Do give The Silmarillion another try. You’re older now, and I suspect the densely complex nature of The Silmarillion may have been what turned you off earlier.
It was only on my attempt at it that I made it through, after I heard someone give me advice on how to to approach the book. It’s not a conventional narrative like LOTR, but rather more like the Norse sagas or biblical literature. Believe it or not, the advice worked for me, and The Silmarillion became the first book that I ever read where when I finished the last page, I immediately went back to the first page and started all over again. Bliss. I actually like it more than The Lord of the Rings.
It’s been many years since I’ve read Hobbit, LOTR and Silmarillion. My recollection is that the Hobbit comes off like the author had a really rich world to tell about, but didn’t yet have the writing chops for it. LOTR is written by a mature writer and would be a masterpiece for any author’s career. The Silmarillion is difficult to approach at first, but is an attempt to be as so epic as to dare to be Biblical and Chauceresque, without the inconsistencies. You decide whether JRR pulls it off, but it is stunning in its audacity for the scope of the attempt. I haven’t tried to read the many other volumes and lost tales edited by Chritopher Tolkien because I’ve always been under the impression that they were closer to exploitive notes rather than finished product, but that is an uninformed opinion.
One that I enjoyed immensly was Leaf by Niggle often published with the essay On Faerie Stories in a book called Tree and Leaf, which is probably the most transparantly alagorical of Tolkien’s novels, although he would have denied that utterly… It begins:
Niggle starts to paint a Tree, and this painting consumes his life, but is never finished because “the journey” has to be taken. But when the journey is ended, he finds that his Tree has come to life and is far more beautiful than he ever imagined.
I have to admit that I’ve hated just about everything else by Tolkien. I found the Silmarillion boring (Except for the Ainulindale), I hated Leaf by Niggle, Smith of Wooton Major did nothing for me. I read The Tolkien Reader without joy. His translations of Sir Gawain and the Grene Knight, Sir Orfeo, and Pearl were dull (I have other editions of Sir Gawaine that I like much more). The only other thing of his I liked besides The Hobbit and LOTR is Farmer Giles of Ham, which is a parody of fantasy and chivalry works, with a lot of in-jokes.
If you’re looking for more Tolkien, there’s one more LOTR-related work: The Road Goes Ever On, a Middle-Earth song book by Tolkien. Robert Foster, author of A Guide to Middle earth cites it as a reference source.
I highly recommend The Annotated Hobbit, if you can find it.
My personal recomended order is:
1- The Hobbit
2- The Lord of the Rings
3- The Appendices and Prologue of The Lord of the Rings
4- Unfinished Tales
5- The Silmarillion
6- The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (ed. Humphrey Carpenter)
7- Morgoth’s Ring (HoME X)
8- The War of the Jewels (HoME XI)
9- J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator (ed. Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull)
10- The Peoples of Middle-earth (HoME XII)
11- The History of The Lord of the Rings (HoMe VI-IX)
Things I have read but did not find all that interesting:
1- The Adventures of Tom Bombadil (Generally found as part of The Tolkien Reader)
2- The Book of Lost Tales, Parts I-II (HoMe I-II)
3- The Lays of Beleriand (HoMe III)
4- The Shaping of Middle-earth (HoMe IV)
5- The Lost Road (HoMe V)
Things I have not read but are generally highly recomended:
1- Tolkien: The Authorized Biography (by Humphrey Carpenter)
2- “Osanwe-kenta: `Enquiry into the Communication of Thought’”
Outside of the middle earth stuff Tolkien has also written a number of childrens stories and other short works. Many of these are in combo books like Poems and Stories. And some are nearly impossible to find. Here they are in my prefered order (The unnumbered ones I have never found):
1- Farmer Giles of Ham
2- Smith of Wooton Major
4- The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son
5- Tree and Leaf
6- The Adventures of Tom Bombadil
Bilbo’s Last Song
The Father Christmas Letters
Oliphaunt (Same as Sam’s Poem in LotR but illustrated)
The Tolkien Reader [Contains HBBS, TL, FGH, and ATB.]
Poems and Stories [Contains ATB, HBBS, TL, FGH, and SWM.]
I’ve found Bilbo’s Last Song: At the Grey Havens and The Father Christmas Letters as individual books, both in the Cleveland Public Library. FCL was entertaining, and I just about cried my eyes out at BLS. I’ve heard that Tolkien also did a translation of Beowulf, and I’d like to get my hands on it.
I’m not sure he translated it. He wrote Beowulf: The Monster and the Critics, though.
If he did ever translate Beowulf, I don’t think I’d want to read it. After slogging through his translations of Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo, and The Homecoming of Beortnoth Beorthelm’s Son, I don’t think I could take any more of his translations. I kept hoping they’d get better, but they never did.
Well admitedly I haven’t looked very hard for a couple of them. I simply don’t find myself all that interested in TFCL. I envy you Bilbo’s last song however. I haven’t found a library with it where I live. And my budget discourages me from bidding on it online. My only hope for much of Tolkien’s work are some used bookstores, and they have largely dried up in the last couple of years (dang movies ).