Book review: The Silmarillion

When I was a young girl I loved the Hobbit. It was one of my favourite stories. I had a beautiful, illustrated version and I remember my father reading it to me, and re-reading it myself when I was a bit older. Then, when I was 12, I rushed to read The Fellowship of The Ring before it came out in cinemas. After seeing the movie, I quickly read The Two Towers and The Return of the King and waiting impatiently for those to be released at the cinema as well. I devoured this stuff. But I didn’t read the Silmarillion until Sixteen years later.


The Silmarillion by J R R Tolkein


There wasn’t any particularly good reason for this, I just never got around to picking up a copy. When I eventually chose a gorgeous Folio Society edition which matched the Hobbit and LoTR Folio editions I already had, it still sat on my shelf for a few years before I opened it. By then, I guess there was too much to read. Anyway, when I did finally pick it up I was looking forward to being transported both back to Middle Earth and to my childhood.

It didn’t work. The Silmarillion, for those who haven’t read it, does indeed take place in Middle Earth, but it’s very much like a creation myth. The story of all those many people and events that went before The Hobbit at LoTR. It’s Tolkein indulging himself in some seriously detailed world-building and if you love that stuff, you’re bound to get into this – I did not. Where was the adventure? Where was the meat of the stories?

Instead of making me nostalgic I found it frustrating. I so badly wanted to love this as much as the other books, but it felt like a waste of my time. Towards the end of the book, there were a few stories concerning the immediate predecessors of characters who appeared in LoTR, and there was mention of events like the forging of the one ring, but it felt like a minor reward. An insignificant treat for being good and eating your vegetables. By that time, I didn’t even really care.

I’m glad I’ve read it, but only because I’m a completionist. As I said, if you love the world building stuff and you’re the kind of person who poured over the family trees and bits of Elvish that appeared in the appendices of the other books, then go for it, you’ll have a great time. Otherwise, you can probably give it a miss.

9 thoughts on “Book review: The Silmarillion

  1. I can understand your frustration. Personally, I really enjoyed the Silmarillion, but then I’m a sucker for worldbuilding and don’t mind that sort of creation myth and pseudo-history that Tolkien was doing here (fun fact, the worldbuilding and language came first, LotR only came about because his published persuaded him that nobody would read the other stuff[*]).

    Several of the stories within here are lovely themselves, and some are also (in contracted form) in LotR, which people may miss because they skip the poetry. I’m afraid I’m one of the people who enjoys Tolkien’s poetry 🙂

    If you want more from Middle-Earth but something with more structure and story to it, then I can recommend The Children of Hurin, edited out of his father’s notes by Christopher Tolkien. While it’s still more Silmarillion than LotR, it does have a stronger plot, although the tone is still mythic (think Beowulf and its ilk).

    [*] not sure if I’m telling you anything you don’t already know – this was in the author’s introduction to my edition of LotR

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did not know that! Thank goodness for astute publishers.

      I’d been put off Children of Hurin by The Silmarillion but if it has a stronger plot I might actually give it a go 🙂


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