The order to read Tolkien's books

a suggestion by David Bratman

A query was passed on to me, as semi-official bibliographer of The Mythopoeic Society, for a sequence to read as complete as possible a history of J.R.R. Tolkien's imaginary creation of Middle-earth: not every version of every story, but one late, full version of each story, in the order in which they take place in the fictional history.

First one must realize that Smith of Wootton Major, "Leaf by Niggle", and Farmer Giles of Ham (and the children's stories Mr. Bliss and Roverandom) are not part of that history, though there is a passing reference to it in Roverandom.

You can get pretty much the full sequence in the shortest possible form by just reading the historical chronicles in Appendices A and B of The Lord of the Rings.

The next step up is to read The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings in that order, because that's the order they take place.

To add in the "good stories" from Unfinished Tales and "The History of Middle-earth" (HoME) is also possible. The explanatory notes deal with incomplete matters and inconsistencies in the manuscripts, and the ways in which they differ from the standard versions in the earlier books, but if you don't want to be concerned with that, then don't read the notes.

Here's a fuller reading outline including many of these stories:

  1. "Ainulindalë" and "Valaquenta" from The Silmarillion
  2. "Quenta Silmarillion" from The Silmarillion
  3. "The Lay of Leithian" from The Lays of Beleriand (v. 3 of HoME) (extension of part of Chapter 19 of The Silmarillion)
  4. "Narn i Hîn Húrin" from Unfinished Tales (extension of Chapter 21 of The Silmarillion)
  5. "Of Tuor and His Coming To Gondolin" from Unfinished Tales (extension of part of Chapter 23 of The Silmarillion)
  6. "Akallabeth" from The Silmarillion
  7. Part Two of Unfinished Tales
  8. "Tal-Elmar" from The Peoples of Middle-earth (v. 12 of HoME)
  9. "The Numenorean Chapters" of The Lost Road (v. 5 of HoME)
  10. "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age" from The Silmarillion
  11. "The Disaster of the Gladden Fields", "Cirion and Eorl", the articles in Part Four, and "The Quest of Erebor", from Unfinished Tales, in that order
  12. The Hobbit
  13. The Lord of the Rings
  14. "The Hunt for the Ring" and "The Battle of the Fords of Isen", from Unfinished Tales (refer to things taking place during The Lord of the Rings)
  15. The Epilogue to The Lord of the Rings, from Sauron Defeated (v. 9 of HoME)
  16. "The New Shadow" from The Peoples of Middle-earth
  17. "The Notion Club Papers" from Sauron Defeated

This is sketchy, and you'll find overlaps, inconsistencies, and gaps, but it covers at least one full late version of most of the Middle-earth stories Tolkien told or began to tell.

Happy reading!

A detailed chronology of reading Tolkien's tales in chronological sequence chapter-by-chapter (sometimes even paragraph-by-paragraph), instead of work-by-work as here, was compiled by Larry King and may be found at It includes The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings, but not any of the HoME books or other sources listed here.

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