12

Since Tolkien's death, his son Christopher Tolkien has edited and released a considerable amount of additional writing by his father. His intent is to shed light on the creative process of compiling Middle-earth and the stories set therein. To do so he has chosen to organise them roughly in terms of writing date and to mix fiction and fact, drafts and essay-writing to aid understanding.

However, this makes life difficult for people who are primarily interested in the mature fictional elements of Tolkien's work rather than the creative process. Some of the material published in the History of Middle Earth and other volumes, such as Unfinished Tales, would clearly add a great deal to the narrative of the Silmarillion or the Lord of the Rings appendices if it was read in a coherent order following the fictional history of Middle-earth rather than the actual history of its creation.

This question, In what order should Tolkien's writings on Middle-earth be read? has some relevant answers. But it seeks to establish a book-based reading order for those new to Tolkien's wider legendarium. I'm hoping to find all of the fictional elements from all of his published works and have them listed by in-universe chronology to make a coherent narrative.

Has anyone ever tried to organise the finished versions of the fictional elements of the History of Middle-Earth into an order following events in that legendarium from beginning to end?

  • 1
    Possible duplicate of In what order should Tolkien's writings on Middle-earth be read? – Jason Baker Sep 19 '16 at 11:37
  • @JasonBaker I can see the connections but I would argue this question is different. This is not a recommended reading order for most readers, which is what that question clearly states ("from scratch"). This one is about finding fictional elements from quite dry literary references and ordering them in an in-universe chronology. – Matt Thrower Sep 19 '16 at 12:16
  • 1
    I've edited your question to make it more clearly about chronological order rather than suggested reading order like the previous question that Jason linked to, and am voting to leave it open since the two are quite different. – Rand al'Thor Sep 19 '16 at 13:44
  • The Silmarillion starts with the creation of the world and ends with the final events of the Lord of the Rings. Where is that going to fit in a chronological reading order? – DJClayworth Sep 19 '16 at 20:26
  • @DJClayworth Read the posted answer. – Matt Thrower Sep 20 '16 at 8:06
17
+100

Before Peter Jackson's films came out, I asked this on the newsgroup Rec.Arts.Books.Tolkien. I wasn't expecting much other than a rough guide, so I was astonished when user "Another Ded Dzhen" posted a comprehensive reply. You can view the original thread here: https://groups.google.com/d/msg/rec.arts.books.tolkien/CzA6KidU_dg/hCuT6ZnwPBgJ

I followed this suggestion and found it a quite extraordinary literary and creative journey. So I thought I'd share it for others. I have added the Children of Hurin, since it was published after this list was originally compiled.

Key

  • Silm: Silmarillion
  • UT: Unfinished Tales
  • LotR: Lord of the Rings
  • Lays: The Lays of Beleriand (History of Middle-earth 3)
  • Shaping: The Shaping of Middle-earth (History of Middle-earth 4)
  • Lost Road: The Lost Road and Other Writings (History of Middle-earth 5)
  • Sauron: Sauron Defeated (History of Middle-earth 9)
  • Morg Ring: Morgoth's Ring (History of Middle-earth 10)
  • War Jewel: War of the Jewels (History of Middle-earth 11)
  • People: The Peoples of Middle-earth (History of Middle-earth 12)

Zeroth Age

  1. Silmarillion: Ainulindale.
  2. Silm: Valaquenta

First Age

  1. Quenta Silmarillion, etc
    • Silm: Chap 1
    • Shaping: Ambarkanta
    • Silm: Chap 2-3
    • People: Chap 13 Cirdan
    • War Jewel: Part 3, Chap 4
    • Lost Road: Part 2, Chap 5
    • Morg Ring: Part 2, Sect 2, Finwe and Miriel, etc, pp 205-271
    • Silm: Chap 4-6
    • People: Chap 11
    • Silm: Chap 7-9
    • Lays Bel: Part 2(i)
    • Silm: Chap 10-11
    • Lost Tales 1: Chap 8
    • Silm: Chap 12-15
    • Morg Ring: Part 4
    • Silm: Chap 16-19
    • People: Chap 10
    • Silm: Chap 17-19
    • Lays Bel: Part 3-4
    • Silm: Chap 20-21
    • War Jewel: Part 3, Chap 2
    • UT: Part 1, Chap 2
    • The Children of Hurin
    • Lays Bel: Part 1
    • War Jewel: Part 3, Chap 1
    • Silm: Chap 22-23
    • War Jewel: Part 3, Chap 3
    • UT: Part 1, Chap 1
    • Lost Tales 2: Chap 3
    • Lays: Part 2(iii)
    • Shaping: The Horns of Ylmir
    • Lays Bel: 2(ii)
    • Silm: Chap 24

Second Age

  1. UT: Part 4, Chap 1, Chap 3
  2. UT: Part 2
  3. People: Chap 13 Glorfindel
  4. People: Chap 17
  5. Silm: Of the Rings of Power
  6. Akallabeth
    • Silm: Akallabeth
    • Lost Road: Part 1
    • Sauron: Part 2-3

Third Age

  1. UT: Part 3, Chap 1
  2. UT: Part 4, Chap 2
  3. People: Chap 13 Istari
  4. UT: Part 3, Chap 2
  5. There and Back Again
    • Hobbit
    • UT: Part 3, chap 3
  6. War of the Rings
    • LotR: FotR
    • UT: Part 3, Chap 4-5
    • People: Chap 15
    • LotR: TT
    • LotR: RotK
  7. The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

Fourth Age

  1. People: Chap 16
  • That make an interesting reading experience. Of course, there wouldn't be that much consistency though. – ibid Sep 19 '16 at 12:06
4

You're missing one crucial fact - many elements of the M-E legendarium never got to a finished form. Tolkien kept stopping, going back, and rewriting stuff, then stopping again before he finished it and changing various parts of the legendarium again.

Therefore, you will not find a single, whole, consistent and fluid narrative in Tolkien's writings. If you could, Christopher wouldn't have to work so hard to make the published version of the Silmarillion (which, by the way, is a very condensed and simplified "version" of the legendarium that misses out a lot of interesting stuff Tokien wrote).

What we have are various "versions" of the Silmarillion, all in various states of being finished, and all differing from each other in many points (some of which are quite major).

There's The Book of Lost Tales, the earliest (and the most detailed) account of the Elder Days, very sadly unfinished and lacking its middle. After Tolkien abandoned it, and for a few years concentrated on epic poems about Turin and Beren & Luthien, he abandoned those too and made a brief Sketch of the Mythology, outlining the major points of the Silmarillion. He then used that Sketch to make a more expanded version (Qenta Noldorinwa, which remains the only complete version of the Silmarillion Tolkien wrote) although that was quite short as well. Tolkien then proceded to write an even more expanded and detailed version, but stopped half-way in order to write The Lord of the Rings.

After LotR was finished, Tolkien returned to the Silmarillion, but instead of carrying on from where he left, he started again with the goal of revisioning and expanding the already written. And yet he stopped again to write some essays on the matters of Middle-Earth, and never again picked up the main narrative.

During all those steps I described above, things got changed, various characters got introduced or abandoned, events swapped places or moved to a different period, etc.

Therefore, even if you read isolated fragments from all those various writings in chronological order, it would be a disjointed affair that would lack consistency, and sometimes have irreconcilable differences between those fragments.

My advice is not to try to bring it all in definitive and final order, but to study and appreciate Tolkien's creative process, and take what he wrote at various points as it stood then.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.