Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
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. It was the #1 New York Times Bestseller, when it was first published, and it stayed at the top spot for about 20 weeks. It remained in the top 10 for almost a year.
The Silmarillion comprises five parts:
- The Ainulindalė - the creation of Eä, Tolkien's universe.
- The Valaquenta - a brief description of the Valar and Maiar, the supernatural beings
- The Quenta Silmarillion - the history of the events before and during the First Age, which forms the bulk of the collection
- The Akallabźth - the history of the Second Age
- 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 European lore, including the Finnish Kalevala, the Icelandic sagas, and Celtic myths. For instance, the name of the supreme being, Eru Ilúvatar (One who is 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:
- "Of Beren and Lśthien"
- "The Narn i Chîn Húrin" - The Tale of the Children of Húrin
- "The Fall of Gondolin"
Development of the text
The earliest drafts of The Silmarillion stories date back to as early as 1917, when Tolkien, 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. After the war, he tried to publish some of his stories, however many editors rejected him, regarding his work as "fairy tale" unsuitable for adult readership. He tried once more, having already published The Hobbit in 1937; however that time too, The Silmarillion was deemed too complicated. Tolkien was asked to write a sequel to The Hobbit which would become his significant novel The Lord of the Rings.
But Tolkien never abandoned these stories. He regarded The Silmarillion as the most important of his work, seeing in its tales not only the genesis of Middle-earth and later events as told in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but the entire core of his legendarium. He continued to work on them over the next several decades, revising and reworking his ideas, right up until his death in 1973.
After Tolkien's death
For several years after his father's death, Christopher Tolkien worked on turning his father's drafts — many of which were mere sketches — into a coherent, consistent and chronologically accurate whole. 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 this editorial 'assistance', much of The Silmarillion has been debated by the hardcore fans. To be fair to Christopher Tolkien, his father wanted at all cost to see this material published, and the state in which the texts were in hardly lent to easy editing. However, in the later volumes of The History of Middle-earth, the reader can see many divergent ideas emerging which do not coincide with the published version. Christopher Tolkien himself said that had he had access to all his father's manuscripts the 1977 Silmarillion would indeed be different. One must remember this version is more a product of the son than the father.
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.
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