In the pantheon of high fantasy literature, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series stands as a timeless classic.
The saga of Frodo, Sam, and the Fellowship has captivated millions around the world, transporting us to the verdant fields of the Shire, the treacherous paths of Mordor, and beyond. Yet, when we turn the final page of “The Return of the King”, we may be left with a question: what next?
If you’ve found yourself in this position, then this blog post is for you. We’ve compiled a list of ten epic adventures to embark upon after finishing “Lord of the Rings”, each chosen for their elements of rich world-building, complex characters, and grand narratives that match Tolkien’s mastery.
The Appeal of ‘Lord of the Rings’
Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings didn’t just create a story—it crafted an entire universe, complete with detailed histories, languages, cultures, and a diverse range of characters. These core elements are arguably the secret to its lasting appeal and enduring legacy in the realm of fantasy literature. We’ll now use these criteria as the foundation for our recommendations.
Richly Detailed World-Building
An immersive and well-constructed world can transport readers, making them feel as though they’re walking alongside the characters. This was a key aspect of Tolkien’s writing, as he built Middle-earth with an extraordinary attention to detail. The maps, the languages, the histories—all of it contributes to the depth and believability of his world. Our chosen books in this category echo this painstaking approach to world-building.
Tolkien’s series is brimming with complex and memorable characters. From the humble and relatable hobbits to the wise and enigmatic Gandalf, each character feels real and multidimensional. The books we recommend in this category are marked by their rich character development, where every character—major or minor—has depth and evolves throughout the story.
The story of Lord of the Rings isn’t just about Frodo and Sam’s journey to destroy the Ring—it’s about the epic struggles of kingdoms, the rise and fall of powers, and the personal growth of its characters. It’s this grandeur and the interconnectedness of its narratives that makes the series so compelling. Similarly, the books we’ve selected in this category boast large-scale, sweeping narratives that span across multiple books and characters.
Books with Richly Detailed World-Building
A truly immersive reading experience often lies in the richness of the world an author creates. Just as Middle-earth felt alive and tangible in Tolkien’s series, the following recommendations offer their own intricately-crafted universes, promising a journey as enthralling as that of ‘The Lord of the Rings’.
‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series by George R.R. Martin
In the A Song of Ice and Fire series, George R.R. Martin crafts the world of Westeros and Essos with a richness and complexity that rivals Tolkien’s Middle-earth. From the snow-covered lands of the North to the sun-kissed shores of Dorne, and the exotic cities of Essos, each region boasts its own history, culture, and political intricacies. The series’ vast lore and multiple intricate plotlines offer a reading experience that truly immerses you in a world of knights, dragons, and power struggles.
‘Dune’ by Frank Herbert
Though a departure into the realm of science fiction, Frank Herbert’s Dune offers a meticulously-constructed universe that’s sure to captivate ‘Lord of the Rings’ fans. The desert planet of Arrakis, or Dune, is as richly-detailed as any fantasy world, with its unique ecosystem, culture, and resources. Its narrative explores themes of politics, religion, and ecology, all set against the backdrop of a complex interstellar society. For those who enjoy a fully-realized world, complete with its own languages, customs, and power structures, Dune makes a compelling read.
Books with Complex Characters
Character depth is a hallmark of any great story. The heroes and villains of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ are not one-dimensional figures, but rich, complex characters with their own motivations, flaws, and arcs. If you’re looking for similarly well-crafted characters, the following recommendations won’t disappoint.
‘The Wheel of Time’ series by Robert Jordan
The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan is a high fantasy saga known for its extensive cast of characters, each intricately developed with their own unique histories, personalities, and growth arcs. Much like Tolkien’s work, this series delves into the complexities of its characters, showing their struggles, triumphs, and transformations throughout an epic journey. From the humble farm boy Rand al’Thor to the wise Aes Sedai Moiraine, every character has depth and dimension, making their adventures all the more engaging.
‘Mistborn’ series by Brandon Sanderson
Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series features a range of characters as diverse and complex as any in Middle-earth. From the street-smart and resourceful Vin to the idealistic nobleman Kelsier, each character in this series is carefully crafted with their own backstory, personality, and character development. Sanderson’s attention to character growth and depth, coupled with an innovative magic system and a meticulously crafted world, makes the Mistborn series a must-read for any ‘Lord of the Rings’ fan in search of complex characters.
Books with Grand Narratives
The magnitude of the narrative in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is truly epic, encompassing a vast array of subplots and characters’ arcs, all contributing to the overarching storyline. For readers seeking another grand, multi-layered narrative, the following book series offer complex plots that span multiple books and intricate stories that weave together beautifully.
‘The Malazan Book of the Fallen’ series by Steven Erikson
Steven Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen is a high fantasy series known for its grandiose scope and complexity. With a narrative that spans continents and millennia, the series encompasses a multitude of interconnected plotlines, a vast array of characters, and a deep, complex lore. Much like ‘The Lord of the Rings’, this series features a grand struggle between powers, but it also delves into philosophical and thematic explorations that add a layer of depth to the already vast narrative.
‘The Stormlight Archive’ series by Brandon Sanderson
Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive is a series that matches the grand narrative of ‘The Lord of the Rings’. The story is set in the world of Roshar, a place of storms and magic, and follows an ensemble cast of characters, each with their own intricate storylines that contribute to the overall plot. Epic in scope and intricate in its plot, this series offers a complex narrative that weaves together beautifully to create a truly immersive reading experience.
Books for Those Who Loved Tolkien’s Prose and Themes
Tolkien’s evocative prose and timeless themes are part of what makes ‘The Lord of the Rings’ so beloved. If you found yourself particularly drawn to the style and themes of his work, then the following recommendations might offer a similar reading experience.
‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ by C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia is a classic fantasy series that shares a similar writing style and themes with Tolkien’s work. A close friend of Tolkien, Lewis’s writing also combines rich descriptive prose with profound themes of good versus evil, sacrifice, and redemption. Set in the magical world of Narnia, this series offers a blend of adventure, mythical creatures, and moral lessons that are sure to resonate with ‘Lord of the Rings’ fans.
‘The Earthsea Cycle’ by Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Earthsea Cycle is another series that ‘Lord of the Rings’ fans may enjoy for its similar themes and writing style. Le Guin’s prose is rich and evocative, and her themes explore the balance of power and the consequences of disrupting the natural order, much like in Tolkien’s series. Set in a world comprised of a vast archipelago, The Earthsea Cycle provides a thoughtful exploration of magic and personal growth within a beautifully crafted world.
Books that Continue the Tolkien Tradition
There are many contemporary authors who, inspired by Tolkien’s legacy, have created their own unique worlds and stories while maintaining some elements of the Tolkien tradition. Here are a couple of series that carry on this legacy.
‘The Inheritance Trilogy’ by N.K. Jemisin
N.K. Jemisin’s The Inheritance Trilogy is a richly-imagined series that echoes the epic scope of Tolkien’s work while also offering its own unique twists. It explores complex themes of power, oppression, and divinity within a meticulously constructed world. Jemisin’s character development and world-building are exceptional, carrying the torch of high fantasy lit by Tolkien, while pushing boundaries with her own innovative narrative style and diverse cast.
‘The Kingkiller Chronicle’ by Patrick Rothfuss
Patrick Rothfuss’s The Kingkiller Chronicle carries on the tradition of epic fantasy literature. Set in a fully-realized world filled with magic, music, and myth, it follows the story of Kvothe, a man with a legendary reputation. Rothfuss’s detailed world-building, rich lore, and compelling protagonist have been praised by many ‘Lord of the Rings’ fans. With its own unique magic system and a narrative that combines adventure, mystery, and coming-of-age elements, this series certainly continues the grand tradition of epic fantasy.
Books that Offer a Unique Twist on the Fantasy Genre
While Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ established many conventions of the high fantasy genre, there are many works that take these conventions and turn them on their head, offering fresh perspectives and innovative ideas. Here are a few recommendations for books that offer a unique twist on traditional fantasy.
‘The First Law’ trilogy by Joe Abercrombie
Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy has been praised for its dark and gritty take on fantasy. It features complex characters who challenge the traditional hero-villain dichotomy, as well as a world that refuses to romanticize the often grim realities of power and war. Abercrombie’s series is an excellent choice for readers looking for a fresh and somewhat subversive take on the genre.
‘Discworld’ series by Terry Pratchett
The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett offers a unique blend of fantasy, satire, and humor. Taking the tropes of fantasy literature and adding his own comedic twist, Pratchett’s books are as thought-provoking as they are hilarious. If you’re a ‘Lord of the Rings’ fan looking for a lighter, more humorous take on the fantasy genre, this series is highly recommended.
‘The Broken Empire’ trilogy by Mark Lawrence
Mark Lawrence’s The Broken Empire trilogy stands out in the fantasy genre for its anti-hero protagonist and its exploration of moral ambiguity. This series offers a darker, more ruthless vision of a fantasy world, far removed from the more romanticized versions often seen in high fantasy. If you’re intrigued by complex characters and moral grey areas, this series is well worth a read.
Books with Intriguing Magic Systems and Mythologies
One of the most captivating aspects of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is its deep-rooted mythology and the subtle but impactful use of magic. If you’re drawn to these elements, the following recommendations might be of interest.
‘The Lightbringer’ series by Brent Weeks
Brent Weeks’s Lightbringer series introduces an innovative magic system centered on the spectrum of light, where different colors have different properties and uses. The series also boasts a rich mythology, complex characters, and political intrigue. If you enjoyed the subtle but profound use of magic in Tolkien’s work, you might find ‘The Lightbringer’ series intriguing.
‘American Gods’ by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman’s American Gods weaves together various mythologies into a contemporary setting, exploring themes of belief, identity, and change. If you’re fascinated by the integration of myth and reality, this book is a compelling read.
‘The Magicians’ trilogy by Lev Grossman
Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy offers a unique take on magic, featuring a magic school in a contemporary setting with characters who are deeply flawed and relatable. The series explores the implications and responsibilities that come with wielding magic, making it a thought-provoking read for fans of Tolkien’s nuanced use of magical elements.
‘The Gods of Pegāna’ by Lord Dunsany
Written by Lord Dunsany, The Gods of Pegāna is an intriguing exploration of invented mythology. This collection of short stories and vignettes introduces readers to the gods and myths of an entirely fictional world, Pegāna. Dunsany’s work was an influence on Tolkien and offers a unique perspective on mythopoeia, the making of a myth.
Books with Epic Journeys and Quests
The epic journey in ‘The Lord of the Rings’, complete with quests and adventures, is a key element that captivates many readers. If you enjoyed the grand trek across Middle-earth, these recommendations featuring their own epic journeys might appeal to you.
‘The Dark Tower’ series by Stephen King
Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series centers around a long and treacherous journey undertaken by the protagonist, Roland Deschain. This mix of fantasy, horror, and Western genres offers a compelling quest narrative filled with danger, mystery, and relentless pursuit.
‘The Odyssey’ by Homer
For those who appreciate the classic journey narrative, Homer’s The Odyssey is the archetypal epic journey. The hero Odysseus’s ten-year journey home after the Trojan War is filled with adventures, trials, and mythical creatures. Its influence can be seen in many modern quest narratives, including Tolkien’s.
‘The Book of the New Sun’ by Gene Wolfe
Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun is a deeply symbolic and allegorical tale set in a far-future Earth. The narrative follows Severian, an apprentice in the guild of Torturers, on his journey after being exiled. Wolfe’s series is celebrated for its intricate plot and richly detailed world.
‘Hyperion Cantos’ by Dan Simmons
Dan Simmons’s Hyperion Cantos combines science fiction and fantasy elements in a grand interstellar journey. The first book in the series, Hyperion, follows seven pilgrims with their own stories, secrets, and reasons for embarking on a journey to the planet Hyperion. The narrative structure and epic journey of this series offer a unique reading experience for fans of quest narratives.
Here are ten more book recommendations for readers looking to immerse themselves in narratives similar to ‘The Lord of the Rings’. These selections offer a variety of styles and themes, yet each carries elements that have made Tolkien’s masterpiece so endearing to many.
‘The Wheel of Time’ series by Robert Jordan
Robert Jordan’s epic series, The Wheel of Time, offers a sprawling world filled with magic, prophecy, and adventure. Its intricate plot and an enormous cast of characters make it an excellent choice for those who appreciated the vast scope and depth of Tolkien’s work.
‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy by Philip Pullman
Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is a richly imaginative series that combines fantasy, philosophy, and adventure. Its profound exploration of themes like innocence, knowledge, and freedom should resonate with fans of Tolkien’s multifaceted narrative approach.
‘The Belgariad’ series by David Eddings
David Eddings’s The Belgariad series is a classic coming-of-age saga in a richly detailed fantasy world. If you enjoyed the epic quest and character growth elements in ‘The Lord of the Rings’, this series might be an excellent next read.
‘The Sword of Shannara’ trilogy by Terry Brooks
Terry Brooks’s The Sword of Shannara trilogy is often likened to Tolkien’s work due to its similar themes, epic quests, and fantastical world. Fans of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ looking for more traditional high fantasy might find this series satisfying.
‘The Black Company’ series by Glen Cook
Glen Cook’s The Black Company offers a grittier take on the fantasy genre. Its morally grey characters and focus on the viewpoint of ‘common soldiers’ can provide an interesting contrast to the more heroic perspectives often seen in high fantasy.
‘The Mists of Avalon’ by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon retells the Arthurian legends from the perspective of female characters. This book provides an excellent blend of myth, magic, and feminism for readers seeking different perspectives in the fantasy genre.
‘The Riftwar Saga’ by Raymond E. Feist
Raymond E. Feist’s The Riftwar Saga is renowned for its impressive world-building and magical systems. This series, which blends traditional high fantasy with elements of war and politics, might appeal to ‘The Lord of the Rings’ fans who enjoyed Middle-earth’s depth and complexity.
‘The Farseer Trilogy’ by Robin Hobb
Robin Hobb’s The Farseer Trilogy offers a character-driven narrative within a richly detailed world. Its focus on characterization and emotional depth can offer a rewarding read for those who appreciated the complex characters and relationships in Tolkien’s work.
‘The Witcher’ series by Andrzej Sapkowski
Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series, popularized by the video game and Netflix adaptations, offers a complex protagonist, deep folklore, and a morally ambiguous world. It provides a darker, more mature twist on fantasy that could intrigue fans of ‘The Lord of the Rings’.
‘The Gormenghast’ series by Mervyn Peake
Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series is celebrated for its intricate, gothic-style world and character-focused narrative. Its emphasis on detailed imagery and atmosphere could offer a different yet rewarding reading experience for fans of Tolkien’s vivid descriptions and world-building.
Conclusion: Embarking on New Adventures
The ending of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ doesn’t signify the end of your journey into the expansive realms of fantasy literature. Each of the books recommended in this post opens a door to a new world, ripe with unique characters, intriguing magic systems, grand narratives, and thought-provoking themes.
Whether you’re seeking a return to the familiar comforts of traditional fantasy or looking to venture into unexplored territories that push the boundaries of the genre, there’s a next adventure waiting for you in these pages.
So pick up a book, step into another world, and let the journey continue. Happy reading!