On the Shelf: The Silmarillion

I’ve been at it for over a month… and I FINALLY FINISHED!!

Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: Designed to take fans of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings deeper into the myths and legends of Middle-Earth, The Silmarillion is an account of the Elder Days, of the First Age of Tolkien’s world. It is the ancient drama to which the characters in The Lord of the Rings look back, and in whose events some of them such as Elrond and Galadriel took part. The tales ofThe Silmarillion are set in an age when Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, dwelt in Middle-Earth, and the High Elves made war upon him for the recovery of the Silmarils, the jewels containing the pure light of Valinor. Included in the book are several shorter works. The Ainulindale is a myth of the Creation and in the Valaquenta the nature and powers of each of the gods is described. The Akallabeth recounts the downfall of the great island kingdom of Numenor at the end of the Second Age and Of the Rings of Power tells of the great events at the end of the Third Age, as narrated inThe Lord of the Rings. This pivotal work features the revised, corrected text and includes, by way of an introduction, a fascinating letter written by Tolkien in 1951 in which he gives a full explanation of how he conceived the early Ages of Middle-Earth.

My Thoughts:

The only bad thing I can say about this book is that it’s dense.  It took me over a month to get through, simply because the writing takes a long time to plod through.  There were weeks where I could barely get through ten pages.  But not because it’s bad.  On the contrary.

The Silmarillion is absolutely incredible.  A friend once described it to me as the Bible of Middle Earth and I can’t help but agree.  Unlike Tolkien’s most popular Middle Earth texts, this is no novel.  It’s a collection of stories that explain the history of Middle Earth.  The first chapters focus on creation mythology, explaining how the world came to be and the deities that dwell within it.  Then, Tolkien brings us through the shaping of the two main races of Middle Earth: Elves and Men.  The majority of the text is dedicated to their histories.  Near the end, we get the history of the men of Numenor, including their downfall and migration to Middle Earth.  This leads swiftly into Middle Earth’s more well-known history spanned in The Lord of the Rings.

At times, it was hard to keep track of all the characters and places.  I constantly had to go back and reread passages and consult maps to make sure I knew what was going on.  But, instead of detracting from my enjoyment, it made the experience that much better.  I was able to deeply appreciate the depth of Tolkien’s world.

There were many stories within these pages that I loved.  Particular favorites include the two great trees in Valinor, forging of the Silmarils, the foundation of Gondolin, Beren and Luthien’s love story, and the tragedy of the Children of Hurin.  I loved hearing about all Morgoth’s treacherous and all the battles fought to bring on his demise.  I liked the story of Eärendil, the fate of his sons, and the history of Numenor.  It was also fun to see names like Galadriel and Elrond cropping up throughout the stories.

The Silmarillion is not for the faint of heart.  It’s a challenging read, but a rewarding one.  It ignited my imagination and curiosity.  I’m now seriously interested in reading further into Tolkien’s world.

You Will Like This Book If: You like Tolkien, fantasy, mythology, folklore, rich world building, and a challenge.

Extra Bonus: “Tuor Reches Gondolin” by Ted Nasmith

On the Shelf

With three literature classes, life these days is a never-ending stream of new books.  Here’s what I’ve been reading for class lately!

The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron

I’m reading this for my senior seminar.  It’s a biographical novel based on the life of Nat Turner, a slave condemned for leading an insurrection against his white owners in 1938 Virginia.  Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Styron imagines and explores the psychology of slavery and oppression.  Writing in the late 1960’s at the time of the Civil Rights and Black Power movement, he ties the cultural ideas of Nat’s time with the issues of the day.  Although it’s not something I’d read on my own, I’m enjoying getting to know Nat’s mind and delving deep into Styron’s complicated argument.

The Rape of Lucrece by William Shakespeare

In this long poem, Shakespeare takes on the classical myth of Lucrece, a chaste wife who is violently raped by Sextus Tarquin in ancient Rome.  In it, he delves deep into the minds of his characters, exploring the psychology of rape and its deeply rooted consequences.  It’s an extremely disturbing text, especially since so much of the mindsets are still so prevalent in rape culture today.  Although it left me extremely unsettled, I found myself enraptured in Shakespeare’s words and deeply moved.

Here’s a clip of an actress performing a musical rendering of the text:

The Art of Courtly Love by Andreas Capelanus

Commissioned by Marie, the Countess of Champagne in the late 12th Century, this is one of the most important texts in the Courtly Love tradition.  It’s written as a treatus addressed to a young man named Walter.  Cappelanus writes out the rules and guidelines of Courtly Love.  It’s a strange text, filled with discourses, rules, and statements that are shocking to readers today.  Honestly, this text was really hard to get through.  Although entertaining at points and definitely disturbing, it was really boring.

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson by Jerome Charyn

I’ve been sneaking chapters of this book in my free time.  I have to write a paper on it for my senior seminar in a few weeks.  Inspired by Dickinson’s letters and poetry, Charyn imagines the life of the beloved poet.  The novel begins with young Emily studying at Holyoke seminary and follows her life and development of writing.  What’s interesting about this book is that writing isn’t the emphasis–Charyn seems much more concerned with events in Emily’s life and how they impact her consciousness.  I’m not sure what I’ll say in my paper, but I do know that I adore this book so far.  Unlike so much assigned reading, it feels like reading for pleasure.  I’m about halfway through and find it utterly delightful.