The Silmarillion

Author: J.R.R. Tolkien

Published By: Ballantine Books

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            I was very young when I first read a J.R.R. Tolkien novel.  It was in the early 1970s that I remember telling my father I was bored.  His response was to hand me a book - The Hobbit.  By the time I was ten years old, I had read that novel and the following series, The Lord of the Rings.  I then tried my hand at The Silmarillion, but just couldnít get into the book.  Years later, I tried again with similar results.  Now that I have matured a little, I decided to see if the third time would be the charm and picked up The Silmarillion one last time.

            The book has changed over the years.  J.R.R. Tolkien has been long dead, but his son, Christopher, in going over his fatherís old notes, has discovered things pertinent to The Silmarillion.  Believing them pertinent enough to add to the novel, a second edition was created, featuring an introduction by Christopher Tolkien, a letter written by his father who had hoped to publish The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion simultaneously, and a couple of added chapters coming from the notes of J.R.R. Tolkien and edited by Christopher Tolkien.

            The Silmarillion is basically a series of short stories that explains the origins of Tolkienís earth.  It is a sort of mythological explanation for everything surrounding the world he created and the storylines of his later novels.  In a tale that reads like a cross between Genesis from the Old Testament and Greek and Roman mythology, Tolkien explains how his world and its occupants first came to be.  Later tales explain the evolution of this world, the greed of one god-like creature and how it nearly destroyed the world, the creation of the Rings of Power, the coming of the Wizards and more.

            What is most interesting about this novel is not the stories themselves, but Tolkienís mythological explanations of the creation of mountain formations, the reason for evil existing in the world, the evolution of seasons, and more.  Itís like reading mythology and one must constantly remind themselves that they are reading mythology about a fictional world and not our own.  And yet, the world Tolkien describes, with its dark and greedy characters taken on by those who maintain a sense of morality and goodness, strongly reflects our own history. 

            I enjoyed the explanation of how evil came to be in Tolkienís fictional world and how it found a way to persist in existence, marring the beauty of the world that was originally created and corrupting the minds of its inhabitants.  Having been a fan of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, it was nice to learn the origins of many of the characters and events spoken of in these novels.  Most importantly, The Silmarillion reveals the origin of Sauron, the villain of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  I particularly enjoyed the story of the creation of the rings and the coming of the Wizards.  To this we owe our thanks to Christopher Tolkien as it was not in the original edition of the book, but added on later.

            Having started and stopped reading The Silmarillion a number of times, finally completing the book was a challenge to me and one I refused to back away from.  That being said, I must explain the reasons for my initial failures to complete this reading.  Tolkienís books were written in the early 1900s and therefore are written in that old English legend style.  People arenít killed, theyíre smote or slain, they donít lose their minds, they become fey, and so on.  This sort of writing takes a little getting used to.  Unfortunately, it can be hard to get used to this when Tolkien throws a bunch of exotic names at you.  Some of the characters in this novel have numerous names depending on the variety of languages spoken by the people around them.  A man could have one name in Elvish tongue, another in the language spoken by the Dwarves and still another in the language spoken by men.  This can get confusing.  Even more confusing are the similarities between the names of different characters.  For example, in the house of FinwŽ, there existed three brothers, FŽanor, Fingolfin and Finarfin.  Grandkids in the house of FinwŽ included cousins Finrod and Fingon.  Finrod also went under the name Felagund.  Can you see what Iím talking about?

            If you are a diehard Hobbit and Lord of the Rings fan, then, like me, you are going to want to read this book, but be warned: this is not an easy read and not for the faint of heart.  You must have a certain determination to continue on with this book past its first couple of chapters.  You must have the literary stamina to continue reading despite the spinning your mind may be doing.  The Silmarillion is not an easy read, but seeing as it explains the very world we fell in love with in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, I donít see how we can skip reading it.


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