All the (Silmarillion) Feels is an emotion- and story-focused summary of The Silmarillion. You’ll get facts, but that’s not the point here. Let’s talk themes, meaningful quotes, and moments that made us go “WHOA.” I started this project after falling in love with The Rings of Power television show, so expect me to focus on things to do with Galadriel and Sauron.
Chapter 1: Of the Beginning of Days
The Two Lamps
It’s the beginning of the world, and the world is flat! The creative song of the Valar that we heard about in the Ainulindalë comes to fruition; Yavanna is the star here, planting trees and making the new world beautiful and lush. One of the things that sets the good guys apart in Tolkien’s world is their ability to work together (in a fellowship, if I may), and it is through the combined craft of Aulë, Yavanna, Varda, and Manwë that the two great lamps of Middle-earth give first light to the land, though this is technically set before Middle-earth looks anything like we’re used to. Karen Wynn Fonstad’s The Atlas of Middle-earth is a really fun resource for uber-nerds, and she’s drawn what this version of the world looked like in the top left image.
To celebrate winning the First War against Melkor (about which little is said other than Tulkas having some Rohirrim-like battle joy) and the greenness of the land, the Valar party! In their distracted rest, Melkor sneaks back into the north of Middle-earth and builds his stronghold Utumno. No one realizes he’s there, but the lush land that Yavanna created begins to rot and grow poisonous. When he deems that he’s strong enough, he launches an attack on the two lamps, destroying them, casting the world into darkness, and literally throwing the earth into tumult.
The Valar retreat far across the sea to the west, where they build a new home and name it Valinor – yes, the Valinor that the Elves in Lord of the Rings always talk about!
Valinor is very much a physical place, and a lot of action is going to happen here in future chapters, but as you can see from the quote above, it’s also got a lot of Heaven Vibes that are strongly leaned on in later books, like this gorgeous conversation between Pippin and Gandalf:
The Valar settle in, building a mountain range along the edge of the sea to keep Melkor out, and generally creating and singing together like the world’s original commune.
All of this was done in darkness, since you’ll remember that Melkor destroyed the two lamps. Yavanna takes the lamp idea and makes them her own by singing into existence two trees to light the land: Telperion with silvery dark green leaves and Laurelin with golden light green leaves. Their light waxes and wanes and overlaps in 12-hour cycles, and time now exists in Valinor!
The rest of the Valar keep on about their business, and we get some little hints about the relationships they will have with the Elves in the future, including the first name drop of the gems referenced in this book’s title: “Aulë it is who is named the Friend of the Noldor, for of him they learned much in the after days, and they are the most skilled of the Elves…The Noldor also it was who first achieved the making of gems; and the fairest of all gems were the Silmarils, and they are lost” (pg. 33). Spoilers!
While the Valar are having a great time in Valinor, Melkor skulks around Middle-earth in cold and fire. He’s a Valar of extremes, which is a Tolkienian sign of unhealthiness! Although the focus in on Valinor, a few of the Valar keep a bit of attention on the lands where they once lived. Manwë gets regular information from his eagle and hawk friends; Ulmo never went to Valinor at all but continued to chill in the oceans; Yavanna returns to Middle-earth occasionally to heal the land’s hurts; and Oromë rides out to push Melkor’s dark forces back to Utumno. But those forces are never fully defeated, and one can’t help but think the Valar should focus their efforts and take care of him before anything gets out of hand! But then we wouldn’t have much of a story… and that seems to be something of Ilúvatar’s plan.
Elves and Men
The first chapter ends with a broad introduction to the Children of Ilúvatar, aka Elves and Men (Men here means humankind, though to be honest, Tolkien also mostly focuses on men!). If you watched The Rings of Power and thought the border elves were kind of harsh on the Southlanders (or heck, remember the disgust on Elrond’s face when he spits, “Men? Men are weak”), well, this is a very common thought amongst the early denizens of Middle-earth. Ilúvatar loves Men, but everyone else is a little skeptical. From the beginning, it’s said that they would “stray often, and would not use their gifts in harmony.” In fact, “the Elves believe that Men are often a grief to Manwë…for it seems to the Elves that Men resemble Melkor most of all” (pg. 36). Harsh.
In contrast, listen to the Elves’ introduction:
What I find especially interesting about this is Tolkien’s reason for the great difference between the two. Men are given the gift of death, “which as Time wears even the Powers shall envy.” It seems that because of the short amount of time given to Men, it brings out the best and the worst in them, especially because Melkor “confounded it with darkness, and brought forth evil out of good, and fear out of hope.”
Death as a gift is a theme that is revisited throughout Tolkien’s works, though it is never fully explained, because how could it be? I wrestle with this idea a lot, but in a society that glorifies youth and spends a lot of time and money resisting the inevitable, I find it helpful to sometimes think about death not as something to be feared, but as a reminder to live fully while I can. Memento mori.
We end this chapter with Elves and Men, and in the next chapter we get one of my favorite stories: the creation of Dwarves! See you then.