Posted by: Nathan | August 14, 2006

The Silmarillion–Backstory of LOTR

silmarillion.JPG *

I have recently polished off J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic The Silmarillion. My dad actually read me the book when I was younger, but it was so complicated to listen to and I was so tired (and frequently fell asleep) that I didn’t catch any of it. More recently, Dan read it and highly recommended it to me, so I was looking forward to perusing its pages. Plus, after C&P I was ready for something that read a little faster.

Silmarillion was up to the challenge. From what I’d heard, I thought it would be a collection of Middle Earth mythologies, and it is in part, but what I didn’t realize was how many enjoyable stories there are in the book.

It’s very hard to give a summary of Silmarillion because there is so much that happens in it. The 300-some pages cover thousands of years of Middle Earth history, with Tolkien lingering over certain times and fast forwarding through others. It mostly tells the story of the Elves and their history before and after men are created. It was suprising to me how naughty the Elves frequently are early on. While reading LOTR, I got the impression that the Elves were always good, wise, and didn’t mess up, and they are that way; what I didn’t know was that they became wise by suffering so many screw-ups and misfortunes over thousands of years. Reading the stories of the wandering of the Elves and their endeavors, both good and ill, was wonderful for me–an elf and lore lover.

The book flows in big sections. First, there’s a lot of mythology and the creation of Middle Earth**. Second, the Elves are made and they have a lot of adventures, fighting against Morgoth (he’s Sauron’s boss–an evil spirit vis-à-vis Satan). Then Men are created, and they labor for and against the Elves (many fight with Morgoth). Eventually, Morgoth is overthrown by the Valar (the good gods/archangels). Then, the Elves begin their slow evacuation of Middle Earth, but they still have a lot of doings with Men. The book ends with a summary of life leading up to and including events that happen during Lord of the Rings, and that was exciting for me to read.

I generally want to know everything about the things I love, and I loved Tolkien’s mythology, world, and work in Lord of the Rings. I deeply enjoy lore, myth, and story. If you thoroughly enjoyed LOTR, I’d encourage you to pick this one up. If you are wishy-washy about Tolkien or don’t like him, stay away. As for me, I loved hearing about Ilúvatar, the Valar and the two trees, the rise and fall of Morgoth, the rebellion of the Elves and their different branches (Eldar, Sindar, et al.), the making and losing of the Silmarils, early Middle Earth, Beren and Lúthien, all the ancient cities of Elves, Men and Dwarves, Númenor, the forging of the rings, the coming of the wizards into the East, and the rise of Sauron. Whew! And that’s not a quarter of the stuff that goes on.

I give The Silmarillion a 9/10 and a low A. Highly enjoyable, and suprisingly deep as it mirrors, echoes, and comments on the world we know and live in. Give it a read, if you’re so inclined.

*I usually show the cover of the edition I read when I review it on my blog; unfortunately, I couldn’t locate the edition I read this time, so this picture will have to suffice.

**Interesingly, Tolkien’s creation myth in The Silmarillion involves a song just as Clive Staples Lewis’ does in The Magician’s Nephew. Clearly, the banter going on at Eagle and Child had a profound effect on both writers.


  1. The Silmarillion Is Calling

    Someone else I know just finished reading The Silmarillion. Especially now that I’ve found my long-lost copy of The Atlas of Middle-Earth (JL showed me it was “hiding” on the bookshelf) I’m really itching to get back to The Silm…

  2. Great review! I’d like to read this book, sometime, but grad school stands as a barrier to it at this point. You’ve enticed me further.

  3. Three cheers for The Silmarillion! This was definitely my favorite of Tolkien’s fiction, and an important read if one wants to appreciate LOTR.
    (On an unrelated note, have you read The Monsters and the Critics? That’s my favorite Tolkien essay, discussing themes of fighting lost causes, etc.)

  4. I echo everyone’s positive comments. Great review – I’m glad you enjoyed the book! It is also one of my favorites. Gondolin is right up there in my favorite fictional places to live. The only sad thing about the Similarillion is finishing the last page and knowing that nothing more will be said about Middle Earth (assuming you’ve already read LOTR and The Hobbit).

  5. Glad you stayed awake this time! Do you know offhand if Christopher (J.R.R.’s son and the compiler/publisher of the volume) added any content of his own? I had the impression that some of J.R.R.’s work was unfinished at the time of his death. In any case, the literary world owes a lot to Christopher for that publication. Question: If you could talk Peter Jackson into making a movie of just one section (however big) of the volume, which section would that be?

  6. Wow! I’m blessed that so many of you enjoyed my humble review. I even got a rare and presitgious JL comment (w00t!)–not that the rest of you are chopped liver. No, I haven’t read “Monsters and the Critics,” but now I really want to. Gondolin is sweet, but I also liked Doriath a good deal; any place that’s good enough for Galadriel is good enough for me.

    Dad’s movie question is a good one. I think my #1 pick would be about Númenor–its rise (gift of the Valar, sacred island, extended lifespans, lots o’ navigation), and its fall (pride, rebelling against good, losing sight of what matters, greed). Second choice: Beren and Lúthien–love story, lots of adventure, stealing the Silmaril from Morgoth. Yeah, you gotta love that. After that, you name it and it would be good, assuming it’s done right. With Pete Jackson at the helm, I’m sure it would be. Any of you other Silmarillion readers have an opinion on this one?

  7. i really liked ur review thanks a lot i am trying to find that book not only is it hard to read but also hard to find can you help me thanks again

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