Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Life, Death, and Immortality. The primary goal is to promote the reading of the works of J.R R. Tolkien! To celebrate, Pages Unbound will be hosting two weeks of Tolkien-related posts. In addition to our own thoughts, we will be featuring guest posts and interviews!
Tolkien’s Silmarillion has a reputation for being difficult to wade through, from accusations of being filled with characters possessing multiple names to criticism of its high style. The Silmarillion, however, is a work full of beauty and wonder, and, with some perseverance, perhaps not so difficult to finish as some would have you believe. Not sure what’s in store for you if you try it? Below are some reasons to rethink what you think you know about Tolkien’s work.
First, what is The Silmarillion?
The Silmarillion is J. R. R. Tolkien’s early mythology of the world of Arda, which contains Middle-earth as well as other lands. It explains the creation of the world, the rise and fall of the first Dark Lord, the early history of the Elves and the Dwarves, and the supernatural beings who watch over Arda.
Why has it been criticized?
J. R. R. Tolkien never finished writing The Silmarillion. His son Christopher edited his writings and published them in 1977 (after his father’s death). Some Tolkien scholars have worried about how much Christopher intervened in the work to make it a cohesive narrative. Christopher himself seems worried about this as his more recent publications of his father’s works are more unfinished–Christopher tends to present the writings as he finds them, even noting multiple variations or providing multiple drafts for the same writing. The Silmarillion, however, is not presented as an archive of Tolkien’s writings but as a fantasy novel that precedes The Lord of the Rings.
Why should you read it?
- It provides the stories of numerous histories and characters mentioned in The Lord of the Rings. Wondering who Beren was or about the rise and fall of Numenor? What about Elendil or the origins of Gandalf? It’s all here.
- The women are epic. Tolkien receives criticism for his lack of female characters, but when he writes them, he makes them incredibly cool. Here you can find a young, rebellious Galadriel; a powerful Maia named Melian who defies the Dark Lord Morgoth; an Elven princess named Luthien who refuses to wait at home for her lover and faces Morgoth in his old stronghold, and more.
- Everything is ten times more epic than in The Lord of the Rings. Sauron is merely the lieutenant of the first Dark Lord–a being so powerful that the inhabitants of Middle-earth needed supernatural intervention to defeat him. The men and Elves of old are so epic that Beren leaping a great distance is a marvel.
- It contains the tale of Beren and Luthien, well-known as Tolkien’s most romantic love story. A mortal Man falls in love with Elven princess, but can only marry her if he returns with a Silmaril, a legendary jewel, from Morgoth’s crown. Notably, Tolkien compared himself and his wife to Beren and Luthien and their love that lasted beyond death.
- The Dwarves have a poignant origin story. You can also learn more about life and death in Arda and the belief that each race goes to a separate afterlife–hence why Elrond is so distraught when Arwen chooses Aragorn. He believes they will never meet again because he will go to the afterlife of the Elves and she will go to the afterlife of Men.
- It contains the story of the fall of Gondolin. The light of Earendil appears in The Lord of the Rings. Here you can find out what that light is and how Earendil became a star!
- The religious aspects underlying The Lord of the Rings become more clear because you can learn about the supernatural beings who guard and guide Middle-earth.
- There’s more detail about the Third Age if you really like learning about the history of the Rings of Power and other tidbits like that.
- Dragons! Balrogs! Ungoliant, the ancestor of Shelob, who literally eats everything and spews darkness.
- There’s something for everyone. Tragedy, heartache, myth, romance…there are so many stories here that it’s hard not to please.