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Thread: Tolkien's Best?

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Diaz Soulbern began this thread with the following post.

Hello fellow fans.
Seeing as I just completed reading The Silmarillion I felt I had to appear and speak a few words. Not that anyone would, or rather could put a negative stamp on it. I think it is the best work he has done. I neglected to read it last year, but glad I am to have been wandering Waldens and come upon it perhaps for the fifth time.
I tried to hand it to some others around me but unfortunatly they couldn't handle it, or understand it, hmm, which was it they said?

Ah well, just here to state my pleasure in having read it.

Valedhelgwath replied

Welcome to Planet Tolkien, Diaz_Soulbern. At least around here you will find many other people who share opinion about the Silmarillion. Hope you take time to linger here and make yourself aquainted with a few of us.

I agree Diaz_Soulbern. I'm still reading it for the first time now, but almost from the moment I started reading it, I thought it was his best work. It certainly is a pleasure, and a joy to read!
Super Wow Smilie
I'm not too sure if you could really consider it his best work. First of all The Silmarillion was published post-humously and was edited by Christopher Tolkien. Secondly, it was pretty much a collection of all JRRT's works in establishing the history of Middle-earth throughout his life.

Furthermore in the foreward of the book, Christopher Tolkien mentioned that the later chapters were in "serious disharmony with more developed conceptions in other parts of the book". So editing had to be done, which makes it, theoretically, not completely JRRT's work.

Also, as much as I love the book, it does seem dry at certain points due to the approach taken by Tolkien. He was in fact writing as if it were historical records rather than telling a tale. This made the book catered towards the serious fans of his work in LOTR more than the generic fantasy reader.

If you take all these into consideration, then perhaps it isn't exactly his best work after all...
I dissagree, taking most of your points to heart I do indeed consider it his best work. The approach he took to it was interesting to say the least, and fullfilling. It gave a sense of realism never after experienced in worlds like Forgotten Realms. Being an R.A. Salvatore enthusiast, it was refreshing, Tolkien's writing style.
Where I can see your point about editing, I believe that the work was not changed overmuch, and was edited because it needed to be. If it did not, it wouldn't have been.
I think Tolkien would have been pleased with the outcome of the Second Edition I read.

-Diaz Soulbern

[Edited on 1/15/2003 by Diaz_Soulbern]
I'm not saying that the work isn't written in an interesting style, because it certainly is. I am saying, however, that it was written in a very detached sort of way, similar to Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea Quartet, so you never really have an opportunity to explore the characters in depth. The Earthsea Quartet had the priviledge of focusing on one central character whereas the Silmarillion had so many characters it made it difficult to digest in one reading.

I had hardcore fantasy fans dropping the book in the middle because they felt it was too dry and there were too many characters making brief appearances that it became a little distracting. Undoubtedly the sense of realism was present. Then again, you also experience realism when you read historical texts. All I'm saying is that unless you are a big fan of Tolkien, and you are truly interested in the world that he has created and the history that he has established, you probably wouldn't read the book. If that's the case, can you still consider it his best work when it cannot sustain the interest of a casual reader?

Secondly, The Silmarillion, or rather the various stories within, were never written in chronological order. They were written separately from one another and therefore had discrepancies and needed editing to harmonise it with the restof the book. You even mentioned, and I quote,

"was edited because it needed to be. If it did not, it wouldn't have been"

It NEEDED to be edited. There were conflicts. Things did not make sense. If a writer produced works that did not make sense, would you consider it a good piece of work? Unless all the rest of his books were trashy material, maybe it would be fair to label it his best. But it wasn't. LOTR was meticulously crafted, leaving you with hardly any questions or doubts about its main plotlines (notwithstanding the historical background of the world and the enigmatic Tom Bombadil).

The Silmarillion is a marvelous book. But is it truly Tolkien's best work? Did he not create a more accessible and varied world, holding various plotlines and having fantastic characters which were brought to life through his writings in LOTR?

Did Tolkien not create scenes of magnificence in one moment and brought the reader to an intimate encounter with various individual characters the next? That was what, in my humble opinion, make LOTR a better work than Silmarillion. Oh, and did I mention the fact that it was written as a SINGLE story over a thousand pages long, and yet managed to sustain the interest of the reader throughout?

I do see your standing. But I could say similar things about LotR, and the people it catches. I've fellow hardcore fans of Forgotten Realms and many other worlds not be able to read either The Silmarillion or LotR. I think it takes an above average reader to read and actually appreciate Tolkien.

I am drawn to epic type movies more than most. Examples: Legends of The Fall, Interview With the Vampire to name but a fraciton of a few(being also a movie-going person)
Stories that span great lengths of time are of more interest to me I would say. That certainly factored in to my liking of The Silmarillion a great deal. And I for one did not feel a real loss of character. That was one of the greatest things about the book, I got all I needed from the characters(and yes there were many) and yet not too much.

Perhaps it was edited and many things in the original text were misplaced or dissorganised. But come on, it was the entire history, and a long one, of Middle-Earth. I think it was told perfectly and for the most part completely. The simple fact that it spans so much time is attractive to me. In addition a book written in that style, leaves many lush topics for discusions just as we have here on Planet-Tolkien.

Maybe it isn't the best work you've read of his. I personally value it above LotR because I got more from it. Despite the fact that they are multiple smaller stories, it doesn't change that they all add to and shape the history of Middle-Earth and are ultimatly in one book.

So yes, I've convinced myself it is his best work on the grounds of my enjoyment and further enjoyment of it. Then, we all have our opinions.

-Diaz Soulbern
Your points are well taken Erkenbrand, but I have to disagree as well. For one, just because the Silmarillion was published after Tolkien died, does not mean that it detracts anything from its greatness. The Silmarillion was Tolkien’s life work, and I believe he intended it to be his greatest creation. Tolkien began working on the Silmarillion in1917, and continued to work on it throughout his entire life. He never stopped working on it, and to me, clearly that shows that this was something very special to him. Further, Christopher even states in his foreword that the Silmarillion ’became the vehicle, and depository of his profoundest reflections’. Also, personally I feel that the fact that the Silmarillion was edited by Christopher Tolkien, doesn’t take anything away from the work either. The Silmarillion is still J.R.R.’s creation. He wrote the stories, he created the characters, that world, the history, the language, etc’ and just because Christopher organized it into a more cohesive, publishable form doesn’t mar, or change that fact.

You’re right that the Silmarillion is a collection of stories, and that the various stories within were never written in a chronological order, but in my opinion, this is exactly why the Silmarillion is his greatest work. It’s not just a wrinkle in time; it’s the entire history of Ea, and to me that makes it so much deeper than anything else of his I have ever read. It’s precisely the depth, scope, and magnitude of the Silmarillion that makes it his greatest work. I have to agree with Diaz_Soulbern in that; the Silmarillion might not be your choice for his greatest work (and I respect that), but I value it above LOTR, because I also have gotten more from it. There’s no denying that if one reads the Silmarillion, one’s knowledge of Ea, of Middle Earth, and of the events, and characters concerning LOTR becomes tenfold. Again, it’s the scope, and the depth of the Silmarillion that make it his greatest work for me. I also enjoy the stories in the Silmarillion more as well, but that’s just me.

Let’s not forget that at the end of the day, we are all Tolkien fans, and we all share that common bond. Each of us is going to have a favorite character, story, or work of Tolkien’s that might differ from another’s opinion, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, in fact, it’s critically healthy. However, I feel that it is still entirely possible for one to think that the Silmarillion is Tolkien’s greatest work despite the fact that it may not hold the interest of the casual reader, because it all comes down to one’s personal opinion.
Elf Smilie
Wow, this is what we want more of... intellegent, constructive critisism based on well written arguements with no sign of personal critisism to each other.

Thankyou, Elfstone, Diaz and Erkenbrand. Reading your opinions has been a pleasure. Unless I come across another really good post in the next couple of hours, one of the above posts is going to be my selection for this weeks Post of the Week (I don't know which one yet, because they are all very deserving in their own way). Well done to all of you.

I'm not going to give my own opinion on the question just at the moment, but I would say, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." As some of you pointed out, it is down to the individual reader to decide which book they personally feel is the better. Both books are of very differing styles so it is very difficult to compare them in this way. LotR is possibly the better story, but the Silmarillion holds the greater history and depth.
It was certainly a pleasure evaluating Tolkien's works with fellow fans. One of the most interesting aspects of his works is that it is actually worth discussing to great length, and that's what displays the magnitude of his creations.

Diaz_Soulbern and Elfstone, both of you have given me a an insight into what lovers of the Silmarillion think. I do agree with what you have pointed out. Perhaps you would also like Unfinished Tales, a continuation of Tolkien's life work. Or even the 12 volume History of Middle Earth, which is a collection of all the notes and stories written by JRR and edited (with commentary) by Christopher Tolkien.

Thanks for the discussion! I had fun sharing my thoughts Big Smile Smilie
Yes, delighted and a bit relieved I am to have been able to find an outlet for genuine dialogue. It has been for some time sparse in my online experience. Erkenbrand, I only own The LotR and The Silmarillion at the moment. I still have to purchase The Thousand Orcs. Perhaps I will journey back into Tolkien at a later time, for now I have certainly been satisfied.

When I do I guess all that will be left for me to read are the more minor publications, since I have got the major two down. I will look for what you suggested though. One never knows what one will buy until one has the money to buy it.

Thanks again for the discussion (heh, and the nomination).

-Diaz Soulbern

[Edited on 1/16/2003 by Diaz_Soulbern]

[Edited on 1/16/2003 by Diaz_Soulbern]
I've just spent the last five minutes trying to edit some "number junk" out of your last post Diaz. It was there in the post, but when I went to edit it, it was not there in the text. It had me rather baffled until I realised you were editing it at the same time as I was trying to do it.

The junk was appearing where you were using apostraphies (most likely after pasting a Word document). It wasn't recognising Straight apostrophies so was replacing them with code. Simply editing them with our own apostropies would have been sufficient.

Well done to Elfstone, whose post I eventually chose. Well done to Diaz and Erkenbrand too, though, because as I mentioned, it was a hard choice picking one from the three.
I can't believe I've missed this discussion until now! That's what I get for not being more methodical in the way I read the forums.

I have to say I agree with Erkenbrand. I suspect JRR may have rolled over once or twice in his grave when the Sil was published in it's present embryonic form. But before you have a coniption over what I just said, let me explain.

It is at once the greatest acheivement and the biggest disappointment. The Silmarillion reads like cliff notes- a basic outline for a much greater novel or, more likely, a series of novels. I'm sure it bears little resemblance to Tolkien's ultimate vision of the finshed product. It's the obvious potential that leads to the disappointment for me. Of course, this can't be blamed on Tolkien ...the man died... what can you say to that?

Had the book(s) been finished, I have very little doubt it would have been his greatest work. Indeed, it may have become one of the greatest novels ever written in ANY genre. But that's not what happened and what we have now is just the briefest glimpse of Tolkien's vision, I'm sure. All the more reason to lament the man's death.

Do I think Tolkien would have been pleased with the current state of The Silmarillion? No, not at all.

Interesting thoughts Prog, I enjoyed reading your opinion on the matter. Shout’s out to Erkenbrand, and Diaz_Soulbern, it’s been a pleasure to be involved with such great discussion!

Erkenbrand, I like what you had to say about Tolkien’s work being worth discussing at great length, I couldn’t agree with you more. Also, you seem to be extremely well read in Tolkien (much more than I am), so I have to give you full credit for that. I have only read the Hobbit, and LOTR several times each. As already stated, I’m currently reading the Silmarillion for the first time now, and I’m also just starting The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, UT is next on my list though!

Val, thanks again for the recognition, and I’m glad you enjoyed reading our discussion. I think you said it best Powerful-Elf-Shadow, ’Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’!
Elf Smilie
I am simply a lover of Tolkien's works and not a scholar, so am quite undeserving of all the praises that have been bestowed upon humble old me... But thank you anyways

And ProgHead777, I absolutely agree with you. Given the content, it would certainly have been the most magnificent book to have been written in the fantasy genre, if only Tolkien had the opportunity to complete it and craft it in the style that we loved so much in LOTR.

Of course, then the linguistic tone of the book would have to change, and a serious (yet non-commentary type) mood would have be used for the book. The tone used by Tolkien to narrate the ride of the Rohirrim in TTT is an excellent style that can be adopted for the book to achieve its desired effects...

I tremble with excitement to imagine such a piece of work released!
Many thanks for the clarification. I attempted to edit it twice and eventually got them all. I can see now the probabilty of that program jump causing mix ups.

I don't know Erkenbrand and ProgHead777...I read Tolkien's letter to his editor before and after reading the actual book more than once and I must dissagree. I referred to the letter many times throughout reading, almost as many times as the bloodlines and maps heh.
I got the feeling he would be pleased, perhaps a little perturbed he wasn't there to clarify some things and present it, but certainly not turning over in his grave. I think his son did a wonderful job of bringing it to this generation. Furthermore I do consider it the greatest Fantasy novel ever written, and will for some time I'm sure.

Of course, I've said all this before. And we all have our own respective opinions.

Anyone other than me reading the War of The Spider Queen series?