“I would that I might with minstrels sing, and stir the unseen with a throbbing string. I would be with the mariners of the deep, that cut their slender planks on mountains steep, and voyage upon a vague and wandering quest, for some have passed beyond the fabled West.” – Excerpt from a poem by J.R.R. Tolkien called ‘Mythopoeia’
With the poem ‘Mythopoeia’, Tolkien coined a term that would forever relate to a genre of writing unlike most others. It is the “God-maker”. Or even more, “The God.” Mythopoietic authors build entire worlds, fables and legends from nothing. It is the invention of mythology, not by history and oral storytellers, but one mind – imagined.
Tolkien stands in this category along with the likes of C.S. Lewis, George R.R. Martin and H.P. Lovecraft.
The Silmarillion is J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythology behind, above and through the world of The Hobbits and The Lord of the Rings. Reading The Silmarillion is like reading Greek or Norse Mythology. The characters are superhuman, often greater than the elements and planets they toy with, carrying off islands and forming rivers, raising forests and destroying mountains.
Every so often, the story will focus on an individual characters interaction with another, perhaps even giving a little dialogue but those moments are far and few between.
The reader enters the Silmarillion afore the Creation, as Tolkien chooses it to be.
“In the beginning Eru, the One, who in the Elvish tongue is named Iluvatar, made the Ainur of his thought; and they made a great music before him.”
Being a student of Scripture, I was enthralled immediately. Unlike the Creation of holy texts we commonly identify with, Tolkien has created a race of Creators who purpose is music and sound … “for Iluvatar made visible the song of the Ainur, and they beheld it as a light in the darkness.”
Much like the tropes of Christianity and the first seven days, there is a harmony to this creation.
“Manwe and Melkor were brethren in the thought of Iluvatar. The mightiest of those Ainur who came into the World was in his beginning Melkor; but Manwe is dearest to Iluvatar and understands most clearly his purposes. He was appointed to be, in the fullness of time, the first of all Kings: lord of the realm of Arda and ruler of all that dwell therein.”
All the characters are lofty beings, far above the as yet uncreated Elves and men. In fact, Manwe and Melkor, are prototypical variations of Christ and Satan.
Melkor, we later learn, forfeits his name, for the Elves will not suffer to speak it, calling him rather, Morgoth, the Dark Enemy. He turns his power and knowledge to evil purposes, and squanders “his strength in violence and tyranny,” becoming “a liar without shame.” His desire of Light, which he can never possess alone, drives him down in darkness. And there are other great spirits in the darkness that bring their allegiance to him. “Dreadful among these spirits were the Valaraukar, the scourges of fire that in Middle-earth were called the Balrogs, demons of terror.”
We also find in this dark place another familiar name, “that spirit whom the Eldar called Sauron, or Gorthaur the Cruel.”
When I first started reading the book, I was excited. As it wore on, I became confused. There were so many places, so many names, so many things happening. I found myself reading at a snails pace, trying to absorb and memorize much, even retracing my reading to remember things. And then I finally capitulated and accepted the book for what it is. It is a myth. It is not written with the intention of being remembered by anyone but a scholar, by anyone who wants to take the time to study all the material.
I didn’t want to study all the material. Much of what is written in this book will never enhance my understanding of The Hobbits and The Lord of the Rings. It is just a dream of a man, a man playing God. It is entertaining. And with that thought in mind, I was able to finish reading it. And this is why I can only give it 3 stars. As much as it is interesting, it is not a work I can really sink my teeth in, nor explain. I will say, I did enjoy the creation of the dwarves.
In closing, the Silmarillion is something to be experienced and I’ll probably only experience it this once.
Allen M Werner is the author of the Epic Fantasy series, The Crystal Crux
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