Just How Many Books Did J.R.R. Tolkien Write?

J.R.R. Tolkien is a figure that is considered by many to be the grandfather of modern high fantasy fiction. While academics can argue and point out there were fantasy authors in his time and even before, it’s hard to deny the incredible influence that this author had on the genre.

Most famous for his fictional works of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote more than 29 books and translated or contributed to at least 36 more for a total of up to 65 books written, translated, or contributed to with most sources putting the “books written by Tolkien” number in the mid-forties.

Since J.R.R. Tolkien was a professor and in academics, the majority of those books were involved with non-fiction and academic topics and essay collections, and he had several poetry collections, as well.

Because of the wide variety of works he was involved with, and how many of his works were published after his death, it’s worth noting that there are major disagreements between major websites and organizations on just how many of these books are Tolkien books.

Let’s break down these works in more detail so you can see everyone’s informed opinions and decide on the number (and arguments) that fit with your definition of a Tolkien authored book.

JRR Tolkien author
J.R.R. Tolkien, early photograph very early on in his career.

How Many Books Did Tolkien Write – The Conflicting Sources

Even major societies, academic clubs, and other organizations have disagreements on what should be counted versus what shouldn’t be, and that means even sources who know all about Tolkien’s full history of works and have studied him, his works, and his career more than any others will argue over how many of the titles published with his name should actually count on the official bibliography.

For example, here are three different organizations with three different numbers when it comes to the total tally of Tolkien books.

This just goes to show that even among sources there is a lot of disagreement, no small part due to the fact that:

  • Many of his works were published posthumously
  • He considered the LOTR series 6 books despite them being published as 3
  • Many collections were published, some posthumously, putting sources in a quandary as to how much those are his books or collections compared to heavy editing of incomplete manuscripts.

That certainly muddies the water, and creates a situation where one single number can’t be stated with confidence and be completely reliable. That said, when looking at degrees of contribution, the amount of work put into posthumous works, and all other factors it’s safe to say that everyone agrees that the full number is north of 40 total works.

How Many Middle Earth Books Did J.R.R. Tolkien Write?

These are the books that Tolkien is most famous for, and if you’re a collector these are the first edition/first printings of J.R.R. Tolkien’s published works that are the most valuable by not even close.

There are some snarky answers, such as those counting the LOTR series as 6 books instead of 3 because of how Tolkien intended them to be published, but since they were published as a trilogy we’re counting them as a trilogy, which is why the correct answer is that Tolkien wrote 12 books about Middle Earth.

The main four Middle Earth Books Tolkien wrote were The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, with many supplemental poems, short stories, histories, and world-building based books further building out the world.

Among the supplemental books, The Silmarillion is the best known and widely accepted as one of the most important books fleshing out information about the world that Tolkien created.

Here is a list of all the Middle Earth books Tolkien wrote:

  • The Hobbit: Or There And Back Again
  • LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring
  • LOTR: The Two Towers
  • LOTR: The Return of the King
  • The Silmarillion
  • Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-Earth
  • The Children of Hurin
  • Beren and Luthien
  • The Fall of Gondolin
  • The Fall of Numenor and Other Tales from the Second Age
  • The History of Middle Earth (3 Volumes)
  • The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book

There are other works that have an occasional poem or short story that might be attributed to Tolkien’s Middle Earth, but most of those have been included in collections like the history or with the Unfinished Tales.

In other words, there is plenty of reading above and beyond the classic books if you love to get into the weeds when it comes to serious world building.

Tolkien Book FAQ

How many hobbit books are there?

There is only one. Despite the fact that there are multiple movies, The Hobbit was written as a standalone novel by Tolkien. The trilogy was a pure Hollywood decision to expand it for more movie tickets – the story in the original is much more contained and is believed among many to be the best written Middle-Earth book.

Should I read the Silmarillion first or LOTR first?

Almost everyone agrees that it’s best to read The Lord of the Rings trilogy first. This is the main story that gets you invested in the world, the characters, the lore. While The Silmarillion can be fascinating to fill in the history, it can also be very dense and in places very dry, even for LOTR fans. For that reason if you haven’t already read the main story it can be very hard to get through those sections or care about the more nuanced world building.

For those reasons, I’m with the overwhelming majority who believes you should go with reading the trilogy first.

What order should I read Tolkien’s Middle Earth books in?

There’s not necessarily a correct order as some people like order they were written, others are sticklers for chronological order, but I find the best order is the order they were published in, which gives the main story followed by increasingly dense world building and history to build out Middle Earth, which works so well. That would make the best order:

  • The Hobbit
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book
  • The Silmarillion
  • Unfinished Tales
  • The History of Middle-earth series
  • The Children of Húrin
  • Beren and Lúthien
  • The Fall of Gondolin

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