Saturday, March 20, 2010

Closing the book on The Silmarillion

Re-reading The Silmarillion was a lot of fun—as I knew it would be. From the Dagor Brallogach to the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, from The Fall of Gondolin to the Voyage of Eärendil, how could it be otherwise? The Silmarillion might not be for everyone, but it never fails to awe, inspire, and move me. Telephone directory in Elvish my ass (okay, that particular description makes me smile, inaccurate though it may be).

I found my most recent trip through Tolkien’s legendarium particularly rewarding because blogging as I read forced me to organize my thoughts and get them down on paper. Committing to a series of posts had the byproduct of making me think more deeply and rigorously about the subject at hand. I hope you enjoyed Blogging The Silmarillion and I want to thank you all for the great comments.

I do feel obligated to mention the edition of The Silmarillion I used to write this series, in part because I borrowed so much of its artwork. It’s a hardcover published in 2004 by the Houghton Mifflin Company containing 45 gorgeous, full-page color illustrations by artist Ted Nasmith. This isn’t just a book, it’s a work of art, one of the gems of my bookshelf. I’m a reader, not a collector, but I am proud to own this particular volume (you can find it pictured above).

While he may not be as well-known a Tolkien illustrator as John Howe or Alan Lee, Nasmith is perhaps my favorite artist of the trio. He’s particularly good at painting detailed landscapes and broad vistas, which makes him a natural fit for the epic, scenic sweep of the stories contained in The Silmarillion.

One of the most affecting images that I’ve ever experienced in my mind’s eye is a young Tolkien on the battlefields of the Somme, wreathed in the reek of cordite and blood and fear, hope for survival minimal, writing down the tale of The Fall of Gondolin. Some combination of chance or fate allowed him to survive those horrors and deliver his wonderful tales of Middle-earth to us, posthumously, with the 1977 publication of The Silmarillion. I’m glad we have it.

Critical works referenced

Carpenter, Humphrey, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien and J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography

Flieger, Verlyn, Splintered Light

Garth, John, Tolkien and the Great War

Shippey, Tom, Author of the Century and The Road to Middle-earth

Zimbardo, Rose; Isaacs, Neil: Understanding the Lord of the Rings: The Best of Tolkien Criticism

3 comments:

David J. West said...

This was awesome Brian, thanks for the insights.

editor said...

I don't think Gandalf would call it "chance."

Brian Murphy said...

Thanks David, I'm glad you enjoyed the posts.

Editor: My thoughts exactly. In fact, he'd probably say something along these lines:

"You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Tolkien, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!"