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reading The Silmarillion

A personal follow-up to my post on reading Tolkien: remembrances of reading The Silmarillion when it was new …

I had read The Lord of the Rings a decade earlier and noted the reference to The Silmarillion in the appendices, and I’d been involved in Tolkien fandom for three years when the book was published. So I was well-primed for its appearance. As Tolkien had been dead for four years before the book appeared, and I had no idea how much work it took to put it together, I had been suspicious of the delay, and wondered aloud if it really existed. (I was thinking of Sibelius’s Eighth Symphony, often promised but never released.)

Official publication date was September 15, but my girlfriend got a call on September 2 from the bookstore where she’d pre-ordered that the copies had come in. (My bookstore – I lived in a different city – got shafted and didn’t get their copies until later.) So we stopped in at the store and picked it up the next morning at the start of a previously planned trip to the Renaissance Fair. She drove and I spent the 2-hour drive reading aloud from The Silmarillion over the noise of a Volkswagen air-cooled engine.

Some other people I knew who were eager to read The Silmarillion but couldn’t get hold of a copy they could use were two blind friends. (This was long before audio-books as we now know them were a thing. The Library of Congress would issue what it called “talking books” for the blind, but you often had to wait years for them to appear.) So I and another mutual friend, trading off chapters, read The Silmarillion aloud, in the blind friends’ apartment while they listened and had a tape recorder running. It took us 3 days’ sessions and was long and hungry work. Lines like “the green hill of Túna” made us salivate.

So when our Mythopoeic Society book-discussion group covered it the next month, by gum I brought to the communal snack table the green hill of Túna. With advice from my mother, I’d baked a fish loaf in a round pyrex bowl, flipped it upside down, and covered it in parsley. It was a big hit.

While reading the book, I noticed that, while there were no dates, there were lots of references to time intervals. It occurred to me that it would be possible to chain these together and make a chronology. So I re-read the entire book to do that (this was my third reading within a month) and sent the result to the American Tolkien Society, because I figured they’d be fastest at publishing it. It appeared in the Minas Tirith Evening-Star a month later, making me the first person ever to publish a chronology of the First Age.

One more thing. By two years later, the book had appeared in Braille, and my blind friends of course got a copy. At Mythcon that year, one of them read the Ainulindalë aloud at the Bardic Circle in the dark, and let me tell you, that was a truly memorable listening experience. I think my love for the Ainulindalë dates from that moment.

About the Author: David Bratman
David Bratman is co-editor of Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review, and former editor of Mythprint, the bulletin of The Mythopoeic Society. He likes to write about Tolkienian biography and bibliography.