The Silmarillion - J.R.R. (and Christopher) Tolkien (1977)

At this point, thanks to the movies, everyone has heard of The Lord of the Rings. Before that, the books were a cult favorite - to be fair, the books probably still are. There was enough interest, though, for JRR's son, Christopher to collect, compile and edit his father's copious notes and publish them as The Silmarillion.

What sets The Lord of the Rings apart from most fantasy books is the completeness of the world. Things exist in Middle Earth for a reason, and where they exist and what they do there have underlying causes rooted in the history of the place. To muddle terms from multiple media, there is a backstory to Middle Earth. That backstory starts in the Silmarillion.

The books are therefore a collection of myths and chronicles, resembling medieval works or written transmissions of oral history. This is not really too surprising when one recalls that Tolkien was a history Don at Oxford. What it does not resemble, therefore, is a novel and by extension it does not resemble The Lord of the Rings. This caused a problem for me when I first tried to read it back in my junior high school days; I wanted more The Lord of the Rings. Returning to it recently, after yet another rereading of the trilogy (and The Hobbit,) I found it to be much more congenial.

The book has all the problems of history, most obviously that different groups of people call things by different names ("John, known to the elves as Mithtake and named Fred by the men of the East"), and like the early chronicles, it tends to be short on character development. In many places it reads like a cross between the Bible and Bulfinch's Mythology, which is not a bad thing - unless one is expecting a novel. It does mean that each character does tend to "appear on stage" for a short period of time before vanishing again, making it a little difficult to keep track of some of them.

I can not in good conscience recommend this book to everyone. The style and the material are not wildly accessible. For Tolkien completists, of course, it is a necessity.

Overall Grade: C (A for Tolkien completisits)

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