Monday, April 13, 2015
Myths mastered at last
I think I was about twelve years old the first time I tried to read The Silmarillion. I failed miserably - maybe ten pages in I fell asleep. For the next few years I used the book as a sleep aid - I kept it by my bed and never got past the music in the darkness before it knocked me out.
I fared a little better at twenty and managed to push through at least until the real story started, then I decided that the book was too boring and put it down again. At twenty-five I managed to get through all but the last thirty pages of the book; I got past the story of the Silmarils but just couldn't keep going so I set the book aside to take a break and didn't pick it up again.
Now, finally, sixteen years after I first started trying to read this damned thing, I've finished The Silmarillion and I fucking loved it. I totally understand why I had trouble reading it through all these years, because it's 300 short pages are about as dense as a neutron star, but I'm really pleased that I finally pushed through and got the damned thing read.
To be 100% honest and transparent, I'm a huge, unwieldy Tolkien geek. My dad read The Hobbit to my sister and I as children and it's the first book that made me want to read. I chose to do a book report at 11 on LoTR because it was way above my grade level but I HAD TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED. I kept pushing to try to read The Silmarillion because I'm one of those people who showed up to midnight premiers wearing a cloak and I own a pair of toe socks with hair on top for when I'm feeling particularly nerdy. I read this book because I couldn't let it go. Middle Earth is more my home than most places I've been on actual Earth and I want to know all their is to know about it. If you are NOT at Tolkien geek on a dressing-up-in-public level then I would NOT recommend this book (unless you've got a serious hardon for mythology in general, in which case you should read it and we should hang out because mythology is AWESOME).
The history of the Valar and the Eldar and the Edain is long, complicated, and full of characters who each have three names that are only one letter or syllable removed from the names of their ten siblings (who each also have three names). The Silmarillion is not hard to read because it's depressing, it's hard to read because it has about a thousand characters and most of them have lifespans at least 500 years long. The scenery physically changes so that a castle that existed in an early part of the book was on a mountain range that's under water in the late part of the book (and each place also has 3-7 names that sound incredibly similar to all of the other places around it and the character names). What I'm getting at is that this is not a light, fun, easy read that you can blow through in a couple of hours: it will kick your ass and take your name and confuse you in quite a few places but it is still TOTALLY WORTH IT.
Linguistically the book is fascinating, as a mythology it's terribly impressive, and to Tolkien geeks who want to get to know Middle Earth on a more intimate level it's indispensable. But to casual Tolkien fans who liked the movies and maybe read The Hobbit but had trouble with how much singing everyone did in LoTR, The Silmarillion is probably not going to be worth the effort to read it.
(But you should try anyway because, seriously, it's so good.)
Tolkien, JRR. The Silmarillion. Christopher Tolkien, Editor. Houghton Mifflin. New York:
New York. 2001. (1977).