Tolkien 2021 Project

THIS YEAR, I have decided to embark on a thorough reading of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. (This will be concurrent with finishing the remaining plays of the Shakespeare 2020 project which I had not gotten to last year.) Please join me on this expedition, not only into the tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth, but the lesser-known poems, stories, essays and letters of this luminary Catholic storyteller and sage!

Books You’ll Need (and their abbreviations):

These are the collections we will be reading from over the course of the project, in roughly the order they show up in the schedule, with a link to their respective Amazon pages in case you need to stock up. Most of them are available more cheaply as Kindle ebooks than in print; a few (namely the later collections of short stories and poems) are even in the public domain and available as free PDFs with a little Googling.

Preliminary Notes

Letters. Beginning on January 2, the plan is to read one of the Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien every day (excepting holidays) until the end of the year. There are 354 letters in this collection, most of them quite short. At the end of each month in the schedule, you will find a Letter Goal so that you can catch up if you have fallen behind.

Lent. With gratitude to Michael G. Fischer, creator of the Lenten Lord of the Rings reading plan, we will be following an adapted version of last year’s schedule to read the entirety of the Lord of the Rings cycle (more or less) during the season of Lent. This schedule is set up such that we depart with the fellowship from Rivendell on Ash Wednesday and arrive with them at Mount Doom on Good Friday. To make the timing work, you will see that we begin with The Fellowship about two weeks before Lent and continue with Return of the King into the first week of Easter. It demands a chapter a day (sometimes two in the beginning), which can at times be arduous work, much like the hobbits’ own journey “There and Back Again!”

Interspersed throughout the Lord of the Rings, we will also read the myth “Ainulindalë” on the creation of Middle-Earth, the essay “On Fairy-Stories,” and the short story “Leaf by Niggle,” which beautifully illustrates Tolkien’s theory of what a ‘fairy story’ ought to be.

Shakespeare. I will be reading the remaining Shakespeare plays from 2020 in two big chunks, one in January and the other in April (divided up by the Lenten Lord of the Rings block), concluding with All’s Well That Ends Well in the first week of May. If you were not participating in the Shakespeare 2020 reading project or already read these plays (and good for you!), you can sit these weeks out.

The Rest of the Year. From May to October, we will go back “to the beginning” of Middle-Earth with the epic myths of The Silmarillion and the Unfinished Tales, which fill in much of the background and history underlying The Lord of the Rings. In November, we will spend three weeks reading The Hobbit, the humble tale that started it all, hopefully now with the fresh eyes of a year immersed in the vast world of Middle-Earth which sprung up around it. Finally, in the last weeks of the year, we will conclude by reading some of Tolkien’s short stories and assorted essays not related to Middle-Earth, ending in Christmastide with the Letters from Father Christmas he wrote every year to his children.

Complete Works? This is not an exhaustive survey of the works of Tolkien (for example, the twelve-volume History of Middle-Earth series which is currently being edited and released by his son Christopher is excluded, and I’m sure there are other short stories, essays and letters outside these collections which have escaped my notice), but I believe it is a thorough and representative reading of his major and minor works. And it will be great fun!

January 2021: Beginning Letters; Remedial Shakespeare

Jan 2: Begin Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Jan 3-9: Venus and Adonis; A Lover’s Complaint; The Passionate Pilgrim
Jan 10-16: The Merchant of Venice
Jan 17-23: Much Ado About Nothing
Jan 24-30: As You Like It

End of January Letter Goal: 30

February 2021: Macbeth; Lenten Lord of the Rings

Jan 31-Feb 6: Macbeth
Feb 8: Begin Lord of the Rings

Mon Feb 8 LOTR, PrologueConcerning Hobbits, and other matters
Tue Feb 9FR I-1 & I-2A Long-expected Party & The Shadow of the Past
Wed Feb 10FR I-3 & I-4Three is Company & A Short Cut to Mushrooms
Thu Feb 11FR I-5 & I-6A Conspiracy Unmasked & The Old Forest
Fri Feb 12FR I-7 & I-8The House of Tom Bombadil & Fog on the Barrow-Downs
Sat Feb 13FR I-9 & I-10At the Sign of The Prancing Pony & Strider
Sun Feb 14FR I-11 & I-12A Knife in the Dark & Flight to the Ford
Mon Feb 15FR II-1Many Meetings
Tue Feb 16FR II-2The Council of Elrond
Wed Feb 17
Ash Wednesday
FR II-3The Ring Goes South
Thu Feb 18FR II-4A Journey in the Dark
Fri Feb 19FR II-5The Bridge of Khazad-dum
Sat Feb 20FR II-6Lothlórien
Sun Feb 21FR II-7The Mirror of Galadriel
Mon Feb 22FR II-8Farewell to Lórien
Tue Feb 23FR II-9The Great River
Wed Feb 24FR II-10The Breaking of the Fellowship
Thu Feb 25TT III-1The Departure of Boromir
Fri Feb 26TT III-2The Riders of Rohan
Sat Feb 27TT III-3The Uruk-hai
Sun Feb 28TR, pp. 33-99“On Fairy-Stories”

End of February Letter Goal: 57

March 2021: Lenten Lord of the Rings cont.

Mon Mar 1 TT III-4Treebeard
Tue Mar 2TT III-5The White Rider
Wed Mar 3TT III-6The King of the Golden Hall
Thu Mar 4TT III-7Helm’s Deep
Fri Mar 5TT III-8The Road to Isengard
Sat Mar 6TT III-9Flotsam and Jetsam
Sun Mar 7TR, pp. 100-120“Leaf by Niggle”
Mon Mar 8TT III-10The Voice of Saruman
Tue Mar 9TT III-11The Palantír
Wed Mar 10TT IV-1The Taming of Sméagol
Thu Mar 11TT IV-2The Passage of the Marshes
Fri Mar 12TT IV-3The Black Gate is Closed
Sat Mar 13TT IV-4Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Sun Mar 14TT IV-5The Window on the West
Mon Mar 15TT IV-6The Forbidden Pool
Tue Mar 16TT IV-7The Journey to the Crossroads
Wed Mar 17TT IV-8The Stairs of Cirith Ungol
Thu Mar 18TT IV-9Shelob’s Lair
Fri Mar 19TT IV-10The Choices of Master Samwise
Sat Mar 20RK V-1Minas Tirith
Sun Mar 21SI, i“Ainulindalë”
Mon Mar 22RK V-2The Passing of the Grey Company
Tue Mar 23RK V-3The Muster of Rohan
Wed Mar 24RK V-4The Siege of Gondor
Thu Mar 25RK V-5The Ride of the Rohirrim
Fri Mar 26RK V-6The Battle of the Pelennor Fields
Sat Mar 27RK V-7The Pyre of Denethor
Sun Mar 28
Palm Sunday
RK V-8The Houses of Healing
Mon Mar 29RK V-9The Last Debate
Tue Mar 30RK V-10The Black Gate Opens
Wed Mar 31RK VI-1The Tower of Cirith Ungol

End of March Letter Goal: 88

April 2021: Concluding Lord of the Rings & Shakespeare

Thu Apr 1
Holy Thursday
RK VI-2The Land of Shadow
Fri Apr 2
Good Friday
RK VI-3Mount Doom
Sat Apr 3
Holy Saturday
No Reading – Reflection
Sun Apr 4
Easter Sunday
RK VI-4The Field of Cormallen
Mon Apr 5RK VI-5The Steward and the King
Tue Apr 6RK VI-6Many Partings
Wed Apr 7RK VI-7Homeward Bound
Thu Apr 8RK VI-8The Scouring of the Shire
Fri Apr 9RK VI-9The Grey Havens

Apr 11-17: Trolius and Cressida
Apr 18-24: Antony and Cleopatra
Apr 25-May 1: Coriolanus

End of April Letter Goal: 117

May 2021: All’s Well That Ends Well; Beginning the Quenta Silmarillion

May 2-8: All’s Well That Ends Well

May 10-15SI, ii“Valaquenta”
May 16-22SI 1-3“Of the Beginning of Days”
“Of Aulë and Yavanna”
“Of the Coming of Elves and the Captivity of Melkor”
May 23-29SI 4-6“Of Thingol and Melian”
“Of Eldamar and the Princes of the Eldalië”
“Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor”

End of May Letter Goal: 147

June 2021: Silmarillion cont.

May 30-June 5SI 7-9“Of Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor”
“Of the Darkening of Valinor”
“Of the Flight of the Noldor”
June 6-12SI 10-12“Of the Sindar”
“Of the Sun and Moon and the Hiding of Valinor”
“Of Men”
June 13-19SI 13-15“Of the Return of the Noldor”
“Of Beleriand and its Realms”
“Of the Noldor in Beleriand”
June 20-26SI 16-18“Of Maeglin”
“Of the Coming of Men into the West”
“Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin”

End of June Letter Goal: 177

July 2021: Finishing the Silmarillion; Children of Húrin

June 27-July 3SI 19“Beren and Lúthien”
July 5-10SI 20-21“Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad”
“Of Túrin Turambar”
June 11-17SI 22-23“Of the Ruin of Doriath”
“Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin”
July 18-24SI 24“Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath
July 25-31UT I-2Narn i Hîn Húrin (The Tale of the Children of Húrin

End of July Letter Goal: 207

August 2021: Unfinished Tales of the First and Second Age

Aug 1-7UT I-1“Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin”
Aug 8-14SI, iii“Akallabêth”
Aug 15-21UT II-1“A Description of the Island of Númenor”
Aug 22-28UT II-2“Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner’s Wife”

End of August Letter Goal: 238

September 2021: Unfinished Tales of the Second and Third Age

Aug 29-Sep 4UT II-3“The Line of Elros: Kings of Númenor”
Sep 5-11UT II-4“The History of Galadriel and Celeborn”
Sep 12-18SI, iv“Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age”
Sep 19-25UT III-1“The Disaster of the Gladden Fields”

End of September Letter Goal: 268

October 2021: Unfinished Tales of the Third and Fourth Age

Sep 26-Oct 2UT III-2“Cirion and Eorl and the Friendship of Gondor and Rohan”
Oct 3-9UT IV 1-3“The Drúedain”
“The Istari”
“The Palantíri”
Oct 11-16UT III-3“The Quest of Erebor”
Oct 17-23UT III-4“The Hunt for the Ring”
Oct 24-31UT III-5“The Battles of the Fords of Isen”

End of October Letter Goal: 298

November 2021: The Hobbit; Adventures of Tom Bombadil; Essays on Beowulf

Mon Nov 1 TH 1An Unexpected Party
Tue Nov 2TH 2Roast Mutton
Wed Nov 3TH 3A Short Rest
Thu Nov 4TH 4Over Hill and Under Hill
Fri Nov 5TH 5Riddles in the Dark
Sat Nov 6TH 6Out of the Frying-Pan Into the Fire
Sun Nov 7TH 7Queer Lodgings
Mon Nov 8TH 8Flies and Spiders
Tue Nov 9TH 9Barrels out of Bond
Wed Nov 10TH 10A Warm Welcome
Thu Nov 11TH 11On the Doorstep
Fri Nov 12TH 12Inside Information
Sat Nov 13TH 13Not at Home
Sun Nov 14TH 14Fire and Water
Mon Nov 15TH 15The Gathering of the Clouds
Tue Nov 16TH 16A Thief in the Night
Wed Nov 17TH 17The Clouds Burst
Thu Nov 18TH 18The Return Journey
Fri Nov 19TH 19The Last Stage
Nov 2127TR pp. 191-251
MC 1-2
“The Adventures of Tom Bombadil”
“Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”
“On Translating Beowulf”

End of November Letter Goal: 326

December 2021: Assorted Stories and Essays; Letters from Father Christmas

Nov 28-Dec 4TR pp. 121-187
MC 3
“Farmer Giles of Ham”
“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”
Dec 5-11TR pp. 1-27
MC 5
“The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son”
“English and Welsh”
Dec 12-18SM
MC 7
The Smith of Wootton Major
“Valedictory Address to the University of Oxford, 1959”
Dec 19-23Available online
MC 6
“Mythopoeia”
“A Secret Vice”
Dec 26-31FCLetters from Father Christmas

End of December Letter Goal: 354