Monday, May 27, 2024

The Silmarillion!

What's a "Simaril"? To get the answer to that question one has to read J.R.R,. Tolkien's The Simarillion. This tome is part of the grander scheme which incorporates The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but it's relationship to both works is distinct. 

Ainulinadale (The Music of the Ainar)

This short section details the creation of this fictional world. Iluvatar creates the Ainar from his mind with music and they sing creation into existence. Melkor is an Ainar who develops his own tune and breaks with Iluvatar. The Ainar become the Valar and the Maiar some of whom will in time become such familiar characters like Sauron and Gandalf among others. 

Valaquenta (The Account of the Valar)

This offers up a pantheon of the Valar and the Maiar. There are fourteen Valar and this short tale reveals how Melkor corrupts some of the Valar and Maiar. 

Quenta Silmarillion (The History of the Silmarils)

Most of The Silmarillion is this elaborate and ornate history of how the Quenya (Elves) came to Middle-Earth from across the sea after Melkor (who gets a name change to Morgath) brings darkness to Middle-Earth and constantly destroys their light with the help of the great spider Ungoliant. The Quenya created the Silmarils, three gemstones that contain precious light. Melkor steals these gems and Noldor Elves pursue him to Middle-Earth. Eventually other elf clans such as the Sindar follow. We follow what seems like an endless array of elves, humans and dwarves as the saga plows ahead with a great deal of death and mayhem. Morgath seems to be plotting all the time about how to enslave, torment, torture and kill an elf who offends and any friends or relatives they have as well. He's assisted by dragons such as Glauron, and henchmen like the notorious Sauron. He has Balrogs, Orcs, and Wolves at his command as well as corrupted men. We take extensive looks at the legends of Beren and Luthien, a mismatched couple of man and elf who presage to some extent what we will see with Aragorn and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings, and Turin Turambar, a misbegotten soul who seems to move from tragedy to tragedy with a bloody black blade. (I was reminded of Elric of Melnibone which is ironic since Moorcock professes a disdain for most of Tolkien's work.) In the end the three Silmarils are regained and then lost as one is conjoined with a woman made into a bird, one fell into the depths of the seas, and the other into the depths of the Earth. Morgath is defeated and imprisoned, but the threat always remains. Elves leave Middle-Earth save for a few such as Galadriel, Elrond, Celeborn, and others we will meet again. 

The narrative is dense and filled with unfamiliar names and as soon as you get used to a batch Tolkien kills them off and introduces another gang of elves with funky names. In his defense, I don't know that Tolkien intended a schlub like me to be reading this stuff, so I perhaps cannot fault him. There is no dialogue, precious little indirect character development, and the pacing is relentless. 

Akallabeth (The Downfallen)

This is the story of the Numenor, an island kingdom established for men who had in before times bonded with elves and so had a greater lifespan and greater power. These were noble men to begin with but eventually despite their long lives, which spanned centuries they began to crave yet more life and looked to the West and the land of the Valar for the means to that end. They were spurred on by Sauron, the former servant of Morgoth, who came to the Numemoreans in deceptive and pleasing form. After the rise and fall of nearly two dozen kings, there came to power a tyrant named Pharazon who decided to sail West to the land of the Valar, the one direction these great mariners had been forbidden to travel and the result was a disaster that caused the island of Numenor to sink and the whole of that culture to die save for a few ships that sailed for Middle-Earth. 

Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age

Here we learn what happens to the survivors of Numenor who various established the kingdoms of Gondor to guard against the forces of Mordor and became part of a wandering cadre of protectors ever on the lookout for a risen Sauron. This section tells us of the events which happened on Middle-Earth in anticipation of the events of the Lord of the Rings. We learn of the creation of the various rings and how they are distributed. We learn of the great alliance between Elves and Men which rose up to stand against the revived power of Sauron and which succeeded then threw that success away when the One Ring was not destroyed. We learn how events unfolded and the wizards came to Middle-Earth, and we see that one of their number also falls under the spell of the grasping power. And we finally are introduced to the Perinnath, or as we know them Hobbits. 

I'm not going to lie. Reading The Silmarillion is a bit of a chore. The towering babel of names which pelt the reader relentlessly makes for tough sledding. The speed of the accounts is also something to be aware of. Events come and go swiftly as with any history it is only necessary to describe then move on. The Silmarillion was clearly written for Tolkien's eyes only. I will confess the reading gets better as you go, or maybe I just get hardened to it. Perhaps the success of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings made it possible for this dense tome to be published but without the former this complex narrative never would've seen the light of day. 

Next, it's off to read The Unfinished Tales

Rip Off


  1. We have our problems here in the UK but at least we've still got free healthcare and strong employment rights plus guns are illegal and Britain is one of the most secular countries in the world so we aren't plagued by hypocritical right-wing Christian fundamentalists.

    1. The personal welfare of individual citizens is not the primary concern of our politics. Too much time and energy is spent dredging up anger and using that win office. But sadly, it's the citizenry's own fault in many cases for continually falling for the same noxious arguments. We deserved more here and we need to demand more, but we've been trained that it's wrong to depend on government, we're supposed to rough it in the private sector. It's a tragedy.

    2. Other hypocritical fundamentalists of different persuasions (or none) are, of course, available.

  2. I've had a copy on my bookshelf for a number of years, but after hearing about it off and on for as long, I'm almost afraid to read it! On the other hand, I was entirely absorbed by The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings (the Remington cover years) and The Tolkien Reader.

    1. I liken it to reading an old text, which is the style he wanted. It takes a while to get into the groove. I might give it another read sooner than later.