Tolkien, J.R.R.; Christopher Tolkien: The Silmarillion
(researched by Cory Jordan)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
Originally published in Britain by Allen & Unwin, 4/77 All description below is for first American Edition. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977 (Released 9/77)
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
Cloth
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
pp. 1-6, pp. 7-366, 8-9/10" X 5-9/10" (22.5cm X 15cm), 183 leaves, 42 lines of text per page, excepting first and last pages of chapters.
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
Edited by Christopher Tolkien, Foreword also by Christopher Tolkien, son of the author.
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
Two maps, one by Christopher Tolkien, other unattributed.
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
Book is
very well printed and readable. Font is fairly small, about 10 point, but still readable. Margins are 1-1/16". Chapter beginnings are regular, one capital only.
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
Pages are moderately heavy, unwatermarked slightly off-white in color. Edges are cleanly cut, and all pages are of the same stock. Pages are in perfect condition, and other than slight yellowing do not appear to have aged over time.
11 Description of binding(s)
Binding i
s green cloth, with gilt lettering. Cover has no title, since it was published with a jacket. Instead, the cover bears a gilt symbol resembling a sun or star. Spine has same symbol at top and bottom, connected by a line. This line divides the letterin
g which reads: THE SILMARILLION | J.R.R. TOLKIEN Pages appear to be bound by adhesive glue which has not deteriorated over time.
12 Transcription of title page
There are two title pages, facing one another. First: J.R.R. TOLKIEN | QUENTA SILMARILLION | (The History of the Silmarils) | together with | AINULINDALE | (The Music of the Ainur) | and | VALAQUENTA | (Account of the Valar) | To which is appended | AKALLABETH | (The Downfall of Numenor) |and | OF THE RINGS
OF POWER AND THE THIRD AGE Second title page, facing: J.R.R. TOLKIEN | THE SILMARILLION | edited by | Christopher Tolkien | HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY BOSTON
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
Bodleian Library, Oxford, England.
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
Both title pages have top and bottom borders consisting of Tolkien's "Elvish" characters
, see image.
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
The original British publisher, Allen & Unwin, printed 3 editions in addition to the first edition (both export and domestic runs).
March 1979, Unwin Paperbacks 448 pp., 224 leaves, wove paper bound in wove wrappers, blue cover and spine with red, white, and black lettering. All edges neatly cut and unstained. Later published by HarperCollins.
September 15, 1982, George Allen & Unwin pp. 1-3, 4-368, 1 map plate, 184 leaves, wove paper bound in dark leather with red slipcover. This edition was published as a "limited edition," with 100 copies being signed by the author and 900 being unsigned. Exact sales figures are not known.
February 21, 1983, Unwin Paperbacks 448 pp., 224 leaves, same appearance as 3/79 paperback edition except for black background and lettering colors rearranged.
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
First British Edition (4/77): Initial impression: 200,000 3 subsequent impressions: 175,000 Total: 375,000
First American Edition (9/77): Initial impression: 325,000 3 subsequent impressions: 200,000 (before publication)
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
Publication History: 4/1977, George Allen & Unwin, Boston Sydney (export copies) 9/77, George Allen & Unwin, Boston Sydney (domestic copies) 9/77 and 4/78, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston MA. ?/78, Club Associates, London. 3/79, Unwin Paperbacks, Boston Sydney. 3/79, Ballantine Books, New York NY 3/82, George Allen & Unwin, Boston Sydney. 2/83, Unwin Paperbacks, Boston Sydney. 9/83, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 12?/90, Guild Publishing, London.
6 Last date in print?
According to Books In Print 1996-97, this book is still in print in the edition published in 1985 by Ballantine as well as the 1983 Houghton Mifflin edition.
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
Unknown; I am in the process of corresponding with the pub
lisher
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
Unknown as above, but total of 325,000 were printed for first printing, and by September 26, 1977, sellers were encountering shortages and 375,000 more copies were printed. This occurred within a week of the book's making Publishers Weekly's b
est-seller list. The initial price was $10.95.
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
Advertisement for audio recording from Publishers Weekly, August 1, 1977: "The literary event | of the year | becomes the | recording of the year... | J.R.R. TOLKIEN - THE SILMARILLION| Performed by CHRISTOPHER TOLKIEN |[brief description]| available September 15, 1977!"
This ad takes up one half page. On the bottom half is: "Introducing gift-box editions of | J.R.R. Tolkien's collected works...| Add the new SILMARILLION to J.R.R. Tolkien's other | best-sellers and you've got 'Total Tolkien' to sell!|...| J.R.R. Tolkien himself reads | THE HOBBIT | POEMS AND SONGS
OF MIDDLE EARTH | THE LORD OF THE RINGS | Christopher Tolkien performs | THE SILMARILLION"
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
11 Other promotion
Brief blurb in Publishers Weekly, August 29, 1977. Only title, editor, and price given.
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
Christopher Tolkien has made two audio recordings of The Silmaril
lion.
They are:
The Silmarillion: Of Beren and Luthien. New York: Caedmon Records, 1977
and
Of the Darkening of Valinor and Of the Flight of the Noldor, from The Silmarillion. New York: Caedmon Records, 1978.
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
Catalan: El Silmarillion. tr. Dolors Undina. Barcelona: Edhasa, 1991. Czech: Silmarillion. tr. anonymous. Prague: Vytiskla Pocetnicka a Organizacni Sluzba, 1990.
Danish: Silmarillion. tr. David Gress Wright. Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1978.
Dutch: De Silmarillion. tr. Max Schuchart. Utrecht: Spectrum, 1977.
Finnish: Silmarillion. tr. Kersti Juva & Panu Pekkanen. Porvoo: Werner Soderstrom, 1979.
French: Le Silmarillion: Histoire des Silmarils. tr. Pierre Alien. Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1978
German: Das Silmarillion. tr. Wolfgang Krege. Stuttgart: Hobbit Presse/Klett-Cotta, 1978.
Hebrew: [The Silmarillion.] tr. Imanuel Lotem. Tel Aviv: Zmora, Bitan, 1990.
Hungarian: A Szilmarilok. tr. Judit Galvolgyi. Budapest: Arkakia, 1991.
Italian: Il Silmarillion. tr. Francesco Saba Sardi. Milan: Rusconi, 1978.
Japanese: [Silmarillion.] tr. Akiko Tamura. Tokyo: Hyoronsha, 1982.
Polish: Silmarillion. tr. Maria Skibniewska. Warsaw: Czytelnik, 1985.
Portugese: O Silmarillion. tr. Fernanda Pinto Rodrigues. Mem Martins: Publicacoes Europa-America, 1984.
Russian: [Silmarillion.] tr. V.A. Matorina. Moscow: Master Publishers, 1992.
Spanish: El Silmarillion. tr. Ruben Masera & Luis Domenech. Barcelona: Ediciones Minotauro, 1984.
Swedish: Silmarillion. tr. Roland Adlerberth. Stockholm: AWE/Gebers, 1979.
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
none
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
The Silmarillion is merely a piece of the history of Middle-Earth which Tolkien made his life work. It is not accurate to say that The Silmarillion is a sequel or prequel, for the books may stand alone, but in terms of the time of
Middle-Earth, The Silmarillion takes place before the tales found in the Lord of the Rings trilogy or in The Hobbit.
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on January 3, 1892 and was the first child of Arthur Reuel Tolkien and Mabel Suffield Tolkien. Arthur Tolkien was a banker, originally with Lloyds Bank. He moved int 1892 to th
e Orange Free State, part of what is now South Africa, to work with the Bank of Africa, and J.R.R. Tolkien and his brother, Hilary Reuel Tolkien, were both born there. Their father died of complications arising from rheumatic fever in 1896, and their mot
her in 1904 of complications due to diabetes. The children were looked after by Father Francis Morgan, their parish priest, and this man influenced Tolkien's education at the King Edward School to a large extent, providing supplemental income and lodgin
g. In 1911, Tolkien was accepted to Oxford University to study classics. He graduated in 1915, having changed his focus to philology and linguistics. With the outbreak of war, Tolkien went into the army along with most of his classmates. The prospect
of war hurried Tolkien and his bride-to-be to marry, and so on March 22, 1916, Edith Bratt became Edith Tolkien. However, in November of the same year, John Tolkien came down with trench fever and was sent home. In 1917, he began writing some parts of w
hat would become The Book of Lost Tales, and John, his first son, is born. Tolkien soon acquired a position with the Oxford English Dictionary, as a junior editor, but this prestigious position was merely a stepping stone. In 1920, Tolkien accept
ed a position at Leeds University as Appointed Reader in English Language, and his second son, Michael, was born. At Leeds, he published A Middle English Dictionary and an edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which he edited. Tolkien was nominate
d in 1925 to the position of "Bosworth and Rawlinson Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford," a very prestigious honor. So John and Edith, along with John, Jr., Michael, and the newly born Christopher, moved back to Oxford. It was here that Tolkien wrote so
me of his most celebrated works, The Lord of the Rings [trilogy] and The Hobbit. In 1929, Tolkien's last child, Priscilla, was born. The Hobbit was published on September 21, 1937, after languishing unfinished for several years.
Tolkien's academic career would continue; he delivered lectures such as one in 9 at St Andrews University on fairy-tales, and was named "Merton Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford" in 1945. Farmer Giles of Ham was published in
1949 as an attempt to follow up on the popularity of hobbits, but due to arguments between Allen & Unwin, Tolkien's publisher, the anticipated sequels would not be printed until 1954 as The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. In 195
5, the final chapter, The Return of the King, was also published. In 1956, Tolkien received a royalty check from Allen & Unwin for $14,000. In 1959, Tolkien retired from Oxford, to write freely. He published The Adventures of Tom Bombadil
in 1962, Tree and Leaf in 1964, and Smith of Wootton Major in 1967. By the late 1960's, Edith had become sick, with arthritis and digestive difficulties. She would die in 1971. Tolkien returned to academia, living at Merton College of O
xford University, where he could live in comfortable housing. He would die of a gastric ulcer in 1973, but not until reaching an agreement with Christopher that his body of work would be published, most especially The Silmarillion. The following works w
ere published after Tolkien's death at Bournemouth:
The Father Christmas Letters (1976) The Silmarillion (1977) Unfinished Tales (1980) The Book of Lost Tales Parts I (1983) and II (1984) The Lays of Beleriand (1985) The Shaping of Middle-Earth (1986)
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
The Silmarillion was soundly panned after its release in September of 1977. In the eyes of nearly every critic, Tolkien's history of Middle-Earth was boring, full of "more hard-to-remember names than a Ru
ssian novel," (Library Journal, 1977) and lacking in both cohesive plot and Tolkien's redeeming whimsical humor. The New York Review called it "an empty and pompous bore, . . . not a literary event of any magnitude" (1977). Though Tolkien
's love of naming, of words and their sounds was still apparent in this novel, Newsweek in 1977 called the language "pretentiously archaic and at times nearly incomprehensible." Critics across the board found the book difficult to read; Time<
/i> complained that "there is no single, unifying quest and . . . [noone] for the reader to identify with" (1977).
Despite these negative comments, many critics were afraid to discount The Silmarillion, due perhaps to the respect that many reviewers had for Tolkien's previous work and linguistic brilliance. Peter Conrad of The New Statesman was not afr
aid. His review states that "Tolkien can't actually write," that he hides this fact in "para-scholarship." Whereas The New Republic gave Tolkien credit for attempting to create a mythology "in the same leauge with Milton and the King James Versi
on [of the Bible]," (1977) Conrad in the same year declares The Silmarillion "closer to the. . . world of nonsense than to the oceanic expanses of mythology."
The chief criticism of this work is its dissimilarity to The Lord of the Rings in terms of characterization, vivid visual description, intense personal identification, and unified plot structure. Library Journal in 1977 warned "those who re
ad him for fun and adventure may be disappointed." School Library Journal in the same year asserted that Tolkien's new work was merely a "stillborn postscript" to his earlier works, "a tale which is relentlessly grim." Choice magazine wen
t so far as to call The Silmarillion "the worst of Tolkien," full of "religious dogma [and] donnish elitism" (1978).
Despite all of these pans, there was some praise for the effort put forth by Tolkien, if not for the novel as a whole. Atlantic Monthly wrote that "The Silmarillion is probably a faithful indication of the scope of Tolkien's imagination,"
(1977) and Time admired a work "held so long and so powerful in the writer's imagination that it overwhelms the reader" (1977). Furthermore, The HornBook Magazine cheered the "remarkable set of legends conceived with imaginative might and
told in beautiful language" (1978).
A few reviewers recognized the intent of this work in Tolkien's work. The Silmarillion as it was published served more as a basis for Tolkien's characters in other works than as a work independent. Harpers magazine in 1977 acknowledged t
hat Tolkien himself stated that he "had little hope that other people would be interested in this work." It was, he said, "primarily linguistic in inspiration and was begun in order to provide. . . background" (J.R.R. Tolkien). The New York Times Bo
ok Review
defended the work as part of Tolkien's "philosophically and morally powerful" vision, and also stated that "what is finally most moving is . . . the total vision, the eccentric heroism of Tolkien's effort" (1977). Harpers delivers
perhaps the most accurate evaluation, however:
"The works that make up The Silmarillion are of varying interest and varying styles, but all seem ancient, not works to read for pleasure so much as documents to study when one has the time. . ."(Harpers 1977). How then did such a novel sel
l so many copies? The critics answer that the "cult" of Tolkien which developed after the huge success of his Lord of the Rings series served as enormous purchasing power to generate such a large response. The buyers did not expect what they rece
ived, and according to reviewers, many were probably unpleased.

For a complete list of reviews, please see additional materials section at bottom of page.
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
The Silmarillion was soundly panned after its release in September of 1977. In the eyes of nearly every critic, Tolkien's history of Middle-Earth was boring, full of "more hard-to-remember names than a Ru
ssian novel," (Library Journal, 1977) and lacking in both cohesive plot and Tolkien's redeeming whimsical humor. The New York Review called it "an empty and pompous bore, . . . not a literary event of any magnitude" (1977). Though Tolkien
's love of naming, of words and their sounds was still apparent in this novel, Newsweek in 1977 called the language "pretentiously archaic and at times nearly incomprehensible." Critics across the board found the book difficult to read; Time<
/i> complained that "there is no single, unifying quest and . . . [noone] for the reader to identify with" (1977).
Despite these negative comments, many critics were afraid to discount The Silmarillion, due perhaps to the respect that many reviewers had for Tolkien's previous work and linguistic brilliance. Peter Conrad of The New Statesman was not afr
aid. His review states that "Tolkien can't actually write," that he hides this fact in "para-scholarship." Whereas The New Republic gave Tolkien credit for attempting to create a mythology "in the same leauge with Milton and the King James Versi
on [of the Bible]," (1977) Conrad in the same year declares The Silmarillion "closer to the. . . world of nonsense than to the oceanic expanses of mythology."
The chief criticism of this work is its dissimilarity to The Lord of the Rings in terms of characterization, vivid visual description, intense personal identification, and unified plot structure. Library Journal in 1977 warned "those who re
ad him for fun and adventure may be disappointed." School Library Journal in the same year asserted that Tolkien's new work was merely a "stillborn postscript" to his earlier works, "a tale which is relentlessly grim." Choice magazine wen
t so far as to call The Silmarillion "the worst of Tolkien," full of "religious dogma [and] donnish elitism" (1978).
Despite all of these pans, there was some praise for the effort put forth by Tolkien, if not for the novel as a whole. Atlantic Monthly wrote that "The Silmarillion is probably a faithful indication of the scope of Tolkien's imagination,"
(1977) and Time admired a work "held so long and so powerful in the writer's imagination that it overwhelms the reader" (1977). Furthermore, The HornBook Magazine cheered the "remarkable set of legends conceived with imaginative might and
told in beautiful language" (1978).
A few reviewers recognized the intent of this work in Tolkien's work. The Silmarillion as it was published served more as a basis for Tolkien's characters in other works than as a work independent. Harpers magazine in 1977 acknowledged t
hat Tolkien himself stated that he "had little hope that other people would be interested in this work." It was, he said, "primarily linguistic in inspiration and was begun in order to provide. . . background" (J.R.R. Tolkien). The New York Times Bo
ok Review
defended the work as part of Tolkien's "philosophically and morally powerful" vision, and also stated that "what is finally most moving is . . . the total vision, the eccentric heroism of Tolkien's effort" (1977). Harpers delivers
perhaps the most accurate evaluation, however:
"The works that make up The Silmarillion are of varying interest and varying styles, but all seem ancient, not works to read for pleasure so much as documents to study when one has the time. . ."(Harpers 1977). How then did such a novel sel
l so many copies? The critics answer that the "cult" of Tolkien which developed after the huge success of his Lord of the Rings series served as enormous purchasing power to generate such a large response. The buyers did not expect what they rece
ived, and according to reviewers, many were probably unpleased.

For a complete list of reviews, please see additional materials section at bottom of page.
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
Critical Analysis of the Popularity of J. R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion
The Bible, as we all know, is the most-distributed book of all time. John Ronald Reueul Tolkien's The Silmarillion cannot claim quite that much popularity, but certainly the sales figures produced by the book demonstrate that Tolkie
n benefited, as do publishers of the Bible, from the support of an almost religious following. The temptation to call readers of Tolkien a cult is unavoidable, due to the nature of the man's work. Readers who enjoy Tolkien are prepared to accept an ent
irely new world, that of Middle-Earth, which exists only in the author's mind. They must therefore accept and attempt to recognize in the text the philosophical and moral rules of this society, to some degree. The comparison to religion is obvious. Bu
t may we completely discount the enormous popularity which was enjoyed by The Silmarillion during 1977 and 1978 as purely a result of the die-hard support of Tolkien's hordes of adoring fans? The hardcover edition, released in September of '77,
debuted at the #8 spot of Publisher's Weekly's best-seller list for the week of 9/19/77. It quickly peaked at #1 on 10/3/77, and stayed there for 18 weeks, into the next year. On the New York Times best-seller list, The Silmarillion enjo
yed 23 weeks of top billing, and it would remain on both lists for over a year. It was more than two years before Tolkien's history of Middle-Earth was finally off the best-seller lists in all its forms. How can this popularity be explained? More imp
ortantly, how can such a popular book have received such poor reviews?
Tolkien enthusiasts have often been called (among other things) 'special' readers, adoring fans, even a cult. These readers are guilty only of being willing to put up with the author's many quirks in order to appreciate his undeniable linguisti
c genius. Though most critics found little to praise in The Silmarillion, those who respect Tolkien's brilliance did recognize his aim, to produce a mythic history of Middle-Earth up to and beyond the age described in the author's famous The
Lord of the Rings
trilogy. For attempting to write the basis for an entire world, its philosophy, religion, societal morals, creation, evolution, and eventual destruction, Tolkien did receive some credit. L.J. Davis in The New Republic, remi
nded us that "when you try to play in the same league with Milton and the King James Version, you have to own a hardball." Essentially, some critics made it clear that they could see how a Tolkien lover would love the book, while the overwhelming majorit
y denounced it as too serious, difficult to read, slow, and overly compressed; it wasn't worth their efforts.
Critics disliked many aspects of Tolkien's history: the narrative style, the ponderous genealogical histories, but most roundly, the lack of a character like the hobbit of The Lord of the Rings, a character for the reader to identify and bo
nd with. This criticism points to much of the problem with this book's reception. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings, had written fantastic fantasy books which set the tone for an entire genre. They were the very first of their genre to be so pop
ular, and sparked a new interest in fantasy the world over. The Hobbit, while criticized by some as too childish, was also a phenomenal success, selling massive amounts. Anything Tolkien released at this point would inevitably be judged against t
hese highly appreciated works; he had created rather high standards for himself. Even though Tolkien himself had once said that he did not expect anyone to be interested in his Silmarillion texts, they were published four years after his death, ed
ited by son Christopher Tolkien. These works served as the backbone to his imaginary world, the history on which he drew, and it is questionable whether he would have wanted this work to be published as it was, if at all. In any case, they were certainl
y not finished texts intended for reading but actually scholarly sketches of a work in creation, the world which was constantly in motion inside Tolkien's head.
Clearly, the expectations of many Tolkien critics were not met by The Silmarillion. It is important to note, however, that Tolkien did acknowledge that the book was not likely to interest anyone but himself. For him, it was akin to the fir
st unraveling of a thread in his mind; the author always maintained that the world of Middle-Earth was not something he had created but rather a place he found in his mind, with all of its details coming slowly forth as he wrote. It is not surprising, th
en, that the first history of this land is less than exciting and lacks good narrative pace. The first inklings of new things are never the most impressive. One must therefore applaud Tolkien for his acknowledgement that with the Third Age of Middle-Ear
th and the adventures of small creatures called hobbits he had stumbled upon a more exciting and personal story to entertain a reader. One can only assume this is the reason Tolkien published his Lord of the Rings first. It also explains the some
what removed narrative style of many passages; Tolkien was not writing finished history, but sketches of what he knew already while waiting for more information to reveal itself.
Tolkien himself has been described as a phenomenon; less interesting due to his art than because of his amazing success in a field which had not yet been profitable, fantasy science-fiction writing. He is also a linguistic phenomenon, a genius at
language and wording, expert at making one single word convey layers of definition and connotation. He wrote and spoke two languages which no one else knew, full and complete languages with grammar and syntax rules. The man was an undisputed genius, and
the manner in which it came to be discovered, through The Lord of the Rings, is surprising. One cannot help but wonder what the reception to The Silmarillion might have been had Tolkien revised and published it instead of his trilog
y. Would he then have been dismissed as a raving lunatic, carrying around a world inside his head which no one knew a thing about and proposing to write a mythical history of it? No, this book could only have been published as it was, after the phenomen
al success of The Lord of the Rings.
One thing is certain about Tolkien, with near-unanimous agreement among the critics; he was an expert linguist who could paint a beautiful picture with words on his best days. At his worst, though, Tolkien was not bad, he just seems to have been w
riting for himself, to remind himself of the things which he knew about Middle-Earth. As is quickly becoming clear, the answer to the question of Tolkien's popularity is not so easily explained. There were aspects of his work which greatly appealed to the academic community: his linguistic brilliance, his attention to detail, his noble a
ttempt to create a mythical history for his own country, if a fictional one. However, Tolkien was not always concerned enough with the reader for many critics. He described his world at his own pace, sometimes too quick and compressed but sometimes too
long-winded. And it is not untrue that the style of The Silmarillion is dense and very similar to that of The Bible or an ancient text, especially at the outset:
"There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Iluvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made" (The Silmarillion, 15).
Though the style does pick up as the characters begin to have adventures of their own which demand some direction, one gets the impression of watching the action from a distance - whether temporal or physical is not certain. Perhaps it was Tolkien
's perception of this work as the history of a place which inspired this style, but historical description makes it difficult to avoid boring one's readers; how many high-school history books can one read straight through? Tolkien's gift, the only thing which makes reading The Silmarillion easier, is his brilliant diction. The words the author uses remind one more of poetry than prose, resounding in the reader's mind until they are irreversibly etched into
the mind. The proliferation of places and roads even today named after those in Tolkien's trilogy is testament to the impression his language makes upon people. Who would not want to live on Gladden Fields Road in Albemarle County, for example? The na
me alone simultaneously implies joy and open spaces, accompanied by adventure and courage. This aspect of Tolkien's writing is in full force in The Silmarillion, as he is given the opportunity to name every person, place, and thing encountered by
his characters. Naming was most definitely one of the author's joys; one imagines him sitting at home pondering where his characters might go next, eager to provide the perfect name for it.
The joy Tolkien takes in his linguistic freedom suggests another reason why critics disliked The Silmarillion. The book is an indulgence -- this is not a criticism. If it had been published by a mediocre author during his lifetime, he wou
ld have begged to publish it, to satisfy his own love for the world he had discovered/created. Tolkien, however, did not clamor to publish his book, even while he was alive and after the success of his trilogy. He knew it was a starting place, a well fr
om which to draw stories, not a piece intended for light reading for college students.
All of this analysis, and still we have not come to a satisfactory explanation of the popularity of Tolkien's Silmarillion. Clearly, the book was not his best work. It was not intended to be, and the author published and profited from wha
t was his best work, The Lord of the Rings. Critics, assigned the task of analyzing the book's literary value, were accurate in their analyses. As Charles Nicol stated in Harper's Magazine, the book seems to be "not works to read for ple
asure so much as documents to study when one has the time," as Tolkien likely did when he needed inspiration for his later stories (11/77). So why did so many copies sell? Of course, the majority may be ascribed to the innumerous readers who enjoyed his
previous works and expected more of the same, but the book continued to sell and remains in print today. Clearly, there is some value to The Silmarillion. That value may take many forms. For the Tolkien lover, it is an essential volume of the h
istory of the author's imaginary world. It provides historical background for the stories which were loved by so many. The true fan would consider it worth buying simply to refer to while reading The Lord of the Rings, for elaboration of allusio
ns the author makes in those volumes. Still others may be interested only in Tolkien's sheer linguistic brilliance, and might want the entirety of the genius's works on record. Many readers probably bought it on the recommendation of a Tolkien enthusi
ast, found it tiresome, and abandoned it.
Nonetheless, for the attentive and intellectually aroused reader, The Silmarillion holds value; it is a creation myth and a mythical history, designed as parallel to that of reality as possible. It is interesting as a foil to the history of
reality, as an examination of religion, as a philosophical essay. Middle-Earth is no utopia, but it is a world untainted by modern pollutants. Indeed, when these pollutants threaten, they are usually represented by some action or event caused by the ev
il parts of Middle-Earth's society, the forces of darkness captained by Morgoth or Melkor. These forces continually threaten the healthy, enjoyable lifestyle of Tolkien's other characters, and must be conquered to essentially save the world. Tolkien'
s body of work is a thinly disguised interpretation of our own world; this is why the hobbit was necessary to the Third Age, when no men were in Middle-Earth. The hobbit was as average and person-like as possible; they were amiable, smaller than the immo
rtal elves, content, unadventurous, and generally likable.
The Silmarillion sold for many reasons, the chief one among them being Tolkien's legions of fans created by The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. The enormous volume of books sold, however, must be attributed to the genius of
the author and genuine interest by a variety of people in his efforts to create and sustain an imaginary world in his mind alone. Others wanted to share in what had been Tolkien's private world, and this sold books. Tolkien could have lived a thousand
years without worry for money as long as his mind continued to develop a world by which people were so comforted.
Supplemental Material
Adams, R.M. New York Review of Books. (24)p22. November 24, 1977. Brookhiser, Richard. National Review. (29)pp1439. December 9, 1977. Conrad, Peter. New Statesman. (94)pp408. September 23, 1977. Coogan, Daniel. America. (137)p315. November 4, 1977. Cosgrave, M.S. The Horn Book Magazine. (54)p196. April 1978. Davis, L.J. New Republic. (177)p38. October 1, 1977. Eagen, Timothy. Best Sellers. (37)p268. December 1977. Choice. (14)p1650. February 1978. Ellman, Mary. Yale Review. (67)p592. Summer 1978. Foote, Timothy. Time. (110)p121. October 24, 1977. Gardner, John. New York Times Book Review. October 23, 1977. Gerville-Reache, Joy. Christian Science Monitor. p315. September 21, 1977. Economist. (264)p141. September 17, 1977. Hurwitz, K.S. School Library Journal. (24)p66. December 1977. Virginia Quarterly Review. (54)p23. Winter 1978. Jefferson, Margo. Newsweek. (90)p114. October 24, 1977. Nicol, Charles. Harpers. (255)p95. November 1977. Spaulding, Martha. Atlantic Monthly. (240)p105. October 1977. Yamamoto, J.T. Library Journal. (102)p1680. August 1977.
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