I’ve read The Lord of the Rings [amazon.com, amazon.co.uk] several times — certainly three times, more likely four or five, maybe more. And The Hobbit [amazon.com, amazon.co.uk] a couple of times, although that never appealed to me so much, even when I was younger. But I’d never made more than a cursory and quickly-abandoned assault on what is arguably Tolkein’s masterpiece The Silmarillion [amazon.com, amazon.co.uk]. I did try it once many years ago, but gave up only a few pages in, while still mired in Ainulindalë, the opening section on the creation of the universe.
Not this time!
Ten days ago, I borrowed a paperback of the original Allen and Unwin edition (pictured above), and I’ve now started to read in earnest. In part I was inspired by the words of my good friend Matt Wedel, who told me nearly seven years ago that “Actually, once the world is sung into existence it gets pretty good. Melkor brings some Balrogs and starts trashing the party. The resonances between the Silmarillion and LOTR start to become clear. Further updates as events warrant.”
But mostly, I’m reading it because it seems lame that I have never done so. As though I’d never read, say, Kernighan and Ritchie. I feel like I don’t have the right to love LotR as much as I do without having done the spadework.
I’m guessing that some of you out there may feel the same way, so although as I write this I am only 53 pages in, it might just be helpful if I write a little about what I’ve found so far.
What The Silmarillion isn’t
What Tolkien’s publishers asked him for, and what many people reading The Silmarillion assume it is, is a sequel to The Lord of the Rings. It’s no such thing, and in fact when Tolkien sent those publishers an early draft of The Silmarillion, they quite rightly rejected it. Andrew Rilstone says that Tolkien “certainly wanted it to be published, arguing that The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion were an inseparable whole, and threatening to take the trilogy to Collins instead of Allen and Unwin because the former showed some interest in printing both books together.” It’s hard to understand quite what Tolkien can have been thinking, given that the two books are so completely different in content, style, tone, approach … everything, really. (But read on.)
The Lord of the Rings is, at bottom, a novel. It’s a highly unusual one, to be sure — epic and resonant and self-consistent to a degree that other authors desperately aspire to but don’t even approach; driven in places more by a desire to tell a history than a story; and having a huge cast, most of whom come with absolutely no back-story. It’s not like a novel, in the way we normally think of one, but nevertheless that’s what it is. It’s a strange, mutant, one-of-a-kind novel, but a novel it is.
The Silmarillion is not. It has no characters (but a cast even bigger than that of LotR). It has plot — plenty of it — but it’s sketched only in a cursory way. It has absolutely nothing by way of a character that the reader can identify with, as you might be able to to identify with Frodo, or perhaps with Merry or Pippin, or Faramir or Éowyn. It certainly doesn’t put its actors (I won’t call them characters) though an “arc”, in the sense of discovering something about themselves, learning and growing as people.
And these are not deficiencies in the book. Understand, I am not saying that The Silmarillion is a bad novel. I’m saying it’s not a novel at all. It just isn’t interested in that stuff.
What The Silmarillion actually is
I realised this rather suddenly, and found it helpful.
It’s not a prequel to The Lord of the Rings. It’s a prequel to the Appendices of The Lord of the Rings.
I admit, to my shame, that until a few months ago I’d never read those appendices. Like, I suspect, most people, I closed the book when I reached the end of Book VI, skipping lightly over Appendices A-F and indeed all four indexes (Songs and Verses; Persons, Beasts and Monsters; Places; Things. In case you were wondering). But at the end of this most recent rereading, I gritted my teeth and ploughed in, only to find that I was rather enjoying most of them. Admittedly Appendix D (Calendars) is rather a lot less riveting than Appendix A (Annals of the Kings and Rulers). But the value of the appendices is an emergent property — a sense of solidity, consistency, you might almost say reality — that grounds the novel more firmly and makes everything in it feel more resonant.
As usual, that redoubtable Tolkein critic Andrew Rilstone says it best, in his classic essay Is Tolkien actually any good?:
Are we happy to read the book and file Numenor under ‘old splendid place; fell a long time ago’ and Elbereth as ‘important person, something to do with stars, reverenced by elves’? In a way, this adds to the solidity of the book, to the sense that Middle-earth exists outside of the confines of one novel. But it also turns the book into a sort of puzzle, a complicated thread of back and forward reference which the dedicated enthusiast can attempt to solve. (The Silmarillion is the solution, but the Simarillion is so unbelievably dense that merely reading it can be treated as a puzzle in its own right.) Where a normal, sane novel expects you to interpret metaphors, follow the author as he delineates character and create a little day dream in your mind, Tolkien expects you to remember facts, check things on maps, and maybe even jot down data on the back of an envelope.
But the thing is: it does work. Part of me revolts at the idea of reading a book of made-up-in-the-same-century-I-was-born-in artificial myths. It does feel, well, a bit silly (although, now I come to think of it, not particularly sillier than reading any other fiction). But somehow Tolkien has enough about him to make it all feel significant. Not merely enough inventiveness, enough philological insight, enough time on his hands. Something more is involved. I hestitate to say this, but I almost think you might call it greatness of spirit. C. S. Lewis’s ultra-positive review of Lord of the Rings on its initial publication said “Here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron.” That is extravagant praise, but also careful praise. It’s saying a specific and precise thing about the book, and of course it’s completely accurate. I don’t think any amount of carefully assembled history, geography, linguistics and mythology would in itself be enough to do that. I think the motor of Tolkien’s writing was something much deeper, and people who think that philology lay at its core quite mistake the matter.
So, what is The Silmarillion? It’s the mythical backdrop to Lord of the Rings; or, rather, it’s more of that backdrop, since much of it was in the appendices already. To attempt a rather pretentious analogy, it is not unlike the Old Testament against which LotR is the New; it’s not that you exactly need it to make sense of the more accessible book; but knowing the Old, and understanding it, casts a new light that makes the New shine more brightly, hold together more tightly, sing more clearly. It gives fresh and informative angles from which to view the much-loved and maybe over-familiar text.
In this light, Tolkein’s desire that both books be published together makes much more sense: it’s not (I assume) that he felt that they were in any way comparable as literature, but that the world-flavour laid down by the appendices was not sufficient, and needed The Silmarillion as a complement. In fact, the whole book might very well have been included as a sequence of further appendices to LotR, had it been ready in time and if page counts allowed it.
What The Silmarillion is like to read
Oh, my, but it’s dense.
It is really five separate works in one volume. Ainulindalë (12 pages) tells of Ilúvatar’s creation of the Ainur (something like angels or demi-gods) and the physical universe Eä, and of the rebellion of the Ainu Melkor. Valaquenta (14 pages) is an account of the Valar, the fourteen Ainur who descended into the physical universe to mould the earth, Arda, and defend it from Melkor. The great bulk of the book is taken up by the Quenta Silmarillion (270 pages), a set of tales of the First Age involving the Valar, their servants the Maiar, elves, men, and Melkor and his servants. Then follows Akallabêth (32 pages), the tale of the rise and fall of Numenor in the Second Age. And finally, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age (27 pages) tells what events led to The Lord of the Rings, and then summarises, from a different perspective, the events therein.
And there is so much stuff in there. For example, Valaquenta tells you not just the names of the fourteen Valar (seven male, seven female), but their relationships (who’s married to who, who is whose brother), their special areas of responsibility, their superpowers, their armour class and hit points, and (of course, this being Tolkien) the other names they are known by — for example, Varda is Elbereth. And you are expected to remember all this — there will be a test. I’m trying to absorb it all, but as I push on into the Quenta Silmarillion, I find myself repeatedly having to refer back to Valaquenta to remind myself, say, which one Kementári is. (Another name for Yavanna, responsible for trees and suchlike, wife of Aulë who “has might little less than Ulmo”, and whose lordship is — of course! — “over all the substances of which Arda is made”, and who gets a bonus of +4 on saving rolls.)
The Valar are not unlike the pantheon of Greek gods (Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, Hermes and their buddies). The difference is that you can’t help but learn the Greek gods in passing as you go through life. I’ve had forty-something years to get used to the idea that Hades is responsible for the dead, Hermes is the messenger of the gods, Hera is the wife of Zeus and so on. But Tolkein expects you absorb a similar amount of information in 14 pages, and then go on to apply it.
In fact, of all the books I’ve ever read, The Silmarillion reminds me most of The C Programming Language. Both books are complex, terse, demanding, unforgiving of lazy or careless readers, very very dense, and extremely rewarding. And if you care about the subjects they treat, they are indispensible.
So … that’s what I got from the first 54 pages.
Further bulletins as events warrant.
Enjoy. It took me a long time to really read it — I would often skim in and out, but never just read it straight through. It really is good for the most part. I think you’ve nailed what it is and is not, and once you have that internalized (or -ised in your case), the reading goes better.
I got the Valar down pretty easy — the problem I had (still have) is that all the major Elves have names that start with F, and I’m constantly flipping back to the index to see if Finarfin is the one in Gondolin or Doriath or what, or if I’m confusing him with Fingolfin, and what about Finrod who is also Felagund, and….
Bon courage! I have read everything – only once, as I’ve “discovered” Tolkien just a few years before the movies. Haven’t yet re-read LOTR after having digested The Silmarillion, but I’m planning to do that because I now have a better background to feel things fitting together. (I did read LOTR before the Hobbit too, so I’ll definitely want to read everything again in different order.) To continue your parallel with K&R, I’d say that LOTR contains a lot of bad pointers – en passant references to middle-earth lore that’s not completely explained even in the appendices – but The Silmarillion fixes these, no heap corruption anymore. :)
And after you finish this endurance, go read a full edition of Les Miserables. These have ~50% of footnotes… in every single page, no kidding. Not to mention a few enormous digressions from Hugo himself, e.g. for a detailed account of Waterloo. It is incredibly difficult to force yourself to read all those “extras”, remarkably if you’re not a Frenchman (as I’m not) so you don’t have a solid knowledge of France’s XIX century history and culture (as I didn’t). But it’s totally worth the effort. At the very least, you can boast to belong to some incredibly narrow elite when it ends. ;-)
I got about 1/3 of the way through on my last attempt. I will probably try again in a few months with ample notepaper nearby.
Brilliant book. If you want a novel, try reading the Children of Hurin, but it’s best to read that right after the Silmarillion, as they travel through very specific periods of the First Age. Tolkien is an unparalleled author.
Many people get quite a surprise when they sit down to read the Silmarillion because they “really liked LOTR”. It is quite a different beast, to say the least.
Personally I got completely hooked on it, much more than on LOTR. To this day I have read LOTR only three times, but the Silmarillion no less than six times. But you gotta be really (really really) into the whole mythology and self-contained-imaginary-universe thing, otherwise reading it will be like walking through a desert.
If you do get hooked though, there is plenty of other posthumously published works from Tolkien available. Don’t get Children of Hurin – take Unfinished Tales instead, it contains that story and many others.
If you are real hardcore, there are 12 other books which contains much more fragmented works and which are extremely heavy on comments and editing from Christopher Tolkien. Through his writing process, Tolkien kept constantly changing the names of people and places – so you can multiply the number of names you have to keep track on in the Sil by about 4 or 5. On top of that, much of the writing is in extremely archaic English and not easy to understand.
Very often while reading those books I have been sentimentally reminiscing about how simple things used to be when I was reading the Silmarillion.
Yet it is all worth the effort, and when you return to re-read LOTR after knowing your Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, it feels like reading a brand new book.
You might be interested to know that one of Silmarillion’s editors, Guy Gavriel Kay, went on to become a pretty accomplished writer. I suggest skipping the Fionavar Tapestry, which would likely seem like just a LotR clone, albeit updated with modern sensibilities. Instead, I’d recommend checking out either Tigana or Lions of Al-Rassan.
Just a little footnote to all the comments.
There’s an hard-rock concept album based on the Silmarillon, it’s from Blind Guardian and it’s titled “Nightfall in Middle-Earth”.
Btw Tolkien just rocks, still I prefer Michael Moorkock.
I can’t imagine how you could update LotR without doing violence to the very core of the work. I hesitate to quote Andrew Rilstone yet again, but he does say this extremely well, so rather than rephrase his observation, here are some of his thoughts on Peter Jackson’s partial “updating” of Theoden in the movie version of The Two Towers:
How can The Fionavar Tapestry avoid falling into that trap?
I read the Silmarillion when I was around 14 years old. An older cousin introduced me to The Hobbit. I loved it, and eagerly read The Lord of the Rings afterwards. I loved it so much that I demanded more, and he handed me the Silmarillion, with a warning. I ignored it, and I loved every piece of it. I memorized every part of the book, from the story to the names and all the genealogies, as only a young mind can. I started DMing the LoTR roleplaying game (yes, I was obsessed), and I read the Silmarillion 22 times in one summer. True story.
I completely agree with your review. The Silmarillion it’s not a novel, it’s more Tolkien’s Bible, and that’s why so many people don’t like it, but why I loved it. I wanted more information about the world, its history, its people, its languages. I suppose playing roleplaying games plays an important part in that, but I think people who don’t like the Silmarillion are those who want a novel, and/or are not willing to make the effort to understand and string together all the information.
I’ve had the Silmarillion on my bookshelf for at least 15 years but I’ve never been able to get into it. I think I gave up after about 30 pages :-(
I haven’t read Kernighan and Ritchie either. C isn’t really my thing!
Read it and then read Lord of the Rings again. The Silmarillion brings a consistency to the mythos that you won’t find in any other series of books.
Lord of the Rings is a better, stranger, sadder, more mind blowing experience once you gain the perspective. Lord of the Rings IS the tip of an iceberg. Almost everything in it is affected by the events in the Silmarillion.
I’m trying to think of a good example but there are too many.
The story of Aragorn and Arwen, and why Elrond (and Aragorn for that matter) are so pissed off.
Galadriels responses to stuff and why they won’t seem so odd anymore.
All the songs.
I could go on, I could go on and on into LOTR analysis. Ask your friend Alec – no bigger LOTR geek in this office.
Damn it. Its going back on my TO REREAD pile, AGAIN!
Good luck. I’ve tried many times, and I am no stranger to, nor disliker of, thick meaty tomes, but I simply can’t get past the endless pages of Nothing Actually Happening. You can write a fictional history that is readable, and you can write a novel that is readable, but trying to slam the two together creates a basically unreadable mess.
Man, first you write an entertaining programming blog, then you start writing insightful reviews for one of my great loves, Doctor Who, _then_ you dive into another of my (albeit more closeted) passions, Tolkien! I wonder what topic you will pluck from my mind next. (Of course, it is not surprising that interests in programming, DrWho and Tolkien commonly reside in one person.)
I read the Hobbit at more or less the proper age, late gradeschool, and quite enjoyed it. Around the same age, I was introduced to the Ultima computer games and fell in love, little realizing how liberally they themselves borrowed from Tolkien. Somehow, it wasn’t until well into adulthood that I moved on to The Lord of the Rings. I was astounded to find that here were all the foundations of fantasy concepts I had taken for granted in my life of playing D&D and Ultima games. It was like reading Shakespeare for the first time, finding it full of English language cliches, then realizing that’s because he invented them!
I’ve never seriously attempted The Silmarillion; I’ve only used it as reference material during re-reads of LOTR. Sometimes I have found myself forgetting LOTR for a while, though, engrossed in the specific tale being told in Sil, Akallabêth particularly.
On Benny’s note, I didn’t know that about Guy Gavriel Kay! His Tigana is outstanding, and not your typical derivative fantasy literature (I’m looking at you, Eragon); I heartily recommend it.
I never read the Silmarillion as a cover-to-cover novel. Between that and the various “histories” and “lost tales” that have come out in recent years, it’s more like hyperlinked sources for LOTR and the Appendices, adding layers of detail depending on how deeply you want to dig. Except far better writing then most hyperlinked backstory fan sources.
It’s the tidbits that tie it together for me, not so much the narrative. Picking up on what “Goldolin” was beyond a throwaway line about Sting in The Hobbit. Learning (from the Appendices) that Aragorn spent years in disguise as a captain in Gondor, jealously regarded by Denathor. Realizing the sheer, sheer weight of sadness behind Galadriel referring to Middle Earth as “The Long Defeat.”
All in all, approaching these works as references gave so much character and depth to the next time after that I re-read LOTR (which is still the pinnacle of balancing storytelling with background IMO – I seem to end up just picking it up and re-reading every couple years or so).
By the way, I highly HIGHLY recommend Tom Shippey’s The Road To Middle Earth. He was a professor at Leeds (Tolkien’s chair IIRC) and does a masterful job at tying together the literature with the Anglo Saxon with the English land itself (with a special reference to influences from the North). It’s not pretentious lit-crit; it’s one of those reflections that reminds you why teaching literature is a worthwhile profession.
Trivial tidbit example: his illuminating philological comments on Tolkien’s in-jokes: giving “Bag-end” and “Sackville” the exact same underlying meaning, except one from the stout Anglo-Saxon and the other from that pretentious imported Norman stuff.
My timing was unfortunate as far as the Silmarillion went — I discovered LoTR at age 11, and devoured the rest of the series, plus the Hobbit and (as I recall) Farmer Giles of Ham. But the Silmarillion was just too far outside of my experience at that point.. I read it, but absorbed nothing. If I’d tried again at age 14 or 15, when I was in full-on, nothing but time adolescent geek mode, I probably would have sucked it into permanent storage almost instantly.. it’s the sort of thing that would have appealed immensely.
These days, I don’t really have the luxuries of time and attention required to properly immerse myself into that sort of endeavour, but I’m tempted to try anyways, just because I know how often I wish I *did* have all that background in my head as I try and introduce my son to Tolkien.
Thanks for the always thought-provoking posts!
And as a postscript, since nobody else has, I’ll offer a link to a wonderfully snarky song, called “I Fell Asleep Reading the Silmarillion”, by Brooke Lunderville and John Caspell:
Just one comment – LOTR isn’t structured like a novel, it’s structured like a romance. Not a modern romance novel, but a chivalric romance.
Hence the frustration some people feel with it’s organization and pacing.
I gave up on the Silmarillion – having brushed through it, it did not seem so readable. Now having read your article, this suddenly seems to make sense. Perhaps, at some time to come… :-)
Thought your analogy with the Old- and New Testament was very positive!
I read the Simarillion from front to back before you were born, when I had more patience.
In subsequent years I have discovered its chief value. Pick it up, and let the volume open where it will. Choose a paragraph at random. That paragraph is guaranteed to be a more wretchedly overwrought example of correct English grammar than you will be able to find anywhere on your desk.
Seriously. Just open it up anywhere at all, and start reading aloud. It makes a good party trick.
I will add that the Valar are a load of lazy goodfornothings.
I read this as I have just broken into The Two Towers for the third or fourth (or fifth?) time. The Silmarillion made a LOT more sense the second time through. I’m not sure whether it was my age or having read LoTR again. I look forward to reading it again in the near future, as it is a wonderful thing to behold. Enjoy!
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Remember that what we read as the Silmarillion was assembled from bits and pieces by Christopher Tolkien and G. G. Kay. Who knows what the final version would have looked like had JRRT lived to finish it himself.
The History of Middle Earth is actually a collection of not only supplemental materials but various stages of draft manuscripts, and there are, for example, at least three different versions of the narratives in the Silmarillion spread across the 12 volumes.
I found the Old/New Testament analogy spot on. The themes of fall, redemption and loss which are an undercurrent of LotR are explicit in the Silmarillion.
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Was browsing RotK appendices last night, came across this, and thought of this thread.
Here, nearly 2000 years AFTER the “last” alliance, a smoking gun from Appendix A, Tolkien’s own hand:
“But when Earnur [prince of Gondor] came to the Gray Havens there was joy and great wonder among both Elves and Men… so many were his ships… and from them descended an army of power… then Cirdan summoned all who would come to him, from Lindon or Arnor, and when all was ready the host crossed the Lune and marched north to challenge the Witch-king of Angmar.
[a great battle described in which Angmar’s host retreats in a rout]
“Then the Witch-king… fled northwards… before he could gain the shelter of Carn Dum the cavalry of Gondor overtook him with Earnur riding at their head. At the same time, a force under Glorfindel the Elf-lord came up out of Rivendell. Then so utterly was Angmar defeated that not a man nor an orc of that realm remained west of the Mountains.
[Followed by an up-close scene where the Witch-king challenges Earnur before
being chased off by Glorfindel]”
All I can say is, this sounds like a heck of a lot more than the 300 elves we’re complaining about showing up in Helm’s Deep in the movie.
Oops, wrong Tolkien Thread! (sorry)
Great work, squidfood!
Ha! Take that, lastness of the so-called Last Alliance!
It doesn’t say anywhere that the “force under Glorfindel” consisted of Elves. It seems obvious that he simply took the leadership of a host of Gondorians.
(Reaching? Who’s reaching?)
What do you think the relationship between myth and truth? Especially in relation to the novel?
Hi, Richard, it’s been a while. On this subject, I am with C. S. Lewis all the way: a myth can show us a truth that mere fact is powerless to exhibit. Pablo Picasso said “We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.” I think that is very astute. For example, the portrayal of Aslan in the Narnia books moves me more deeply than the gospel accounts themselves, even though Lewis had not the slightest intention of writing truth. He wrote a lie that makes me realise the truth; and Tolkein, in a more oblique way, does the same.
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I loved reading ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings” (though I am finishing up ‘Return of the King’ right now.)
And I just started reading some of the appendix first (>.<) I loved tthe one about Aragorn and Arwen, and Durin's Folk; it is really interesting and catchy.
I am obsessed with LOTR trilogy, looking forward to 'The Hobbit' movie (coming out in winter 2012). And, yes, I feel kind of ashamed of not reading the books when I watched LOTR extended version movie 8 times or something. I would recommend LOTR to EVERYONE!!!!!!! Young and Old. While reading the books I've noticed: they are all different in its own way; the "Fellowship of the Ring" is more like "The Hobbit", pretty peaceful (well, the most peaceful I guess), it's really hard to explain, but if you watched the movies, you'll understand the difference (it's kinda like the movies). Though the books are so much better!!!!!!!!!
I am planning to read 'The Silmarillion' next. Though I don't know the order of the whole trilogy, can somebody help me out with the order of reading please?
How I got really into 'Silmarillion'? Well, first I had to do a school project (grade 8 )- a book trailer, and I was reading ROTK, and we couln't use a lot of pictures from the movie; so I looke up some pictures of 'Silmarillion'. And I got really interesting. Though I've new about the book, and kind of knew what it was about (back of LOTR, reading Tolkien's biography, the actual FOTR book [Aragorn and Elrond were talking about it]).
What other books will you recommend me, people?
Sorry for writing so long, but I love Tolkien's trilogy! :)
You can find me on facebook (just message me about it, cause if I don't know you I am not even gonna except your request or anything): Maria Zibnitskaya
Maria, great that you are discovering the books behind the films! As to reading order: traditionally one would start with The Hobbit, then read all three volume of Lord of the Rings. All the other material (Silmarillion, Lost Tales, etc.) is relatively fragmentary and can be read in any order.
Ok, thanks! It’s just I wasn’t sure about the order of Silmarillion and Lost Tales. Thanks again.
I only just found this piece google-fishing for pieces on The Simarillion. It’s extremely late to say so but your three posts (particularly this and the last) have helped give me the impetus and confidence to try The Silmarillion. Ooh, dramatic, aren’t I?! Thanks for the link to Andrew Rilstone’s fascinating and useful weblog posts too, his reviews of the Jackson films are amusing and apposite too. Apropos of nothing, the three film adaptation of The Hobbit seems a dubious undertaking, as if Jackson’s *worst* inclinations have taken over, has anyone noticed him wearing a ring? There would seem to be a difference between Tolkien inventing a cosmology and mythology that enriched The Hobbit (in revisions) and The Lord of the Rings in story-terms whilst also existing apart from them and Jackson apparently bloating The Hobbit’s story with material drawn from or “inspired by” non-Hobbit Tolkien in order to make it more “important”. Now, the movies *may* be good but this seems like typical Hollywood “player” hubris and slightly contemptuous of the source material to boot. Perhaps I’m too cynical (I prefer the term “observant”. Heh) but this may be another example of the drive to allow no mystery or ambiguity and to explain everything in ever-more tedious – yet unconvincing – detail. Frodo, Legolas and co. turning up? Huh. Having said that the biggest problem may be that though Martin Freeman is personable he’s also vastly less talented an actor than Ian Holm. Uhm, irrelevant rant/digression ends.
So, The Silmarillion? You’ve encouraged me to tackle it. Thank you!
P. S. Interesting that Melkor was Morgoth (?) before he fell and that Johnny Byrne/ CH Bidmead wrote of the evil *Melkur* in The Keeper of Traken. That’s a Doctor Who story with an interesting cosmology, entropy envisioned in renaissance-era terms with fairytale/fantasy trappings.
THanks, Hal — I am delighted to have provoked you to leap into Sil, and I’m confident that you’ll find it richly rewarding.
Regarding the Hobbit movies, I share your trepidation. Had it been made as a single film, I would have been very optimistic that Jackson and co (especially with McKellan’s involvement) would do a great job. I was unhappy to learn it was being split in two, and dumbfounded to learn it was being stretched across three films, like chocolate pudding scraped across too much ham.
We’ll see. I suspect I’ll still love it; but maybe not respect it.
As a long time tolkien fan I’d like to address something you’ve said near the end of your review, namely that “the motor of Tolkien’s writing was something much deeper, and people who think the philology lay at its core quite mistake the matter.” This is true; tolkien’s motor is his incredibly strong sense of right and wrong and the very stark vision he uses to delineate the difference.
I’ve read the book numerous times starting from my early teens, and I remember almost all of it, including the genealogies and relationships. It’s shaped my views of right and wrong and good and evil quite a great deal, in as much as I believe these things exist. That is tolkien’s motor; the belief that right/wrong good/evil exist. IMHO
Thanks, Bangy. I agree with everything you say here. But I’d go further, and say that Tokien’s motor was not just that good and evil exist, but a specific notion of what is good and what is evil; and that was in large part (though not exclusively) informed by his deeply held Catholicism.
Hey Mike. Thank you for replying so promptly. I agree with you completely but I’d add that he had good taste/judgement and that’s why his vision of good and evil has such wide appeal.
I find it hugely encouraging that so many people are so captured by a coherent moral framework.
I liked it more than LotR. It’s more of a mythology collection/Bible, but it works really well.
The Sil has no characters ? What are Feanor, Beren, Fingolfin, Luthien, Morgoth, Maedhros, Maeglin, Turin Turambar, Hurin, Thingol, [insert dozens of names], if not characters ? Isildur is clearly distinguished from his father Elendil, and Tar-Palantir could never be confused with his nephew & usurping successor Ar-Pharazon. All these, and many more, are clearly distinguished from one another.
“I liked it more than LotR.”
## Same here. There is room in it for 20 TLOTRs.
I thought I was pretty clean on the “no characters” line in the original post:
I’d say that’s true of everyone you named here. In fact I’ll go futher: arguably the whole point of Túrin, who is treated at greater length than anyone else in Silmarilion, is that he does not change and grow. At the end of his life, he’s still the same pig-headed anti-hero that he was when he left home. He goes through all these experiences, but it’s not a “hero’s journey”, because his character is already irrevocably set by the combination of his ancestry and his earliest years in in Hithlum. Túrin is immutable: not a character, but a rock on which ordinary people can (and do) dash themselves.
In this respect, it’s really informative to compare the ‘final’ form of the Silmarillion (scare quotes because the only thing that stopped Tolkien’s continual re-writes was his eventual lack of life) with the earliest versions given in The Book of Lost Tales, in which Tolkien was still explicitly trying to create an ‘English mythology’. These are a lot more in the style of a mythic epic like the Kalevala or the Prose Edda, and the moral background presented in them is correspondingly less definite. So, for instance, among the Valar we have the war gods Makar and Meassé, who delight in blood and destruction, and are perhaps a bit more sympathetic to Melko than the other Valar. As the Silmarillion developed, it became more consistent with Tolkien’s own values than those of a Bronze Age society. The Valar became more like ‘angels’ than ‘gods’, and the morality lost some of its greyness.
That is interesting. More motivation for me to get around to reading The History of Middle-earth at some point.
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I’m not sure why so many people have a problem reading The Silmarillion. I didn’t have any problem but I admit I’m a bit different in many respects. I seem to recall Christopher (Tolkien of course) writes about this subject in either The Return of the Shadow or The Treason of Isengard but I can’t recall for certain (it might have been The Unfinished Tales or even something he wrote [I seem to think he did write in the beginning of it but I am not 100% sure now] in the Letters).
I beg to differ about not relating to the characters in The Silmarillion; I see myself in many. In contrast I don’t see that as much in The Lord of the Rings (maybe if I gave it some thought I could). It’s also worth remembering that Tolkien saw his wife as Lúthien and he saw himself as Beren; it’s even on their grave.
And I think I can offer some insight as to why Tolkien wanted The Silmarillion more than (and along with) The Lord of the Rings: he was much more interested in it (he also talks about this in at least one of the Letters; Christopher might also mention it somewhere but I cannot recall for certain on the latter). Keep in mind that The Hobbit wasn’t meant to have a sequel but it was so successful it was wanted. It took him years to complete despite him suggesting he would be able to have a manuscript in a short while. Yet it was The Silmarillion that really started it all; it was his mythology.
I would say also that it isn’t a prequel to the appendix of The Lord of the Rings but instead it is of the early days; the First Age especially. Whether you would call this a prequel to the appendix I guess is a matter of semantics but I don’t even consider it a prequel of anything at all. Yes all what happens takes place before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings but I see it as a different entity.
If you’re very into Tolkien’s creations then I would highly recommend the other books; this includes The Unfinished Tales, the 12 volume History of Middle-earth, The Letters, and all the rest. But if you have trouble with The Silmarillion part of it might be difficult (perhaps especially the many parts that refer to The Silmarillion). Maybe it would make reading The Silmarillion easier though; would say it depends on the reader.
(Oh, and I admit I’m a stickler but technically The C Programming Language second edition isn’t K&R C although maybe you refer to the authors instead. In any case I find it really fascinating [and bringing up K&R versus ANSI is maybe the opening of this] how many programmers I know – including myself – who are deeply into fantasy.. although probably I am more than all the other programmers I know).