If you have not read any of the books, I'd recommend beginning with the simple The Hobbit which tells of how a small-town boy helped a group of dwarves fulfill their destiny. Once that is done, venture on to the much richer (and more difficult to read) The Lord of the Rings, which tells how something the main character in The Hobbit found is actually something of much greater importance than first thought, and how everyone must band together to destroy it. If you are still daring, The Silmarillion tells of the First Age of Middle-Earth and how everything came to be. It also includes a short story called The Downfall of Numenor, which tells a perspective of the end of the Second Age. Finally, Unfinished Tales is sort of like the deleted scenes for The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion in that it includes many tales that were cut out of Tolkien's original publications because they were unnecessary or lacked the level of completion he sought. Other works by Tolkien may brush against his Middle-Earth saga but these four books form the foundation of it. The only exception is the book The Children of Hurin, which is an expanded version of a story found in both The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. I would not expect more works to be forthcoming as Tolkien died nearly forty years ago. But two films based on The Hobbit will be releasing in 2012 and 2013, and The Lord of the Rings has already been released on film a decade ago.
Moving on. Fiction dynasties can be just as complex, if not more so, as factual dynasties. Just as the mythical genealogies of the ancient Greeks and Germans involved incest, affairs, and half-breeds, so too did Tolkien include in his world ancestral marriages, affairs and illegitimacy, and half-breeds of elves and humans. Tolkien was obsessed with perfecting his genealogies of Middle-Earth and, to a large degree, succeeded in wrapping them all up before he died. As a fun dynastology near years-end, I will guide you through six of the dynasties he created and describe just how Tolkien not only understood the concepts behind dynastology, but used them to construct his own ideal long-term plan of succession. I hope you enjoy the ride. If nothing else, you should have a greater appreciation for Tolkien's work than ever before after this.
The High Kings of the Nõldor (Elves)
The elves of Tolkien's legendarium divided almost immediately into different groups based on ancestry and place of dwelling. Of them, many ventured westward and crossed the seas to the land of Valinor, often known as the Undying Lands. Elves are immortal, so a land inhabited entirely by immortal beings is by its very nature immortal less someone kills through weaponry. Morgoth, the predecessor of Sauron of the Second and Third Ages, invaded Valinor in the early years of the First Age and took three jewels, the Silmarils, back with him to Middle-Earth. The creators of the jewels were the Nõldor, one of the races of elves that had settled in Valinor. The Nõldor pledged to reclaim their jewels and marched eastward. During their progress, they attacked and killed many Teleri, a race of elves that were shipwrights. Thus blood was finally spilt on Valinor. The Nõldor were shunned and barred from returning and became exiles in Middle-Earth.
The chief among them, Fëanor, was the son of the patriarch, Finwë. Fëanor led the revolt and exile out of Valinor. He was the creator of the Silmarils and the eldest son so it fell to him to lead his people. His father was the first High King of the Nõldor, but Finwë was killed by Morgoth at the gates of the Nõldoran capital and Fëanor took his place. Not all the Nõldor departed, though. Some refused to join the revolt and stayed behind where Finarfin, his brother, remained as the High King of the Nõldor of Valinor.
Fëanor was killed by a group of balrogs, demons of Morgoth, soon after arriving in Middle-Earth and the High Kingship passed to Maedhros, his son. Maedhros, as amends for the crimes committed by his father against the other Nõldor, nobly declined the kingship and granted it to Fingolfin, the eldest half-brother of Fëanor. The family of Fingolfin would retain the kingship for two ages.
|A Map of Beleriand|
Fingon, Fingolfin's son, led the retreat out of Hithlum but himself stayed behind with a mixed army of elves and Edain, men loyal to the elves. The battle was a massive defeat for the Nõldor. Fingon was killed and the humans were made into slaves. Morgoth began his slow conquest of Beleriand, the region where most of the peoples of the west resided, soon after this battle.
Meanwhile, the next High King of the Nõldor was Turgon, brother of Fingon, who remained hidden in a secret stronghold called Gondolin deep in the mountains. For 500 years the city had remained hidden, but only thirty years after the battle where Finrod fell, treachery from within led Morgoth to the gates of Gondolin and they were torn down. Morgoth's army conquered Gondolin and killed Turgon in a tower. Tuor, an Edain, led the survivors out of the city and southward to the havens where they made their final stand against the dark power of Morgoth.
|Gil-Galad as depicted in The Lord of the Rings|
The Kings of Númenor (Dünedain/High Humans)
The Dünedain were the humans that survived the last battle against Morgoth. They were rewarded with their own kingdom on the newly-raised island of Númenor. The first King of Númenor was not entirely human at all, though he chose to bear the Doom of Men. It was Elros, the brother of Elrond. They were both considered half-elven in that they descended from both human and elvish families. In Elros, the blood of Bëor, Haleth, and Hador—the three families of the Edain—ran thick but so too did the blood of the Nõldoran and the Sindarin elves. Elros and his descendants were granted decreasingly long lives, a trait that was still common among them into the Fourth Age with their descendant Aragorn II Elesser, King of the United Kingdom of Arnor & Gondor.
|Map of Númenor|
Despite a grand total of four ruling queens, the royal line continued in the same dynasty. Ruling queens would marry their distant cousins in most cases, ensuring both that the blood of Elros would continue and that there was never any contest for the throne. Trouble came when Sauron's power became strong in Middle-Earth. The Númenorians were mariners and sailed often to the old world. There they came into contact with the corruption of Sauron and it leaked back to Númenor. Tar-Alcarin was usurped by his non-royal father until he reached an age enough to overthrow him. Alcarin's son, Tar-Calmacil, began the use of Adûnic, the vulgar tongue, in Númenor even in formal circles. Around the same time, the kings ceased their policy of resignation prior to death and began to serve life terms as reigning monarch.
Sauron's corruption became manifest when he was brought to Númenor in the troubled reign of Ar-Pharazôn, a king who usurped the throne from his wife, Tar-Míriel. The wrath of the gods was incurred and Númenor was destroyed. A small group of mariners led by the descendants of Silmariën fled to Middle-Earth, but the island was destroyed forever. And so ended the line of the Kings of Númenor.
The Kings of Arnor & Gondor (Dünedain)
The small group that survived the voyage to Middle-Earth became the Dünedain of Middle-Earth. There, Elendil, their leader, established the Kingdom of Arnor & Gondor. He ruled from Annúnminas in Arnor, while his son, Isildur, ruled Minas Arnor (later Minas Tirith) and his other son, Anárion, ruled Minas Ithil (later Minas Morgul). One hundred years later, Sauron attacked and Isildur fled north. Gil-Galad and Elendil, along with Isildur, returned soon after with a large host and fought the Battle of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men at the gates of Mordor and in the Dark Lands itself. Gil-Galad, Elendil, and Anárion all died in the battle, but Isildur cut off the One Ring from Sauron's hand and temporarily defeated the Dark Lord. With the defeat of Sauron, Isildur and his descendants began a long build-up of the west of Middle-Earth.
|Isildur, High King of Arnor & Gondor|
The fate of Arnor came much faster than that of Gondor. Isildur died before ever returning to Arnor, having been waylaid by a group of orcs in the Gladden Fields and losing the One Ring. His son, Valandil, was the first true ruler of the north of Isildur's line. For seven more generations the descendants of Isildur ruled the Northern Kingdom before strife came in. Three sons split the kingdom in 861. The eldest line continued in the Kingdom of Arthedain, while Cardolan and Rhudaur fragmented under pressure from the Witch-King of Angmar who had established is realm just north of Arnor. Arthedain, too, struggled until Arvedui was forced to abandon the kingdom entirely, though Angmar was defeated soon after.
|Aragorn II Elessar, King of Arnor & Gondor|
The claim of Isildur's heirs over Gondor originate with Arvedui, who married the daughter of one of the last kings of Gondor. The line of Arthedain continued with the Chieftains of the Northern Dúnedain, of which Aragorn II was the last. He reclaimed the crown of Arnor and Gondor in 3019 and his heirs continued to rule until the end of Tolkien's legendarium.
|Anárion, Co-King of Gondor|
In Gondor, the pattern was largely the same. Gondor survived, unlike Arnor, but became much diminished because of the rising power of Mordor, Umbar, and the Easterners. Meneldil, the fourth child of Anárion, founded the ruling house of Gondor. They ruled almost unbroken for nineteen generations until Castamir usurped the throne. Eldacar, the rightful king, reclaims it and his family continued to rule for another nine generations until Ondoher died in battle leaving no heirs. Fíriel, the wife of Arvedui of Arthedain, should have become queen, but instead the thrown was given to a distant relative, Eärnil II. Eärnil challenged the Lord of Minas Morgul to battle and never returned. Gondor fell into decline. No king was chosen to replace Eärnil and rule was taken up the the House of Húrin, stewards to the kings.
|Denethor II, 26th Ruling Steward of Gondor|
Twenty-six stewards ruled in succession beginning with Mardil Voronwë. While the family was related to the royal family, it was of a non-royal descent. The family took names from the heroes of the First Age. Denethor II was the last Ruling Steward of Gondor. He committed suicide during the Siege of Minas Tirith in 3019 leaving the leadership to his son, Faramir. Faramir never served as ruling steward, though, because Aragorn II soon after took the throne as Elessar, thereby reuniting the north and south kingdoms once again. He was a descent of Arvedui and Fíriel and married the elf Arwen, the daughter Elrond, thereby renewing the life and vigor of the Kingdoms of the Dúnedain.
The Line of Durin (Dwarves)
The Line of Durin is the line of the senior dwarves. Dwarves were technically created before humans, though humankind is known as "Those Who Came After". Dwarves, after creation, were put to sleep in the mountains and were envisioned by the god Aulë from the image he received from Eru, the Creator. Durin I was the eldest and first to awake of the seven dwarves (pun not intended). He founded the dwarf city of Khazad-dûm deep beneath the Misty Mountains. Khazad-dûm remained a place of renown throughout the First and Second Ages until it became desolate in the Third Age.
|Durin III, King of Khazad-dûm|
|The Lonely Mountain (Erebor) by JRR Tolkien|
With the reign of Thrór, the dwarves abandoned the Grey Mountains and returned to Erebor. Grór founded his own colony in the Iron Hills immediately north of Erebor while Thrór sent a mission to Khazad-dûm in the hope that the balrog had departed. Meanwhile at Erebor, Smaug the dragon had taken an interest to the wealth of the dwarves and conquered the mountain, Thrór, his son, Thráin, and grandson, Thorin, fled. Thrór later led a mission of his own into Khazad-dûm but was killed. Thráin II ruled next and led a war against the orcs and goblins of the Misty Mountains. After the war, the remnant of Durin's Folk that still followed Thráin settled in the Blue Mountains at the far west of Middle-Earth. They grew and became populated again until Thráin became restless and departed without warning. He died in the dungeons of Dol Guldur with the last of the dwarves rings taken from him.
|Thorin II Oakenshield, King Under the Mountain|
The Thains of the Shire (Hobbits)
As a final little dynasty in Middle-Earth, the hobbits maintained their own leadership within the Shire. The title "Thain" was established during the reign of Arvedui, the last king of Arthedain. The thain was to rule the Shire for the king, though the kingship ceased soon after the title was created. The position was not initially hereditary, but quickly fell into the Oldbuck family of hobbits.
|Map of the Shire|
|Peregrin Took, Prince of the Halflings|