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Old 05-05-2021, 01:18 PM   #1
Nikolasha
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Pipe Keeping Track of Events in the Silmarillion?

I'm trying to read it for the third time, and I'm having a lot of trouble keeping everything straight in my head. Especially the parts where chapters get retold differently--all the different versions kind of blend together, and then it makes no sense at all.

I was taking notes the first time around, but even as I was writing them out I wasn't really convinced that they were helping. Then, of course, I lost them.

Anyway, my question is: how do you keep track of everything? I've seen a few discussions on here from people who seem to have learnt it by heart--how??

Any tips appreciated! I enjoy reading it but I feel like 95% of it flies over my head and what does makes sense I immediately forget, no matter how many times I reread a passage.
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Old 05-05-2021, 02:47 PM   #2
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The short answer is, yes, those of us interested in the Silmarillion have probably read it and related books over and over again several times. But the sheer volume of names, places and dates can be overwhelming.

There are several passable guides that have been published (in addition to the index/glossary at the end of the book). They all have flaws, so I'm not inclined to recommend any in particular.

There is an on-line wiki, which I cannot vouch for in any way. It does have a First Age timeline (beginning with the first rising of the sun) that might be helpful.

https://lotr.fandom.com/wiki/First_Age

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Old 05-05-2021, 03:22 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mithadan View Post
The short answer is, yes, those of us interested in the Silmarillion have probably read it and related books over and over again several times. But the sheer volume of names, places and dates can be overwhelming.

There are several passable guides that have been published (in addition to the index/glossary at the end of the book). They all have flaws, so I'm not inclined to recommend any in particular.

There is an on-line wiki, which I cannot vouch for in any way. It does have a First Age timeline (beginning with the first rising of the sun) that might be helpful.

https://lotr.fandom.com/wiki/First_Age

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Thank you! The timeline is actually very helpful for keeping at least the basic stuff straight. I appreciate it
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Old 05-05-2021, 06:07 PM   #4
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The Silmarillion, in what is a frustrating yet accurate mirror of real world mythologies, is the sort of thing that is best read when you already know the stories and yet you become familiar with the stories by reading The Silmarillion. My first read-through is now so far behind me that I don't remember it, beyond a general sense of lostness/bewilderment mixed with trying to keep all the Fin-s straight (not the Finns--that's a strictly on-this-website problem ).

The second time through, which I hardly remember any better (it's been over twenty years for both those early read-throughs), I do distinctly remember having recourse to the family trees at the end, and I definitely spent more time keeping track of the relationships and the names of the Valar and the divisions of the Eldar, etc.

It is definitely a book the rewards rereading. I find now, after the aforementioned twenty-plus years, that, in some moods, I even prefer it to The Lord of the Rings. But it isn't as accessible as the LotR--and there are some who just can't get into that. And there's nothing wrong with not getting into them, one or both. But the Silm is very much the key to the rest--to the History of Middle-earth Series, that is, because other than an LotR-sized digression in the middle, the HoME is the history of what becomes the Silmarillion, and if you don't know and love the Silm, you'll be lost in the references and have no reason for plodding through.

But, of course, to speak of the HoME is to really speak of things that are not to everyone's tastes.
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Old 05-05-2021, 06:58 PM   #5
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I agree with the above-said. The first read-through for me was just plodding on through the confusion and constantly cross-referencing the family trees to keep the relationships straight, especially for the F's. (Side question - is there anyone in The Sil who begins with F and is not related to Finwe? Hmm, maybe moot question, as most Elves in The Sil are related to Finwe.) I would advise to bear with it through the first half, because once you reach the half-way point it becomes a lot more linear and a lot more intense: you find yourself in the realm of epic tales and lose the descriptive but plotless air of the early chapters. On repeated reads it makes a lot more sense, because you then know who is who, and which place is where, and what approximately happened when. Though - and I'd like to think I know The Sil fairly well - I wouldn't be able to tell you how much time passes between X and Y. The actual timeline makes no sense to me, it's a background of Elvishly-long periods of nothing punctuated by bursts of rapid plot development. But you get a clear sense of the order of things, if not the proportion of the time intervals, once you become a bit more familiar with it. My advice, if I can give any - press on! It will come eventually. And in the meantime, you can always post questions here as they arise.
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Old 05-06-2021, 01:49 AM   #6
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I'd agree with what's been said so far: the Silm is very much a mythology, not a firm narrative. The actual timeline is... kind of vague (consistent ones like the one Mith linked to are very much reconstructions), and sometimes we get these huge time-jumps backwards ("Of the Sindar" is one of the worst offenders, I think).

It may help to explain this if you know that the very first version of the Silmarillion was structured as people telling the stories to one another. Imagine each chapter as a different elf sitting down with you and saying "Forget all those Fin-types - what's really interesting is how Thingol met his wife!".

If you want to look things up, the Encyclopedia of Arda is pretty good at sticking with just the published books, while Tolkien Gateway will happily lead you down the path of earlier versions and discarded theories.

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Originally Posted by Galadriel55 View Post
Side question - is there anyone in The Sil who begins with F and is not related to Finwe? Hmm, maybe moot question, as most Elves in The Sil are related to Finwe.
Florfindel, Gofi's younger brother who tried to fight a balrog but tripped over too soon and just got squished. (Tripping over at the right moment is essential to balrog-slaying. See: Ecthelion, Glorfindel, Gandalf.)

Given that you said 'related to', probably not - Finwe is Luthien's uncle-cousin by marriage, Luthien married Beren, and Beren is related to basically the entire Edain family tree.

hS
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Old 05-06-2021, 03:19 AM   #7
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I would mostly second what Formendacil said about the nonlinearity. When I first read the Silmarillion, I did so in a haphazard order, and I would actually encourage that. Just read what you think might interest you. Let's say you are interested in the tale of Beren and Lúthien because you have heard about it in LotR, then read that and ignore the fact that you don't know who, say, Celegorm and Curufin are. Next time you read about the Oath of Fëanor, you will already think "Ha! So this is where those rascals come from!"

I also think I read one of the Middle-Earth encyclopedias before actually reading the Silmarillion. So I also had that advantage and was already interested in a couple of people by knowing what they do ("okay, this person is cool, I want to hear their story") and what will happen to them. Thankfully, again, one does not read Tolkien just for the purpose of anticipating "how will this end" and unexpected plot twists, the story's worth lies mostly in that it is beautifully written and narrated, so it doesn't matter if you have "spoiled" yourself in advance about what happens to this and that character.

(Anyway, this was supposed to be a mythology - and with mythology, the assumption is that most people actually know, via generic cultural knowledge, that the Greeks conquer Troy using the wooden horse or somesuch, even if they haven't heard the tale itself.)

And finally, it took me perhaps 20 years to be 99% sure about what is the difference between Fingon, Fingolfin and Finarfin and Finrod Felagund, and some things I am not sure about to this day. So do not push yourself, sometimes it is perfectly okay to just gloss over things and be like "okay, so one of the F-guys did something". And if it turns out to be particularly relevant, you can always consult the index - even in retrospect.

Happy reading
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Old 05-06-2021, 12:09 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Legate of Amon Lanc View Post
I would mostly second what Formendacil said about the nonlinearity. When I first read the Silmarillion, I did so in a haphazard order, and I would actually encourage that. Just read what you think might interest you. Let's say you are interested in the tale of Beren and Lúthien because you have heard about it in LotR, then read that and ignore the fact that you don't know who, say, Celegorm and Curufin are. Next time you read about the Oath of Fëanor, you will already think "Ha! So this is where those rascals come from!"

I also think I read one of the Middle-Earth encyclopedias before actually reading the Silmarillion. So I also had that advantage and was already interested in a couple of people by knowing what they do ("okay, this person is cool, I want to hear their story") and what will happen to them. Thankfully, again, one does not read Tolkien just for the purpose of anticipating "how will this end" and unexpected plot twists, the story's worth lies mostly in that it is beautifully written and narrated, so it doesn't matter if you have "spoiled" yourself in advance about what happens to this and that character.

(Anyway, this was supposed to be a mythology - and with mythology, the assumption is that most people actually know, via generic cultural knowledge, that the Greeks conquer Troy using the wooden horse or somesuch, even if they haven't heard the tale itself.)

And finally, it took me perhaps 20 years to be 99% sure about what is the difference between Fingon, Fingolfin and Finarfin and Finrod Felagund, and some things I am not sure about to this day. So do not push yourself, sometimes it is perfectly okay to just gloss over things and be like "okay, so one of the F-guys did something". And if it turns out to be particularly relevant, you can always consult the index - even in retrospect.

Happy reading
Oh good--yesterday during a slow point at work I was flicking through and landed on "Of the coming of the Men into the West" and thought "well I've heard of men" and ended up reading that chapter. I definitely take yours and Formendacil 's point about it being helpful to already know general facts before trying to figure it out as some kind of cohesive whole.

I will take your advice and just read what looks interesting or recognizable until I've finished--I had not considered it as a valid way to read the Silmarillion until I read your (thorough and helpful) comment, but I'm convinced ! Thank you so much !

(also: hah, at this point they're all just "Fin-something" or "Fin-some-other-thing" to me )

Last edited by Nikolasha; 05-06-2021 at 12:22 PM.
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Old 05-06-2021, 12:21 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Galadriel55 View Post
I agree with the above-said. The first read-through for me was just plodding on through the confusion and constantly cross-referencing the family trees to keep the relationships straight, especially for the F's. (Side question - is there anyone in The Sil who begins with F and is not related to Finwe? Hmm, maybe moot question, as most Elves in The Sil are related to Finwe.) I would advise to bear with it through the first half, because once you reach the half-way point it becomes a lot more linear and a lot more intense: you find yourself in the realm of epic tales and lose the descriptive but plotless air of the early chapters. On repeated reads it makes a lot more sense, because you then know who is who, and which place is where, and what approximately happened when. Though - and I'd like to think I know The Sil fairly well - I wouldn't be able to tell you how much time passes between X and Y. The actual timeline makes no sense to me, it's a background of Elvishly-long periods of nothing punctuated by bursts of rapid plot development. But you get a clear sense of the order of things, if not the proportion of the time intervals, once you become a bit more familiar with it. My advice, if I can give any - press on! It will come eventually. And in the meantime, you can always post questions here as they arise.
Judging by the page count I think I'm nearly halfway, so that's very good news! "Descriptive but plotless" is definitely accurate. Though not in a bad way--I've enjoyed it despite my complete confusion. I think my problem has been that I keep expecting it to be similar to the LOTR, which of course it isn't, and then worrying that I can't make heads or tails of anything! But your (and all the other's) comments have very much reconceptualized it for me from "advanced level textbook on a subject I love but am not good at" to "collection of stories", which is both far less intimidating and far more inviting. So thank you for that !
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