Saturday, February 8, 2014

Book Overview: Studying THE SILMARILLION By J.R.R. Tolkien

This meme characterizes my experience with this tome.
The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

Genre(s): Fictional history / Fantasy / Literature

Well. It took me five whole weeks to finish The Silmarillion, which is halfway into the quarter. Yes, I had fallen back on readings.

My friends, especially those of you who love Middle Earth, here's some advice in terms of how you approach this book: you don't just read The Silmarillion; you study it like a history textbook written from the perspective of the Elves. There are multiple names for characters due to the varying languages of the world.

Also, use the Index of Names at the back of the book. Since everyone has multiple names, it can get messy. The Index of Names helps you identify or remember who's who, what's what, and where's where.

Just awful: This book's Publisher Price is $3.95 but due to my failure to find my own copy in the house before we started reading it for class, I paid $7.95 at the university bookstore for it. 
The edition I have specifies that it is "THE EPIC HISTORY OF THE ELVES IN THE LORD OF THE RINGS." The entire book encompasses the creation of the world and the First, Second, and Third Ages. 

  • AINULINDALE: The music of the Ainur: Eru/Iluvatar creates the Ainur. World is still mostly unshaped at this time. There is a battle of music, in which most of the Ainur sing the themes that correspond with Iluvatar's themes, but then Melkor/Morgoth starts weaving in some discordant themes of his own due to his desire for more control and power. 
  • VALAQUENTA: Account of the Valar and Maiar according to the lore of the Eldar: Here we learn about the two types of Ainur: the Valar (god-like entities below Iluvatar) and Maiar (which function like demigods who serve the Valar). We also get an introduction of "The Enemies," who are pretty much Melkor/Morgoth and his servants. 
  • QUENTA SILMARILLION: The history of the Silmarils: Comprised of 24 chapters, the "Quenta Silmarillion" takes up the bulk of The Silmarillion. Most of this section is about the creation of the world and also the First Age, when most of the issues of civilization and corruption affected the Elves directly. First Age = age of the Elves in Middle Earth. Here, we see the creation of the Silmarils (and all the drama that ensues), the migration of some of the Noldor elves from Aman (the western isle of the Valar) to Middle Earth due to the pride of their leader Feanor, and the influences of Melkor. From then on, the Quenta Silmarillion covers the plight of the Noldor elves in Middle Earth and their battles against Morgoth and each other for the Silmarils.

    The First Age ends with the Valar coming down to fight alongside the Elves, the defeat of Morgoth and a massive migration of the Noldor elves, many who are tired of the Middle Earth drama. However, a few decide to stay behind. Among these are Galadriel and the half-elven brothers Elrond (we see a lot more of him in the Third Age) and Elros (who likes to hang around the Men more). 
  • AKALLABETH: The downfall of Numenor: A group of Men rise above the others and are known as the Dunedain or the Numenoreans, Kings among Men. They live on the island called Numenor, and their civilization grows mighty. However, their fear of death and lust for immortality causes them to distrust the Valar and eventually worship Morgoth under the cunning influences of Sauron. Finally a Numenorean ruler named Ar-Pharazon sails to the West (which had been forbidden by the Valar) with the intention of demanding and gaining immortality. As they walk on the shores, Iluvatar opens a chasm in the ocean between Numenor and the Deathless Lands (the West), and the island of Numenor and everyone living on it are sucked into the chasm and die. Sauron's body dies here too. Ar-Pharazon and his men who'd sailed with him are buried under falling hills and imprisoned.

    The landscape of the world is once more altered - the world is no longer flat and is now round, and the Deathless Lands of Aman have become part of a separate plane from Middle Earth. Therefore, the mortals have grown even further away from the paradise. 
  • OF THE RINGS OF POWER AND THE THIRD AGE: in which these tales come to their end: Basically, here we have The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings plotlines condensed into one chapter. Sauron starts out weak but grows stronger and eventually has the Rings crafted, but all the Rings answer to the One Ring, which rules them all. The One Ring is lost. Elrond foretells that the finding of the Ring will signify the fading of the Elves, and the transferring of the dominion of Middle Earth to Men. Aaaand in the end, that happens, and the last magical boat sails off to Aman with the remaining Noldor elves. 

The Only Map Provided

There is only one map in The Silmarillion, which is of Belariand during the First Age and some of the lands to the north. I wish there were more maps, such as a larger map of the Deathless Isles to the way-over-there-west and Middle Earth together, and even maps of each of the ages since the first three ages are covered here. 

Map of BELERIAND and the lands to the north

I enjoyed the end of the First Age and all the way to the end, because that's when the conflicts started to pick up. 

Important Themes/Motifs:

  • Pride before fall: The cause of all wars, violence, corruption, and conflicts that lead the Elves and Men away from the good ways of Eru/Iluvatar.

    Examples: Melkor/Morgoth, Feanor, Thingol, and any other king for whom the word "pride" was used. 
  • Cupidity: the root of all evil (aka "lust"): Another major sin. Look at what happened to the Numenoreans after they lusted for immortality.

    Other examples: Silmarils and pretty much anyone who's ever wanted those damn jewels.
  • The closer you are to Creation, the better things are (idea of Eden / Golden Age): Things are the most beautiful at Creation. Then evil and wars mar the landscape. Even when things recover and heal, they are never the same, and never quite as beautiful as the age before. As each age goes on, Middle Earth grows further away from Aman in terms of access to the island and communication with the Valar.
  • The power of words: the consequences of oaths: Oh gosh. You can't just take back your oath, especially if you included your descendants in it. Oaths can become heavy burdens, like curses, on your family.
    Examples: Feanor and his sons, and anyone who's ever sworn that they'll get the Silmarils. 

Why study The Silmarillion?

By now, you will have decided whether The Silmarillion is a book to read or not. I had tried reading the LOTR trilogy in the earlier years of college (before I took this Tolkien class), and I had no idea what the hell the trees were talking about. The Silmarillion has helped me put things into context and the historical background of Middle Earth will definitely help when I read the LOTR trilogy. 

I'd say that if you're interested about Middle Earth and how it works and are willing to study a dense history textbook about the first Three Ages, then go for it. What repels a lot of people from it (and what took me so darn long to read it) is the biblical style in which it is written. The Silmarillion uses epic language, but is not of the smooth narrative style that we've come to expect from authors. 

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