Silmarillion Summary

J.R.R. Tolkien


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Silmarillion Summary

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The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien, tells the story of creation and war between good and evil. This companion to The Lord of the Rings begins with Ea, the world, and the Valar, who pave the way for the arrival of the children of Iluvatar. Together, they fight against Melkor, the force of evil in the world. This creation story both mirrors the story in Genesis in the Bible, and creates its own mythology.

Iluvatar, like God, begins by creating the Ainur, who fill the role of angels. He lays out his plans for Ea, and sends some of the Ainur to Ea, where they become the Valar. The children they are preparing for become the races of Elves and Men. Meanwhile, Melkor wants to rule Ea, and though his plots are undone, they also cause the Valar to go to Valinor. When Aule creates the Dwarf race, Iluvatar makes them sleep until the Elves wake up. They do, and Melkor is imprisoned.

Melian and Thingol both fall in love, and together rule the land known then as Doriath. Melkor is released from prison, and then the child of Melian and Thingol, whose name is Feanor, is the creator of the Silmarils. The Silmarils are a set of three jewels that contain the light of the Two Trees of Valinor. Melkor steals the Silmarils after he destroys the Two Trees of Valinor. These trees represent the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life, both present in the Garden of Eden in Genesis. Despite the fact that Melkor has stolen the Silmarils, Feanor and his sons all vow that no one can possess them, and vow vengeance against Melkor. After the Noldor leave Valinor, the Valar create the moon and the sun.

Many battles follow, including that between the Eldar and Melkor, during which Melkor kills Feanor. The race of Men wakes and the Elves become their friends and allies. Beren, a man, and Luthien, an elf, fall in love and marry after Luthien completes the quest of the Silmaril. When Beren’s mortal life ends, Luthien decides to die and be with him, turning away from her immortal life. This story relates to that of Aragorn and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings. In that series of books, Aragorn, a man, is in love with Arwen, an elf. Arwen’s father doesn’t want her to give up her immortality for Aragorn, even though she wants to, like Luthien before her.

When Feanor’s sons find out that Thingol has a Silmaril, they attack him. To hide the Silmaril, Thingol gets Dwarves to place it in the Nauglamir—the “Necklace of the Dwarves”—but they kill Thingol and take the Nauglamir instead. They dwarves had originally created it for Finrod Felagund. Beren gets the Nauglamir. Meanwhile, Earendil, son of Tuor and Idril, allies with the Valar to fight against Morgoth, whom they defeat and imprison in the Timeless Void. Morgoth is the Silmarillion counterpart representing Satan from the Bible. Earendil the Mariner is the child of both Elves and Men, and is Aragorn’s ancestor, as well as Elrond’s cousin. In The Lord of the Rings, Elrond is the ruler of Rivendell and the elves who reside there, and Arwen’s father.

Over time, the Dunedain, a race of Men who are Aragorn’s ancestors and who live in Numenor, let slide the alliance with the Elves and the Valar. Sauron, the antagonist of The Lord of the Rings, takes control over Numenor. When the Valar attack and destroy Numenor, Elendil escapes. He returns to Middle-earth. Meanwhile, Sauron tries to gain control over the Elves. He offers the Rings of Power, which leads to war. Sauron kills Elendil, but is forced from his body. He regains power, though the Istari Wizards joined the forces of Men and Elves to help fight Sauron. There are supposedly five Wizards, though only three appear in The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings. Saruman the White is at the top of their order, followed by Gandalf the Grey. The third Wizard mentioned by name in the story is Radagast the Brown. Together, the Wizards, Elves, and Men wage war against Sauron after the Wizards find the one Ring. The Third Age ends with a decisive battle, which Sauron loses. Men then rule Middle-earth and the Elves go back to Valinor.

There are three prominent themes in The Silmarillion: sacrificial love, betrayal, and pride drive characters of all groups and races. J.R.R. Tolkien served in World War I, most notably in the Battle of the Somme. Professionally, he was a linguist and professor of English language and literature. Prior to writing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien created the languages spoken by the races that figure in the plot of that series, as well as in The Silmarillion.