I finished my re-read of The Silmarillion over the long weekend, so here are some more thoughts about what I noticed this time through!
Tolkien Re-Used Names, Like, A LOT
Here is a short list of names I totally recognized from The Lord of the Rings, and which still to this day cause me a little cognitive dissonance when I see them outside that story:
- Minas Tirith
And hell, even within this specific book, the name Míriel shows up twice: once as the mother of Fëanor, and once as the last ruling Queen of Númenor.
The First Age Was Surprisingly Short
A big chunk of the book is devoted to the Quenta Silmarillion proper, which is the part of it easily conflated with the overall title. It’s in this part that the big highlights of the book happen–notably, the tale of Beren and Lúthien, and the tale of Turin. And, of course, the First Age is all about the Silmarils, as well as the smackdown eventually finally delivered to Morgoth.
But given this, if you look at the overall timeline of the world of Arda (which is what the world Middle-Earth is on is actually called), the First Age is surprisingly short compared to the other ages of the world. It’s only about 590 years long, compared to the multiple thousands of years that lead up to the First Age, and how the Second and Third Ages are both over three thousand years in length.
Yep, Still Love Me Some Beren and Lúthien
This really goes without saying, but I’ll say it again anyway. 😀 Here are the things about which Lúthien has zero fucks to give:
- Her father trying to lock her up to keep her away from her man
- The sons of Fëanor trying to lock her up to keep her away from her man
- Morgoth himself trying to keep her away from her man
- Her man trying to leave her behind on the mistaken assumption that he can handle going on a Silmaril-hunting quest all by himself
- Death itself trying to keep her away from her man
And she is delightful from start to finish. It was a joy to be reminded as well about how friggin’ powerful she is–she uses her “arts” to grow her own hair Rapunzel-style to break out the high tree-house her father locked her up in, and then for good measure takes that hair, slaps a sleep-spell on it, and makes herself a cloak that she uses a bunch later to take down anybody in her way.
And she pretty much sings Morgoth’s crown right off his head, since she knocks him out with her power. Fuck yeah, daughter of Mélian!
Speaking of Mélian
I noticed and appreciated her more throughout this re-read. She’s on record as being the only one of the Maiar to fall in love with one of the Children of Iluvatar, enough that she bothered to physically incarnate herself so that she could be with Thingol. She is also on record as being the major power in Middle-Earth that Morgoth actually fears. Which is impressive, given that he’s a Vala on the order of Manwë himself, and she’s a Maia, and in theory of “lesser” degree.
Shoutout to the Women of the Silmarillion in General
This time through I noticed way more women having active things to do than I really remembered. Mélian and Lúthien are obvious, as is Nienor/Niniel in the tale of Turin and Elwing in the tale of Eärendil. But there are other women of note scattered all throughout the story, and who, even if they’re only passingly mentioned, clearly have an impact on the events that unfold:
- Nerdanel, wife of Fëanor
- Haleth, leader of the Haladin, who rules her people as a chieftain and who never marries
- Morwen Eledhwen, wife of Húrin, mother of Túrin
- Aredhel, wife of Eöl, mother of Maeglin
- Emeldir the Manhearted, mother of Beren, who brings her people to safety at the urging of her spouse Barahir
- Míriel Ar-Zimraphel of Númenor, whose rightful place as Queen is usurped by her husband, and who tragically drowns in the sinking of Númenor by Iluvatar
And Emeldir as well as Galadriel are examples of Tolkien’s making his bolder females get nicknamed in ways that invoke masculinity–Galadriel’s mother names her Nerwen, “man-maiden”, in reference to her height and strength. Part of me is irritated at this conflation of strength and masculinity, I must admit, and yet!
Let it also be noted that before it finally fell, some of Númenor’s rightful rulers were in fact women.
Tuor and Idril Don’t Get Nearly Enough Camera Time
After the awesomeness of the tale of Beren and Lúthien, the second recorded joining of an Elf and a Man, Tuor and Idril, seems regretfully anticlimactic. Tuor basically shows up in Gondolin, hangs out for a few years, and gets permission to wed Idril, Turgon’s daughter. But there’s very little there to show why these two characters loved each other to begin with, and Idril’s marrying Tuor is mostly contrasted to how she doesn’t want to marry Maeglin.
Plus, at least for me as a reader, their story is eclipsed by the fall of Gondolin in general. Maeglin’s part of this I get, just because it’s his being captured by Morgoth’s forces that leads to Gondolin’s location being revealed. Maeglin’s motivations aren’t exactly complicated, but in contrast to him, Tuor and Idril are even less well sketched out. And that does a disservice, I feel, to the second recorded joining of Elf and Man EVER, not to mention the parents of Eärendil.
I do at least like that Idril had some agency in encouraging Tuor to make a secret way out, in case disaster befell. (Which it did.) And I also like that Tuor and Idril apparently eventually went into the West and were allowed to stay, despite Tuor being mortal, which I had forgotten. Tuor managed to get himself counted among the Firstborn, which, well done there.
Elwing: Also Pretty Awesome
Eärendil gets a lot of the press in his tale, as well as repeated mentions over in The Lord of the Rings–but re-reading his tale this time through, I had renewed appreciation for his wife Elwing. This woman, rather than give up the Silmaril she possesses to Fëanor’s remaining sons, tosses herself into the sea to escape. At which point she is transformed into a great white bird, which lets her fly to Valinor and eventually catch up with her husband.
Thus she gets to carry on the tradition of women being awesome in the family tree of Beren and Lúthien, as seems entirely befitting for the mother of Elrond.
More to Come
All of these thoughts are for events in the First Age–but I’ve got more to come regarding events in the Second Age. So I’ll put that into another post!