I finished reading The Silmarillion last night. For the first time! And it only took me about three months!

Why so long? Because I don’t have a lot of free time to read, and because I approached it thusly:

1. Read the Wikipedia entry for the section (e.g., Ainulindalë) or sub-section (e.g., Húrin’s kids) I was about to read.

2. Read a chapter.

3. Listen to the Silmarillion Seminar episode about that chapter.

4. Re-read the chapter.

5. Repeat steps 2–4 until a new major sub-/section, then GOTO step 1.

I have tried many times over the course of my life to read it and failed every time. Whether it’s my fault or the text’s, I’m not going to venture. But I did finally realize that just sitting down to read it wasn’t working for me. So, I went into English major mode and approached it like a subject of study instead of light reading.

Now I feel like I understand the text, have a better appreciation for Tolkien as a writer and creator, and finally understand why people care about elves. I also feel like I’m in a good position to re-read The Silmarillion in years to come and actually gain greater insights each time.

I also look forward to re-reading The Hobbit and LOTR and finally understanding all of the references. I plan to adopt the same approach. I want to earn my Tolkien merit badge!

I want to mention that it was Jeff La Sala’s “Silmarillion Primer” series on TOR.com that got me started on this project.

https://www.tor.com/2017/09/20/welcome-to-the-silmarillion-primer-an-introduction/

Unfortunately, he’s producing installments too slowly for a reasonable read-along.

That’s what sent me on a journey that led to Corey Olsen, the Tolkien Professor. I cannot recommend his seminar podcast enough. Olsen — an actual professor of medieval lit — has an incredibly deep knowledge of Tolkien, and his insights (and those of the seminar participants) are fantastic. I would not have made it through the text without him.

Next up, I’m going to take a bit of a break and read Carpenter’s biography of Tolkien, and then it’s on to LOTR — which is also the next selection for The Tabletop Roleplayer’s Book Club community here on G+. Following along with them seems like an ​added incentive.

Silmarillion Seminar

24 thoughts on “I finished reading The Silmarillion last night. For the first time! And it only took me about three months!

  1. I remember how by the end of my reading of the Silmarillion I had started to learn the patterns of the Elven language, recognizing bits of names and words here and there.

    Like, I still remember how “el” means star in Quenya.

  2. It’s unfortunate that the Silmarillion got published as it was, but what can you do: JRRT died, and Christopher Tolkien started milking his inheritance. I remember talking with friends who were in the publishing industry, and had been since at least the 70s, how an early sample had done the rounds and that it was nothing like that.

    I suppose most of it got eventually published under the “Unfinished/Lost/whatever Tales” format.

    The Silmarillion as it is… it’s basically a collection of notes in non-narrative format (almost like a DnD sourcebook), that could have served as the source for… oh, easily a dozen other books.

  3. Renato Ramonda Yes, having Quenya and Sindarin slowly soak into my brain has been wonderful. “Minas Tirith… hey, that literally means watchtower!”

    Do you feel Christopher’s work has been solely a cash grab?

    My impression is that the extended versions of many of the tales in The Silmarillion are now in either the History series or the new, stand-alone novels, e.g., The Children of Húrin.

    Personally, I don’t feel like the former reads as just notes. It feels poetic through and through to me. There’s also apparently the conceit of it being a translation of elven texts made by Bilbo during his stay in Rivendell, though I think Tolkien never managed to make it explicit.

  4. The Silmarillion are now in either the History series or the new, stand-alone novels, e.g., The Children of Húrin. Personally, I don’t feel like the former reads as just notes. It feels poetic through and through to me. There’s also apparently the conceit of it being a translation of elven texts made by Bilbo during his stay in Rivendell, though I think Tolkien never managed to make it explicit.]]>

  5. Jason Ambrose At the very least, I’d suggesting doing the pre-reading on Wikipedia or the various Tolkien wikis. That way you’re not struggling with comprehension while you read and can focus on the language and some of the nuance.

    Listening to the seminar podcast is just extra-credit.

  6. Hm… I think it was a bit of both: I mean, they are “notes” but still the notes of a medievalist, linguist and poet who basically bothered creating a whole universe just to have a place where his favorite languages would be spoken. I read the Italian translation and while super thick it also was deeply satisfying.

    But it’s surely not a novel, nor a collection of novellas: there’s hardly any direct speech between characters (save for a few dialogues here and there, especially in the Turin Turanbar story)(1).

    JRRT had probably started writing several of the stories in narrative form too, and that’s what became the “Lost/Unfinished/etc” (that I never had the energy to read).

    I suppose we’ll never know exactly.

    (1) I should try to read the Children of Hurin: reliable people tell me it’s pretty good.

  7. Some of the Quenta Silmarillion tales are far more complete than others. Beren and Luthien and Turin Tarambar are essentially finished. Much of the rest is far more zoomed out, almost a summary, with far more explicit scenes.

    Yet none of these would have their force without being embedded in the bigger narrative, which does build a big tragic momentum of its own.

    Interestingly Tolkien had three “big stories” in the narrative, the third being The Fall of Gondolin. I’d love to see an expanded version of that.

  8. Beren and Luthien and Turin Tarambar are essentially finished. Much of the rest is far more zoomed out, almost a summary, with far more explicit scenes. Yet none of these would have their force without being embedded in the bigger narrative, which does build a big tragic momentum of its own. Interestingly Tolkien had three “big stories” in the narrative, the third being The Fall of Gondolin. I’d love to see an expanded version of that.]]>