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The Silmarillion
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1,145 of 1,175 people found the following review helpful
on October 4, 2007
In the Tolkien canon, "The Silmarillion" is the most highly contested of all his works. Constructed as a prehistoric history of the Universe, the book has the cultural significance of the Bible in Tolkien's universe. It is Tolkien's primary work, but it's also his most troublesome, in more ways than one. One thing you need to know. In Tolkien scholarship, there are two primary ways to refer to the "Silmarillion". One is the Silmarillion, the legendarium proper, and then the 1977 "Silmarillion", which may or may not be what Tolkien envisioned.

"The Silmarillion" , the book Tolkien spent all of his adult life writing, was, sadly, incomplete when Tolkien died at the age of eighty one in 1973. Naturally, this begs the question why did it take him decades to write the book, and it still be unfinished after all that time? Well, to understand that, you need to understand two things: the scope of the project, and how Tolkien worked.

The scope of the book was a complete imaginary history, a totally self-contained mythology, all written and developed for his home country, England (my home country as well). Imagine the Greek and Roman mythologies, all those myths and gods, developed by one man. Imagine Homer completely inventing all the gods for his stories. Imagine how hard that would be to come up with your own mythological traditions as such. No wonder Tolkien had such a hard time completing the work.

Now, the scope (which is extremely ambitious for any artist) was compounded by how Tolkien worked. First, he was a philologist first and foremost, and so before the stories he invented languages. All of these languages (which would have taken a life-time to develop on their own) had their own history, and are so interlocked with the mythology that you cannot remove them. He developed the main body of legends around these languages. Many features of the central body of legends changed relatively little over the years, but he wrote different versions of them at different times and in different styles. Some of the legends were set in poetry, those in annalistic histories, others in condensed summaries, and others in the more traditional (at least, for modern readers) novel format. A lot of these writings are also unfinished, due to Tolkien's perfectionist tendencies. Christopher Tolkien said that for most of his father's writing there existed a stable tradition from which Tolkien worked from, but there was no such thing as a stable text for the primary legends.

All this is tied to how Tolkien worked. C. S. Lewis famously stated that you did not influence Tolkien, you may as well as try to influence a bandersnatch. Tolkien would either take no notice of your criticism, or else he would start all over from the beginning. And so he did. A lot. Tolkien would reach a certain portion of the draft, be unsatisfied, and began the whole thing over again, while never reaching the end. Or Tolkien would have two copies of the same manuscript, one to be the fair copy and one to be working copy. Well, Tolkien would make conflicting revisions on both copies at separate times. How do you decide his final intent? Good question. These tendencies presented major problems from Christopher Tolkien when he prepared the 1977 "Silmarillion"

Another problem with Tolkien's work also is that toward the end of his life, he began contemplating changing major features of the mythology that stretched back to the earliest versions. A lot of these changes had to do with cosmology, with the sun and moon, and changing Arda (the earth) from a flat-world to a round world. In the original mythology, and the 1977 version, Arda begins as a flat world but is made into a round world. Tolkien contemplated other major changes that would have totally changed much of the more distinguishable features of the mythology, stable features present from the very beginning. Consult "Myths Transformed" in Morgoth's Ring: The Later Silmarillion, Part One: The Legends of Aman (The History of Middle-Earth, Vol. 10), Vol. 10 of THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH for more information.

Then we have the problem of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien was tantalizing close to some sort of final version of the work in the late 1930s (indeed, the 1937 version of the "Quenta Silmarillion" is the only complete version he ever made of the primary work and which is heavily used in the 1977 "The Silmarillion"). Then, due to publisher demand, Tolkien began working on his masterpiece for the next fourteen years, leaving the "Silmarillion" legendarium completely untouched for over a decade. When Tolkien picked up the "Silmarillion" again, he now had to account for LOTR and somehow incorporate that major work into the mythology. Tolkien did a lot of work on the legendarium after the completion of LOTR, but this work was plagued with uncertainty and contemplation of radical rewriting.

And in the last years of his life, Tolkien also began moving away from strict narrative and began working extensively on theological matters, essays on Elvish culture and linguistics, and other matters not tied to the actual narrative of the main storyline.

So when Tolkien died in 1973, he left his son Christopher in quite the predicament. Decades of writing, much if it unfinished, with a staggering palimpsest of manuscripts from which to draw from would be daunting to anyone. As literary executor, he had to come up with a publishable version of the work (as clearly that was his father's wishes, and Christopher was the man for the job, being most acquainted with the work). So, in four years, with the assistance of Guy Gavriel Kay, he cobbled together a self-contained narrative, largely compatible with the Hobbit cycle. Due to Tolkien's tendency to not finish drafts, some of the narrative in the last portion of the work had not been touched by Tolkien in literally decades (The Fall of Gondolin never got a complete version other than the 1916 Lost Tales story The Book of Lost Tales, Part Two (The History of Middle-Earth, Vol. 2)). Thingol and Melian presented thorny problems, especially the Girdle of Melian (her magical protection around Doriath). Christopher and Kay constructed the chapter dealing with the ruin of Doriath from scratch, with no corresponding writing in Tolkien's own work.

Yet another major issue was, due to getting a version of the book published as soon as possible, Christopher rushed through much of material, and did not have access to all of his father's manuscripts, some of which had been sold off. While he always used post LOTR material as often as possible, Christopher was as many times incorrect as not when guessing his father's intentions for the work. In the ensuing twelve volumes of THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH, where he had years to get to know the manuscripts, Christopher examines more closely his father's works, and there is much in those twelve volumes that were Tolkien's final intention for the work, but did not make it into the published version. Christopher has stated, given time, he may have produced a much different version than the one published. But he is now retired and will not revise the book (much of which would have to be wholesale).

That's quite a bit of history, and ultimately all that history may bog potential readers down in their journey into "The Silmarillion". For all of its imperfections, its unfinished nature, the endless debates on how much the 1977 version is what Tolkien really intended, the book is powerful mythology. The reading is dry, and the names are jawcracking trying to pronounce. While it's hard to keep track of the multitude of characters and all the permutations and migrations of the three main Elven tribes, there are unforgettable images in the book, and beautiful passages of despair and hope.

While the work is not the most accessible for modern readers, for those who persist you can see why Tolkien really did regard this as his life work, or, as Tom Shippey says in J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, "the work of his heart". And what a mighty work it is, despite its unfinished nature.

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Back in the 1990s I wrote another review of "The Silmarillion", and including that as bonus content. 9-10-2012

"***** Tolkien's Bible" Hark now to The Silmarillion, the Bible of Tolkien's fantasy world. This is not a work to be taken lightly, for here we at last uncover the great truths of Middle-earth, and hear of its creation.

The Silmarillion, simply put, is a tragic book, beautiful, with one flaw that nearly kills it. It was unfinished. We do not know (or ever will) how much different it would have been if Tolkien live to complete his greatest work. Christopher his son has done as well as can be expected, but there are quite a few style shifts betraying his pen instead of his father's. This is to be read with such seriousness as The Illiad or The Odysse. It is a mythological work that should be studied. This is not for a conventional reader, this is for the serious student. Without the knowledge his other two novels (for Lord of the Rings is one novel, not a trilogy) The L. R. and The Hobbit, The Silmarillion is not near as rewarding as it would otherwise be. The Hobbit is for children, The Lord of the Rings is for adults, and The Silmarillion is for students of this great work. All students interested in literature should read this, flawed as it is because of the mortality of man.

It also shows how strong Tolkien believed in God. His world was very much a Christian world, set up in the likeness of God. God is never mentioned in the L. R., but as I remember he is in The Silmarillion. You see him with the Ainur create the world. Truly, this is a master of fantasy, and a great Christian man.
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332 of 343 people found the following review helpful
Consider this -- J.R.R. Tolkien's fantastical epic "Lord of the Rings" is only the tail end of his invented history.

Yes, Tolkien spent most of his adult life crafting the elaborate, rich world of Middle-Earth, and coming up with a fictional history that spanned millennia. And "The Silmarillion" was the culmination of that work -- a Biblesque epic of fantasy history, stretching from the creation of the universe to the final bittersweet 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, and the creation of Elves, Men, and Dwarves (hobbits are not really covered).
*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 attempts of the demonic Morgoth and his servant Sauron (remember him?) to corrupt the world.
*Feanor and his sons, and the terrible oath that led to Elves slaying one another.
*The Silmarils, the glorious gems made from the the essence of the Two Trees that generated the world's light.
*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.
*And finally, the quest of the Ringbearer, Frodo Baggins, and the final battle that would decide the fate of Middle-Earth.

If you ever were confused by a reference or name mentioned in "The Hobbit" or "Lord of the Rings," then chances are that "The Silmarillion" can enlighten you about what it meant. What is Numenor? Who are the Valar? Who is that Elbereth Gilthoniel that people keep praying to? How did the Elf/Dwarf feud originally begin? And how exactly is Elrond related to Aragorn?

For the most part, it focuses on the Elves and their history, especially where it intertwines with the history of Men -- although Dwarves and Hobbits don't get nearly as much ink devoted to them. But in that story, Tolkien weaves together stories of earth-shattering romance, haunting tragedy, gory violence, good versus evil, the rise and fall of cities and kingdoms, and much more.

However, it's not really written like Tolkien's other works. It's more like the Bible, the Mabinogion or the Eddas. Tolkien didn't get as "into" the heads of his characters here, and wrote a more detailed, sprawling narrative that would have needed countless books to explore in depth. But while his prose is more formal and distant here, it still has that haunting starlit beauty ("Blue was her raiment as the unclouded heaven, but her eyes were grey as the starlit evening; her mantle was sewn with golden flowers, but her hair was dark as the shadows of twilight").

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.

Casual Tolkien fans probably won't be able to stick it out. But those who appreciate the richness and scope of Middle-Earth should examine "The Silmarillion," a sprawling fictional history full of beauty, tragedy and love. A work of literary genius.
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434 of 458 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2002
"The Silmarillion" is perhaps the most unique and difficult-to-explain book I have read. It is among the books I love the most, but this might not be the case if I had not read it in a bizarre way that I can hardly recommend to anyone else, and yet may be the best way to read it. For ten or twelve years I skimmed through "The Silmarillion," "The Hobbit," "The Lord of the Rings," and many of Tolkien's posthumous books (many of which present the stories of "The Silmarillion" in different forms which Tolkien wrote at various times in his life) without reading the books verbatim. Only in the last twelve months have I read these books all the way through.
This was a wise way of approaching Tolkien's most famous works because of the odd nature of "The Silmarillion," which must be understood by anyone desiring to enjoy it. "The Silmarillion" is not a "novel," as are "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" (Tolkien preferred the word "romance" to "novel" for LotR). "The Silmarillion" is well described by the subtitle on the front of the jacket of the Ted Nasmith-illustrated edition: "The Myths and Legends of Middle-earth". "The Silmarillion" is the equivalent, for the imaginary world in which "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" take place, of a work like Hamilton's or Bulfinch's "Mythology". It does not tell one single story; rather it tells many stories in a briefer form, almost as though the stories are being synopsized rather than told. In a real sense "The Silmarillion" is a greater work than even "The Lord of the Rings" could ever be, since it contains not one but several stories with as much power and grandeur as that of LotR.
However, much of the book is written in the style of a tome of history, setting out the vast historical framework within which these unforgettable stories unfold, and thus seems dry and soporific to many readers. Moreover, large numbers of characters, often with similar names (seven important Elven characters have names starting with F, and six of them start with the letters "Fin"), are presented without space for them to be strongly characterized, so that the reader may be unable to become as engaged with them as with Frodo, Sam or Gandalf. This is where my bizarre manner of reading the book came in handy: I became familiar with all the characters over my years of skimming, and knew precisely who they were and how they were connected to each other when I finally read the whole book. Moreover, since I had often skimmed "The Silmarillion" before reading "The Lord of the Rings," I could appreciate the many references back to the former work in the latter. Although "The Silmarillion" was not published until many years after LotR, Tolkien had written all the stories that make up "The Silmarillion" before writing LotR. Many of LotR's references to past events, which contribute greatly to the impression it gives of taking place in a real world, are references to events told in "The Silmarillion". (No Hobbits appear or are mentioned in "The Silmarillion" until the last three pages of the book, when the events of "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" are briefly described at the end of a section that explains how the events of "The Silmarillion" ultimately led to the events of those books.)
In my opinion, the creation myth with which "The Silmarillion" opens is one of the most intellectually and emotionally satisfying creation stories I have ever read; the chapter "Of Turin Turambar" presents a heroic tragedy comparable in grandeur to a Wagner opera and in depth and power of sorrow to a tragic opera such as "Il Trovatore" or "Tosca"; and the chapter "Of Beren and Luthien" presents Tolkien's very best story of all, perhaps the most unforgettable tale of love and adventure written in the twentieth century. But for readers to appreciate these treasures, they must be aware in advance of the unusual nature of "The Silmarillion," and not expect a fantasy adventure novel, a mere "prequel" to "The Lord of the Rings". These are the stories that are told in Frodo's world; they are to Frodo, Sam and Strider what "The Lord of the Rings" is to us: a saga of a vanished world of heartbreaking beauty, glimmers of which we can still see if we look hard enough.
(Some of Ted Nasmith's illustrations are better than others. The image of Luthien dancing in the wood is one of the best Tolkien-inspired paintings I've ever seen, especially since it leaves the ineffable beauty of Luthien's face to our imaginations. On the other hand, Galadriel's brother Finrod is not depicted as nearly good-looking enough in the painting of him singing by the campfire of the first Men to come into Beleriand.)
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103 of 105 people found the following review helpful
on September 14, 1998
As the reviews on this page show, this book is not from everyone. Indeed, it's not even for all Tolkien fans. If, however, you were hypnotized by the tantalizing references to the lost past that are scattered throughout The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, you will probably enjoy this. (By the way, people who stopped after twenty pages quit just before the story got exponentially better. Oh well, their loss.)
I was completely amazed when I read The Silmarillion. I was completely captivated by the story of the Noldor and their deeds in Beleriand. The story is written in truly masterful style, and even (primarily) without dialogue, the richness of the story grips the reader and immerses him in the Elder Days and the great War of the Jewels. The images of the story are powerful and will stay with the dedicated reader forever. I can still vividly picture Fingolfin doing battle with Morgoth, Yavanna crying over the ruin of the Trees, Beren in Thingol's hall, as well as Mablung sorowfully wandering the shores of the sea; and most of all I can see Feanor and his sons swearing their oath by torchlight in the court of Tirion.
Just a word on the content: this is not happy stuff. The world of LotR contained an aura of lost greatness and the certain knowledge that the world was in slow but irreversible decline. This story has that aura in spades, in addition to the fact that the reader gets to see the fall from greatness firsthand. The terrible sadness of the whole story and the tragedy of Tolkien's irreparably marred world is enough to make even the most dry-eyed (and I count myself as one of these) break down. (I cried at least four times during my last reading of The Silmarillion, which is perhaps the highest praise that I can possibly give it.)
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140 of 145 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2003
If like me you consider the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) one of the greatest books written in human history, then The Silmarillion is a must for you. LOTR can be read as a self-contained package, thanks to the detailed Notes that Tolkien painstakingly provides, but it still leaves many unanswered questions. After all, LOTR covers the 3rd Age of Middle Earth, telling us very little about the previous two ages. And it is full of tantalizing references to the past glories of Numenor, the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, the origins of the elves, dwarves and men, the various Lays and so on.
The Silmarillion is, if anything, on an even larger scale. Its chronology starts at the Creation of the Universe and builds to the events of the climactic Third Age that are described in LOTR. If LOTR is awesome, the Silmarillion is stupendous. A proper order would be to read the Silmarillion, followed by The Hobbit and then LOTR. But even reading them out of order (as most readers would have) is rewarding.
The Silmarillion starts at the very beginning with the story of the creation of the Universe, (a fascinating tale in itself) and then lays the ground for the various players on this vast stage. It is in fact 5 separate books. First comes the Ainulindale which is the story of the creation of Tolkien's Universe - a veritable Genesis and Fall if you will. Then comes the Valaquenta, the tale of the Valar or Guardians. Third in the chronology is the Quenta Silmarillion itself - the tale of the Silmarilli. Fourth comes the Akallabeth, the tale of the rise and fall of the Men of Numenor in the First Age. And almost as a footnote, the fifth and last book, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age. Bear in mind that this is in fact a compilation by Christopher Tolkien from his father's papers so expect some discontinuities.
The fabled jewels or Silmarilli give the book its name and are the thread that binds the various tales of the book together. Tolkien tells of the emergence of life on earth, the rebellion of some of the elves and their departure for Middle Earth, their efforts to build a new life for themselves in the teeth of the oppression and tyranny of Morgoth and his servants (like Sauron), the origin of the distrust between dwarves and elves, the creation of orcs as twisted copies of the elves, of the much debated "gift" of mortality to men. It is the tale of humanity all over again, of people striving in the face of difficulties to make a new life.
The tales themselves are fascinating as Tolkien tells of love and war, of courage and treachery, of nobility and baseness. There are great battles and mighty warriors, bewitching romances and spellbinding intrigues, great victories and grinding defeats.
And of course the lyrical prose: Tolkien is one of the very few writers whose very prose reads like poetry. The ring and cadence of names, the melody inherent in the lyrics of his songs: this is fine writing at its peak. A wonderful book, not to be missed.
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99 of 101 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2002
Every culture from the ancient world through the middle ages seems to have produced one or two works of mythology that represent the pinnacle of that culture's creative character. The Finnish have the Kalevala, the Celts of Britain have the Mabinogion, the Greeks have their Olympian Gods and so forth. But the modern world doesn't seem to produce any truly definitive mythology. Or does it? It's just possible that Tolkien has produced in the Silmarillion, a work that will be to modern english what Beowulf was to Old English.
A warning to newcomers - this book is NOT a novel, and if you approach it with the same expectations you have for a novel you will be disappointed. That would be a great tragedy since you will miss some of the best mythology ever written.
The Silmarillion is more of a history text than a story. It begins when Illuvatar (the elven name for God) creates the world and proceeds through time to the birth of the elves and humans and recounts the history of the first age of Middle-Earth. The elves, being immortal, don't care about time so much as men do and therefore don't count the years so diligently. Nevertheless, they apparently DID think to keep track of the years during their great war. That time spans slightly less than 6 hundred years. We have no idea how much time passed before that.
A brief summary - God sends 15 of his most powerful angels (The Valar) to take care of the world. One of them, Melkor, (a very obvious parallel to Satan) goes bad and is renamed Morgoth. The Valar make war on Morgoth and imprison him and everything seems well in the world. Sometime later, Elves appear. The Valar decide it would be a good idea to invite the elves to live with them on the western continent. A large portion of the elves decide to accept this invitation and depart from Middle-Earth to go live in the west with the Valar. Due to their proximity with the Valar, the high elves grow very powerful, skillful and wise. Their greatest smith, Feanor, creates three fabulous jewels, the silmarils, which have managed to capture the light emanating from 2 sacred trees that provide all the light in the west. Sometime later, Morgoth's sentence is served and he is released, in the hopes that he has been rehabilitated. Of course, if he were rehabilitated, it would be a very short, rather boring tale. He immediately destroys the two trees and then steals the silmarils and beats a hasty getaway back to middle-earth where a large army of things that go bump in the night have been secretly awaiting his return. Feanor's people in a fit of rage swear a terrible oath of vengeance and chase after Morgoth with swords in hand, killing anyone that may stand between them and their precious jewels - including other elves. The silmarillion is the story of this great war between the elves and Morgoth, and how through their pride, the high elves of Feanor's line committed themselves, as well as men, dwarves, and the elves who never left middle-earth, to a tragic fate without hope of victory.
Over the course of this war, there are a great number of heroic deeds and quests, several of which could have been expanded into novels the size of the Lord of the Rings. The tale of Turin Turambar is a tragedy that dwarfs Hamlet. The story of Beren and Luthien is a romance that makes Pyramus and Thisbe look like a sit-com. The Voyage of Earendil compares favorably to the Odyssey (well OK, that one is a stretch...)
But the Silmarillion is much more than a simple collection of fables in a common setting. In spite of the fact that it spans 4 generations of elves and probably a dozen generations of men, it is in fact one cohesive story. All of the events, even if they don't have any direct connection to the war for the jewels are somehow linked to the tragic oath that the high elves swore. And so the fates of all of the characters are somehow tied up in the fate of the jewels.
There is only one other work I can think of off the top of my head that can really be compared to the Silmarillion in terms of it's scope and structure. Sir Thomas Mallory's Le Morte D'Arthur similarly has an enormous cast of characters who span several generations, many of whom do great deeds worthy of their own stories, yet all are linked by a common storyline underlying everything.
If you have ever read (and enjoyed) Le Morte D'Arthur, then chances are you will love the Silmarillion. Serious fans of the Lord of the Rings should also read the Silmarillion, as it will shed serious light on many aspects of the Lord of the Rings. In particular, the significance of certain important elves in the second and third ages (Galadriel, Elrond, Gil-Galad and Cirdan) will be made abundantly clear. The meaning behind the Grey Havens and this habitual sailing into the west that the elves do will be revealed. And the importance of Aragorn's lineage, and the origin of the dunedain will be given some context. Also, little details like Galadriel's Phial will have much more depth when you realize where it's illumination comes from. And also, the Lord of the Rings is just so much more FUN after reading the Silmarillion. All those snippets of poetry and references to the "good old days" that Aragorn and the elves keep referring to will have a context for you. You'll also understand why the Nazgul fear water and the name of Elbereth has power.
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161 of 168 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 1999
Hark now to The Silmarillion, the Bible of Tolkien's fantasy world. This is not a work to be taken lightly, for here we at last uncover the great truths of Middle-earth, and hear of its creation.
The Silmarillion, simply put, is a tragic book, beautiful, with one flaw that nearly kills it. It was unfinished. We do not know (or ever will) how much different it would have been if Tolkien live to complete his greatest work. Christopher his son has done as well as can be expected, but there are quite a few style shifts betraying his pen instead of his father's. This is to be read with such seriousness as The Illiad or The Odysse. It is a mythological work that should be studied. This is not for a conventional reader, this is for the serious student. Without the knowledge his other two novels (for Lord of the Rings is one novel, not a trilogy) The L. R. and The Hobbit, The Silmarillion is not near as rewarding as it would otherwise be. The Hobbit is for children, The Lord of the Rings is for adults, and The Silmarillion is for students of this great work. All students interested in literature should read this, flawed as it is because of the mortality of man.
It also shows how strong Tolkien believed in God. His world was very much a Christian world, set up in the likeness of God. God is never mentioned in the L. R., but as I remember he is in The Silmarillion. You see him with the Ainur create the world. Truly, this is a master of fantasy, and a great Christian man.
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59 of 59 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2002
For those of you who adore the great narrative of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, or the charm and vigor of THE HOBBIT, you owe it to yourself to at least attempt to read THE SILMARILLION. Tolkien spent most of his life writing and rewriting the tales that comprise the full story of the First Age of Middle-Earth. Although he sadly died before completing the work, enough remained for his son to edit THE SILMARILLION into publishable form. Although it shot to the top of the bestseller lists when it was first published in the 1970s, it is certainly the least read of all Tolkien's works. The book - which is nothing less than an entire cosmology and myth cycle covering the creation of the world, the religion of Middle-Earth (oh yes, there is one), and its history during the thousands of years which elapsed before (and led up to) the War of the Rings - was perhaps not meant to be popular. As so many other reviewers have noted, the language of THE SILMARILLION is quite archaic (deliberately so) and hard to grasp. Recall that Tolkien spent decades creating the languages of Middle-Earth long before the LORD OF THE RINGS took shape in his mind, and you will understand what this book is and how it is supposed to be read. Like the Greek world's ILLIAD and ODYSSEY, (or even the Bible) THE SILMARILLION is meant to read like a collection of myths so ancient that centuries elapsed before they were written down, not like a novel in which we travel as narrators. Indeed, THE SILMARILLION sounds much better read aloud or even chanted, than consulted in silence. The subject of the book is the War between the great leaders of the Elves - assisted by some of the first men - against the Great Dark Lord, Morgoth (Sauron's "boss") for possession of the Jewels made by the Elves in their pride and stolen by Morgoth from the land of the gods. Although the haughty language of the book may discourage the casual reader, once you allow yourself to get caught up in the story, you will be riveted. THE SILMARILLION is ultimately concerned with the same theme as RINGS - the corruption that inevitably comes from power and the inability of thinking beings to let go of pride and materialism. From the earliest portion of the book, it is obvious that Morgoth cannot be defeated, and that the Elves allowed their immortality and their long residence in the land of the gods - Valinor - to lead them into temptation. For those of you who wondered why the Elves - who seem so powerful in Tolkien's other works - were so reluctant to involve themselves directly in the War of the Ring, the litany of their mistakes and miscalculations contained in THE SILMARILLION will answer your questions. The book is not a hopeful one - although it contains much beauty among its tales of grief. Time and time again, the lust for power and rigid adherence to ill-chosen oaths destroys one mighty lord (and a few ladies) after another. The individual tales are all tragic, and only grow more so as the reader comes to realize that the bulk of the miserable events that take place could have been avoided. The Elves, who to the human reader seem to have so many advantages (like eternal life and youth), are fatally flawed by their own hubris, which leads them to think that they can defeat the Dark Lord. Although much good comes from their attempt to do so, much of the evil that winds up besetting Middle-Earth in Tolkien's other works can be laid at the door of the Elves. The fact that none of the characters in the book intend to do evil makes the story all the more heartbreaking. If you can handle the language, THE SILMARILLION is a profound tale of struggle and a great series of adventures that will break your heart, for even as you hope that good will triumph, it is not to be.
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95 of 99 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2000
Most Tolkien fans read The Hobbit first, followed by The Lord of the Rings. The more intrepid readers give The Silmarillion a go, and they must be glad they did. I was no exception. The biggest reward for Tolkien fans will come with reading The Silmarillion, Tolkien's great mythological work which charts the rise and fall of Middle Earth, from the creation, to after the events told in The Lord of The Rings. I can't recommend it enough. I don't consider myself a true Tolkien afficianado or a true fan of the fantasy genre. However, The Silmarillion is one of the finest books ever written and a magnificent and precious achievement. It is frightening to think how one man could conceive of such a vast, complex, fascinating and - ultimately - believable mythology. The word epic is over used, but in relation to The Silmarillion it is entirely justified. The quality of the writing is first class, the characterisation exquisite, but Tolkien's real genius lies in his ability to conjure up strange worlds, strange creatures and strange events which resonate in the reader's imagination and renders them totally convincing. By the end I was overwhelmed.
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59 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2001
Most fantasy works can be read by the general populace, especially the genre specific populace and easily enjoyed. This is not true of "The Silmarillion"
"The Silmarillion" is one of those books that gains GREATLY from rereading - this cannot be said enough. At first read it is a confusing selection and notes and names with little real story. Later sections (especially Beren and Luthien but also Turin) have a more connected story, are closer to the Tolkien we have all grown to love.
This disjointedness is the Silmarillion's greatest weakness and one of the reasons I cannot give it five stars (although I would rate it that way for myself). The other is that only true Tolkien afficando's are going to enjoy it. Anyone who loves Tolkien will probably love this - they will enjoy an opportunity to see the back history of Middle Earth, to some of the legends and Elder Days mentioned in the Lord of the Rings. Thus for those that have read Tolkien, this will be a great book.
My other complaint with this book is that I doubt Tolkien would have ever published it. He spent such effort polishing his work, I do not think he would have published something as disjointed as this. And although I am glad to see it, that also detracts from the pleasure.
Anyhow, the Silmarillion is an interesting collection of myths and legends of the Elder Days of Middle Earth - of the War of the Jewels. It is tragic and reminiscent of Norse mythology and great for those interested in the Lord of the Rings. For everyone else though I would say don't bother.
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