Ossus Library Index
Fantasy Index


by J.R.R. Tolkien Unabridged, performed by Martin Shaw
(1998, Harper Collins)

A tale of how the world was formed, and the battles that forged the affiliations between Elves, Men and Dwarves, and their gods.


-- Second listening (audiobook)
September 9th to 19th, 2011


I've always liked the stories told in this book. From The Book of Lost Tales to Unfinished Tales, and up through the History of Middle-Earth, the tales have been told in different fashions. I've been wanting to reread this book for a while, but a different opportunity presented itself.

When I decided to have laser eye surgery, I knew I wouldn't be able to read for a while, and any book that I did read would probably take a while due to the strain put on my eyes as they healed. So this was the perfect opportunity to listen to the 13 hour audio book. And if I drowsed off and found that I missed several chapters, it was at least partly due to the drugs used to assist my recovery from the surgery.

I do have to admit, though, that there are some boring parts, and they are scattered throughout the book. The speaker's voice is also soothing enough that it sometimes lulled me to sleep, even though what he was reading was interesting enough. As I've said elsewhere, The Silmarillion is almost a disappointment after reading Unfinished Tales and the other works, which cover the same events in more detail. On the other hand, several of the chapters are actually not well captured at all in the History books, because they arrived nearly fully formed, so they seem somewhat new to me upon reading (or hearing in this case).

I listened to the entire book, from beginning to end, and I did enjoy it thoroughly, especially the tales of the First Age. I have never noticed the amount of repetition that the author uses in the book, mainly because of the way the chapters are structured. He tells of Hurin's capture in an early chapter, then reminds us in detail of it at the beginning of the tale of Turin, for example.

One thing I think could have been significantly improved was The Drowning of Numenor. If Tolkien had divided that section into chapters, it would have made a more interesting tale, I think. The founding of Numenor would have been one chapter, and a very interesting one, at that. It would be followed by a tale of the blissful age of Numenor, the struggle against Sauron, the turn towards darkness and finally the downfall. The current structure doesn't work until Sauron arrives, as it's told way too fast, with far too many names, that it's no wonder the readers get lost. I'm quite familiar with many of the characters, and it was too much for me!

So it seems (contrary to what I wrote below) that I can actually listen to the entire book over a short period of time, given the right incentive. And it was quite a pleasant listen, at that.


-- First listening (audiobook)
December 2001 to October 2002


Very impressive, though it carries, of course, the same faults as the book.

When I received this set as a gift, I was overwhelmed. Thirteen CDs to tell the story of the Silmarillion seemed like I would spend a lot of time listening. I have only one other audio-book, and have never been a fan of them. There is something about reading that gives a book a quality that can't be conveyed by a speaking voice.

However, I gained something that I never expected from this series of CDs: pronunciation and passionate storytelling. Martin Shaw is a great storyteller.

The first half of the story, which takes place in Valinor, or at least among the Valar, is nowhere near as interesting as the First Age, which is why most people put this book down almost upon starting it. Tolkien really sounds like the Bible when he recites the names and relationships of the Valar. The growing of the two trees is amazing to listen to, though.

An advantage of the CDs is that I could skip to any story I wanted to, at any time (of course, you can do this with the book, also). So I listened first to the making of the world, then to the story of Beren and Luthien, one of the best of all the chapters, and the one most likely to be enjoyed by other listeners. Turin is a little long, but still exciting.

What really drew me into the CD set, however, was the description of Beleriand. With the map in my hand, I followed Shaw as he described the land North to South, West to East. His pronunciation was very clear, and allowed me to think of Middle-Earth in a different light -made me think about how these names arose.

It truly is a gallant language, even the English dialog. In the movie of the Fellowship of the Ring, I wondered how it was possible to pause long enough to make the guttural sound when saying Mordor in a long speech, or shouting to troops. Here it makes sense, since nothing is said in haste. In this world, even the enemy waits for the speeches to be over before attacking. It is not as sped up as today's world is!

The end of the First Age, and the entire age of Numenor, were not as interesting as much of what came before, making me wish that much of what was told in Unfinished Tales could have been included.

However, when we got the the making of the Rings of Power and the Last Stand, and the telling of the Third Age, I really became interested again. The third age itself is told in a real epic fashion, and the Lord of the Rings is summarized in this way at the end of it. I was amazed.

I doubt I will listen to this all the way through again (it took me long enough the first time, between tracks in the car, on the weekend, relaxing...), but I will certainly pop in one disc at a time in the future, just to hear parts of the tale play out again.


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