As a child both of my parents took turns to read stories to me, yet my dad was never much of a reader himself. The exceptions, however, were J.R.R. Tolkien’s tales of elves, dwarves and hobbits in Middle-Earth, which captured his imagination as a teenager and have continued to fascinate him over the years. My dad and I have spent countless hours discussing the books and film adaptations of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but I have always struggled to get into The Silmarillion, which happens to be his favourite book.
I recently learned that my dad, who has suffered from backache all of his adult life, requires surgery as the underlying condition has been steadily deteriorating and has now reached a level of severity where the risks of doing nothing outweigh the risks of operating. After spending some time with him recently, I became determined to attempt The Silmarillion once more.
Published posthumously, The Silmarillion is a compendium of stories starting with the creation of Middle-Earth and ending when the elves depart after the events of The Lord of the Rings.
What immediately struck me about The Silmarillion was the thought and detail Tolkien put into it, from the geography and genealogy to the languages and mythology, at times the book feels more like a painstakingly researched historical treatise than a work of fantasy fiction. Having said that, the writing is dry in places and I sometimes found it hard to follow without frequently referring to the family trees and maps at the back of the book.
It is an incredibly ambitious collection, yet the quality varies from chapter to chapter: Of Beleriand and Its Realms, for example, is a tedious geography lesson that could have been cut during edits, but I thought the highlights were the chapters concerning Melkor and Ungoliant’s theft of the coveted elven jewels (the Silmarills), Of Maeglin (a story of betrayal and comeuppance), and the thrilling but bittersweet love story, Of Beren and Luthien. I also enjoyed learning a little more about familiar characters from The Lord of the Rings such as Galadriel, Elrond and Sauron.
I have always delighted in the power of stories to connect people, and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien in particular are beloved by people all over the world, but there is no one that I’m more excited to discuss The Silmarillion with than my dad. Have a lovely week.