Wednesday, April 24, 2013
I feel like the The Silmarillion is an old friend. One I can talk about The Hobbit with; someone who knows what the cry Elbereth Gilthoniel means, and why this prayer is especially meaningful when one is alone, in the dark, and afraid. And why it is that Galadriel seems so sad, so powerful, and yet so worried and so driven. And why she feels that, in the end, she may have passed a test. And... if she is so powerful, who would it be who could presume to try her.
In The Silmarillion, we find out why it is that elves do what they do, and feel so strongly about men, Middle Earth, and Sauron. Why the story of Beren and Lúthien is still on their minds. Why the stars are so important to them, and what the sea really means when it calls to them.
The Silmarillion is a guidebook--a user's manual--for The Lords of the Rings and The Hobbit. Its where Tolkien started, and where he ended up. He began the stories that survive in The Silmarillion, back in the 30s, and worked on them all through his career. They were eventually edited for publishing by his son, Christopher Tolkien, with aid from Guy Gavriel Kay, who has written a number of fantasy books of his own, which I have enjoyed and recommended.*
I don't think a lot of folks make it through the first 30 pages of this book because of where it begins. When you're Tolkien, and you're creating a new universe (or sub-universe within our own universe, as he would probably put it) where do you begin, but at the beginning? The Silmarillion is both a history, and a character driven tale, told from before the very beginning of time, from the point of view of the elves. And these characters--and there are a lot of them--get their start here, so it makes sense to tell their stories. Skipping this part only makes it harder to understand what comes after, but if that's what it takes, skip it. Skip both the Ainulindalë and the Valaquenta. Yeah, man! Go right ahead to the Quenta Silmarillion; there's even a little summary of whats been happening right there, at the beginning.
Then... if you like it... you can go back and read the first part. It will be like the back story to the back story, dude! its like 30 pages, don't be a puss
One last thing, if you have read either The Children of Hùrin or Unfinished Tales, or plan to, there is some repetition of materials. The Silmarillion contains a few abbreviated versions of stories contained in these other volumes.
If you've scrabbled around in the appendixes of The Lord of the Rings (and you know who you are) you owe it to yourself to read this book.
* You'll find the The Fionavar Tapestry Trilogy by Kay listed in the 'good' box in the right hand column.