Greetings from Middle-Earth!
This announcement is for those of you who are following along (or want to) on the Silmarillion Blues project, aka the Tolkien quest.
This week’s chapter post from The Silmarillion is “Of Beleriand and Its Realms,” otherwise known as “describing the parts of the map we’ve not yet seen.” Exciting stuff. Riveting. *rolls eyes* By the Force, this chapter is brutal…
But that’s not what I need to talk about. After all, the greater story picks up again in the next chapter, right where it left off.
Here’s the thing. I am devoted to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I think every Tolkien fan can claim likewise. That said, I’m not going to lie to you… The Silmarillion is kicking my Elf-loving ass and taking names. By that, I mean that it’s seriously consuming the better part of a week for each of these chapters, such is the density and complexity of the material. Don’t get me wrong — I love it. But it doesn’t leave a lot of time left for much else. This is not the first attempt I’ve made on this book; it’s only the first successful attempt I’ve made. It’s taken a lot of years and scholarship to have enough of a background by which to absorb and appreciate it on any level, and I thank the Maker for all of the additional resources my personal library and the internet has brought to bear in this endeavor. Like anything else in my world, it’s sheer determination that has led me to climb Mount Doom. That I’ve made it this far this time is because I have a great deal of support and some excellent teachers. Tolkien has proven to be much, much smarter than I am, and I’m grateful to every resource that’s helped to overcome my own shortcomings.
It’s been an enriching experience thus far, and it will continue… in some form or another.
When this project was first put into place on another site, The Silmarillion was the end goal. I’ve since expanded that goal to include everything else in Tolkien’s Legendarium, canonical or not. And then I added some non-Legendarium works too, because they were part of collections with Legendarium stories.
At this juncture, I’m wondering if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew… and probably more than I want to given the level of intensity this has turned out to be. That seems strange to say, doesn’t it? Why would someone not want to read everything from their favorite writer? I’ve been wrestling with this question for a while now.
For example, as everyone knows by now, I’m a huge Star Wars fan. And yet, I don’t feel the need to explore everything in the Galaxy Far, Far Away. When it comes to the core of the Saga as put forth by George Lucas, that’s where my heart is and always will be. It’s cool to read early drafts of the scripts or to see outtakes, but there comes a point where I don’t need to commit to memory every little thing that never made it into the films. Being aware of it is one thing. Deep diving… that’s something else entirely.
So bringing this into focus on the Tolkien quest, there are only three books in the Legendarium that are canonical. Two down, and we’re covering the third right now. The weekly chapter deep dives have helped me to get the most out of these books. Everything else is non-canonical. It’s earlier drafts or alternate versions of the stories in these three books. If I’m wrong about this, someone please let me know. This is why the original goal of the project was to stop after the canonical three.
As much as The Silmarillion has been enlightening and engaging, it has also brought with it a new level of fear and respect for the inner workings of the professor’s mind. This apprentice more than acknowledges unworthiness in the presence of the master. I am eager to learn more, but I also want to put everything into proper context before pushing forward.
With this in mind, this is where my head is right now. We’ve got a number of weeks remaining on The Silmarillion. Once that’s complete and I can claim some level of competence, I want to go back and re-read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings with the specific goal of catching references and underpinnings of The Silmarillion. In short, I want to finally open up the fullest experience of those books now that we’ve already done the deep dive on them. I have no time limit for this, nor do I intend another deep dive. I merely want to read them again and enjoy them with deeper awareness. I want to do this with The Silmarillion fresh on my mind, before any other versions of the story muddy the waters.
I anticipate about four weeks for this, give or take, but I’m not committing to a time table. I just want to enjoy them. During this time, the Tolkien quest will be on temporary hold. This will be the longest break we’ve taken, but I feel it’s a necessary one for me, and I’d encourage everyone following along to maybe revisit these books as well. I may blog at the end of The Hobbit and each of the three volumes of LOTR. Nothing formal, just more insights or something. Or I may not. Maybe I’ll just internalize the experience. I’ll see how I feel when I get that far.
Once I’m done with that, I’d like to continue the quest into non-canonical territory. As much as The Silmarillion kicked my ass, I will not be comparing and contrasting alternate versions with what’s in the canonical text. I fear that way lies madness for all but the most dedicated of scholars (and I greatly respect all who do it!). I mean, I think it’s probably inevitable to compare, but I already know that most Tolkien scholars are far above my level on this one. But that begs the question… if I don’t go there, what is the point of reading these extra works? To be aware of what’s in them is the obvious answer, but is a weekly deep dive warranted?
I think perhaps for the Unfinished Tales and Tales from the Perilous Realm (which includes some non-Legendarium stories), the deeper dive is warranted.
After that it gets considerably more complicated. The Children of Húrin, the newly-released Beren and Lúthien, and especially the massive The History of Middle-Earth probably do not warrant the deep dive for any but the most dedicated of Tolkien researchers. Most casual fans do not feel the need to go there. Do I want to read them? Absolutely. I’m especially interested in Christopher Tolkien’s insights into these works, and I know his commentaries are a large part of it. But I’m not looking to complete a fan-level PhD here, and certainly not on a time table. I do feel these works warrant discussion, however.
I’m at a bit of a loss on how to approach it all at this point. I’m open to suggestions.
Likewise, I want to push into Tolkien’s non-Legendarium material as well as these were as important to him as anything in Middle-Earth and often inspired his own creative efforts. I’ve listed them on the main quest page, and I’ll rearrange them as need be to reflect the order of approach. Again, no idea yet how to approach this. There’s time yet to figure it out, which is good, but I like operating with a map in place. If you have any insights or ideas, I’d love to have them.