The Silmarillion is actually Tolkien's first book and also his last. In origin it precedes even The Hobbit, and is the story of the First Age of Tolkien's Middle Earth. It shows us the ancient history to which characters in The Lord of the Rings look back, talk, rhyme and sing about. Tolkien worked on it, changed it, and enlarged it throughout his entire life. It was edited and published posthumously by his son Christopher Tolkien, with the assistance of fantasy fiction writer Guy Gavriel Kay to reconstruct some major parts.
|The Silmarillion combines five parts:
1. The Ainulindalë - the creation of Eä, Tolkien's universe.
2. The Valaquenta - a description of the Valar and Maiar
3. The Quenta Silmarillion - the history of the events before and during the First Age
4. The Akallabêth - the history of the Second Age
5. Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age
These five parts, in origin separate works, were put together as this is how J.R.R.Tolkien would hav liked it.
Cchapters in the book that i like a lot:
- "Of Beren and Lúthien"
- "The Narn i Chîn Húrin" - The Tale of the Children of Húrin
- "The Fall of Gondolin" - which is my all time favourite
Read more on Collecting The Silmarillion
It's more than slightly staggering to consider the epic fantasy "Lord of the Rings" to be the tail end of Tolkien's invented history. The "Bible" of Middle-Earth, the "Silmarillion" stretches from the beginning of time to the departure of the Elves from Middle-earth.
A complete summary is impossible, because the book spans millennia and has one earth-shattering event after another. But it includes the creation of Tolkien's invented pantheons of angelic beings under Eru Iluvatar, also known as God; how they sang the world into being; the creation of Elves, Men, and Dwarves; the legendary love story of Beren and Luthien, a mortal Man and an Elf maiden who gives up her immortality for the man she loves; the demonic Morgoth and Sauron; Elves of just about any kind - bad, mad, dangerous, good, sweet, brave, and so forth; the creation of the many Rings of Power - and the One Ring of Sauron; the Two Trees that made the sun and moon; and finally the quest of the Ringbearer, Frodo Baggins.
Many old favorites will pop up over the course of the book, such as Elrond, Galadriel, Gandalf, and so on. Fans of Elves will find plenty to feed their hunger; fans of Hobbits or Dwarves will not find as much here. It will also answer some questions that "Hobbit" and LOTR may raise, when references to long-ago incidents and people are made - what is Numenor? Who are the Valar? This includes those things, and much more.
The writing style of Silmarillion is more akin to the Eddas, the Bible, or the Mabinogian than to "Lord of the Rings." It's more formal and archaic in tone; Tolkien did not get as "into" the heads of his characters in Silmarillion as he did in LOTR, and there is no central character. Needless to say, this is necessary as a more in-depth approach would have taken centuries to write, let alone perfect. If readers can bypass the automatic dislike of more formal prose, they will find enchanting stories and a less evocative but very intriguing writing style. This style strongly leans on the Eddas, collections of story and song that were unearthed and translated long ago. Though obviously not as well-known as LOTR, it is clear that these collections helped influence the Silmarillion.
It's clear to see, while reading this, the extent of Tolkien's passion for his invented history. Someone who had a lack of enthusiasm could not have spent much of his adult life writing, revising, and polishing a history that never was. It's also almost frighteningly imaginative and real: It isn't too hard to imagine that these things could actually have happened. In a genre clogged with shallow sword'n'sorcery, Tolkien's coherent, carefully-written backstory is truly unique.
If you can take the formal prose and mythical style, this is a treasure, and a must-read for anyone who loved LOTR or "Hobbit." Only after reading "The Silmarillion" can readers truly appreciate Tolkien's literary accomplishments, and the full scope of the Middle-Earth that is glimpsed in his more famous books.
This is NOT an easy read, and can seem a bit like a list of names or the old testament at times. You have to study this book - work at it, with the Return of the King's appendix and this books appendix at hand to constantly be refered to. It took me several attempts to get through it the first time, but now I honestly enjoy dusting this off at least as much as the lord of the rings. It's now impossible for me to read one without the other. And the more you read it the more I like it, the more I understand it the less I understand how one author was able to create it.
The sense of history, depth and grandeur that's apparent in the lord of the rings is so MUCH more convincing than any other fantasy novel for a reason. That history has been written. It's real (if you follow me!).
Tolkien created a series of languages, a world, all of its history, all of it's peoples, all of its geography, its gods, its conception, its weather, its plants, its trees, its animals, its seasons, its calendars etc etc. He created everything. The lord of the rings is not just a little fantasy story flung against some backdrop reminescent of medieval europe. Sadly most "epic fantasy" stories are just that.
However, the lord of the rings is really just a side track, and one that tolkien was loathe to take himself. As a story it's epic enough. It really only deals with a very short, fleeting piece of something so much larger. The Silimarillion is your first chance to appreciate this, and I suggest you enjoy it!
This book is flawed, Christopher Tolkien admits as much himself in the history of middle earth and the foreword to unfinished tales. CT indulged in some "editorial meddling" (his words) to make a coherent story from a collection of disparate, contradictory writings. The result is, in spite of this, still rather convoluted and taxing. For me, the need to keep your wits about you, cross check information and really work at reading this is part of the fun.
The only real 'problem' with this work is that it just leaves you wanting more!
Luckily for you the history of middle earth and unfinished tales provide you with just that.