||As with most of the other volumes in
this series, this one was very mixed. While I enjoyed so much the
stories, it is once again the languages that I enjoy the least, which
has so much priority in these books, and which the editor stresses most.
This book describes the tales of
Silmarillion as they stood when Tolkien started to write
The Lord of the
Rings. So many of the ideas come around to very close to their final
form, but many essential elements are noticeably missing. Finally, we
come to the Fall of Numenor, which is one tale that I really enjoy,
probably because I am less familiar with it than the tales of the First
One of the problems with Tolkien's
writing is that he started over so many times, without reaching the end
of the tales before he recommenced. This means, of course, that we get
to see the beginning of the tales very often, but by the time we get to
the Fall of Gondolin and the War of Wrath, they exist only as scribbled
notes, if at all. In the few instances where they do get completed, they
are in much rougher form than the earlier tales.
Christopher Tolkien, for his part, is
obsessed with the chronological order of the texts, and spends an
incredible amount of time discussing them. As a casual reader, rather
than a scholar trying to make sense of this, I found many of his
discussions rather tedious in this regard. Fortunately, his general
commentaries give a lot of information, though they were fewer than in
the previous volumes.
The first part of the book deals with
Numenor. The editor tells briefly of how Tolkien came to attempt a time
travel story, which became The Lost Road. The real meat of this section
comes in the form of The Fall of Numenor, however, which gives us the
first real draft of the story. I was amazed at how fully formed the
story was, right from the moment Tolkien wrote it down. The most amazing
part, I think, is the presence of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men,
even though the Rings of Power were not yet in existence. Of course, I
would love more details, like what we got in
In the next section, The Lost Road of course
refers to the Straight Road that leads to the Undying Lands, which was
lost after Numenor attacked there. I remember reading this story and
being bored, the first time I read this book. I was very impatient for
it to get going, and it never actually does, as it was abandoned very
early on, barely reaching Numenor at all. This time, however, I found it
to be mildly interesting, especially in the short Numenorian chapters.
The story is not nearly in finished form, being only in the first stages
of writing, so if appears very rough and unrefined. I would have liked
to see the story finished, I think, as there were so many neat ideas
that would have been explored. I think I would have enjoyed learning
about the time periods that Tolkien wanted to explore. From the short
histories that Christopher Tolkien gives of the proposed intervening
chapters, my interest was piqued. Even though many of them, like King
Sheaf, were quite confusing in the conflicting legends given here, for a
while I became quite interested in the histories of Europe 1000 to 2000
years ago, especially the times of the Vikings.
If written these days, I think Tolkien
could have made a large multi-part series, similar to Terry Goodkind's
Sword of Truth, or others. He could have spanned the time periods of The
Silmarillion through the first and second ages, written from points of
view like The Lord of the Rings and The Lost Road. It probably would
have made people more likely to understand the stories told here.
After the relatively short time spent
with the Numenorian legends, we return to the first age once again.
There are more Annals of Valinor and Beleriand, which were of less
interest to me, since they don't have a real narrative structure, and
they are not very different from the earlier Annals given in
of Middle-Earth. I could, remarkably, see how the story was coming much
closer to the published version of The Silmarillion, however. I enjoyed the way the story of Gondolin was expanded slightly (in terms of
history and Turgon, not its Fall). I've wondered how Turgon could gather
so many elves in such secrecy that nobody knew their route. Surely some
would have abandoned the journey, even past the halfway point, and not
hesitated to divulge it even in careless conversation someday. This
section, especially, has many references to
The Shaping of Middle-Earth
which are frustrating, because the editor simply says "see book IV..." I
would rather have had him say "recall that... in book IV", even just
giving a half sentence more, to jog the memory.
The Ainulindale is much as I remembered
it, from The Silmarillion and The Book of Lost Tales I. This is one
place where the lack of commentary (or sparse one, at any rate), hinders
the enjoyment. This version does give Melko more motivation in his quest
for power, however. Being the most knowledgeable and powerful of the
Ainur, he wanted something to control, even in the Void. In other words,
he got into trouble at first because he was bored! As far as I could
tell, the Ainur didn't have any children until they entered the world,
where they took gender roles. I find it surprising that they could
procreate at all!
Languages of the world are the subject
of The Lhammas, which tells of how they changed as the elves and men
came together and separated. I suspect that this text would be very
confusing to anybody who is not intimately familiar with The
Silmarillion. Even with that knowledge, I found it quite tedious and
less than interesting. Mostly, it describes, once again, the travels of
the elves at the beginning of the story, when they were called to
The Quenta Silmarillion, of course, was
interesting from the point of view of the story and how it has evolved.
Unfortunately, it is so close to the finished form in many respects that
there is little more to note than when certain names and minor concepts
arose. The most notable of these is the first conception of the dwarves
being made by Aule. Interestingly, the dwarves are compared to the orcs
in that they were created by one Vala. As Iluvatar gave life to the
dwarves, does that mean that He gave life to the orcs, as well, in this
conception? The later story makes more sense, as any Vala could not give
living spirit to the bodies that they fashioned, Melko had to make orcs
out of existing living things- perverting the elves. Here, too, the
conception that the orcs only came into being after Melko saw the elves
entered the mythology, but the editor doesn't dwell much on that.
The early chapters have some
interesting points, some of which were taken into the future versions,
and some abandoned. I wondered that Mandos could have a wife, especially
if he doesn't speak except at Manwe's command! Did he, having knowledge
of all future, know about Melko's destruction of the Trees beforehand? I
guess festivals go on, though, even with Melko running around and others
searching for him, right before he committed his terrible deed. After
this, one of my favorite stories deals with the creation of the Sun and
Moon, which is much reduced in length in the final book, and a concept
which Tolkien attempted to change completely in the later stages, as
in Morgoth's Ring.
The tale of Beren and Luthien should
not be read unless the Silmarillion is well-known, because most of the
chapter is missing, and for a very good reason: this version was the
final one, the one used in the published book. In contrast to most of
Tolkien's works, in this case, he jumped right to the end of the First
after that! So in fact, rather than getting the long tale of Turin, we
get the War of Wrath!
As a whole,
The Silmarillion must be a
very depressing read to a lot of people. Although there is beauty, there
is mostly sadness. Some people said that
The Fellowship of the Ring
movie was very depressing, but I disagree. In both cases, I think
Tolkien means to say that it is impossible to win a war against a god
through strength of arms, whether it is the most powerful, Morgoth, or a
"minor" one (relatively speaking) like Sauron.
Tolkien had little faith in humanity,
mostly because of his experiences in the trenches during World War I.
From characters like Isuldur and Frodo in The Lord of the Rings to the
traitors in the Battle of Unnumbered tears, men just can't do what is
required, and take the easy road out, even the evil one. There are
relatively few men who balance it out, like the Faithful ones of the
Three Houses, and Aragorn. These are rare, though. Beren and Turin were
not without honor, but also not the best examples of mankind in their
treatment of others. Only Tuor really shows decency through his life,
even to Meglin who hates him.
The Etymologies makes up the final
section of this book, and that is pure linguistics, giving the bases and
roots of words in the elvish languages. I read the introduction, but
skipped the rest.
There are three very short appendices,
which also don't add much to the works: genealogies, list of names and
the second Map. None are really complete, and they really feel like an
afterthought. Perhaps it would have been better to keep them for another
book and do something more with them.
In fact, almost the entire commentary
section deals either with name changes or dates of writing, where I
would have preferred to see more discussion. This would have been
difficult, however, due to the fact that there is much less development
between the stuff given in The Shaping of Middle Earth and here and
Still, the material dealing with
Numenor was what I looked most forward to, and I mostly enjoyed it.