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How to Read J. R. R. Tolkien Books in Order (Every Book From Middle-earth)

How to Read J. R. R. Tolkien Books in Order (Every Book From Middle-earth)

How to Read J. R. R. Tolkien Books in Order

How to Read J. R. R. Tolkien Books in Order: It seems like a simple question that should have a simple answer: How, exactly, do you read every J. R. R. Tolkien book in order? Everyone knows about the classic trilogy and the prequel, also known as The Hobbit: Or There and Back Again. But for those of us who've read these books already, we can't help but wonder, "What else is there in the J. R. R. Tolkien universe?"

That question also seems like one with a straightforward answer, but from the research we've done, there doesn't seem to be an all-encompassing guide (yet). Many websites reference 6-8 different books, while others discuss over 15.

But fear not! We've decided this is a quest worth embarking on and have intently researched to compile this post, walking through each of J. R. R. Tolkien's works over the years. Grab yourself some Second Breakfast, and let's explore Middle-earth.

What is Middle-earth?

Middle earth
Map of Middle-earth, courtesy of LOTR Fandom Wiki

For those unfamiliar with the setting of the famous LOTR trilogy and The Hobbit, Middle-earth is the detailed fantasy world created by J. R .R. Tolkien. It is part of a larger world called Arda and is home to various races like Elves, Dwarves, Men, and Hobbits. The richness of its history, languages, and cultures makes it a deeply immersive setting.

The timeline of Middle-earth is divided into three Ages (in this post, four). The First Age focuses on the Elves and their battles against the dark lord Morgoth, mainly covered in The Silmarillion. The Second Age highlights the rise and fall of Númenor and the creation of the Rings of Power, setting the stage for later stories. The Third Age features the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, spotlighting characters like Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, Gandalf, and Aragorn and culminating in the fall of Sauron. The fourth age is simply an all-encompassing term for everything after the third age.

Understanding this chronological framework can enhance your reading experience by revealing how the stories interconnect within Tolkien's richly crafted world. Before we list the books in order, let's first better understand how time works in Middle-earth as it relates to how time works on Earth.

Understanding the Middle-earth Units of Time

Time UnitEarth Days Equivalent
1 Year of the SunApproximately 365.24 days
1 Yén144 Years of the Sun = 52,585.76 days
First Age3441 Years of the Sun = 1,256,144.44 days
Second Age7053 Years of the Sun = 2,576,037.72 days
Third Age3021 Years of the Sun = 1,103,134.04 days
Overkill? Absolutely. Fun? Most definitely!

Understanding the Middle-earth Timeline

AgeYears of the Sun
First Age1 to 590
Second Age591 to 4031
Third Age4032 to 7052
Fourth Age (Post-LOTR)7053 and beyond

All J. R. R. Tolkien Books in Order (Chronologically)

Now that we all understand Middle-earth, its ages, and its timelines, without further delay, we are proud to present our list of J.R.R. Tolkien books in chronological order for the best reading experience possible. For ease, we have split our list into four parts by the age in which the story took place.

Because there is nothing more annoying to us than when we are trying to find a quick answer and are spammed with rambling paragraphs (such as this one) unrelated to anything we care about, we will compile a quick list of each book in order and then go into more detail below for those interested. So, to get the best J. R. R. Tolkien reading experience, here is our thoughtfully researched list—please keep in mind the storyline in some books span multiple ages:

First Age

The First Age begins with the awakening of the Elves and ends with the War of Wrath, the great conflict that leads to Morgoth's defeat and the reshaping of the world.

  1. The Book of Lost Tales, Part One
  2. The Book of Lost Tales, Part Two
  3. The Lays of Beleriand
  4. The Shaping of Middle-earth
  5. The Silmarillion
  6. Morgoth’s Ring
  7. The War of the Jewels
  8. The Children of Húrin
  9. Beren and Lúthien
  10. The Fall of Gondolin

Second Age

This era starts after the War of Wrath and features the rise and fall of Númenor, the creation of the Rings of Power, and ends with the defeat of Sauron in the War of the Last Alliance.

  1. The Silmarillion (Sections including "Akallabêth")
  2. Unfinished Tales
  3. The Lost Road and Other Writings
  4. Sauron Defeated
  5. The Fall of Númenor

Third Age

Begins with the defeat of Sauron and the reign of the last High King of the Noldor, ending with the conclusion of "The Lord of the Rings" and the departure of the Ring-bearers from Middle-earth.

  1. The Hobbit
  2. The Fellowship of the Ring
  3. The Two Towers
  4. The Return of the King
  5. The Adventures of Tom Bombadil
  6. Unfinished Tales
  7. The Return of the Shadow
  8. The Treason of Isengard
  9. The War of the Ring
  10. Sauron Defeated
  11. The Peoples of Middle-earth

Fourth Age

The Fourth Age begins after the departure of the Ring-bearers and Sauron's defeat, marking the beginning of Men's dominion.

  • The Peoples of Middle-earth

Supplementary Works

These stories, while amazing, don't fully fit within the standard format of the other books, so we've added them here since they are definitely worth reading.

  • The Road Goes Ever On: A Song Cycle
  • Bilbo’s Last Song

How to Understand J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth Books Order

Now that we've listed each book in chronological order, there's one other topic to take care of. Understanding J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth books can be a bit like unpacking nesting dolls. While this guide lists standalone books in chronological order of the timeline, it’s helpful to know that they can be grouped into mini-series and overarching narratives (i.e. you don't have to buy each book on its own; there are several box sets that beautifully group various books together).

For instance, The Lord of the Rings is a trilogy that follows the events of The Hobbit, while The Silmarillion and other First Age tales form a mythic prequel to both. Christopher Tolkien's The History of Middle-earth series dives deep into drafts and essays, offering a scholarly exploration of these timelines.

So, while each book can be read independently, many are part of interconnected series that enhance Middle-earth's broader lore and richness (and improve ease of buying). In any case, let's explore each of the books we listed above in more detail. We will list our favorite box sets at the bottom of this post for those looking to acquire each title easily.

Books From the First Age (in More Detail)

The First Age is the foundational era of Middle-earth, covering its earliest history and lasting several thousand years. It begins with the creation of the world and the emergence of the Valar, powerful beings who shape the land. This Age is marked by the awakening of the Elves and their great conflicts with Morgoth, the first dark lord.

Epic tales of heroism and tragedy unfold, including legendary battles and the forging of the Silmarils—three immensely powerful jewels that become central to many of the First Age's stories. Key works like "The Silmarillion," "The Children of Húrin," "Beren and Lúthien," and "The Fall of Gondolin" delve into these intricate narratives, setting the stage for Middle-earth's complex history.

The Book Of Lost Tales: Part One

Think of this as your backstage pass to the early drafts of Middle-earth's mythology. "The Book of Lost Tales, Part One" offers stories that would evolve into "The Silmarillion." You’ll find familiar themes in their raw, unpolished glory, giving you a peek into Tolkien’s initial vision for his legendary world.

The Book Of Lost Tales: Part Two

Venture deeper into Tolkien’s creative mind with "The Book of Lost Tales, Part Two." These tales continue to build the mythic foundation of Middle-earth, from early Elven legends to the grand, tragic tales that define the First Age.

The Lays of Beleriand

Fancy some epic poetry? "The Lays of Beleriand" transforms the prose stories of the First Age into grand, lyrical verses. It’s poetry where heroes clash with dark lords, and love defies the odds—middle-Earthian literature at its finest.

The Shaping of Middle-Earth

Grab your archaeological hat because "The Shaping of Middle-earth" digs into Tolkien’s drafts, maps, and early histories. Ever wonder how the world of Elves, Dwarves, and Men was meticulously crafted? This book is your treasure map.

The Silmarillion

Immerse yourself in the epic genesis of Middle-earth with "The Silmarillion," a rich anthology of its mythic beginnings. Explore the world's creation, the powerful Valar's rise, and the Elves' tragic tales and their relentless battles against the dark lord Morgoth. This is the cornerstone of Tolkien’s legendarium, penning the saga of the coveted Silmarils and the heroism that defines the First Age.

Morgoth's Ring

If "The Silmarillion" left you wanting more, "Morgoth’s Ring" is here to satisfy. This volume offers deeper philosophical and mythological explorations of the First Age, including notes on Elven immortality and Morgoth’s dark influence.

The War of the Jewels

Dive into the nitty-gritty of the First Age with "The War of the Jewels." From detailed character studies to the intricate events surrounding the Silmarils, this volume is a goldmine for lore enthusiasts.

The Children of Húrin

Dive into a tale of sorrow and valor in "The Children of Húrin," a standalone novel brimming with the tragic destinies of Túrin Turambar and his sister Niënor. Cursed by Morgoth, their lives become intertwined with sorrow and fleeting triumphs in a story that paints the depth of Tolkien's world with vivid, haunting strokes.

Beren And Lúthien

Get swept away by the timeless love story of a mortal Man and an immortal Elf in "Beren and Lúthien." Follow their daring quest to challenge Morgoth himself, battling tremendous odds for a chance at eternal love. This enchanting tale resonates with romance, adventure, and the resilience of the human (and elven) spirit.

The Fall Of Gondolin

Witness the rise and doom of one of the First Age’s most secretive Elven cities in "The Fall of Gondolin." The narrative takes you through the breathtaking heights of Gondolin’s splendor to the catastrophic betrayal that seals its fate. It’s a story of hidden beauty, bravery, and ultimate loss, essential for any Middle-earth enthusiast.

Books From the Second Age (in More Detail)

The Second Age follows the cataclysmic events at the end of the First Age and spans over 3,400 years. This period is dominated by the rise and fall of Númenor, a powerful island kingdom of Men gifted with long life. During this age, Sauron, Morgoth's former lieutenant, emerges as a significant threat.

The creation of the Rings of Power, including the One Ring, and the eventual downfall of Númenor are pivotal events. "The Silmarillion" (particularly "Akallabêth") and "Unfinished Tales" include essential stories from this era, offering insights into the complex relationships and power struggles that shape the future of Middle-earth.

The Silmarillion

No, having this in the second age in addition to the first age section is not a mistake! You'll note this book spans across both ages; in this case, "Akallabêth" takes place in the second. This section of "The Silmarillion" offers a captivating glimpse into the greed and ambition that lead to Númenor's tragic end and lays the groundwork for Sauron’s rise in Middle-earth.

Unfinished Tales: Illustrated Edition

Discover the fragments of Middle-earth's Second Age through "Unfinished Tales." This collection of narrative pieces sheds light on pivotal events like the saga of Aldarion and Erendis and the intriguing history of Galadriel and Celeborn. Each tale offers a unique lens on the complexities shaping the Second Age.

The Lost Road and Other Writings

Journey through time and space with "The Lost Road." This collection showcases early drafts related to Númenor and the Second Age, including fascinating alternate histories that Tolkien toyed with. It’s a narrative playground where timelines blend and merge.

Sauron Defeated

More than just a catchy title, "Sauron Defeated" wraps up the story of Númenor and lays the groundwork for the Third Age. It also includes fascinating glimpses into earlier drafts of "The Lord of the Rings," making it a must-read for collectors of Tolkien lore.

The Fall of Númenor: And Other Tales from the Second Age of Middle-earth

Anticipate a deeper dive into Númenor's grand story with "The Fall of Númenor." This work compiles Tolkien’s writing about the Second Age, fusing the rise of Númenor’s glory with its ultimate demise and setting the narrative stage for the forging of the Rings of Power.

Books From the Third Age (in More Detail)

The Third Age lasts over 3,000 years and is the age most familiar to readers, encompassing the narratives of "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings." This age begins with the downfall of Sauron in his first defeat and sees the rise and fall of many kingdoms. It highlights the re-emergence of the One Ring and the quest to destroy it, involving characters like Bilbo Baggins, Frodo Baggins, Gandalf, and Aragorn.

The age concludes with the War of the Ring, the final defeat of Sauron, and significant changes in the political landscape of Middle-earth. Key works for this age include "The Hobbit," "The Fellowship of the Ring," "The Two Towers," "The Return of the King," and relevant stories in "Unfinished Tales."

The Hobbit

Embark on a thrilling quest with Bilbo Baggins in "The Hobbit." This delightful adventure follows a reluctant hobbit traversing dangerous lands, facing trolls, goblins, and an iconic dragon. Along with a band of dwarves and the wizard Gandalf, Bilbo's journey is full of whimsy, courage, and unexpected heroism.

The Fellowship of the Ring

Step into Middle-earth's enchanting yet perilous world in "The Fellowship of the Ring." Join Frodo Baggins and his diverse fellowship on a mission to destroy the One Ring. This first installment of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy explores ancient legacies, enduring friendships, and the dark threat of Sauron looming over their journey.

The Two Towers

Continue the epic journey in "The Two Towers," where the fellowship is sundered, but the quest endures. Follow Frodo and Sam toward Mordor while Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli confront peril in Rohan. This middle chapter is a tale of epic battles, sinister betrayals, and the unyielding hope that binds unlikely heroes.

The Return of the King

Witness the gripping climax of the quest in "The Return of the King." The final book in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy sees the forces rallying for the last stand against Sauron. With the fate of Middle-earth hanging in the balance, friendships are tested, and courage is stretched to its limits, leading to an unforgettable conclusion.

The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

Enjoy a whimsical detour with "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil," a collection of poems that dive into Middle-earth’s lighter, more mystical side. Featuring memorable characters like Tom Bombadil himself, these poetic tales enchant with their humor, mystery, and charm.

Unfinished Tales: Illustrated Edition

Another one that spans across multiple ages... Unleash the hidden layers of "Unfinished Tales," revealing deeper insights into the Third Age. From Gandalf's motives for involving Bilbo in the quest for Erebor to the mysterious hunt for the Ring, these narratives enrich the lore and fill the gaps of the beloved stories.

The Return of the Shadow

Curious about how "The Fellowship of the Ring" came to be? "The Return of the Shadow" lets you in on the drafting process, from early character sketches to plot twists that didn’t make the final cut. It’s like reading the diary of a literary masterpiece.

The Treason of Isengard

Find out what could have been in "The Treason of Isengard." This volume explores the evolution of "The Two Towers" and includes fascinating unused material, offering a fresh perspective on the iconic journey of Frodo and company.

The War of the Ring

Discover the blueprints for an epic with "The War of the Ring." This book delves into the drafts and alternate storylines of "The Return of the King," revealing Tolkien’s creative process as he crafted the climax of his legendary saga.

Sauron Defeated

Yet another book that spans multiple ages — this volume reveals the intricate process of bringing Sauron's downfall to life, offering fans a treasure trove of insights and untold tales. It’s a fascinating look at what could have been and the masterful craftsmanship behind the epic conclusion of Middle-earth's Third Age.

The Peoples of Middle-earth

This book is unbelievably hard to find as a stand-alone title, but it can easily be purchased as part of a boxed set. However, it is worth noting this volume provides a deep dive into the characters and cultures that populate Middle-earth, from lesser-known Elves to the nuanced histories of the Dúnedain.

Supplementary Works (in More Detail)

While not perfectly in line with the other books in the Middle-earth world, these titles are fun additives to your Tolkien repertoire.

The Road Goes Ever On: A Song Cycle

This book, a collaboration with musician Donald Swann, sets Tolkien's poems to music. It includes songs and poems from "The Lord of the Rings" and other Middle-earth writings, giving fans a musical route into Tolkien’s world. This title is difficult to find and can only be acquired from some used bookstores lucky enough to have a copy.

Bilbo's Last Song

This poem, often considered Bilbo Baggins' farewell to Middle-earth as he sets sail to the Undying Lands, is touching and reflective. It’s beautifully illustrated and serves as an emotional coda to "The Lord of the Rings" saga.

How to Buy Every J. R. R. Tolkien Book

You may have noticed not every book we listed above is available in our store. This is because several lesser-known books are no longer sold as stand-alone books and can only be acquired used or as part of a boxed set. Though this might seem like an inconvenience, we have to say the boxed sets are very beautifully designed and well-thought-out (and we are suckers for used books since they are better for the environment).

From here on, we will list the best boxed sets and stand-alone books that ensure you get the best possible reading experience and (almost) every J. R. R. Tolkien book that has been published.

Boxed Sets

While most of these titles can be purchased as standalone books (except for a few), these boxed sets make hunting them down a piece of cake (and more affordable in the long run than buying them separately).

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: Deluxe Pocket Boxed Set

This boxed set includes The Hobbit and the three Lord of the Rings books. There's not much that needs to be said about this set other than it is the coolest little collection of leather-bound books we've gotten our hands on in a long time. Caution: the text is very small in these books, but it does not strain your eyes when reading; you just have to get close to the pages.

The History of Middle-earth Box Set #1: The Silmarillion / Unfinished Tales / Book of Lost Tales, Part One / Book of Lost Tales, Part Two

First, in a series of hardcover box sets celebrating Christopher Tolkien's literary achievement, double-sided dust jackets are featured—one side featuring artwork by John Howe and the other with the original graphic treatment. Set 1 contains special editions of The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, reproducing the first edition text and the two volumes of The Book of Lost Tales.

The History of Middle-earth Box Set #2: The Lays of Beleriand / The Shaping of Middle-earth / The Lost Road

Second, in a series of hardcover box sets celebrating the literary achievement of Christopher Tolkien, double-sided dust jackets are featured—one side featuring artwork by John Howe and the original graphic treatment on the other. Set 2 contains The Lays of BeleriandThe Shaping of Middle-earth, and The Lost Road (Books 3-5 of The History of Middle-earth).

The History of Middle-earth Box Set #3: The Return of the Shadow / The Treason of Isengard / The War of the Ring / Sauron Defeated

Third in a series of hardcover box sets celebrating the literary achievement of Christopher Tolkien, featuring double-sided dust jackets—one side featuring artwork by John Howe, and the original graphic treatment on the other. Set 3 contains The Return of the ShadowThe Treason of IsengardThe War of the Ring, and Sauron Defeated (Books 6-9 of The History of Middle-earth).

The History of Middle-earth Box Set #4: Morgoth's Ring / The War of the Jewels / The Peoples of Middle-earth / Index

Fourth, in a series of hardcover box sets celebrating the literary achievement of Christopher Tolkien, double-sided dust jackets are featured—one side featuring artwork by John Howe and the original graphic treatment on the other. Set 4 contains Morgoth's RingThe War of the JewelsThe Peoples of Middle-earth (Books 10-12 of The History of Middle-earth), and The History of Middle-earth Index.

Standalone Books

These titles can only be purchased as standalone books.

The Children of Húrin

One of the three 'Great Tales' of the Elder Days, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Children of Húrin takes place in Middle-earth thousands of years before  The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Beren And Lúthien

The tale of Beren and Lúthien was, or became, an essential element in the evolution of The Silmarillion, the myths and legends of the First Age of the World conceived by J.R.R. Tolkien. Returning from France and the battle of the Somme at the end of 1916, he wrote the tale in the following year.

The Fall Of Gondolin

In the Tale of The Fall of Gondolin are two of the greatest powers in the world. There is Morgoth of the uttermost evil, unseen in this story but ruling over a vast military power from his fortress of Angband. Deeply opposed to Morgoth is Ulmo, second in might only to Manwë, chief of the Valar.

The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

A revised and expanded edition of Tolkien's own Hobbit-inspired poetry, including previously unpublished poems, notes, and beautiful illustrations by Narnia artist Pauline Baynes.

Bilbo's Last Song

Bilbo's Last Song is considered by many to be Tolkien's epilogue to his classic work The Lord of the Rings. As Bilbo Baggins takes his final voyage to the Undying Lands, he must say goodbye to Middle-earth. Poignant and lyrical, the song is both a longing to set forth on his ultimate journey and a tender farewell to friends left behind.

The End of a Journey

Well, we truly hope you found this guide helpful and informative. After not finding anything this detailed and accurate online, we decided to embark on this post in hopes that future LOTR fans will have an easier time figuring out how to start their reading journey.

This post will inevitably become outdated as new editions hit the market, but we will try our best to stay with the times and keep everything as accurate as possible. For more helpful tips and tricks, check out the rest of our blog, and as always, keep on adventuring!

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