The best books on Tolkien that will astonish you with his genius

Richard Middleton Author Of The Wyrm Conspiracy
By Richard Middleton

Who am I?

I read The Hobbit when I was in primary school and was immediately captivated by the world of magic, dwarves, and dragons. Perhaps because in the North of England where I grew up, this world seemed often to be just around the next corner! I grew up writing, and as I learned my craft I naturally turned to books on Tolkien to see what inspired and drove him. I found that every writer on Tolkien brings a new and surprising perspective on his work, each revealing a little more of Tolkien’s genius, and inspiring me to demand ever more of myself as a writer.

I wrote...

The Wyrm Conspiracy

By Richard Middleton,

Book cover of The Wyrm Conspiracy

What is my book about?

The first book in a thrilling fantasy trilogy for older children. A thousand years have passed since the tyrant Wyrm King was defeated and imprisoned, and memories of him have faded to nothing more than folktales and nursery rhymes. But best friends Emily and Sam have uncovered a conspiracy amongst the most powerful people in Wormwell to free the tyrant and restore his reign of terror. The children’s quest to stop them will take every last measure of their courage, invention, and determination.

The books I picked & why

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The Hobbit Companion

By David Day, Lidia Postma (illustrator),

Book cover of The Hobbit Companion

Why this book?

A great place to start if you’re new to books on Tolkien (as opposed to books by Tolkien!). David Day has written many books on Tolkien and always offers intelligent and informed insights. Although The Hobbit Companion looks rather like a children’s book, it’s really more of a profusely-illustrated exploration of, as Day says, “the power of language,” looking at the derivations of all the key names in The Hobbit and what they reveal about Tolkien and Middle-Earth. It’s a fun and surprisingly rewarding read.   

The Road to Middle-Earth

By Tom Shippey,

Book cover of The Road to Middle-Earth

Why this book?

Professor Tom Shippey is one of the great Tolkien scholars, with the gift of being able to offer deep insight and analysis in an accessible way. In The Road to Middle-Earth he uses Tolkien’s academic life and interests to shed light on the development of his personal mythology, from the foundational History of Middle-Earth works through to Lord of The Rings. For me this is a ‘gateway’ book—if you enjoy what Shippey has to say and what he reveals about Tolkien’s work, then I suspect you’ll also like the remaining three books on this list.   

The Riddles of the Hobbit

By Adam Roberts,

Book cover of The Riddles of the Hobbit

Why this book?

This is a great example of what I enjoy about books about Tolkien. Roberts focuses on a tiny element of one of Tolkien’s works (the riddles that Gollum and Bilbo trade in The Hobbit) and uses it as a lens not only to investigate Tolkien’s own love and appreciation of riddles, but to prompt a wider exploration as to the nature and importance of riddles in wider literature, culture, and society. It’s well-written, intriguing, and like all great books on Tolkien, leaves you astonished.       

The Battle for Middle-earth: Tolkien's Divine Design in The Lord of the Rings

By Fleming Rutledge,

Book cover of The Battle for Middle-earth: Tolkien's Divine Design in The Lord of the Rings

Why this book?

There’s a paradox at the heart of The Lord of The Rings. Tolkien wrote that it is “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work,” yet Middle-earth is pre-Christian and has little-to-no trace of religion evident within it. So how to reconcile the two? In The Battle for Middle-earth, Rutledge, a priest, brings his own knowledge and understanding of scripture to bear on The Lord of the Rings, to reveal how Tolkien’s plots, themes, and characters can be understood from a Catholic perspective. One thing shines clear from this book: just what a great storyteller Tolkien is. He never seeks to dictate or persuade (unlike C.S. Lewis in his Narnia series), but allows each reader to discover for themselves the treasures within his stories. 

Tolkien's Legendarium: Essays on The History of Middle-earth

By Verlyn Flieger, Carl Hostetter,

Book cover of Tolkien's Legendarium: Essays on The History of Middle-earth

Why this book?

This one’s for the hardcore Tolkien reader, but it’s a gem. It’s a collection of academic essays on The History of Middle-earth, (the foundational stories that lie behind Tolkien’s more popular works, some of which made it into The Silmarillion). Flieger and Hostetter are giants of Tolkien academia, and their individual works are well worth seeking out. The essays cover language, theme, structure, mythology, and other areas of literary criticism. As a writer, one in particular struck a chord with me: Hammond’s A Continuing and Evolving Creation. This explores how Tolkien actively worked on his vast mythology his entire life, revising, adding, and even re-conceiving elements as his understanding of his own work changed, and it offers a flavour of how one man could transform his experience, imagination, and beliefs into a personal mythology that has captured and enraptured so many readers.   

2 book lists we think you will like!

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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