For those who are new to the Tolkien fandom, it can be a confusing place. You’ve read The Lord of the Rings books in order and you’ve read The Hobbit. Is there a book after Lord of the Rings? Not exactly. What do you do if you want more Tolkien? Many would say you should start on The Silmarillion. As much as I love the Silm (more so than LotR, even) it isn’t the most accessible book around. It’s just too much like a history book for some people; it’s an acquired taste.
But what if you really want more Tolkien? Must you slog through The Silmarillion? Nope–you have plenty more options. If you do eventually want to work yourself up to the Silm, there are ways to acquire the taste for Elvish history.
Which did you like better, LotR or The Hobbit?
If The Hobbit‘s lighter style was more to your taste, Tolkien wrote a number of other stories for his children (which is how The Hobbit started). While not all of these stories are directly related to Middle-earth, and not all are meant specifically for children, they still have Tolkien’s distinct style.
Roverandom: One of Tolkien’s more overlooked stories, Roverandom is a slim novel about a dog who is turned into a toy and must seek out a wizard to make him real again. Tolkien wrote it for his son, Michael, when Michael lost his favorite toy dog at the beach. Just knowing the reason it was written makes the cute story more heart-warming.
Farmer Giles of Ham: This one is somewhat unusual for Tolkien because it had more of an air of satire about it. The story follows Farmer Giles, a Hobbit-like farmer who is mistakenly taken for a hero, and his troubles with a giant and later a dragon. While it was originally published as a separate volume, I believe it can only now be (easily) found in The Tolkien Reader and Tales from the Perilous Realm.
Letters from Father Christmas: This, too, was written by Tolkien for his children. Every year, he would write an illustrate a letter from Father Christmas for his children. He included stories about polar bears and elves. It provides an interesting look at Tolkien’s earlier conception of elves (although it’s difficult to argue that he intended for these to be the same Elves of his legendarium).
The Adventures of Tom Bombadil: A collection of Hobbit poems, some of which are about Tom Bombadil. Most are light-hearted (my favorite is “Cat”) but there are a few darker, more somber poems. If you skipped over the many poems in LotR, I would recommend skipping this book for now. (This can also be read in The Tolkien Reader.)
“Leaf by Niggle”: Another unusual story from Tolkien in that it is an allegory–something that he admitted disliking. The story is about Niggle, a painter who has been working all his life on a great painting of a single tree. Tolkien probably had himself in mind when he wrote this–the tree painting being his great legendarium.
Did you enjoy reading the LotR appendices?
If you found Appendix A (or even B and C) fascinating, I strongly recommend reading Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth next. The style is a little more accessible than some parts of The Silmarillion and there’s enough variety to keep it interesting. You even have my permission to skip over Christopher Tolkien’s editorial comments! As much as we are indebted to him for publishing his father’s unfinished works and annotating them as thoroughly as he has, his notes can still be brutal, especially when you’re first starting out.
If Unfinished Tales goes well, I think it’s worth trying The Silmarillion after. You already have some familiarity with the names of some of the characters (which was what made the Silm difficult for me) and you may have gotten a taste for some of the more history-centric Tolkien writing.
Did you not read the LotR appendices?
If the appendices seem boring and unnecessary to you and you really just want another good story, I would recommend The Children of Húrin. This is the only story set in Middle-earth that Christopher Tolkien has seen fit to publish separately from his father’s other writings and with few editorial notes on his part. While it is a tragedy (unlike LotR), it’s also a cohesive story that can make The Silmarillion easier to digest.
Do you prefer non-fiction?
If you’re interesting in reading some of Tolkien’s more scholarly works, there are options for you too. “On Fairy Stories” is a good place to start. (It can be found in The Tolkien Reader, as well as a few other works.) This is a particularly good essay to read if you’re a fan of fantasy in general, since Tolkien delves into what he calls sub-creation and fantasy/fairy tales.
Do you just want to know more about Tolkien himself?
While Humphrey Carpenter’s bio is considered the most authoritative, I’m not really a huge fan myself (for reasons that I won’t delve into here). If you’d like more insight into Tolkien as a man, as well as his writings, I would recommend The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.
If you’re looking for an actual biography, Tolkien and the Great War is one of my favorites. While only covers the first few decades of Tolkien’s life, it provides insights into the things that influenced Tolkien all his life. John Garth, the author, clearly did his own research for this biography, as opposed to just relying on what others had said of Tolkien before. He even went so far as to challenge Humphrey Carpenter on a few things, which I found very refreshing.
Where ever your taste lies, there’s more Tolkien for you to read! The more of his writings you read, the easier it will be for you to get into The Silmarillion if you want to. And possibly, if you’re ready, the History of Middle-earth series. While it can be challenging, I believe it’s well worth the effort. It just takes time to build up to the challenge.
Photo Credit: Robert