J.R.R. Tolkien set out to write a mythology for his beloved England, noting that the English borrowed from Scandinavian legends but didn't have much that was unique to their own culture. That mythology manifested itself as the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If you've read The Hobbit plus the three volumes of LotR and are dying to know more, what do you read next? Tolkien left a hefty body of work behind when he died, having written bits and pieces and longer narratives throughout most of his life. Much of it has been gathered and editied by his son Christopher, but where do you start? Here are nine suggestions.
1. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter
This authorized biography is probably the best one out there, written a few years after Tolkien's death. Carpenter interviewed friends and family and had access to letters and papers, so this book, though compact, is chock-full of fascinating information. Even if you don't delve into any other books on this list, do read this one.
2.The Complete Guide to Middle-earth: Tolkien's World from A to Z by Robert Foster
This book is mostly for fun, not something you'll read cover to cover by any means, but one which you'll dip into when a word catches your eye or when you're reading something else by Tolkien and you come across a word or name and can't remember any specifics. The author explains in the introduction which textual sources he used in compiling this mini encyclopedia. The book includes a timeline and genealogies. This might make a good gift for a die-hard fan who has everything else.
3. The Silmarillion by Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien
From the creation of Eä to "Lay of Beren and Lúthien," immerse yourself in the world Tolkien created. Many of these stories are unfinished but as some are referenced in the LotR trilogy, you might want to read the originals, so to speak. Tolkien worked on these stories throughout his life, though he never published them. His son Christopher edited them after his father's death. Additional material includes genealogies, an annotated index of names, and grammar and pronunciation guides.
4. Unfinished Tales: The Lost Lore of Middle-earth by Tolkien
Unlike The Silmarillion, which was edited from notes left by Tolkien when he died, the pieces in Unfinished Tales are untouched. Many of them, such as the section on Galadriel and Celeborn, are actually quite short and incomplete. Son Christopher has written commentary, which interrupt the flow of the narratives (but which are set off in different type so you can skip them if you wish) but which also give you an insight into the mind of J.R.R. as he wrote and rewrote his stories.
5. The Children of Hurin by Tolkien
Christopher edited this full-length novel, which was published in 2007. The basis for the story appears a couple of times in different forms in The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. It's a tragic narrative, following the exploits of Turin Turambar, who seemed to be cursed or at least very unlucky.
6. The History of Middle-earth, edited by Christopher Tolkien
After having published The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, Christopher turned to the rest of his father's notes, poems, rough sketches, and musings with the intent of organizing it all. Twelve volumes later, he had achieved his goal. The books follow a general chronology, and like the previous posthumous publications, contain sections of various lengths and in different stages of completion. Books six through nine encompass the period of the LotR trilogy, so those might be a starting place for readers looking to immerse themselves even deeper into Middle-earth. Only obsessed fans will make it through all twelve volumes.
7. Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth by John Garth
Tolkien had been a soldier during World War I. He fought in the Battle of the Somme and witnessed first-hand the horrors of war. What he saw and experienced influenced the rest of his life, and he indirectly included that terrible period in his LotR trilogy. Humphrey Carpenter of course talks about Tolkien's war experience in his biography, but Garth explains even further how war shaped the mythology Tolkien had been creating.
8. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter with assistance from Christopher Tolkien
Tolkien wrote a great many letters in his lifetime, as did most of his contemporaries. Selected ones appear here, though "selected" means "a whole darn bunch." Topics range from family to teaching to answering fan mail, and of course a large portion relate to the writing of the LotR trilogy. Carpenter has included introductions to the letters, but it might also help to read the biography he wrote in order to better understand some of the correspondants.
9. Fans of the movies should check out the visual companions (one for each movie) by Jude Fisher and the making of the trilogy by Brian Sibley. Sibley was on set throughout the filming of Peter Jackson's masterpiece and served as the official chronicler of what went on behind the scenes. The pictures are gorgeous, and it's easy to just flip the pages looking only at the illustrations. Fisher is lighter on text but has just as many amazing photos. She sticks to the movie plot while Sibley lets the cast and crew speak.
There are lots of websites out there, but here are a few to look at:
TheOneRing.net - Hobbit Movie News and Information - Stay up to date with The Hobbit movie and get news on what the past cast and crew are doing; they also have an extensive online community for any LotR geek out there who wants to connect with fellow Ringers.
Tolkien-Online - This website serves as an introduction to the books and to Tolkien himself. use the menu on the left, or just start reading and clicking links. You'll be sure to learn something interesting.
The Encyclopedia of Arda - Use this site to look up just about anything you were ever curious about regarding Middle-earth. Names, places, calendars...it's all here along with maps and family trees. And the site is constantly growing.
The Tolkien Society - Get information about Tolkien as well as some book and movie news.