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Have you ever said, “I love reading Tolkien’s tales of Middle-earth, but I wish there were a way to read them in chronological order?” If so, you’re not alone. According to a recent survey, 87% of people in the English-speaking world have the same wish.*
Now this wish is fulfilled, through the Chronological Tolkien system!
Grab your copies of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth saga – The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, The Children of Húrin, The Hobbit, and the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings. Write a few notes in the margins of these books. Then turn off your computer (!), open up the first book, and start reading. The margin notes will alert you whenever it is time to jump to a new section.
And then you can read Tolkien’s entire masterpiece ... beginning with the creation of the world ... and ending when the stories of the Elder Days are preserved in the Red Book of Westmarch by the descendants of Merry and Pippin.
To set up the margin notes for the Chronological Tolkien system, just use the Reading Order Calculator!
The Reading Order Calculator is all you need to set up the Chronological Tolkien system for your books.
If you have questions about why these seven books were chosen, or which editions are best suited to this system, or whether Chronological Tolkien is for you, or about relationship between the seven standard books and the other Tolkien books related to Middle-earth, take a look at the Reading Order FAQ.
The FAQ now explains how the new books Beren and Lúthien and The Fall of Gondolin connect to the chronological reading system.
If you want to use the Chronological Tolkien system on an Amazon Kindle, there is a slightly different process. First, use your Kindle to “underline” certain phrases in your books, as described here. Second, print out the table of Kindle sections and jumps, which you can find here. Then as you read, whenever you reach an underlined phrase you know that it’s time to jump to a new section. Consult the table you have printed out to find the book and location number, and use the Kindle to go to that location.
If you are curious about the technical details of the Chronological Tolkien system, you might want to take a look at the Gory Details of how this system was assembled.
If you are a hardcore Tolkien fanatic who owns many of the volumes of the History of Middle-earth series edited by Christopher Tolkien, you may be interested in the Expanded Version of the Chronological Tolkien system. In addition to the seven volumes used by the regular system, this adds in material from the History of Middle-earth series. The Expanded Version has several pros and cons, and I don’t recommend it for most readers. If you are curious, see the FAQ for details.
Finally, if you aren’t interested in reading Tolkien right now, but just want to continue web-surfing, check out our Tolkien Links page!
All names, places, dates, and excerpts from The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, The Children of Húrin, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings are copyright 1937-2023 by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, his children Christopher R. Tolkien, Michael H. R. Tolkien, Fr. John F. R. Tolkien, and Priscilla M. A. R. Tolkien, and by the J. R. R. Tolkien Estate Ltd. The photostatic excerpt from Unfinished Tales is © 1980-2023 by the Houghton Mifflin Company.
The Quenya translation of the Lord’s Prayer is by J. R. R. Tolkien, and is taken from Vinyar Tengwar, January 2002, edited by Carl F. Hostetter and Patrick Wynne.
The details of the Chronological Tolkien ordering were worked out by Larry King. The dating of the First Age is based on the dates used by Robert Foster in The Complete Guide to Middle-earth, although this work doesn’t take Unfinished Tales into account and therefore has some small inaccuracies.
Thanks to all who have written in with encouragment or assistance! Jesse Peers, Ryan Penagos, and Chad Bornholdt provided the Kindle location numbers for all the jump points in these books. Michel Daw, Justin Long, Steve Derfel, Joy Pitman, Paul Delaney, Shah Makujina, Tas Cooper, Lucien Georgeson, Jeff Aultman, Ryan Daulton, Steve Parsons, Gus Holwerda, Carl Miller, Liam Walsh, Sam Harris, Samuel Philip, Alex Gruezo, Liam Dell, Gaudi Daamen, and Jay Faye supplied the relevant page numbers from book editions that I had been unable to find. Greg Zuschlag, Justin Long, Hector Turner, Gaynour Sletten, Chris Chandler, Michael Murray, Ben Martin, Alexandre André, and Travis Henry provided additional assistance and suggestions. All HTML and DHTML coding was done by Larry King, who continued his absurd practice of writing the build routines in C instead of Perl.
* This survey was conducted with the exacting standards established by The Onion, so its accuracy cannot be doubted.
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