I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
J.R.R. Tolkien is best known for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings but those who thought these two wonderful adventures marked the height of his imagination have many more delights to come. The Silmarillion represents the source of Tolkien's later work and follows the events of the First Age of Middle Earth. For information, The Lord of the Rings concerns the end of the Third Age.
The Silmarillion is a gloriously realised story of rebellion, exile, war and the heroism of elves and men. But to gain an insight into the staggering complexity of Tolkien's world, however, the shorter works also included are must-reads. Dealing with the myth of creation, the nature of the Gods, the fall of Númenor and the Rings of Power, they paint a vivid picture not only of Middle Earth but also of the author's soaring imagination.
Reading this volume had the same feel for me as reading the Old Testament—it is the background material for a whole system of thought. I guess that reveals my religious leanings—Middle Earth is where I hope my spirit goes when I die. But seriously, reading this historical background document to Middle Earth reminded me very much of a summer when I was a teenager when I decided to read through the whole Bible, with the thought that if I could understand the whole thing I might find something in it that I could use. During both reading experiences, I learned a lot.
There were some significant aspects of The Silmarillion that were strongly reminiscent of the Old Testament, the creation story at the beginning the strongest of those. Finally, I was able to see why so many people see Tolkien as a religious writer. Both The Hobbit and LOTR have both seemed very non-religious to me, almost pagan, so I have always been confused by that view point. Now I can see that the underpinnings of Middle Earth are very much based in Christian theology.
It also answered many questions I had about Middle Earth: why is Elrond known as Half-Elven? What is the history between the Elves and the Dwarves? Why is Aragorn a Ranger when we first meet him? Who exactly is Gil-galad and why do the Elves sing of him? Who the heck is Elbereth?
This book is not for the casual reader—it is for the Middle Earth aficionado, the Elf obsessed, the Hobbitophile. I was all of the above when I tried to read it in my 20s and I still failed. Now, in my 50s, I have the patience and concentration to appreciate this interesting history and I very much enjoyed it.
Book number 156 of my reading project, the NPR list of classic science fiction and fantasy.