Basic Tolkien Reading List

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Basic Tolkien Reading List
(just one person's opinion, of course)

(Also see some thoughts on "Order of Reading")

The Lord of the Rings*, by J.R.R. Tolkien (See more editions)
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien (See more editions)
The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien; edited by Christopher Tolkien
"On Fairy-stories," by J.R.R. Tolkien (an essay found in The Tolkien Reader and Tree and Leaf)
- and -
"Leaf by Niggle," by J.R.R. Tolkien (a short story found in The Tolkien Reader and Tree and Leaf)
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien
Tolkien: A Biography, by Humphrey Carpenter
Tolkien: Man and Myth, by Joseph Pearce (added September 2006; read my review)
  And not really basic, but because I don't know where else to put it, here's a review of Tolkien's own Roverandom.
*Suggestions for Reading The Lord of the Rings:
Even if you never read "front matter" in books, make an exception for LotR and be sure to read the "Foreword to the Second Edition."  It's probably the clearest explanation Tolkien ever wrote regarding what he was trying to accomplish in the book, and how he hoped readers would approach it.  
If you haven't read The Hobbit, it helps to read the part of the prologue titled, "On the Finding of the Ring," which will get you up to speed for the beginning of LotR.  
If you're especially interested in hobbits, the entire prologue is well worth reading.  
If you want to read the material on the history of Middle-earth that Tolkien considered essential, especially for understanding some of the events and allusions in LotR, go to the appendices.  Since it seemed The Silmarillion would never be published, he squeezed what he could into the back of LotR.

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