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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Imagineering History, 3 Oct 2008
This review is from: The Silmarillion (Paperback)
First things first, before you consider purchasing this book, it is of paramount importance that you are aware of the following. For the avoidance of doubt, this isn't really a literary novel in the way that LOTR is; you won't find the finely-hewn descriptions of the landscape or the close focus on characterisation. As others have indicated, its written in the archaic style of historical middle english legends or even that of a religious text i.e. lots of "...and lo, it came to pass", "...thus X begat Y, Y begat Z" etc, etc.

If that prospect doesn't appeal to you, even if you consider yourself a Tolkien fan - frankly, DO NOT buy this book! If on the other hand you can deal with the peculiarities of the narrative - perhaps you have an interest in myths and legends or want to gain a more in-depth knowledge of the concepts that underpin the LOTR universe - by all means dive in. You will be richly rewarded with a story of even greater scope and imagination than LOTR.

Essentially, The Silmarillion is to LOTR what the ancient greek myths are to the Illiad or The Odyssey, in that the events portrayed in LOTR are but the latest episode in a continuum of fictional history that stretches back eons. Where LOTR mainly concerns the Hobbits and Men, Silmarillion concentrates mainly on the Elves and goes someway to explain the lack of their presence in LOTR and the estrangement between them and the leaders of Men.

In these days of "universe building" stories ("Star Wars", "Star Trek" et al), its hard to appreciate the scale and majesty of what Tolkien achieved on his own (to the extent that even he couldn't fully complete it within his lifetime - his son Christopher had to finish it off). In addition, the fact that most of the detail in the book is only sketched out, provides ample opportunity for others to flesh out the stories as Christopher has done with "The Children of Hurin" - its a wonder that more authors haven't taken the opportunity (perhaps they are restricted by the Tolkien Estate).

As with all stories in this format, it does have a tendency to take itself rather seriously - there is very little in the way of humour or light relief. Also, due to the sheer density of myth, the number of characters involved and the similarity of names (e.g. Fingon, Fingolfin, Finwe, Finarfin, feanor etc.) its quite easy to get confused. Thankfully, like LOTR, there is a map and a number of explanatory appendices you can refer to if you get lost.

In conclusion, its unlikely that this will appeal to the casual reader. It requires real effort to get through, but the imaginative return is more than sufficient. I have recently re-read this book for the umpteenth time and still haven't tired of it - I find I get something new from it on each read. In addition, it aids your understanding of LOTR itself by filling in the gaps of knowledge (ever wondered who "Beren and Luthien" are?)

Of all the material published by the Tolkien estate (including all the "history of middle earth" series), it is the one book, other than LOTR itself, I'd label "Essential Reading".
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 15 Sep 2010 21:13:57 BDT
Hill Walker says:
This is a highly informative and succinct review. I would add that Unfinished Tales is very much on a par with S'ion in terms of quality, style and scope. I've been re reading and dipping into Tolkien since 1974 and I never tire of his work. fabulous and entirely original and unparalleled stuff.
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