Hanging out with Dumbledore and Gandalf
July 21, 2011 10:03 AM   Subscribe

I want to read all of the Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings books. How do I go about this so I can maximize my experience?

So I'm late to the party, I've missed the first boat, et cetera. But I have recently watched all the movies and thought I would very much like to read the books now. My background with HP is just the movies and some wiki, while I have read just the three books in LOTR back when I was very young so I don't think that doesn't really count.

I don't know how to explain this well, but I guess I am looking for more than just reading the books and being done with it after (sort of like reading for the sake of reading). I want to be able to delve into more materials and in-depth discussions. Probably even analysis, critical reviews or philosophy. I don't want to just say, "yeah I've read them; been there, done that" but actually get into a conversation with someone to discuss the merits and demerits, the symbolisms, what the character stands for, etc. In the course of watching both movie series, I am more or less in the opinion that HP tends to be more elitist (the fate of everyone lies with The Chosen One) while LOTR relies on the unity of different species (men, elves, dwarves, etc) to defeat evil. Also I am interested in the idea that HP is a Bildungsroman while LOTR is an epic.

To be more concrete:

Harry Potter
1. Is there a difference the b/w American and British versions of the books? Which ones should I buy?
2. Are there supplementary readings and other related books that would further enrich the experience? (i.e. I think it would be fun if the book given by Dumbledore to Hermione in the Deathly Hallows movie really exists)

Lord of the Rings
1. I only know of the three books but have read here in Metafilter about works like The Hobbit. Tolkien also has something like an encyclopedia of the Middle Earth? What is the "complete" set?
2. In what order should I read them?
3. Again, are there any supplementary readings?

For both
1. Are there any good audiobooks of these around?
2. After the books, what's next? Fanfic, like Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality or stories from a different point of view like The Last Ringbearer? How about HP and Philosophy and LotR and Philosophy?

Thanks in advance.
posted by pleasebekind to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
The "encyclopedia" is call the Silmarillion.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:10 AM on July 21, 2011

I haven't read LOTR so this is only HP advice.

1. There is no real difference between the American and British version (perhaps they switch around words like "boot" and "trunk" but really past that there is absolutely no difference)
2. "Tales of Beedle the Bard" does! exist. And there's a believe 2 other books as well that tie in, but they don't really enhance the story to be honest. They're just a fun little read after you've devoured HP.

Other thoughts:

A. You might find yourself slogging through the first 3 books. As a 20-something year old I was in the unique position of reading the books at about the same age Harry was throughout the series. This adds a wonderful feeling to the reading that is hard to explain. The first books are meant for younger kids, and you will feel it. However this feeling is returned with the awesomeness that starts in book 4.
B. If you want the true HP experience, give all your books to a friend and make your friend keep the next books captive anywhere from 1 day to 3 weeks from when you finish the one before. In the meantime make up all your own endings and obsess over when you will get the new one. Take time off work to read the next installment.
C. I think having seen the movies takes away from the experience a bit. A lot of the greatness of HP for me was trying to guess what might happen next, or who from the extremely large cast might turn out to be important. If you already know what happens, it takes away a bit. However, this should not be a reason to give up on reading the books.
posted by raccoon409 at 10:12 AM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed the Rob Inglis unabridged Lord of the Rings audiobooks. Also, I found that despite having read the books several times, I gained SO much more from the audio version.
posted by Zophi at 10:14 AM on July 21, 2011

The book that Dumbledore gave to Hermione does indeed exist! It's cute, but totally unnecessary for enjoying the rest of the series.

I am currently having the shit enriched out of my Chamber of Secrets experience by reading this fanfiction that someone linked in a recent thread on the blue. It's about stuff that the book glossed over while it was busy following Harry around, and it's utterly bone-chilling.
posted by bewilderbeast at 10:15 AM on July 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

In addition to the Silmarillion, there is a 12-volume History of Middle-earth.
posted by mkb at 10:21 AM on July 21, 2011

The Hobbit is different in tone (and in some material details) from the Lord of the Rings, and if you are basically new to Tolkien I would advise starting there. I have an annotated Hobbit which I like very much, as it points out edits to correct some of the changes and other interesting facts. Otherwise, just read it and then if you need more go try to muddle through the Silmarillion.
posted by norm at 10:21 AM on July 21, 2011

Have not read Harry Potter, but I think if I did I would probably read along with the chapter-by-chapter reviews at Mark Reads.

(And I found the Silmarillion excruciatingly dull; read the appendices of Lord of the Rings first and decide if you want more like that.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 10:27 AM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you should read each HP book and then listen to the corresponding audio book narrated by Jim Dale. Or read the whole series and then listen to the audiobooks. Just make sure you listen to the audiobooks is what I'm saying.

As for Tolkien, start with The Hobbit, I think. It's a good introduction and it moves a little (a lot) faster than the trilogy. Plus, it'll give you the background information about the bond between Bilbo and some of the other members of the Fellowship, which makes you understand why they're so ready to follow Frodo (aside from the importance of the Ring).
posted by cooker girl at 10:27 AM on July 21, 2011

I haven't heard them personally, but the audiobooks for Harry Potter are meant to be very good. There are different US and UK versions - the US version is read by Jim Dale (aka 'The Pushing Daisies Guy') and the UK version is read by Stephen Fry. Compare for yourself.
posted by Gordafarin at 10:31 AM on July 21, 2011

Definitely start with The Hobbit. Then, perhaps, skip ahead to Harry Potter, as they are more similar in tone that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are to each other.

You'll find, moving on to The Lord of the Rings, that Harry Potter is a fast read -- fun, exciting, never a slog. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, in comparison, will feel slow. But it's so much deeper, there's so much more there. I found that while I read other things while I was reading LotR (I had to, it was so slow) my mind kept wandering back to Middle Earth. Do not start with the Silmarillion unless you want to hate Tolkien. Only do the Silmarillion after you've already fallen in love (if ever).

Also, the Jim Dale versions of the Harry Potter audiobooks are brilliant. I've known HP fans who have never actually read the books at all.
posted by AmandaA at 10:31 AM on July 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't know about Harry Potter, but about LOTR:

(1) Definitely start with The Hobbit. It is different in tone than LOTR -- lighter, more aimed, maybe, at younger readers. But don't get the idea that it's a typical "kids'" book. Tolkien was just a great, great writer, and the Hobbit is just a fantastic read. (Also, if you do have kids, it is probably among the top read-to-your-kids books of all time.) Plus, while it can certainly stand alone just fine, to a certain degree it sets up the plot of LOTR, and LOTR occasionally refers back to the events of The Hobbit.

(2) The LOTR takes on a different tone. Bigger, more epic, more adult. I've always felt that reading The LOTR was greatly enhanced by knowing a bit about Tolkien, his life and experiences. Very Catholic, idolized the pastoral English countryside, romantic, saw combat in WWI, loved languages and like to create and tinker with them, etc. The key is that LOTR is a very non-commercial work: Tolkien wrote about what HE liked. Learning a bit about him will help you appreciate it more.

(3) The Silmarillion is, again, different in tone. It is not written in the modern style that most of us are familiar with. It is more in the style of the ancient epics that Tolkien loved. Many people find it very dry, almost like a textbook. Others love it, or at least parts of it. But it's not necessary to read it: The LOTR stands perfectly well without it.

Hope this helps.
posted by Alaska Jack at 10:44 AM on July 21, 2011

The Lord of the Rings already has six appendices at the end of the last book which contain several reams of tedious imaginary historical detail that not even Tolkien was able to shoehorn into the narrative. If you are somehow able to make it through all six, the Silmarrillion may be for you! Otherwise, it probably isn't.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 10:48 AM on July 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

ADDENDUM: This may be obvious, but in keeping with my recommendation to learn a bit about Tolkien and the books before you read them, I just checked the wikipedia page on Tolkien. It's very good, and summarizes pretty much everything you need to know.
posted by Alaska Jack at 11:02 AM on July 21, 2011

A hammock and lemonade.

It's how I first started reading The Hobbit in 5th grade. I can assure you it adds to the experience.
posted by JimmyJames at 11:13 AM on July 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

I find that the setting one creates for oneself when reading these books is of more importance for the experience than any background info, but that's personal of course.
So: Lord of the Rings, first time, was read huddled close to a camping-site lamp in Fontvieille, Provence, a glass of Rosé wine at arm's reach, fireflies blipping around me, cicadas singing in the trees. You can't beat that.
Harry Potter on the other hand was a matter of whole-night sessions during June in Sweden (when it never really gets dark), accompanied with sips of Scotch and slices of apple. I would lie down to sleep around six in the morning, get up around noon, potter around the house and garden for a while and resume reading around seven in the evening...
posted by Namlit at 11:19 AM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

HP is childsplay, while LOTR, and its other brothers, sisters and elders, is much more deep.

As others have said, start with The Hobbit. It began as a story for his son, Christopher, and ended up being one of the most loved children fantasy books out there. Then maybe go through all the HP books and come back to Tolkien.

After you get through LOTR at least three times you will be ready to tackle the Silmarillion, if you desire. It is not an easy read, and there's so much information there that was only touched on in LOTR, that you'll need to read it twice just to retain some of it. Aside from those books there is still the entire History of Middle Earth 12 volume set, as stated above, and Children of Hurin, which was scraped together by his son, Christopher.

I much prefer Tolkien, but that is because of the overall message in his stories, and depth of the world; there's just so much more to love there. HP felt too shallow for me to really get into it.

**NOTE: I never read the 12-volume set, or Children, but I did read LOTR at least eight times and the Silmarillion twice. They had a significant influence on my life to this day, and I will read them to my kids.
posted by zombieApoc at 11:24 AM on July 21, 2011

I'll chime in on reading The Hobbit first, and I'll suggest that if you want to get a real feel for what Tolkien started by reading The Annotated Hobbit. Lots of info, references to LOTR and other works and not too distractive. Plus lots of pictures. If you're going to read The Hobbit for the first time, make sure its a version that has Tolkiens drawings included.
posted by elendil71 at 11:26 AM on July 21, 2011

In addition to 'tales of Beedle the Bard' there is also Quidditch through the ages and Fantastic Beasts and where to find them. I would suggest you wait until you are quite immersed in HP until you read them though as you probably won't get much out of them if you aren't a fan.
posted by Laura_J at 11:39 AM on July 21, 2011

I've read every Harry Potter book over the years as they've come out, and have seen the movies in due order. There's something to be said for that wait between books, and then taking the weekend they come out to do nothing but read with only occasional pauses for refreshment. It's like a vacation, to visit that world for a bit. I'm a grown woman, and a mother, and they take me right back to where my young heart was, even as I re-read them. In fact, for the launch of the Deathly Hallows, I was working for a company called Critters, and my job was to entertain the people who were lined up between nine and midnight. I'm not one to dress up and get all fangirl - but that was great fun and it's a really happy memory for me. And for the movies, the fear of seeing them was equal to the excitement. I hated to leave the theatre on Sunday because that really would be an end to it. I get that they're not the best - but there's nothing like them. LOTR is wonderful, but HP is fun.

And now, I'm re-discovering them again, from the beginning, with my seven year old daughter. They're a little hard for her to read herself, so we've been working our way through them. Originally, she wanted to just watch all the movies, shrieking at me "Why are you making me go through the whole long book when I can know everything I want to know in an hour and a half?!" That was because her friends play with Harry Potter Lego, and so they run around the schoolyard casting spells and such and she just wanted to fit in. But I held her off, because it's not something to be greedy about. But, now that we're reading them, and she's letting her mind get wrapped around the characters and story, she's doing exactly what she should be doing - carving wands out of sticks in the back yard and sneaking ties from the closet for a schoolkid outfit. She has immersed herself, and it's great and as it should be. (She also can name every character, send a dozen jinxes at me and knows ever wizard's swear from the puppet pals site -- but still forgets to wear underwear unless I tell her to.)

That said - in reading them aloud, I'm not gobbling them up like I did. It's slow going, and at the rate of a chapter a night, it sure is taking a bite out of bedtime. I'm picking up details and I'd missed the first go-rounds when reading them to myself and just scarfing them up to see what happened just to know. So my advice, though they are some of the least comfortable books I've ever read aloud, is to read them aloud. Whether or not they're well-written, they're detailed, and it's too easy to skim over lines that have resonance later on.
posted by peagood at 11:42 AM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can't speak to Harry Potter, but as fars Tolkien goes here's my recs:

1. As other have noted, start with The Hobbit.

2. Read the LOTR trilogy. If the breaks for poems (particularly the long elvish, sort), etc. get in the way, don't be afraid to ignore them. (HERESY! I know, fellow Tolkien nerds, but he put that stuff in there more for his own enjoyment then any actual plot development). Check out the appendices in the back of Return of The King. , particularly Appendix A. If it doesn't grab you, don't sweat it. You can stop there and know all you need to know to discuss and enjoy JRRT with others. If that stuff sounds interesting, though, then I would recommend . . .

3. Unfinished Tales (as opposed to the Silmarillion). UT is basically the greatest hits of the Silmarillion (really just longer, stronger versions of several stories from The Silmarillion).

If you dig on UT, then it's time to put on your Tolkien Big Boy Pants and read the Silmarillion (FWIW, despite the "it's boring!" backlash against it, it's probably my favorite Tolkien work-- The Ainulinadale is a stunningly beautiful account of the creation of the universe and just for that section alone the book deserves its place in world literature).

The History of Middle Earth is for diehards only and is really more of a collection of early drafts, ballads and essays-- more of a scholarly work, really. Children of Hurin is a cynical attempt by Christopher Tolkien to extract every last bit of money from his father's writings and is a novel length version of a story better told in both UT AND the Silmarillion already (the UT version--Narn I Hin Hurin-- is the best of the bunch, IMHO).
posted by KingEdRa at 12:55 PM on July 21, 2011

For HP, there's also an 800-word prequel with James and Sirius that JKR wrote for charity. It's just a fun bit of additional canon, but worth a look if you end up liking the first generation and want to see more of them.

The HP Lexicon is a great encyclopedia-type resource if you ever want to check up on a detail from the books, don't remember a spell/potion, or want to dig deeper into the timeline or a character's background. JKR tended to reveal additional information about the characters in interviews (and will continue to in the future, if Pottermore is any indication), so often a character's biography contains bits that were not included in the books. For example, there's much more to everyone's futures than what was seen in the "19 years later" epilogue. The Lexicon also contains a section of speculative essays that were written as the books were being published. Most of them are pretty informal, and I'm not sure how engaging they'll be now, but they're a representative sample of the theories floating around at the time. The Leaky Cauldron's Scribbulus and Beyond Hogwarts have plenty of essays/theories archived as well.

For critical reviews, the Reception section of each book's Wikipedia page is a surprisingly good place to start. Many reviewers talked circles around the plot to avoid spoiling readers, and instead discussed the larger themes presented in each book and try to determine JKR's place among the authors she pays homage to and debate the quality of her writing (an example published in 2000). Others questioned HP's designation as children's literature, especially as the series got darker. The Guardian's HP section will definitely keep you busy, though you'll have to sort through a lot of news items.

Reading the books will help determine what will be most appealing to you in fanfiction, e.g. you might be curious about a seemingly dropped plot point and want a story to fill in the blanks, or pair up Draco and Ginny, or give you 500 pages of backstory for a character mentioned once. If you want it, it's out there, but it'll be easier to figure out what that is and find more targeted recommendations later. My favorite gen fic is Changeling (PG, Fred-centric), because it plays with magic the same way JKR does and changed the way I saw the Weasleys.
posted by Cue the Strings at 1:07 PM on July 21, 2011

Two books I love by Tom Shippey, about Tolkien as an author and creator, the myths he drew from, and the way he structured things, are The Road to Middle Earth: How J.R.R. Tolkien Created a New Mythology and J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, which puts him into context with other writers of his era, like George Orwell and C.S. Lewis. You can also get into books on the Inklings.
posted by PussKillian at 1:25 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Minor point on Harry Potter, I'd really recommend reading the British version of the texts. There are a lot of small changes which I think erode the setting (it's a British boarding school, they don't eat 'candy' for God's sake) and the switch between 'Philosopher's Stone' and 'Sorcerer's Stone' in the first book is atrocious, both in sense and the assumption about the American markets that it betrays.

Lord of the Rings, I'd say definitely read the Hobbit first - the first hundred pages of LOTR will make considerably more sense if you have. Other than that, read 'em in order.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:08 PM on July 21, 2011

I listened to all these on audiobooks and loved them. I didn't start with the Hobbit, just started with the Fellowship of the Ring - the Rob Inglis version.

I had the Jim Dale version of the Harry Potter books and loved it too, he does great voices. LOTR is much more adult and serious and epic feeling, a different mood from the Potter books. Be aware the first two Potter books are more kid-level and the later ones become more involved; if you are waiting for some complexity, don't give up after the second book. The first two are also much shorter than the rest.

I would read/listen to the books first, then decide if you want to get into the secondary materials.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:11 PM on July 21, 2011

HPforGrownups is a yahoo group that is focussed on discussing each chapter of each HP book. Most of them are written by die-hard fans and analyzed to the death. If you read them as you finish each book, there is a lot of subtle things that you begin to find out. It isn't easy to find all Chapter discussions, but this link may help you.

I enjoyed reading this way and it definitely added to my experience.
posted by theobserver at 3:17 PM on July 21, 2011

I noticed that PussKillian mentions Tom Shippey's books (which I certainly have no qualms with, they're both great) but I would also add as a possible suggestion J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carter which is a fantastic biography of Mr. Tolkien and I found immensely enjoyable. I read it after I had read LOTR the first couple of times, and it was fun to see (or at least imagine) the connections between his life and how it might have affected/influenced/etc. his work.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 4:06 PM on July 21, 2011

I totally forgot about Unfinished Tales; that is a good read.

There's also the Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. It only for die-hard fans, but it's a good insight.
posted by zombieApoc at 8:41 PM on July 21, 2011

I don't have any suggestions about HP, but I am a slightly obsessive Tolkien nerd. I agree with what other people have said about reading The Hobbit first. I also think you should check out the "Leaf and Tree" section of The Tolkien Reader, since "Leaf By Niggle" is a lovely little story that reveals a lot about what Tolkien wanted to accomplish, and "On Fairy Stories" is an incredible essay.

You might find LotR to be slow going at first, especially if you started with HP. Approach it in some ways as a history, not just as a narrative (though I think it's a fantastic narrative); allow yourself to luxuriate in the world the way Tolkien does. Book I of LotR is slow in terms of narrative, but pay attention to how it establishes the hobbits' characters, particularly Frodo's (who is considerably more badass than Elijah Wood is or ever will be). I actually enjoyed The Silmarillion more than I enjoyed LotR on my first reads of both, but that's probably because I really like mythology and am used to cosmogonies; anyways it's definitely something that should be read after LotR.

If you're interested in scholarly work about Tolkien, Verlyn Flieger's Splintered Light is a really good study of language and light in the Legendarium. I also second Shippey's work. This is also a little self-promoting, but I took a class on Tolkien last quarter, and over the course of the quarter we put together a blog which may interest you. Namarie! Middle Earth is a beautiful place, and I hope you enjoy journeying there.
posted by flawsekno at 11:03 PM on July 21, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the fantastic suggestions! I am getting quite excited now. To be honest it was my youngest sister who influenced me into watching Harry Potter. I wasn't into it but she got me to see everything in a matter of days and eventually I sort of got...involved, somehow (I am impressed with the character development of Snape). It has also brought us sisters closer, as we have a 7-year gap, so am looking forward to buying the books and sharing them with her. As for LOTR I've watched it so many times and I'm definitely a fan. I also watched The Hunt for Gollum. I am more emotionally invested in the characters and the story, and what they were fighting for - I still remember bits and pieces (I read these in high school) - so I thought it would be nice to read the books again and have a more in-depth experience. I have a special place in my heart for Tolkien's works, and so revisiting LOTR is a personal project I've been meaning to do for a long time now.

That said, I've a few questions again:

1. The US versions are the ones published by Scholastica, right? What are the UK versions? I can't seem to find them on Amazon. The result I keep getting is the "adult" version (the one with the black covers)? What is that? I'm confused.

2. Do the supplementary books (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Quidditch Through the Ages, The Tales of Beedle the Bard) have audio book versions and if yes who's the narrator?

3. Is this the recommended LOTR boxset that I should buy? There's a negative review that says there are a lot of typo errors and I'm concerned about that. Also I would prefer it if the book covers are not the movie tie-ins.

4. This might be silly, but - paperbacks or hardcovers? It would be nice to have them part of my book collection, something to share if ever I have kids of my own in the future. I am also thinking some of the supplementary stuff of HP (and maybe also Silmarillion and Children of Hurin) I can get as ebooks, while some like this one might be worth buying in physical form.
posted by pleasebekind at 1:09 AM on July 22, 2011

The result I keep getting is the "adult" version (the one with the black covers)? What is that? I'm confused.

They are different, less colorful covers for grown-ups who are embarrassed to be reading Harry Potter. ;) The UK versions look like this: Regular, Adult.
posted by Gordafarin at 6:08 AM on July 22, 2011

I think that version of the LotR boxset is not the best in terms of presentation, cover art etc. Have a look on ebay and there are some classic (mostly used) hardback editions and boxsets.
posted by Rufus T. Firefly at 6:30 AM on July 22, 2011

books in general: buy paperback. you won't care so much when they get messed up, and they're much easier to toss in a bag. I still bring my decades old FotR with me when i go on trips. It has that 60s smell that only books of that time have :)

LOTR stuff:

buy the hobbit first. This one is paperback, and has his art.

LOTR, the Red book: to sit on your shelf

I really like the mid-80s publication of the set, so I'm partial to these ISBNs

If you want a little beauty with the prose I suggest getting the Alan Lee illustrated edition, but it's a single book, and hardcover, so it's a boat anchor
posted by zombieApoc at 6:37 AM on July 22, 2011

As far as I know, the supplementary HP books don't have audio book versions. Quidditch Through the Ages and The Tales of Beedle the Bard both have illustrations, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is supposed to be Harry's schoolbook and is filled with marginalia.

I own the series in hardcover and have been thinking of buying the paperbacks just to make them easier to carry around. The dust jackets won't slip off, and the paperbacks in general are cheaper and much less unwieldy. Wear-and-tear might be an issue if you're thinking of sharing them with kids, but if you see yourself traveling with the books I'd vote paperback as long as you're okay with them getting a little beat up.
posted by Cue the Strings at 8:16 PM on July 22, 2011

If you're interested in supplementary reading not just on LotR but on Tolkien generally, there's a facsimile edition of letters he wrote to his children, Letters from Father Christmas, and there are some good books on the Inklings, the group he was part of - see the bibliography on the Wikipedia page if you're interested. You could go on from Tolkien to books by fellow Inklings Charles Williams and CS Lewis if you haven't already read them.

Nthing starting with The Hobbit rather than straight into LotR.

You might want to consider an exit strategy if you give the books a fair go but just don't like them. You don't want to end up feeling you have to slog through them if they aren't for you.
posted by paduasoy at 2:56 AM on July 23, 2011

« Older How many smartphone users are there in New York...   |   Consensual internet hijackery. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.