Must-have Tolkien Books: 14 Holiday Gifts For Any Middle-earth Lover’s Library

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I have a new piece on the Huffington Post. It’s a handy little guide for purchasing Tolkien-themed books for your loved ones this Christmas. Now I couldn’t put every book on this list. I left out the obvious ones (like The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion), but I did recommend the new version of The Hobbit (illustrated by Jemima Catlin). Some of the books are classics that I’ve had since I was a kid (like The Father Christmas Letters, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, The Atlas of Middle-earth). And a couple have been published in the last couple of years (Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks). Whatever the case, they’re all excellent books…but I could have easily added another dozen great Middle-earth tomes to this list. Check it out.


  1. Nelson Goering says:

    Overall a nice list, but I wish you’d leave out David Day – in the Tolkien community he’s pretty notorious, and for good reason. He’s very inaccurate, to the point of plain making things up (I know, it’s all made up, but you know what I mean). I thought for years there were legless dragons in Middle-earth before I figured out that was an invention of Day’s and had no basis in Tolkien’s writings. He does have pretty illustrations, but really his books should be warned against, not recommended.

    For a better reference work of a similar nature, you already have Tyler. Better still would be Robert Foster’s ‘A Guide to Middle-earth’, which is easily the best of that sort of book (and has the distinction of being cited by Tolkien’s son Christopher in ‘The History of Middle-earth’).

    Or maybe it could be replaced by something biographical? Both Humphrey Carpenter’s original biography and John Garth’s more recent ‘Tolkien and the Great War’ are readable and engaging, and can add a lot to your appreciation of Tolkien. Certainly more than Day does.

    • Hey Nelson. Thanks for writing. I love both Robert Foster’s guide and Tolkien and the Great War. I just couldn’t put every book on the list. I could have easily done 25 great Tolkien books for every Middle-earth fan’s bookshelf! Even though you feel that way about David Day he’s an enormous Tolkien fan. I just got an email from him the other day–he was going to Germany to do a documentary with the great John Howe about German mythological influences on Tolkien. And even Tyler’s guide a lot of errata before The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales (and the History of Middle-earth) came out and he corrected the parts that he had filled in with speculation. Day’s Dictionary that I mentioned is a cool book. But I also agree with you about Humphrey Carpenter’s biography and Thomas Shippey’s works are excellent. Thanks for checking out my blog!

  2. Open Letter to Mr. Nelson Goering

    Dear Mr. Goering: You are entirely entitled to formulate your own personal ‘general theory of dragon locomotion’ in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. However, we are dealing with literature (and specifically fiction) here, and not the laws of physics, and most readers and critics in this field accept that aspects of an author’s work may be ambiguous, and result in a variety of interpretations.

    Nonetheless, you have declared that I am “just plain wrong” in my speculation that some dragons were without legs and “slithered”. Curiously enough, it appears I am not the only heretic: in the opinion of the Tolkien Gateway: “Long-worms were a type of dragon found in the northern parts of Middle-earth, and perhaps elsewhere, generally believed to be long and without legs.” This appears confirmed by “One Wiki to Rule Them All: “Dragons with no legs and no wings such as Wyrms/Long-worms” and “many Dragons without legs or wings were Cold-drakes.”

    There are others, but frankly, I find this an infantile and pointless discussion. What possible difference does this make to anyone’s appreciation of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien? My only reason for taking issue with you over this is that for about a decade you have used this ridiculous ‘dragon heresy’ as a demonstration of “how completely bogus most of the stuff Day writes is”, as you stated in a 2007 review that began with “DON’T BUY THIS BOOK OR ANYTHING ELSE BY DAVID DAY!” [your caps].

    It has been an oft-repeated refrain, and one you most recently made in your 2014 Amazon review, ending with “don’t buy this book, or any of Day’s other books.” Indeed in these Amazon reviews, you and the “Tolkien community” – who you align yourself with – have used this and other equally debatable and trivial disputes to proclaim: “It’s a piece of garbage”, “worthless”, “notorious”, “junk don’t bother” and “avoid this or any of David Day’s books like the plague.”

    I would be flattered if anyone in your “community” had actually read any of my 40 other books, which in fact have won many awards and praise from the likes of Alan Lee, John Howe, Ted Hughes, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Margaret Atwood, Michael Palin, Douglas Adams and Ralph Steadman. However, as you have placed a fatwa on “this book or anything else by David Day”, I suspect that they remain as you: entirely ignorant of my work. In fact, I find it odd that your accusation that my writing is “not based on facts”, “poorly researched”, “lack references” and “just made up” is exactly how I would describe your criticism of my books.

    If one wished to gauge the level of scholarship of the required for entry into your community of experts, it might be instructive to quote members of the appropriately named on-line The Lord of the Rings Fanatics Plaza:

    “Don’t read it. Nothing David Day has ever written is worth buying.”
    “I know that people despise David Day’s Bestiary.”
    “David Day is a liar, a fabricator and a down right greedy ass.”
    “To this day I have not read any book by Day, but I agree …”
    “Day is a fabricating idiot.”
    “Luckily I never looked. No piece of David Day “facts” roaming in my head.”
    “I read somewhere that he included stuff from the role-playing and card games.”
    “Day never read any of Tolkien’s books in their entirety. Moron that he is.”
    “Can anyone tell me what is going on with this David Day moron?”
    “What he does I find absolutely disgusting.”
    “Many other people tell me David Day is a moron, I was just quoting.”
    “He is a filthy little thief and one mustn’t buy his books.”
    “It would be truly great to get David Day’s books removed from bookshelves.”
    “David Day is a waste of space”

    Now I hate to appear over-sensitive, but somehow I do feel I am entitled to believe that something beyond mere literary criticism is at work here. Frankly speaking, Mr. Goering, you and members of your Tolkien Taliban are not conducting informed literary exchanges of information, but have for years indulged in ill-informed malicious gossip, and a sustained thuggish campaign of abusive cyber-bullying.

    One final note, Mr. Goering, as you have now roundly reprimanded Mr. Noble Smith for his ‘books of the year’ list; undoubtedly you must also send letters of censure to the editors of Time Magazine, L.A. Times, Sunday Times, Observer and Christian Science Monitor – all of whom have over the years chosen one or more of my titles for their ‘books of the year’ lists.

    • David Day’s books have meant a lot to me over the years. I discovered his first Tolkien-related tome when I was a lad back in the late 70’s (I kept his A Tolkien Bestiary by my bedside and pored over it). Day’s Tolkien’s Ring is an outstanding book about the myths and tales that inspired Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Now the great Tolkien artist John Howe has used this research in his new French documentary about tracing the roots of Tolkien. Day features prominently in one of the episodes about the Nibelungen and the story’s influence on Tolkien. You can watch that here.
      Anyway, Day is a true Tolkien-lover and expert on Middle-earth and it bums me out when people disparage his work.

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