by, edited by
Houghton Mifflin, $10.95
As background material for much of his published work, The Silmarillion, J. R. R. Tolkien’s history of the world’s creation and its First Age, may be of scholarly interest to those readers who approach him in all seriousness. For many of his admirers, however, this posthumous epic will prove a disappointment: it has neither the charm of The Hobbit nor the magic of The Lord of the Rings.
Ilúvatar, father of the Ainur, or Holy Ones, created the world out of music and made Elves and later Men to live in it. Fëanor, foremost craftsman among the Elves, fashions the Silmarils, three jewels containing the light of the world. These are stolen by the dark lord Morgoth, the Lucifer figure among the Ainur, and the wars to recover them, together with Elvish migrations and factional disputes, compose the bulk of the narrative.
Some sixty years in the making, The Silmarillion is probably a faithful indication of the scope of Tolkien’s imagination. But his attention to detail makes the book rather dull going in the end. What bits of enchantment exist— Morgoth’s confederate Ungoliant, a memorably grotesque she-spider, or the love story of Beren and Lúthien—are imprisoned in a morass of battles, characters, and places, often with multiple names, so that one rapidly loses track of—and interest in—who has gone where and why. Most people prefer their fantasy a bit frothier than this.