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Bilingual Silmarillion Reread

Bilingual Silmarillion Reread

Bilingual Silmarillion Reread, Part 2

For those of you just joining in, I’m geeking out yet again about The Silmarillion. We’re reading it in the weekly book club I go to, and since I’ve already read it multiple times, the group agreed I’d read it in French while everybody else reads it in English.

But since I need to doublecheck the English while I’m reading the French, this is a bilingual reread! Here I’ll talk about the Ainulindalë and the Valaquenta, as promised in my last post. Both of these strike me as good straightforward translations, as with the front matter of the book.

There aren’t any changes to the names of the Valar, or to the structure of the overall story of Arda’s creation. Nothing in these two sections stood out for me going through the French edition. I’ll have more linguistic comments to come for the Quenta Silmarillion, though!


As is the case every single time I read The Silmarillion, I’m amused about how much shit goes down in the world just because Melkor got initially pissy about not having a solo.

In our reading group, though, we got a bit more into Melkor’s characterization. Mind you, this whole story operates at such a big-picture level that none of the Valar really get much characterization. Just a lot of “this Vala really likes water” and “that Valië really likes trees”.

With Melkor, though, you glimpse a bit more than that. Particularly here:

Then Ilúvatar spoke, and he said: ‘Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilúvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.’

Then the Ainur were afraid, and they did not yet comprehend the words that were said to them; and Melkor was filled with shame, of which came secret anger.

There’s a heaping helping of “sit the fuck DOWN, son” from Ilúvatar here. And a re-interpretation of this story could easily work this smackdown into a more sympathetic portrayal of Melkor.


We noted repetition between the Ainulindalë and the Valaquenta, regarding identifying the Valar and their various domains. This, we felt, was certainly appropriate for the kind of Bible-like, mythic flavor Tolkien was going for. But on the other hand, as modern readers, the others found it repetitive to read. Stylistically appropriate, perhaps, but still repetitive.

This time through, I noticed how the Valar are very gender-essentialist. I proposed the amusing thought exercise of which ones would be good to gender-flip or make completely non-binary in a fan remix of this tale.

Opinions we discussed:

  • Definitely flip Melkor to female.
  • Do the Valar really need gender at all?
  • Non-binary Valar genders would be things like “my gender is I Really Like Water”.
  • Although Ulmo would be pretty nifty non-binary, it’d also be amusing to see Ulmo be female, with lithe mermen attendants.

I’d be tempted to gender-flip Manwë and Varda, while keeping them a couple. And since Tolkien’s legendarium involves so much depth of language detail, I imagine their names shifting too. Manwa and Vardë, maybe.

It’d also be interesting to gender-flip Yavanna, just because she is a traditionally feminine archetype. Dara brought up that Redlance in Elfquest is an example of a character you could get by such a gender-flip.

One more thing I can say: I’m torn about Nienna. I like that she gets to be solitary. Yet particularly in this era of #MeToo and #TimesUp, I cannot help but notice that she is essentially the goddess of emotional labor. To wit: feh.

On the other hand, I also like what this says about Gandalf–who did after all begin his existence as Olórin, a Maia of Nienna. It makes him a Maia of emotional labor, and that’s actually kind of in keeping with what we always see Gandalf doing in The Lord of the Rings! It even gets called out right in the Valaquenta:

But of Olórin that tale does not speak; for though he loved the Elves, he walked among them unseen, or in form as one of them, and they did not know whence came the fair visions or the promptings of wisdom that he put into their hearts. In later days he was the friend of all the Children of Ilúvatar, and took pity on their sorrows; and those who listened to him awoke from despair and put away the imaginations of darkness.

Both sections

Since I can’t read this book as a new reader, I asked for the group’s thoughts on whether these sections worked for them. This is because when I hear people talking about how hard a read The Silmarillion is, these are the bits they’re generally meaning.

The overall census was that the huge infodump of “here’s the creation of the world, and here’s all the Valar and what they do” is problematic. Plus, there’s a lot of tell vs. show: i.e., “Yavanna sure did like trees and animals, so she made those”, vs. actually showing Yavanna making those trees and animals.

Group member Alexis (hi Alexis!) noted that the infodump would have worked much better for her as an appendix to the main story. And that, if a story hooks her on characters and action, she’ll happily go read acres of infodump about them later. But not at the start of the story.

Next post: however many chapters of the Quenta Silmarillion will give me enough notes for a good post!

Bilingual Silmarillion Reread

Bilingual Silmarillion Reread, Part 1

Back in the summer of 2017, just before I went to Quebec for Camp Violon Trad, I put up a couple of posts about rereading The Silmarillion: this initial post, and then this one.

Y’all may notice I never finished those posts. You may further notice that I’d said at the time that I wasn’t going to do a full series of reread posts about the book, but that I would reserve the right to change my mind.

That change of mind has now come! And it’s brought about by how the little book club Dara and I are in with a few friends of ours has decided to actually read The Silmarillion.

And, since I’m the only real Tolkien nerd in the group, and have of course read the thing multiple times already, we agreed I’d read it in French while everybody else read it in English.

So here’s an initial post about that. I’m not going to get into as much detail as I have on the posts I’ve done for Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings*, but I will talk some about interesting quirks of the French edition as I find them. And I’ll talk about things I notice this time through in general, as well. But mostly I’ll be keeping it pretty high-level. Since I’m doing this for book club as opposed to just doing it on my own time, I need to move through this pretty quickly! But I’m taking notes as I go, and those notes will form the bones of the posts I’ll put here.

About my editions

Le Silmarillion, the Pocket edition published in 2002, is the French edition I’m using for this. And it is, in fact, a copy I bought on that 2017 trip to Quebec! Fun story about that: I bought it at an Archambault in downtown Montreal. Told the guy at the counter that I liked to practice my French, so I was working on rereading a lot of Tolkien. He gave the book a look and said, “That’s a hard book to practice on!” I told him I knew it was hard in English, never mind French.

For comparison, this is the ebook edition I have, and this edition is my original paperback copy. Which would have been the one I snarfed once I read through the Lord of the Rings, and then got all big-eyed and WAIT THERE’S MORE?

For purposes of this reread, though, I’ll be dealing with the ebook version in English. My paperback is one of the few I have that I have specific sentimental attachment to! So I don’t get it out often.

The front matter

A few other notes about the French edition, meanwhile. It’s notable to me that unlike my English copies, the French edition has only Christopher Tolkien’s original Foreword. It doesn’t have the Preface that appears in the English editions, or the full quote of the letter J.R.R. Tolkien sent to his publisher to describe his intentions for the work.

I’m a little sad that the French edition doesn’t have that letter, in no small part because it does have one of my favorite Tolkien quotes.

I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama.

I swear, it’s like he was hoping for fanfic. 😉 (And at any rate, that quote right there is part of why I’m a lot more patient with Jackson’s Hobbit movies, as I’ve said before.)

Plus, it’s just nice to see Tolkien’s own thoughts included in the English edition. So, yeah, a bit sad those thoughts aren’t in the French. I must presume that the French translation was done off the first English edition and that they didn’t bother to swing back and translate the additional front matter, for whatever reason.

There’s not much more than that I can say about the front matter here. It’s maybe valuable to read through once for Christopher Tolkien’s commentary. But when I’m trying to work my way through the French, it’s less interesting.

So let’s proceed on into the Ainulindalë, shall we? I’ll talk about that and the Valaquenta in the next post.

*And in case any of you are going, “hey Anna, what about your Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter rereads? We notice you haven’t finished those, either!”, stand by on that. I haven’t forgotten them. And one silver lining in the whole cloud of being between jobs is that at the moment, I’ve got more time to blog! I will be re-awakening those rereads, too.