When I finished reading The Return of the King, the third book of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, I gazed at it sadly and turned wistfully to the appendix at the back of the book. I quickly forgot my melancholy mood, however, when the appendix turned out to be a treasure trove of Middle-earth-related information. Before long, I grew obsessed with the languages of Middle-earth, particularly the elvish language Sindarin. When I couldn’t find a free Sindarin course, I resorted to sending emails to myself in said language and muttering elvish phrases under my breath. Soon, I was searching for other Tolkien books in a desperate effort to find out more about the elves. Little did I know that I had begun a journey that would take me across ancient Middle-earth.
The Silmarillion was written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published posthumously by his son Christopher. It is the story of how the fictional land of Middle-earth, setting for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, was created, and it relates the main events of the first and second ages of Middle-earth history—a period when the fight against the evil beings Morgoth and Sauron began. Its entrancing use of elvish languages and its wonderfully vivid legends make it complex and dramatic.
With its serious tone and archaic writing style, The Silmarillion convinces the reader that the tales it relates were passed down from generation to generation. Some of the stories are far-fetched and magical, like Greek myths, while others are grim and brutally realistic. In this complex collection of tales is a sense of the legendary, a sense that these stories really happened, long ago when the world was young. The nostalgic quality of this book makes it a fascinating, compelling read.
Although many authors (such as Eion Colfer) had toyed with the idea of fantasy languages, Tolkien, a professor of philology, took it to a whole other level. Tolkien’s languages are much more than a smattering of odd-sounding words; they are beautiful. When spoken, the rolled “r”s and soft “dh”s (pronounced like the breathy “th” in “the”) make the languages sound like music.
More than a study of elven languages, The Silmarillion is a fascinating collection of legends. One of my favorite tales in this book is the story of Túrin, son of Húrin. It relates how Túrin Turambar, a young man whose family is cursed by Morgoth, tries to flee from his fate and how his doom overtakes him. Like many legends in The Silmarillion, it is full of breathtaking action and bitter psychological struggles.
With its thought-provoking legends and mesmerizing use of the elvish languages, The Silmarillion is an amazing tale—far better than emails in elvish could ever be.
This review was published in the May/June 2018 issue of Imagine magazine.
Ages: 13 and up.
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