Aside from the number of short ‘Guides’ to Tolkien and his works by publishers such as York Notes, Barron’s Book Notes, SparkNotes, and even Dummy’s Guide, there are many excellent books that deal with his works. However, as The Hobbit has been in print for over 80 years and The Lord of the Rings for over 60 years the list of possible titles, and the range of their quality, is naturally rather large. Below you will find a (most certainly not exhausted) list of critical works for new and experienced readers to help them expand on their reading of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and other works.
The list was initially compiled by Ian Collier, David Doughan and Troels Forchammer from an earlier list by Charles E. Noad. There have been updates and additions by Will Sherwood.
Tolkien: A Biography. Humphrey Carpenter. Allen and Unwin, London. 1977.
The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and their Friends. Humphrey Carpenter. Allen and Unwin, London. 1977.
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Ed. Humphrey Carpenter with Christopher Tolkien. George Allen and Unwin, London. 1981.
Tolkien and the Great War. John Garth. HarperCollins, London. 2002.
The Roots of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Robert S. Blackham. The History Press Ltd, Stroud. 2006.
Tolkien’s Oxford. Robert S. Blackham. The History Press Ltd, Stroud. 2008.
Tolkien and the Peril of War. Robert S. Blackham. The History Press Ltd, Stroud. 2011.
The Tolkien Family Album. John & Priscilla Tolkien, HarperCollins, London. 1992.
The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien: The Places that Inspired Middle-earth. John Garth. Frances Lincoln, London. 2020.
Scholarship: Tolkien’s Artwork and Maps
J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator. Wayne G. Hammond & Christina Scull. HarperCollins, London. 1995.
The Art of the Hobbit by Tolkien. Wayne G. Hammond & Christina Scull. HarperCollins, London. 2011.
The Art of the Lord of the Rings by Tolkien. Wayne G. Hammond & Christina Scull. HarperCollins, London. 2015.
Journeys of Frodo: An Atlas of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Barbara Strachey. Unwin Paperbacks, London. 1981.
The Atlas of Middle-earth. Karen Wynn Fonstad. Revised edition, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1992; HarperCollins, London. 1992.
The Maps of Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Brian Sibley & John Howe. HarperCollins, London. 2003.
Scholarship: Tolkien’s Books
The Lord of the Rings a Reader’s Companion. Wayne Hammond & Christina Scull. HarperCollins, London. 2014.
The Road to Middle-earth. Tom Shippey. Allen and Unwin. London. 2005.
J.R.R. Tolkien Author of the Century. Tom Shippey. HarperCollins, London. 2000.
The Tolkien Scrapbook. Ed. Alida Becker. Running Press, Philadelphia, 1978. Reprinted as The Tolkien Treasury, Courage Books, Running Press. 1989.
The Roots of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Robert S. Blackham. The History Press Ltd. 2006.
The Annotated Hobbit. J.R.R. Tolkien & Douglas A Anderson. 2nd edition, HarperCollins, London. 2003.
Tolkien the Medievalist. Ed. Jane Chance. Routledge, New York. 2003.
Tolkien and the Invention of Myth: A Reader. Ed. Jane Chance. University Press of Kentucky, Lexington. 2004.
The Tolkien and Middle-earth Handbook. Colin Duriez. Monarch, Tunbridge Wells. 1992.
The Complete Guide to Middle-earth: from The Hobbit to The Silmarillion. Robert Foster. Ballantine Books, New York, 1978; Allen and Unwin, London. 1978.
The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary. Peter Gilliver, Jeremy Marshall, Edmund Weiner. Oxford University Press, Oxford. 2006.
Meditations on Middle-earth. Ed. Karen Haber. Earthlight. 2003. Contains contributions by famous writers, e.g. Le Guin, Martin, Pratchett.
Tolkien’s Gedling 1914. Andrew H. Morton & John Hayes. Brewin Books, Studley. 2008.
Tolkien’s Bag End. Andrew H. Morton. Brewin Books, Studley. 2009.
A Tolkien Compass. Ed. Jared Lobdell. Open Court Publishing, La Sale, Illinois, 1975; Ballantine Books, New York. 1980.
Tolkien: Man and Myth. Joseph Pearce. HarperCollins, London. 1998.
J.R.R. Tolkien. Deborah Webster Rogers, & Ivor A. Rogers. Twayne’s English Author series 304. Twayne Publishers, Boston. 1980.
Perilous Realms: Celtic and Norse in Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Marjorie Burns. University of Toronto Press, Toronto. 2005.
Defending Middle-earth: Tolkien: Myth and Modernity. Patrick Curry. Houghton Mifflin, Boston. 2004.
Expand your knowledge!
There are many excellent studies on Tolkien that require some knowledge of Tolkien’s biography and works. Some of these are free but some can be more expensive and harder to find. Tolkien studies has started to expand beyond just Literary Studies into the areas of study such as ecology, musicology, and astrology.
Academic journals and conference proceedings
Tolkien Studies. Eds. Douglas A. Anderson (from 2012 David Bratman), Michael D. C. Drout, & Verlyn Flieger. West Virginia University Press, Morgantown, 2004 onwards. An annual scholarly publication of Tolkien scholarship that includes a summary or reviews of papers and books published on Tolkien’s fiction and his academic work. (Note: some of the essays in these volumes are very academic, while others are easily read. There are occasional instances of Tolkien’s own work included). You can also find every volume on Project MUSE.
Hither Shore. Collected workshop and Seminar papers from the German Tolkien Society with papers in English and German.
Peter Roe Booklets. Collected workshop and Seminar papers from Tolkien Society Seminars, short articles, and AGM Guest Speaker’s speeches. E.g. Leaves from the Tree: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Shorter Fiction. The 4th Tolkien Society Workshop. T.A. Shippey et al. The Tolkien Society, London, 1981.
Walking Tree Press. Collections of papers and books (especially their Cormarë series) including collections by Tom Shippey (Roots and Branches: Selected Papers on Tolkien), Dimitra Fimi and Thomas Honegger (Sub-creating Arda: World-building in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Works, its Precursors, and Legacies), and single-author studies like Claudio A. Testi’s Pagan Saints in Middle-earth. The Cormarë Series boasts over forty volumes on Tolkien alone!
The Lord of the Rings 1954 – 2004: Scholarship in Honor of Richard E. Blackwelder. Ed. Wayne G. Hammond & Christina Scull. Marquette University Press, Marquette, 2006.
J.R.R. Tolkien Centenary Conference: Keble College, Oxford, 1992. Ed. Patricia Reynolds & Glen Goodknight. The Tolkien Society & The Mythopoeic Society, Milton Keynes & Altadena, 1995.
Tolkien 2005: The Ring Goes Ever On, Celebrating 50 Years of The Lord of the Rings. Ed. Sarah Wells. The Tolkien Society, Coventry, 2008.
Journal of Tolkien Research. Eds. Bradford lee Eden, Douglas. A. Anderson, Dimitra Fimi, John R. Holmes, John W. Houghton, Robin Reid, Kristine Larsen, Helen Young, Christopher T. Vaccaro, Andrew Higgins, and Carl Hostetter as of 2015. An open access journal that provides free Tolkien scholarship for all. The journal offers book reviews, articles (peer-reviewed), and conference papers. (Note: some of the essays in these volumes are very academic, while others are easily read.)
Tolkien Society YouTube Channel. We upload talks, panels and papers from a range of Tolkien Society events (Seminar, Annual Dinner, AGM, Conferences) to share and promote Tolkien’s work.
Parma Endalamberon. ‘The Book of the Elven Tongues’ is a journal of the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship that is dedicated to the Elven languages in Tolkien’s legendarium.
Mythlore. The peer-reviewed journal of The Mythopoeic Society that focuses on the works of the Inklings.
Blackwell’s A Companion to J. R. R. Tolkien. Ed. Stuart Lee. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester. 2014.
Tolkien and Alterity. Ed. Christopher Vaccaro & Yvette Kisor. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke. 2017.
The Lord of the Rings: The Mythology of Power. Jane Chance. University Press of Kentucky. Lexington. 2001.
Tolkien’s Art: A Mythology for England. Jane Chance. University Press of Kentucky, Lexington. 2001.
J.R.R. Tolkien and his Literary resonances. Ed. George Clark & Daniel Timmons. Greenwood Press, Westport. 2000.
Tolkien, Race and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits. Dimitra Fimi. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke. 2008.
Tolkien and the study of his sources: critical essays. Ed. Jason Fisher. McFarland. 2010.
Splintered Light: Logos and Languages in Tolkien’s World. Verlyn Flieger. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1983.
A Question of Time: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Road to Faërie. Verlyn Flieger. Kent State University Press, Kent, Ohio. 1997.
Tolkien’s Legendarium. Verlyn Flieger & Carl Hostetter. Greenwood Press, Westport. 2001.
Interrupted Music: The Making of Tolkien’s Mythology. Verlyn Flieger. Kent State University Press, Kent & London. 2005.
Green Suns and Faërie: Essays on J.R.R. Tolkien. Verlyn Flieger. Kent State University Press, Kent & London. 2012.
There Would Always be a Fairy Tale: Essays on Tolkien’s middle-earth. Verlyn Flieger. Kent State University Press, Kent & London. 2017.
J.R.R. Tolkien: A Descriptive Bibliography. Wayne G. Hammond & Douglas A. Anderson. St Paul’s Bibliographies, Winchester. 1993.
J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide (Chronology & 2 volume Guide). Wayne Hammond & Christina Scull. HarperCollins, London. 2017.
The Song of Middle-earth: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Themes, Symbols and Myths. David Harvey. Allen and Unwin, London. 1981.
Tolkien’s World. Randel Helms. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1974; Panther paperback (Myth, Magic and Meaning in Tolkien’s World). 1976.
Tolkien and the Silmarils. Randel Helms. Thames and Hudson, London. 1981.
Tolkien and Welsh: Tolkien a Chymraeg. Mark T. Hooker. Llyfrawr. 2012.
Tolkien and the Critics. Ed. Neil D. Isaacs & Rose A. Zimbardo. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dames and London. 1968.
Tolkien: New Critical Perspectives. Ed. Neil D. Isaacs & Rose A. Zimbardo. University of Kentucky. 1981.
Tolkien and The Silmarillion. Clyde S. Kilby. Harold Shaw, Wheaton, Illinois, 1976; Lion Publishing, Berkhamstead. Herts. 1977.
Master of Middle-earth: the fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien. Paul H. Kocher. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1972; Thames and Hudson, London, 1973; Penguin. 1974.
The Keys of Middle-Earth: Discovering Medieval Literature Through the Fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien. Stuart D. Lee & Elizabeth Solopova. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke. 2015.
England and Always: Tolkien’s World of the Rings. Jared Lobdell. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1981.
Tolkien and Wales: Language, Literature and Identity. Carl Phelpstead. University of Wales Press, Cardiff. 2011.
J.R.R. Tolkien: Myth, Morality and Religion. Richard L. Purtill. Harper & Row, San Francisco. 1984.
The Individuated Hobbit: Jung, Tolkien and the Archetypes of Middle-earth. Timothy R. O’Neill. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1979; Thames and Hudson, London. 1979.
The History of the Hobbit (2 vols). John Rateliff. HarperCollins, London. 2007.
Romantic Religion: A Study of Barfield, Lewis, Williams and Tolkien. Robert J. Reilly. University of Georgia Press, Athens, Georgia. 1971.
Tolkien: a cultural phenomenon. Brian Rosebury. Palgrave Macmillian, 2003 (superseding his Tolkien: A Critical Assessment. Brian Rosebury. Macmillan/St. Martin’s Press, London. 1992).
The Shaping of Middle-earth’s Maker. J.S. Ryan. American Tolkien Society. 1992.
J.R.R. Tolkien, Scholar and Storyteller: Essays in Memoriam. Ed. Mary Salu & Robert T. Farrell. Cornell University Press, Ithica and London. 1979.
Languages, Myths and History: An Introduction to the Linguistic and Literary Background of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Fiction. Elizabeth Solopova. North Landing Books, New York. 2009.
There and Back Again: J. R. R. Tolkien and the Origins of The Hobbit. Mark Atherton. I. B. Tauris, London. 2014.
Tolkien’s Library: An Annotated Checklist. Oronzo Cilli. Luna Press Publishing, Edinburgh. 2019.