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Sure. Once you’ve written all the margin notes, you can start anywhere and end anywhere. Here are some suggestions:
If you want to read about the First Age of Middle-earth, start from the beginning of The Silmarillion and read until the founding of Númenor.
If you want to read about history of Númenor and Middle-earth during the Second Age, start with “Akallabêth” in The Silmarillion and read until Númenor is no more. This part of Tolkien’s saga is often overlooked – especially the first thousand years, when the Dwarves of Moria and the Elves of Eregion were good friends, wild and primitive men roamed the heavily-forested lands of Middle-earth, and no one suspected that the Shadow might rise again....
If you want to read about the history of the Third Age, start with section CE in “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age” in The Silmarillion.
If you want to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings with all the extra stuff added in, begin with section LB of “The Quest for Erebor” in Unfinished Tales.
If you just want to read the events that take place after the end of The Lord of the Rings, begin with “The Grey Havens” (the final chapter of Return of the King) and read until the end of the whole chronological ordering!
No! If you have never read The Lord of the Rings, you should read it first. Don’t start by trying to read all of Tolkien’s Middle-earth stories in chronological order.
Many of the passages in Unfinished Tales and the appendices to Return of the King assume that you are already familiar with the basic story of The Lord of the Rings, even though they are set earlier in time. This means that you might run into “spoilers” that would give away things you don’t yet know about.
Moreover, there are a lot of references that simply make more sense when you are already familiar with the story of Lord of the Rings. For example, Tolkien might say that someone is “the ancestor of King Elessar”, or mention that Oropher is the father of Thranduil and grandfather of Legolas. If you don’t know who these people are, you will miss the point of such statements.
What if you haven’t read the books, but have seen the movies? Again, I would have to answer “No.” The movies omit too many names and details. Reading all of Tolkien’s opus in chronological order takes time. If you’ve seen the movie, I highly recommend you dive straight into Lord of the Rings (or if you prefer, begin with The Hobbit, although it was written for a younger audience than the other books were). If you finish Lord of the Rings and want more, by all means try a chronological reading next! Of course, this means you will have to read The Lord of the Rings more than once in your lifetime. If this sounds like a burden, then Chronological Tolkien is certainly not for you.
On the other hand, if you have read Lord of the Rings but haven’t yet read The Silmarillion or Unfinished Tales, you certainly can use the Chronological Tolkien ordering.
I don’t recommend trying this. You could use post-it notes, but they might end up falling off and leaving you really confused.
If you print out the list of jumps and use it as a reference, that might work, but then you would be constantly looking at this paper to see whether you’ve read too far. If you write the notes in the margins, then you can just relax and read the books as you would any other book.
I never break up a paragraph. Every section starts at the beginning of a paragraph. “Cuts” occur only at natural breaking points – places where you can jump in and understand what’s going on.
That’s why this is a Reading Order, not a Timeline. Its goal is to be a sequence that is chronological, yet completely readable.
There are places in the appendices to The Return of the King when the sections are just one or two paragraphs. (Some of the appendices give the annals of kings, with each paragraph telling about a king in a different century: in such cases I have to insert stories of these kings between such paragraphs.) On the other hand, some sections are more than 200 pages long.
If you want to see all the individual sections and how they fit together, take a look at the Gory Details page.
Some of the short passages in the appendices to Return of the King are summaries of stories that later appeared in The Silmarillion or Unfinished Tales. When the entire contents of a passage are duplicated or expanded elsewhere, it is omitted.
Similarly, parts of the story of Tuor in The Silmarillion are omitted because they are redundant with the expanded versions that appear in Unfinished Tales.
The story of Túrin Turambar, which was originally fragmented between The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, was later published in complete form as The Children of Húrin. When that book was published I was able to delete almost an entire chapter of The Silmarillion and almost an entire section of Unfinished Tales and replace them with the more polished and completed version in The Children of Húrin.
Also, I only included stories. So the appendices that contain family trees, calendars, and analysis of the languages of Middle-earth are not included. These are interesting, but they are not stories and don’t fit into any chronological sequence. Of course, you might want to read them after finishing the chronological ordering if you like. On the other hand, other sections within the appendices to Return of the King really are stories – for example, the Annals of the Kings mentioned earlier, and “The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen” – and these are included in Chronological Tolkien.
Finally, I didn’t include Christopher Tolkien’s editorial comments and notes in Unfinished Tales, since these are explanations of the history of the stories: when his father wrote them, the changes he made, and so on. In a few cases, editorial comments did need to be included – specifically, whenever one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories had a gap and Christopher could explain what was intended to go there. But such cases are very few. I have great respect for Christopher Tolkien, but the goal of the Chronological Tolkien project is to read his father’s writings!
I personally prefer trade paperbacks or hardcovers. The smaller paperbacks often have small margins, so it’s harder to write notes in them.
But I prefer trade paperbacks in general, so I may be biased. I really love the 1990s American trade paperbacks – the ones with the cool waxy covers (not the movie covers, thank you very much). That’s just my preference. The Chronological Tolkien system can work with any editions.
However, if you have an expensive, antique, or illustrated version that you don’t want to mar, then you might consider buying a second copy to write the margin notes in.
I have included as many English-language editions as I could, including American and British hardcover and paperback editions. A number of helpful people have sent me information about editions I hadn’t seen, and their names are mentioned in the “Credits” section of the main page. But there are still some editions I haven’t been able to find yet.
If you have editions I haven’t included, and you would like to help, please email me.
For a complete list of the editions that I have used in the Chronological Tolkien system, go to the Gory Details page and click on “Edition List.”
As you read through the seven books in the Chronological Tolkien system, you will encounter margin notes telling you to jump to a page in a different book. One option is to keep all seven books handy, and let the margin notes surprise you.
But if that’s not convenient, you could print out the “Chronological Table,” which shows the entire sequence in order. You can find the Chronological Table by going to the Gory Details page and clicking on “Chronological Table.”
Then, before you leave your house, look in the table and find the section you are currently reading – and take a peek at which sections lie ahead. For example, if you are currently in Section GB, look for “GB” in the first column of the table, and you will see that the next few sections are all in Unfinished Tales and The Silmarillion. (This table includes page ranges, so you will see that you have over fifty pages of reading before you hit any other book.) The pages in the Chronological Table probably won’t match your own page numbers, because it isn’t customized for your editions, but that’s fine – you’re only using it to determine which books lie ahead, not to determine which exact pages to read.
When J.R.R. Tolkien died, he had completed many of the stories of the Elder Days of Middle-earth. Many others were not yet complete.
His son Christopher assembled the stories and story fragments that had been completed, and released them in 1977 as The Silmarillion. He then compiled the stories that had not been completed, and released them in 1980 as Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth. (Or simply as Unfinished Tales for short.)
Some of the stories in Unfinished Tales are longer versions of stories that appear elsewhere. For example, the story of how the Kingdom of Gondor and the Kingdom of Rohan became allies is told in very abbreviated form in the Appendix to The Return of the King, but is told in full in Unfinished Tales. Similarly, Unfinished Tales contains more detailed version of the story of Tuor than is found in the The Silmarillion. The Chronological Tolkien reading order skips the short versions of these stories, because the long version is included instead.
Unfinished Tales also contains some stories that can’t be found anywhere else, such as the “The History of Galadriel and Celeborn” and tales about the people of Númenor.
Finally, Unfinished Tales also supplies some pieces that are missing from previously published stories. For example, while the main focus of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is on the Hobbit characters, Unfinished Tales contains additional scenes that reveal what Thorin, the Rohirrim, and the Nazgûl were doing while no Hobbits were watching.
To answer this question, I must tell you a story.
When J.R.R. Tolkien passed away in 1973, he had completed two versions of the story of Húrin’s children. One was a short, compact version. The other was a much longer and more detailed version -- but unfortunately it was not finished. Tolkien had completed the beginning, and some of the middle and later parts, but there were gaps.
It fell to his son Christopher Tolkien to publish these stories. But which version should he use – the short but complete version, or the long version with pieces missing? At first, he decided he had to use the short but complete version. So in 1977, The Silmarillion was published. The short version of the story of Húrin’s children became chapter 21 of this book (and some small bits of chapters 20 and 22).
Three years later, Christopher Tolkien released Unfinished Tales. Unlike The Silmarillion, this was not a single, complete work. Rather, it was just what the name implied: a number of incomplete stories. One of the stories in this volume was the incomplete text of the long version of the story of Húrin’s children.
This was actually one of the things that inspired me to create the Chronological Tolkien page in the first place. I realized that I could combine these two texts. In the parts of the story where both versions existed, I would read the longer, more detailed version. In the parts of the story where only the short version existed, that one would be read. The result, in my original six-book version of Chronological Tolkien, involved a lot of skipping around, but it was worth it!
In 2007, Christopher Tolkien apparently had the same idea as me. He combined these two stories, using the same method -- keeping the long version where it existed, and using the short version when there was no other alternative. He published this story in a stand-alone volume entitled The Children of Húrin. (No, I’m not saying that he got this idea from me! I doubt that C.T. spends any time on the internet – in fact, he’s not a big fan of modern technology at all. This idea was implicit in Unfinished Tales from the beginning, because in that book C.T. explains how the two versions fit together. In other words, I got the idea from him! But before 2007, my version was the only one available.)
A few people have wondered whether Children of Húrin was really written by J.R.R. Tolkien. The answer is yes, and in fact it is slightly truer to his original text in a few places. In fact, it is the published version of The Silmarillion in which Christopher Tolkien altered his father’s text the most, because he decided to turn that into a complete work. In the later books, C.T. usually keeps his father’s texts intact and adds notes when there are gaps; in The Silmarillion he was forced to fill in the gaps (although only in a few small places).
Is The Children of Húrin exactly like my six-book ordering? It’s very, very close. As C.T. explains in the postscript, he went back to the original manuscripts of his father’s, and decided to do less editing than he had in the earlier releases. His father’s punctuation and grammar is therefore a bit more accurately reflected in Children than in The Silmarillion or Unfinished Tales. But the change is very, very slight. The other difference is that C.T. needed an introduction and a conclusion, and he created these by including some brief excerpts from The Silmarillion. Therefore, when it was released, it didn’t add much to my six-book ordering, as 97% of it had already appeared in The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales.
Why, then, have I updated Chronological Tolkien to include The Children of Húrin? Because I have two goals with this site. The first is to help people read the entire saga of Middle Earth in order. (That goal was already accomplished with the old six-book ordering.) My second goal is to make it easy for you to do this reading! And by including The Children of Húrin it actually becomes easier to write all the margin notes, because there are now less of them. Most of the story of Húrin’s children can now be read in this book, which means a lot less bouncing back between The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. You may notice that most of chapter 21 of The Silmarillion and the second section of Unfinished Tales do not appear in the current seven-book Chronological Tolkien sequence, because they are duplicated in this book and can be omitted.
Nonetheless, there are still a few passages from these chapters that are included, because for some reason Christopher Tolkien decided to cut a few paragraphs out of the story when he assembled Children. Apparently this was because he felt they were too tangential to the story. For example, he cut out the explanation of how Túrin Turambar’s helmet had originally been created by the Dwarves of Belegost. Of course, this passage is included in the Chronological Tolkien reading order. We hardcore fans of the Middle Earth saga want the whole story -- including the tangents!
For those who would rather save money by not purchasing The Children of Húrin and spend a bit more time writing margin notes, you can still use the old six-book version of Chronological Tolkien, located here: Reading Order Calculator (old version).
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil is a book of poetry. And despite its name, only two of its poems have anything to do with Bombadil. In fact, most of these poems do not “take place” in Middle-earth at all. They are poems that were supposedly written by Hobbits, and which tell of things that are “imaginary” even to the Middle-earth characters. For example, Frodo’s song about the cow jumping over the moon (which he sings at the inn in Bree) is one of these poems.
And the two poems about Tom Bombadil are of doubtful “historicity” within the world of Tolkien’s Middle-earth saga, since the Hobbits who supposedly wrote the poems can’t really have known much about the mysterious Bombadil. In fact, I personally feel that Tom Bombadil and his wife, the immortal “River-woman’s daughter”, don’t fit very well in the mythology or physics of Middle-earth at all.
Since this book does not contain stories, I omitted it from the Chronological Tolkien ordering. (However, for the sake of completeness, it is included in the Expanded Version of Chronological Tolkien, which can be found below.)
From 1983 to 1996, Christopher Tolkien released his father’s early writings, draft manuscripts, and unfinished and fragmentary storise in twelve large volumes. The titles of these books are somewhat confusing, since each book has the series title, an individual title, and often a subtitle as well.
A complete list of these books, with all their titles, subtitles, and series titles is as follows:
Virtually all of this material – 96% to be exact – consists of earlier drafts of stories that are already included in the Chronological Tolkien system.
Volumes 1-5 contain the earliest versions of the tales that would eventually become the Silmarillion, written between the late 1910s and the late 1930s. In some ways they are radically different than the final version: the Noldor are “Gnomes,” Melkor is “Melko,” and Melko’s chief lieutenant is not Sauron but a giant cat named Tevildo!
Volumes 6-9 contain the early drafts of The Lord of the Rings. These are not very different than the final version, so the only reason to read them is to see the changes that went through Tolkien’s mind as he developed the story.
Volumes 10-11 contain the drafts of the Silmarillion tales as Tolkien revised them in the 1950s and 1960s, after the publication of Lord of the Rings. These are fairly close to the final Silmarillion, the most notable difference being that the names were being constantly revised by the author.
Volume 12 contains the early drafts of the Appendices to The Return of the King.
In my opinion, these books are analogous to the early drafts of Hamlet. If you are a professional Shakespeare scholar, you may need to compare the early versions to the final version. But if you are reading Hamlet for enjoyment, it’s best to stick with the finished version.
As I mentioned above, 96% of these twelve volumes consists of early drafts of stories that appear in the seven books of the official Tolkien saga. So you may be wondering: what about the other 4%? That small fraction – 303 pages out of the 8500 pages in these twelve volumes – contain stories that could be included in a Tolkien reading order. But much of this material is problematic, because it includes stories that Tolkien began and then decided to abandon after deciding they were bad ideas. When I created the Chronological Tolkien system, I included unfinished tales that Tolkien hoped to finish someday, but sadly did not have time to do so. But I chose not to include abandoned tales that Tolkien decided weren’t any good.
However, for those who are true completists, I have included this material in the Expanded Version of the Chronological Tolkien system. If you are interested, here is the Expanded Version. You can also find a list of exactly which stories from The History of Middle-earth are included in the Expanded Version here.
Recently, two new books were released. Beren and Lúthien and The Fall of Gondolin, published in 2017 and 2018 respectively, are the final two books in which Christopher Tolkien presented stories written by his father, J. R. R. Tolkien.
The stories in these two books have all been published before, mostly in the twelve-volume History of Middle-earth series. These books have not been added to the chronological ordering. But if you wish, you can insert these books at the appropriate place (as explained at the end of this section).
J. R. R. Tolkien began writing stories of the Elves and their struggle for the Silmarils in 1914. From the very beginning he saw them as a set of interconnected stories, which taken together formed a saga from the creation of the world until the conclusion of the war over the Silmarils. For the next several decades he frequently changed, revised, rewrote, and reorganized these stories. After his death, his son Christopher took the latest, best version of each story in the saga, edited them for consistency, and published them as The Silmarillion. He later included some extra stories in Unfinished Tales.
After that, he decided that dedicated fans might be interested in seeing how his father’s stories had evolved. So he published the earlier versions and rough drafts of these stories in The History of Middle-earth. (For details on this twelve-volume series, see here.) This project was completed in 1996.
But as the years passed, Christopher Tolkien discovered that not many people were reading The History of Middle-earth. He speculated that this was because its size (twelve large volumes) was too daunting. So he decided to distill two stand-alone volumes from its contents.
In the book Beren and Lúthien, Christopher Tolkien created a small, bite-sized version of The History of Middle-earth. Whereas the twelve-volume set contained the earlier versions of every Middle-earth story, Beren and Lúthien contains the earlier versions of just one story.
Specifically, Beren and Lúthien contains the following material:
All of the stories in Beren and Lúthien were written by J.R.R. Tolkien, and previously were published in The History of Middle-earth volumes 1-5 and The Silmarillion. The introductions to each section and the commentary on each story was written by Christopher Tolkien, and much of this is a summary of his earlier commentary which appeared in The History of Middle-earth.
The new book The Fall of Gondolin is very similar. It, too, shows the evolution of a single story as Tolkien wrote, rewrote, and again rewrote his tales.
Specifically, The Fall of Gondolin contains the following material:
All of the stories in The Fall of Gondolin were written by J.R.R. Tolkien, and previously were published in in The History of Middle-earth volumes 1-5 and 11, except for the story on pp. 145-202 which was published in Unfinished Tales. The introductions to each section and the commentary on each story was written by Christopher Tolkien, and much of this is a summary of his earlier commentary which appeared in The History of Middle-earth.
There is no need for Beren and Lúthien and The Fall of Gondolin to be included in the chronological reading system. The purpose of the chronological system is to allow people to read Tolkien’s complete saga from beginning to end, in its final version. It already includes the final version of the Beren and Lúthien story (which appears in Chapter 19 of The Silmarillion), as well as the final version of the Fall of Gondolin story (which appears in “Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin” in Unfinished Tales and Chapter 23 of The Silmarillion). The chronological system doesn’t include earlier drafts of these stories, since these include details that contradict the final version, and are otherwise redundant with them.
Yet many fans are curious about the new books! For those who don’t have the time or energy to study the full twelve volumes of the earlier drafts, the new books provide a compact introduction to how Tolkien changed and revised his texts over the years. If this sounds interesting to you, I certainly recommend the new books -- as long as you have read The Silmarillion first. (In his notes, Christopher Tolkien assumes his audience is already familiar with The Silmarillion.)
You can interlace the new books with the Chronological Tolkien ordering, if you are so inclined. Here is how:
Interlacing the books in this manner allows you to read the “canonical” stories in The Silmarillion, followed by the earlier drafts of these stories Beren and Lúthien and The Fall of Gondolin.
Although these earlier drafts don’t cohere with the final version of the story, they provide a fascinating look at which parts of Tolkien’s story evolved over the years, and which parts were present even in the beginning. For example, the basic tale of how and why Beren and Lúthien took a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown appears in every version of the story (although in the early versions, Morgoth is named “Melko”). But in the 1917 version of the story, Melko’s trusted lieutenant is Tevildo, the Prince of Cats. In the 1926 version he is Thû the Hunter. In the poem Lay of Leithian he is Thû the Necromancer. And in the final version he is Sauron!
The biggest change between each version is the names, since Tolkien constantly altered his characters’ names as he developed the Elvish languages. Fortunately, at the end of Beren and Lúthien and The Fall of Gondolin there are glossaries of the names used in all the versions of this tale.
I suppose it’s odd not to have a timeline on the Science Fiction Timeline Page. But Robert Foster has a timeline of the First Age in The Complete Guide to Middle-earth, and Tolkien himself wrote timelines of the Second, Third, and Fourth Ages which appear in Appendix B of Return of the King.
There are also some good Tolkien timelines on the web. You can find links to some of them on the Tolkien Links page.
David Bratman has a different Tolkien ordering system on his webpage. You can jump to his site from the Tolkien Links page.
Mr. Bratman’s list differs from the Chronological Tolkien system in two major ways:
First, we include different material. In Mr. Bratman’s list, his numbers 3, 8, 9, 15, 16, and 17 do not appear in the Chronological Tolkien ordering. On the other hand, Chronological Tolkien include parts of the Lord of the Rings appendices and Unfinished Tales that Bratman does not include.
Why this difference? J.R.R. Tolkien was constantly revising things. When he died, his son Christopher ended up with many different versions of his tales. He had to choose which of them to bind together as The Silmarillion. His criteria were that he wanted stories that were (1) complete, and (2) as late as possible. So the published Silmarillion includes fairly late versions, but there were some later unfinished versions. Most of these he then published as Unfinished Tales.
Then Christopher began releasing his father’s earlier drafts of the stories as the Lost Tales and History of Middle Earth series. These drafts were often very inconsistent with the later versions. Some of them were abandoned by JRRT, and others were re-written, but none eventually met the standards that Christopher set for Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. Mr. Bratman includes a few of these stories, while I chose to cut off my ordering at the same place that Christopher Tolkien chose: after Unfinished Tales.
But this difference is relatively minor – Mr. Bratman’s material overlap with Chronological Tolkien by at least 90%.
The bigger difference is this: Chronological Tolkien breaks the stories into much smaller pieces. For example, in Unfinished Tales there is a short piece that describes the Nazgûl’s hunt for the Ring, including when they realized Saruman had double-crossed them and how they reached the Shire. In the Chronological Tolkien ordering, this piece is placed in the proper timeline order within Fellowship. Similarly, the Silmarillion contains the story of Tuor, and Unfinished Tales contains some additions to this story; Chronological Tolkien interweaves these stories to create a single narrative. David Bratman lists the individual works but doesn’t interweave them in this manner.
Each of these systems has advantages. Chronological Tolkien results in one complete chronological story. On the other hand, Bratman’s method is easier to use, because you don’t have to flip back and forth between different books.
You may also be interested in the Expanded Version of Chronological Tolkien, which can be found below. It uses the same margin-note system as the usual Chronological Tolkien, but adds additional material. It includes all the items on David Bratman’s list except for “The Lay of Leithian,” which is a poetic version of the story of Beren and Lúthien. Since the prose version of this story already appears in The Silmarillion, it seemed to me that including the poem was too much of a duplication, even in the Expanded Version.
The most important fact about the Expanded Version is this: It is not recommended for most readers!
The regular version of Chronological Tolkien is a complete reading order for the seven books of Tolkien’s official saga of Middle-earth. The Expanded Version adds pieces from five volumes of the History of Middle-earth series, and one short book of poetry.
But the Expanded Version has several drawbacks.
First, the vast majority of The History of Middle-earth cannot be used in this kind of chronological reading order. Within the volumes of that series, there are only 303 pages of stories that stand on their own and aren’t just rough drafts of stories that are already in the Chronological Tolkien system. But to get those 303 pages, you have to buy five large books. So you will buy five volumes – 2250 pages – and only read 303 pages from them. Of course, if you already own these books, or you want to buy them because you are interested in the early drafts of Tolkien’s stories, this won’t be a problem. But for most readers this is a real difficulty, especially for Americans, because most of these books were never released in paperback in the United States. I live in the United States myself, and found that the most economical way to get new copies of these books was to order the British paperbacks (HarperCollins, 2002) from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.ca; the five paperbacks plus shipping came to about $90 (American). If you buy used copies you may find them more cheaply.
Second, while the standard Chronological Tolkien system includes some unfinished stories, the Expanded Version adds what might be called abandoned stories. These are stories that Tolkien himself began writing and then decided were not worth finishing. They include a sequel to The Lord of the Rings set two centuries later, and two stories set in the twentieth century in which modern characters in England experience dreams or visions (or time-travel communication?) with the inhabitants of Númenor in the Second Age of Middle-earth. On the one hand, even though these stories are incomplete, it’s interesting to see how Tolkien began them. . On the other hand, Tolkien himself decided that these stories were bad ideas and abandoned them, so can we really say that these stories are truly part of the Middle-earth saga?
Third, because these stories are in draft form, occasionally the names don’t match the ones that you are used to. A minor example is Húrin’s wife, who is Morwen Eledhwen in the published stories, but is Morwen Eðelwen in “The Wanderings of Húrin” included in the Expanded Version. A more difficult example is Elendil’s son Herendil who appears in a story about Númenor. In the “official” published stories, Elendil has two sons, Isildur (who later in life would cut the Ring off Sauron’s finger) and Anárion. Readers of the Expanded Version will have to assume that “Herendil” is an alternate name of one of these two sons. Of course, the true explanation is that Tolkien hadn’t yet finalized Elendil’s family tree when writing this early story!
Finally, several of the other included stories are only very brief fragments of unfinished stories. Not everyone enjoys reading the first ten pages of a story and then being told “that’s all there is.”
However, several readers have written to me and suggested that these stories be included. I myself find them enjoyable and some of them are indeed very interesting and add new things to the Tolkien mythos. So I have created an Expanded Version of the reading order that includes them for anyone who is interested.
(For a description of all the additional stories included in the Expanded Version, look here.)
To use the Expanded Version, you need to have the seven books of the regular system plus six additional books. The full list is as follows:
To set up the margin notes for these books, use the Reading Order Calculator (Expanded Version). This calculator describes the margin notes to write for brand new users of this system, and also for those who have previously written the margin notes for the standard (seven-book) version of Chronological Tolkien. Then open The Silmarillion to the beginning, and read through the entire saga of Tolkien’s world, now expanded all the way to the twentieth century!
One final point. The stories in The History of Middle-earth include detailed footnotes written by Christopher Tolkien. Feel free to either read these or skip these. Most of them are just cross-references or comments about the variations in his father’s manuscripts, so they are never necessary to appreciate the stories themselves.
The Expanded Version of the Chronological Tolkien system includes the seven books of the official Middle-earth saga, plus pieces of six additional books. As explained above, the Expanded Version is generally not recommended, because the “cons” probably outweigh the “pros.” But if you are on the fence about whether to use the Expanded Version, here is a description of the additional stories it includes, to help you make a more informed judgment!
Two of the included pieces could be called fragments of stories, or extremely unfinished stories. These include:
“Tal-Elmar,” a story about one of the “wild men” of Middle Earth in the Second Age who encounters some ships from Númenor. It’s only 14 pages long; Tolkien never finished it.
“The Wanderings of Húrin,” which narrates some extra adventures that Húrin had after the death of his children but before he reached Nargothrond. This is about 32 pages long, and apparently the only reason that Christopher Tolkien didn’t include it in The Children of Húrin is that he wanted to end that book at a nice stopping point.
Four of the additional pieces are “abandoned stories” that Tolkien began writing, but later decided against finishing the story because he felt that it didn’t belong in his world. These include:
“The New Shadow,” a sequel to The Lord of the Rings set in Gondor during the reign of Aragorn’s son. Tolkien wrote 8 pages of this and then decided it was an awful idea.
“The Lost Road,” a story about a young man in early twentieth century England who has dreams and visions about Númenor and tries to explain them to his father. He eventually realizes that Númenor really existed thousands of years ago, and realizes that others throughout history have had these dreams, including an Anglo-Saxon prince named Aelfwine who managed to sail to Tol Eressëa in the year 918 of our era. Tolkien wrote about 32 pages of this – 13 pages set in Númenor, 2 pages set in Aelfwine’s time, and 17 pages set in the twentieth century – and then gave it up.
“The Notion Club Papers.” This piece has an interesting history. In the year 1944, C.S. Lewis and Tolkien were talking about books they might write, and came up with a plan that Lewis would write a space-travel story and Tolkien would write a time-travel story. Tolkien’s story, “The Notion Club Papers,” was basically a reworking of “The Lost Road,” but with the main characters of the father and son replaced by a club of Oxford professors who enjoy debating science fiction and fantasy, until one of them begins having actual visions of Númenor. He wrote 115 pages of this, and then abandoned it, never to return to this concept.
“The Epilogue” was originally meant to be the final chapter of The Lord of the Rings, immediately following “The Grey Havens.” This epilogue shows Sam Gamgee telling stories of his adventures to his children, and mentioning a few things about what has happened in recent years. But Tolkien decided that this was a bad way to end the book, and removed this chapter from The Return of the King before publication. Much of the information in this epilogue is included in Appendix B of The Return of the King and is therefore included in the standard version of Chronological Tolkien, but not in the form of a narrative. I personally find the narrative enjoyable to read, and it does make an excellent addition to the chronological reading order.
Three of the additional pieces are metaphysical essays disguised as conversations. These include:
“Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth” (“The Conversation of Finrod and Andreth”). This is a conversation between Finrod and a human woman, set during the First Age, in which they discuss what happens to Elves when they die and speculate about what happens to humans when they die. This is one of the few places where Tolkien directly inserted Catholic theology into the Middle-earth saga.
“Laws and Customs Among the Eldar” contains another series of conversations that discusses what happens to Elves when they die, and also discusses Elvish reincarnation. It is set when the Noldor are still living in Aman. Finwë’s first wife (the mother of Fëanor) dies, and he wants to marry a second wife. The Valar are uncertain if this should be permitted, because when Elves die they go to the Halls of Mandos and thence to the Garden of Lórien, and therefore Finwë’s first wife is technically still alive.
“Myths Transformed: Notes on Motives in the Silmarillion” is a comparison of Morgoth’s motives with Sauron’s. It is an essay, not a conversation, but I included it in the Expanded Version because it fits very well with the passages in Unfinished Tales where Gandalf – after the downfall of Sauron – finally sits down with the Hobbits and answers all their questions.
All the items listed above are taken from the History of Middle-earth series. They total only 303 pages out of these many volumes. The rest of these books cannot be used in the Expanded Version of Chronological Tolkien; for an explanation, see the discussion of this series above.
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil is the final item included in the Expanded Version. This is a book of poems supposedly written by Hobbits. Two of the poems are about Tom Bombadil, so I placed them chronologically when Hobbits first encounter Bombadil during the early days of the Shire. The remaing poems have no dates and are mostly about things that are “imaginary” even within the world of Middle-earth. Since these poems were recorded in the Red Book of Westmarch by Frodo and Sam, I placed them chronologically when the Red Book was being completed.
When Syme went out into the starlit street, he found it for the moment empty. Then he realized (in some odd way) that the silence was rather a living silence than a dead one. Directly outside the door stood a street lamp, whose gleam gilded the leaves of the tree that bent out over the fence behind him. About a foot from the lamp-post stood a figure almost as rigid and motionless as the lamp-post itself. The tall hat and long frock-coat were black; the face, in an abrupt shadow, was almost as dark. Only a fringe of fiery hair against the light, and also something aggressive in the attitude, proclaimed that it was the poet Gregory. He had something of the look of a masked bravo waiting sword in hand for his foe.
He made a sort of doubtful salute, which Syme somewhat more formally returned.
‘I was waiting for you,’ said Gregory. ‘Might I have a moment’s conversation?’
‘Certainly. About what?’ asked Syme in a sort of weak wonder.
Gregory struck out with his stick at the lamp-post, and then at the tree.
‘About this and this,’ he cried; ‘about order and anarchy. There is your precious order, that lean, iron lamp, ugly and barren; and there is anarchy, rich, living, reproducing itself – there is anarchy, splendid in green and gold.’
‘All the same,’ replied Syme patiently, ‘just at present you only see the tree by the light of the lamp. I wonder when you would ever see the lamp by the light of the tree....’
The Man Who Was Thursday
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Updated 25 September 2018 by Larry King
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