The Silmarillion

How long have I had The Silmarillion on my shelf? The copy I have is a bookclub edition printed in 1977. Why did I wait 29 years to read this book? It’s silly, really. I was so enthralled by The Lord of the Rings and JRR Tolkien that I wanted something of his to look forward to. It was like a sweet treat that I tucked away for a rainy day…and then eventually forgot about.

And now that I’ve read it…well, the candy accumulated bits of dirt and lint along the way, because, (I can’t believe I’m going to say this) it wasn’t that good. I mean don’t get me wrong, the stories and the mythology are wonderful, but the tales included aren’t written in a particularly good narrative style. It’s all told as a mythos, with very little dialog. We’re always hovering over the world, looking down at what is happening. And you can tell it was written to act as a kind of bible. As part of the creation myth for Middle Earth (actually, that is exactly what the first parts are).

I am glad I read it, but frankly just because now I know the myths myself. The actual act of reading it wasn’t particularly enjoyable (though I will say, it gets better the farther in you get). Rather than one big story there are a few separate volumes under one cover: Aunuliundale (The Music of the Ainur) starts it and is the tale of how the world was created. Valaquenta (Account of the Valar) is about the Valar and Maiar (gods and godlings, roughly) and of the one Valar, Melkor, who fell and was later called Morgoth. Among his servants was a Maiar named Sauron, and we know what ended up happening to him! These are both short works.

Next comes Quenta Silmarillion (The History of the Silmarils) which takes up the bulk of the volume and is mostly about the Elves. But…these elves are just as petty and impressionable as men are in The Third Age and it was rather disheartening to see them all squablling and going to war with each other and being manipulated by Morgoth. They weren’t very likable, most of them. Galadriel and Celeborn are in this story, not that they play a huge role, but it’s astounding to think of how long they’ve lived. Elrond appears near the end, too.

Then comes Akallabeth (The Downfall of Numenor) [forgive me for not chasing down all the appropriately accented characters here] which tells of the fall of the Numenorians as they, too, squabble and grow petty and allow themselves to be manipulated by Sauron. Last is Of The Rings of Power and the Third Age which very briefly tells the same tale as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings only again, without dialog or characters to speak of.

This last bit fills me with awe. I imagine (and I’m probably wrong) that Tolkien wrote out his creation myths and then started telling stories based around them, starting with Of the Rings of Power… which he turned into Lord of the Rings. I just imagine what Quenta Silmarillion would’ve spawned if Tolkien had lived long enough to tell that tale in a more narrative format.

The Simarillion is of course required reading for devoted students of Tolkien, but the rest of you can safely pass it by and not worry that you’re missing out on anything nearly as wonderful as The Lord of the Rings is.

3 thoughts on “The Silmarillion

  1. I felt the same way. I actually bought a first edition copy of this book and never read it because I knew it would only dissapoint. I mean it could be great, but it would still pale in comparison to LOTR. Guess it will stay on my shelf.

  2. I believe you were dissapointed with Silmarillion, mainly because you approached this book with wrong attitude. You expected another great story like that in LOTR, which of course was wrong, though LOADS of people are caught in this trap. In fact Tolkien’s greatest book is not LOTR (although the most popular one) but Silmarillion. However one could only see this reading this book deeper and having some knowledge about various mythologies. If you look at this book from the very perspective, you will be dazzled by the coherence of this book with all other books of Tolkien and wit of the very author to link many different ideas from different mythologies and modify them so to suit his world. He was a great writer, perfectionist in all he was writing.

    It is not true that he wrote Silmarillion and only then did he begin writing other stories. In fact he was writing Silmarillion all his life. True, it was the first book he began to write (although he started from certain myths, not being aware they will be a part of a book), though it was also the last one (he never finished it, as he always elieved there is something to improve :))

    For me it is a FANTASTIC book, for it is the essence of Tolkien’s World and without it we wouldn’t have LOTR and other great stories.

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