2 Ways to Read Lord of the Rings Books in Order by J.R.R. Tolkien

Are you looking to reread The Lord of the Rings? Or maybe you’ve watched the movies dozens of times but have never read the books. Either way we’ll show you two different ways that you can read The Lord of the Rings books in order.

The Lord of the Rings is a household name popular with J.R.R. Tolkien fans both in bookstores and theaters. These bestselling books have been made into award-winning movies receiving a massive reception from both fans and critics.

Following the original series fame, The Hobbit was adapted for the big screen with three more movies from Tolkien’s beloved world.

But did you know that more books exist than simply the primary three books associated with the three movies that nearly everyone has heard of?

The Lord of the Rings Books in Order

Lord of the Rings Series Summary

J.R.R. Tolkien first penned the story of Bilbo Baggins and his adventures through Middle-earth after creating it as a bedtime story for his own children. But the story of how Bilbo meets Gollum and discovers the One Ring fascinated readers and was immediately successful. Since its initial publication in 1937 it has slowly transitioned from a children’s story to a fantasy classic.

The Lord of the Rings followed not long after in the 1950s. While Tolkien wrote this addition to his world as one novel, it was broken out and published as three books to create a trilogy. These books are The Fellowship of the Ring, The Return of the King, and The Two Towers.

All three of these books, and The Hobbit, have been made into award-winning movies.

The Lord of the Rings books follow Bilbo’s younger cousin Frodo Baggins and his perilous journey across Middle-earth after Bilbo entrusts him with the One Ring. Joining him are a handful of companions that have endeared fans for decades. Amidst the adventure and action of the plot are also stories about friendship, loyalty, and love.

After an amalgamation of publishers HarperCollins released updated sales figures for Tolkien’s books in 2021. This is after decades of uncertainty surrounding the accuracy of how many books Tolkien has sold. Collectively, Tolkien has now sold more than 600 million books, making him one of the bestselling authors of all time.

Should you read Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit first?

We recommend that you begin your Lord of the Rings adventure with The Hobbit. This means you will be reading the Lord of the Rings books in order of publication.

This is the best introduction to Middle-earth for first time readers. That’s because The Hobbit comes first chronologically and in order of publication, so it will make for the best reading experience.

Bilbo is the main character of The Hobbit while The Lord of the Rings shifts to the next generation with Frodo as the main character. So, there are inherently references to The Hobbit and Frodo’s understanding of Bilbo’s adventure throughout the trilogy.

While you can absolutely read The Hobbit after The Lord of the Rings, and in fact many fans have, if you have the opportunity to decide which to read first, you should begin with The Hobbit. With this reading order you will also see pieces of the puzzle Tolkien had to retcon with 17 years between publication.

2 Ways to Read the Lord of the Rings Books in Order

There are two recommended ways to read the series in order to grasp this fantasy world.

1. The Lord of the Rings Books in Order of Publication

The best way to read The Lord of the Rings books in order is according to their publication date:

  1. The Hobbit (1937)
  2. The Fellowship of the Ring (1954)
  3. The Two Towers (1954)
  4. The Return of the King (1955)
  5. The Silmarillion (1977)
  6. Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-earth (1980)
  7. The Children of Hurin (2007)
  8. Beren and Luthien (2017)
  9. The Fall of Gondolin (2018)

2. The Lord of the Rings Books in Chronological Order

For those doing a reread of the series, you may prefer a different experience. For that, I’d recommend reading The Lord of the Rings books in chronological order. However, this method is NOT recommended for new readers or those unfamiliar with the lore of Middle-earth.

  1. The Silmarillion (1977)
  2. Beren and Luthien (2017)
  3. The Children of Hurin (2007)
  4. The Fall of Gondolin (2018)
  5. Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-earth (1980)
  6. The Hobbit (1937)
  7. The Fellowship of the Ring (1954)
  8. The Two Towers (1954)
  9. The Return of the King (1955)

What about the Fall of Numenor?

Released on November 15, 2022, The Fall of Numenor And Other Tales from the Second Age of Middle-earth is a collection of all the previously published Second Age books in one volume. It contains new watercolor and pencil illustrations, but otherwise is the same written content as previously published works.

The books included in this collection are The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-earth, The History of Middle-earth, and The Nature of Middle-earth, edited by Christopher Tolkien and Carl F. Hostetter.

More of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Books and How to Read Them

There are other books that J.R.R. Tolkien, together with Christopher Tolkien, released regarding the stories and ideas of Middle-earth. These books do not fit in any one specific time in the series; however, they are great reads for anyone that needs to know everything they can about Middle-earth. Here are the books in their recommended order of reading.

  1. The Book of Lost Tales, Part | (1983)
  2. The Book of Lost Tales, Part II (1983)
  3. The Lays of Beleriand (1985)
  4. The Shaping of Middle-earth (1986)
  5. The Lost Road and Other Writings (1987)
  6. The Return of the Shadow (1988)
  7. The Treason of Isengard (1989)
  8. The War of the Ring (199)
  9. Sauron Defeated (1992)
  10. Morgoth’s Ring (1993)
  11. The War of the Jewels (1994)
  12. The Peoples of Middle-earth (1996)
  13. The History of Middle-earth Index (2002)
  14. The Nature of Middle-earth (2021)

These books cover everything about the series — from the times before the War for the Ring to the start of The Lord of the Rings itself.

The Lord of the Rings Movies in Order

Apart from The Lord of the Rings books, there are also two ways to watch The Lord of the Rings movies in order. Whether it’s your first time watching or you’re re-watching them — you’ll be sure to fall in love with these movies.

1. The Lord of the Rings Series in Order of Release Date

This is the obvious way to watch the movies, and it still remains an enjoyable way to watch them. The movies in their order of release include:

  1. The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
  2. The Two Towers (2003)
  3. The Return of the King (2005)
  4. An Unexpected Journey (2012)
  5. The Desolation of Smaug (2013)
  6. The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

2. The Lord of the Rings Series Order – Chronologically

Another way to watch the Lord of the Rings movies in order is by watching the movies chronologically. In this way, you’ll learn more about Bilbo Baggins and how his motivations led to his strange behavior in the Lord of the Rings series. You’ll also meet a younger Gandalf.

Here is the order you should follow when watching these The Lord of the Rings movies in chronological order.

  1. An Unexpected Journey
  2. The Desolation of Smaug
  3. The Battle of the Five Armies
  4. The Fellowship of the Ring
  5. The Two Towers
  6. The Return of the King

The Rings of Power TV Show

In addition to the films and the books, there is a new TV show adaptation based on Tolkien’s world. The adaptation from Amazon Prime was in the works for years, before it finally premiered on September 2, 2022.

The Rings of Power takes place thousands of years before The Hobbit. Showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay said that in addition to the forging of the Rings the show will focus on the Second Age of Middle-earth.

The show will follow 22 characters during the course of this period, including some very familiar names such as Galadriel, Elrond, and Isildur. But the show also includes some lesser known characters from Tolkien’s books, primarily The Silmarillion. As well, Amazon created brand-new characters for the show.

Payne said that changes to Tolkien’s lore were necessary in order to allow them to tell one cohesive story rather than a documentary about Middle-earth. An example of this is that the show includes a Harfoot. This is despite the fact that hobbits are not heavily present in Tolkien’s canon until the Third Age.

Unfortunately, those changes among others brought with it mixed reactions. However, Amazon Prime and the Tolkien estate had committed to a five-season deal for the show from the outset.

Filming for the second season is ongoing and behind-the-scenes photos confirm that the show will continue to make changes to the lore. A release date for the second season is unclear, but predictions lean toward a 2025 or 2026 release.

The Lord of the Rings Series Summary

Now that you know the two different ways you can approach both The Lord of the Rings books and movies, let’s dive into the book summaries for this series. But if this is the first time you are reading the books, the summaries may contain spoilers for events from previous installments.

We’ve included the books here in order of publication, which places The Hobbit before The Fellowship of the Ring. While many modern fans start with The Lord of the Rings trilogy and then round back to read The Hobbit, reading the books in publication order will allow you to experience Middle-earth as Tolkien intended.

The Hobbit Lord of the Rings Books in Order

1. The Hobbit

The Hobbit is the tale of Bilbo Baggins and his adventures with Gandalf and a band of dwarves to reclaim their homeland from the dragon Smaug.

It features the first introduction to Gollum with Tolkien’s famous “Riddles in the Dark.”

The Fellowship of the Ring JRR Tolkein

2. The Fellowship of the Ring

Long ago, rings of power were crafted for dwarves, elves, and men. But the Dark Lord Sauron crafted another ring in secret. A single ring to rule them all. The armies of Middle-earth banded against him and defeated him, but the ring was lost to time.

Now, Sauron is back and he’s hunting for the ring so that he may return in his physical form to resume domination of Middle-earth. But the ring has fallen to a young Frodo Baggins, and he has been tasked to return it to Mount Doom, the only place it can be destroyed.

Helping him achieve his goal is a motley crew called The Fellowship of the Ring.

The Two Towers Lord of the Rings

3. The Two Towers

Frodo and Sam are now on their own as they journey to Mount Doom. The others in the Fellowship have their own troubles to overcome as Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli seek to save Merry and Pippin.

Along the way, they encounter the armies of Saruman, an ally of Sauron’s, who has created the mighty Uruk-Hai and has set them against the people of Rohan.

Will the Fellowship be able to stop them and save the peoples of Middle-earth?

The Return of the King JRR Tolkein

4. The Return of the King

Finally, The Return of the King is the epic conclusion to the Lord of the Rings. The armies of Mordor are vast and too great for the people of Middle-earth to face. There is a solution, however, but it requires Aragorn claiming his rightful place as King of Gondor.

Meanwhile, Frodo has begun to succumb to the power of the ring and it’s caused a rift between him and Sam. Can they reach the fires of Mount Doom and stop Sauron once and for all before it’s too late?

The Silmarillion Lord of the Rings Books in Order

5. The Silmarillion

The Silmarillion is a book meant to dive deeper into the lore of Middle-earth. It hearkens back to the First Age to some of the earliest days of Elrond and Galadriel and a time when Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, lived in Middle-earth.

Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle Earth JRR Tolkein

6. Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth

This installment is a fascinating collection of stories which continue the tales of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. It also contains an alternative version of The Children of Hurin.

The Children of Húrin Lord of the Rings

7. The Children of Húrin

6,000 years before Frodo destroyed the ring, Middle-earth is ruled by Morgoth. The armies of Middle-earth have been destroyed and all hope is lost. But a new leader rises to turn the tide of war and confront his destiny.

Beren and Lúthien JRR Tolkein

8. Beren and Lúthien

This book is about the love of Beren, a man, and Lúthien, an elf. In order to put a stop to their romance, Lúthien’s father tasks Beren with an impossible mission before he can wed her. This leads to the epic adventure of Beren and Lúthien robbing Melkor, called Morgoth, the most wicked of all beings.

The Fall of Gondolin Lord of the Rings Books in Order

9. The Fall of Gondolin

Morgoth has his sights on Gondolin. For centuries, it lay protected in secrecy. Through an act of treachery, he’s uncovered its location and plans to mount a deadly attack. It’s up to Tuor to set out on a harrowing journey to warn Gondolin of they’re coming doom.


Whether you’ve been a fan of The Lord of the Rings books for decades, or are a new fan just seeking out what books to read, this article will prepare you for your next journey to Middle-earth.

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6 thoughts on “2 Ways to Read Lord of the Rings Books in Order by J.R.R. Tolkien

  1. Hi.
    This is a really nice list, and I’ll be sure to use it when I start immersing myself 🙂
    But I’ve got a book that is not in the list above. Where would you put ‘The Fall of Numenor – And Other Tales from the Second Age of Middle-Earth’ in the chronological list of books?

    Thank you.

    1. Great question! The Fall of Numenor published just three days ago so I hadn’t previously researched it. I have added a section to the article explaining that one. The Fall of Numenor is just a collection of previously published works with some new illustrations included, but there are no new stories contained in it if you’ve already read all of Tolkien’s other works.

  2. I read a lot of lists regarding J.R.R Tolkien books, this is hands down the best one. Dude, outstanding work!

    I’ve read the books in Hebrew when I was a kid, after being obsessed with the movies for such a long time 😅
    I decided I want to read EVERYTHING in English (the Hebrew translation is good, but the source language is always a better choice, I’ll just need a dictionary with me for all the old words in King’s English.)

    By the way, you were the first choice Google gave me, so finally Google actually recommend a good one, usually the first link sucks.

    Thank you, Melon.

  3. Awesome List. It helped a lot to put a timeline to the entire saga.
    Any thoughts on where in this list would “The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun” fall?
    Thanks in advance for your response 🙂

    1. This “book” (which is actually a compilation of poems) isn’t a part of the Lord of the Rings. It’s a tale based in Norse mythology and is unrelated to Middle Earth.

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