How to Read Lord of the Rings — Chronological and Publication Guide

How to Read Lord of the Rings — Chronological and Publication Guide

J. R. R. Tolkien has created a beautiful, unique, and intricate universe with the LOTR stories, some of which are yet to the translated to the screen.

A high-production value show like LOTR: The Rings of Power sure can pull you right back into the Lord of the Rings universe. Let’s not forget how amazing the LOTR and Hobbit film series were as well! 

If watching either the TV show or the films has inspired you to read the books as well, let me guide you with the next steps. Here is how to read Lord of the Rings in chronological order and by publication date.  

1. How many books are there in Lord of the Rings?

Lord of the Rings is one epic novel made up of six volumes. Besides this, the series also contains prequels such as The Hobbit and The Silmarillion, three novels that form the Great Tales series, and over a dozen standalone novellas.

How to Read Lord of the Rings — Chronological and Publication Guide
The Hobbit | Source: IMDb

2. Prequels

The Hobbit: J. R. R. Tolkien first penned down The Hobbit, which was the first ever book in the LOTR series. The hermit hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, is forced into an expedition where he must help some craft dwarves reclaim their treasure from a snooty dragon. Oh, and Bilbo discovers a magical, dangerous ring! 

After it was well-received, he expanded the story to the immersive Lord of the Rings world we know and enjoy today. 

The Great Tales of Middle-Earth: Along with being standalone, these tales are also predecessors to the Lord of the Rings saga. There are three novels in this series:

  • The Children of Hurin: A dark depiction of punished dealt out to Hurin, a great warrior who dares to defy Morgoth. 
  • Beren and Luthien: A tragic romance tale of the mortal man, Beren, and the immortal elf, Luthien. 
  • The Fall of Gondolin: Elvish lore outlining the tragedy that strikes once Morgorth discovers the location of the secret, hidden elven utopia called Gondolin. 

The Silmarillion: This book too can be termed as a prequel, but more technically, it is a collection of myths, lore, and diverse independent stories from the different ages. You can think of it as a historic recounting as well. 

3. Lord of the Rings Main Series

How to Read Lord of the Rings — Chronological and Publication Guide
Lord of the Rings | Source: Fandom

One big misconception is that Lord of the Rings is divided into three “books.” During its first publication, it was indeed divided into three sets due to budget restraints.

But each book contains two volumes within it. This is because Tolkien wanted the entire series to be divided into six parts. Even today, certain publications will have them packaged as three books while others may sell them as six books. 

Here’s the list:

I. The Fellowship of the Ring

This picks up after the events of the Hobbit, when Frodo Baggins discovers that his uncle, Bilbo is missing. Now he must deliver the dangerously powerful Ring to the elves, before it gets into the wrong hands!

II. The Two Towers

The Fellowship that came together to protect the ring, all go off on their own misadventures. Here is where we meet Gollum, one of LOTR’s most iconic characters. But let’s not forget that Sauron’s threat is closely approaching!

III. The Return of the King 

On the final leg of the journey, Frodo finds himself being corrupted by the influence of the ring as he crosses through Mordor. Aragon, on the other hand, must finally accept his responsibility as King of Gordor if he wants peace to reign. 

4. Novellas/Companion Books

How to Read Lord of the Rings — Chronological and Publication Guide
The Rings of Power | Source: IMDb

Here we come to the additional stories that Tolkien jotted down for the LOTR universe. Some of them are standalone, while others are complimentary to the larger story. Some of these are also salvaged works from Tolkien’s unfinished manuscripts!

However, my advice would be to not include these titles in your preliminary reading and keep it for later. Here’s the complete list:

  • The Book of Lost Tales, Part |
  • The Book of Lost Tales, Part II
  • The Lays of Beleriand
  • The Shaping of Middle-earth
  • The Lost Road and Other Writings
  • The Return of the Shadow
  • The Treason of Isengard
  • The War of the Ring
  • Sauron Defeated
  • Morgoth’s Ring
  • The War of the Jewels
  • The Peoples of Middle-earth
  • The History of Middle-earth Index
  • The Nature of Middle-earth

5. Lord of the Rings Publication Reading Order

How to Read Lord of the Rings — Chronological and Publication Guide
Lord of the Rings | Source: IMDb

The best way to read Lord of the Rings is in the order that it was published. It starts off with The Hobbit which invokes the right amount of curiosity for the whole series. Then it gets into the main LOTR arc, and finally has additional stories for world-building. 

  • The Hobbit (1937)
  • The Fellowship of the Ring (1954)
  • The Two Towers (1954)
  • The Return of the King (1955)
  • The Silmarillion (1977)
  • Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-earth (1980)
  • The Children of Hurin (2007)
  • Beren and Luthien (2017)
  • The Fall of Gondolin (2018)

6. Lord of the Rings Chronological Reading Order

How to Read Lord of the Rings — Chronological and Publication Guide
The Rings of Power | Source: IMDb

Reading Lord of the Rings in chronological order may not be the best idea for a new reader. The stories with the good hooks, that is The Hobbit and LOTR, come right at the bottom of the list.  

However, if you’re planning to re-read the series and are looking for a fresh order, do it chronologically: 

  • The Silmarillion
  • Beren and Luthien
  • The Children of Hurin
  • The Fall of Gondolin
  • Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-earth
  • The Hobbit
  • The Fellowship of the Ring
  • The Two Towers
  • The Return of the King
Watch The Lord Of The Rings (Film Series) on:

7. About The Lord Of The Rings (Film Series)

The Lord of the Rings is a series of three epic fantasy adventure films directed by Peter Jackson, based on the novel written by J. R. R. Tolkien. The films are subtitled The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002), and The Return of the King (2003). Produced and distributed by New Line Cinema with the co-production of WingNut Films, it is an international venture between New Zealand and the United States.