In 2002, a local columnist in Syracuse, New York, published an article musing about the Irish holiday of “Bloomsday,” which celebrates the works of literary giant James Joyce. Specifically, he noticed how similarly impactful the works of J.R.R. Tolkien had been on his friends and family, and posited “Tolkien Day” as a comparable celebration. The rest, as they say, is history. For mega fans of Middle Earth, March 25th is set aside to delight in Tolkien’s fantasy epics. As preparation for any noble quests you may be undertaking, consider the following!
The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings
Obviously, you can start with the Lords of The Rings trilogy itself. This is a seminal classic in the high fantasy (high as in stakes, think world changing epic heroes) for good reason. It sparkles with gob-smacking attention to detail and worldbuilding, full of lush landscapes and rich linguistic elements. But despite all that mythic pomp and circumstance, it’s also the tale of the ordinary. Frodo and his friends embark on a classic hero’s journey when their everyday lives are upturned by the broader plot. In fact, maybe the most enduring quality of the Lord of the Rings as novels is their emphasis on the ability of even the smallest among us to change the world.
The Hobbit: or, There and Back Again
Despite LOTR’s juggernaut status, Tolkien actually began with a much smaller story. The Hobbit springs from the bedtime stories J.R.R. told his two sons every night. In particular, his son Christopher began to notice any small inconsistencies within his father’s nightly yarn, writing in the intro to the novel’s 50th anniversary edition, “I (then between four and five years old) was greatly concerned with petty consistency as the story unfolded, and that on one occasion I interrupted: Last time, you said Bilbo’s front door was blue, and you said Thorin had a gold tassel on his hood, but you’ve just said that Bilbo’s front door was green, and the tassel on Thorin’s hood was silver’; at which point my father muttered ‘Damn the boy,’ and then ‘strode across the room’ to his desk to make a note.” Those notes became greater and greater until the children’s novel emerged!
I mentioned earlier that Tolkien’s books were famous for their worldbuilding, and this is a great body of evidence. The Silmarillion pans out from the mortal struggles of Middle Earth and tells various stories and myths about the wider world. It was originally intended to be the background-expanding follow-up to The Hobbit but was dismissed by Tolkien’s editor for being “too Celtic.” Fortunately, Tolkien’s son Christopher had the draft revisited after his father’s passing, and now we can delight in tales of the Blessed Realm of Valinor, the once-great region of Beleriand, the sunken island of Númenor, and the now familiar continent of Middle-earth.
The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull
You may have noticed that this is not authored by Tolkien. You may also have noticed, if you read the Check It Out blog regularly, that I do love some obscure nonfiction. This is an oft overlooked type of book, meant to be read alongside a great piece; it’s like having director’s commentary over a film. Scull and Hammond proceed chapter by chapter with explanations and extensions offered by Tolkien’s notes and letters. If you’re a Middle Earth buff familiar with every other title on this list, this Tolkien Day is a wonderful opportunity to expand beyond!
These are the main suggestions, but there are so many options to consider! We have the early 2000s movies available, the soundtracks on CD, and of course the ebooks on our Libby app. Happy Tolkien Day!