Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation. Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating! This week’s question is:
Which Tolkien book would you recommend to a reader after they’ve finished The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings?
In a perfect world I would recommend The Silmarillion. It’s full of drama, danger, war, and romance. It contains such stories as the fall of Gondolin and the fateful voyage of Earendil across the seas to ask the Valar for help on earth. It explains how Middle-earth was created and how the first Dark Lord Morgoth rebelled against Iluvatar and brought forth the Balrogs and other evil creatures. It tells the romance of Beren and Luthien, a mortal Man and an Elf who must go to the very throne of Morgoth and steal a Silmaril from his crown if they are to be together–and that’s before they have to figure out how to stay together after death. In short, it has all the fine qualities of The Lord of the Rings, but the villains are more powerful and the stakes are higher.
It also contains many interesting backstories for those who already love Middle-earth. Did you know Galadriel is an Elf rebel? That Galadriel gives Frodo light from a Silmaril when she gifts him the light of Earendil? That the ancestors of the people of Gondor were convinced by Sauron to worship Morgoth? The book contains a lot of fascinating tidbits for those intrigued by the allusions in The Lord of the Rings.
Unfortunately, over the years The Silmarillion has gained a reputation for being difficult, convoluted, full of too many names, and generally inaccessible to the average reader. I would dispute this claim, but the fact remains that many individuals are just too fearful to pick it up. To that I say, try reading The Children of Húrin instead.
The Children of Húrin follows TúrinTurambar and his sister Nienor, cursed by Morgoth to wander the earth and bring destruction to all they know, all because their father dared defy the Dark Lord. Their lives are reminiscent of the great epic tragedies, and they culminate in a final battle against the great dragon Glaurung (who make Smaug look positively friendly). This story is an episode contained in The Silmarillion, but here Christopher Tolkien has published a stand-alone version based on his study of his father’s manuscripts. And, if you like it, you know there’s similar material to be found in The Silmarillion.