Every year on March 25, the anniversary of the Downfall of Sauron, the Tolkien Society hosts Tolkien Reading Day. This year’s theme selected by the Tolkien Society is Hope and Courage. 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 full schedule of events by clicking here.
Growing up, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was one of the first classic epic fantasies that I ever read. I read the books out of order–trilogy first, The Hobbit second–though that was entirely because my father wanted to see the movies in the theater, so he handed me The Fellowship and told me to get reading so I could join him. I’ll never forget sitting in the dark theater, absolutely sobbing as Gandalf fell after the Balrog in Moria. My dad leaned over and whispered, “Have you read the second one yet?” I had, but it was still the saddest thing ever to witness, and, to this day, I still cry over his death in that scene.
I fell hard for the stories of Middle-earth. I read the trilogy as fast as my little preteen brain could comprehend, devoured The Hobbit, and decided that wasn’t nearly enough. My dad had this small bookshelf next to his bed, and I went scrounging through it, trying to see if there was anything else with Tolkien listed as the author. My dad found me there, frowning at his bookshelf, wondering why there were only these four books when all the other series I loved usually had many more. I wanted this world to be endless, and when I told him that, he said, “Oh, there’s The Silmarillion, but it’s impossible and terrible. I threw it away years ago.”
Because I was still a child and my dad was basically a wizard straight out of Middle-earth come to grace my life with his magical presence, I took his word for it. For years and years, despite shifting pretty quickly from everyday love to outright obsession over Tolkien’s stories, I never once questioned my dad. At that young age, the trilogy had been tricky for me to read, and so, I assumed that The Silmarillion would be even harder. Plus, it wasn’t about the characters I’d grown so fond of, so what was the point?
Fast forward to a few years ago, headed toward the end of my twenties, writing my own novels, reading everything in sight, and trying to clear out some of my long overdue unread owned books. And there, sitting on my shelf, was The Children of Húrin. I’d never read it, though I always planned to. As I researched it a little, it was to find that although it didn’t contain any characters I was familiar with, it was still firmly set in Middle-earth, and it told the tale of characters from before. I thought about the Battle of Dagorlad, that we only see for the briefest of seconds as a setup in Fellowship. I wondered if the Balrog that had slain Gandalf might have a name and a history. I remembered, all at once, something that had always niggled at me.
‘This, Gandalf, was Glamdring, Foe-hammer that the king of Gondolin once wore.’ – The Hobbit
I’ve long been a huge fan of swords, but who wasn’t as a child? Pair that with the camera work in The Return of the King when they’re finally showing us Andúril reforged from the Shards of Narsil, and this line in The Hobbit has always struck me. When Gandalf falls with the Balrog, he’s wielding Glamdring, and it wasn’t the things he shouted at the Balrog that had niggled at me, but this mention of Gondolin. Why did they call this sword Foe-hammer? What was so special about this king? And why did Gondolin no longer exist?
At some point in your life, you’ve wondered a similar question while reading the main works in Tolkien’s legendarium. He drops these little hints all around the books, things that reference untold adventures, mentions of extraordinary feats from unknown characters, the possibility of a pantheon of gods and so much more lore. And, for the first time since I picked up Fellowship as a child, I started thinking about The Silmarillion again.
Currently, I’m hosting a four-week read-along on my blog for The Silmarillion, and, when I first announced it, I got a lot of the same responses as my dad all those years ago. People think it’s too dense, too convoluted, too hectic. They think it’s impossible to read or just plain difficult. They think it twists and turns too much. Inevitably, though, everyone with that opinion has never actually tried to read it. Like me, they’ve just been influenced by other readers, and they’ve wiped their hands of it. The trilogy is good enough. Right?
Honestly, if you want to just surface level read the trilogy and be on your merry way, yeah, it is enough! But if, like me, something like an offhand mention of the king of Gondolin has always had you wondering, I’m begging you, read this beautiful, insane masterpiece. Because that, in its essence, is why you should read The Silmarillion. There’s so much packed into it, even more than you’re possibly thinking of right now. When I decided I was going to read it, I knew I wanted to read the trilogy after, and the experience of rereading the trilogy post-Silmarillion knowledge is unlike anything I’ve ever felt with a book. Are there things I still missed? Yeah, definitely, Tolkien was actually out of this world brilliant. But now, there’s so much more that I understand.
Gondolin, now, is not just this mysterious city in history. It’s the place where Ecthelion and Glorfindel fought off the Balrogs long enough to save their people. It’s the place where Turgon hid from the world until the moment of greatest need, and then an entire army poured out of the mountains to rise up against Sauron. It’s the place with seven gates, each more wondrous than the last. It’s the place where Maeglin was fostered, where Eärendil was born, where Gandalf’s mighty sword was forged. And that’s just the beginning.
In truth, The Silmarillion is no more difficult to read than the trilogy. If you’ve ever suffered through George R.R. Martin’s endless cast of characters, there’s probably fewever in The Silmarillion. Sure, many of them–looking at you, Túrin–have half a dozen names, and Tolkien likes to name things in not just different languages, but different dialects. Yes, there are no hobbits, everyone is mean to the dwarves, and the elves are actually the worst. But you also get to see Sauron before he went over to the dark side. You get to read about Aragorn’s ancestors and the great love that he often sings about. You get to see the creation of the world, understand why there is so much strife and sorrow in the Third Age, and witness the truly badass natures of characters like Fingolfin and Maedhros.
In a letter to a potential publisher, Tolkien was asked to describe, in detail, why The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings needed to be published together, as a single unit. Over the course of ten thousand words, he did exactly that, and honestly? I’ve got to agree with him. To fully appreciate the majesty that is the trilogy, you also need the knowledge contained within The Silmarillion. And, even beyond just having that knowledge to understand all the hidden aspects of the trilogy, The Silmarillion is good. It’s an expertly written book, or I wouldn’t still be weeping over it years after my first read, enough that I needed to reread it and try to convince even more people it was worth their time.
I could go on and on and on, until my words run dry, listing out all the reasons why you should read The Silmarillion. At the end of all things, though, the only way to truly understand its worth is to dive right in.
Mary Drover finds adventure along the New England coastline, deep in the White Mountains, and always on a yoga mat. She spends her days in an office, her nights drinking tea, and all the in-between moments snuggling her sister cats or writing about magic, pirates, witches, faeries, planets, and romance. She has a BFA in Creative Writing & a BA in English from the University of Maine at Farmington, practices Tibetan Buddhism, has too many candles, and cannot stop buying crystals or plants. She is a registered yoga teacher, a part-time witch, and was an astronaut in a previous life. Visit Mary at Mary and the Words @ https://marydrover.com/.