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I’m interested in reading some Lord of the Rings books but I’m wondering which ones to start with having to do with History of Middle-earth.

Are they all important or can one just read The Silmarillion?

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    I'm voting to reopen, as this question is asking about the content in The History of Middle-earth, not about the order that Tolkien's Legendarium should be read in. This question is not included in the linked question, and none of the answers there answer this.
    – ibid
    Jun 2, 2021 at 12:11
  • I completely agree, and that's why I voted not to close in the first place. The question does not ask whether to read LotR and The Hobbit before or after The Silmarillion. The question is about the order to read the background works (The History of Middle-earth, The Fall of Gondolin, etc.) and every single answer on that question says to start with The Hobbit and LotR.
    – DavidW
    Jun 2, 2021 at 13:02
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    @DavidW - As I understood it, this question is only about the stuff inside HoMe, asking which of them are worth reading. If I felt that it was asking for the relative order of HoMe and FoG I would vote to keep it closed.
    – ibid
    Jun 2, 2021 at 15:47
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    @NKCampbell That sounds like an answer to me; not a reason to vote to close.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Jun 3, 2021 at 8:12
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2 Answers 2

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The History of Middle-earth is a twelve-volume collection of J.R.R Tolkien's unpublished manuscripts, edited and commented on by his son Christopher Tolkien.

The main goal of the series is to showcase how Tolkien developed his legendarium, and so the twelve volumes more or less go in chronological order of Tolkien's life, showing texts in the order that they were written. (Though Christopher moves some around to give individual volumes more focus.)

Due to the nature of these being unpublished drafts, and their coming from the whole of Tolkien's life, many of them are very different from his published books in style and tone, and will often have continuity problems, especially towards the earlier volumes. However, a lot of these stories are the only existing versions of various tales Tolkien referred to elsewhere.

To start with, I'd recommend you first read The Silmarillion, The Children of Hurin, and Unfinished Tales. I'm going to write this list assuming you've already read those three books.

II - The Book of Lost Tales volume 2

  • "The Tale of the Fall of Gondolin" is Tolkien's only full account of the actual Fall of Gondolin, though it was written very early and is pretty incompatible with later stuff. There is also a later version published in Unfinished Tales which cuts off as soon as Tour reaches Gondolin. Both of these texts are included in the more recent The Fall of Gondolin book.

III - The Lays of Beleriand

  • "The Lay of the Children of Húrin" - A long, epic poem telling the story of the The Children of Hurin in alliterative verse. It cuts off after about 2,300 lines, shortly after Turin reaches Nargothrond.

  • "The Lay of Leithian" - A long, epic poem, telling the story of Beren and Luthien in rhyming couplets. Cuts off after they escape from Angband, about 4,200 lines.

V - The Lost Road and Other Writings

  • "The Lost Road" is an abandoned time travel book by Tolkien, which was supposed to tie in to C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy. In particular, the section labeled "The Númenórean Chapters" is worth reading, because it's set in Numenor before the fall and gives a nice vivid picture not found elsewhere.

IX - Sauron Defeated

  • The unpublished "Epilogue" to the Lord of the Rings. Exists in two versions and was cut out of the final book.

  • "The Notion Club Papers" is an interesting work, where a fictional club of Oxford dons have dreams about Numenor (among other stuff). The stuff related to Middle-earth can all be found in Part 2.

  • "The Drowning of Anadûnê" is a different account of the Akalabeth, but told from the point of view of men, and so differs from the one included in the Silmarillion. Christopher includes some evidence that his father intended both versions to be canon, just told from different unreliable narrators.

X - Morgoth's Ring

  • "The Annals of Aman" - A history of the first age told in the form of a yearly chronicle recorded in Valinor. Tolkien intended the Silmarillion to be told through a mixture of interconnected texts, each giving a different view.

  • "Laws and Customs Among the Eldar" - An essay describing various aspects of elvish life.

  • "Myths Transformed" - A series of essays from Tolkien about drastic changes he was considering making in his later years.

  • "Athrabeth Finrod Ah Andreth" - An account of a philosophical debate between an elf and a human.

XI - The War of the Jewels

  • "The Grey Annals" - A history of the first age told in the form of a yearly chronicle recorded in Middle-earth, cuts off mid-way through the Children of Hurin. Was meant to accompany The Annals of Aman and the Quenta Silmarillion.

  • "The Wanderings of Húrin" - The sequel to The Children of Hurin. Goes on for a few chapters, written in a similar tone and pace.

  • "Quendi and Eldar" - A series of essays about elf origins and some related linguistic terms.

XII - The Peoples of Middle-earth

  • Pretty much everything in this book other than Part 1 is worth putting on this list. A bunch of short essays from Tolkien about various things, and some more unfinished stories, the most famous of which (but by no means the best) is "The New Shadow", Tolkien's quickly abandoned sequel to The Lord of the Rings.
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    It's worth pointing out, perhaps, why you excluded HoME I, IV, VI–VIII. The first two I guess because it's all stuff that was superseded by the Silmarillion proper (Quenta Silmarillion and the later Annals?), and VI–VIII because they are the history of (the drafts of) Lord of the Rings. Jun 10, 2021 at 7:12
  • @DavidRoberts - I excluded nearly all of the other seven volumes as well. This answer is just a list of stuff to read, not stuff to not read.
    – ibid
    Jun 10, 2021 at 10:07
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    sure, but one might naturally wonder what's in the other volumes, and it was only one sentence giving the briefest summary, making the omissions then self-evident. Jun 10, 2021 at 11:58
  • @DavidRoberts - My answer doesn't summarize the contents of any of the twelve volumes. It's a list of suggested texts to read, grouped by the volume they appear in. Consider all twelve volumes to be omitted in their entirety, and then a few select passages from the series added back in. Me recommending twenty odd pages from volume five doesn't mean that I'm suggesting the rest of volume five is more important than volume four.
    – ibid
    Jun 10, 2021 at 16:12
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    My sentence did include the word "perhaps". It wasn't an imperative :-) Thanks for explaining your reasoning. Jun 10, 2021 at 21:56
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Silmarillion is just that; the story of how Middle-earth was created by Valar ("the gods"), what went on in the earliest days of the world, how the elves appeared and the various struggles of elves and men during the first age. This is the "golden age" of elves, pretty much, the main theme is the story of the Noldor elves in their wars to reclaim the stolen Silmarils. It is also the history from the creation of the world up to the story in The Hobbit/LotR, though there's heavy emphasis on the First Age.

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