The Thirty Day Book Challenge: Day One

“The lies that Melkor, the mighty and accursed, Morgoth Bauglir, the Power of Terror and of Hate, sowed in the hearts of Elves and Men are a seed that does not die and cannot be destoyed; and ever and anon it sprouts anew, and will bear dark fruit even unto the latest days.”

J.R.R. Tolkien


Well, that’s obviously not quite true, seeing as I’m here talking to you. But it is currently refusing to show me any television. And, despite my rather large TBR pile, I am still deep in The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and thus have nothing to say about that.

So. A Thirty Day Book Challenge. Why not? This one’s been floating around the Internet for a while (I first saw it on BookLikes) and it looks interesting. I may also be posting Other Stuff during the course of the month, because, you know, thirty days is a long time not to watch any television.

Day One: The Best Book You Read Last Year

Well, obviously, the best book I read last year (and, in fact, every year, because Tolkien Reading Marathon is an annual event) was The Silmarillion. It’s an odd fish in Tolkien-land. It’s the one that you read if you’re kind of a bit obsessed by Middle-earth (totally true), and it’s infamous for being like that book of the Bible that goes “Thingy the son of Blah the son of Rhubarb” (please note, I am aware that that is not what the Bible actually says).

But for me it’s one of those books that nobody else properly understands. For me, it’s one of the saddest stories ever told: the rise and fall of the Elves of Middle-earth under the tyranny of the Dark Lord Morgoth. The Pragmatist once expressed the view that Tolkien was obsessed with death (based on practically no evidence, since she’s never actually read any Tolkien), but I don’t think that’s true at all. I think Tolkien knew that the world is essentially a sad place, and that the saddest tales often carry the most meaning for their readers. And that beyond the sadness, there is always “light and high beauty forever beyond its reach”. The Silmarillion may not be “realistic” in the way that, say, Middlemarch is. Its admittedly rather dense prose and epic-y happenings may not reflect how the world really works. But that’s not the point. The point is the essence of the story: the general atmosphere of The Silmarillion and the striving of its characters against the gathering dark.

I suppose that what I’m trying to say here is that The Silmarillion isn’t just a companion to The Lord of the Rings, the one you read because you can’t leave Middle-earth behind: it’s a novel in its own right, a mythology that never was, and the best book in the world.

(P.S. Peter Jackson, if you’re reading this, please, please, don’t ever make a film of it.)


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