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Old 08-04-2021, 09:09 AM   #1
Huinesoron
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Silmaril The Great Tales as introduction

I think we've probably all seen people lamenting that they just couldn't get into the Silmarillion. Personally I've always loved the style of the Ainulindale/Valaquenta, but it does put a lot of people off. Standard advice across the internet seems to be some combination of 'just stick with it' and 'dip in to random places' (with one intriguing 'use it as an encyclopedia and just look up the stories as they're mentioned in LotR'). Fair enough, but I don't think I'd be inclined to pick up a book if people kept telling me that sort of thing.

But with the upcoming Amazon series, I'd expect to see at least a little uptick in people wanting to read about the Elder Days (it happened after the movies, after all!). So I was wondering: does anyone have any opinions on whether the standalone Great Tales would work as 'introduction to the First Age' books?

I know Children of Hurin is the only one that hangs together as a single story. My memory is that it was intended to be understandable without the Silm... but I've only read it once, because Turin. I've just glanced over Beren and Luthien, and I think it's likely to be too scholarly for this sort of thing: it has the Lost Tales version written out straight, but then intersperses the Quenta and Lay accounts with Christopher's commentary, rather than trying to use them just to tell the story. I don't remember what The Fall of Gondolin did, but I think it may have been even worse.

Am I wrong? I'd love to be able to recommend Beren and Luthien; I have pin-badges of them, and have been asked about them at least once, so it would be great to say 'there's a book!'. But I just don't know that it'll work.

(In an ideal world, whoever inherited the literary executor position would publish a Numenor book, pulling together the Description, Aldarion & Erendis, and Akallabeth, possibly with the Lost Road fragment and anything from the upcoming Hostetter book as well. I'd happily put that on my bookshelf, and it would serve as a perfect entry-point for viewers of the Amazon series. But that's probably just a dream.)

hS
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Old 08-05-2021, 04:54 PM   #2
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Hmm. I'm trying to recall how I felt about The Silmarillion at first.

I had read both TH and LOTR by the time I was ten or so, but I didn't read the Silm until a few years later.
I do remember feeling a bit overwhelmed by the immense number of names and places, but I was utterly entranced with the map of Beleriand, showing the unbroken Ered Luin, with a huge mass of land to the west.

Though the names were daunting, as you touch on, Huey, I fell in love with the language used; it enhanced and embellished the stories in a tremendous way, and thus drew me in. I believe that the same tales, written with different style, would not have held my interest so.

Could the archaically written Silmarillion keep the interest of those who regularly write nothing longer than "lolz", "BRB", and "TTYL"?

I do think CoH could work well as a stand-alone story, but I don't know if that would induce Silm immersion.
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Old 08-06-2021, 05:15 PM   #3
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We were having the same conversation about the Silmarilion here...

Are there any pre-1977 readers here?

...so, I'll just cut and paste.

Quote:
I still have my first edition Silmarillion (actually two now, one an American copy and the other an original British edition). I think I savored that read in 1977 more so than The Hobbit or LotR. It was very biblical. Very otherworldly, like when I first got a copy of Bulfinch's Mythology for Christmas in 6th grade.
I'll agree CoH is a near standalone story; however, Beren and Luthien, although jumbled betwixt various revisions, excerpts, stanzas of poetry and reams of analysis would be best served as a screenplay. Given that Luthien is perhaps the most resourceful and powerful female lead in any Tolkien story (even more so than the more stationary Galadriel), it may appeal to modern viewers (particularly those who consider Tolkien a chauvinist), what with her saving the rather thick Beren on numerous occasions. And then there's also a vampire and a slavering werewolf, of course. What's a modern fantasy film without vampires and werewolves?
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Old 08-06-2021, 06:18 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Inziladun View Post
Could the archaically written Silmarillion keep the interest of those who regularly write nothing longer than "lolz", "BRB", and "TTYL"?
I think you are being a bit unfair to the non-Silm-fan audience here. I think for some people that is not a matter of language, as a matter of the content itself. Just recently I heard a Tolkien fan describe the beginning of the book as Biblical - and I had to agree. It's very much "and it was evening and it was morning". She left the book off because she never made it through the encyclopedic section to the action. For myself, I would say that "action" begins at The Ruin of Beleriand - which leaves half the book in a slightly encyclopedic format. I think that reading an encyclopedia might be enjoyable if there is a purpose behind it - you don't read them for their own sakes usually (or kudos if you do, but most people don't), you read them to find out about what interests you. I personally also found the first chapters of the Sil a bit of a drag the first time I read it, and what kept me going was exactly that I wanted to read this LOTR background encyclopedia even if it was just that. But for people looking for a stand-alone book, The Sil is not paced in a way that works to draw in the reader for the first several chapters at least; there are sparks of excitement, but it doesn't start to really flow until the second half. It's a bit like, I dunno, if the Iliad and Odyssey were prefaced by the entire Greek mythology about the origin of the gods and some of the better known myths. The context is necessary to understand it fully, but it is also not the exciting story but just the background. Language might certainly play a role to an extent, but I think that people who are dedicated enough to attempt it wouldn't be put off so much by the language as by the structure.

As such, my proposal for making The Sil more, hmm, what's the word... approachable? Less daunting? - is to just start it in the middle, with the first half condensed into a prologue. The result would be some confusion with names and places, but it would also be a bit like the references to Luthien and Feanor in LOTR - something that you just accept while you read, and if you want to learn more, well, here's the full version.

I love The Sil. I think the language is absolutely beautiful, and I love the little gems that are scattered in the slower chapters. But I can also very much see how it is a bit Biblical, and if you don't know that the Iliad is coming up ahead the scattered legends and myths might feel like a drag.
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Old 08-08-2021, 06:20 PM   #5
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I understand both sides in this discussion. As I discussed in the Pre-1977 thread (and elsewhere), I first began reading The Hobbit and LoTR around 1971. By the time I started the Silmarillion, I had read The Hobbit and LoTR several times and expected the Silmarillion to be written in a similar manner; as a coherent and detailed narrative, with significant dialogue and detailed descriptions of the events and their settings. I was initially disappointed. I also found the Silmarillion to be too mythical and far more of a summary than a narrative. It was a couple of years before I gave it another try. I enjoyed it more with each subsequent read, particularly after Unfinished Tales was published. The longer versions in UT of the Children of Hurin and the fragment of what would have been the Fall of Gondolin were what I expected the Silmarillion to be. I later rode the elevator back down and was initially disappointed with the Lost Tales. In fact I did not begin reading other volumes of HoME until several years later, which reignited my interest in both the Silmarillion (and its various incarnations) as well as Lost Tales.

I would never recommend that anyone begin with the Silmarillion before undertaking The Hobbit and LoTR. You have to love the latter to appreciate the former. In fact, if you dropped me back in 1977 and handed me, as a teenager, the Silmarillion, I might agree with Galadriel55. Skip the Ainulindale and the Valaquenta and start with the Silmarillion proper, using the index as a guide. Of course, there was no one to give me such advice back then.

So I entirely understand those who enjoy LoTR and The Hobbit but not the Silmarillion. I also understand those who are fascinated by the Silmarillion (and HoME). The difference is between those who enjoy a wonderful tale with glimpses of a deep and broad past but do not feel compelled to explore that past, and those who want more than a story and crave details and a deeper understanding. One is not necessarily better than the other. In fact, for some the background detail might affect the appreciation of the story.

Regarding a serialization of the Silmarillion on video, I have have serious reservations because it is not a story; it is a history that has stories lodged in it. I hope that such a production does not destroy interest in JRRT's writings. I had the same reservations about New Line's LoTR. While I enjoyed the movies, they did not usurp my interest in the books because the boks were something dear to me. I remain concerned that there are those who did not read the books before seeing the movies and may now never do so, or did not enjoy them as they might have.

Regarding the series portraying only the "Great Tales," I question how accessible those stories would be without context? What are the Silmarils? Why are the good guys always losing?
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Old 09-11-2021, 05:51 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mithadan View Post
I understand both sides in this discussion. As I discussed in the Pre-1977 thread (and elsewhere), I first began reading The Hobbit and LoTR around 1971. By the time I started the Silmarillion, I had read The Hobbit and LoTR several times and expected the Silmarillion to be written in a similar manner; as a coherent and detailed narrative, with significant dialogue and detailed descriptions of the events and their settings. I was initially disappointed. I also found the Silmarillion to be too mythical and far more of a summary than a narrative. It was a couple of years before I gave it another try. I enjoyed it more with each subsequent read, particularly after Unfinished Tales was published. The longer versions in UT of the Children of Hurin and the fragment of what would have been the Fall of Gondolin were what I expected the Silmarillion to be. I later rode the elevator back down and was initially disappointed with the Lost Tales. In fact I did not begin reading other volumes of HoME until several years later, which reignited my interest in both the Silmarillion (and its various incarnations) as well as Lost Tales.

I would never recommend that anyone begin with the Silmarillion before undertaking The Hobbit and LoTR. You have to love the latter to appreciate the former. In fact, if you dropped me back in 1977 and handed me, as a teenager, the Silmarillion, I might agree with Galadriel55. Skip the Ainulindale and the Valaquenta and start with the Silmarillion proper, using the index as a guide. Of course, there was no one to give me such advice back then.

So I entirely understand those who enjoy LoTR and The Hobbit but not the Silmarillion. I also understand those who are fascinated by the Silmarillion (and HoME). The difference is between those who enjoy a wonderful tale with glimpses of a deep and broad past but do not feel compelled to explore that past, and those who want more than a story and crave details and a deeper understanding. One is not necessarily better than the other. In fact, for some the background detail might affect the appreciation of the story.

Regarding a serialization of the Silmarillion on video, I have have serious reservations because it is not a story; it is a history that has stories lodged in it. I hope that such a production does not destroy interest in JRRT's writings. I had the same reservations about New Line's LoTR. While I enjoyed the movies, they did not usurp my interest in the books because the boks were something dear to me. I remain concerned that there are those who did not read the books before seeing the movies and may now never do so, or did not enjoy them as they might have.

Regarding the series portraying only the "Great Tales," I question how accessible those stories would be without context? What are the Silmarils? Why are the good guys always losing?
This was pretty much my experience with the books in the 70's as well. I remember going to a 'line party' at the local mall when the Silmarillion was being released, as the Wadden bookstore manager was a Tolkien fan and he made arrangements to open the bllkstore at midnight of the official release day. Got a copy and tried to read it, and I had a *** moment. I read the 'Rings' bit at the back of the book, and then the Numenorean chapter, then managed to reaad through the book. it was hard work at first, but did enjoy it overall.
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Old 09-15-2021, 06:52 AM   #7
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My first time reading order was the Hobbit, the Silmarillion, Lord of the Rings. I accept that this is very unusual, but it does give me a different perspective on approaching the Silmarillion.

I'll contend that the Silmarillion actually doesn't need to be simplified, dumbed down, have other works presented as a gateway, or anything like that. It's perfectly approachable as it is.

The primary problem with approaching the Silmarillion is expectation vs reality. Although it does have an overarching story, it's not a story like the others. It has characters but you typically don't see them up close. It lacks plot development and it lacks character development. So if you go into it expecting something like the others, that's not what you're going to get.

A secondary problem is it's reputation as a difficult read. If you go into it expecting it to be difficult, and you get stuck at the start, then you'll quite naturally give up. This is compounded by a modern tendency to need things explained up-front, which you won't always get, and you'll just need to accept that and move on if so.

The way to approach the Silmarillion is as a compendium of mythology, because that's exactly what it is. A real world analogy might be if you're interested in Greek mythology, you might like to read a well-written and well-edited compendium of the main Greek myths. And so with the Silmarillion.

So some of the myths are told from a distance, some from a closer perspective. Some in scant detail, some in more detail. Some are even told in longer forms in other works, but the Silmarillion is the compendium that contains them all.

And that's the nub of it; just go into the book with the correct understanding and expectation of what you're getting, and I'll contend that you'll do just fine with it.
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