Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme is Home and Hearth: The Many Ways of Being a Hobbit. 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 a number of guest posts! Check out the complete schedule here.
Happy Tolkien Reading Day! And in that spirit, I will be talking about one of the most ambitious Tolkien books you could pick up, both in terms of writing it and reading it: The Silmarillion. You may have heard of this book, and simply disregarded it as something that wouldn’t interest you. Or thought it was too difficult to read, or not enjoyable. Well, I am here to dispel all rumors, and win you over.
The Silm, as the book is affectionately called by anyone who has read it, can be difficult to access. It is made more daunting because it is, in fact, incomplete. It was never meant to really be a story unto itself. Christopher Tolkien pieced it together from bits and bobs his father had written, so it is not a flowing narrative. But it is an incredible collection of stories that will greatly enrich any further enjoyment of The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings.
Other difficulties include the fact that there is little dialogue. What there is tends to be threats, oaths or bargains. Some of them come back again and again. And the Fingolins and Fangolins can get a bit confusing (there are a lot of F names!). The characters are not all fleshed out as well as one would hope. Even Beren and Luthien, perhaps the best-known story of the collection, is not as rich in character development as you would like to see.
Its saving grace is that it is beautifully written and contains many memorable characters. And if you have read the later books, you will love to see some of your favorite characters peeking out now and then, such as Galadriel. There is a whole new world here, but somehow it is a bit familiar. The map, of course, is wonderful. I was lucky enough to obtain a first edition which still had its map folded up in the back. Joy!
I don’t know why I waited so long to read this. I guess I was daunted. But no more! Now I am urging anyone with an interest in Tolkien’s works or fantasy in general to dive into this. But yes, there are a few tips that might help you. These are gleaned from Justin @collecttolkien who helpfully posted this before Middle Earth March began. They were helpful tips for me, so I hope they help you, too!
Read it like a history, as that’s really what it is. Not a novel.
Read it in parts. It is divided up into sections of history. Don’t feel like you have to read a ton in one sitting.
Mark it up – flag it, underline, mark things to look up later. Or whatever you want. There is a wealth of information in the back, from pronunciations to family trees, and a big glossary. So make a game of it.
Skip parts that are tough for you or don’t interest you as much. Move on to something fun. There are a lot of LOTR and Hobbit related things toward the end. Plus stories that have been made into full-length books, like Beren and Luthien and The Children of Hurin. So maybe read what is most familiar and work your way in from there.
Don’t sweat taking a break from it. Just mark your spot and try again another time.
I’ve paraphrased a little bit and added some of my own ideas, but the bulk of this post came from Justin and I want to thank him so much for letting me use it, and for giving this great advice! Check out his Instagram feed (oh, so excellent) at https://www.instagram.com/collecttolkien/
The general advice is that the books should be read in a certain order to get the most from the stories. But really, that is personal preference. I think it helps to just pick up at whatever entry point works for you, and then read whatever grabs your fancy next. At some point, though, I think it would be good to go through the whole progression, and read the stories in the order in which they were published, which would be: The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, The Unfinished Tales and The Silmarillion. Or, you could read them in narrative order, which would be… hmmm. I think The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and then maybe Unfinished Tales? I have not read Unfinished Tales yet so not quite sure if that fits there. The upshot is, it’s all wonderful and you should definitely dive in somewhere. Maybe with one of the newer stand-alone novels, or with his short stories, or the Father Christmas Letters? It’s all so good, you can’t go wrong.