I just finished writing up my weekly Tolkien chapter post, to be posted this weekend, and it occurs to me that since this is a new website with some new followers, I should probably let people know what I’m doing and why.
This little project began on Booklikes with a simple question in a blog post entitled “Silmarillion Blues.” A co-worker of mine who knows I’m an enthusiast of Tolkien’s work, asked me about The Silmarillion and the best way to approach it. And I really didn’t have an answer. If you’re familiar with this book, you’ll understand why. Where The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings tell of the end of the Third Age, The Silmarillion relates the lore from when Eru Ilúvatar says, “Let there be Middle-Earth,” through the First Age, and ultimately to the vanquishing of Sauron at the end of the Second Age (as depicted in the prologue of Peter Jackson’s film version of The Lord of the Rings). It’s essentially the Elven Bible of Middle-Earth. The Silmarillion is a book that most Tolkien fans are aware of. It’s sometimes said that maybe 50% of us own it and attempted to read it, 10% have finished it, and 1% have understood it in full. I’ll be the first to admit, I am in that 10%, but I am not in that coveted 1%. Not yet.
So I asked the question of my fellow readers on Booklikes. What is the best way to approach and understand The Silmarillion? Somewhere along the lines I got this hair-brained idea that maybe the best way to figure it all out was to go back through all of the Professor’s writings of Middle-Earth, chapter by chapter if need be, and suss out all of the pieces to the puzzle. And the thought no sooner found its way into blog form before my friends there encouraged the idea. That was a little over a year ago.
A bunch of set out on this quest, beginning with The Hobbit, and reading chapter by chapter. With a little help from Professor Corey Olsen’s books and podcasts, I began focusing in the songs and poetry found in the novel, as that’s where the nuggets of Middle-Earth lore are to be found. Most readers will breeze past these things, but that’s where the world building is found, and that’s where I learned to dig. By the time we ended the book and began The Lord of the Rings, I had established the means of study by which I could apply to the rest of the series. Professor Olsen doesn’t have any such chapter-by-chapter companion books for LOTR or anything else Tolkien has written to the best of my knowledge, and I’ve not yet combed his podcasts extensively, but by this point I was fairly confident I had a grasp on the idea. There are certainly many other companion books to be had, especially for LOTR, but none of them served my specific point beyond as cross-reference material to help me keep things straight. Besides, I was keen to see what I could do without the training wheels. For the exploration of the songs and poems in LOTR, I’ve been relying on the recorded works of The Tolkien Ensemble. If you’ve not heard of them, it’s worth your time to track them down. For each of the LOTR chapter posts, I’ve linked to their work as I’ve found it posted on YouTube. I’ve found long before this quest ever began that performance of the music helps me to better appreciate it, and it makes Middle-Earth a more holistic experience. What I can get out of it… I’m still ever reliant on the skills I learned from Professor Olsen’s work on The Hobbit, and ever grateful.
As it stands now at the time of this entry, the quest has continued every single week, save one, we finish up Book 3 (of the 6 and Appendices) of LOTR this weekend and begin Book 4 (halfway through The Two Towers), and there is only one other brave soul still posting on Booklikes with me. If you were an early subscriber by email to this site, you were inundated with Tolkien chapter posts as I transferred those over from Booklikes to here. That’s what was up with all that back there. (And apologies once more for the high amount of email.)
Once we finish LOTR, we’ll close that with Bilbo’s Last Song, and then begin working through the extensive amounts of lore that Tolkien wrote and published before the posthumous release of The Silmarillion. The idea is that in being (re-)introduced to the lore as it developed, we can see how Middle-Earth evolved before it manifest in this final volume. It’s a lot of ground to cover. It will take years. But if the quest so far has been any indication, it’s certainly well worth it for this fanboy. The experience has been satisfying on a number of levels, and I’ve developed skills that I’m able to apply to other literary works.
For those of you who are interested or just curious, for those looking to catch up or just want to look in from time to time, you can find links to every single chapter post collected on my Silmarillion Blues project page.