Reading The Silmarillion: A Project

Project Conception

I’ve always thought of The Silmarillion as one of my favourite books – although come to think of it, I don’t really remember it very well. I’m due a re-read.

But then I thought: how about, instead of waiting until the end and writing a review, I actually write up some thoughts as I go along? The Silmarillion should be uniquely well-suited to this sort of thing – I know the subject matter well enough that I don’t think I’ll mind pausing to write up my thoughts, and well enough that I may be able to have some insight, yet dustily enough that I might still be surprised along the way. And it’s conveniently divided into about thirty chapters – ideal for a month’s project!

Now, as some of the eagle-eyed will have noticed, it’s more than a quarter of the way through January and I’m only just starting. Part of this is the initial idea being too ambitious (a chapter a day, plus review? Unlikely), and part of it is real life getting in the way (the beginning of January is a bad time to start something…); part of it is also the shear interestingness of the Ainulindalë, about which so much could be written!

But I’m planning to go on with the project nonetheless, though I’m going to have to postpone some of what I want to say about the first chapter until later.

I’m hoping to try to be able to give my impressions of the writing, the story, and where appropriate also the themes and the ideas presented in the work (which is one reason the Ainulindalë is the worst place to start, because it’s very conceptual, and concepts take a lot of time to talk about).

I should say right from the beginning, however, that I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m not a Tolkien expert. I’m not a literary expert, a historian, a student of mythology, a theologian, or anything like that. So please don’t get too annoyed if you think I’m talking nonsense – it probably wasn’t intentional.

LATER EDIT: unsurprisingly, project slippage has continued. I’ve been running into various distractions, both unavoidable and self-inflicted. I’m not sure how much I’m actually going to write about each chapter, or each block of chapters, and I’m not sure it’ll take me. But I’m going to carry on with it anyway. Hopefully something interesting will come out of it.


4 thoughts on “Reading The Silmarillion: A Project

  1. Andrew says:

    That is definitely a project worthy of more than a month. Maybe a year to read, analyze and write about each part. I’ve tried reading it through but the prose is so dense and ummm… archaic? It is just difficult to put a long time into reading without becoming exhausted. My favorite stores are Beren and Luthien, and the behind the scenes dialog regarding Gandalf.

    I’ll definitely keep an eye out for your updates and comment if I can.


  2. Wow, quick response!

    It’s a book that could well take a year to analyse, yes – but I’m not going to. Don’t get me wrong, there’d be nothing wrong with an in-depth analysis of the book, it’s just not something I feel able to do, at least right now. I’ll be doing more… an annotated read-through, I guess. A bit of ‘how I think it’s going so far’, a bit of ‘here are some interesting moments you might have missed’, and now and then branching out into a bit of rambling on one topic or another.

    I have an advantage over many readers: I grew up reading Tolkien, so I don’t find the prose a problem. Dense, yes, but it’s not ‘archaic’ to me – I can see, rationally, that it is archaic, but instinctively I just tend to interpret all other authors (and the people around me on a daily basis) as being newfangled and modernist instead…

    Your mention of favourite stories flags up an interesting thing I’ve realised (as i’ve said in my next post): I don’t actually know what’s in The Silmarillion, and I think a lot of its fans don’t either. For instance, don’t quote me on it, but I think Gandalf gets a paragraph, and then maybe a page later on, and no dialogue at all, and in neither place is actually called ‘Gandalf’! I think you might be thinking of the Istari chapter in Unfinished Tales. Likewise, I’m curious to find out how much of what I know of the stories of Tuor and Turin is actually in The Silmarillion at all, and how much is actually from ‘Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin’ and ‘Narn i Chin Hurin’ from Unfinished Tales (and/or from internet sites and second hand accounts of stories from the History of Middle Earth series).

  3. Andrew says:

    Yes, there is a section on the Rings of Power and the Third Age. It gives background on Gandalf, the quest to The Lonely Mountain and how Gandalf met Thorin and thought of Bilbo. The story of Turin is just too depressing though the introduction of dragons was interesting!

  4. Glenda says:

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