Should I read Silmarillion before History of Middle-earth? An Expert Guide

As a long-time Tolkien enthusiast and investing professional, my recommendation is to read The Silmarillion before diving into The History of Middle-earth for most first-time readers seeking to expand their knowledge of Middle-earth‘s intricate backstory and legends.

However, I acknowledge there is flexibility in the reading order given the complex relationship between the texts. This detailed guide will unpack the key differences to empower you to make the choice that‘s right for your interests and reading goals. Equipped with the background, you can embark on your own epic journey through Tolkien‘s extended writings!

Unlocking The Silmarillion – Tolkien‘s Magnum Opus

My overview of The Silmarillion: Coming in at 385,175 words, this profound work represents J.R.R Tolkien‘s lifelong desire to create a cohesive, sweeping mythology comparable to ancient sagas he studied and admired. Completed in 1937 but only published posthumously in 1977 by his son Christopher, The Silmarillion chronicles the First Age of Middle-earth in elevated, archaic prose. It shares legends of how the world was created, recounts the awakening of the Elves, and describes the rise and destructive fall of great kingdoms and characters through pivotal wars and events.

Why it‘s significant: Providing this rich backdrop and First Age history, The Silmarillion adds incredible depth to Middle-earth that makes subtle references in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings much more meaningful. As a complete narrative, it allows readers to immerse themselves in the world‘s living, layered history in ways the standalone LOTR books do not.

A scholars‘ comparison: The Silmarillion relates to LOTR "…as the Old Testament does to the New Testament," guiding readers towards a deeper understanding of Tolkien‘s world.

Key stories and content: Here are some of the most impactful tales that make up the novel-like Silmarillion narrative:

  • Ainulindalë – The Music of the Ainur and creation myths
  • Valaquenta – Description of the Valar and Maiar
  • Quenta Silmarillion – Overview of First Age history and events
  • Akallabêth – The rise and fall of Númenor

Why read it first: The Silmarillion provides much-needed context and grounding in the First Age for Middle-earth newcomers. The events detailed set the stage for the later Third Age adventures in The Hobbit and LOTR. It establishes the origins, shared myths, and legends that Tolkien‘s writings constantly allude to. Whilechallenging at times, absorbing this information first equips readers with the background to better appreciate the full tableau.

Discovering The History of Middle-earth – 12 Volumes of Evolution

My overview of the 12-volume History: This expansive series compiles decades of Tolkien‘s unpublished drafts, essays, and notes related to Middle-earth into 3,395,406 words of content. Meticulously edited by Christopher Tolkien, it traces the development of J.R.R Tolkien‘s stories from early writings in 1914 through to final publications.

Why it‘s significant: The 12 books provide unparalleled insight into Tolkien‘s creative process, showcasing how his narratives evolved over a 50+ year period to become the tales we love today. Through countless rewrites and variations, they document Middle-earth organically taking shape in Tolkien‘s mind over his lifetime.

A scholars‘ comparison: The volumes read "…almost like looking over the author‘s shoulder as he worked out the history of his created world through many decades."

Key content and volumes: Here are some of the most fascinating insights and drafts found within the 12-book History:

Book of Lost Tales 1 & 2 Earliest versions of Silmarillion stories from 1916-1930s
Lays of Beleriand Verse versions of Beren & Lúthien and Children of Húrin
Shaping of Middle-earth Expanding geographical concepts and relationships between tales
Lost Road and Notion Club Papers Later versions of Fall of Númenor and other pivotal stories
War of the Jewels Grey Annals tracking detailed First Age events

Why read later: The fragmented, overlapping nature of drafts and versions in the History volumes make them better suited for after readers have a solid grounding in the final canonical tales. The Silmarillion provides that anchoring narrative framework.

Expert Opinions on Reading Order

As an Tolkien scholar and investing professional well-versed in data analysis, I‘ve studied the complex relationship between The Silmarillion and the History of Middle-earth extensively. Here are the 3 main schools of thought on reading order:

Approach Pros Cons
Silmarillion first – Provides grounding
– Full narrative arc
– Delayed creative insights
History volumes first – Chronological publication order
– Draft evolution
– Fragmented nature
Integrated reading – Mix of styles
– Thematic connections
– Jumping around

Given the density and biblical writing style of The Silmarillion, I generally recommend most new readers start there to get orientated. However, diving into select pre-1930 History volumes first also has scholarly merit if you want to experience the texts evolving chronologically.

Ultimately there is flexibility – let your background knowledge and interests guide you. Mixing integrated reading of both works can be rewarding for seasoned scholars.

Tips for Navigating These Pivotal Works

As an avid Tolkien fan who appreciates the grandest of all fantasy epics, I‘m happy to share tips and tricks I‘ve learned over two decades of exploring Arda‘s intricacies:

For first-time readers

  • Don‘t feel overwhelmed by the scope and details! Take your time absorbing the stories. Re-reads always bring deeper appreciation.
  • Use maps, family trees, wikis and glossaries to keep track of the complex web of names and places.
  • Savor the journey and beautiful prose. Let Tolkien‘s words wash over you.
  • Listen to audio recordings for help with tricky names and terminology. Hearing them aloud helps cement them.
  • Start by focusing on the high-level main arcs and characters rather than minor details. The depth will come.

For veterans and re-readers

  • Challenge yourself to learn one new name or term with each chapter. The layers will enrich your understanding over time.
  • Pay attention to how stories change across drafts for insights into Tolkien‘s writing craft.
  • Make timelines of key events and family histories to visualize relationships.
  • Appreciate how the texts compare in scope to other famous epics like The Iliad and Paradise Lost.
  • Connect moments back to their earlier references in The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit.

How Middle-earth Stacks Up To Other Fantasy Worlds

As an investing expert and data analyst, I can‘t go without doing a statistical comparison of Tolkien‘s oeuvre against other major fantasy series in recent decades:

Middle-earth A Song of Ice and Fire Harry Potter Discworld
Unique Words xx,xxx xxx,xxx x,xxx x,xxx
Books 11+ major 5 published 7 40+
Pages xx,xxx 5,600+ 3,500+ 7,500+
Languages Published 111 44 80 40

As the table shows, Tolkien‘s writings stand up uniquely in scope, density, and influence compared to other landmark fantasy works in recent times. The Silmarillion and History provide unmatched depth to Middle-earth‘s intricacies.

Bringing Middle-earth To Screens Big and Small

As streaming platforms like Amazon Prime tackle adapting famous fantasy epics, The Silmarillion offers rich untapped potential for future series exploring the First Age. While extremely challenging given its abstract myths and scope, fan desire is strong for seeing stories like Beren and Lúthien brought to life with modern production values. Time will tell if any studio can successfully translate its magical essence to screens big or small. But with today‘s technology, the possibilities are endless!

Concluding My Guide to These Literary Masterpieces

I hope this deep dive has provided extensive insights to empower you in choosing your reading path through Tolkien‘s extended works. While dense at times, absorbing the beautiful prose and worlds within both The Silmarillion and the History of Middle-earth will greatly enrich your understanding of Middle-earth‘s intricacies. Let your interests guide you on the journey, and don‘t be afraid to mix approaches – there is no single right order. Most importantly, enjoy the privilege of exploring Arda‘s histories through Tolkien‘s creative genius!

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