Friday, August 19, 2016

The Silmarillion

Mild spoilers ahead

The Silmarillion was written by J.R.R. Tolkien, the famous author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He began writing the earliest versions during World War I where he served as a soldier and continued to work on it throughout his entire life. He never fully completed it, but a version was published after his death by his son, Christopher Tolkien.

The Silmarillion takes place in Middle-earth just like Tolkien’s other works, but it starts two ages earlier. It begins with the metaphysical account of the creation of Middle-earth by the primary god of the universe, Eru Illuvatar and his assistants, the Valar. It details the fall of one of the most powerful of the Valar, Melkor, and the problems that arise from his rebellion. It also focuses on the Elves and Men of the early days of Middle-earth with such memorable characters as: Feanor, the crafty yet stubborn Elf; Beren, the courageous and passionate Man; Luthien, Beren’s counterpart who assists him on his venture; Fingolfin, high king of the Noldorin Elves; Thingol, the Sindarin Elven King; and Fingon, the brave and kind hero.

The primary conflict within The Silmarillion and the basis for the unique name, concerns the Silmarils. The Silmarils were gems created by Feanor, the most skilled of all the Elves. Unfortunately, Feanor became corrupted and when Melkor stole his precious gems, he went mad and dragged many other noble Elves into his wild pursuit for the Dark Lord, Melkor. Feanor and his followers swear a terrible Oath which forces them to seek vengeance against anyone who keeps a Silmaril from them. This leads to many struggles for all of the Elves of the First Age which results in massive changes and strife.

I first read The Silmarillion in seventh grade. I had been systematically exposed to The Lord of the Rings movies and books by my older siblings, and eventually decided they sounded like something I might be interested in. I decided it was high time to actually read the books, so I started out at the beginning of Middle-earth’s chronological story.

Initially, I was overwhelmed by the excess of names--complicated names, that that--and my first read through resulted in little to no actual comprehension of the story. I read it again, and this time I took notes. I was helped immensely by this chapter by chapter summary from The Silmarillion Writers’ Guild. I read over my notes, then the summaries again, and finally reread the actual book. Once I had a grasp of the story, I read that book six more times within the year.

I’m not completely sure what sold me. Perhaps it was the epic scope of the story packed with heart-wrenching and breath-taking battles, grand tales of love and loss, or the heart-warming and endearing little moments. I’ll tell you about the main things I loved: the characters, the stories, and the style.

First, the characters. Tolkien often gets a bad rep for writing “black and white” characters--some that are completely good and some that are completely bad. I would beg to differ! Take one of the most interesting and dynamic characters of the entire legend, for instance. Turin Turambar is he hero (or antihero, depending on how you look at it) of a dark story involving mistaken identities, the downfall of a kingdom, death, deception, abandonment, and incest. I will try not to give much away in this section, but no one who has actually taken the time to read the story will come away thinking the characters are too “ black and white”.

Other favorite characters of mine include Idril Celebrindal, the Elven princess who practically lives my ideal life--Beren and Luthien, the pair everyone dreams of, and the perfect couple--Fingolfin, who could not get any cooler if he tried--Fingon who sings things and rescues awesome sons of Feanor--Finrod, who is the best at self-sacrifice and being generally awesome-- and Glorfindel who appears for a total of one page but stole my heart the moment he battled that Balrog.

Not every character has a lengthy backstory like in The Lord of the Rings, but Tolkien packs in so many meaningful details and little packages of sweetness and relatability that I feel like I’ve been best friends with them my entire life.

Secondly, the stories. Each story in this perfectly represents the human condition. There are prideful, greedy, and desperate grasps at fame and wealth we see all around us in today’s world. There are accounts of noble individuals who sacrifice themselves doing brave and noble deeds. There are, of course, beautifully pure romances with each member giving himself or herself completely to the other in perfect love. Each story is riddled with conflict which adds a bittersweet flavor to the tales and accentuates the superb moments.

The third reason I adore this book is because of Tolkien’s style. Tolkien is one of the few authors I have ever read who truly masters the archaic style of writing without sounding overbearing or desperate. The style contributes to the feeling of historicity and legend that are inherent to the type of story. I think this type of writing is what separates a work like this from other fantasy writings such as The Hobbit, Harry Potter, or The Chronicles of Narnia.

Overall, I entirely recommend this book with my whole heart. It may be a difficult read at first, but get a good edition with large font and an easy access index. Work your way page by page through it, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Now, to give you a taste of why I love this book so much, some of my favorite quotes.

“‘And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined...and thou, Melkor, wilt discover all the secret thoughts of thy mind, and wilt perceive that they are but a part of the whole and tributary to its glory.’”

“‘So it is, even as I guessed,’ he said. ‘My half-brother would be before me with my father, in this as in all other matters.’ Then turning upon Fingolfin he drew his sword, crying: ‘Get thee gone, and take thy due place!’...’See, half brother!’ he said. ‘This is sharper than thy tongue. Try but once more to usurp my place and the love of my father, and maybe it will rid the Noldor of one who seeks to be the master of thralls.’”

“...and Feanor looked upon Melkor with eyes that burned through his fair semblance and pierced the cloaks of his mind, perceiving there is fierce lust for the Silmarils. Then hate overcame Feanor’s fear, and he cursed Melkor thrice and bade him be gone, saying: ‘Get thee gone from my gate, thou jail-crow of Mandos!’ And he shut the doors of his house in the face of the mightiest of all the dwellers in Ea.”

“‘As I promised, I do now. I release thee, and remember no grievance.’ Then Feanor took his hand in silence; but Fingolfin said: ‘Half-brother in blood, full brother in heart will I be. Thou shalt lead and I will follow. May no new grief divide us.’ ‘I hear thee,’ said Feanor. ‘So be it.’ But they did not know the meaning that their words would bear.”

“The Light failed; but the Darkness that followed was more than loss of light. In that hour was made a Darkness that seemed not lack but a thing with being of its own: for it was indeed made by malice out of Light, and it had power to pierce the eye, and to enter heart and mind, and strangle the very will.”

“‘Let the cowards keep this city!’”

“‘We renounce no friendship. But it may be the part of a friend to rebuke a friend’s folly.’”

“Then many quailed; but Feanor hardened his heart and said: ‘We have sworn, and not lightly. This oath we will keep. We are threatened with many evils, and treason not the least; but one thing is not said: that we shall suffer from cowardice, from cravens or the fear of cravens. Therefore I say that we will go on, and this doom I add: the deeds that we shall do shall be the matter of song until the last days of Arda.’”

“Maedhros did deeds of surpassing valour, and the Orcs fled before his face; for since his torment upon Thangorodrim his spirit burned like a white fire within, and he was as one that returns from the dead.”

“Thus he came alone to Angband’s gates, and he sounded his horn, and smote once more upon the brazen doors, and challenged Morgoth to come forth to single combat. And Morgoth came.”

“But Beren laughed. ‘For little price,’ he said, ‘do Elven-kings sell their daughters; for gems, and things made by craft. But if this be your will, Thingol, I will perform it. And when we meet again my hand shall hold a Silmaril from the Iron Crown; for you have not looked the last upon Beren son of Barahir.’”

“The ice mutters in the mouths of the Sea.
The captives said in Angband mourn.
Thunder rumbles, the fires burn--
And Finrod fell before the throne.”

“Then suddenly, when her hope was almost spent, he woke again, and looked up, seeing leaves against the sky and he heard beneath the leaves singing soft and slow beside him Luthien Tinuviel. And it was spring again.”

“Then when Fingon heard afar the great trumpet of Turgon his brother, the shadow passed and his heart was uplifted, and he shouted aloud: ‘Utulie’n aure! Aiya Eldalie ar Atanatari, utulie’n aure! The day has come! Behold, people of the Eldar and Fathers of Men, the day has come!’ And all those who heard his great voice echo in the hills answered crying: ‘Auta i lome! The night is passing!’”

“‘Aure entuluva! Day shall come again!’”

“‘Farewell, O twice beloved! A Turin Turambar turun ambartanen: master of doom by doom mastered!’”

“‘This only was wanting. Now comes the night.’”

“‘Hail Earendil, of mariners most renowned, the looked for that cometh at unawares, the longed for that cometh beyond hope! Hail Earendil, bearer of light before the Sun and Moon! Splendour of the Children of Earth, star in the darkness, jewel in the sunset, radiant in the morning!’”

“‘For there is but one loyalty from which no man can be absolved in heart for any cause.’”

Here are some additional resources if you’re interested in diving into this book:

Silmarillion Writers’ Guild
Council of Elrond
My Summaries

Have you ever read The Silmarillion? Who is your favorite character?

Are you considering reading The Sil? Do you have any questions? What version are you reading?

Comment below :)


  1. The Silmarillion has always encompassed for me what Tolkien meant by eucatastrophe. Especially in this quote from On Fairy-Stories:

    "The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially 'escapist', nor 'fugitive'. In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief."