The Silmarillion

The Silmarillion is a collection of J. R. R. Tolkien's works, edited and published posthumously by his son Christopher, with the assistance of fantasy fiction writer Guy Gavriel Kay.



The Silmarillion comprises five parts:

  1. The Ainulindal - the creation of Eä, Tolkien's universe.
  2. The Valaquenta - a brief description of the Valar and Maiar, the supernatural beings
  3. The Quenta Silmarillion - the history of the events before and during the First Age, which forms the bulk of the collection
  4. The Akallabth - the history of the Second Age
  5. Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age

This five-part work is also known as Translations from the Elvish.

These five parts were initially separate works, but it was the elder Tolkien's express wish that they be published together.

The Silmarillion, along with other posthumous collections of Tolkien's works, such as Unfinished Tales and The History of Middle-earth series, form a comprehensive, yet incomplete narrative that describes the universe within which The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place.

The Silmarillion is a complex work that explores a wide array of themes inspired by many ancient, medieval, and modern sources, including the Finnish Kalevala, the Icelandic sagas, The Bible, Greek mythology, World War I, and Celtic myths. For instance, the name of the supreme being, Ilúvatar (Father of All) is clearly borrowed from Norse mythology. The archaic style and gravitas of the Ainulindalë resembles that of the Old Testament. And the island civilization of Númenor is reminiscent of Atlantis — one of the names Tolkien gave that land was Atalantë, though he gave it an Elvish derivation.

Some of the notable chapters in the book include:

Development of the text

The earliest drafts of The Silmarillion stories date back to as early as 1925, when Tolkien wrote a 'Sketch of the Mythology'. However, the concepts for characters and themes were developed for a previous mythology in 1917 when Tolkien, then a British officer stationed in France during World War I was laid up in a military field hospital with trench fever. At the time, he called his collection of nascent stories The Book of Lost Tales. These stories comprised an English mythology intended to explain the origins of English history and culture (as Greek mythology explains the origins of Greek history and culture).

Many years after the war, encouraged by the success of The Hobbit, Tolkien submitted an incomplete but more fully developed version of The Silmarillion to his publisher, but they rejected the work as being obscure and "too Celtic". The publisher, George Allen & Unwin, instead asked Tolkien to write a sequel to The Hobbit, which became his significant novel The Lord of the Rings.

But Tolkien never abandoned The Silmarillion, he regarded it as the most important of his work, seeing in its tales the genesis of Middle-earth and later events as told in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He renewed work on The Silmarillion after completing The Lord of the Rings but eventually turned to other texts more closely associated with the events and characters depicted in The Lord of the Rings. Near the end of his life in 1973, Tolkien began to substanially revise the cosmology and its related myths, but he did not progress very far.

After Tolkien's death

For several years after his father's death, Christopher Tolkien compiled a Silmarillion narrative which, at the time, he felt best approximated his father's intentions. As explained in The History of Middle-earth, Christopher drew upon numerous sources for his narrative, relying on post-LoTR works where possible, but ultmately reaching back as far as the 1917 Book of Lost Tales to fill in portions of the narrative which his father had planned to write but never addressed. On some of the later parts of the "Quenta Silmarillion" which were in the roughest state, he worked with fantasy author Guy Gavriel Kay to construct a narrative practically from scratch. The final result, which included genealogies, maps, an index and the first-ever released Elvish word list was published in 1977.

Due to Christopher's extensive explanations of how he compiled the published work, much of The Silmarillion has been debated by the hardcore fans. Christopher's task is generally accepted as very difficult given the state of his father's texts at the time of his death: some critical texts were no longer in the Tolkien family's possession, and Christopher's task compelled him to rush through much of the material. Christopher reveals in later volumes of The History of Middle-earth many divergent ideas which do not agree with the published version. Christopher Tolkien has suggested that, had he taken more time and had access to all the texts, he might have produced a substantially different work. But he was impelled by considerable pressure and demand from his father's readers and publishers to produce something publishable as quickly as possible. One must remember this version is more a product of the son than the father.

As of 2005, The Silmarillion is available in several editions, such as the 1990 version from Ballantine Books, ISBN 0345325818.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Christopher Tolkien published most of his father's Middle-Earth-related writings as the 12-volume History of Middle-earth series.

In addition to the source material and earlier drafts of several portions of The Lord of the Rings, these books greatly expand on the original material published in The Silmarillion, and in many cases diverge from it. Part of the reason for this is that Christopher Tolkien heavily edited the Silmarillion to ready it for publication, in places incorrectly because he was unaware of the existence of much material which would come to light only after publication. These later books also reveal which parts of The Silmarillion Tolkien developed more than others.

See also

In 1998, the German power metal band Blind Guardian produced Nightfall in Middle-Earth, a concept album about key events from the Quenta Silmarillion.

External links


J. R. R. Tolkien's - The Silmarillion

Ainulindal | Valaquenta | Quenta Silmarillion | Akallabth | Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age

The History of Middle-earth
(earlier versions of the story of The Silmarillion)

J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium

Works published during his lifetime
The Hobbit | The Lord of the Rings | The Adventures of Tom Bombadil | The Road Goes Ever On

Posthumous publications
The Silmarillion | Unfinished Tales | The History of Middle-earth (12 volumes) | Bilbo's Last Song

Lists of Wikipedia articles about Middle-earth
by category | by name | writings | characters | peoples | rivers | realms | ages


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