Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power – what to read and watch first

Welcome to the Second Age of Middle-earth (pic: Amazon)

The new Lord of the Rings show on Amazon is already a major hit but what should you know before you start watching and how can you catch up?

Considering J. R. R. Tolkien has been dead for nearly 50 years and even his son, who helped turn his father’s ideas into new books, died in 2020, it’d be reasonable to assume there was never going to be any new Lord of the Rings media ever again; especially given how jealously the Tolkien family protect the licence.

It costs Amazon $250 million to buy the rights to make The Rings of Power and even then there are very strict limits on what it can and cannot show. It’s not based on any one specific book, but instead the appendices and background lore from The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit, as the show is set hundreds of years before the movies happened.

The Rings of Power is set in the Second Age of Middle-earth, whereas the movies are set in the third age. That means it deals with the rise of the dark lord Sauron and the last alliance of men and elves, which were briefly featured in the Peter Jackson films.

If you’re already feeling a bit lost then the one thing Lord of the Rings is not short of is background material, so here are the best ways to catch up via books and movies.

The original trilogy (pic: Warner Bros.)

The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy Blu-rays

There’s only a handful of characters that are in both, but the best way to get up to speed with The Rings of Power is to watch the three Lord of the Rings films from the early 2000s. There have been a lot of physical releases since then, but these remastered Blu-rays are the best non-4K versions so far.

This nice-and-cheap boxed set contains the three theatrical versions of the films, which is the way everyone else saw the films for the first time and includes the key scene at the beginning that shows Sauron fighting the armies of elves and men – the very end of the Second Age of Middle-earth.

Buy The Lord of the Rings Theatrical Versions on Blu-ray for £10.99 at Amazon.

The PS5 and Xbox Series X can both play 4K Blu-rays (pic: Warner Bros.)

The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy 4K Ultra HD

If you want to go in at the deep end then this boxed set is excellent value, since it not only includes the theatrical and extended editions of the films but they’re all in 4K Ultra HD as well. You will need an Ultra HD Blu-ray player for these to work though, so if you don’t have one it’s best to stick with the boxed set above. You’ll also need a 4K TV to see the films at that resolution, although the discs will still work without one.

The extended editions run to almost three hours each, but many people prefer them, as they explain some aspects of the story better, that are skated over in the theatrical version. Do bear in mind that this boxed set does not include any bonus behind the scenes content, but it is much better picture quality than the first botched 4K release.

Buy The Lord of the Rings 4K Extended Editions for £49.99 from Amazon.

Tolkien overload (pic: Warner Bros.)

Middle-Earth: The Ultimate Collector’s Edition

If you want to go crazy then this monster of a boxed set has everything you could ever want in terms of the Lord of the Rings films. It includes all three original films (theatrical and extended editions) plus the three Hobbit films (more on that in a moment). There are separate 4K and normal Blu-ray editions, so you aren’t entirely missing out if you can’t run 4K Ultra HD discs.

That is far from all though, as you also get a 64-page book, seven art cards, and a mountain of behind the scenes bonus content, including three cast reunions, director’s commentaries on all six films, and a brand new bonus Blu-ray disc. It’s not cheap but if you want to see and know everything about the Peter Jackson films it’s all here.

Buy Middle-Earth: The Ultimate Collector’s Edition for £179.99 from Amazon.

Where it all began (pic: HarperCollins)

The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings books boxed set

Although the Hobbit films were released after The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit book originally came first. It was first published in 1937 and only runs to 310 pages. Trying to get three movies out of it was always going to be a mistake (it was the film company’s idea, not Peter Jackson’s) and so the movies end up being bloated and featuring a lot of new, invented elements.

The films are still watchable but the best way to experience the story is to read the original book. The Lord of the Rings movies also change quite a bit, but in a manner much more sympathetic to the original tone and style. Even so, it’s no accident the original novels have remained classics for all these years and if you’re trying to bone up on lore for The Rings of Power most of it is taken from the appendences and dialogue (and songs) featured in the books.

There are also more expensive hardback editions for £74.30 and an audio book CD boxed set read by Rob Inglis, if you’re thinking of giving the books as a present.

Buy The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings boxed set for £22.99 from Amazon.

Not the best place to start for someone new to the franchise (pic: HarperCollins)

The Silmarillion

When The Rings of Power were first announced many fans assumed it was going to be based on The Silmarillion, which is set in the First and Second Age of Middle-Earth. For whatever reason Amazon don’t have those rights though, so while this book does describe a lot of the things that have to do with The Rings Of Power, the two aren’t directly connected.

Be warned that The Silmarillion isn’t a traditional novel like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. That’s probably what J. R. R. Tolkien was ultimately aiming for but he died before he could complete it and so his son Christopher edited everything he’d written into what is more a cross between a short story collection and an (invented) history book.

It’s vital for understanding the deep lore of the series though, so you might also consider the audiobook version or perhaps the more expensive hardcover edition.

Buy The Silmarillion for £8.49 from Amazon.

It’s exactly what it says on the tin (pic: HarperCollins)

Unfinished Tales

In a similar manner to The Silmarillion, this is a collection of a number of, well… unfinished tales. Around a quarter of it is dedicated to the Second Age. There are also stories featuring characters from The Lord of the Rings, including Aragorn and Gollum, as well as the First Age – which will no doubt be referenced in The Rings of Power as well.

None of it is exactly light reading though, so you’re definitely advised to start with the movies or earlier novels first. As with the other books, there’s a very nice hardback edition, as well as an audiobook read by Timothy West.

Buy Unfinished Tales for £8.49 from Amazon.

For the hard core Lord of the Rings fan (pic: HarperCollins)

The Complete History of Middle-earth

If you want to get really hardcore about your Middle-earth lore then this should be your final destination. This hardback boxed set includes all 12 parts of the series collected into three volumes, and is basically catnip for Tolkien fans.

As with The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales they’re written by Christopher Tolkien but based on his father’s notes, unedited manuscripts, and letters. There’s over 5,000 pages of material here, covering elements from all four ages of Middle-earth and shedding light on more obscure aspects of the lore, such as Sauron’s former boss Morgoth.

Buy The Complete History of Middle-earth Special Edition for £142.46 from Amazon.

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