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How to Read J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Silmarillion”

The Silmarillion is my favourite of Tolkien’s work. I love the vaulted language, the imagery, the intertwining of everyone’s fate, and the dark magic that encompasses the whole work.

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For many fans reading The Silmarillion is more like doing anthropological research than reading a fantasy novel. Its a denser read than The Lord of the Rings and definitely more so than The Hobbit. And the early chapters that read like Deuteronomy can be intimidating. But the stories are amazing, so how do you get into it?

The book is laid out in three parts: the creation and origins of the Elven pantheon, the tangled blood-fued and history of the holy Silmarils (from which the book derives its name), and the history of Elves and Men on Middle-earth and how their combined history leads to the War of the Rings (featured in The Hobbit and LOTR). However, its not actually necessary to read it linearly.

Pick your favourite character that you’ve seen elsewhere and start with their story. Do you like Beren and Luthien? Begin with their tale. Love Shelob and the talking spiders from The Hobbit? Ungoliant is their matriarch. The ents, the White Tree of Gondor, Smaug, Isildur, and even the horses revered by the Rohirrim all have their ancestors in this book.

The Appendices of LOTR is also a good way to adapt to the writing style and detail in The Silmarillion. Read about Arwen and Aragorn. Discover the secret of Dwarf runes, and learn about the writing style and pronunciation of Quenya and Sindarin.

Basically, pick your poison. And once you’re really in to it, you’ll have read The Silmarillion.

About stormraven

“Goldberry Riverdaughter” has been her friends’ and families’ resident book nerd since reading the Tao of Pooh at age eight. Since then her literary exploration has lead her straight to Lord of the Rings where she’s made her home. In addition to a staff reporter for Legendarium, she also runs Hells Hobbits. She has a degree in History, as well as a new-found penchant for disassembling literary canon. She lives with her equally nerdy husband and two gigantic cats enjoying table top games & cosplay.

6 comments

  1. Goldberry! This is great advice and has motivated me to get reading! Not to mention our other conversations! 🙂

  2. Fantastic article. The Silmarillion can be intimidating, to say the least. The reminder that it’s not a “novel” like the other works of Middle-earth is important to remember.

    Also, personally, I find that the Silmarillion is not actually meant to be read, so to speak. Printed word doesn’t do it justice, that is. I find hearing it spoke gives the text power and depth not as present in the reading.

    To new readers of the Silmarillion, I often recommend the unabridged reading by Martin Shaw. Hearing it spoken, the poetry and fluidity of th text, really helps to reveal the power in those passages.

    • I enthusiastically second the recommendation of the audio book read by Martin Shaw. He has a wonderfully deep and powerful voice and it makes one almost feel as though you were listening to a bard of old recounting the legends of heroic ages past, which is what the Silmarillion is all about.

  3. Great advice all around. And for those of you (like me) who really get into it, check out the Silmarillion Seminar podcast on The Tolkien Professor’s (Professor Corey Olsen)web site. I had the privilege of participating in the podcast and it really increased my enjoyment and understanding of the work. There is SO much there.
    Cheers.

  4. Great advice Goldberry! One has not truly read the heart of Tolkien’s work, in my humble opinion, until they’ve read the Silmarillion.

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