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The Silmarillion

by J. R. R. Tolkien

1977, reprinted 2001, Houghton Mifflin Co.

Written by Darrell Anderson.

The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings (LOTR) are books everybody should read. There is a reason LOTR was voted the best book of the 20th century. The books are more than mere fantasies or fairy tales, but contain great stories about the never-ending battle between creatures who prefer to live quiet and peaceable lives and those who prefer to control others.

Many people read Tolkien’s stories many times throughout their lifetime. The imaginary world of Tolkien is something that must be experienced to be truly appreciated. Yet, Tolkien includes many references in those two books not explained further within the texts. Many of those allusions are explained in The Silmarillion, however.

Although The Hobbit was published in 1937 and LOTR in 1954, The Silmarillion was published posthumously in 1977. Tolkien died in 1973 at the age of 82. Nonetheless, Tolkien started writing and compiling The Silmarillion before he started either of the other two books, and continued that effort until his death. What is most amazing is how Tolkien created an entire mythology, history, and related languages.

The Silmarillion provides a broad overview and many details about Tolkien’s contrived mythologies and he spends much time discussing the First Age that is only alluded to in the LOTR. Long before the Third Age and Bilbo and Frodo Baggins appear on the scene, Tolkien provides a fascinating and interesting “history” of his mythical world, including his accounts of the Silmarils and the rise and fall of the Númenóreans. Also included in the book is an overview of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, and that short section much enhances the stories told in The Hobbit and LOTR.

Whether one should read The Silmarillion before or after reading The Hobbit and LOTR is debatable. However, simply out of popularity many people will read The Hobbit and LOTR before reading The Silmarillion. That sequence probably is best unless one is familiar with the genre of mythology and fantasy. The latter two books are easier to read for the person who is new to Tolkien’s world, and are written to be self-contained stories.

Although many readers will enjoy The Silmarillion without reading The Hobbit and LOTR, the book is much better as a companion book and reference guide for the latter two books. The Silmarillion answers many questions that tend to rise for readers of The Hobbit and LOTR.

And thereafter, keep The Silmarillion handy whenever re-reading The Hobbit and LOTR. Tolkien’s mythical world never grows tiring.


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