It is the primary source for Middle-earth's ancient history and the First Age, and for the downfall of the Kingdom of Númenor. ("Silmarillion" is also a broad term for the whole corpus of such accounts, in all their stages of development and alteration by Tolkien from the 1910's until his death, from which The Silmarillion's contents were drawn.)
The Silmarillion is comprised of five parts:
- Ainulindalë - The first part of the Silmarillion. The creation of Eä (Tolkien's universe), the Timeless Halls, and Ainur by Eru Ilúvatar and the start of the corruption of Melkor
- Valaquenta - A brief description of the Valar and Maiar, the supernatural beings.
- Quenta Silmarillion - The history of the events before and during the First Age, which forms the bulk of the collection
- Akallabêth - The history of the Second Age
- "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age" - An essay on the Rings of Power and the Third Age
These five parts were initially separate works, but it was the elder Tolkien's express wish that they be published together. Additionally, the book incorporates portions of several other documents not part of the original text, such as the story of Maeglin. Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age along with the Akallabêth are wholly separate and independent from the rest of The Silmarillion.
The Silmarillion, along with other posthumous collections of Tolkien's works, such as Unfinished Tales and the The History of Middle-earth series, form a comprehensive yet somewhat incomplete narrative that describes the universe within which The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place.
The Silmarillion is a complex work that explores a wide array of themes inspired by many ancient, medieval, and modern sources, including the Finnish Kalevala, the Icelandic sagas, the Bible, Greek mythology, World War I, and Celtic myths. For instance, the name of the supreme being, Ilúvatar (Father of All) is clearly borrowed from Finnish mythology. The archaic style and gravitas of the Ainulindalë resembles that of the Old Testament. And the island civilization of Númenor is reminiscent of Atlantis — one of the names Tolkien gave that land was Atalantë, though he gave it an Elvish derivation.
Some of the notable stories in the book which summarize the four Great Tales are:
- "Of Beren and Lúthien"
- "Of Túrin Turambar"
- "Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin"
- "Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath"
Development of the text
The earliest drafts of The Silmarillion stories date back to as early as 1925, when Tolkien wrote a 'Sketch of the Mythology'. However, the concepts for characters and themes were developed for a previous mythology in 1917 when Tolkien, then a British officer stationed in France during World War I was laid up in a military field hospital with trench fever. At the time, he called his collection of nascent stories The Book of Lost Tales. These stories comprised an English mythology intended to explain the origins of English history and culture (as Greek mythology explains the origins of Greek history and culture).
Many years after the war, encouraged by the success of The Hobbit, Tolkien submitted an incomplete but more fully developed version of The Silmarillion to his publisher, but they rejected the work as being obscure and "too Celtic". The publisher, George Allen & Unwin, instead asked Tolkien to write a sequel to The Hobbit, which became his significant novel The Lord of the Rings.
But Tolkien never abandoned The Silmarillion, he regarded it as the most important of his work, seeing in its tales the genesis of Middle-earth and later events as told in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He renewed work on The Silmarillion after completing The Lord of the Rings but eventually turned to other texts more closely associated with the events and characters depicted in The Lord of the Rings. Near the end of his life in 1973, Tolkien began to substantially revise the cosmology and its related myths, but he did not progress very far.
After Tolkien's death
For several years after his father's death, Christopher Tolkien compiled a Silmarillion narrative which, at the time, he felt best approximated his father's intentions. As explained in The History of Middle-earth, Christopher drew upon numerous sources for his narrative, relying on post The Lord of the Rings works where possible, but ultimately reaching back as far as the 1917 Book of Lost Tales to fill in portions of the narrative which his father had planned to write but never addressed. On some of the later parts of "Quenta Silmarillion", which were in the roughest state, he worked with Guy Gavriel Kay (later a noted fantasy author himself) to construct a narrative practically from scratch. The final result, which included genealogies, maps, an index, and the first-ever released Elvish word list was published in 1977.
Due to Christopher's extensive explanations of how he compiled the published work, much of The Silmarillion has been debated by the hardcore fans. Christopher's task is generally accepted as very difficult given the state of his father's texts at the time of his death: some critical texts were no longer in the Tolkien family's possession, and Christopher's task compelled him to rush through much of the material. Christopher reveals in later volumes of The History of Middle-earth many divergent ideas which do not agree with the published version. Christopher Tolkien has suggested that, had he taken more time and had access to all the texts, he might have produced a substantially different work. But he was impelled by considerable pressure and demand from his father's readers and publishers to produce something publishable as quickly as possible. However, it is a severe misapprehension to think that Christopher "wrote" The Silmarillion, which, except in its concluding part, is almost entirely in his father's own words.
Some of the material published in The Silmarillion was the invention of or influenced by Guy Kay, rather than authentic ideas by J.R.R. Tolkien. In particular Of the Ruin of Doriath, saw the most revisions by him. Later books from Christopher Tolkien have explained what parts were invented, and explain J.R.R. Tolkien's actual original stories and ideas. Christopher later came to regret their overhanded 'manipulation' in The Silmarillion
- This story was not lightly or easily conceived, but was the outcome of long experimentation among alternative conceptions. In this work Guy Kay took a major part, and the chapter that I finally wrote owes much to my discussions with him. It is, and was, obvious that a step was being taken of a different order from any other ‘manipulation’ of my father’s own writing in the course of the book: even in the case of the story of The Fall of Gondolin, to which my father had never returned, something could be contrived without introducing radical changes in the narrative. It seemed at that time that there were elements inherent in the story of the Ruin of Doriath as it stood that were radically incompatible with ‘The Silmarillion’ as projected, and that there was here an inescapable choice: either to abandon that conception, or else to alter the story. I think now that this was a mistaken view, and that the undoubted difficulties could have been, and should have been, surmounted without so far overstepping the bounds of the editorial function.
- 'Apart from a few matters of detail in texts and notes that have not been published, all that my father ever wrote on the subject of the ruin of Doriath has now been set out (...) If these materials are compared with the story told in The Silmarillion it is seen at once that this latter is fundamentally changed, to a form for which in certain essential features there is no authority whatever in my father's own writings.
In Beren and Lúthien Christopher Tolkien went back to the story and introduced much of his father's original plans for it, and his father's explanation for how Dwarven enemy (and its allies) made it past the Girdle of Melian, which had been explained in the Quenta Noldorinwa.
Other issues with the story that were inventions or removals by Guy Gavriel Kay (and Christopher Tolkien) are also discussed in The History of Middle-earth include Thingol being slain inside his palace and:
- In the story that appears in The Silmarillion the outlaws who went with Húrin to Nargothrond were removed, as also was the curse of Mîm; and the only treasure that Húrin took from Nargothrond was the Nauglamîr - which was here supposed to have been made by Dwarves for Finrod Felagund, and to have been the most prized by him of all the hoard of Nargothrond. Húrin was represented as being at last freed from the delusions inspired by Morgoth in his encounter with Melian in Menegroth. The Dwarves who set the Silmaril in the Nauglamîr were already in Menegroth engaged on other works, and it was they who slew Thingol; at that time Melian's power was withdrawn from Neldoreth and Region, and she vanished out of Middle-earth, leaving Doriath unprotected. The ambush and destruction of the Dwarves at Sarn Athrad was given again to Beren and the Green-elves [following my father's letter of 1963 quoted on p. 353, where however he said that 'Beren had no army'] and from the same source the Ents, 'Shepherds of the Trees', were introduced.
Beren and Lúthien restores much of the original story as J.R.R. Tolkien had originally conceived moving Thingol's death during a wolf-hunt outside of Menegroth (Thousand Caves), after the battles with the Dwarves hired to work the gold inside.
Other issues with the 'invented' story in the Of the Ruin of Doriath chapter (but fixed by later sources) include nature of Húrin's death, and the history of the Nauglamír (it was made from the treasure not taken from Nargothrond, rather than taken from the hoard).
During the 1980's and 1990's, Christopher Tolkien published most of his father's Middle-earth-related writings as the 12-volume The History of Middle-earth series.
In addition to the source material and earlier drafts of several portions of The Lord of the Rings, these books greatly expand on the original material published in The Silmarillion, and in many cases diverge from it. Part of the reason for this is that Christopher Tolkien heavily edited The Silmarillion to ready it for publication, in places having to choose between contradictory versions of the text. J.R.R. Tolkien also sketched ideas for radical transformations of the mythology which never reached narrative form. These later books also reveal which parts of The Silmarillion Tolkien developed more than others.
Portrayal in adaptations
More recently references and a character have appeared in the game Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. In the story a Ranger leading a garrison on the Black Gate is killed along with his family, shortly after he is revived and a wraith Celebrimbor takes host in his once dead body. As told in the last section of The Silmarillion, Celebrimbor is killed after protecting his forged rings of power from Sauron. These two sharing a body both seek revenge and redemption.
|Foreign Language||Translated name|
|Haitian Creole||A Silmarillion|
|Kazakh||Сілмарілліон (Cyrillic) Silmarillion (Latin)|
|Kurdish||Li Silmarillion (Kurmanji Kurdish)|
|Macedonian Cyrillic||на Силмариллион|
|Somalian||O le Silmarillion|
|Serbian||Силмарилион (Cyrillic) Silmarilion (Latin)|
|Tajik Cyrillic||Дар Силмариллион|
|Uzbek||Силмариллион (Cyrillic) Silmarilion (Latin)|
|J.R.R. Tolkien's - The Silmarillion|
|Ainulindalë | Valaquenta | Quenta Silmarillion | Akallabêth | Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age|
|The History of Middle-earth|
(earlier versions of the story of The Silmarillion)
|J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth Legendarium|
|The Hobbit (1937) • The Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring  • The Two Towers  • The Return of the King ) • The Adventures of Tom Bombadil  • The Road Goes Ever On |
|Bilbo's Last Song  • The Silmarillion  • Unfinished Tales  |
The History of Middle-earth (The Book of Lost Tales Part One  • The Book of Lost Tales Part Two  • The Lays of Beleriand  • The Shaping of Middle-earth  • The Lost Road and Other Writings  • The Return of the Shadow  • The Treason of Isengard  • The War of the Ring  • Sauron Defeated  • Morgoth's Ring  • The War of the Jewels  • The Peoples of Middle-earth  • Index )
Great Tales (The Children of Húrin  • Beren and Lúthien  • The Fall of Gondolin )
The Nature of Middle-earth