Book Review (THE SILMARILLION by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien)

I just finished J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE SILMARILLION, published in 1977, four years after the author’s death, thanks largely to his son Christopher Tolkien, who edited the book and added in an appendix and an extremely helpful index of names. I read Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy many years ago. I intentionally took my time to get to this prequel to those four books, and I can see why. I had to ripen into middle age to have enough patience to read this ornately detailed text. This took me longer to read than Tolstoy’s ANNA KARENINA, which is more than double this book’s length.

THE SILMARILLION is a series of narratives about Tolkien’s make believe world of Arda and Middle-earth, the very beginning of the book a creation myth. Tolkien drew much of his inspiration from Norse and Celtic mythology respectively. His prose has a lyrical lilting quality to it, as if someone were speaking all the words aloud in any possible number of Gaelic accents, whichever happens to be the most musical in tone.

For more than half of the book, I felt a mix of fascination and irritation. The plethora of beautiful names of characters (Elven, Dwarf, human, dragon, and other fantastical creatures) and places and their colorful descriptions held my interest. But, having to constantly look so many of these up in the index in order to keep things straight in my head annoyed me for a good while. Eventually, I got used to doing this and found I didn’t have to refer to the index quite so frequently. Still, I continued to refer to it down to the last page of story. And since beings, places, and objects (especially buildings, rings, and swords) each tended to have two to three names, my reliance on the index was only further reinforced. Perhaps not everyone will need, or has needed, to refer to the index so frequently as I did while reading this tome, which is actually less than three hundred pages in length if you exclude the index and appendix.

I compare this book— especially the first half of it or so— to walking through a museum of ancient, fantastical history, filled with assorted artifacts and detailed descriptions about them. I only wish a map of Middle-earth were included. I would have constantly been looking at it to properly place in my mind where regions/countries, cities, and natural places, such as rivers and mountain ranges, all were in relation to each other. I vaguely remember some map(s) in the first part of Tolkien’s THE LoTR and THE HOBBIT texts, but this old copy of THE SILMARILLION had no such illustration. I made due and tolerated some confusion around what was where in relation to an event or other places because I preferred this over taking the time to get online and study a map of Middle-earth. After all, it’s not like I was going to be tested on this book in some class. I’m just not that geeky or obsessive and wanted to stay in the lyrical flow of the stories— and be done with the book without even more delays.

Eventually, the stories pick up pace with more action and an increase in focusing on individual characters, mostly concerning wars and battles fought, or situations somehow contributing to these, and always clearly between good and evil. Tolkien’s morality-filled universe is a simplified Manichean one, but still a relevant allegory, I find. His message of the need to be ever vigilant of greed and the thirst for power, in oneself and others, continues to be as crucial today as has always been the case with humankind. I appreciate how he includes the values of hope and perseverance, hope that the light within nature and societies can and will live on and, with individual and collective perseverance towards the light, will ultimately come through triumphantly for long periods, even as darkness ebbs and flows. It is a cycle, a cycle of life, as seen through cycles within cycles, such as the transitioning of seasons, of civilizations rising and falling, and of land masses changing. This all is expressed in a steady and beautiful rhythm in THE SILMARILLION.

The book is a worthwhile read if you are naturally patient or can muster up enough patience like I finally did.

3 thoughts on “Book Review (THE SILMARILLION by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien)

  1. I think many Tolkien readers are repetitive readers (as are readers of poetry and listeners of music), so the languages and names and terrains become part of one’s familiar culture, if only in a fantasy world (and shared in a fan world).
    I find it interesting that though for seemingly forever until modern times, humans enjoyed the repetition of stories (and children still do), but now it’s unusual for people to want to read a book (or even see a film) more than once).

    I’ve had a notion to do a Tolkien book binge for a long time, but haven’t yet. I have only ever read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Maybe this will be the Winter…but I am just diving into the alt Tolkien…Robert Jordan, whose books are many and large, and my former reading powers have abandoned me. Sigh.

    Though I’m coming up on the annual movie marathon begun years ago with the Tolkien-adoring offspring…Uncut versions Of Hobbits, followed by the revered uncut Lord of the Rings… (debatable merits of past film adaptations had been put to bed, but this year’s marathon will be spiced with animated disagreements and critiques about Amazon’s new Rings of Power!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am admittedly not at all much of a repetitive reader. I am awaiting THE ATLAS OF MIDDLE-EARTH to come in at my local library, however, for me to then enjoy looking over, just for a fun way to linger with Tokien’s make believe universe after recently reading his THE SILMARILLION.

      In regards to movies, I am somewhat of a repeat viewer, to a limited extent. The record amount of time I’ve ever seen a movie is five times. However, I may surpass that with a small handful of classics that I like to enjoy every once in a while over the decades.

      I believe I saw the uncut LoTR movies…unless there have been some more recently re-released editions that have any *more* restored footage in them that did not get shown in the theatrical releases. THE HOBBIT movies were too long and bloated up for my liking and I have friends who feel the same way about those Peter Jackson productions. There is no way I wish to watch any further added in footage to the already too long HOBBIT films. I wish he had kept strictly to the book more in his translation of it onto the big screen.

      May you enjoy your movie marathon with your dear offspring!

      Liked by 1 person

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