J.R.R. Tolkien: The History of Middle-Earth (Allen & Unwin and HarperCollins Publishers)
Tolkien did not consider the Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings to be the greatest works of his life. He had a dream of writing an overview book about the history of Middle-Earth, but his publisher (Allen & Unwin) always refused this, saying the plot was too long for a book and had no protagonist with whom readers could associate themselves. The author worked, refined, polished, or rewrote this huge story his entire life, but failed to finish. At the time of his death, 15,000 pages of manuscripts remained. From this vast amount of story, his son, Christopher Tolkien, compiled The Silmarillion, which was published four years after Tolkien’s death. This was followed by another volume, The Unfinished Tales, which, like the previous one, is a selection of legends from different eras. Eventually, Christopher Tolkien decided to publish all the works of his father and his aim was not to select a final version, but to shed light on the evolution of the legends and the differences between the text versions. This series became The History of Middle-Earth.
The first two volumes in the series are the two parts of The Book of Lost Tales and were first published in 1983 and 1984. In these stories we can follow Eriol, who arrives in Tol Eressea and listens to the elves’ tales about the ancient times. In the third volume we can read The Lays of Beleriand: the epic of the children of Húrin and Beren and Lúthien in poetic and prose form. The Shaping of Middle-Earth reports on the geography of the sites of the legends. The The Lost Road and Other Writings is a chronicle of Valinor and Beleriand, contains a reworked, significantly expanded version, and the volume also includes an etymological dictionary showing the relationship between Quenya and Old English languages. In the following four volumes we can read the stories of the age of The Lord of the Rings, followed by a study of the war for the Silmarils in two volumes, and finally a volume on The Peoples of Middle-Earth. An Index of the 12-part series has even been published by HarperCollins.
Since The Silmarillion is my favorite from Tolkien, I also really like this series, where I can learn more about the legends that provide the background for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.