J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion

When I first heard that Peter Jackson was turning The Hobbit into not one but three movies, I was dubious. I knew that J.R.R. Tolkien had a wealth of backing material for his popular novels, and I hoped Jackson would delve into some of those stories. Unfortunately, he didn’t, besides a few throw-away references to Ungoliant and the Elves’ love of starlight. So if you’re a hardcore Tolkien fan, then you’ll probably also be disappointed by Jackson’s recreation of the books. I had to put aside my urge to scream “that’s not in the book!” in order to enjoy the movies as simply a good story.

J.R.R. Tolkien's novel The Silmarillion sheds light on The Hobbit movies

Even so, watching the movies again last month with some girlfriends, I found myself appreciating what I knew about Middle Earth and the history of Elves, Men, and Dwarves from reading The Silmarillion and studying Tolkien’s other backing texts in a history course at UVic last January. When I started the course, I was looking forward to learning more about Tolkien’s world yet also preparing myself for some hard reading. I’d heard The Silmarillion wasn’t quite the light, easy read that The Hobbit is, so I was surprised to find myself thoroughly enjoying it.

The Silmarillion begins with the creation of Middle Earth in a short saga called “Ainulindale.” It’s a beautiful telling of how Iluvatar, “the One,” created the Ainur, “the Holy Ones,” and with them makes the music through which Middle Earth is created. While the Ainur are never mentioned in The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, their role in creation still has a huge impact upon the stories that come later. The Elves are known as the Firstborn Children of Iluvatar, for whom Middle Earth is created, while Men are the Secondborn, and each has distinct roles and character traits within The Silmarillion (which are discussed by various characters in the stories).

Even as the Ainur are making music with Iluvatar to create Middle Earth, one Ainu named Melkor becomes proud and tries to make his own music. It sounds off and wrong, like someone playing a solo in an orchestra rather than following a conductor, and that prideful music is the source of all evil. The story of Middle Earth becomes the battle of the Ainur vs. Melkor, as Melkor seeks to destroy and corrupt everything created by the Ainur and Iluvatar. Many of these battles result in huge destruction to Middle Earth, and that fight continues from the creation of Middle Earth to the defeat of Sauron at the end of LOTR. Sauron is introduced in The Silmarillion as a servant of Melkor and one of the Maia (powerful beings that assist the Ainur in creation). So while Jackson uses Sauron in The Hobbit movies to foreshadow the LOTR movies, Sauron is indeed around at the time and gathering his evil forces.

The animosity between Elves, Men and Dwarves which we see in The Hobbit and LOTR also goes way back to the beginning of Middle Earth. An Ainu named Aule gets impatient waiting for the Elves to show up in Middle Earth and decides to take matters into his own hands. He creates the Dwarves, which are obviously not as pretty or smart as the Children of Iluvatar (either Elves or Men). Aule realizes the mistake he made in creating the Dwarves without Iluvatar and submits to Iluvatar, so Iluvatar allows the Dwarves to live but predicts that there will be conflict between them and the Children.

This conflict between Elves, Men and Dwarves can be likened to the jealousies among first born, second born and adopted children, and is deepened through the ways these “children” relate to each other throughout history. For example, in An Unexpected Journey, we see the elf Thranduil turn away from helping Thorin, so in The Desolation of Smaug, Thorin refuses to help Thranduil. And we’ll see more of that play out in The Battle of the Five Armies.

In The Desolation of Smaug, the elf Tauriel talks about how she loves the starlight. This also goes back to the birth or “awakening” of the Elves. The Ainur had attempted to create light in Middle Earth, but Melkor had destroyed it. So when the Elves appear in Middle Earth, it is dark except for the stars. Because starlight is the first thing they see, they love it (and Varda, the Ainu who created it). The Elves’ love of music also recalls the music used in the creation of the world.

When Thorin’s Company is warned of the spiders in Mirkwood, someone makes a comment that they are “spawn of Ungoliant.” She is a monstrous spider whom Melkor drags into Middle Earth to fight the Ainur and the Elves. Ungoliant hates light and weaves an “unlight.” She destroys the new source of light and power that the Ainur have created, resulting in global disaster in Middle Earth. She and Melkor then flee, pursued by the Ainur, but she is never captured or destroyed. She makes a nest in a place called Nan Dungortheb (Valley of Dreadful Death) and from her come the terrible spiders of Mirkwood.

Finally, wizards like Gandalf simply appear in The Hobbit and LOTR, but they are not men. Tolkien’s histories explain that wizards are emissaries, chosen and sent by the Ainur, to help in the fight against Sauron and his evil. Thus we see Gandalf hastening from place to place in The Hobbit in his quest against evil, whether he’s dealing with orcs and trolls or Necromancers. As he mentions in An Unexpected Journey, there are other wizards (including Saruman and Radagast) but they aren’t a huge company.

So, even though I’m disappointed that Peter Jackson didn’t pull more from the wealth of Tolkien’s backing texts in order to create The Hobbit movies, I’m still looking forward to finding out what happens in The Battle of the Five Armies. If you’re also re-watching the movies to prepare for the next one, may I suggest trying to read The Silmarillion as well? There is so much more in it than I’ve covered here!

Have you read the books and/or seen the movies? How do you feel about Jackson’s adaptation of Tolkien’s books?

For more about J.R.R. Tolkin, check out my review of Mark Horne’s biography.

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  1. Alyssa December 11, 2014
  2. paula schuck December 11, 2014
  3. Heather Lynne December 11, 2014

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