Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Travel and Adventure. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring some guest posts!
Are you a J.R.R. Tolkien fan looking to branch out from reading his fiction to reading books about his books? Or perhaps a casual reader of Tolkien scholarship looking for some more reading suggestions? Here are 10 books to get you started.
1. THE LETTERS OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN ED. BY CHRISTOPHER TOLKIEN AND HUMPHREY CARPENTER
This is an obvious one for many avid Tolkien fans, but if you are just getting started about Tolkien and his works, you definitely want to read his letters! Topics range from answers to questions his fans sent about Middle-earth to his Catholic faith, and his personal life. It’s hard to find another book about Tolkien that doesn’t cite his letters!
2. Tolkien’s World from A to Z: The Complete Guide to Middle-earth by Robert Foster
As noted, it’s a reference guide. Very complete. Often recommended by people who take studying Tolkien seriously. You won’t be reading it cover to cover, but you will probably discover lots of information you didn’t know!
3. The Atlas of Middle-earth by Karen Wynn Fonstad
You get hundreds of maps of Middle-earth, focused on various events in Tolkien’s writing, and covering geography mentioned in the First, Second, and Third Ages! While it’s probably not a book you’ll just read through, it’s fun to glance through it, and it’s a great guide to have on hand while reading Tolkien’s work.
4. The Nature of Middle-earth by J.R.R. Tolkien and Carl F Hostetter
As Krysta notes in her review, this is a great book for anyone who really wants to dig into the minutia of Middle-earth and find the answers to pressing (or not so pressing) questions: “The Nature of Middle-Earth is not for the casual Tolkien fan, but rather for the reader who wants to know literally everything about Tolkien’s work, his process, and his musings. This collection is indeed more scholarly than otherwise, presenting multiple drafts of Tolkien working out his thoughts along with copious end notes, as well as a description of what each manuscript looks like–what kind of paper it was written on, with what kind of pen, in what kind of handwriting.”
5. The Road to Middle-earth by Tom Shippey
A classic book in the world of Tolkien studies, The Road to Middle-earth is definitely one you will want to check out! It has had a couple updates and continues to be praised by Tolkien scholars. If you read a lot about Tolkien, you will certainly see numerous references to it and Shippey’s work in general.
6. The Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien: The Places That Inspired Middle-earth by John Garth
John Garth is a must-read author when it comes to Tolkien! Krysta has already recommended his book Tolkien and the Great War, so here I recommend his latest, The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien, which talks about Tolkien’s own travel, reading, and experiences to get at what places might have been the real-life inspiration for things in his fiction.
7. Tolkien, Race and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits by Dimitra Fimi
I have not yet read this one personally because, well, the price, but it is consistently recommended by people well-versed in Tolkien studies if you want to read about race in Tolkien!
8. Tolkien and Alterity edited by Christopher Vaccaro and Yvette Kisor
Another book on, uh, obviously Tolkien and alterity. Fimi’s work is more widely praised, but this is a collection of essays from various contributors, so you can pick and choose what sounds interesting to you. The book description says: “. Each essay takes as its central position the idea that how Tolkien responds to that which is different, to that which is ‘Other,’ serves as a register of his ethics and moral philosophy. In the aggregate, they provide evidence of Tolkien’s acceptance of alterity.”
9. Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J.R.R. Tolkien ed. by Janet Brennan Croft and Leslie A. Donovan
This essay collection is essential reading for anyone who loves Tolkien, and it will provide some eye-opening arguments for anyone who thinks Tolkien’s women are flat or his portrayals are sexist. The authors consistently offer evidence that while, of course, Tolkien would not have held the views of a 21st-century feminist, the women in his books are nuanced and powerful and generally subvert gender expectations rather than fulfill them. Tolkien was also a champion of women academics in his personal life, and we have no evidence to suggest he didn’t like or respect women.
10. A Fan’s Guide to Neo-Sindarin: A Textbook for the Elvish of Middle-earth by Fiona Jallings
I have not read this one myself (I, sadly, do not know how to speak or read Elvish, though many people assume I do). But I have seen it recommended by people I trust as a fantastic book to get if you want to learn Elvish (or, rather, Neo-Sindarin). It is apparently more accurate than The Languages of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth: A Complete Guide to All Fourteen of the Languages Tolkien Invented by Ruth S. Noe, which you will probably see come up in searches if you start looking into books to learn Elvish.
Bonus: Coming December 2023
Pity, Power, and Tolkien’s Ring: To Rule the Fate of Many by Thomas P. Hillman
I’ve followed Tom’s blog and Twitter for several years, so I am looking forward to this book!
(No official description of the book is available yet.)
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