The Silmarillion Study Guide

The Silmarillion

The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Silmarillion is a historical fantasy novel chronicling the prehistory and history of J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle Earth. It deals with the creation of the world, the fall and rebellion of the angelic being Melkor, and the tragedies and romances of the elves, humans, and dwarves born into the world by the other gods. Written in a dense style similar to mythological texts, the Silmarillion tells the greatest stories of thousands of years of history.

    Ainulindalë and Valaquenta

    The first section of The Silmarillion , Ainulindalë ("The Music of the Ainur" ), takes the form of a primary creation narrative. Eru ("The One" ), also called Ilúvatar ("Father of All"), first created the Ainur, a group of eternal spirits or demiurges, called "the offspring of his thought". Ilúvatar brought the Ainur together and showed them a theme, from which he bade them make a great music. Melkor — whom Ilúvatar had given the "greatest power and knowledge" of all the Ainur — broke from the harmony of the music to develop his own song. Some Ainur joined him, while others continued to follow Ilúvatar, causing discord in the music. This happened thrice, with Eru Ilúvatar successfully overpowering his rebellious subordinate with a new theme each time. Ilúvatar then stopped the music and showed them a vision of Arda and its peoples. The vision disappeared after a while, and Ilúvatar offered the Ainur a chance to enter into Arda and govern over the new world.

    Many Ainur descended, taking physical form and becoming bound to that world. The greater Ainur became known as the Valar, while the lesser Ainur were called the Maiar. The Valar attempted to prepare the world for the coming inhabitants (Elves and Men), while Melkor, who wanted Arda for himself, repeatedly destroyed their work; this went on for thousands of years until, through waves of destruction and creation, the world took shape.

    Valaquenta ("Account of the Valar" ) describes Melkor and each of the 14 Valar in detail, as well as a few of the Maiar. It also reveals how Melkor seduced many Maiar— including those who would eventually become Sauron and the Balrogs — into his service.

    Quenta Silmarillion

    Quenta Silmarillion ("The History of the Silmarils" ), which makes up the bulk of the book, is a series of interconnected tales set in the First Age that make up the tragic saga of the three jewels, the Silmarils.

    The Valar had attempted to fashion the world for Elves and Men, but Melkor continually destroyed their handiwork. After he destroyed the two lamps that illuminated the world, the Valar moved to Aman, a continent to the west of Middle-earth, where they established their home called Valinor, illuminated by Two Trees, and left Middle-earth to darkness and Melkor. When stars began to shine and the Elves awoke, the Valar fought Melkor to keep the Elves safe, defeated and captured Melkor and then invited the Elves to live in Aman. Many Elves travelled to Aman, while others refused and still others stopped along the way, including the Elves who later became the Sindar, ruled by the Elf King Thingol and Melian, a Maia. Of the three tribes that set out, all of the Vanyar and Noldor, and many of the Teleri reached Aman.

    In Aman, Fëanor, son of Finwë, King of the Noldor, created the Silmarils, jewels that glowed with the light of the Two Trees. Melkor, released after feigning repentance, destroyed the Two Trees with the help of Ungoliant, killed Finwë, stole the Silmarils, and fled to Middle-earth, where he attacked the Elvish kingdom of Doriath. He was defeated in the first of five battles of Beleriand, however, and barricaded himself in his northern fortress of Angband.

    Fëanor and his sons swore an oath of vengeance against Melkor – and against anyone who withheld the Silmarils from them, even the Valar. Fëanor persuaded most of the Noldor to pursue Melkor, whom Fëanor renamed as Morgoth, into Middle-earth. Fëanor's sons seized ships from the Teleri, attackingand killing many of them, and left the other Noldor to make the voyage by foot. Upon arriving in Middle-earth, the Noldor under Fëanor attacked Melkor and defeated his host, though Fëanor was slain by Balrogs. After a period of peace, Melkor attacked the Noldor but was again defeated and besieged. Nearly 400 years later, he broke the siege and drove the Noldor back.

    After the destruction of the Trees and the theft of the Silmarils, the Valar had created the moon and the sun. At the same time, Men awoke, some of whom later arrived in Beleriand and allied themselves with the Elves. Beren, a man who had survived the latest battle, wandered to Doriath, where he fell in love with the elf Lúthien, the king's daughter. The king sought to prevent their marriage by imposing what he believed an impossible task: retrieving one of the Silmarils from Melkor. But together, Beren and Lúthien embarked on this quest. Sauron, a powerful servant of Melkor, imprisoned Beren along the way; but with Lúthien's help he escaped, crept into Melkor's fortress, and stole a Silmaril from Melkor's crown. Having achieved the task, the first union of man and elf was formed, though Beren was soon mortally wounded and Lúthien also died of grief. However she convinced the Vala Mandos to revive Beren andherself, though she had to renounce her immortality.

    The Noldor, seeing that a mortal and an elf-woman could infiltrate Angband, perceived that Melkor was not invincible. They attacked again with a great army of Elves, Dwarves and Men. But they were deceived by Melkor, who had secretly darkened the hearts of many of the men. Thus it was that the Elvish host were utterly defeated, due in part to the treachery of some Men. However, many Men remained loyal to the Elves and were honoured thereafter.

    None received more honour than the brothers Húrin and Huor. Huor died in battle, but Melkor captured Húrin, and cursed him to watch the downfall of his kin. Húrin's son, Túrin Turambar, was sent to Doriath, leaving his mother and unborn sister behind in his father's kingdom (which had been overrun by the enemy). Túrin achieved many greatdeeds of valour, the greatest being the defeat of the dragon Glaurung. Despite his heroism, however, Túrin was plagued by the curse of Melkor, which led him unwittingly to murder his friend Beleg and to marry and impregnate his sister Nienor, whom he had never met before, and who had lost her memory through Glaurung's enchantment. Before their child was born, the bewitchment was lifted as the dragon lay dying. Nienor, realizing what grew within her, took her own life. Upon learning the truth, Túrin threw himself on his sword.

    Huor's son, Tuor, became involved in the fate of the hidden Noldorin kingdom of Gondolin. He married the elf Idril, daughter of Turgon, Lord of Gondolin (the second union between Elves and Men). When Gondolin fell, betrayed from within by Maeglin, Tuor saved many of its inhabitants from destruction. All of the Elvish kingdoms in Beleriand eventually fell, and the refugees fled to a haven by the sea created by Tuor. The son of Tuor and Idril, Eärendil the Half-elven, was betrothed to Elwing, herself descended from Beren and Lúthien. Elwing brought Eärendil the Silmaril of Beren and Lúthien, and using its light Eärendil travelled across the sea to Aman to seek help from the Valar. The Valar obliged; they attacked and defeated Melkor,completely destroying his fortress Angband and sinking most of Beleriand; and they expelled Melkor from Arda. This ended the First Age of Middle-earth. The last two Silmarils were taken by Fëanor's surviving sons Maedhros and Maglor. However Maedhros killed himself by falling into a fiery chasm andMaglor threw his Silmaril into the sea.

    Eärendil and Elwing had two children: Elrond and Elros. As descendants of immortal elves and mortal men, they were given the choice of which lineage to belong to: Elrond chose to belong to the Elves, his brother to Men. Elros became the first king of Númenor and lived to over 500 years old, being given an extended life in return for choosing to be a Man.

    Akallabêth

    Akallabêth ("The Downfallen" ) comprises about 30 pages, and recounts the rise and fall of the island kingdom of Númenor, inhabited by the Dúnedain. After the defeat of Melkor, the Valar gave the island to the three loyal houses of Men who had aided the Elves in the war against him. Through the favour with the Valar, the Dúnedain were granted wisdom and power and life more enduring than any other of mortal race had possessed, making them comparable to the High-Elves of Aman. Indeed, the isle of Númenor lay closer to Aman than to Middle-earth. But their power lay in their bliss and their acceptance of mortality. The fall of Númenor came about in large measure through the influence of the corrupted Maia Sauron (the chief servant of Melkor), who arose during the Second Age and tried to conquer Middle-earth.

    The Númenóreans moved against Sauron, who saw that he could not defeat them by force and allowed himself to be taken as a prisoner to Númenor. There he quickly enthralled the king, Ar-Pharazôn, urging him to seek out the immortality that the Valar had apparently denied him, thus nurturing the seeds of envy that the Númenóreans had begun to hold against the Elves of the West and the Valar. So it was that all the knowledge and power of Númenor was turned towards seeking an avoidance of death; but this only weakened them and sped the gradual waning of the lifespans to something more similar tothat of other Men. Sauron urged them to wage war against the Valar themselves to win immortality, and to worship his master Melkor, whom he said could grant them their wish. Ar-Pharazôn created the mightiest army and fleet Númenor had seen, and sailed against Aman. The Valar and Elves of Aman, stricken with grief over their betrayal, called on Ilúvatar for help. When Ar-Pharazôn landed, Ilúvatar destroyed his fleet and drowned Númenor itself as punishment for the rebellion against the rightful rule of the Valar. Ilúvatar created a great wave, such as had never before been seen, which utterly destroyed and submerged the isle of Númenor, killing all but those Dúnedain who had already sailed east, and changing the shape of all the lands of Middle-earth.

    Sauron's physical manifestation was also destroyed in the ruin of Númenor, but as a Maia his spirit returned to Middle-earth, no longer able to take upon himself the fair form he once had. Some Númenóreans who had remained loyal to the Valar were spared and were washed up on the shores of Middle-earth. Among these survivors were Elendil their leader, a descendant of Elros, and his two sons Isildur and Anárion who had also saved a seedling from Númenor´s white tree, the ancestor of that of Gondor. They founded the Númenórean Kingdoms in Exile: Arnor in the north and Gondor in the south. Elendil reigned as High-king of both kingdoms, but committed the rule of Gondor jointly to Isildur and Anárion. The power of the kingdoms in exile was greatly diminished from that of Númenor, "yet very great it seemed to the wild men of Middle-earth".

    At the end, it is mentioned that the sunken Númenor came to be called "Atalantë", a name not used when it existed. This led many readers to the conclusion that Númenor is Atlantis; this direct link was, however, denied by Tolkien himself, who asserted that it's a natural word following the constructs of Quenya.

    Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age

    The concluding section of the book, comprising about 20 pages, describes the events that take place in Middle-earth during the Second and Third Ages. In the Second Age, Sauron emerged as the main power in Middle-earth, and the Rings of Power were forged by Elves led by Celebrimbor. Sauron secretly forged his own ring to control the others, which led to war between the peoples of Middle-earth and Sauron, culminating in the War of the Last Alliance, in which Elves and the remaining Númenóreans united to defeat Sauron, bringing the Second Age to an end. The Third Age began with the passing of the One Ring to Isildur, who was ambushed at the Gladden Fields shortly afterwards, and lost the ring in the River Anduin. This section also gives a brief overview of the events leading up to and taking place in The Lord of the Rings , including the waning of Gondor, the re-emergence of Sauron, the White Council, Saruman's treachery, and Sauron's final destruction along with the One Ring, after which the ages of magic end.

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