.  However, it was also a time when television series were just beginning to ramp up their productions as well.  IMO, The Hobbit and LOTR would have been much better served as a television series, with each season being a book (or possibly even several seasons covering a single book).  By doing so, each book could have been given 10 - 15 hours of screen time (20 - 22 hours if it were done by a network), as opposed to 2 - 3 hours it was given for the big screen. This would have allowed for much deeper character development, and a chance to tell a greater portion of the story.  
    Completely agree!  I did watch the extended versions of the movies and they still remove so much of the story.  The only part of the movies my wife likes are the battle scenes.  The rest of the movies she'll skip over.


    Online SeanJohnson

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    Re: JRR Tolkien Books in Chronological Reading Order?
    « Reply #11 on: December 13, 2019, 04:03:31 PM »
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  • Here’s another good response from Mithrandylan in an email correspondence on the same subject (with permission):


    Hey Sean

    Depends on what you mean by chronological order.  If you mean chronological publishingorder, it's: (I'll give my recommended "event-based" chronological order after)

    The Hobbit
    LOTR (published ~15 years after The Hobbit)

    Only those two, plus I think The Adventures of Tom bσɱbadil, were published during his lifetime.  The rest were published posthumously, in this order:

    The Silmarillion (mid-late 70s)
    Unfinished Tales of Numenor
    The History of Middle Earth (80s-- Book of Unfinished tales vols 1-2, Lays of Beleriand, Shaping of Middle Earth, The Lost Road)
    The History of the Lord of the Rings (late 80s-early 90s; four or five books dealing with extant LOTR stories and details surrounding the War of the Ring--The Return of Shadow, The Treason of Isengard, I forget the other two or three)
    Morgoth's Ring (early 90s, deals with extant Silmarillion material)

    The War of the Jewels (early 90s, also extant silmarillion material)
    The Children of Hurin (mid 2000s)
    Beren & Luthien (2000s)
    The Fall of Gondolin (2010s)

    All the posthumous works were edited by Christopher Tolkien, one of Tolkien's sons.  Tolkienites-- lay and scholarly, Catholic and secular-- aren't pedantic about this.  Christopher Tolkien didn't do much editorializing or changing, and those other works read like LOTR does (though not like The Hobbit does-- The Hobbit was written for children, reads much more like CS Lewis compared to LOTR which is written for adults and reads more like an epic novel).  Christopher (more or less) just compiled his fathers copious notes, made connections, filled in any necessary blanks, etc.  


    Although there is technically a strict chronological order in which the books could be read based on the chronology of Middle Earth events, I'm not sure how enjoyable a read it would make.  It would involve jumping back and forth between books like The Silmarillion, Children of Hurin, Unfinished Tales, etc.  The SIlmarillion deals with some of the earliest events in Middle Earth, whereas some of the other books focus in on specific events that happened aroudn the same time, are mentioned in the Silmarillion, but not delved into in considerable detail.  Perhaps obviously, if one were to read MIddle Earth books in strict chronological order, one would finish with The Hobbit and then LOTR.

    If you haven't read any LOTR materials, this is my strong recommendation: start with The Hobbit.  Read it with your kids, if you think they could understand (it is, after all, a children's book a la CS Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia and reads as though your grandpa is telling you a story by the fireplace).  If you like it, then read the LOTR trilogy (probably not with your kids, since it's written for a more adult vocabulary-- not that there's anything inappropriate, it just probably will go over the heads of kiddos).  If you make it through LOTR and The Hobbit, read the appendices at the end of Return of the King.  These deal with some important history of Middle Earth (they are actually fairly long, as a matter of fact) and are written in the (often-criticized) dry, historical, quasi-scholarly tone that one encoutners when reading The Silmarillion.  If the appendices are to your liking, then you know that you should keep on going with the material edited by Christopher Tolkien, and you'd start with The Silmarillion, tthen probably go to UNfinished Tales.    Children of Hurin will enkindle your inner Greek tragedian, and if you're into that kind of thing (I certainly am), read that too-- after Unfinished Tales, probably.  Ditto Beren & Luthien and The Fall of Gondolin.

    So far as the HIstory of Middle Earth and HIstory of the War of the Ring series' are concerned, they're non-imperative.  They take on a historical-summary tone and therefore are more useful for reference than for an actually enjoyable reading experience.  They exist to annotate history, not to tell stories.  You could skip them, since the meat and potatoes of them is included in other books.  Unless, of course, you're planning a career change to a Tolkien-scholar.
    Romans 5:20 "But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more."

    -I retract any and all statements I have made that are incongruent with the True Faith, and apologize for ever having made them-

    Offline claudel

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    Re: JRR Tolkien Books in Chronological Reading Order?
    « Reply #12 on: December 13, 2019, 05:21:32 PM »
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  • 1) The Lord of the Rings films should not overall be taken as an honest or even adequate approximation of the contents of Tolkien's books, still less as a guide to their aesthetic, mythic, psychological, and moral content. The film Fellowship of the Ring is the only one of the three Ring films to which a person could apply the description "faithful to the source" without branding himself a fool or a liar. (I have not seen the Hobbit films, nor would anything other than a gun pointed at my head induce me to see them.) As others have said, put the damn films out of your mind. Nor should it be forgotten that Tolkien disliked drama as a form (not excepting even the Greeks and Shakespeare) and utterly despised movies.

    2) The primary thing to be clear about with regard to The Hobbit is that it is a children's book. Failing to understand this fact has led many adults to frustrated disappointment. Of course, in narrative terms, The Hobbit provides essential story and character background to The Lord of the Rings, but as is true of any other successful children's book, The Hobbit is a freestanding work. That is to say, while LotR depends upon The Hobbit for its character groupings and its fictional venue, its "secondary world" (the term is W. H. Auden's),* the arrow of dependence points in one direction only.

    3) Unless you are the sort of literal-minded reader who can make no sense of a story unless its narrative unfolds in strict chronology, the best way to read Tolkien's literary œuvre is in its published order: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and The Book of Lost Tales (in 2 vols.). Except for those whose interest is primarily philological—and I have no reason to think yours is—there is effectively nothing of literary interest in the subsequent ten volumes of The History of Middle-Earth, all of which are, of course, posthumous collections by Christopher Tolkien of things written in notebooks and on countless scraps of paper by his father over the course of sixty-some odd years. Indeed, it needs to be recalled that all the books listed above after LotR are editorial assemblages, and each owes its final form and usually much else to Christopher's organizational and editorial skills and decisions. Unrelated (or only marginally related) to the Middle-Earth cycle is a lovely volume called Poems and Stories (the edition I own has ISBN 0-395-68999-6). Aside from the material's literary value, a very attractive feature is that every word and punctuation mark in the book is the master's own unredacted work.

    4) Last but not least, if you are planning to read Tolkien's work not for its storytelling or mythic qualities but for its religious or moral content, you ought to know that Tolkien himself would tell you in no uncertain terms that you would be doing neither him nor yourself a service. His own favorites among his readers and fans were those with no interest whatsoever in LotR's massive appendices, which contain the backstory of his secondary world and the various languages he invented for its peoples.** Indeed, his failure to bring to final form a Creation narrative and a potted history of Middle-Earth's first and second ages—that is precisely what The Silmarillion is—testifies to his great reluctance to open the closet door of his inspiration, as it were, and reveal its workings to all and sundry. All that notwithstanding, there is something gravely ennobling in reading his mythic description of God's Creation of life and matter through the modality of music. Once read, all the passages in LotR that refer to characters who live on in song take on an extraordinarily vivid new dimension of significance, especially for those who, like me, think of a life without music as a life without fulfillment.
    ____________________________

    * It was Auden, once Tolkien's pupil, who more than anyone else brought Tolkien's imaginative work to wide public notice. Once or twice late in his life, when Tolkien felt especially put upon by obsessive fans and scribblers, he grumbled half in earnest that he wished that Auden had kept his praise to himself and thereby left him and LotR in their welcome and near-complete obscurity.

    ** Tolkien frequently said and wrote that he completed LotR to satisfy the urgent requests of the many readers of The Hobbit who wanted to hear more about hobbits.

    Offline Kazimierz

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    Re: JRR Tolkien Books in Chronological Reading Order?
    « Reply #13 on: December 14, 2019, 07:40:56 PM »
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  • Forget the films please!

    I would add Tales from the Perilous Realm to the reading list.

    If thou are into audio, there is the excellent BBC dramatized series of LOTR made in 1981.
    Thhere is also a dramatized version of Tales from the Perlious Realm, which includes the section on Tom bσɱbadil. It fits in well with the BBC LOTR episodes.

    The reading of The Silmariilion by Robert Shaw is also excellent. There is of course the complete unabridged readings of The Hobbit and LOTR by Rob Inglis.

    Beren and Luthien and The Fall of Gondolin are excellent reads, as is The Children of Hurin. The latter audiobook thereof is read by Christopher Lee. Shall I say excellent again?

    This old bear has been studying Tolkien for what seems an age and have taught his works too. Always something new to discover.

    Ash nazg durbataluk!!!!! ;)
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