I'm almost done reading The Silmarillion, and I have a few options available as far as what I should read next: Unfinished Tales, the Reader's Companion to LotR, and The Return of the Shadow. This last book is volume number six in the series of 12, and the first volume related to The Lord of the Rings.

Is there any reason not to read this volume before I read the previous volumes? As I understand it, the series is really a history of the long process of Tolkien's writing about Middle-earth, not a true history of the continent or planet. Will I be missing anything if I read volume 6 before I read volumes 1-5?

Note: Feel free to tell me if you think I should read Unfinished Tales first, and explain why you think this is the best idea.

  • Unfinished Tales are strongly connected to Silmarillion you could even mix reading them.
    – Mithoron
    Jun 26, 2015 at 0:29
  • I'm on to Unfinished Tales now. Thanks for the advice, all!
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 27, 2015 at 5:29

2 Answers 2


You should definitely read Unfinished Tales first. That, as the name implies, is a collection of actual stories, and despite the name most of them are pretty 'finished' - it's just that they didn't quite fit into the published version of the Silmarillion (which was just a best guess by Christopher Tolkien at the time).

The History of Middle-Earth series is quite a different kind of book - as you say, it's an insight into the actual writing process, rather than into Middle-Earth itself. They're all still worth reading, and in answer to your actual question there is no reason why you shouldn't read volume six before the others, but I would still read UT first.

  • Great answer. Thanks a million and +1. I think I'll move on to Unfinished Tales next, since you say it is so similar to The Silmarillion, and I'm almost done with that (I'm about halfway through the chapter on the War of the Ring). I don't know if I will then go on to read The Return of the Shadow, or buy the preceding volumes and read those first. You've given me something to think about.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 26, 2015 at 20:45

The Unfinished Tales simply offer more stories set in Middle-Earth in addition to the Hobbit, LotR and the Silmarillion. There's no real reason why you should read it before any of the History of Middle-Earth series.

As for the series itself, you're free to read any of the books in any order. The part called "The History of The Lord of the Rings", which starts from The Return of the Shadow, is quite unconnected to the previous books in the series, as Tolkien began (or tried to begin) a completely new story that was to follow The Hobbit. If LotR is still fresh in your memory, you will find reading that part of the series interesting and relevant. The books that preceded that part (beginning with the Book of Lost Tales parts I and II) were the beginning of what would become the published Silmarillion, so they mostly concern the First Age and the wars with Morgoth. The books that follow the History of LotR see Tolkien return again to the matters of Elder Days aka the Silmarillion, with many editorial changes and ideas that were sadly never completed. So, after you're finished with the History of LotR, I'd suggest starting the HoME series from the beginning in order to get the full story of how the Middle-Earth legendarium came into being and evolved.

Personally, I'd suggest reading the Unfinished Tales first, to compliment what you've read from LotR and Silmarillion, and then move on to the hardcore stuff which is the HoME series.

  • Also a great answer. +1 and many thanks.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 27, 2015 at 0:13

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