This is the first of Tolkien’s posthumous publications I have read of Middle Earth. Last summer I read Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and I planned to read the Silmarillion also as well as his other works, but it just never happened. So I gave them a chance this summer, and I wasn’t disappointed. I’ll say straight up though this is definitely only for those people who want more world building, more history, more tales, more information about the elves, and aren’t just interested in a story. If you don’t want these things I don’t think you’ll like The Silmarillion, it’s not a book for you (good way to measure – if you found the appendices a little boring [though everyone is forgiven in finding the language ones a bit much], especially the Tales of the Years, then perhaps it’s not a good book for you). But for me, I really liked it and found it fascinating!The book has five actual ‘stories’ within it (four of which are relatively short), plus a most detailed (and super handy – you’ll be turning to it often to be reminded of who/what/where the countless Elvish words are taking about) index, a map, a note on pronunciation, family trees and some translation of Quenya and Sindarin words.
It starts with Ainulindalë, which translates to ‘The Music of the Ainur’. The Ainur are the Holy Ones, and from this I think you should be able to tell why I (and others) feel it reads a bit like a religious text (which is something that Tolkien was a little concerned with). But from the first moment you are really blown away by just how much thought and imagination Tolkien has put into everything. He has his creator, Ilúvatar, and eventually the world is created and a few of the Ainur decide to go and live there, and await Ilúvatar’s children: the men and the elves. The higher level of Ainur are the Valar, who are I guess gods. And they remind me a bit like Greek/Roman Gods, especially since there’s only about 8 of them, and they meet in a special area, and they have numerous lower order gods the Maiar. And we are introduced to the first evil character, Melkor, who was rebellious and causes all sorts of chaos.
The Valaquenta is really just an account of all the Valar and major Maiar, again seemingly religious. But there really is so much detail. Like this Valar is married to this one, and controls this, and so on. It was quite interesting, but one thing you’ll figure out pretty quickly is that there is just TOO much information for you to possible retain in just a single (or even numerous) readings. Hence, the index at the back is invaluable!
Then we come to The Silmarillion proper: Quenta Silmarillion, which is the History of the Silmarils. Which again begins a sort of religious text, as it begins with the Year of the Lamps which Melkor soon destroys, so the Valar retreat and fortify their homes. This brings with it the introduction of Sauron (who was once an Maiar) and Ungoliant (ancestor of Shelob the great spider), plus we learn how the dwarves were created, and the ancestor of the White Tree, and a whole heap of other information that would take thousands upon thousands of words to detail. Eventually the elves arrive though, and at first they are allowed to reside with the Valar in Valinor (though some stay in Middle Earth), but some of them revolt and leave to go to Middle Earth (again partially Melkor’s work who they capture but then foolishly let go free). And in reality, this is where the real story begins, as the elves who have left, are partially going there to try to get back the Silmarils which they created, and were stolen by Melkor (also known as Morgoth). There are numerous wars, and eventually our old favourites Elrond (who I didn’t realise was a half-elf!) and Galadriel pop up, though they don’t really do anything much, this story is for others, including men who come along a while after. Perhaps the story is a little detail rich, because sometimes you need to turn to the index to find out what on earth they are talking about, and who they are talking about, and there is just perhaps too much detail. But I guess that is what makes Tolkien set apart, for just how much detail he has created of his world. I found it quite fascinating, and it was enjoyable. Yes at times my brain began to hurt at just how much information that was being dumped on me, but, my curiosity was engaged with this, and even now as I’m writing this up I’m still looking up stuff and there’s so much more information that I haven’t even begun to touch upon!
Akallabêth details the Downfall of Númenor. Númenor was created after the downfall of Morgorth who ended up being chained once again and this time set out into ‘the Void’ where he won’t be freed (though Tolkien contemplated a story of his escape and it would be the Battle to end all Battles – pity it didn’t quite come to fruition!). Númenor is where some of men who were involved in the First Age now get to reside as a reward. In addition, they are given significantly longer lives. This time it is Sauron who causes all the problems, as he weasels his way into the ear of the Númenor king, and eventually gets them to break the ban against them heading to the West to where the Elves are able to reside. It all ends terribly for most of the Númenoreans, as the Valar call upon Eru to intervene and he does so, swallowing up all of the Númenoreans who tried the voyage and destroying Númenor.
Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, is a story you would be familiar with if you have read LoTR, but it adds some new information which is interesting. It tells us of the creation of the Rings, and a bit more about who they were all given too, in addition it details a bit about the end of the Second Age, as the Last Alliance between Elves and Men is created to stop Sauron (though not once and for all). Plus it also tells us about how the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor were created and all the great cities within them. What I was a little surprised at was that Gandalf was actually given one of the Three rings by Cirdan the Shipwright, who foresaw that he had greater need of it. It does explain a few things about Gandalf, but not all that much about the wizards (that is left for Unfinished Tales).
All in all I found the book fascinating, which perhaps reveals that I really do like Tolkien’s world (calling it Middle Earth seems a little restrictive, but I guess that’s the best term) and find it very interesting. His knowledge is a very deep well, and sadly we didn’t quite get his version of the book, and we never will, but Christopher Tolkien did a great job putting all of this together with plenty of help I’m sure, a task which was unlikely to be easy (though perhaps easier than some of the other work he has done putting together the History of Middle Earth). I really wonder what JRR would think of this version, and what he would change, but alas that thinking goes nowhere. But this book has again piqued my curiosity about Middle Earth and has made me go on and read Unfinished Tales (which I’ll post about in the future), and will probably make me read everything possible over my lifetime!