I first attempted to read The Silmarillion when I was in high school and just after I had read The Lord of the Rings. I wasn’t ready for The Silmarillion at that time. I had expected it to be much like LOTR and it was not. The book was nothing like The Hobbit or LOTR and I was quickly lost in something I did not understand.
Now I am 43; I’m older, wiser and know quite a bit more than I did when I was 15. The Silmarillion is simply Genesis, the story of creation for Middle Earth. It was published after JRR Tolkien’s death by his son Christopher who put together all of those writings that were never quite finished.
At this stage in my life I have a profound curiosity about our own creation, the beginning of the universe and of reality itself. Most people cling to religion and old stories that were created millennia ago as a way for man to explain all that is. I’ve advanced well beyond those stories and in doing so the mystery has continued to grow and I become evermore in awe.
And so in reading this book (and knowing my creation stories) I enjoyed comparing this one to the other story known as Genesis in the Bible. Both created in the minds of men and both fiction but one of which has changed the world for the last 2000 years and the other only holding sway over a much smaller tribe comprised of those that like wizards, elves and dragons.
God in this book is known as Eru Illuvatar and his angels are called the Valar. Like the Bible and the fallen angel Satan, there is Melkor who through his evil deeds is known as Morgoth. He desires Middle Earth for himself and is the master of Sauron as well as the creator of the Orcs, Trolls, Balrags etcetra. The Elves are the “First-born.” They are not angels but have a special connection to the divine that men do not. They exist in both the physical as well as spiritual worlds simultaneously. I do not intend to explain the book here but wanted to give a bit of a backdrop to help explain why I enjoy this book at 43 but not in high school.
Before I get into my favorite quotes I wanted to mention The Children of Huron. I intended to stop reading JRR Tolkien after The Silmarillion but realized my sister had bought me The Children of Huron many years ago where it sat on my shelf. Since I had read The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion in succession I might as well continue so I could understand everything more clearly. Now these “other books” were never completed by JRR Tolkien so Christopher Tolkien has done his best to organize the writings and put them into their own books. What I learned is The Silmarillion devotes quite a bit of time to The Children of Huron so I already knew the story and reading the book just filled in everything with more details. I didn’t make any notes in The Children of Huron as nothing really stood out to me. I also want to mention I learned of another book called “Beren and Luthien.” This story was also addressed in The Silmarillion and so I don’t feel the need for another novel just to fill in details which I won’t retain anyway.
The Silmarillion – My favorite quotes
The Children of God are thus primevally related and akin, and primevally different. Since also they are something wholly ‘other’ to the gods, in the making of which the gods played no part, they are the object of the special desire and love of the gods. These are the First-born, the Elves; and the Followers Men. The doom of the Elves is to be immortal, to love the beauty of the world, to bring it to full flower with their gifts of delicacy and perfection, to last while it lasts, never leaving it even when ‘slain’, but returning – and yet, when the Followers come, to teach them, and make way for them, to ‘fade’ as the Followers grow and absorb the life from which both proceed. The Doom (or the Gift) of Men is mortality, freedom from the circles of the world. Since the point of view of the whole cycle is the Elvish, mortality is not explained mythically: it is a mystery of God of which no more is known than that ‘what God has purposed for Men is hidden’: a grief and an envy to the immortal Elves.
This quote finally gives a great explanation to what the Elves actually are. In the Hobbit and LOTR they are just somewhat magical beings. Reading The Silmarillion we now understand why.
Their reward is their undoing – or the means of their temptation. Their long life aids their achievements in art and wisdom, but breeds a possessive attitude to these things, and desire awakes for more time for their enjoyment.
The Elves started out truly divine but over the ages lost a lot of that connection. The only ones that really retain much of that power in The Hobbit and LOTR are Galadriel and Celeborn of Lorien. Celeborn wasn’t in the movie unfortunately and I had forgotten about him. These two have lived through the ages and came over the sea from the lands of the Gods themselves. The next most powerful in LOTR would be Elrond but he has both elf and men ancestors so that “divinity” is much diminished.
In the second stage, the days of Pride and Glory and grudging of the Ban, they begin to seek wealth rather than bliss. The desire to escape death produced a cult of the dead, and they lavished wealth and art on tombs and memorials. They now made settlements on the west-shores, but these became rather strongholds and ‘factories’ of lords seeking wealth, and the Númenóreans became tax-gatherers carrying off over the sea ever more and more goods in their great ships. The Númenóreans began the forging of arms and engines.
Therefore he willed that the hearts of Men should seek beyond the world and should find no rest therein; but they should have a virtue to shape their life, amid the powers and chances of the world, beyond the Music of the Ainur, which is as fate to all things else; and of their operation everything should be, in form and deed, completed, and the world fulfilled unto the last and smallest.
And it came to pass after the days of Eärendur, the seventh king that followed Valandil, that the Men of Westernesse, the Dúnedain of the North, became divided into petty realms and lordships, and their foes devoured them one by one. Ever they dwindled with the years, until their glory passed, leaving only green mounds in the grass. At length naught was left of them but a strange people wandering secretly in the wild, and other men knew not their homes nor the purpose of their journeys, and save in Imladris, in the house of Elrond, their ancestry was forgotten.
For coming out of the wastes of the East he took up his abode in the south of the forest, and slowly he grew and took shape there again; in a dark hill he made his dwelling and wrought there his sorcery, and all folk feared the Sorcerer of Dol Guldur, and yet they knew not at first how great was their peril. Even as the first shadows were felt in Mirkwood there appeared in the west of Middle-earth the Istari, whom Men called the Wizards. None knew at that time whence they were, save Círdan of the Havens, and only to Elrond and to Galadriel did he reveal that they came over the Sea. But afterwards it was said among the Elves that they were messengers sent by the Lords of the West to contest the power of Sauron, if he should arise again, and to move Elves and Men and all living things of good will to valiant deeds. In the likeness of Men they appeared, old but vigorous, and they changed little with the years, and aged but slowly, though great cares lay on them; great wisdom they had, and many powers of mind and hand. Long they journeyed far and wide among Elves and Men, and held converse also with beasts and with birds; and the peoples of Middle-earth gave to them many names, for their true names they did not reveal. Chief among them were those whom the Elves called Mithrandir and Curunír, but Men in the North named Gandalf and Saruman. Of these Curunír was the eldest and came first, and after him came Mithrandir and Radagast, and others of the Istari who went into the east of Middle-earth, and do not come into these tales. Radagast was the friend of all beasts and birds; but Curunír went most among Men, and he was subtle in speech and skilled in all the devices of smithcraft. Mithrandir was closest in counsel with Elrond and the Elves. He wandered far in the North and West and made never in any land any lasting abode; but Curunír journeyed into the East, and when he returned he dwelt at Orthanc in the Ring of Isengard, which the Númenóreans made in the days of their power.
The explanation of the origin of wizards! Like Elves, we only know they are magical beings in The Hobbit and LOTR. This paragraph gives us a clue as to where they have come from and why.
Final Notes (currently only one)
The Men of Numenor are all TALL. JRR Tolkien when describing them refers to them being tall around 15 times. I wonder if Tolkien was short and had somewhat of a short man complex or if he were tall and very proud of his height? In any case, being tall remains an advantage in our present day. Height plays a big part in deciding who gets promoted, in dating profiles many women prefer those over 6ft, and there is the general feeling in the West that tall people are just more desirable.
Links to my posts about The Hobbit and LOTR