Why You Probably Shouldn’t Read The Silmarillion (Part I)

[gasp]  Whaaaaa?  Did she really just say that?  Um, yes.  Yes, she did.

Look.  Here’s the deal with The Silmarillion.

  1. If you’re not a huge Tolkien nerd, you’re probably going to throw your hands up in disgust, swearing and tearing your hair out after the first two pages.
  2. Even if you are a huge Tolkien nerd, if you generally skip past the songs in LotR and the Hobbit or can’t handle creation myths – you will probably end up like the people in the first group.
  3. For the biggest Tolkien nerds it can still be rough going sometimes.  For realsies.  I have to REALLY BE IN THE MOOD to even attempt it or I end up like those in the first and second groups.

SOOOOOO, that being said I’m going to be the awesomest and give you a re-cap of the highlights, in preparation for our upcoming group read.  Some of this stuff is just kind of neat, and other parts are super important.  So pay attention, yeah?  It’s a bit of a slog at times, so I’m going to break it up into a few different posts.  But still…pay attention.

Ainulindalë

(Music of the Ainur)

The Ainulindalë is the first part of The Silmarillion.  It concerns the creation of Middle-Earth and is fairly standard creation-myth-fare.  Seriously, it’s all (paraphrasing here) “In the beginning there was Eru/Ilúvatar/Father of All.  It was dark and he was lonely so he created the Ainur (Holy Ones) to keep him company and sing to him.”  Yes, the first thing he taught them was to sing for his pleasure.  What a jerk, right?  Maybe.  We’ll see.

The first Ainur we meet is Melkor.  Melkor doesn’t like being told what to do, or that he’s expected to collaborate with the other Ainur for songs.  He takes off to create his own damn songs, which are referred to as loud, vain and repetitive.  Fun!

All the Ainur get together to sing for Ilúvatar and Melkor keeps butting in with his loud songs, and other Ainur join him.  Dissonance.  Ilúvatar kind of shames him by managing to incorporate Melkor’s crappy song with the rest and everything is better for it.  When the singing is over, he praises Melkor for his hard work, then chastises him for being a dick and takes off – leaving the Ainur with their thoughts and songs.

Time passes, but it’s the Void so who really knows how long it was?

Ilúvatar returns and says “Hey guys!  Let me tell you about this great idea I had for your songs!” He shows them his plans to create a physical plane and that all of the songs they’ve been singing will bring to fruition a different aspect of this new reality that will exist within time.

Melkor gets a little grumpy to learn that his themes were all part of a master plan and are going to be incorporated.

Eä (The World that Is/the Universe) is created.  Time begins.  Arda (the world and the skies that surround it) is created IN Eä.  The Ainur (split into the greater Valar and lesser Maiar) are given corporeal form and sent down to ready Arda for the coming of the Children of Ilúvatar (elves and men).  Melkor is among them.

Arda before the First Age.

The Valar build stuff up, Melkor tears it down.  This continues for A LONG TIME (like, thousands of years, seriously).  Melkor takes off in a huff, but comes back and builds himself a fortress (maybe with blackjack and hookers, but I’m not really sure).  Technically, Arda is ready for her Children.

Valaquenta

(Tale of the Valar)

Names.  Names and more names.  I’m not going to name everyone here because it would be far longer than you want to read.  Let me sum up.

  • Valar – names and descriptions.
  • Maiar – names and descriptions
  • Bad Guys – Melkor (also now going by Morgoth) and his minions (former Maiar, some of whom come to be known as Balrogs [SEE IMPORTANT!]) and his first lieutenant, Sauron (also important, I told you to pay attention!).

Okay, I think that’s enough for today.  Check back later this week when I’ll continue explaining why you shouldn’t read The Silmarillion on your own.  Next up will be Quenta Silmarillion, which really deserves its own post.

Thanks for reading and heading off to Middle-Earth with me this summer, guys.  It’s nice to have a Fellowship this time.

Also, make sure you head over to As You Were to check out David’s post on why he reads Tolkien.

Related Reading

Why You Probably Shouldn’t Read the Silmarillion

71 thoughts on “Why You Probably Shouldn’t Read The Silmarillion (Part I)

    • I really don’t think anyone who has never read Tolkien before would give two s**ts about this stuff…or, not enough to get through it.

      I’ve known many people that tried to start with this one and gave up on the rest of his work altogether. It’s like reading a history text or the bible. If that’s not REALLY YOUR THING, you’re going to hate every second of it.

      I think it’s better to be invested in the characters and the world-building first (or have someone [ahem] give you a synopsis of the need to know stuff) before you even attempt it.

    • Ummmmmmm…sure? I didn’t really think of it like that.

      I’d been considering writing a Tolkien for Dummies Beginners series of posts prior to the group read, and hadn’t really considered what form it would take until I started writing this last night.

      I almost scrapped it when I logged on today, but I’m kind of glad I didn’t.

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  2. I did read the Silmarillion many many years ago, although I believe I must have skipped parts (like the songs, probably). Think I still own a copy, actually.

    Anyway, I love your summary! So much easier than reading the damn thing! And I totally agree: don’t bother.

    • Yay, hi Andreas! Thank you so much for reading!

      As many times as I’ve read the Hobbit and LotR, I’ve only made it all the way through the Silmarillion a few times…and I skimmed on two of those occasions. It’s definitely not light escapism like the others.

      Are you going to read along with us?

  3. Believe it or not, I actually read The Silmarillion before I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I didn’t have too bad a time with it because before that, I read my school library’s entire mythology section. (I’m guessing that these facts may have some connection with why it took me so long to lose my virginity.)

  4. I love the Silmarillion, but my gosh it was hard work. I had to read it like a deep sea diver who has a faulty mask: intense chunks for a few minutes at a time, and then coming up for air. It is, I can’t help thinking, truly representative of Tolkien as an author in that he created this wonderful, rich universe full of rules and magic and legacy and interesting characters, all of whom were far more substantial than his actual writing, which I can take or leave. In other words, sometimes he simply can’t write for toffee, and the Simlarillion is a good example of that. At the same time the opening sequence and Eru’s music of creation is truly wondrous.

    • I think part of what makes it so difficult is that it was primarily written for himself. When you’re writing something without intending for others to see it, you don’t really spend a whole lot of time making sure that it’s understandable to anyone other than yourself.

      But I still think it’s pretty awesome that he was just so in love with this world that he wanted to document it all for himself.

  5. ALSO in this section — one of those Maiar, Olórin, will, much, much, much later, go by another name: [REDACTED - spoilers!] You didn’t think that battle could get any more epic? Add in untold millennia of enmity. This is why I love The Silmarillion. Its scope is vast, and reading it enlarges the scope of everything else that happens in Middle-earth.

    • I feel like kind of a jerk for editing your comment, but I was keeping that tidbit under my hat (heh, in this context that’s kind of funny) until we talk about Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age. We’ll talk about Curumo and the other Istari then, too. :)

    • In some cases I preferred the Books of Lost Tales to the Silmarillion — some things are told in greater detail and read better (like The Fall of Gondolin). But they are definitely earlier versions, names are different (and there are already a lot of names to keep track of), and even the terminology is different in some cases (Elves are “Gnomes,” for example).

  6. So, if I understand: You’ve read Silmarillion, but not The Hobbit?

    I just finished book 2 of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. It was given a Hugo as the greatest sci-fi/fantasy series of all time, beating even LotR. I’m 2 books in now, and still not seeing it.

    • Har. No, I’ve never actually read ANY of these books, I’m just making it all up as I go along. Is it accurate so far? /sarcasm

      I by far prefer PKD to Asimov. Conceptually, Asimov is decent, but I don’t care for his lack of characterization/plot.

      • Didn’t you say you hadn’t read Hobbit a little while back? Is my memory failing me?

        And I agree – there are some nice concepts but surely the far future consists of more than conversing over cigars.

        • Heh, no – that wasn’t me. I’ve been hooked on Tolkien since my dad got me this when I was little. I am now trying to figure out what I said that made you think that?

          I think one of the problems I had with Foundation was that it felt like it took a billion pages for NOTHING TO HAPPEN.

          • Could it be Meg? I swear, there was a post here about have The Hobbit for a book club choice and sheepishly admitting never having read it. I’m kind of freaking out, here.

            Okay. It’s cool. Must have been someone else. The universe makes more sense, though, because you never having read The Hobbit made no sense to me.

            • You know what’s funny? I just went back to read the original post where I was just thinking about doing the group read, and your comment there comes across like you thought then that I hadn’t read them already.

              I need to work on making myself clearer when I speak/type, jeez.

  7. I admit that the Silmarillion was a bit of a challenge, but I was only 16 or 17. The dude invented entire languages, for cryin’ out loud. Then again, he was an Oxford Don of ancient languages, as I recall. Does anybody else regret that they left Tom Bombadill out of the movies?

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  13. It took me three tries to get through TS but once I did it was pretty much my favorite Tolkien work, until Children of Hurin came out and I wanted to see the same treatment for Beren and Luthien, which is my favorite part of TS.

    • You’ve just started reading probably my favourite series I’ve written. I don’t care how it makes me sound, I’m really proud of these posts.

      • Yeah, it’s pretty cool. And it might actually do what you advise against—get people to read TS, which is, of course, a good thing :)

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