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The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

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Recommended for Who?

The Silmarillion, though a somewhat violent and disturbing book to some, is a book that I would recommend to any reader that can understand the rather difficult language and the advanced reading level. It is on the high school list, but I think that any middle school student who can understand The Lord of the Rings can read it.

  • Hannah’s rating- Five out of five stars
  • Nathan’s rating- Four out of five stars
  • Grace’s rating- Five out of five stars

Intro

What happens when you take the author of some of the greatest fantasies ever written, and you tell him to create his own literary world? In J.R.R. Tolkien’s case, though, nobody had to tell him to make his own world. He did it all in his spare time, creating an elvish language, making up a fake religion for his world, even writing detailed annals that nerds like me read in their own spare time :-). When he died, he left hundreds, maybe even thousands, of stories that his son Christopher Tolkien put together to make The Silmarillion and many other books.

Now before I explain the plot, I have to clear one thing up. Tolkien did make up a religion/mythology of sorts for Middle Earth, but he did not mean for anybody to really believe in it. Little side note here: he didn’t want his mythology to be a ‘parody’ of Christianity, as he put it. Here’s what he said about allegories:

“I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”

Okay, in the beginning, Eru Iluvatar, the most powerful being in the universe, created the Ainur, which are angels, and the world. The most mighty of the Ainur, Melkor, wished to be as powerful as Iluvatar, and was eventually banished into Middle-Earth, away from Iluvatar, taking many of the Ainur that he had corrupted with him.

Iluvatar placed rulers over the Ainur, which are called the Valar. The Valar shaped Middle-Earth, and Iluvatar sent the elves to live in it, sending the humans later on. The Valar taught the elves many things, including how to make beautiful jewels. One elf in particular, Feanor by name, made the silmarils- three beautiful jewels, that were so bright and powerful that any mortal or anyone unworthy of touching them would burn their hand whenever they laid hands on them. Feanor’s heart became very attached to the silmarils, and would not allow anyone to see them, except for his seven sons and his very close friends.

Melkor, now dubbed Morgoth by Feanor, coveted these jewels and plotted his revenge on the Valar for destroying most of his evil kingdom in Middle-Earth. After rallying the giant spider Ungoliante to help him, he desolated the mansions and kingdoms of the elves and the Valar, killing many of the elves and stealing the silmarils in the process. When Feanor learned of what had passed, he swore an oath to kill any elf, mortal, or Vala who withheld them from him, forcing his sons to swear the same oath. Leaving the homes of the Valar, and taking many of the elves with him, he marched after Morgoth, and killed anyone who stopped him.  You can imagine the rest of the book: battles, tragedies, deaths, heroes, and villains.*Another side note here: Sauron, the main villain in The Lord of the Rings was actually one of the Ainur that was corrupted by Morgoth, and he eventually became one of his greatest captains.

The Ships of the Faithful, by Ted Nasmith

What is Good

There are so many good things that are portrayed in this book, so I will have to lower it down to my some of my favorites.

Loyalty is depicted by many characters in many ways, such as through the elf Beleg and his unfailing friendship with Turin. Beleg and many other characters like Luthien Tinuviel also demonstrate sacrificial love, trying to fight evil even to the death. The characters who focus on doing the right things are always ready to help others, especially the characters in the chapter “Of Beren and Luthien”.

A lot of books that are written nowadays have main male characters that are easily beaten by evil and will not step up to take their place in wars and in their families. This is not the case in The Silmarillion. Male characters step up even when they don’t have to and even lose their lives in some of these cases; and those who don’t are portrayed as wrong, like Turin, Tuor, and Fingolfin, to name a few.

Another problem that I have with many modern novels is that they don’t have truly loyal and brave female characters that are still smart and resourceful, while not being a Mary-Sue. 🙂 Again, The Silmarillion isn’t like this. Melian the Maia, Morwen the wife of Hurin, and Idril (probably my favorite female character in all of Tolkien’s works) all fight evil with every bit of strength that they have; not actually fighting with swords, but by not giving up to Morgoth and not panicking when their lives completely come apart.

Of course, when you have a fantasy with villains in it, you are going to have some bad things happen and have some people make bad decisions. Tolkien shows these bad things and bad decisions as wrong.

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What is Bad

The violence in The Silmarillion may be a little too much for some readers. Many characters lose limbs and other body parts, and a few deaths are described in detail. The Valar choose to ignore their duties in Middle-Earth and don’t do anything to help, though they are sometimes criticized for this and it is shown as wrong. Saeros the sharp-witted elf rather crudely mocks the women of Dor-Lomin, and in revenge Turin strips him of his clothing, and then chases Saeros to a cliff where he leaps to his death.

 Conclusion

As with all Tolkien books, The Silmarillion is rather violent, but it is a story that is full of joy and love even in the darkest times and of loyalty and sacrifice to fight evil.

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