Book in Review: "The Silmarillion"

Though I am more of a historical nonfiction kind of guy, those of you who know me most will know that I have a soft spot for Tolkien’s masterpiece: The Lord of the Rings. Maybe too soft a spot. I remember at the ripe age of nine going to the movie theater with my father to watch the first of the series (The Fellowship of the Ring) and leaving absolutely hooked. My imagination was ignited by a larger than life world with larger than life conflict and characters. For years since I spent many hours in the backyard with my neighborhood friend reliving epic scenes and creating new ones.

Little did I know back then, but the Lord of the Rings was only the tip of the iceberg of Tolkien’s work involving “Arda” (the realm that contains Middle Earth). J.R.R Tolkien spent his entire life writing languages, adding back stories, and assembling ages and ages of mythology for his world. Though much of his ambitious work was never completed, there is far sufficient material out there to satisfy the most die-hard and inquisitive of fans.

The Silmarillion is a posthumous publication of assorted tails and myths meshed together in chronological order. It delves into the creation of Arda by the Valar (gods) and the colossal struggle that ensued. To those who have read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion answers many questions that seem to be left unanswered. For what purpose were men, elves, and dwarves created? Who is Sauron, and who was his ancient master Morgoth? Why are the elves yearning to leave Middle Earth for the west and what on earth is a balrog? To a fan of The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion answers these questions and much, much more.

However, as many other reviewers have stated, this book is not for everyone. The Silmarillion is written in mythical fashion and travels at a blistering pace through thousands of years, introducing a multitude of characters and scenes as you go. A flurry of names, genealogies, regions, and geography can easily muddle any reader, and it forced me to spend significant time verifying who is who and where is where. A quality reading requires patience and perhaps a quirky curiosity.

Nevertheless, the Silmarillion is at its best moments a work of utter magnificence. It contains a fountain of excellent material (including plot lines and dramas) which will only provide a better appreciation for both Tolkien’s genius and as his more well-known books. Though this is not an essential read for everyone who enjoys the Lord of the Rings, those curious enough to take on the Silmarillion will be rewarded. I for one am glad I took the time.

If you are a fan of Tolkien (or would like to be) check out this link that prescribes a reading order of his publications.


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