The literary legacy of J.R.R. Tolkien has become legendary and an inspiration for almost all modern fantasy. But before either of these stories, Tolkien had a dream.
A desire to craft a mythology for Great Britain which didn't rely upon French influence (like the Arthurian legends did). To that end, from 1917 until his death in 1973, Tolkien slowly crafted a series of mythological stories that would, in time, be combined with The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings to craft a single cohesive legendarium.
Though many of these stories would never be released into canon (eventually being compiled into the Unfinished Tales), Tolkien's son Christopher began the painstaking process of compiling and editing the largest and most cohesive stories into a single genesis story.
This would become The Silmarillion.
- Written by J.R.R. Tolkien, complied and edited by Christopher Tolkien
- Available in Hardback, Paperback, and E-Book
- 365 Pages
I have often heard The Silmarillion described as the "Book of Genesis with Elves" and I think that is a fair assessment. As the origin story for Middle-Earth and a narrative exploration of the history preceding The Hobbit, there is a lot of time and a ton of characters at play, with only a very small amount actually playing an important role in the stories overall themes.
The book is subdivided into five sections, with one of those sections divded even further into a dozen or so shorter stories. The first section, the Ainulindalë (Elvish for Music of the Ainur) stands as an introduction to creation of the gods and greater cosmology of Middle-Earth and foreshadows some of the overarching themes of the work and their source.
The next section, the Valaquenta (Elvish for Tales of the Valar) is not really a true narrative story so much as it is a rollcall and introduction to the major members of the pantheon and their connections to everyone else in the pantheon. It's honestly a minor act which helps to clarify and distinguish characters from Ainulindalë and their connection to the third section.
That being the Quenta Silmarillion (Tale of the Silmarils) which is the meat of the story, covering multiple ages and the history of the Noldor Elves and their wars against each other and Morgoth (basically Middle-Earth's Satan) as they try to acquire the Silmarils, incredibly powerful and beautiful artifacts crafted by the greatest elf who ever lived. This is the story which includes some of the most well known and popular aspect of Tolkien's work outside of the Lord of the Rings. The Tale of Beren and Luthien probably being the most famous side-story, playing an integral role in The Silmarillion and even being referenced in The Lord of the Rings.
The fourth section, Akallabêth (The Downfallen), deals with the history of the island nation of Numenor (the ancestors of Aragorn) and the rise and fall of the Numenorians. This is in essence the Atlantis mythology for the Lord of the Rings mythos. It is the second longest of the sections and covers the most amount of time, detailing a majority of the Second Age of the Middle-Earth.
The final section, Of the Third Age and the Rings of Power, is the oddball of the sections. It expands on the backstory of The Lord of the Rings and seems to attempt to tie The Silmarillion to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but on the whole it feels like it was a later addition to the rest of the mythos. Which makes sense as the other four sections were written before or independent of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien spent the rest of his life trying to tie all three together into a single narrative, to nominal success.
While I enjoy this story immensely, even I have to admit that it is a rather dense read and most certainly not for everyone. The book sometimes reads like reading the bible, and while I enjoy reading it for the dense world-building, there is almost a guarentee that that will not be the case for everyone else.
On the whole, I do recommend this to fans of fantasy, world-building, and The Lord of the Rings, but unless you enjoy those three, this will probably be a hard sell for you.