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The Silmarillion cover The Silmarillion by J.R.R Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien

Published by Del Rey Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

When The Lord of the Rings came out, readers were captivated by its depth, not only the wealth of detail but also the hints of thousands of years of history. Soon there was an enormous clamor for the stories behind the songs and sayings.

What people didn't realize was that the stories had already been written. In fact Professor Tolkien had been working on the stories of the First Age since his youth. Because he had been under the impression that there was little hope of actually getting them published, he had set them aside in favor of what would ultimately become The Lord of the Rings.

Now that there was a clear and definite market for the stories of the First Age, Tolkien had to take them up once again and put them into some kind of publishable order. However, the perfection which he sought continued to elude him. He could not find any overarching structure to unite the disparate manuscripts. Worse, there was nothing comparable to the hobbits to mediate the story to present-day readers.

When Tolkien died, the manuscripts of the First Age narratives remained in a chaotic tangle. It fell upon his son Christopher to impose some kind of order upon them and bring them to print. This was no easy task, for a lifetime of working and re-working had left multiple layers of story, rather like an archeological dig at a long-inhabited site.

This volume is the result. In it Christopher Tolkien drew together a coherent storyline from the confusion of his father's manuscripts. It is heavy reading, since there is no effort to make the narrative friendly and accessable to modern readers. The tone is remote, rather like the Old Testament or the Norse sagas. But for anyone who longed to read the whole story of Luthien Tinuvial, or of the other stories of the elves' glory days, here it is.

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Review posted October 5, 2000

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