From The Bookshelf: My Favourite Tolkien Books

I thought I would share the treasures from my bookshelf, in particularly my favourite books I have by Tolkien. Some of these books in this article are ones I picked up relatively recently, though some I got here and there a while ago now. They are in no particular order and the date provided is the year that particular edition was published.

The Silmarillion (1977)


This is the edition of The Silmarillion I reread or check for information. It has a nice solid feel to it and an attractive font. I paid $15 for it in a second hand bookshop a few years ago. There’s a slight tear in the front top left dust jacket. The fact I consult this book so often doesn’t help its condition either. I love Tolkien’s own illustrations that are on both the front and the back covers. They are emblems of various different characters from The Silmarillion. The front cover is Lúthien Tinúviel. I watched a video recently which suggested these types of illustrations that Tolkien did were reminiscent of mandalas.


The back cover emblems are Fingolfin (top left), Eärendil (top right), Idril Celebrindal (centre), Elwë (bottom left), and Fëanor (bottom right).

Unfinished Tales (2000)


Unfinished Tales first appeared in 1980, but this is the HarperCollins edition from 2000. Again the cover is Tolkien’s own illustration of the dragon Glaurung leaving Nargothrond. For some reason this book always feels a bit narrow. It has a reasonably thick paper and a good sized font. This book provided such important information for people interested in Middle-earth. It provided more fleshed out narratives both of Tuor coming to Gondolin and the story of Turin Turambar. It also included the line of Kings of Númenor, the history of Galadriel and Celeborn, and information on the Drúedain, the Istari, and the palantíri, among other things. Worth dipping in if you’re into Middle-earth lore.

The Lord of the Rings (1992)


I’ve got three editions of the Lord of the Rings. I used to have five but I had to sell two as I needed the money at the time. This is from the centenary of Tolkien’s birth in 1992. HarperCollins commissioned Alan Lee to provide illustrations for it and I do like his vision of Middle-earth. I always have preferred to read the books in the separate volumes rather than just the one volume edition. I got volumes two and three mixed up when I took this photo. The front covers show Rivendell for The Fellowship of the Ring, Shelob and the path to Cirith Ungol for The Two Towers, and the Battle of Pelennor Fields for The Return of the King.

The Hobbit 50th Anniversary Edition (1987)


This is the pride and joy of my book collection. I love this edition of The Hobbit. They brought back the original cover of The Hobbit which was drawn by Tolkien and they made the Sun and Smaug (on the back cover) the colour red as Tolkien originally wanted. They use a lovely thick paper and there are wonderful colour and black & white illustrations by Tolkien all through the book. There is also a new Foreword in the book written by Christopher Tolkien which includes some additional illustrations. I love reading this edition though I try to be careful when handling it. I also have two other editions of The Hobbit.

The back cover of The Hobbit. Notice the red Smaug. Sorry the photo is a bit blurry.
Conversation With Smaug: One of my favourite illustrations by Tolkien.

The Children of Húrin (2007)


It was nice to have a more fleshed out and complete version of the tale of Túrin Turambar and his sister Nienor (Niniel). It includes colour and black & white illustrations by Alan Lee. It has a very sad ending. There was amusing news when it came out that some Hollywood producers wanted the film rights to this book. They obviously didn’t know the tale that well which includes incest and suicide by both the main characters. I couldn’t see them staying true to the ending of it if it was made as a Hollywood film.

The Father Christmas Letters (1976 though I suspect this is a reprint)


The Father Christmas Letters compiles some of the letters that Tolkien wrote to his children every Christmas as Father Christmas. Along with the wonderful illustrations there are various stories of Father Christmas, Polar Bear, and the Elves as they battle against goblins, or sometimes Father Christmas having to deal with the after effects of Polar Bear doing something stupid. These letters were mostly written in the 1920s and 30s, and you can see a similarity with some of the events that happen in The Hobbit, which at that point he was yet to write. In a way you can see it as a catalyst to his later works. I love all the illustrations he did for these letters and the lovely colour selection of mostly yellow, red and green. I only have a paperback version of this book, but it’s still a lovely edition to look through.

The Road Goes Ever On (1978 Second Edition)


This book was co-written with Donald Swann (of Flanders and Swann). Initially it was just meant to be the written music that Swann had set to some of the poems and songs from The Lord of the Rings, but Tolkien also added notes and translations to the Elvish song Namárië that was sung by Galadriel when the Fellowship leaves Lothlorien and Swann included in the song cycle, and also A Elbereth Gilthoniel, a chant that Frodo heard while in Rivendell. The second edition also includes the words and music for Bilbo’s Last Song which was handed to Swann not long after Tolkien’s death by Joy Hill, Tolkien’s secretary. I was overjoyed to find this copy in a second hand bookshop as it seems to be extremely hard to find. The dust jacket is very tattered, but the interior is in good condition with paper that is a yellow creme colour. I would love to have a first edition of this one day.

Roverandom (1998)


Tolkien’s son Michael lost his toy dog on a beach during a holiday in 1925. Tolkien came up with this story to console him. In the story the dog is turned into a toy by a wizard and ends up having adventures on the moon and under the sea. Tolkien is believed to have written the story down in 1927 and then it wasn’t published until 1998, over 70 years later. It was first submitted for publication in 1937, but was turned down by Unwin. It’s quite a nice little story and with a few illustrations by Tolkien that he drew around the time he was writing it.

The Lord of the Rings (Millennium Edition)


As is pointed out in this edition, the Lord of the Rings wasn’t actually meant to be a trilogy. It was one book that got separated into three volumes by the publishers. It is however six books, and this edition gives each book it’s own separate volume, and an additional one for the appendices. I quite like this edition, and the last few times I’ve read the Lord of the Rings it was this one I read. It also came with a disc of Tolkien reading out parts of the text and a rather haunting rendition of Namárië that he chants. This edition corrected many mistakes that had existed in the Lord of the Rings text for some time, though the 50th anniversary edition which came out four years later was even more accurate.

The History of Middle-Earth Series:

The Book of Lost Tales 1 (1983)

The Book of Lost Tales 2 (1984)

The Lays of Beleriand (1985)

The Shaping of Middle-Earth (1986)


One thing I was doing before my funds ran out was collecting the History of Middle-earth series in hardback. I managed to get the first four volumes, but I will have to get the remaining eight volumes some other time. I got these ones fairly cheaply by shopping around on places like eBay and Abebooks. I do have volumes 9 and 12 in hardback too, but they are the American editions which I bought without seeing a picture of them and was disappointed when I received them, but they’ll do for now. These editions have got such lovely thick paper. I do have the other volumes in paperback, but it’s not the same…

The Hobbit (1997)


This edition is illustrated by Alan Lee. It’s a very beautiful edition to look at. The paper is glossy with a big font and with black & white and colour illustrations all through the book. My only quibble with the illustrations is that Smaug the Golden lying on his dragon hoard looks rather brown instead of the red he should be, but that’s only a minor thing I guess.

Poems and Stories (1992)


This collects a lot of Tolkien’s shorter works such as The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Farmer Giles of Ham. The cover illustration is by Alan Lee, but all the interior illustrations are done by Pauline Baynes whose work I’ve always liked. My favourite shorter piece by Tolkien is Smith of Wootton Major which is an allegorical piece about visiting Faerie. Smith, who has a fay star on his head, is able to wander the lands of Faerie at will and sees incredible sights there. What I think Tolkien is talking about is the ability to wander around Faerie in his imagination and this allows him to write all the incredible and amazing things he does. One day I might go into this a bit further. Like the Silmarillion this book has a nice solid feel to it. The paper has a grainy texture to it.

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (1990)


I value this book because Tolkien’s letters contain a lot of valuable information regarding Middle-earth. I only have this book in paperback, and I consult it regularly if I’m looking for some information, whether it’s for an article or just some private musing. It is worth dipping into this. You get his thoughts on a variety of topics and he answers many interesting questions from people who loved his works that can often clarify some things, whether it is what the Crown of Gondor looks like (which he draws a picture of) or why Gandalf was sent back after being killed by the Balrog, etc. There are many answers in this book.

I also have the books The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrun, The Fall of Arthur, The Story of Kullervo, and Beowulf in hardback but I didn’t have much to say about them here though they are all beautiful publications. I don’t have the recent releases of  The Lay of Aotrou & Itroun or Beren and Lúthien yet, though when I have the money to afford books again they are both at the top of my list. Hopefully I will still be able to get them in hardback when I can afford them.

I hope you enjoyed this look at some of my favourite books from my bookshelves.

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