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Nerdist Book Club: The Silmarillion, Part 2

Welcome back to the discussion of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, fellow adventurers! This week we’re covering Chapters 1-4, and we’re learning about the first days of Middle-earth and its residents. Because I could see the foundation for the land I know and love from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, I found myself completely riveted by this section. Taking notes and treating the book as the history tome it is has really helped with the enjoyability factor, and I hope you’re having a similar experience. Let’s dive in:


Manwë and Varda by varda-starqueen

What happened

Chapter 1 – Of the Beginning of Days

The beginning of Eä was rife with war. Melkor seemingly defeated the Valar once and came back into the picture again to destroy the Lamps the Valar had created to shine over the earth. The violent act caused the shape of Arda to change. I get the impression the Valar didn’t take Melkor seriously enough. It’s like when the Jedi were arrogant during the Clone Wars and didn’t see the rise of Palpatine (the clouding of the Force didn’t help). The Valar seemed that unaware of what Melkor was doing.

After Melkor wrecked the Pillars and Lamps, the Valar went to the West. They created a safe haven there protected by high mountains and created new sources of light. The Two Trees of Valinor, Telperion and Laurelin, were silver and gold and brought light into the Land of the Valar and were used to determine the marking of time.

The chapter concludes with an interesting look at life after death for both Elves and Men and again touches on the fact that the mortality of men is a gift. It does point out some of the disadvantages of immortality.

Chapter 2 – Of Aulë and Yavanna

This chapter showcased another challenge of sorts to Ilúvatar, but one that comes from a different place than Melkor’s hate and greed. Aulë longed to have people to teach his craft to, and he created the Dwarves in secret. Ilúvatar of course found out and wouldn’t let the Dwarves be the Firstborn and put them into a sleep. The most fascinating aspect was that the Dwarves were mere puppets until Ilúvatar applied his hand to fix Aulë’s work. It’s a crude comparison, but that fail-safe reminded me of the Lysine Contingency in Jurassic Park (a genetic alteration that made the dinosaurs dependent on lysine supplements provided by the park).

We learned about the Dwarves and their temperament, and it fit with what we’ve seen in later stories in Middle-earth. I love that the Ents were created by Yavanna as a balance. Ilúvatar saw the Dwarves will destroy the earth without care, and the Ents were meant to be on guard and protect nature from the Dwarves and others.

I hit a point in this chapter where I desperately wished I could pick a single name for every person and location and perform a Control + Find and replace all the second, third, and fourth names. The multiple names are confusing and keeps me flipping back to the glossary nonstop.

Chapter 3 – Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor

For a minute, it seemed like the Valar were going to give in to the threat of Melkor. They had a meeting about whether they should leave Middle-earth and therefore, the Children of Ilúvatar. Instead, Varda made brighter stars almost as if to guide the Children. As she finished, the first Elves appeared. It took Oromë a while to find them, and that cracked me up because you’d think they would have had a better notification system in place.

Protecting the Children became of the utmost importance to the Valar and because Melkor was antagonizing them and spreading false rumors about the Valar (he’s a classic mean girl), the Valar set a siege upon Melkor’s stronghold and they captured and bound him. They ignored his pleas for mercy and imprisoned him which I believe is for the best. He seems like a villain who is past redemption. I haven’t seen anything yet that would make me think otherwise.

The Elves were sundered almost as soon as they arrived with some leaving for the West at the Valar’s beckoning. Still, many stayed in Middle-earth and made their homes there.

Chapter 4 – Of Thingol and Melian

At only two pages, this chapter was brief. That didn’t stop it from brimming over with beauty though. Elwë (a/k/a Thingol), an elf, falls in love with Melian, a Maia. It’s the first such relationship, and while it’s not exactly a mortal with an immortal, you can see how it sets the path for Luthien and Beren and Arwen and Aragorn.

Thingol and Melian

Thingol and Melian by Dresden Codak

Relevance to The Hobbit and/or Lord of the Rings

A few familiar names and locations were dropped in Chapters 1-4. When Aulë made the Dwarves, they were known as the Seven Fathers. They return to live again and one such example is Durin. He created Khazad-dûm, also known as Moria, under the Misty Mountains. The latter landmark is also mentioned.

Chapter 2 explains why the Ents were created and by whom. Yavanna created them as Shepherds to speak on behalf of all beings that have roots and to stand up for them and dole out punishment. Chapter 3 touches on the creation of the Orcs by Melkor. As far as I can tell, he used captured Elves to create the beings in envy and mockery of the Elven race.

Favorite quotes

“There arose a multitude of growing things great and small, mosses and grasses and great ferns, and trees whose tops were crowned with cloud as they were living mountains, but whose feet were wrapped in a green twilight.”

“To all who were lost in that darkness or wandered far from the light of the Valar the ear of Ulmo was ever open; nor has he ever forsaken Middle-earth.”

“They will delve in the earth, and the things that grow and live upon the earth they will not heed. Many a tree shall feel the bite of their iron without pity.”

“Would that the trees might speak on behalf of all things that have roots, and punish those that wrong them!”


Map of Arda by Ginthoriel

Discussion questions
– In Chapter 1, it’s said that the Valar are kindreds to the Children of Ilúvatar rather than their masters. Do you think the Children of Ilúvatar see it that way?
– Aulë makes the Dwarves without consulting Ilúvatar, and Ilúvatar notes there will be strife between the children of his adoption and the children of his choice. Is his anger with Aulë just? Was it fair for him to put the Dwarves into a sleep?
– The coming of the Elves brings a statement about how new and foretold things shall be met in Eä despite pre-destination. Do you think that makes the world more believable?
– Melkor was a constant thorn and his malicious acts drove the Valar from Middle-earth. Do you think they gave up the fight against him too easily the first time?
– What is the purpose of the two Lamps and Two Trees built by the Valar in a mythic context?
– Do you think the Valar were right to imprison Melkor even though he asked for mercy?

Bonus material

This section is new and will contain links to illustrations, podcasts, art, and more related to The Silmarillion.

Dresden Codak’s illustrations of every chapter of The Silmarillion
The Tolkien Professor’s Silmarillion Seminar (especially helpful if you’re getting hung up on pronunciations)

Head to the comments to discuss the questions and your thoughts about Chapters 1-4 of The Silmarillion or hit me up on Twitter. I’ll be jumping in at both places as much as I can. Don’t forget to use the #NerdistBookClub hashtag in all your social media postings so everyone can find your insightful comments.

Come back for the discussion of Part 3 next Tuesday at 10:30am PST. We’ll be going over Chapters 5-8.

Top image of The Two Trees by Julia Pelzer

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  1. Mitulinski says:

    It’s remarkable how there are so many different names for so many different characters…! First; it’s incredible how Tolkien managed to keep track of it all! I’ve been starting to just not get held up names too much and follow the action…Secondly; thank goodness for your summaries, Amy, because it really helps make sense of things I get lost on! XD

    I think I enjoyed the origins of the Dwarves the most out of these four chapters. It brought up some really interesting questions that we can see in sciences of today; just because we can, *should* we? And okay, now we have…If they shouldn’t have existed in the first place, what do we do now…It’s life, so is it right to be rid of them? (And to be honest, I think that’s a fairer Jurassic Park similarity…! XD)

    As for Melkor’s imprisonment, it seems that it’s the ol’ Batman-Joker thing; the hero doesn’t kill, therefore the villain’s gonna keep being villainous…I reason that’s why Melkor was imprisoned despite his mercy plea.

    And with the Valar, amongst other things, I’m seeing more and more references (if not; parallels) to signs of the Zodiac; Aquarius, Orion (even his belt)…

    – AM

  2. Travus says:

    I really enjoyed these chapters! The first 2 parts we read were really interesting, but a bit boring compared to chapter 1-4. I’m loving that we’re getting more into the story! It’s interesting and exciting!

  3. Meggie Kobb says:

    I still see tons of parallel to Biblical stories. That the Children of Iluvatar were created by Iluvatar and not by the Valar is very Old Testament. (God created angels separately from humans.) And as for the question of mercy imprisoning Melkor: perhaps that *was* the merciful choice. They did not kill him; they did not turn him over to Iluvatar. They simply stopped his reign of terror on Arda.

  4. I see the point others are making about balance, but I had the same reaction when I read the chapters. It felt weird that they left them to their own devices as much as they did.

  5. It was certainly bordering on apathy.  It feels like they just got tired of waiting, uncertain about when Eru would wake up the children.  But they could have done something to ease the coming of the Elves, make Ea a better place at least.  I think Manwe is very arrogant, just sitting on his high pedestal.  At least Ulmo’s presence was still being felt, but it wasn’t quite enough.  And them discovering the arrival of the Elves as an accident was quite pathetic.  They could have at least set a scouting mission once in a while to see the state of affairs in the world.

  6. A bit of a spanking by Eru once in a while to remind them of their duties was needed, IMO

  7. I really need to check these out.

  8. Hmm. Fair point.

  9. In the end, though, he was beyond saving, and had to be sent where ever they sent him (for future discussion).  It was clear from the onset, Melkor’s nature.  I still think that they shouldn’t have released him.  But, as the saying goes, there must be an opposition in all things.  Makes life much more interesting.  Good thing Sauron wasn’t captured, or we wouldn’t be reading about the later history of middle earth.  No LOTR… which would be sad…

  10. Yeah, I’m not feeling completely warm and fuzzy towards them right now. They seem to have some selfish tendencies despite being so excited about the coming of the Children. On one hand, I can understand them wanting to make the Elves figure a few things out on their own but…

  11. Yeah, it is sad to see what caused Melkor’s hatred of the Elves. It wasn’t their fault.

  12. I love this theory!

  13. I am baffled by them running off and creating what is essentially a walled fortress to hide behind.

  14. Thanks for joining in the discussion! Sometimes it does feel a touch dry, but I’m so invested in learning more about the history of Middle-earth.

  15. This is my new favorite quote: “Oh, that Melkor scoundrel, always up to no good.” 😀

  16. No worries, it still read well. Thanks for all your insightful comments!

  17. I feel the same way! I’m so riveted that I can’t imagine why I didn’t like it before.

    I agree regarding the section about death. It was interesting to see the differences for Elves and men.

  18. And a bit of a back story about the Ent-wives would also be a very welcome tale

  19. I think Eru would agree.  In the original music that they played, Eru allowed Melkor to bring strife in the music.  He was all for it, IMO.  The Valar could not possibly see everything that Eru had in store in his grand design.

  20. Dallas Ryan says:

    It starts to feel like some of the Valar regard Elves and Men not as equals, or something approaching equals, but as pets, or a fun new toy to play around with and put aside for later. I don’t get the sense that they all understand that their actions could have consequences outside Valinor.

  21. It would be awesome of these were made in to movies:

    – Luthien and Beren (Feel Good)

    – Earendil and Elwing (Feel Good)

    – Turin and Niniel (Tragedy)

  22. Could Tom Bomadil in LOTR be Beorn in the Hobbit?

  23. RagnarTelcontar says:

    Uh, I don’t really think Luthien and Beren would be much of a “feel good” story.

  24. RagnarTelcontar says:

    Nopes, Bombadil is one of kind, whereas both The Hobbit and LOTR reference the existence of “Beornings”.Bombadil never had any kids, as far as we know, hence, he wouldn’t have had any “Beornings”.

  25. jamal smith says:

    I never felt that the valar felt they were better than elves and men. I just never really got how if theyre in charge of protecting and building the plant, did they not rebuild it instead of just the west, especially after melkor’s defeat