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I read LOTR then The Silmarllion, then The Hobbit and have jsut started to read Unfinished Tales.

What is the correct order of reading these and are there any other books to read or should read before Unfisinshed Tales?

I have read peoples threads and you all know so much - I would like to learn.

Any suggestions?
Doesn't it all start with the simarillion, then the hobbit, then LOTR.

I think I am not for certain though on the rest.
Big Laugh Smilie
The Silmarillion is a tough read-let's face it. But my theory is if you can read the whole thing and absorb most of its details, then all subsequent Tolkien novels will make much more sense and be much "lighter" reading. I say this because the Sil has very many names of descendents of people; I have heard it compared to the Old Testament of the Bible for just that reason. But anyway, that is only my opinion, I'll let Val or Virumor or Grondy or someone give you a proper answer. Read Smilie
Well, Unfinished Tales starts out with an expansion on a story from the Sil... I just started it as well, so I'm not sure how far along it goes, but I would think you'd be OK... I actually read The Hobbit and LOTR first and didn't hear of the Sil until quite a while later. I finally read it pretty recently, and it was fun because I understood a lot more about LOTR afterward. But as Laurel said, yo should probably wait until one of our local authorites finds this thread and posts. While you're waiting, you could read some of his short, non-ME stuff, like Roverandom or Letters from Father Christmas...
I believe it all is age dependent, or rather it depends how mature the reader is:

I would think an elementary school student would be better off starting with The Hobbit and LotR before going on to The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales.

However, a mature reader could jump right in with The Silmarillion and then I'd suggest following it with The Hobbit and LotR before going on to Unfinished Tales. In fact for the first time reader, I'd suggest skipping the last section of The Silmarillion, which is entitled 'Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age' so as not to ruin the story of the ringbearers as told in The Hobbit and LotR. Of course if they have already seen the movies, I guess it makes no nevermind.

The twelve volumes The History of Middle-earth series is more of a research compendeum rather than a good read. So they can be read in any order or can be read in part, more like you might use an encyclopedia, by reading a bit here and a bit there. I never expect to wade through them, as they contain much that is apocraphal, outdated, or before its time.

And Tolkien's short stories and poems can be read at any time, for only a few of the poems deal with Middle-earth and they can be read independent of any knowledge of that realm.
I'd suggest reading LotR first. It is a stand-alone story but having read it one needs more. So next, Silmarillion. Then read LotR again because many questions are raised by the Sil. Then read the Silmarillion again, then Unfinished Tales. Grab a copy of JRRT's Letters to check out stuff and expand knowledge. The Silmarillion is somewhat like the Bible in that it gives the story from creation and includes all threads found in other books. Even its language is biblical in parts but it is a far better piece of writing. If you have a spare moment read The Hobbit but be warned, after reading LotR and Sil, The Hobbit seems very much a children's book but has value in that it gives background to LotR.

Grondy is right about History of Middle Earth books. They are difficult to 'read' and best utilised for reference.

I agree with Vee. My preferred order would be The Hobbit, LotR, The Silmarillion, and even before reading Vee's response, I was also going to suggest re-reading LotR and the Silmarillion before moving on to Unfinshed Tales.

Although chronologically the Silmarillion pre-dates the Hobbit and LotR (to Creation), reading it first would spoil a lot of the character development you see developing during LotR. It would almost be like someone telling you everything about LotR before you read it. The surprise and suspense would be gone. Reading the Silmarillion after LotR, however, provides you with so many insights into certain characters from LotR, that each revelation is quite a pleasant surprise. If you then go back to LotR with this new insight, it is almost like reading a different book.

I'd go further than recommending the above order. I'd strongly discourage anyone from reading them in any other order.

I'd advise only reading HOME after you have at least given Unfinished Tales a go, and then possibly jump right through them to Book 10, Morgoth's Ring.
There's also the question of whether one feels the HoME version(s) of events or the Silmarillion one(s) have precedence. I go back and forth, leaning toward the HoME version, myself, but the Silmarillion version has the advantage of being comprehensive and generally consistent (consistency is but a fond memory in HoME, where some stories incorporate changes to others that were never made in ANY draft) and seems to be the one most prefer, at least for the moment. I suspect the movies are created a new horde of fans who will view HoME the way I did the Silmarillion, and in just the few days I've been here I've already been involved in a "but HoME says" knowing full well any conclusions based on it must be tentative at best, and JUSTIFY with the knowledge it's a story completely absent from the Silmarillion.

I went Hobbit, LotR, Silm, myself, and see nothing wrong with that; one certainly won't lose anything from any of the three that way, and avoids the spoiler problem mentioned by Grondmaster. I have to admit I would've been loathe to plunge into three volumes of the War of the Ring (though I probably still would have) after reading a (correct me if my memory is foggy, I don't have it handy) twenty eight page synopsis in the Silmarillion which lacks the depth of the Trilogy.

I dove into History of Middle Earth in an attempt to get the Silmarillion story (which I tend to view in relation to the War of the Ring much the way it's represented there) with the same detail as the Trilogy. A lot of that has to do with timing, since Christopher Tolkien started publishing them when I was in HS, and thus LotR and the Silmarillion were finished products while HoME still had some of that "oooo, I can't wait for the next one" quality (and yet I still haven't finished them because my appreciation of poetry wasn't then what it is now and I lost interest 'long about Lays of Beleriand.) Thus, I have no problem reading HoME as narrative, while still appreciating the "that explains that" element, but if I hadn't read the Silmarillion first I would've been hopelessly lost. HoME also provides the "Here and Back There Again" connection absent from the Silmarilion, which pretty much ends with the War of the Ring, while we see a few obscure referenes to Rome by the narrator of HoME. If I had it to do over, I'd probably do the Silmarillion, skipping "On the Rings of Power and the Third Age" then reading the Hobbit and the Trilogy, and finally HoME. It certainly gives more insight into Sauron, Gandalf, Elrond and especially Galadriel, who becomes a pretty imposing Third Age figure when viewed in that context. And you find out that all the Elves weren't blonde. Elf Rolling Eyes Smilie On the other hand, everyone's different.

Common pitfalls to muddle through:

Don't get bored or intimidated by the Council of Elrond like everybody else does; you can't track all the names the first time, but you're gonna read it several times anyway (and likely get some very useful practice with the Silmarilion in between.)

Don't get bored with the Music of the Ainur, it's essential to the understanding of some very pivotal relationships (and provides the most obvious examples of the religious influence in Tolkiens work for anyone interested in the Tolkien criticism I got bored with by junior year.)

I've found knowing those two things ahead of time would save a lot of folks a lot of trouble. I have a friend from HS who had read LotR when I met him but STILL hasn't read the Silmarillion for precisely the reason I noted, despite the fact it's a comparatively short section (only the LotR part is shorter.) IMHO, the LotR tends to be the best thing you've ever read -- until you finish the Silmarillion. Now, I love Aragorn, Elrond, Eomer, Theoden, and all the rest to death, but there's NO ONE in the Trilogy that can be stacked up against a Feanor, Fingolfin, Finarfin, Finrod Felagund, Thingol Greycloack, the SSoF (Maedhros especially,) Turgon, Idril, Luthien Tinuviel, Beren Erchamion, Tuor, Turin Turambar, Hurin, Huor, or Earendil. The Trilogy improves on another level after that, as one comes to apprecitate how, great as they are, the Numenoreans and Eldar of the Third Age were but a shadow of the fading glory of the Elder Days. Not only that, but comparing the Lay of Leithian or the War of the Jewels to Aragorn and Arwen or the War of the Ring brings to mind the old phrase from MERP about "Ancalagon the Black makes Smaug look like a homesick hobbit." Reading the Silmarillion allows one to appreciate the significance of the fact that in Elrond and Elros, and doubly in Aragorn and Arwen, all three of the noble houses of Edain and the three noble houses of the Eldar races were united. Such a statement in the context of the Trilogy alone is not only irrelevant but incomprehensible.
There's also the question of whether one feels the HoME version(s) of events or the Silmarillion one(s) have precedence.

and in just the few days I've been here I've already been involved in a "but HoME says" knowing full well any conclusions based on it must be tentative at best, and JUSTIFY with the knowledge it's a story completely absent from the Silmarillion.

Personally, I believe that is the answer... The versions which made it into the Silmarillion will generally take precedence over the various HOME versions because they have been pulled together into that comprehensive form. Where HOME extends beyond the Silmarillion, however, I see no reason why those events should not hold relevence.

What I don't like is people who trash HOME all together and say parts which didn't make it into the Silmarillion are invalid as though they should have been put out with the trash after JRR finished writing. What we must remember is that the Silmarillion was not finished by JRR. It is not as though he completed the Silmarillion and decided to leave out parts of the story. It was his son who completed the Silmarillion on his behalf, pulling together the story from a huge assortment of notes and drafts written over a long time frame. We do not know that the Silmarillion we read today would have been the one JRR would have written if he had had time to finish it himself.

Although Christopher did do a great job in pulling those notes into a consistent form, how can we say the versions he chose are necesarily the ones JRR would himself had used, or that JRR would have omitted many of the texts which Christopher ultimately did? We cannot even say that putting the stories into the chronological order in which they were written would give us the answer to that question either, for some of JRR's latest texts were very much in contrast to the whole basis of the creation of his world.

For the most part Christopher did manage to use the most recently ammended drafts when pulling together the Silmarillion, so for the most part there is no problem. I would never say something written in the Silmarillion is incorrect because an earlier draft in HOME contradicts the events. JRR after all saw fit to change those earlier drafts himself. In many cases, however, many things written by Tolkien did not make the final cut. Many of these contain wonderful bits of information which are totally missing from the Silmarillion. Where these do not contradict the Silmarillion, I take them as being fact. Sometimes these snippets even occur in early drafts, where in the rewriting certain facts are omitted. Many of the rewritten drafts change aspects of the story and should not be used, but where something has just been omitted without actually contradicting the later writing, again I see no reason why it cannot be used.

Simply put, don't ignore things in HOME just because Christopher Tolkien did not see fit to include them.
Don't get bored with the Music of the Ainur,

Never! It is a beautiful piece of writing which never fails to bring me to tears. And whereas I am a spiritual person, I am not religious, but in no way does that detract from the pleasure I get when I emerse myself in Eru and his masterpiece.
Don't get bored with the Music of the Ainur, it's essential to the understanding of some very pivotal relationships (and provides the most obvious examples of the religious influence in Tolkiens work for anyone interested in the Tolkien criticism I got bored with by junior year.)

Well, it became a bit too much when they started playing "Hobbit in Time".
the order i read was, silm > HoME 2 > HoME 1> Hobbit > LoTR >UT
i only read the HoMEs the wrong way round coz thats how i bought them hehe
but i rekon thatw as the best way to read them, for me anyway
Ive read the silmarillion and UT so is there much point in starting HOME for just a few notes that were left out?
If that is how you view it, then probably no. If, however, having read the others your thirst for more has not been sated, it is worth it. There are whole sections in Morgoth's Ring and the War of the Jewels which did not make it into the Silmarillion or UT. I find it worth it for them alone, rather than the early drafts of texts which were later improved upon.

If you have ever wondered about elven reincarnation, marriage, relationships etc, there is a lot of new material.