The Silmarillion: Unlocking Secrets of Middle-earth


By: Mary Rakas

Most people recognize author J.R.R. Tolkien for his works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. What if I told you there is more to the story? For those seeking deeper knowledge of Middle-earth and understanding of the events leading up to the Third Age, The Silmarillion is the book to read.

In it, there is a wealth of information explaining the reasons behind many events from the War of the Ring. Ever wonder how Sauron came to be? He was a Maia, a similar but lesser being to the Valar, who became Melkor’s most faithful servant. He was given Angband as his abode.

Where did the Istari (the wizards) come from? They were Maiar sent by the Valar to guide the free peoples in the fight against Sauron. The wisest of these beings is Olorin, who appears in Middle-earth as Gandalf the Grey.

Why do Elves love the stars? When Elves first awoke, there was no light in the world. Unwilling to leave them in darkness, the Vala Varda created the brightest stars from two holy trees before they were poisoned. Those stars were the first things the Elves ever saw. When they call on Elbereth in the Third Age, they are calling on Varda.

What’s the story behind the Ents? The Vala Yavanna creates trees and other growing things. She worries they have no protection, mainly from dwarves who will chop them down for firewood. She wishes the trees could have voices and speak for all growing things. Though the word ‘Ent’ is not specifically used, Manwe, the king of the Valar, tells Yavanna when the Elves awaken, so, too, shall the Shepherds of the Trees.

Ever question why the Rings of Power were given in specific numbers to each race? The Elves saved three of the rings when they discovered Sauron’s treachery of creating the One. Seven were given to dwarves, who of old had seven kings. There is no specific mention of any significance behind the number nine, other than Sauron giving the most rings to Men because they were easiest to corrupt. However, The Silmarillion states that of the fourteen Valar, nine were of chief power and higher than all others. They became eight after the exclusion of Melkor. Perhaps Sauron, only able to mock and not make, gave nine rings to Men to stand against the Valar in imitation of their splendor, which he feared. Or perhaps they were given out to ensnare the followers of Elendil, whom Sauron especially hated, who escaped the downfall of Numenor in nine ships.

Tolkien masterfully weaves Christian beliefs with elements of Norse mythology to create his own world of Middle-earth. The Ainulindale, the creation of the world, closely mirrors the book of Genesis of the Christian Bible, as well as the fall of Lucifer. Eru or Iluvatar – that is, God – creates the Ainur, Holy Ones, from his thought. The Ainur create a great music in which Iluvatar sends them visions of the world and the coming of his Children (Elves and Men). Melkor, the most powerful and knowledgeable of the Ainur, seeks to create his own music in opposition to Iluvatar’s theme but fails.

Enchanted by these visions, some of the Ainur wish to leave the throne of Iluvatar and dwell in the world. Iluvatar sets the Secret Fire to burn at its center, thereby making Middle-earth a reality. In his resentment and anger, Melkor takes over Middle-earth to rule himself. The Valar, the Ainur who dwell in the world, remove to the far West to Valinor, to which the Elves retreat in the Third Age. Melkor’s cruelest act is his enslavement of the Elves when they first awaken. Melkor corrupts and breeds them into orcs.

The Halls of Mandos, the Vala who keeps the Houses of the Dead and summons spirits of the slain, can be likened to the concept of purgatory found in Catholicism and Lutheranism. The spirits wait upon Mandos’ judgments, which are given under the order of Manwe. Some spirits, mostly those of Elves, are brought back to life. Others are kept in the Hall and have yet to be released.

Middle-earth and the coming of the Children of Iluvatar is where Norse mythology seeps through. Tolkien’s Elves share many physical features with their Norse counterparts, including immortality, heightened knowledge over other races, and surpassing fairness. Even Tolkien’s Valar are similarly constructed to the Norse gods. Many are associated with certain elements or attributes such as growth, battle, wind, light, and death.

Additionally, Tolkien’s sun and moon are actual beings, similar to those in Norse legends. In Middle-earth, the light of the sun and moon are carried by the Maiar Arien and Tilion, respectively. Melkor and the evil spider Ungoliant destroy the two trees that light Valinor. From the final fruit each tree bears, the Valar craft lanterns to contain their light, the sun and moon.

There are many other stories to be had. The creation of the Silmarils and the subsequent exile of the Elves; the quest of Beren and Luthie; the tale of the children of Hurin; the lineage of Elrond and Aragorn; and the downfall of Numenor, which was orchestrated by Sauron, are all given in fair detail. The Silmarillion is a diamond in the rough. It’s enjoyable literature for anyone, whether you’re looking for the history of Middle-earth or looking simply for entertaining fantasy.

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