Friday, August 24, 2012

The Silmarillion

The SilmarillionThe Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Though I had many near-misses with The Silmarillion throughout the years (having been introduced to Tolkien's universe by discovering The Hobbit in my school's library in 5th grade), I finally slogged my way through it during the summer after my sophomore year of college. The first two years of my undergraduate degree were rather gruelling, and I wanted, more than anything else at that time, to just read a bunch of books I wasn't required to read. After making my way through The Complete Sherlock Holmes, I decided to revisit Tolkien.

I had read The Hobbit twice before and the Lord of the Rings once (and a half). As I've stated, I dipped my toes in The Silmarillion, but never let myself dive in. This time, in the interest of reading something other than required reading, I jumped in with both feet.

It was cold. And deep. And dark. It took a while to feel my limbs. It took even longer to get my arms and legs moving, but I soon found I was OK: Still breathing and able to dog paddle.

As I worked my way into it (and it was work!), I discovered that certain tidbits in the myths and legends of middle earth rang familiar. I knew that much of The Silmarillion had been "back-written" after the fact, which might strike people as some sort of disingenuous act on the part of the Tolkiens. I was thrilled. Here I learned who Elrond was, the significance of the fall of Saruman, and the true nature of and relationship between Gandalf and the Balrog. This was a revelation.

I plugged my way through and finished. No, I didn't remember everything and I probably never will. That summer was a unique opportunity for me, to read almost interrupted for such a long stretch. I followed up by reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in succession, immediately after finishing The Silmarillion. Then, and only then, did I appreciate the full magnitude of Tolkien's brilliance. It was a whole new world. I had already visited it, but now the scales fell from my eyes and I saw it in a whole new light. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were transformed, for me, from great books to epic.

Rather than being caught up in complaining about how difficult The Silmarillion was, I felt richly rewarded. I had worked for the glittering prize and it was even more beautiful than the time when I first laid eyes on it in that musty school library in Nebraska. Can nostalgia be forward-looking? It was for me that summer. I was caught in some sort of blissful time-loop that only released me when the urgency of school set upon me again that fall. But something joyful was sparked in me that hasn't ever fully left, thanks to The Silmarillion.

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