I've already read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which I assume would be the best start in any case. I also got about halfway through The Silmarillion several years ago and am quite familiar with the legendarium as a whole, but for the sake of argument let's assume I'm starting from scratch.

What is the best order for a budding scholar of Middle-earth to read Tolkien's books? Or does it even matter once you've covered the core novels? Chronological order clearly isn't the most logical approach here, and even publication date isn't necessarily best.

  • The Hobbit
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • The Silmarillion
  • The Children of Hurin
  • The History of Middle-earth
  • Unfinished Tales
  • The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Anything else

Note: After asking this question I found this excellent reference on Reddit. It covers even more material and in more detail than my original question or any answers here.

  • 1
    "Should" and "best" indicate opinion-based questions with primarily opinion-based answers. Please clarify whether you're looking for the most chronological, published order, or the order in which information is revealed (i.e. reading LoTR before the Hobbit is ill advised because LoTR assumes that the reader is familiar with the Ring's origin).
    – Matt
    Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 18:11
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    It is enough just to read them. Do not be overly concerned about finding 'a reading order' You would be ill advised to take Tolkien's Writings on Middle Earth so seriously that you worry about such things. Read for yourself. when YOU want, How YOU want, IF YOU WANT, & At YOUR own speed.
    – user24813
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 14:52
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    From the front of the book to the back, and from the upper left to the lower right.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 4:45
  • Too late for the OP, but I highly recommend reading these to your (young) children, so they can experience them as I did...as a sort of mish-mash of legends and stories half-remembered from early childhood, reinforced when I finally read them for myself - in published order. Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 20:39
  • I would consider adding some of his non-Middle Earth short stories, especially "Smith of Wooton Major", after you finish LOTR and the Hobbit. That particular story added a lot of depth to Tolkien's way of thinking (to me) that really enriched my reading of the Silmarillion. Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 19:25

7 Answers 7


I believe publication order is the best way, you will experience the reading experience that helped to shape Middl-earth. Although Tolkien left many manuscripts that later became successful books, his central piece is The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit is a preamble and everything that follows are great efforts to close the circle of his creations in a consistent way.

I read The Lord of the Rings first, and got bored easily with The Hobbit, I loved The Silmarillion but I had to dig through The History of Middle-earth to find pearls that somehow were not included (like the Battle of Gondolin and the death of Glorfindel).

Follow what Tolkien wanted you to know, then discover what he didn't have time to publish and when you are done with that start learning that Middle-earth is the result of Tolkien's brilliance and many revisions and rewrites... and that Aragorn once was a Hobbit and Treebeard was evil :)

  • "Aragorn once was a Hobbit" -- news to me. How is that even possible? Commented Aug 28, 2017 at 9:35
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    @Scribblemacher The character of Strider (who was later changed to subsume Aragorn) was originally Trotter, a relation of Frodo's (Frodo was also formerly called Bungo), thus, a Hobbit. Commented Jan 30, 2018 at 20:34
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    You should read The Hobbit, if at all possible, when you're 11.
    – Spencer
    Commented Jul 4, 2021 at 23:02
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    @ATL_DEV what is "LTR"? Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 5:59
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    @ATL_DEV I'm genuinely mystified. What does your acronym mean? It can't mean Lord of the Rings, since that was published 17-18 years after the Hobbit, and its writing process is well-documented: it was started after the Silmarillion material was rejected for publication, which was after the Hobbit was published and was a commercial success. Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 21:18

I would recommend this order:

  • The Hobbit

  • The Lord of the Rings

    (stop here)

  • The Silmarillion

    (stop here)

  • The Children of Húrin

  • Beren and Lúthien

  • The Fall of Gondolin

    (stop here)

  • Unfinished Tales

  • The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

    (stop here)

  • The History of Middle-Earth

  • The Nature of Middle-Earth

  • The Annotated Hobbit (Douglas A. Anderson)

  • The History of the Hobbit (John D. Rateliff)

The Lord of the Rings presumes that you have read The Hobbit. (You may very well be able to get away without reading it, but there are clear back-references.)

The Silmarillion does not presume that you have read The Lord of the Rings, but would probably not be interesting to someone who is not already invested in Middle-earth.

The Great Tales trilogy are stories from The Silmarillion in more detailed forms. They require an understanding of the First Age stories to appreciate. The Children of Húrin is a complete and detailed version of that story. Beren and Lúthien and The Fall of Gondolin are collections of the varying versions of those tales, stitched together in a directly readable order. All three of these contain significant amounts of re-printed text from The Unfinished Tales and The History of Middle-earth. These books are written to present that material in a smoother, more entertainment oriented fashion, rather than the dryer and more academic tome of the other versions.

The Unfinished Tales are exactly what it says on the tin. They contain some of Christopher Tolkien's notes about the source of the text, but are mostly readable as stories. Familiarity with The Silmarillion is essential here.

The Letters of Tolkien is a very interesting read, and could really be read almost anywhere in series. It is not, of course, a story.

You should not read The History of Middle-Earth unless you are totally fanatic. It is not a series of stories, but an extended discussion of the writing of The Silmarillion, The Lord of the Rings, and some ancillary works. If you do read it, you will want to use two bookmarks, one for the primary text, and one for the copious footnotes that follow. Expect large chunks of any story you might get into reading to be removed, and replaced with a reference to The Silmarillion, The Unfinished Tales, or an earlier volume of the series. The History should be read in volume order, as later volumes make references to earlier ones. (If you only care about The Lord of the Rings, you could just read volumes 6-9. If you do, consider replacing Volume 9, Sauron Defeated with The End of the Third Age, which includes only the parts of that book that deal with The Lord of the Rings.) The Nature of Middle-Earth could be considered a 13th volume of the History, assembling some works published elsewhere with a series of other notes and variants.

If you make it through The History of Middle-earth, you might as well read The History of the Hobbit. Christopher Tolkien basically skipped over The Hobbit in the main history. John D. Rateliff takes over as the chronicler, doing an excellent job of examining the evolution of The Hobbit, and how it tied into the emerging legendarium. It makes a lot of references to The History of Middle-earth, so familiarity with that is necessary. It does not go into detail on the 1965 revisions to the hobbit, so it's recommended that you pair this with The Annotated Hobbit (Douglas A. Anderson.) to get the full, blow-by-blow evolution of the text.

  • 13
    I really like this answer. The "stop here" points are great for identifying places where - if you've already gotten what you want from the books - you can just quit reading safe in the knowledge that you're not going miss anything that's important to you. I read Hobbit/Silm/LotR by the way, but I wouldn't recommend that to anyone!
    – user8719
    Commented Mar 27, 2013 at 23:41
  • 11
    One hint for if you want to go on to the Silmarillion and Histories is if you read and really liked the Appendices in LOTR. If you skipped them, or were bored by them, you won't like the rest almost for sure.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Nov 2, 2013 at 0:11
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    Looks like we'll have to add the Fall of Gondolin soon! I wonder where this book would fall in the reading order...
    – Josh B.
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 18:23
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    I suspect Fall of Gondolin will fall after Beren and Luthien, if it is made similarly. Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 14:36
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    The Book of Lost Tales is the first two volumes of The History of Middle Earth. Commented Apr 1, 2022 at 17:48

The Tolkien Society's recommendations can be found here:

The order is The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, [The Adventures of Tom Bombadil if you wish to read the poems], The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales (you can swap those two over if you want to read the longer Numenor tales before the whole history of The Silmarillion) and then the Histories.


The order in which I actually read them is, I think, quite excellent:

  1. The Hobbit
  2. The Lord of the Rings (including the Appendices)
  3. The Silmarillion
  4. The Adventures of Tom Bombadil
  5. Unfinished Tales
  6. The Road Goes Ever On
  7. Pictures by J.R.R. Tolkien
  8. The History of Middle-earth (12 volumes, in the order of their publication dates)
  9. The Children of Hurin
  10. The two-volume History of The Hobbit

If it helps, I started reading The History of Middle-earth in 1991, when Christopher Tolkien was still immersed in completing the volumes on the history of The Lord of the Rings.

  • NB: I don't remember when I first read The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, but it was probably when I was in the process of reading the early volumes of The History of Middle-earth.
    – Costrel
    Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 16:50
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    Welcome to SFF.SE! Could you expand a bit on this answer to explain why you think this is a good order to read them in?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 17:52
  • It's so cool Christopher jumped right into his dad's boots and continued his legacy. It's common for children of notable individuals to have difficulty living under the shadow of their parent's work, seeking instead to create name for themselves in other areas.
    – ATL_DEV
    Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 15:34

If you really want it to be in order of the history, instead of publications.

Here it is:

  • Silmarillion
  • Children of Hurin
  • Unfinished tales
  • The Hobbit
  • Lord of the Rings

The problem with this order is that if you dont know middle earth well then you may struggle reading the order above. Because Silmarillion, Hurin and Unfinished tales are all complex.

But you can read the books in the order below, if you want to learn about middle earth, or if you are a beginner or just starting to get into Tolkien's books.

  • The hobbit
  • Lord of the rings
  • Silmarillion
  • Children of Hurin
  • Unfinished tales
  • History of Middle Earth

You can read also the letter's of J.R.R Tolkien if you want. These are not a story just a collection of letters by J.R.R Tolkien to some people.


The order in which I have been reading them:

  • The Lord of the Rings

  • The Hobbit

  • The Silmarillion

  • Unfinished Tales

Next, I plan to read the volumes of The History of Middle-earth related to LotR, then the rest of that series. After that, I will probably read The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, then The Children of Hurin. I have The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien on my iPad, and I've been using them to answer questions here, but I'll eventually buy a hard copy and read it cover to cover.

I would recommend the following order:

  • The Hobbit

  • The Lord of the Rings

  • The Silmarillion

  • Whatever you want.

Once you get a good feel for these books, which are the core of the material, you'll be able to decide how to proceed.


The most proper order according to me which would make history of Middle Earth would be to go backwards. By following this way of enhancing your knowledge of Arda, you would enjoy it and never get bored.
1) The Hobbit
2) The Lord of the Rings
3) Silmarillion
4) Unfinished Tales
5) Children of Hurin(I consider it rather optional as many details regarding it are already given in the previous two books)
6) Adventures of Tom Bombadil(if you love reading poems)
7) The History of Middle Earth(3 VOLUMES)

You would love reading books of Tolkien this way.

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