It’s a bit hard for me to summarize this one. This book contains many tales written by Tolkien that take place in Middle-earth, the world he created for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien never actually got around to publishing this work. It was edited together by his son Christopher. It reads a bit more like a history book than a novel. it is extremely rich in detail: names of the different races, people, places… at times it’s hard to keep track. And I admit that I got a lot of help from The Complete Guide to Middle-earth by Robert Foster. It is a wonderful reference!
There may be spoilers ahead for those who have never read anything related to Middle-earth.
While all Tolkien’s Middle-earth stories have a sense of good versus evil, this one may be the strongest. That comes from the fact that the first section of the book deals with the creation of Middle-earth. We see its beginnings and the beginning of evil as well.
The symmetry to the Judeo-Christian creation story is undeniable. While not a true allegory, there are many similar components. The creator Iluvatar (God) creates the Ainur (angels). Through their music, which is set in motion by Iluvatar, the world is made. However, there is one of the Ainur, named Melkor (Lucifer), who puts his own thoughts and will into the music. He wants to create things from his own thoughts and seeks power of his own. All evil in the world spreads from Melkor’s original desire to rule the newly created world, and it flows all the way down to Sauron, who is the Dark Lord of The Lord of the Rings.
Aside from the general good versus evil, there were a few places that reminded me of Bible stories. All of them were early on in the book. These are the two that stuck out the most:
Iluvatar created two races to dwell on Middle-earth: Elves and Men. The Elves came first and Men later, but neither came right away. Iluvatar had shown his plans to create his new children to the Ainur. One of the Ainur, named Aule, didn’t want to wait for the Children of Iluvatar. So, he created his own race – the Dwarves. When Iluvatar found out, he was not pleased. He allowed the Dwarves to remain, but put them to sleep in the ground until after the true Children of Iluvatar came. Iluvatar tells Aule “…often strife will arise between thine and mine, the children of my adoption and the children of my choice.”
This reminds me of God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah for a child (Isaac). After many years they become impatient and take matters into their own hands. Abraham has a child (Ishmael) with his wife’s servant. God is not pleased by this. He tells Sarah’s servant that her child will live at odds with his brothers.
The other place that reminded me of a particular Bible story is when the Valar, which is what the Elves call the Ainur, want to bring the Elves to Valinor, where they dwell. The journey is very long. Some of the Elves complain and wish to go back where they came from. Some actually do. This reminds me of the exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt. They wandered the wilderness for 40 years. Many complained and express their desires to return to Egypt, even back to slavery.
The book also contains references to the Flame Imperishable, which seems to portray the Holy Spirit. There are two trees that could very well represent the trees of Knowledge and of Good and Evil from the Garden of Eden. There are other elements in the various stories that could be symbols for things from the Bible.
4 thoughts on “The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien”
Good Synopsis, and anyone who reads this should want to read more about the world of Middle-earth. The sheer enormity of Tolkien’s masterpiece is summed up in The Silmarillion, from the Music that creates the world, to the Fall of Numenor, the Rise of Sauron in Middle-earth and the events of the Third Age.
I do want to comment on a statement you made, to hopefully try and clear it up a little. I am myself a Tolkien Scholar, so everything I read by the Professor I look at both a literary and religious point of view. The Flame Imperishable is not in fact a pseudo Holy Spirit, but the essence of Life itself. Notice how the Ainur can create beings themselves (Aule the Dwarves, Manwe the Eagles, Melkor the denizens of Thangorodrim and so on) but they don’t have life unto themselves. In the case of the Dwarves, it isn’t until Eru grants them the Flame that they begin to cower in fear of Aule’s hammer. Only Illuvatar can create Life; only he can grant the Flame.
The same can be said when Illuvatar created the Ainur. It wasn’t until he gave them the Flame that they began to “show forth your powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices, if he will.” Beings, regardless of order in Tolkien’s world, do not have sentience or independent thought/free will, unless they are endowed with the Flame Imperishable by Illuvatar.
There can be considered a connection between the two, though remotely so. While the Flame gives sentience to beings and Life itself, The Holy Spirit is also attributed to giving early Christians the ability to understand sacred scriptures, speak in languages they otherwise couldn’t, etc. But the Holy Spirit does not grant Life itself, so therefore they are different in that sense.
Again, interesting read, and these types of topical discussions are great, especially when looking at it from the Christian angle. While Tolkien himself stated that he did not set out to create an allegory of the Christian doctrine, you can see the Word of God clearly presented in his stories, though that is by chance more than intention.
Would love to hear your thoughts regarding the LOTR proper! Can’t wait for the next review.
You have a point on the Flame Imperishable representing life, but one could argue that true life isn’t achieved until the Holy Spirit is active within you. I don’t claim to be a Tolkien scholar by any means. These are just my obsverations. And this was also my first time reading “The Silmarillion,” so I am sure I missed many things. It’s such a rich work!
Thanks for reading! And I hope to get through the LOTR in the next month or two… I hope.
I have not read any of Tolkien’s books. I know, unbelievable. I would like to make the time for them and would like to watch the movies, which I have passed on until I read the books first. Thank you for the wonderful informative review.
Thank you for reading!
Tolkien’s stories of Middle-earth are so wonderful! I don’t think I’ve ever come across a work of fiction that was so detailed and imaginitive. When you do get around to it, I would suggest reading “The Hobbit” first, then “The Lord of the Rings.”