Forty-four years ago, the world of literature was blessed with what some call the Bible of The Lord of the Rings series: The Silmarillion. But just what is it? And why has it faded into the shadow of Tolkien’s other, more popular works? To answer that question, we must go all the way back to the beginning.
A linguistic scholar by trade, J.R.R. Tolkien was smitten with language in every form. He just couldn’t get enough of language’s ability to describe beauty and convey culture through stories, poetry, and even music. And those he loved most of all were called “fairy stories”, which we know today as the fantasy genre. It is this love that motivated Tolkien to create his very own language, as well as the mystical beings who spoke it: Elves, and Elvish respectively.
Why does all of this matter? Simple: The Silmarillion would not exist without the first stories Tolkien wrote for his elves. And once he started writing, he never stopped. Not when he had a cosmology the likes of Genesis; not when he’d constructed a mythology to rival the Greco-Romans’; and not when he graced us with the world we’ve come to know and love as Middle-Earth. Tolkien was a known avid and meticulous editor. Always updating, rewriting, reediting, and readjusting. He even listened to reader feedback!
Now that we know its humble beginnings, what exactly happened to The Silmarillion? That is a rather unfortunate tale, with a bittersweet ending. The Silmarillion was published posthumously in 1977 by Christopher Tolkien, J.R.R. Tolkien’s son. The work itself was meant to be a mythology; a collection of stories not too dissimilar to greek mythology, or even the Bible.
It is not as cohesive a narrative as The Lord of the Rings, and as a result was neither as good nor as successful as its predecessor. At least, according to critics of the time. Hard to believe considering its ever-growing fanbase, who even now call for movies, TV shows, and animations of the very stories that were once deemed unfit for publication.
The Lord of the Rings series was and still is a cultural phenomenon. Not even The Silmarillion can overcome its massive success, especially if it was never meant to be an epic of the same caliber. Nevertheless, it stands as one of the most important works of fantasy fiction in literary history.
That being said, The Silmarillion is far from boring. Have you ever wanted to know where the dragons went? Or better yet, the fall of Sauron from one of the Creator’s trusted few, to the Dark Lord looking to usurp him? Doesn’t sound too boring to me!