This week, I delved deeper into Middle-earth history and lore, and read The Silmarillion. I have had this book since Easter, and had read a few chapters of it, but was distracted by other books, and a little intimidated by all the characters and places in it. And there are A LOT of characters. But I realized that even if I couldn’t name all of Fëanor’s sons, I could still enjoy the book, and learning the history that came before the tales of Bilbo and Frodo. In this post, I’m going to give some of my thoughts on it and give some introductions to the main characters.
Some random thoughts
First off, The Silmarillion is written very differently from The Hobbit, or The Lord of the Rings. There’s little dialogue, and most of it is Tolkien telling what happened, rather than the event actually happening and us being more “zoomed in” on it if that makes sense. Which works for what it is, because it’s an account of history, and because it was edited and published four years after J.R.R. Tolkien’s death. His son, Christopher Tolkien, said his father began writing it before his other books, and kept working on it throughout his life. Many versions of the legends were made, and I imagine it was a difficult task for Christopher Tolkien to edit.
There are several different sections, each telling a separate tale, but all relying on the one before, and all fitting together to form the main plot. The stories and people sound like they truly came out of history, and make Middle-earth seem real and complex. It blows my mind that Tolkien was able to come up with all this, God made our imaginations amazing! But be warned, if you’ve never read The Silmarillion, know that it’s not a happy book. Think Rogue One multiplied by about ten. One thing that did make me laugh though is the less-than-flattering names the Elves keep giving to the Dwarves. Names like “the stunted people” and “the petty dwarves”. I thought, “No wonder you guys aren’t friends.”
I liked getting to see the ancestors of Smaug and Shelob. Even though they were creepy, they’re the kind of creepy that is a little bit neat at the same time. I saw a chart of dragon size comparisons, and Smaug is so tiny compared to Glaurung! Meeting all the relatives of later famous Elves was neat too. While all the similar character names, different groups of people, and different names characters had for the same thing can get confusing, there are extremely helpful indexes and family trees in the back of the book. I think even though those things are confusing, they make the history seem real because true history is not simple. Most of the different parts of the story are exciting, interesting, and some a little odd at parts. I’d love to see parts of them on screen, but only if they could be done well. Tolkien has always been especially gifted at description, and some parts nearly gave me goosebumps; he does a great job of setting up a foreboding feeling before battles in just a sentence or two.
This book will change your view of Elves completely. While the ones in Tolkien’s other works are for the most part wise, and grave, or joyful and are always singing, the majority of these Elves make really, really, bad choices. Not that it’s entirely their faults, but they betray each other, are consumed by selfishness, and just generally do things that lead to death and horrible things happening. That said, there are Elves and other characters that are loyal through all kinds of trouble, brave in the face of the darkest evil, and forgiving of even the worst crimes. There are several ladies that, even though only mentioned in one or two sentences, show they are extremely strong and magnificent.
Now about Morgoth. The “bad guys” in Tolkien’s books are so different from any others I’ve ever read about. They weren’t mistreated, redemption for them is entirely out of the question. They don’t have any redeeming qualities, unlike villains who you can at least understand, even if you don’t agree with them, like Kylo Ren, Gnag the Nameless, or Loki. Melkor/Morgoth and Sauron are cold, rebellious, terrifying, and so utterly EVIL that I don’t know how to describe it. Very much like the true Evil. But that makes Tolkien’s story, the story in its entirety, that much better. Evil may have its victories, but will ultimately be beaten and destroyed forever. “Aurë entuluva! Day shall come again!”
Ilúvatar: Ilvúvatar is the “Father of All”, the Creator in Tolkien’s world. Also called Eru, he made the Anuir before Middle-earth existed, and gave each of them a song that they sung together.
The Anuir: This group included both the Maiar and the Valar, the first beings ever created by Ilúvatar.
The Maiar and Istari: The Maiar where less in power than the Valar, but were also sent to Arda to aid them in its growth. The Istari don’t come into the story until the end, to help the people of Middle-earth against the threat of Sauron. They are Maiar spirits in human form, the five wizards.
The Valar: Fourteen of the Anuir left the place where Ilúvatar was to go help and guide the creation of Arda (Middle-earth and other surrounding lands.) They each had a specific area to guide with the help of the song of Ilúvatar. For instance, Ulmo is Lord of Waters, and Aluë is a smith, master of works of skill. Another job they had was to combat and redeem the evil that Melkor caused. They settled in a place called Valinor, and usually ruled from there. The Valar Lords are: Manwë, Ulmo, Aulë, Oromë, Mandos, Lórien, and Tulkas. The Queens are: Varda, Yavanna, Nienna, Estë, Vairë, Vána, and Nessa.
Melkor/Morgoth: Melkor was once the most powerful of the Valar, but while they were all singing Ilúvatar’s song, he decided to rebel against the part he was given to make it greater. He grew angry and envious of the rest of the Valar, and when they went into Arda, he either tried to destroy everything they made, or copy it while twisting it in some evil way. A good portion of The Silmarillon are the battles against him, and all his orcs, his dragon Glaunrung, and his second-in-command, Sauron. His original name was Melkor, but then Fëanor cursed him and named him Morgoth. (Kind of like how some of my friends and I call Emperor Palpatine “Sheev,” because it’s not his proper title and is meant to be disgraceful.)
Fëanor: is an Elf, whose actions cause pretty much all the trouble in this book. He’s the one who created the Silmarils, three indescribably beautiful gems with the light from these two trees Yavanna the Valar made inside them. A lot of characters covet these, and Melkor ends up stealing them for his
tiara crown. He leaves Valinor against the will of the Valar, and swears an oath that brings a kind of curse on him and his sons. Fëanor is also one of many, many Elves whose names start with the letter F; I had a hard time keeping them straight, but hooray for indexes! It also helps that when Tolkien mentions someone who is the son of someone, he often says “This person, the son of this person…”
Fingolfin: Fingolfin is one of the half-brothers of Fëanor. Luckily, he makes better choices than this brother, begging him not to make the doomed oath, and forgiving him for some pretty awful things. He fought evil as long as he could and went out in a decent way compared to others in this tale.
Turgon: Turgon was a son of Fingolfin, and built a great secret city named Gondolin, and aided in battles against Morgoth. The city endured the longest of all the strongholds destroyed by the evil, but then… well if you read it you will find out what happened.
Beren and Lúthien: Beren and Lúthien is my favorite story in The Silmarillion, because it is the least sad, and the devotion the characters have to each other is extraordinary. You may have heard of this story; it’s mentioned in Lord of the Rings. Beren is a mortal, who falls in love with Lúthien, one of the most beautiful Elves, and beloved by her parents. Her father commands Beren to steal one of the Silmarils from Morgoth’s crown if he wants to wed Lúthien. Both Beren and Lúthien prove their love for each other in it, and another character, Huan, shows how loyal he is to both of them. Aragorn and Arwen’s story has similarities to this one, and so does Tolkien’s. In fact, on his gravestone is written the name “Beren,” and on his wife’s, “Lúthien.”
Bereg: I think that if I had to pick a favorite character, it would be Bereg. He had the loyalty of Samwise Gamgee and the fighting skills of Aragorn. He lived in the Thousand Caves, where King Thingol was taking care of someone named Túrin. The main tale in that section is about Túrin, but he makes poor choices and has a really awful life, so I’m not going to talk about him. Bereg loved Túrin, and when Túrin left, he sought after him and tried to persuade him to come back. Bereg didn’t get mad when he refused and continued to look after him without his knowledge. When Túrin was captured by orcs, Bereg didn’t hesitate to attack and set him free.
There are many, many more characters, but if I listed them all, we’d be here all day. These are just a few of the main ones or ones I liked best.
Overall, I enjoyed The Silmarillion, even if some parts were hard to read, and some parts a little depressing. I definitely want to read it again and take notes on things. It’s a great next step for those wanting to go deeper into Tolkien’s amazing world.
And because it made me laugh, here’s how auto-correct handles Tolkien’s interesting names:
Sauron = Sharon (Can you imagine him being “The evil dark lord Sharon” instead?)
Sauramen = Sacramento
Melkor = Milker
Turgon = Turban
Bereg = Beret (Lots of headwear names)
Orcs = Orca
Have you ever read The Silmarillion? Who are your favorite characters? Did you have a favorite part?