Tolkien is one of the most notorious authors in literary history and is well-known for his The Lord of the Rings series, which follows a group of people, including dwarves, elves, men, wizards, and hobbits, who trek across Middle-Earth to destroy the most powerful ring in the world. The protagonist, Frodo Baggins, is one of the most well-known fantasy figures in global literature, and this article explores all of the Hobbit books in order.
The Hobbit, however, follows the life and journey of Frodo’s uncle, Bilbo. He was the one that brought the dangerous ring to the Shire, setting up the foundations for the trilogy that follows. This book tells the intriguing story of Bilbo’s experiences during his journey through Middle-Earth. The story begins as Bilbo’s home is infiltrated by dwarves and he is obligated to embark on a long, tiresome journey with them, which exposes him to new lands, creatures, and dangers.
Tolkien’s work has been widely appreciated for almost a century. His writing is vivid and descriptive, often criticized by modern readers as overly intricate. However, there is no doubt that these books offer a fully immersive experience and contain meticulous details that develop vivid images and characterizations for all.
Tolkien was awarded a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) which is one of the highest-ranking awards possible in Britain. He won this award for his services to national literature and also became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (FRSL). He is one of the most reputable authors in history and his books are very much worth reading if you haven’t done so already.
Although he is best known for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, Tolkien has written a plethora of other works set in Middle-Earth, which will be incorporated into this list. These texts were written either at the same time or before his most famous works and provide an in-depth context for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. They are not compulsory reading, so if you’re looking for the minimum, stick with the most well-known books. However, all of these texts take place in Middle-Earth and can be read as add-ons and prequels.
The Lord of the Rings series has been popular ever since its release, however, an influx of readers joined Tolkien’s literary fanbase when the film adaptations were released between 2001 and 2003. Film adaptations of Tolkien’s The Hobbit books were not released until 2012, leading many viewers to believe that Tolkien’s The Hobbit books were, like the films, released after The Lord of the Rings.
The Hobbit films are structured as prequels, however, Tolkien actually wrote this series in chronological order, publishing The Hobbit in 1937 and The Lord of the Rings in 1954 and 1955 in three parts.
While the films do a fantastic job of bringing Tolkien’s story to life, they have confused many fans about the order in which these stories should be read or watched. Tolkien’s story follows a chronological order, which is essential for both plot developments and characterizations. Although fans can read The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit as standalone works, they are best read as a chronological series.
This article will go into depth about how this vast series, including The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and the prequels, should be read and will demonstrate the order to use to ensure maximum understanding and enjoyment.
There is a multitude of different works out there that comprise Tolkien’s work. These texts all vary in style and subject matter and frequently jump around in time. It can be really confusing to keep up with the many volumes that contain snippets of Tolkien’s early work that would become the ‘add-ons’ that this article references. Therefore, this post will take you through all published stand-alone works that contribute to Tolkien’s Middle-Earth epic story, including the singular The Hobbit book and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
There are 2 ways in which the Middle-Earth set can be enjoyed. The first is in publication order, which is as follows:
- The Hobbit (1937)
- The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings #1) (1954)
- The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings #2) (1954)
- The Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings #3) (1955)
- The Silmarillion (1977)
- Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-Earth (1980)
- The Children of Húrin (2007)
- Beren and Lúthien (2017)
- The Fall of Gondolin (2018)
The Hobbit can be read as a standalone novel, much like The Lord of the Rings series, which can be read simply as a trilogy. However, many fans read The Hobbit followed by The Lord of the Rings. For ultimate fans or those who want to finish the set, the following 5 books can be read in either publication or chronological order.
These last 5 books were written as add-ons and serve as supplementary material that can strengthen your knowledge about the history of Middle-Earth and the creatures within it. Those who made it to the additional works have claimed that they are overly descriptive and not as engaging as the well-known 4 works, so you’ll have to be a die-hard Tolkien fan in order to really enjoy them.
The last 5 books were published posthumously following Tolkien’s death in 1973 and are purely made up from the notes, descriptions, and subplots found by Tolkien’s family members. These books are by no means must-reads and the series is, in some cases, more enjoyable without the 5 add-ons.
The other way to enjoy these works as a set is to read them in chronological order. Some say that the 5 books that cover the ‘Ages’ within Middle-Earth’s history can provide helpful and informative background knowledge for the main texts. Reading this set chronologically will give you a broad and detailed overview of everything included. We recommend this order for maximum understanding.
This article will go into depth about each book following this order, so you can decide whether or not you want to read the add-ons.
All of The Hobbit Books in Order
The Silmarillion is a collection of short stories and myths that vary in subject matter, tone, and style. It is set years before The Hobbit in a place called Eä, a vast fictional landscape that encompasses smaller lands including Middle-Earth, which would become the setting for both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
The Silmarillion was written because Tolkien’s publisher asked for a prequel to The Hobbit. The writings that made up this draft were rejected and instead, Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings. This collection was retrieved by Tolkien’s son and published in 1977, 4 years after the author’s death.
The story is split into 5 sections: Ainulindalë, Valaquenta, Quenta Silmarillion, Akallabêth, and Of the Rings of Power. All sections build a contextual background for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. They tell stories of historical wars, lands, and figures. Collectively, these stories tell a thorough history of the land and people that came before the protagonists in The Hobbit and can be both interesting and beneficial information to take with you into the following texts.
The final part of this collection, Of the Rings of Power, will provide context that will deepen your understanding of The Lord of the Rings. These writings were the inspiration that Tolkien simply built on when he was writing this epic series, so it’s jam-packed full of information and detail that will build your knowledge of the setting and social landscape before starting the more well-known works.
You can perceive this collection as an overarching text that touches upon many of the following add-on stories. Details of Beren and Lúthien and The Children of Húrin can be found in this text and so, it’s a great one to start off with. If one particular story captivates your attention, you can then proceed to read the full text – that’s the beauty of reading the add-ons, they’re pretty much customizable!
Beren and Lúthien
This is the love story between a mortal man and an immortal elf. The story has had many variations over the years and some copies of this work still include a few of these variations.
Beren and Lúthien is set during the First Age of Middle-Earth, approximately 6,500 years before The Hobbit. It was first written in 1917 and was adapted throughout the 1920s, but was not published until 2017! Tolkien even strived to turn it into an epic poem called The Lay of Leithian. However, this was never finished and instead is mostly published in prose. Sometimes this work is found within the tales of The Silmarillion, so make sure not to buy it twice!
This story is recounted by Aragorn in the first The Lord of the Rings novel as he embarks on a similar journey with an immortal elf, Arwen.
The Children of Húrin
This was an unfinished tale, which was edited and adapted by Tolkien’s son, Christopher, and published in 2007. This work typically comes with over 30 illustrations, which help to capture Tolkien’s imagery perfectly.
This book provides an in-depth background to the later plot and therefore starts 500 years before the main story even begins. It tells of a Vala, Morgoth, who escapes to Middle-Earth attempting to obtain power and control over the entire realm. This initiates a long-standing war with the Elves, who put up a strong fight.
After 300 years, men crop up in Beleriand, a region in the south of Middle-Earth, many of whom disagree with Morgoth’s objectives.
This story tells of the previous conflicts between men and elves, which can prove valuable when reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and can help you better understand the histories and relationships of your favorite characters in the series.
The Children of Húrin provides valuable insight, however, many have claimed that the story is overly descriptive and report that the plot line is dull at times. So, if you aren’t thoroughly engaged with Tolkien’s world, this may be one to skip out.
The Fall of Gondolin
Tolkien began writing The Fall of Gondolin in 1917 while in army barracks. This story follows on from Morgoth, who was a core character in the previous text. It details his malicious discovery of the hidden Elven kingdom of Gondolin and also introduces Tuor and his cousin Túrin, who are central figures in the overall history of Middle-Earth.
This story is action-packed and (eventually) centers around a conflict involving Orcs and dragons. It’s a great story but can be missed out if you’re not interested.
Unfinished Tales of Numinor and Middle-Earth
Like the first text in this list, Unfinished Tales is an overarching collection of stories that span many years of Middle-Earth history. This is a great add-on to choose for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit fans because it incorporates familiar characters as well as provides key background information about the story.
This text is the only one to include the story of Numenor and delves into the lives of the Five Wizards, which is an interesting account, especially if Gandalf is your favorite character.
These stories are accompanied by Christopher Tolkien’s commentary, which helps to fill in any gaps and solidifies each story in its historical context. This is probably the most useful collection if you’re just looking for some contextual information.
Reading all 5 of the add-on texts can be super overwhelming and the stories tend to be very descriptive, so make sure you have a good attention span because although these texts are long-winded, they’re brilliant stories written by one of the best authors of all time.
This story was adapted into 3 different films, so be prepared for a jam-packed narrative filled with interesting dialogue, brilliant characterizations, fascinating creatures, magical settings, and of course, action-packed plot lines.
The Hobbit follows the story of Bilbo Baggins, a small, quiet hobbit leading a simple and comfortable life. Bilbo is the ultimate unexpected hero, who is thrown into a world of adventure and danger. Alongside 13 dwarves and his wizard friend Gandalf, Bilbo experiences a completely new world outside of the Shire and will have to prove himself if he has any chance of fitting in.
The Hobbit is a story of bravery and endurance and has become one of the most influential stories of the 20th century. Dragons, Orcs, far-away lands, and fascinating creatures are just a handful of what to expect within the pages of this book.
The Hobbit can be read as a standalone book, but we challenge you to read this book without wanting to dive into the next, similar stories! Once you read Tolkien’s captivating narratives, it’s difficult to leave his magical world, hence why his fanbase is so vast.
The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings #1)
Frodo is a normal hobbit, with an ordinary life. His friends and his community mean everything to him and the Shire encapsulates his quiet, little world. But when Frodo finds the dangerous ring his uncle has been keeping from him, he must venture outside of the Shire’s boundaries, with only a few friends and his determination, and embark on one of the most dangerous and thrilling adventures of all time.
The Fellowship of the Ring is the first book in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and sets up the story perfectly. In this book, we are introduced to Frodo and his endearing friends, the Black Riders, and the group that will help Frodo attempt to destroy the ring for good.
Frodo, Samwise Gamgee, Pippin, Merry, Gandalf, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Boromir, Meriadoc Brandybuck, and Peregrin Took make up the famous fellowship that will change the future of Middle-Earth, but it won’t be an easy journey.
The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings #2)
The Two Towers follows on from the first book, which reaches a fairly dramatic end. The fellowship has been forced to split up and the narrative follows each group respectively on their journeys.
While Frodo and Sam head directly to the fires of Mount Doom, fellow mischievous hobbits Pippin and Merry journey to Isengard and encourage the Ents (magical trees) to fight in a huge battle that will have perilous and kingdom-altering repercussions.
This book delves into power struggles, kingdoms, and conflicts. It nosedives into each character, helping the reader understand their history, their people, and their motivations. Tolkien’s characters are excellently constructed and this book helps to develop their personalities significantly.
The Two Towers will establish new relationships and introduce new characters that will allow the story to flourish and emphasize traits in your favorite characters. This book is conflict-driven, so it’s a really engaging read, but the tone shifts frequently, adding in sentimental and even comedic narratives. Allowing such a varied tone to run throughout a gritty, hard-hitting fantasy is one of the reasons why Tolkien’s writing is so adored.
The Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings #3)
This is the climactic conclusion to Tolkien’s masterpiece and it doesn’t disappoint. The Return of the King, in both film and literary versions, is often dubbed the favorite of the entire series.
As Frodo and Sam edge closer to the dangers that await in Mordor, other kingdoms like Gondor and Rohan are thrown into turmoil and battles must be won in order to return structure and peace.
The fellowship’s presence in Gondor and Rohan also introduces several new characters who bring fascinating sub-plots to the center of the narrative. Conflicts, deaths, and even gory elements are included in this outstanding book.
It is action-packed and fast-paced but still manages to perfectly wrap up the story without the ending feeling rushed or anti-climactic, which is often the case in epic stories like this one.
The Return of the King will drag you through the emotional ringer, toying with death and danger throughout the whole book. This is an impressive ending to a mind-blowing series that will have you on the edge of your seat from page to page.
Tolkien is one of the most beloved authors of all time and his books have become hugely popular across the world. Providing vivid descriptions, engaging plot lines, and complex, endearing characters, there’s no wonder why he’s such a popular author.
Even if you’re a fan of films, we guarantee that reading these books will be like consuming the story for the first time. There is so much detail that the films must skip, so reading about the kingdoms, people, and stories in a new way will improve your understanding of the plot significantly. It will also introduce new characters, shed light on new relationships, and even feature new creatures. There’s so much more that books can provide.
Hopefully, this article has shed light on how you should read this magnificent series of books and if you follow this guidance, your reading experience will be the best it can be.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many books did Tolkien write?
Tolkien wrote over 29 of his own novels and contributed to or translated 36 additional works.
What did Tolkien do?
Aside from being an internationally best-selling author, Tolkien was also a university professor and scholar who specialized in Old and Middle English. So, he would have taught canonical works like Beowulf.
How many copies has The Hobbit sold?
Altogether, The Hobbit has sold over 100 million copies and continues to sell today. Even more, copies have been sold when considering the rest of the series, meaning this is one of the best-selling series of all time, giving Harry Potter and Game of Thrones a run for their money.
Is The Hobbit long?
Depending on which copy you buy, The Hobbit is approximately 300 pages long.
How many books are in The Hobbit series?
Officially, this series compiles only four books – The Hobbit and the 3 The Lord of the Rings books. However, many have now added Tolkien’s posthumous add-on works to this collection, making the total number 9 books.