Written By: J.R.R. Tolkien
Edited By: Christopher Tolkien
Page Count: 365
Narrated By: Martin Shaw
Published: September 15th, 1977
Link to Purchase
Of all the writers that have ever published a book at any point in their lives, none have inspired me more than J.R.R. Tolkien. His characters and world inspired me more than anything else ever has. As a kid, I’d watch the movie trilogy over and over. As a middle and high school student, I’d often return to the books for both entertainment and study. If I ever have children, as unlikely as that may be, I fully intend to read them ‘The Hobbit‘ as a bedtime story in hopes that it will inspire them just as these stories inspired me.
Despite my passion for everything Middle-Earth, there was one that got away. I am, of course, referring to the subject of today’s rant: ‘The Silmarillion‘. I can’t tell you why. Perhaps I’ve never thought of it as a legitimate piece of Tolkien, as it was released after his passing and edited by his son rather than the man himself. Or maybe I simply didn’t find the time.
Well, no excuses now. I’ve read it (or listened to it, I guess) and now I can give it a fair assessment. So how is it? Is it truly worthy of standing alongside ‘The Hobbit‘ and ‘The Lord of the Rings‘? Well…
Story: The Complete, and I Do Mean Complete, History of Middle-Earth
Talking about the story in ‘The Silmarillion‘ is pretty hard. There are plenty of different stories with different characters all throughout the book. Some threads connect them, most common among them being: Melchor, AKA Morgoth, a dark god and master of Sauron, and the Silmarils, a set of jewels beauty so great that they are believed to be cursed. But aside from them, each of the plots are highly separate and self contained. However, they all do build up to Sauron’s rise, the creation of the Rings of Power, and the events of ‘Lord of the Rings‘.
Now, the title of this post joked that this book is written like a history textbook. This is only mostly true. In truth, it’s written more like a collection of fairy tales. Historical in context, but fantastical in presentation for the audience.
This is where things get a little rough. Because of the way the story is written, I found that my interest in it suffered from peaks and valleys. Several of the stories are incredibly gripping, such as the adventure of Beren and his love Lúthien as they made their way into Morgoth’s stronghold to steal one of the Silmarils in order to earn the right to marry. But then there’s the boring stories, such as the story of Meme (no, not kidding) the treacherous dwarf and his betrayal of the elves. What that story lead to was pretty cool, but the story itself was far from interesting.
It is entirely clear that this book was published entirely for die-hard Tolkien fans. If you don’t know a damn thing about LOTR, you will not find much to enjoy here. This only exists to flush out Middle-Earth’s history.
To a ludicrous degree. Like, Jesus Christ. This is a whole culture’s worth of history! Created by one fucking dude! That is a fucking accomplishment, and you cannot deny that. Unless you’re stupid, and you also deny the importance of The Beatles to modern music, or Dragon Ball Z’s influence on anime.
It’s Tolkien. The dude was one of the greatest writers of all time. Do I really need to explain it?
Oh, alright. Fine.
Voice: Do Not Ever Stop Paying Attention
‘The Silmarillion‘, as stated earlier, is written as a fantastical historical text in the context of Middle-Earth. As such, there is very little actual dialogue in the book. Rather, there is a lot of poetic descriptions, proper nouns (all of which are in Tolkien’s Elvish). As a huge Tolkien fan, this book is another incredibly beautifully told story that should not be skipped.
However, this is where another problem can be found. See, very rarely does this book use normal-ass English when he’s talking about… literally any noun in the whole story. Instead, they use the Elvish version of that word. Which they only define one time in the whole book.
Note for the people who listen to the audio book version: don’t space out for even a second. If you do, you will be totally lost as to what the hell is happening. Sometimes just for that one story. Other times, for the whole damn thing. Seriously, I had to listen to the damn thing two-and-a-half times for the sake of this review. I’d space for two minutes, and the book would be on the other side of the world.
Seriously. As much as I love the narrator, you really need to read the physical version.
Presentation: The Voice of Perfection
Martin Shaw is yet another perfect narrator. He delivers the story perfectly, like a highly charismatic prophet from the olden days. Unfortunately, the story itself doesn’t play very well to an audio format.
Like I said earlier: zone out for even a second, and the book will have left you behind.
Shaw does try to make this as avoidable as possible. His delivery is pitch perfect; when dialogue appears, he gives each character a completely distinct and interesting voice. In a way, he sounds like a loving parent telling his child a bedtime story.
Only, y’know. With lots more murder, poisoning, betrayal, and even some nudity. Thus making it the best bedtime story a child could ask for.
‘The Silmarillion‘ is a decent book. For die hard Tolkien fans, that is. For anyone else, well… unless you really enjoy reading history texts, you won’t get much out of it. You’ll find yourself zoning out, and bang! You’ll be lost at sea.
You can probably guess what my recommendation is going to be. If you consider yourself a Tolkien scholar, you’ll have already read it. If you love Tolkien and haven’t read it yet, then you absolutely should. But if you aren’t that interested in anything regarding LOTR, first: something is wrong with you. Second: give this one a pass.
Still, regardless of all that, the significance of this book is absolutely incredible! This whole thing has more history and depth than a lot of real-world cultures (footnote: obviously hyperbolic, don’t be mad), and it came from the mind of a single man! That is an absolutely absurd level of dedication to the craft!
Which went on to inspire every writer in the world to flesh their worlds out to a ridiculous degree. Whether that was a good thing or a bad, I shall leave up to you. But do note: it did, quite possibly, lead to this.
Just throwing that out there.