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I spent an extensive amount of time as an undergrad writing about and researching The Hobbit, especially in terms of Tolkien's famous essay on Beowulf. Getting a sense of what inspired Tolkien greatly enhanced my understanding of and appreciation for The Hobbit.

Despite those efforts, I have yet to read The Lord of the Rings. (One factor holding me back is that my vision has been impacted by Peter Jackson's films; I want the memory of those to fade a bit before coming to it somewhat "fresh" with my own imagination at work.) It, along with The Silmarillion, continues to gather dust.

My question is relatively simple and straightforward (I hope): in what ways, if any, is an initial reading of The Lord of the Rings enhanced by first reading The Silmarillion?

I've been told both that the latter is relatively dry and unexciting and, on the other hand, that it is essential reading in terms of how it establishes the background for Tolkien's other works. I'm interested in knowing now whether it's worth it to read it before I commit to reading The Lord of the Rings.

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    As a Tolkienist myself, I highly recommend you read The Silmarillion after reading The Lord of the Rings. Related: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/15534/… – Mat Cauthon Jun 28 '17 at 8:52
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    After is best for sure. Most people seem not to like the Sim b/c it is written as a history as opposed to a an adventure. Nevertheless, it is an astonishing work. – DukeZhou Jun 28 '17 at 16:05
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    The first Jackson LOTR movie came out back in 2001. There are kids born after that movie came out that have drivers licenses now. How much more time do you need it to fade? – corsiKa Jun 28 '17 at 16:53
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    tldr: TLOTR is an epic story told with the conventions of the romantic novel. TS is an epic story told with the conventions of the epic story. Read the TLOTR first; read TS to fill in the backstory. – Eric Lippert Jun 28 '17 at 20:31
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    Please don't unprotect this question. It's received nine answers, many of which are repeats of previous answers and which wouldn't stand on their own if evaluated separately. – user111 Jun 30 '17 at 14:08

10 Answers 10

63

You should read The Silmarillion after reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

To start off with an analogy:

The Silmarillion starts on such a gigantic scale that if you begin with it everything else is going to seem confusing, petty, or irrelevant. If you want to understand the history of the American Civil War, you don't start with the Big Bang.


What's The Silmarillion about?

It's a collection of stories that illustrate how Arda ("The World") was created by Eru Iluvatar; His Children, the Elves and Men; events during the Years of the Trees; and the main bulk of the book: events of the First Age concerning The Silmarils way before The Lord of the Rings begins.

There are also chapters on some events in the Second and Third age.

A full description can be found on Wikipedia.

What's The Lord of the Rings about?

It's a trilogy focusing on the events of the Third Age; mainly focusing on the Rings of Power and the adventures of the Fellowship. The books encompasses Middle-earth in the Third Age and is the highlight of all of Tolkien's works.

The title of the novel refers to the story's main antagonist, the Dark Lord Sauron, who had in an earlier age created the One Ring to rule the other Rings of Power as the ultimate weapon in his campaign to conquer and rule all of Middle-earth. From quiet beginnings in the Shire, a hobbit land not unlike the English countryside, the story ranges across Middle-earth, following the course of the War of the Ring through the eyes of its characters, not only the hobbits Frodo Baggins, Samwise "Sam" Gamgee, Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck and Peregrin "Pippin" Took, but also the hobbits' chief allies and travelling companions: the Men Aragorn son of Arathorn, a Ranger of the North, and Boromir, a Captain of Gondor; Gimli son of Glóin, a Dwarf warrior; Legolas Greenleaf, an Elven prince; and Gandalf, a Wizard.

More information can be found on Wikipedia and by watching the movies.


Why should you read The Lord of the Rings first?

  1. Publication order – The Lord of the Rings was published first

    The Lord of the Rings was published on: July 29, 1954. The Silmarillion was published on: September 15, 1977. That's a two decade gap. Most authors recommended readers to read their books in the order they were published.

  2. Tolkien's world is mostly centered around Hobbits

    The Lord of the Rings is centered around the adventures of Hobbits and their companions. It's all about how Hobbits came to become so famous, all thanks to Bilbo and Frodo. It is depicted through the eyes of the Hobbit Frodo Baggins (some chapters dedicated to Sam, Pippin and Merry), while The Silmarillion.... is not. There's barely any mention of "Hobbits" in The Silmarillion at all. You can't start reading Tolkien's books without knowing anything about Hobbits!

  3. The Lord of the Rings is an easier read to begin with

    • More coherent story line
    • Flows nicely
    • Consistent writing style
    • The whole book focuses on a single plot – destroying that darn Ring


    For TLotR: It's all about bringing the Ring into the Mountain. The Silmarillion? You have one chapter about Elves, one about Men, one about the Ainur (Valar and Maiar), suddenly jumping to Turin's adventures, Beren's love story, the dark-elf Maeglin; all this throughout the whole book. There's no consistent narration in The Silmarillion; the story is jumping all over the place.

    While The Lord of the Rings was written by JRR Tolkien alone, The Silmarillion was written (majority) by him and his son Christopher, giving rise to the issue of inconsistent writing styles.

    Christopher himself notes in the Foreword of The Silmarillion:

    As the years passed the changes and variants, both in detail and in larger perspectives, became so complex, so pervasive, and so many-layered that a final and definitive version seemed unattainable. Moreover the old legends ('old' now not only in their derivation from the remote First Age, but also in terms of my father's life) became the vehicle and depository of his profoundest reflections. In his later writing mythology and poetry sank down behind his theological and philosophical preoccupations: from which arose incompatibilities of tone.

    [...]

    A complete consistency (either within the compass of The Silmarillion itself or between The Silmarillion and other published writings of my father's) is not to be looked for, and could only be achieved, if at all at heavy and needless cost. Moreover, my father came to conceive The Silmarillion as a compilation, a compendious narrative, made long afterwards from sources of great diversity (poems, and annals, and oral tales) that had survived in agelong tradition; and this conception has indeed its parallel in the actual history of the book, for a great deal of earlier prose and poetry does underlie it, and it is to some extent a compendium in fact and not only in theory. To this may be ascribed the varying speed of the narrative and fullness of detail in different parts, the contrast (for example) of the precise recollections of place and motive in the legend of Túrin Turambar beside the high and remote account of the end of the First Age, when Thangorodrim was broken and Morgoth overthrown; and also some differences of tone and portrayal, some obscurities, and, here and there, some lack of cohesion.

    Now, in The Lord of the Rings, we follow Frodo and friends through their journey to Mount Doom and beyond. We witness them mature and grow psychologically. In The Silmarillion however, we are introduced to a main character at the start of the chapter, but by the next chapter, we follow the story of another character. This transition prevents any kind of "attachment" to form between reader and character, hence The Silmarillion is a much harder read.

  4. The Silmarillion really just resembles a "The Lord of the Rings appendix"

    I'm sure not many read the TLotR appendices before The Fellowship of the Ring. Why? You bought The Lord of the Rings to read about a fantastical adventure, probably not to read a bunch of abbreviated post-book fillers. The Silmarillion is that kind of a read. The whole book doesn't focus on one character, it's more of one-chapter-one-main-character, not unsimilar to an appendix.

  5. The Silmarillion contains spoilers for The Lord of the Rings. Seriously major spoilers

    There's this one chapter at the end of The Silmarillion that completely summarises the events of the Third Age, which also includes a nice summary of the War of the Ring. The intention of the author (and editor) is clear: Read The Lord of the Rings first, and then read The Silmarillion to have a complete summary of what happened.


By reading The Lord of the Rings first...

...you get to know more about Hobbits, which are the centre of Tolkien's imagination.

...you build stamina as you pursue Tolkien's books. Easy reads to hard reads.

...you aren't going to be spoiled by the Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age chapter at the end of *The Silmarillion.

...you get to learn more about Middle-earth gradually. To once again cite the analogy I read to reinterate my points:

The Silmarillion starts on such a gigantic scale that if you begin with it everything else is going to seem confusing, petty, or irrelevant. If you want to understand the history of the American Civil War, you don't start with the Big Bang.

–Ernest W. Adams

To summarise:

By reading all about the War of Wrath, the resultant sinking of Beleriand and the imprisonment of the Dark Lord Morgoth in the First Age first, you'll realise how insignificant the defeats of the Third Age is in comparison to the First Age. Sauron is merely the servant of Morgoth and Gondor doesn't get sunk after the War of the Ring. You don't want to spoil your Tolkien experience by making the amazing events of TLotR seem insignificant by reading The Silmarillion first.


Notes:

  1. Much credit goes to this website and its users, whose relevant points helped me write this answer.

  2. See also: this question which received answers relevant to this question.

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    Wow. I was going to post an answer here, but this incredible answer makes it seem pointless to do so :-) – Rand al'Thor Jun 28 '17 at 12:01
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    @Mithrandir Further down in the answer it's attributed to Ernest W. Adams. – Rand al'Thor Jun 28 '17 at 13:33
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    Just a minor issue - I absolutely read the appendices before getting much into the Fellowship of the Ring; it brings the world to life and gives you a lot of things to wonder about while reading. – Darren Ringer Jun 28 '17 at 17:35
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    Only one thing; we know Hobbits are a late addition to Tolkien's world. In fact the first two tales were the sailing of Earendel and the fall of Numenor. – Joshua Jun 28 '17 at 23:14
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    "If you want to understand the history of the American Civil War, you don't start with the Big Bang." Great analogy. This would only be an issue if you are the kind of person who would get confused with stuff like: "The armies met at midday? What's a day? What's the Sun? What's a star? How does it work? What's heat? Where do all this stuff comes from, anyways? And why? ...etc" in which case I'm not sure that the Silmarillion is gonna help much anyways... ;) – xDaizu Jun 29 '17 at 14:27
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Voronwë's answer is excellent, but I'm going to post the answer I was planning to anyway.

  • LotR is a gripping tale; the Silmarillion is more like a textbook or encyclopedia.

    This is a slight exaggeration, but the Sil is definitely written in a much less engaging style; it describes the history of eons rather than the events of an exciting war. It focuses more on races than individual people; if you want to have main characters to identify with, you need LotR.

  • The natural progression in readability is Hobbit -> LotR -> Silmarillion.

    • The Hobbit is more of a book for children. Of course it's interesting and analysable in its own right, but the writing style is easy for people of almost any age to engage with.
    • LotR is written in more of a "high fantasy" style, but it's still an exciting enough story, laced with occasional humour. The hobbits, as well as often serving as audience surrogates, are sympathetic characters whom it's easy to identify with.
    • The Silmarillion is more like an ancient saga, written in a sort of High Chant and focusing on gods and kings and heroes rather than relatable characters. It needs not only stamina but also a deep existing engagement with the world in order to get through it.
  • Starting with the Silmarillion may even turn you off Tolkien altogether.

    Personal experience speaking here. I know someone (a literature graduate at that, someone who's used to reading dense and wordy texts, who enjoyed reading tomes such as Les Miserables and War and Peace) who tried to introduce themselves to Tolkien by diving into the Silmarillion. Big mistake. They couldn't get into it, set it aside, and they still haven't tried to go back to any Middle-Earth works, thus missing out on a great masterpiece and one of the milestones of 20th-century literature. (LotR, that is, not the Silmarillion.)

  • Read LotR, then the Silmarillion, then reread LotR.

    This would be my recommendation. Reading LotR will ensure you're fully engaged with the world of Middle-Earth, by easing you into the mythos through the eyes of relatable characters, but it should also give you a thirst to learn more about that world. You can tell when reading it that there's much more to the structure and history of the world than we're seeing in the story; you catch brief glimpses of civilisations and artefacts about which you learn almost nothing.

    Then you read the Silmarillion, and learn much more about the history and background that you've caught tantalising glimpses of. And afterwards you may want to read LotR again, as your appreciation of it will be enriched by all this background knowledge. (In fact, reread it anyway. I must have read it at least half a dozen times by now, and I notice new things every time.)

And don't forget, there's even more Middle-Earth material to read after LotR and the Silmarillion! You've still got the 12-volume History of Middle-Earth to look forward to. I haven't read this one, so I'm not sure how much is gained by reading it in order, but you may be interested to read this post in order to see how to read the whole thing (HoME, Sil, and LotR) in in-universe chronological order. Whether that's a good way to read HoME the first time, or a fun exercise for a reread of the entire mythos, would be a topic for a different question.

  • FTR Les Misérables carries an acute accent because it sounds more like the vowel in English they than either vowel in English miser. – tchrist Jun 28 '17 at 13:38
  • @tchrist Oh, je sais, mais j'etais trop paresseux pour l'ajouter :-) – Rand al'Thor Jun 28 '17 at 13:42
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    Voilà pourquoi tu devrais obtenir un nouveau clavier «Mac» car il est beaucoup plus facile d’écrire de telles choses avec OPTION-e et hoc genus omne. Ces détails sont importants dans une forme écrite, n’est-ce pas? – tchrist Jun 28 '17 at 13:58
  • J'ai du Linux et je, ehm, sorry, I haven't used MS-DOS for a long time, but I can't seem to forget the Alt codes for the more important letters. Alt+130 for é it was. Works in the latest Windows too, I'm sure. – Mr Lister Jun 28 '17 at 14:19
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    Joined just to upvote this answer. LotR is a different book altogether before and after the Silmarillion, much like The Sixth Sense is a different movie altogether the second time you see it. If you read Sil before LotR, you are missing out on one of those books. – João Mendes Jun 29 '17 at 13:06
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Another point that hasn't been mentioned. The Silmarillion has a summary of the Lord of the Rings as its final chapter, "Of the Rings of Power and The Third Age". It is a full summary of LoTR and would be a gigantic spoiler. Clearly the Silmarillion was meant to be read after LoTR.

I realize you have already seen the movies, so a spoiler isn't that big of a deal for you. But I'm giving my answer for two reasons:

  1. Since The Silmarillion has a spoiler for LoTR in it, clearly it was meant to be read after. If you're a purist this may be of interest.

  2. Other people happening across this answer who haven't seen the movies may wish to know a spoiler exists in The Silmarillion.

14

I would agree with the posters saying: first LotR (to enjoy it fully, and it is an easier read, and the huge scale of the Silmarillion events will not "dwarf it down").

But not in your specific case.

In your case: you already know about (most of) the LotR events, through Jackson's filter (which discards some things, and changes some others, to make it more "cinematic", and shortens a LOT of the descriptions, timeframes, and events, and insist a lot more on war and fights than Tolkien did)
(for me, LotR is really about showing the dying beauty of nature and of creatings of old, a nostalgy of a dying age and the leaving of the elves from this world, which is about to become more 'mechanical'... This is what transpired the most when I read it, and what makes me love it so much.)

To help put the films aside, and as you already know the gist of LotR:

I recommend you now read the Silmarillion, and afterwards you will be able to reward yourself by reading the Lord of the Rings, and enjoy all its beauty and sadness, with a mind less occupied by Jackson's films and more by that fantastic backdrop of the Silmarillion (which is taken from decades of writing by Tolkien before (and also after) the writing of the Hobbit and of LotR). And then maybe continue towards the History of Middle Earth series (which I couldn't afford yet but I'm really thrilled to read).

Of course the Silmarillion will not be easy to read: many, many places and names. I recommend you keep a pen&paper, or a mindmap software (freemind, freeplane, or their equivalent for your OS) to at least keep traces of important names and their relations. (a lot of it exists, but it is often too detailed.... one you write yourself will probably prove more appropriate).

And a word of warning: the first few pages are very different from the rest of it, and feel like reading the Bible (which was intentionnal from Tolkien, but may appear weird and/or dry). This stops many readers and prevent them to discover all the gems ( ;) ) hidden in the rest of the book. Please, please, keep reading! : the story it is telling is important for the rest of the book, and the rest of the book is much more readable and in a different style (not as down to earth as Lord of the Ring, but more like epic stories of old gathered from oral histories over the ages...).

You are about to enter a wonderful world, meet Beren and Luthien, the Valars, Morgoth, Turin Turambar, and discover a bit of what happened in the several thousands of years before LotR... I envy you :)

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    I'm not sure if I necessarily agree with this, but you have my upvote anyway for a nicely explained answer, and for proposing a possible remedy for the dreadful malady of having seen the Jackson films before reading LotR. – Rand al'Thor Jun 28 '17 at 13:32
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    @Randal'Thor : thanks. It is actually the same for me : I am not sure it would work for many, but I'm sure it can work for some persons (such as @Peter), especially if they won't be put off easily by the first chapters of the Silmarillion (and some others within). And having seen the films means the few lines about LotR in the Silmarillion won't be a spoiler at all. Then reading it in all its glory will be good. – Olivier Dulac Jun 28 '17 at 13:52
10

You are asking two different questions here, one in the title ("should I read the Silmarillion before or after LotR?") and one in the text ("what would be the upside to reading the Silmarillion before LotR?"). You have gotten very good answers to the first question, although there are some factual inaccuracies (e.g. if we're going for time-order, it turns out Tolkien started the Silmarillion before starting the Lord of the Rings trilogy) -- but the second question seems quite wide-open.

So let's talk about what this is. The Silmarillion is a tale of gods and elves and men. It begins by explaining that there are three levels of godhood, which one might call in English God Supreme, god, and demigod: these are called by the Elves Eru Ilúvatar, Vala, and Maia. As in Judeo-Christian backstory, the creator category is a singleton -- there is one being inhabiting this category, one True God who created our world by creating the gods and demigods to sing in a sort of harmony. In this story one particular god was better than all of the other gods and demigods, and desired a sort of individuality from the divine which is ultimately in many ways a betrayal of that God Supreme and results in all of the evil, chaos, and discord in the world; he sang discordant notes into the harmony. It is clear that this is a part of the God Supreme's intent and plan, but it still is the source of great strife for us here. Other gods, however, during the story are able to work together to imprison and then exile this god from the world that he helped to create, so that his influences are more subtle and lingering than actively destructive. This sets up the Lord of the Rings books as a discussion of how two of those lingering threads of the betrayer's chaos -- the demigods Saruman and Sauron, who became minions of the betrayer -- were ultimately defeated by the cooperation of men and elves and sentient trees and the demigod who you know as Gandalf.

As people have suggested, this kind of puts the whole epic narrative into a sort of perspective that kind of takes a lot of its punch away. But in some ways it still has a lot of force: this is a critical moment where despite being defeated in the absolute largest battle, the betrayer-god yet has the ability to win the entire war. If this is a game of chess, he has two pawns which are about to make it to the back row and get queened. For some reason the other gods don't seem to see this (or don't realize how serious the threat is or something) and the fate of this cosmic struggle depends only on these poor, ordinary individuals.

I think part of the problem is that therefore, to first approximation you mostly get a ton of backstory, which is not necessary to understand the greater story but realy does help in flavoring it. Like, if you read the Silmarillion first, you get to feel just how impressive Elrond is when later in Fellowship he off-hand says "I remember well the splendour of their banners. It recalled to me the glory of the Elder Days and the hosts of Beleriand, so many great princes and captains were assembled." And you realize that this isn't just someone named after the Elrond of the Silmarillion, this is the same guy, having been around for thousands of years. Like, without that backstory you could maybe have reasonably thought that the "Elder Days" were a few hundred years back, but no: this elf is truly ancient.

You also get a sort of conspiratorial perspective on the rest of the narrative. For example, there is a character who you have not met yet, named Tom Bombadil. He is a lot of peoples' least-favorite character because he appears in Fellowship as a sort of deus-ex-machina saving the hobbits from an early before-they-are-ready encounter with the forces of evil. When you return to these epic books to reread them things only get more confusing, "wait, he did what with the One Ring?!" But once you have read the Silmarillion, you can kind of approach this character with a new perspective, "okay so this is clearly either a God or Demigod, is it maybe one of the ones from the Silmarillion?"

(I should note that there was some ambiguous dialogue which caused J.R.R. Tolkien to write a letter specifically saying that Tom is not Eru Ilúvatar: Frodo asks "Who is Tom Bombadil?" and his wife is not able to really comprehend that question and answers unhelpfully, "He is", but this has an uncomfortable Judeo-Christian resonance as God says to Moses, 'Tell your people that "I AM" has sent you.' So Tolkien shut that fan theory down. But all of the Valar and Maiar are still open for interesting fan theories, and Tolkien is also on record as having specifically left Tom in during editing to leave this very question open, so as to create an enigmatic feeling in the world of his creation. So fan theories are very much this character's point.)

Those sorts of things are what you can expect to get out of reading The Silmarillion before you read The Lord of the Rings. The scope of what's going on becomes vastly more epic, albeit that a lot of the backstory has already passed; a lot of the people who you thought might be normal humans turn out to be deities of various forms; some people turn out to be way, way older than anything you've thought of before; and finally, you may get a better handle on what the heck is going on with Gondor and its Stewards and Aragorn and the Sword that was Broken, because Isildur will be a somewhat more familiar name to you, maybe.

5

I read the books in the chronological order of the story, that is, the Silmarillion, the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, and I would recommend this order - although maybe not for all readers.

The good points of this order are:

  • When reading the Hobbit and the LotR, you know the settings. Others have pointed that LotR focuses on hobbits and they nearly aren't mentioned in the Silmarillion. Hovever, the LotR has a prologue about hobbits but it doesn't have an introduction to men, elves and dwarfs. By reading the Silmarillion you start the other books knowing what they are, and knowing a lot about the Middle Earth.
  • This way of reading makes the three books appear as parts of the same story, that is mostly contained in the Silmarillion. If you enjoy that bigger story, it flows more naturally if read in chronological order that than if you have to make a thousands of years flashback.

This order works for me because I'm very interested in the biggest picture. In fact, I'm usually more interested in history than in novels, and the Silmarillion can be read more as an alternate history book than as a novel. For readers who prefer great novels to dry sagas, reading the LotR builds up the interest to read the Silmarillion and reading it last can be better, as other answers say.

And about the spoiler, I would say that unless you have a very good memory, it's difficult to match that spoiler with the LotR while reading it. It just seems a good spoiler when you read it having read the LotR first. Of course, you grasp from it that in the end the good guys drop the ring in a volcano and destroy it, but you don't need any spoiler to guess that from the beginning of the LotR.

To summarize with the Big Bang and Civil War metaphor others have used: if you are interested only in the American Civil War, read about it and then you might get interested in learning about what happened before, but if you are interested in the Big Bang, the Civil War and what happened in-between, I'd suggest to start by the beginning.

In fact, for me, reading the LotR without having read the Silmarillion would be like reading about the American Civil War having to guess what slavery, cotton and the United States are.

4

I would agree that the Silmarillion should be read after the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, but for quite a different reason than everyone seems to be espousing.

For me, when I finished the Hobbit, I wanted to enter the world again. The Lord of the Rings does so, but in a "vaster" way - the battles and acts have a large impact on Middle Earth, and it alludes to past tales and battles, and a completion of the long struggle to cast physical embodiments of evil out of Middle Earth. It puts everything in the Hobbit into perspective.

When I finished the Lord of the Rings, I wished it, too, to keep going. And the Silmarillion does so as well, but in a still yet vaster way. It tells the story of how Middle Earth was created (in my opinion, the first story in the Silmarillion, which tells of the world's creation, is one of the most beautiful short stories I've ever read) and the story of Morgoth, a more terrible enemy than Sauron ever was, and leads up to the Lord of the Rings, and puts it in its place.

Everyone seems to refer to the Silmarillion as "dry" - nonsense! It's a fabulous story, with just as much intrigue, heartbreak, war, pain, and victory as the Lord of the Rings. True, it's more "mythically" written than the Lord of the Rings, but that doesn't mean it's dry - the Norse myths, written quite "mythically", are exciting and fun to read.

With all this being said, once you've read in the order of Hobbit, LotR, Silmarillion, I would read it all again in chronological order. When you do so you will pick up on references in LotR you never noticed - such as Aragorn's various stories and mentionings, most memorably the reference to the story of Beren and Tinuviel-Luthien in the hollow under Weathertop on the way to Rivendell.

And from there - onward into the world of Tolkien!

2

I had read the Hobbit and LotR before Sil, and still didn't care for it. After reading LotR again, I recognized that some of the off-hand references made were recorded fully in Sil. I read that again, and it was like an epiphany. What happens in the Rings is BECAUSE of what happens in the Silmarillion, but I don't think I made much of the connections the first time I read it.

I've now read it three times, and gain more understanding each time, whereas I read LotR for pure pleasure of the adventure and good conquering evil. There is much more grey in Sil, just as there is in the Christian Bible. (One example here is when King David violated Sanctuary and killed a man, but still remained the favored of the Lord.) It is not as an enjoyable read, except the exhilaration of discovery.

I believe you should read Lord Of The Rings 1st, 3rd, and 5th. Tolkien is very deep.

-3

"... in what ways, if any, is an initial reading of The Lord of the Rings enhanced by first reading The Silmarillion?"

My opinions are formed from reading each of the Hobbit, LOTR, and The Silmarillion over twenty times over the course of my youth, in the time between Bakshi and Jackson. The Silmarillion does not enhance LOTR. LOTR gives value to The Silmarillion, a horribly edited conglomeration of amazing stories.

I'd say that you should read LOTR first. If anything, reading the The Silmarillion first takes away the joy of learning more about Middle Earth you can only get by first reading LOTR.

  • "LOTR gives value to Silmarillion" - how? Can you expand on that? – Gallifreyan Jun 29 '17 at 19:59
  • By this logic, it sounds like The Silmarillion has questionable literary merit on its own. What value/enjoyment does reading it have? How does one approach something that is both "horribly edited" and full of "amazing stories"? – Peter Jun 29 '17 at 20:15
  • The editing is actually quite good, considering what Christopher Tolkien had to start with, and that he could not ask his late father for clarifications. The root problem is that J.R.R. Tolkien never found a publisher (nor an editor) for The Silmarillion while he was alive. Instead, J.R.R. Tolkien never scoped The Silmarillion to a single book-length (or even trilogy-length) story, and and left a legacy of a jumbled mess of versions of what happened before The Hobbit. – Jasper Jul 1 '17 at 19:01
-4

To the question of reading order: The Hobbit and LotR's are written to be read as literature. Therefore, I would generally recommend they be read in order and first. The Silmarillion (imho) is more appropriately compared to Bulfinch's Mythology in that "Our work is ...for the reader... who wishes to comprehend the allusions so frequently made..." (heavily edited from the preface of "The Age of Fables"). The Silmarillion represents an attempt to edit together the many back stories created by Tolkien to explain the world of Arda and the development of it's languages into a single source of mythology. The stories in it, could in some sense be seen as prose translations of epic poems originally sung in one of the variants of elvish.

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    This is a nice description of the Silmarillion, but could you add a little more explanation about why it should be read after Hobbit/LotR? – Rand al'Thor Jun 30 '17 at 13:39

protected by user111 Jun 30 '17 at 13:59

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