Friday, 15 May 2009

Commonly asked Question...

I am often asked in which order it is best to read Tolkien's work. I would say start with The Hobbit, a masterpiece of children's literature, and then read The Lord of the Rings afterwards. For a ''beginner'' to begin with The Silmarillion is going to be quite difficult; I can only compare it to the spectacle of an amateur Latinist (like me) trying to tackle Caesar or Cicero, or instead of teaching children the Roman Catechism, giving them volumes of detailed theology.

The Silmarillion is a very, very complex book. Not only does the narrative span several thousands of years, but the composition of the work itself spanned several decades of Tolkien's life. I can only vaguely imagine the frustration of Christopher Tolkien, comparing two accounts of the same event, written 20 years apart, and trying to decide which was the ''final'' version, or at least which was more consonant with the rest of the mythology. Knowing somewhat of the highly scrupulous nature of the man, I find it interesting to consider whether so great a work as The Silmarillion was ''finishable'' for Tolkien. Names underwent many changes (even in more ''finished'' versions of some legends, such as the Narn-i-Chîn-Húrin as found in Morgoth's Ring, place-names such as Teiglin were changed to Taiglin, and then changed back to Teiglin again; these sorts of things depended upon two things: changing tastes in Tolkien's linguistic aesthetic, or simply his memory!), the same with dates, there is also want of continuity in some texts, again due (probably) to Tolkien's memory.

When I first read The Silmarillion (I was about 15 or 16, on the bus home from the bookshop!) I too was puzzled by all the strange names and concepts I'd never encountered in literature before (to be honest, I still get names mixed up) but I just read it, then read it again (and again and again!) and eventually got the ''gist of it.'' After The Silmarillion, you can go onto things such as Unfinished Tales, and if you're really interested, you can try and read the 12-volume History of Middle-earth! Omnia autem honeste, et secundum ordinem fiant. (1Corinthians 14:40).

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