The Silmarillion

“Help oft shall come from the hands of the weak when the Wise falter.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

My copy of The Silmarillion used to look like a battered version of this. Now, however, it just looks like an old cloth-bound book, because this year the dust jacket finally gave up and fell off.

That should give you some idea of how many times I have read – and loved – this book.

The Silmarillion is, essentially, the history of the Elves in Middle-earth, especially their wars against Morgoth, the Dark Lord (Sauron’s master) and the fate of the Silmarils, the most beautiful gems ever made, from which the book takes its name.

Why do I love this book? Because it is the back story to The Lord of the Rings, and I like knowing who Feanor was, and why Aragorn is so special, and where the Last Ship goes at the end of The Return of the King. Because it reads like a cross between the Bible and an Old English poem. Because the language is poetic and beautiful and often uplifting:

But as the host of Fingolfin marched into Mithrim the Sun rose flaming in the West; and Fingolfin unfurled his blue and silver banners, and blew his horns, and flowers sprang beneath his marching feet, and the ages of the stars were ended.

Because it contains my favourite love story in all the world – the tale of Beren and Lúthien (Lúthien being, in my opinion, the most proactive female character Tolkien ever wrote). But above all because, in Tolkien’s own words, it is

deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came.

The Silmarillion is an incredibly sad book, which is not the same as depressing. It’s about friendship, and loyalty, and standing against the dark, and remembering times that are gone. And despite all the death, and war, and loss, it remains quite a hopeful book: even when things are at their darkest, there is always some redeeming feature, some glimmer of light that prevents despair.

A word of warning, though: if you’re new to Tolkien, this is definitely not the place to start. The writing style of The Silmarillion is rather archaic and requires patience and perseverance, which you’re probably more likely to have if you’ve already read The Lord of the Rings and liked it enough to continue reading about Middle-earth. But if you have, it is definitely worth a try.

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