The Silmarillion

The Silmarillion - J.R.R. Tolkien,  Christopher Tolkien

Watch in amazement as I reduce the wordiest and densest novel of Tolkien's to just five words:

 

It's all about that bling. :P

 

Elves and their bling are nearly as bad as a certain dark lord and his bling. 

 

But seriously, one of the greatest things about LOTR, and to a lesser extent The Hobbit, is that Middle-Earth is a fully realized world. It feels real because it has depth, it has history, and Tolkien understands how to use language to give the various peoples their own traditions and beliefs and philosophies. He understood how geography and topography shaped the people who lived there, and he used his experiences in WWI to inform his works in a way that no others have. Tolkien was a rarity because he was a linguist first and storyteller second, and he didn't have to worry about following or subverting tropes because he created all the tropes. He spent literally the majority of his life creating this world, starting in the trenches during WWI and continuing on to his death. Very few writers come anywhere close to accomplishing that, and even the few who do still don't hold a candle to the Professor. 

 

Why is all this important to this review? Because if you've ever read The Hobbit or LOTR and wanted to know more about the history that those characters were talking about, or why Elbereth came so readily to Frodo's tongue in dire needs, or why the Light of Eärendil was the Elves' most beloved star, or who the hell Morgoth was, this is the book where Tolkien lays it all out.

 

No offense to the Professor, but I get why his publisher wasn't eager to use this book as a follow-up to The Hobbit, and I get why even the biggest fans of Tolkien shy away from this book. It is DENSE. Which makes sense because this isn't just a bunch of stories about the beginnings of Middle-Earth. No, these are the myths of the forming of Arda and the histories and myths of the First and Second Ages, and as such they don't read like The Hobbit or LOTR at all. The use of language, while beautiful, is very much reminiscent of scripture in structure. All that's missing is the numbering of section breaks and paragraphs into chapters and verses. (It's a shame Tolkien never did his own translation of the Bible. He wouldn't have put up with all those deletions and additions and convenient rewordings, and he would've fought - very politely and academically, because he's a British professor - with the Pope and all the bishops and ministers and priests about why he's right and they're all wrong.)

 

And look, I'm usually the first one to yell "show don't tell!" but showing every single story in full that's contained in this book would make it so ridiculously long that Tolkien would still be writing it up in heaven to this day. When he does show though, holy moly, is it amazing! Beren and Luthien, the Children of Húrin, Tuor, Eärendil and Elwing - so many amazing stories. And so many amazing and kickass women. This is honestly why I don't have a problem with Arwen stealing Glorfindel's role in the FOTR movie because look at who her great-great-grandmother is: fricking Luthien Tinúviel, who faced down both Sauron AND Morgoth and walked away from it. If Luthien were still around in the War of the Ring, she could totally simply walk into Mordor. :D 

 

If you just can't settle down to read this (it took me 13 months to read it the first time around), but you still want to know what's up, check out Jeff La Sala's Silmarillion Primer on TOR here: https://www.tor.com/series/the-silmarillion-primer/. As I'm writing this review, he's currently in the process of doing the primer, so he's only gotten up to "Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor." He keeps it light and fun and has visuals, and while he doesn't go into every detail, he gets most of the highlights and the commenters are equally insightful.