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

The Lord of the Rings Books in Order

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 fans and critics alike.

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?

Lord of the Rings Series Summary

However, if you choose to read The Lord of the Rings books in order of publication, which we recommend you do, then your entry into Middle-earth will begin with The Hobbit.

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.

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
  2. Beren and Luthin
  3. Children of Hurin
  4. The Fall of Gondolin
  5. Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-earth
  6. The Hobbit
  7. The Fellowship of the Ring
  8. The Two Towers
  9. The Return of the King

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 |
  2. The Book of Lost Tales, Part II
  3. The Lays of Beleriand
  4. The Shaping of Middle-earth
  5. The Lost Road and Other Writings
  6. The Return of the Shadow
  7. The Treason of Isengard
  8. The War of the Ring
  9. Sauron Defeated
  10. Morgoth’s Ring
  11. The War of the Jewels
  12. The Peoples of Middle-earth
  13. The History of Middle-earth Index

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 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  

Apart from watching The Lord of the Rings movies in order by release date, you can watch the movies in chronological order. You will get a lot more insight into the mythology of Middle-earth that makes it a little easier to keep track of when Frodo’s journey kicks off.

Here is the order you should follow when watching these The Lord of the Rings 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 Lord of the Rings TV Show

In addition to the films and the books, there is a forthcoming TV show adaptation based on Tolkien’s world. While the adaptation from Amazon Prime has been in the works for years now, the release date is finally imminent with an anticipated September 2, 2022 premiere.

The Lord of the Rings: 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 contain all of the major stories of Middle-earth’s Second Age. This will include the rise of the Dark Lord Sauron, the tale of Númenor, and the Last Alliance of Elves and Men.

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 will also include some lesser known characters from Tolkien’s books, primarily The Silmarillion. As well, Amazon has confirmed that they will be creating brand-new characters for the show.

Payne confirmed that changes will be made to Tolkien’s lore in order to allow them to tell one united story rather than a documentary about Middle-earth. Notably, the TV show will include a Harfoot. This is despite the fact that hobbits are not heavily present in Tolkien’s canon until the Third Age.

While the first season hasn’t aired yet, Amazon Prime and the Tolkien estate have committed to a five-season deal. Filming for the second season should begin in mid-2022. As well, following in the footsteps of the previous films, the show is being filmed in New Zealand.

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 be forewarned, 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.


1. The Hobbit

Like every other hobbit, Bilbo Baggins likes nothing better than a quiet evening in his snug hole in the ground, dining on a sumptuous dinner in front of a fire. But when a wandering wizard captivates him with tales of the unknown, Bilbo becomes restless.

Soon he joins the wizard’s band of dwarves in search of giant spiders, savage wolves, and other dangers. But soon Bilbo tires of the quest for adventure and longs for the security of his familiar home. Unfortunately, before he can return to his life of comfort, he must face the greatest threat of all: A treasure-troving dragon named Smaug.

In this fantasy classic, master storyteller J.R.R. Tolkien creates a bewitching world filled with delightful creatures and thrilling dangers.


2. The Fellowship of the Ring

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, The Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell into the hands of Bilbo Baggins, as told in The Hobbit.

In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as his elderly cousin Bilbo entrusts the Ring to his care. Frodo must leave his home and make a perilous journey across Middle-earth to the Cracks of Doom. It is there he must destroy the Ring and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose.


3. The Two Towers

Frodo and his Companions of the Ring have been beset by danger during their quest to prevent the Ruling Ring from falling into the hands of the Dark Lord by destroying it in the Cracks of Doom. They have lost the wizard, Gandalf, in a battle in the Mines of Moria, and Boromir, seduced by the power of the Ring, tried to seize it by force.

While Frodo and Sam made their escape, the rest of the company was attacked by Orcs. Now they continue the journey alone down the great River Anduin — alone, that is, save for the mysterious creeping figure that follows wherever they go.


4. The Return of the King

The Return of the King is the towering climax to J. R. R. Tolkien’s trilogy that tells the saga of the hobbits of Middle-earth and the great War of the Rings. The Companions of the Ring have become involved in separate adventures as the quest continues.

Aragorn, revealed as the hidden heir of the ancient Kings of the West, joined with the Riders of Rohan against the forces of Isengard, and took part in the desperate victory of the Hornburg. While Merry and Pippin, captured by orcs, escaped into Fangorn Forest and there encountered the Ents. Then, Gandalf returned, miraculously, and defeated the evil wizard, Saruman.

Meanwhile, Sam and Frodo progressed towards Mordor to destroy the Ring, accompanied by Sméagol-Gollum, still obsessed by his ‘precious. After a battle with the giant spider, Shelob, Sam left his master for dead; but Frodo is still alive — in the hands of the orcs.

All the while the armies of the Dark Lord are massing.


5. The Silmarillion

The Silmarillion is designed to take fans of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings deeper into the myths and legends of Middle-earth. It is an account of the Elder Days, of the First Age of Tolkien’s world.

It is the ancient drama to which the characters in The Lord of the Rings look back, and in whose events some of them such as Elrond and Galadriel took part. The tales of The Silmarillion are set in an age when Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, dwelt in Middle-Earth, and the High Elves made war upon him for the recovery of the Silmarils, the jewels containing the pure light of Valinor.


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.

Unfinished Tales is a collection of narratives ranging in time from the Elder Days of Middle-earth to the end of the War of the Ring.

The book concentrates on the realm of Middle-earth and comprises such elements as Gandalf’s lively account of how it was that he came to send the Dwarves to the celebrated party at Bag-End, the emergence of the sea-god Ulmo before the eyes of Tuor on the coast of Beleriand, and an exact description of the military organization of the Riders of Rohan.

Unfinished Tales also contains the only story about the long ages of Númenor before its downfall, and all that is known about such matters as the Five Wizards, the Palantiri and the legend of Amroth. The tales were collated and edited by J.R.R. Tolkien’s son and literary heir, Christopher Tolkien, who provides a short commentary on each story, helping the reader to fill in the gaps and put each story into the context of the rest of his father’s writings.


7. The Children of Húrin

This tale of Middle-earth’s First Age first appeared in incomplete forms in the posthumously published The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. It is also edited by Tolkien’s son, Christopher.

Previously it only hinted at the depth and power of the tragic story of Túrin and Niënor, the children of Húrin, the lord of Dor-lómin, who achieved renown for having confronted Morgoth, who was the master of Sauron, the manifestation of evil in the Lord of the Rings.

Six thousand years before the One Ring is destroyed, Middle-earth lies under the shadow of the Dark Lord Morgoth. The greatest warriors among elves and men have perished, and all is in darkness and despair. But a deadly new leader rises, Túrin, son of Húrin, and with his grim band of outlaws begins to turn the tide in the war for Middle-earth — awaiting the day he confronts his destiny and the deadly curse laid upon him.


8. Beren and Lúthien

The tale of Beren and Lúthien was, or became, an essential element in the evolution of The Silmarillion, the myths and legends of the First Age of the World conceived by J.R.R. Tolkien. Returning from France and the battle of the Somme at the end of 1916, he wrote the tale in the following year.

Essential to the story, and never changed, is the fate that shadowed the love of Beren and Lúthien: For Beren was a mortal man, but Lúthien was an immortal elf. Her father, a great elvish lord, in deep opposition to Beren, imposed on him an impossible task that he must perform before he might wed Lúthien. This is the kernel of the legend; and it leads to the supremely heroic attempt of Beren and Lúthien together to rob the greatest of all evil beings, Melkor, called Morgoth, the Black Enemy, of a Silmaril.

In this book Christopher Tolkien has attempted to extract the story of Beren and Lúthien from the comprehensive work in which it was embedded; but that story was itself changing as it developed new associations within the larger history. To show something of the process whereby this legend of Middle-earth evolved over the years, he has told the story in his father’s own words by giving, first, its original form, and then passages in prose and verse from later texts that illustrate the narrative as it changed. Presented together for the first time, they reveal aspects of the story, both in event and in narrative immediacy, that were afterwards lost.


9. The Fall of Gondolin

Gondolin, beautiful but undiscoverable, is central to the enmity of two of the greatest powers in the world.

Morgoth of the uttermost evil seeks in vain to discover the marvellously hidden city of his Elven enemies, while the gods in Valinor refuse to support Ulmo Lord of Waters’ designs to protect it.

Into this world comes Tuor, cousin of Túrin, and guided unseen by Ulmo he sets out on the fearful journey to Gondolin to warn them of their coming doom. Then Morgoth learns through an act of supreme treachery all that he needs to mount a devastating attack on the city, with Balrogs and dragons and numberless Orcs.

Presented for the first time as a stand-alone work, the epic tale of The Fall of Gondolin reunites fans of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings with Elves and Men, Balrogs, Dragons and Orcs and the rich landscape and creatures unique to Tolkien’s Middle-earth.


Conclusion

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.

Looking for more books in order?

Check out my list of Game of Thrones books in order.

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