Classic Remarks: What to read after “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”

What Tolkien book would you recommend to a reader after they’ve read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings?

3306190There are a few possibilities for this one, depending on your tastes. But my first answer would be The Silmarillion. This is the book with all the tales of how Middle-Earth came to be. It has the history of the Elves, Men, Dwarves, and a bit of hobbit history too, although for such unadventurous folk their origins are rather mysterious. It is a magnificent tapestry of hundreds of stories that all form a cohesive, meaningful whole. Anyone who reads the tales of Bilbo and Frodo and wants to know more about Middle-Earth should turn first to The Silmarillion.

597790But perhaps you’re intimidated by the size and density of The Silmarillion? You’ve heard it described as “the Old Testament with Elves” and worry that it will be too dry or complicated to jump right into. Even in The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s language has a dense, old flavor to it that can be hard to swallow for readers unfamiliar with that style, and the promise of more stories told in a still denser, older style can intimidate even those who want to experience the stories themselves. In that case, I would recommend The Children of Húrin. This book tells one of The Silmarillion’s stories in an expanded form closer to a short novel. The language is still high and beautiful, but it’s a quicker, more self-sufficient read, and will give you a good taste of what to expect in The Silmarillion. I do warn you, it’s a dark, tragic tale, but as epic and moving as they come. If you like it, you can rest assured that you will find more of that quality in The Silmarillion, but also many stories that are happier and more hopeful.

Happy reading!

Next up: Is the Phantom of the Opera abusive or romantic? (You can discuss the musical or the book version, or the differences between the two.)


Beren and Lúthien, a centenary publication — John Garth

In a wood filled with a cloud of white flowers, a soldier walked in the spring of 1917 with his wife, and she sang and danced for him. To that battle-worn lieutenant, J R R Tolkien, Edith’s dance was an unforgettable glimpse of unearthly joy in the midst of sorrow and horror. It inspired the story he saw […]

via Beren and Lúthien, a centenary publication — John Garth

A new Tolkien book is always exciting! Granted, this sounds like it might not have any new material that isn’t already published in other books. But still, the story of Beren and Luthien is one of my absolute favorites, and I welcome the chance to read even many variations of it in its own book, accompanied by the lovely art of Alan Lee.

Also, as a little heads-up for you guys, I’m preparing another book review of a more recent (well, no more than 10 years old…) fantasy novel, so look out for that in the next week or so. Happy reading!

Tolkien Week!

Sunday, March 25th, was Tolkien Reading Day, as declared by The Tolkien Society, being as it is the calendar day that the Ring was destroyed in Mount Doom at the end of The Lord of the Rings. To honor this, Pages Unbound is hosting a two-week long Middle-Earthan extravaganza, featuring a new guest post each day on some Tolkien-related topic. (Actually I don’t know if it’s an extravaganza, but I just really wanted to use that word) It’s gotten off to a great start so far, so I recommend you all hurry over there to read and comment.

You may want to skip the end of the extravaganza next week, though, as that’s when my guest post will be appearing. No point in wasting your time; it’ll be a horrible essay, I’m sure. Morgoth’s been taunting me about it.

As a teaser for what my topic will be, I give you this picture by Ted Nasmith.

(as a potentially amusing sidenote, I initially misspelled this post’s title as “Tolkien Weed”)

Reblog: *Now* it ends in flame

Very rarely do I reblog other people’s posts. This is one of those times. I simply couldn’t refrain from sharing this latest masterpiece by one of my favorite Tolkien artists, Jenny Dolfen. Please do enjoy. And if you do enjoy the picture, go to her page, “Like” her post, subscribe to her blog, and leave a comment telling her how wonderful her artwork is.

Jenny Dolfen Art

When before, let’s face it, it ended in coffee.

So, since painting “It ends in flame”, I’ve been wanting to do a more fiery version that your average coffee allows. Thanks to liquid watercolours, this now works much better.

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“The Last Voyage of Eärendel” by J.R.R. Tolkien

Eärendil the Mariner, by Ted Nasmith
Eärendil the Mariner, by Ted Nasmith

This is the first poem written by Tolkien about the character of Eärendil, the famous voyager who in Middle-Earth mythology carried the morning star on his brow across the sky. Interestingly enough, the character’s name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Éarendel, a name associated with the star Rigel in Orion, which is a wandering star and the brightest of that constellation. Subsequently, it is an extremely important star for navigation, and makes a fitting inspiration for the name of Tolkien’s great seafaring man. But even apart from these associations the poem is immensely beautiful, a wonderful example of mythopoeia.

The Last Voyage of Eärendel

J.R.R. Tolkien

Eärendel arose where the shadow flows
At Ocean’s silent brim;
Through the mouth of night as a ray of light
Where the shores are sheer and dim
He launched his bark like a silver spark
From the last and lonely sand;
Then on sunlit breath of the day’s fiery death
He sailed from Westerland.

He threaded his path o’er the aftermath
Of the splendour of the Sun,
And wandered far past many a star
In his gleaming galleon.
On the gathering tide of darkness ride
The argosies of the sky,
And spangle the night with their sails of light
As the streaming star goes by.

Unheeding he dips past these twinkling ships,
By his wayward spirit whirled
On an endless quest through the darkling West
O’er the margin of the world;
And he fares in haste o’er the jewelled waste
And the dusk from whence he came
With his heart afire with bright desire
And his face in silver flame.

The Ship of the Moon from the East comes soon
From the Haven of the Sun,
Whose white gates gleam in the coming beam
Of the mighty silver one.
Lo! with bellying clouds as his vessel’s shrouds
He weighs anchor down the dark,
And on shimmering oars leaves the blazing shores
In his argent-timbered bark.

Then Éarendel fled from that Shipman dread
Beyond the dark earth’s pale,
Back under the rim of the Ocean dim,
And behind the world set sail;
And he heard the mirth of the folk of earth
And the falling of their tears,
As the world dropped back in a cloudy wrack
On its journey down the years.

Then he glimmering passed to the starless vast
As an isléd lamp at sea,
And beyond the ken of mortal men
Set his lonely errantry,
Tracking the Sun in his galleon
Through the pathless firmament,
Till his light grew old in abysses cold
And his eager flame was spent.

The Book of Lost Tales 2, pages 271-3

"On an endless quest through the darkling West..."

Book Meme Day 14: My Favorite Books by my Favorite Writers

From Tolkien, The Silmarillion.

In addition to containing one of my favorite stories, period, in Of Beren and Lúthien, the book also contains all the best, most formative stories of Tolkien’s mythology of Arda (the term referring to his entire invented world, of which Middle-Earth is but a continent). The Ainulindalë section, in which the world is created by musical worship of God, has a majesty reminiscent of the Book of Revelation. The story of the Elves’ Awakening by the twilit lake of Cuiviénen makes me long for a place of beauty that never was, and sad for the Avari, the so-called “refusers” who stayed behind when their cousins, the Noldor (High Elves), followed Oromë to Valinor, because they dwindled into obscurity and were forgotten (unless they are in fact the later Sindarin “Grey Elves,” which would mean they did not dwindle but forged some great kingdoms of their own, including that of Mirkwood from which comes Legolas). Also Fëanor, greatest of the Noldor and forger of the Silmarils, whose foolish rebellion against the Valar and leading of his people from the paradise of Valinor led only to suffering, anguish, and a deadly curse on his sons that would haunt Elves and Men for centuries. When the fair hidden city of Gondolin fell to a hellish onslaught by Morgoth, my heart ached at Arda’s loss. And so many others…the doom of Túrin Turambar, the travels of Tuor, the terrible battles of Dagor Bragollach and the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, the voyage of Eärendil the Mariner, and of course the rise and fall of Númenor.

These stories move me and fascinate me more than even the genuine mythologies of Greece, Rome, the Norse, and the Celts. One reason is that The Silmarillion’s myriad stories have a beautiful unity of theme and purpose concerning the rebellion of Elves against the purposes of Ilúvatar and their eventual redemption by his grace. The theme is drawn from the story of mankind’s own rebellion and redemption in the Holy Bible, and thus has a truly timeless quality.

From Lewis, while this is a tough decision, I shall have to say Perelandra.

Yeah, it's a really weird cover. Very psychedelic.

The second book of his Space Trilogy, it is essentially Lewis’ take on John Milton’s Paradise Lost, giving homage to that English epic while correcting many of its faults. But Lewis is not bound to the connections with Milton; his subject is the Fall of Man as told in Genesis. What has sin really done to humanity, after all? What might we have been like before our corruption, when we were perfect and in harmony with God and His creation? What is innocence, and can it be cunning? I love especially Lewis’ treatment of the idea of purity. The Lady, representing Eve, is utterly pure and innocent, not knowing evil or perversity in any form. Our modern culture looks condescendingly on these traits as naïve and therefore weaker than worldly wisdom. But Lewis proves otherwise. The Lady fends off the arguments of Satan handily, defeating his logic with the purity of her own and her faith in God. These passages are a delight to read, even as the tension grows because of our concern that Satan may succeed once again, as he did with Adam and Eve.

There are other reasons to love Perelandra. It is science fiction more concerned with theology and mythology than with science. On nearly every page there seems to be a groundbreaking or deeply profound idea. The landscape of the planet is unlike any I have read of before, with its gentle undulations that somehow do not cause seasickness, and the ending is surprisingly and utterly brilliant. There is so much depth and detail in it, that I think I shall need four or five rereads before I begin to understand more fully what Lewis has accomplished in it.

J. Holsworth Stevenson on The Silmarillion
J. Holsworth Stevenson on Out of the Silent Planet, the first book in the Space Trilogy of which Perelandra is second.