Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Silmarillion

This is why the copy of The Silmarillion my neighbour lent me maybe two years ago roughly looks like.  It was published in 1979, so its pages are completely yellow, with extremely tiny font, and every time you turn a page there is a one in two chance that you'll tear the edge a little. At the time, what happened was I got past the first chapter, nearly died, skipped ahead to the eagerly-awaited chapter Of Beren and Luthien, didn't understand a word, went to the last chapter, which I finally grasped, then gave it up as a lost cause. But I never gave it back to my neighbour (eheheh) because although back then I succumbed to weakness and gave up, I knew that one day I was going to master The Silmarillion once and for all.

Friends. That day has come.

First of all, let me explain. The Silmarillion isn't an easy read - at least, I found it exceedingly difficult, and I've tried my share of classics. It's basically a history of Middle-Earth, wa-ay before the setting of The Lord of the Rings, that was written in bits and pieces by J.R.R. Tolkien and later compiled by his son. It's about twice as hard to read as a sejarah textbook. Alright, for me, reading The Silmarillion is just impossible to do. You have to study it. Half of the names of everything is in Elvish - worse still, each clan of Elves have a different tongue - and you have to know the meanings. Until now I'm still floundering in the complex geography of the book. If you think the geography of Middle Earth is bad, wait 'til you realise that in The Silmarillion, you have to know the geography of the divine realms as well, and how it's connected to the mortal lands. (And the names of these places keep on changing.) There are a lot of confusing names, of both people and places, that sound alike - take for example Fingolfin and Finarfin, brothers who have sons named Fingon and Finrod, and the worst part is, many of the characters have more than one name in more than one language. Almost everyone is interrelated as is expected with early civilisations, and you just completely forget who belongs to whose house and whatnot. The omnipresent Valar, which are something like gods, except they're not, are also always there to divinely confuse you. In fact I think the Valar was the most complicated part of all.There is no story, just tales and tales that go on and on, and that's why I like to say that The Silmarillion is like a textbook, except that our textbooks chaptered are far more systematically. They would throw you a fleeting line at the beginning, like, oh, this guy thinks this fair maiden is easy on the eyes, and then two hundred pages later, when the lady marries someone else, you're expected to know that the aforesaid guy is furious at heart because he liked that girl before, and of course you don't even remember that singular sentence. The book covers a very long span of years, with a very big number of battles, which means that the book covers a lot of lives and a lot of deaths. Basically, once you get introduced to a character, more than half of the time as soon as you get to know them they die, in numerously painful and imaginative ways. If it weren't for the helpful family trees and index at the back, I never would've gotten through this book.

But I loved it. I feel very "learned in lore", and I'm over the moon. I got through every single word, no shortcuts, right up to the index, and this has been a tremendous accomplishment for me. Any Tolkien fan would love this book, although not every Lord of the Rings fan would. It's pretty much unconnected to LOTR, with few character crossovers, only Elrond, Galadriel, Sauron and minimal Aragorn. Alright, I'll be honest. I wanted to read this book just for Beren and Luthien, the ancient tale which was mirrored by the fate of Aragorn and Arwen. Why I didn't just read that one chapter I'll never know, but I'm glad that's not what I did. The Silmarillion was an amazingly rich, brocaded tapestry of history and mythology, a hundred per cent fictional, insanely detailed, and inspiringly original. It was beautiful and heroic, tragic and powerful, fully worked out high fantasy legend, all out of Tolkien's impossible head, and as if I needed any further convincing, it truly proves that John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was one of the greatest writers that ever lived.

Alrighty. Now that's done and over with, I'm going to go re-read The Lord of the Rings.

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