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The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien

Posted by RB Kollannur on September 20, 2012


Note: This review is part of a weekly book review column that I write for City Journal, an English newspaper based in Thrissur, Kerala.

Published on 16/09/2012

Publisher – Random House; Year of Publication – 1977; Pages – 442

The Silmarillion is for the ardent Tolkien / Lord of the Rings fan. As you may well know, Lord of the Rings is one of the most sold books in the world ever. What propelled the popularity of the book is the JRR Tolkien’s enchanting ability to weave his own fantastic universe – the Middle Earth, albeit with some help from Peter Jackson and New Zealand in the movies. But reading only LOTR or The Hobbit will not give you a complete idea about the effort Tolkien had put into developing Middle Earth. For that you need The Silmarillion.

The Silmarillion provides an extended backstory to Lord of the Rings trilogy and explains many of the unsolved mysteries about the book like how did Sauron become so powerful or what happened to all the elves that fought Sauron the first time or where do Frodo and company leave for at the end of the movie. It encapsulates the history of the Tolkien universe until the War of the Ring and the scenes depicted in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit in book half the size of LOTR. Tolkien has allowed himself to depart from his normally very descriptive style of writing (made familiar in Lord of the Rings) for this book, perhaps because of the longevity of the era he has to describe.

But the book is primary focus of the novel is on the millennia long battle between the elves and Morgoth, an evil god who was once the master of Sauron. Humans play a limited but important role in this battle, somewhat mirroring the role of the elves in Lord of the Rings. It is in the latter chapters of the book that we learn about Sauron and the Numenoreans (The people of Aragon from LOTR) and their rivalry.

As a stand-alone novel, it is the story about a battle build on greed and revenge, with an unnecessary “extended epilogue”. Both the elves and Morgoth have a desire for power and they compete against each other with no sense of morality which eventually leads to their undoing. There are lessons to be learnt on virtue and honour, but as the book extends beyond the battle, the novel loses its sheen. The extended epilogue, which features Sauron and the Numenoreans, provides the setting for the Lord of the Rings and so recommended only for the Tolkien faithful.

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One Response to “The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien”

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