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The Best Order to Read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ Series

One does not simply begin reading in any order willy-nilly (unless you really want to I guess.)

Sean Bean as Boromir unsure about the fellowship's plan in Lord of the Rings. Image: New Line Cinema.

Other than works from the author who shall not be named, growing up on the Lord of the Rings series (first with the movies and then the novels) would significantly shape my interest in fantasy. Even with my most frustrating family members, we could hang out for a whole weekend to watch all the LOTR movies (the extended edition, of course!) This magic didn’t develop into The Hobbit franchise (I fell asleep during the first one), but it did encourage me to pick up some of the books a few years back.

The Nine Mortal Men given Rings and doomed to die in Lord of the Rings
(New Line Similiar)

Now, I’m super excited for the upcoming Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power series that explores the world before Frodo and Sam’s adventure, even though I haven’t quite grasped how I’ll watch it without supporting Amaz—I mean Sauron. But in the meantime, I, like many new and old fans, will be exploring the world again via the books. So, let’s get into some common approaches!

The best place to start is two read the books in publication order and the ones published before his death in 1973. This means beginning with The Hobbit, a.k.a. The Hobbit, Or, There and Back Again. As a book intended for a broad reading audience (including younger readers), it’s also fairly simple. Then read the LOTR stories starting with The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. After his death, his family continued to publish his work, and here’s that publication order:

The Hobbit to the Unfinished Tales is the main series, and everything after is often grouped as something like “The Great Tales of Middle-Earth.”

What about chronological order?

Lord of the Rings map by artist Andrew DeGraff. Image: Andrew DeGraff.
(Andrew DeGraff)

Suppose you’re super, super familiar with the LOTR lore and its “big history” (A.K.A. narratives beyond the Third Age), then reading in chronological order is a great way to experience the series. However, if you’re like me and know just a few notches more than the average person who’s watched some of the films more than once, maybe pass on a chronological read.

There are even more ways to read this series, but the most essential element is to enjoy the story you’re reading. These are just two of the most common approaches that work for new and advanced LOTR fans. To learn more about Tolkien, you should check out this great video from PBS digital studios about how he constructed language.

(featured image: New Line Cinema)

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(she/her) Award-winning artist and blogger with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. Starting as an Online Editor for her college paper in October 2017, Alyssa began writing for the first time within two months of working in the newsroom. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3, Apex Legends, and CS:GO. Still trying to beat Saxon Farm on RCT 3 (so I can 100% the game.)