‘Say farewell to bondage! But say farewell also to ease! Say farewell to the weak! Say farewell to your treasures! More still shall we make. Journey light: but bring with you your swords! For we will go further than Oromë, endure longer than Tulkas: we will never turn back from pursuit. After Morgoth to the ends of the Earth!’
I pretty much owe my entire love of the fantasy genre to J.R.R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings – the rich, intriguing world of Middle Earth capturing my imagination from a young age. Little did I know that the vast amount of Middle Earth mythology seen in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings was just the tip of the iceberg!
The Silmarillion, which was published posthumously by Tolkien’s son Christopher in 1977, contains material on the history of Middle Earth dating from 1914 to Tolkien’s death in 1973, and provides a fascinating, in-depth look at the world I have come to know and love through his more famous works.
Whilst the book spans from the creation of Middle Earth by Illúvator (basically the Zeus of Middle Earth!) and the Valar, to the Third Age and the creation of the Rings of Power, it mostly focuses on the First Age, and the plight of the elves – one of the most intriguing, yet seldom seen races in The Lord of the Rings.
The largest section, the Quenta Silmarillion, tells the story of how the elves rebelled against the Gods and left the undying lands of Valinor for Middle Earth to wage war on the first Dark Lord Morgoth. Morgoth had stolen three beautiful jewels crafted by the elvish prince Fëanor – known as the Silmarils and which contained the light of Valinor – and the elves make a terrible vow to chase him to the ends of the earth if necessary to reclaim them.
The other four sections contained in the book are: Ainulindalë (which tells of the creation of the world), Valaquenta (which tells of the Valar and the Maiar – basically the Gods and lesser Gods of Tolkien’s world), Akallabêth (about the downfall of Númenor and its people) and The Rings of Power.
Stylistically The Silmarillion differs greatly from The Lord of the Rings in that it doesn’t follow the fates of a single set of characters, but covers an immense space of time, and is more of a collected history of Middle Earth. That may make it sound kind of boring, but I can assure you, it really isn’t! Because it wasn’t written as a complete book and is simply compiled of a lot of Tolkien’s various writings on Middle Earth it is more like a collection of short stories arranged chronologically, and so is pretty easy to dip in and out of.
However, because of the large time scale over which the tales were written, the separate chapters do differ in tone quite a bit, as explained in the Foreword by Christopher Tolkien. Some of the early stories that deal with the creation of Middle Earth seemed almost Biblical in tone to me, whilst the ones about Valinor and the Gods are more like Greek/Roman myths or legends. There was also the odd tale that had a bit more of a folktale feel – ‘Beren and Lúthien’ and ‘Tùrin Turambar’, for example. In fact, I personally thought there was something a little Robin Hood-esque about Tùrin Turambar!
One of the things I loved most about The Silmarillion was learning more about the elves, and I liked that whereas they appear perfect beings in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, here they are clearly flawed and make huge mistakes that have a massive impact on the future of their race.
However, whilst I loved the tale of the elves and how they waged war on Morgoth, I also particularly liked some of the later stories that give more of an insight into the events of The Lord of the Rings. For example, the events of ‘The Downfall of Númenor’ are briefly referenced in The Lord of the Rings I believe, as they are the ‘Kings of Men’ from which Aragorn is descended. Therefore it was nice to read the entire story! It also describes how Sauron rose up to take Morgoth’s place as the Dark Lord of Middle Earth, and leads nicely on to the final section which recounts the tale of how Sauron created the Rings of Power to ensnare the races of Middle Earth and bind them to his will.
And the highlight of the entire book? In The Rings of Power we actually find out more about where Gandalf came from! In my opinion, the book was worth reading just for that!
Overall I would say The Silmarillion is required reading for fans of Tolkien’s other work. Whilst the style of it is totally different, it shows the depth and creativity of the world Tolkien created even more clearly that The Lord of the Rings, and is a pretty fascinating mythology in itself! I’m so glad I finally read this!