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Week 2, Book 2: The Silmarillion

The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien, is the edition I read. It was my father’s book, which he purchased in 2000 along with the matching editions of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Unfinished Tales. As those editions of The Hobbit and LotR were the ones I had first read, before purchasing my own, I decided I wanted to read that edition of The Silm as well.

Just yesterday I went and bought my own copy of The Silm which is this beautiful edition. It is illustrated by Ted Nasmith, with 4 sets of colour plates through the book. It’s the same printing, I think, as the previous edition, just slightly larger in measurements and with the artwork. Alongside my 50th anniversary trade paperback copy of The Hobbit and a very slightly mismatched set of Lord of the Rings in three volumes (all the same editions/cover art, but RotK was printed larger), it looks comfortably unique. I had hoped to buy a used copy of Silm, but this was too beautiful to pass up.

I had previously attempted to read The Silmarillion some years ago, after reading Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. But I was only about 8 or 9 years old at the time, and so it is no wonder that I never got very far in, despite being a fairly precocious reader. (I did also attempt The Unfinished Tales which I had more success with, but I’m not sure if I did read all that.) I am a great lover of LotR and Tolkien, and consider both the books and the movies done by Peter Jackson & Co. highly influential as stories that shaped me as a person, a reader, and a (hopefully some day published) writer. This is quite relevant, as The Silm is most definitely a book that will only appeal to specific audiences. For avid Tolkien fans who wish to know, understand, and appreciate the great man’s work as much as possible, it is a must-read. I imagine anyone who is a fan of classic mythology a la the Iliad or Beowulf or such things would also appreciate it.

The book, for those not familiar with it, does not just contain the Quenta Silmarillion, the title epic, but also holds the AinulindalĂ«, the Valaquenta, the AkallabĂȘth, and Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, along with some genealogical tables and appendices. The edition I read (and the one I own) also includes an excerpt from a letter written by Tolkien to Milton Waldman in 1951 which forms a “brilliant exposition of his conception of the earlier Ages” (the letter ends with a summary of the events of LotR and that part is not included). The letter alone is brilliant and provides great insight into Tolkien’s purposes and intentions in creating his world of Middle-earth. I will treat each section separately, as they are all different stories, and due to the format of the book, even the Quenta Silmarillion is rather more like a compilation of tales of varying historicity and from various sources than a single cohesive tale. Which is something I find rather wonderful, but won’t dwell on overmuch – Christopher Tolkien’s forward covers it quite well though.

Some spoilers for the chapter Of Beren and Luthien, but other than that, spoiler free. Also a bit on the long side.

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Reading is dangerous…

It makes you think.

It challenges you to accept, for the length of time it takes to read the book, another view of the world. Or a view of another world.

Reading, especially fantasy, is dangerous.

It’s no wonder people ban books. Books, and reading, are dangerous. Subversive, even.

Books invite you to consider difference. To consider other possibilites, other ways. To consider humanity. To dream. To imagine. To stretch your mind.

Stories inspire you. Stories reinforce the world around you, or they threaten it. Any upset of the standard tropes and suddenly something changes.

To paraphrase a quote said by someone who I forget, it is what you read (or watch or listen to, really) when you don’t have to, that speaks to who you are.

We have all read formative books. Stories that have shaped us, changed us, sometimes dramatically. I can’t, at the moment, think of any book that ever completely upended my world in a dramatic manner. But I can think of a number of books, just off the top of my head, a few select authors, who have greatly influenced my internal world. My mental landscape. Provided furnishings for the person I am today.

That is what I plan to post about on here, over the next few months. And it likely will take months. I’m busy, and have sundry things to attend to that won’t leave a lot of time for drafting good, solid posts.

But that is what you may expect.

(Some of these books, some of these authors? Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings. Tamora Pierce’s writing. To name but two major ones.)

-C/J