The Silmarillion

The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

I’ve been avoiding this book for years, convinced I wasn’t up to the challenge of the dense mythology of Tolkien’s world and the unmanageable thicket of Elven names and lineages but I was taken completely by surprise by the fact that the most difficult aspect of reading this book was also what made it so worthwhile, and that is how deeply sad it is. The efforts of Elves and men to keep evil at bay are so moving not because they fight with such courage but because the outcome is so often tragic. Reading Tolkien again reminds me the extent to which Tolkien understood humanity- alongside his awareness of our great capacity for evil, he maintains the belief that we are worth saving because of our equally great capacity for good. This to me is remarkable coming from someone who lived through both world wars and the invention of nuclear warfare- to believe that the world is still worth saving in spite of all that is pretty impressive.

Tolkien’s staggering imagination is at its best here- his creation of a history for an imaginary world (and the geography and the theology of that world) feels so believable it’s difficult to remember that Tolkien *made it all up.* His ability to create languages is perhaps his most impressive feat. The Silmarillion is a delight to read if for no other reason than to speak the words he creates out loud. The stories Tolkien tells in this volume give a rich context in which to set the Lord of the Rings and my only regret in reading this book is that it has made me want to reread the Hobbit and the entirety of the Lord of the Rings RIGHT NOW, while I have so many other things I want to read. I’m noticing a dangerous trend here: the more Tolkien you read, the more Tolkien you want to read! Nerds everywhere, take heed.


2 thoughts on “The Silmarillion

  1. It’s a shame so many people are daunted by it. It’s such a powerful saga – I read my first copy to death! I tell everyone to read it like history, not fiction, if they get confused by the names.

    • I read my copy to death too! I totally cracked the binding and wrote all over it. I put flags on the maps and lineage charts so I could flip to them easily and it really helped. I think that’s a great suggestion for people- to tell them to read it like history. That was my approach, I basically read it with the intensity I would had I been reading it for a class. And it was so worth it!

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