by Biblioboy, 2 Apr 2007
I'm sure most of you will be familiar with Peter Jackson's film version of J.R.R. Tolkien's magisterial “The Lord Of The Rings”. After all, it is probably the defining cinematic work of the turn of the millennium, and many surveys have claimed the book is the most popular book in the world after the Bible!
However, while fans such as myself (I first encountered “The Lord Of The Rings” when I was 11, and have re-read it at least once every year since, although it will take me a long time to reach the level of a truly devoted fan such as actor Christopher Lee, who played Saruman in the movies, who has read it once a year for more than 50 years!) may disagree with Jackson’s alterations, one thing we would agree with is that the movie trilogy has hopefully brought more people to this wonderful book.
However, if one wishes to encounter Tolkien's true vision, it is the comparatively less well-known and well-read “The Silmarillion”, which is a MUST READ.
In fact, it is hard to fully understand "The Lord Of The Rings" without reading it, since it is essentially the "history" (or “prequel”), with several major characters, such as Sauron and Galadriel, featuring as minor characters, and many events and characters constantly being referred to.
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Tolkien started writing the series of stories, which was to become "The Silmarillion" while he was a young junior officer during World War 1, enduring the almost unendurable amongst the mud and blood in the trenches of that unnecessary and tragic war. As the saying goes, "there are no atheists in foxholes", and Tolkien's staunch Roman Catholic faith and firsthand knowledge of the futility and tragedy of war undoubtedly shaped his vision.
"The Silmarillion" is a major creation myth story, and within this, a struggle of good and evil paralleling that of the Bible. Notably, the main protagonist, if there is one, is a character who, in his pride and hubris, decides to fight the forces of evil essentially on his own, and so dooms himself and his people to a massive, desperate, and ultimately, futile war.
Central to Tolkien's conception of evil was that it is impossible to contend against evil force with equal force – that is the first step towards becoming essentially the same thing. One cannot help but think back to the 20th century's defining tragedies – World Wars 1 & 2, and how Tolkien's vision parallels his and our own experiences. Tolkien also covered the many issues and questions of life and literature, such as free will, love, loss, betrayal, friendship, heroism, sacrifice, and redemption, all in the language and tone of high legend and history and fable. "The Silmarillion" is by no means an easy read (well, "The Lord Of The Rings" isn't an easy read either!), especially since there are no hobbits for us to identify easily with. There are also many characters (critics have called "The Silmarillion" a telephone book in Elvish!) and the narrative is complex and dense. However, Tolkien covers so much ground thematically and metaphorically, one just gets drawn into the grandeur and scope of his world.
If you've only read "The Hobbit" or "The Lord Of The Rings", you MUST read "The Silmarillion".
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