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Pat

Silmarillion Blues

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Don't know if this fits the subforum -- feel free to move this to "Wider World", "About You" or -- gasp -- "therapy")…

Some days ago I finished the Silmarillion for the first time. I am a Tolkien nut, with a habit of reading LOTR at least once in a decade. Some of my most enjoyable experiences (at least literary, but arguably also in my life) have been reading LOTR on a bench in the woods and immersing myself in the story, lore and myth. Lewis would call this Joy, I'm sure.

Now, listening to the Silmarillion (audiobook, comment about the format below) had a profound effect on me, much deeper than I expected or wanted. The creation myth (Ainundale) and the legends, especially Beren and Luthien's as well as the Fall of Gondolin, somehow deepy moved me.

Not in a superficial way -- there's no sentimentality involved, not at all. The material is too dark for this. Nostalgia doesn't describe it either. It's more like a true desire for heaven -- a Sehnsucht, or Wehmut. It's fading now, but still very much present. It is as if your inner, spiritual "glasses" are polished, you see clearer, and try to fathom the depths of Life and Death.

I can't pinpoint exactly why that is. Maybe because it is string of very dark tales and only at the end -- when the Valar hear Earendil's plea and come to realize the hopelessness and sorrow of the peoples of Beleriand -- we see some sort of resolution. Maybe because it's mythology at its purest, and there is a longing in us all for myth that gets stirred by those tales. Or maybe it's just a darn good, profound tale set in a imagined past of our present world and carries motifs we all share and know. As Tolkien has said somewhere, it was meant to have taken place at some time in Earth's past.

And yes, if you think the text is too dry, serious etc., I really recommend to try out the audiobook… the German version I listened to (narrated by the late Achim Höppner) is excellent. The narration brought it to life in all its mythological power. It truly is riveting at times, and I can imagine the English audiobook version is similarly impressive.

So, Did anyone experience the same? I wonder if I'm in the "normal" camp on this...

Edited by Pat

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I read The Silmarillion quite a long time ago (one of the few books I've read twice, although I skipped the first part the second time around). It didn't really impact me that much, but I was probably too young to appreciate its depth. Funny, it's the only Middle-Earth book I've ever finished.


He finds no mercy

And he's lost in the crowd

With an armoured heart of metal

He finds he's running out of odd-numbered daisies

From which to pull the petals

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I also read the Silmarillion many years ago. I'd say that I appreciated it more than I liked it, due to the nearly unremitting gloom that permeates much of the book. That being said, I did love the "Ainulindalë" portion of the book, as well as the story of Beren and Luthien (not surprisingly).

I can't pinpoint exactly why that is. Maybe because it is string of very dark tales and only at the end -- when the Valar hear Earendil's plea and come to realize the hopelessness and sorrow of the peoples of Beleriand -- we see some sort of resolution. Maybe because it's mythology at its purest, and there is a longing in us all for myth that gets stirred by those tales. Or maybe it's just a darn good, profound tale set in a imagined past of our present world and carries motifs we all share and know. As Tolkien has said somewhere, it was meant to have taken place at some time in Earth's past.

I think it's probably some combination of the three. Tolkien was heavily influenced by Norse mythology, and those are dark, dark, dark with only the slightest bit of hope emerging at the very end of Ragnarök. But perhaps that's why they're so effective: they resonate with the sense we have that this world is broken, tinged with grief and sadness.

Or, as Shelley put it: "We look before and after, and pine for what is not: Our sincerest laughter with some pain is fraught; Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought."


"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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Thanks for your thoughts. "Gloom" is a fitting description of the general atmosphere, especially towards the end. I'm not familiar with Norse mythology, guess I'll read up on Beowulf at least to get a general impression. My only exposure to the Norse pantheon is the movie Thor, heh.

One aspect that I found which deserves emphasis is, I think, the feeling of longing, which is arguably stirred by the myth inherent in the Silmarillion. Charles A. Coulombe put it this way (which meshes well with the Shelley quote, btw): "It has been said that the dominant note of the traditional Catholic liturgy was intense longing. This is also true of her art, her literature, her whole life. It is a longing for things that cannot be in this world: unearthly truth, unearthly purity, unearthly justice, unearthly beauty."

This describes pretty well what I felt -- along with all the grief, doom and gloom, of course...

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