Monday, October 26, 2009

Book 45: The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

Title: The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

Pages: 365

How it was obtained: I borrowed it from my parents. The cool part is that I found the original receipt in the back of the book. One of my parents (dad?) paid $11.39 at Walden Book on September 17, 1977 (the year it was released). This is a first edition hard back I have in my hands.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: A few years. I think I bummed it from my parents when I got married, 5 years ago.

Days spent reading it: 5 days.

Why I read it: I liked The Lord of the Rings (who doesn't?), and my parents had this lying around the house. So I snagged it and figured I would read it one day.

Brief review: This is a difficult book to review. For starters, it is not a novel. It is more in line with ancient epic mythologies. Think Homer or Ovid. So reading it was a beast. Not that exciting. But it is a comprehensive overview of the complex world that Tolkien created. This book tells the tale of the world from its creation up through the events recorded in the LOTR.

The problem is that each tale is told in a very archaic language (thee, thou, etc.). I mean it really feels like you've broken open the 1611 King James Bible, only it is about elves and dwarves. It is hard to explain, but Tolkien makes you think you have picked up a classical tale of the olden days. Too bad it is told as dry as toast.

Plenty is written through the internet about The Silmarillion. It was published by Tolkien's death by his son Christopher. It is probably very different than Tolkien intended, because he died before he completed it. It has received shaky reviews ever since. People cannot seem to agree—is it a work of genius or is it a bloated mess? I would say somewhere in between.

There are glimpses of wonder in this compilation of stories. I loved some of the last tales in the book. The tale of Beren and Luthien was one of my favorites. But other chapters are just plain dull. The problems are numerous. In a work this ambitious, you never really get to know some of the key players in a satisfactory way. Also, for whatever reason, Tolkien gave many of the important (and related) characters similar names. For example, in one of the major families that is used, we have Fingolfin, Finarfin, Finrod, and Feanor. That gets very confusing when you are introduced to all of them in about 10 pages. I never kept them straight in my head and had to constantly refer to the family chart in the back of the book. Thankfully there is a comprehensive index of names and places that gives a brief synopsis of who or what they are.  Ye olde englishe doth not helpeth the causeth either.

I would not recommend this book to just anyone. And even of Tolkien fans, I would only submit this book to the die-hard fans. There were some good pieces in it, but you had to dig through a whole lot. Not for the faint of heart.

Favorite quote: Long was he at work, and slow at first and barren was his labour. But he that sows lies in the end shall not lack of a harvest, and soon he may rest from toil indeed while others reap and sow in his stead.

Stars: 3 out of 5.

Final Word: Dry.


Rob said...

Of course we've read the Hobbit and ToR, and I've thought about reading the Scilmarilion for some time. Your review was helpful. Still don't know if we'll read it. :)

Kathy said...

I started it and quickly got lost with names/dates/language difficulties, plus, as you say, he dryness of the writing. I never finished it, needless to say!

Patrick said...

Hey Rob and Kathy (like I never talk to you all the time by other methods), one thing people have been doing lately is reading the new book by Christopher Tolkien "The Sons of Hurin" which is apparently like The Silmarillion "Lite". The story of Hurin and his sons is in the latter chapters of the Silmarillion, but I guess it's really fleshed out in the new book and covers some of the other material. So maybe that might be worth looking into as a good compromise.