Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Book Review: The Silmarillion

The Silmarillion
By J.R.R. Tolkien


The Silmarillion was the first book written by Tolkien. He wrote various narratives during the time he served in World War I. The narratives he wrote about were his experiences in war, the ‘evil’ in warfare, the loss of friends, and the use of a ‘mechanized warfare.’ These themes as well as Tolkien’s devotion to Christianity, love of languages, and heroic sagas are major themes in, not only the Silmarillion, but the Lord of the Rings as well. One can see the depth of these in his work.

The Silmarillion is the history of the Valar and Maiar in Valinor, the Elves in Beleriand and the coming of the Followers, Men. Most importantly, this book describes the beginning of Middle-Earth and the history of the Elves. The Elder Days describe the First Age with the elves in Beleriand and Aman. The other races that Tolkien uses are born in this time period, such as dwarves and men.
Tolkien begins the Silmarillion by introducing ‘Eru Iluvatar,’ the One. Iluvatar is the one who creates the world of Arda, where Middle-Earth resides. In the time of the harmonious creation, demonstrated by various musical orchestrations of Iluvatar, Tolkien introduces the theme of evil and the notion of Satan in the being of Melkor. Melkor is a clever, but devious, creature. He belongs to the Valar, but he lusts after the Light of the Valar and the ‘fire imperishable,’ created by Iluvatar in the beginning. We learn later that the schemes of Melkor create discord amongst the other Valar of Arda. For this, he is banished from Valinor, where he later begins to subdue the elves into his submission. Because of his hatred of all that Iluvatar made, he creates strife in the world of Arda. This hatred is seen when the Firstborn, the Elves, and the Followers, Men, are created. When Melkor establishes his kingdom of Angband in the mountains of Thangorodrim, his hatred of both elves and men reaches its peek. He and his chief lieutenant, Sauron, build an army of Orcs, Balrogs and Dragons to overcome the inhabitants of Middle-Earth.

At the awakening of the Elves or the Quendi, the Valar summon them to Valinor to behold the Light of the Two Trees, Telperion and Laurelin. These are no ordinary trees. These are the two trees of the gods, and they supply light to the realm of Arda before the rising of the sun and moon. The Valar summon the elves to Valinor, but there are three major sunderings made during their journeys. Those who refused the trip became known as the Avari, the dark elves. They allowed fear of the journey to stay them. There were three journeys later that produced the major bloodlines of the Elves: The Vanyar, the Noldor and the Teleri.
The Vanyar and the Noldor journey to Valinor, and then they are followed by most of the Teleri. The Teleri that lag behind their kin become the Sindar and Green-elves of Middle-Earth. These elves could see the gleaming of Telperion and Laurelin on the horizon from Middle-Earth, even though they never journeyed to the trees. In the Silmarillion, Tolkien uses the theme of ‘immortality’ with the elves. They are wise and blessed with long life. The Elves do not know death while they are in Valinor, unless they become weary of the world. For example, this happens to Arwen in the Lord of the Rings after King Elessar (Aragorn) passes.

Iluvatar awakens Men later in the First Age, when Melkor and a black spider named Ungoliant devour the Light of the Two Trees. Finally, the Moon rises and then the Sun rises in the west and wakens Men. Tolkien uses ‘mortality’ to describe the purposes of men. The Elves are immortal and wise, but the ‘gift’ of man was death, and a short life. It should be noted that Tolkien calls death a ‘gift’ when he introduces men. Later, Sauron and Morgoth corrupt men of this ‘gift’ and make them prisoners of their own fears and doubts of death. This was a folly seen in the kings of Numenor and the Dunedain, where they did not want to die but live forever like the elves. On Numenor, they confided in Sauron and heeded to his wisdom rather than receiving guidance from the elves of Valinor.

It should be noted plainly that before the great struggle of Melkor and Ungoliant, and the devouring of the Two Trees, Fëanor, a very powerful and wise elf of the Noldor, creates the three Silmarils. The three Silmarils are jewels that contain the mysterious light and dew of the Two Trees. Fëanor fashioned them particularly. They become precious to the Noldor and later the dwarves. Fëanor was also the only elf to take counsel from Melkor, who he ended up calling Morgoth later. In the Silmarils, the fate of all of Arda resides. It is quite possible that Melkor helped Fëanor with his knowledge, but the reader can only surmise this. It is not stated.

Once again, Melkor lusts after the Light, the one in which the jewels spawns his evil plans to subdue all that was created by Eru. Later, he steals the Silmarils for himself and imbeds them into a crown, which he wears on his head. This is an interesting theme. If one thinks about it, the fate of the world lies on the head of Melkor. How many times do we see evil in this world? Tolkien saw it every day when he was on the fronts. We see the same as well, some of us from a distance. This betrayal between Melkor and Fëanor causes Fëanor to seek Melkor out and get back the jewels. In his rage, Fëanor leads the Noldor back to Middle-Earth to reclaim the Silmarils. This begins the downfall of the Noldor, for they become cursed by this quest and bound to the doom of Mandos with no hopes of return to Valinor and forgiveness of the Valar. Interesting enough, one aspiring member of this quest is Galadriel, who is seen in the Lord of the Rings.

In the middle of the Silmarillion, Tolkien uses his love for his wife in the formation and history of Middle-Earth. In the Chapter Of Beren and Luthien Ninuviel, an elf falls in love with a man. This romantic tale between an elf-maiden, Luthien, and a mortal man, Beren are synonymous to the completion and climax of humanity today. The remnant of the elves and their divinity are in each of us today. Beren spotted Luthien in the forest dancing and singing under the moonlight. When Luthien noticed Beren, she was startled, but Beren pursued her. They later fall in love. When King Thingol, Luthien’s father, discovers her love to a mortal man, King Thingol entreats Beren to a quest, where he must retrieve one of the Silmarils from the crown of Morgoth. The quest is long and hard, battling the wolves of Angband and Sauron, but fulfilling. Beren wins his bride at the expense of losing his right hand to Carcharoth, the Great Wolf, and the King is pleased. The quest demonstrates Tolkien’s love for Edith Bratt. This chapter was the most enjoyable part of the Silmarillion.

The story continues in more depth with tales of Elves, Dwarves, and Men. After a series of battles in Beleriand, the fifth battle of Wrath ends the First Age in a climatic way. Morgoth releases a multitude of Orcs, Balrogs and Dragons against Beleriand and the Hidden City of Gondolin. This host compares to the battle of Dagorlad, the Final Alliance, in the Second Age. With this massive, swift stroke, a Host of Valinor comes to the aid of elves and men. This retaliation causes the earth to shake and ultimately the destruction of Beleriand comes to pass. The plundering of Beleriand begins the Second Age.
Just with his work on the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien writes the Silmarillion on an ‘epic’ scale. There is so much deliverance in the themes and work. Tolkien’s mythology focuses on beliefs that in the beginning, when the land was still young and unmarred, a better world there was, a utopia, paradise-on-earth, more poetic and beautiful and strong than Man can hope to comprehend. One main theme that remains in our own world is the divinity in the Elves. It demonstrates the foundation to our own spirit of humanity today.

This book in all its literary astuteness deserves to be read with the Lord of the Rings. Anyone who enjoyed reading The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings must read the Silmarillion.

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