The Silmarillion Historical Context 📖

‘The Silmarillion’ is widely regarded as one of the most influential fantasy books ever written. It was published in 1977 and initially gained poor reception.

The Silmarillion

J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Silmarillion’ is best known as one of the greatest works of high fantasy. It is a story about greed and arrogance, joy and sorrow, despair, and enduring hope for a better world.

Tolkien first wrote ‘The Fall of Gondolin’ during World War 1 as he was recovering from trench fever, which he contracted in the Regina Trench during the Battle of the Somme, but he didn’t submit the manuscript for ‘The Silmarillion’ till 1937 after the wide success of this first book ‘The Hobbit.’ Though his publishers first rejected it for being too obscure, they finally published it posthumously in 1977.

The Silmarillion‘ was influenced by Tolkien’s deep Christian roots, from which he borrowed important aspects of his cosmology, including the Genesis creation story, God, and the Fall of Lucifer. He also borrowed several parts of the book from Nordic and Greek myths and the destruction of Atlantis.

Publication History 

‘The Silmarillion’ was the second novel published after the author’s death in 1973. Edited by the Tolkien’s son, Christopher Tolkien, it got published in 1977 and was preceded by the three works Tolkien published in his lifetime; ‘The Hobbit,’ ‘Farmer Giles of Ham,’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings.’

Literary Context 

The novel is considered by many to be one of Tolkien’s most important. Today, he is seen as the “father of fantasy fiction” and has written some of the most influential early books in that genre. When Tolkien started writing the stories that came to be ‘The Silmarillion,’ much of what is now common in the fantasy fiction genre did not exist. The genre was in its early stages of development by the time J.R.R. Tolkien published his first book ‘The Hobbit,‘ which ushered in the age of high fantasy, allowing such works to enter the mainstream for the first time.

Tolkien’s works of fantasy fiction were immediately widely accepted in Britain and then in America. It is hard to understate the effects acceptance had in pushing the genre to even more approval. Even though he was a pioneer of fantasy fiction, J.R.R. Tolkien drew influence from early fantasy writers like H. Rider Haggard, especially in his novel ‘She.’ During an interview, Tolkien admitted that the book greatly interested him as a boy.

Other noteworthy authors operating before or around the same time that Tolkien was writing included H.P. Lovecraft and C.S. Lewis. Lovecraft is well-known for his important work in horror fantasy, while C.S. Lewis’s works are cheery and mainly target younger audiences.

Historical Context 

Tolkien wrote the bulk of what was to become ‘The Silmarillion’ early in the 20th century when the shadow of World War 1 hung over Europe as nations fought against one another with new and terrible weapons of war. One can see the parallel between the further destruction of the beauty of Old Europe and its fragmentation and the destruction of the beautiful objects and cities created by the Valar and the elves through Morgoth’s wars.

Tolkien participated in the Battle of the Somme, and its effects on the young author left an indelible mark and influenced his worldview. He brought his perspective to life in his books ‘The Silmarillion’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. Tanks and airplanes were new additions to warfare and became winged and flightless dragons that Morgoth sent forth during the Dagor Bragollach against the entrenched Union of Meadhros.

Many Tolkien scholars believe that the author created his fantasy works to understand his experiences during the European wars. First, as a soldier in World War 1, then as an observer during World War 2. Though far from being an escapist outlet, Tolkien’s work reflects on the impacts of the Wars. Tolkien’s personal experiences in warfare are seen in his writings, including the tank-like dragons that destroyed Gondolin and Nargothrond, the importance of timing in the battles of Middle Earth, and the catastrophic results that come when battle units are poorly coordinated, as seen in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad.

Historical Influence

Since its publication in 1977, ‘The Silmarillion’ has inspired many people in the literary field, art, and music. Rock bands like Hirilorn and Marillion coined their names from the book. ‘Nightfall in Middle-Earth’ by the German metal band Blind Guardian was based on events from ‘The Silmarillion.’ Martin Romberg also composed poems named after terms and names derived from the book.


Did the success of ‘The Hobbit’ influence ‘The Silmarillion?’

J.R.R. Tolkien compiled ‘The Silmarillion’ after the success of his first book ‘The Hobbit’ and his publisher requested another book. He intended ‘The Silmarillion’ to be seen as a mythical history of Britain. At the time, his publisher rejected it because it was too obscure and celtic.

What is the main message of ‘The Silmarillion?’

When Eru Iluvatar and his Ainur made the living world, everything they created was beautiful and perfect until the Vala Morgoth began destroying them. The central message of ‘The Silmarillion’ is eventual loss. The beautiful things created by the Valar and the elves are eventually destroyed. The first of them is innocence.

Why is ‘The Silmarillion’ by J.R.R. Tolkien important? 

While it is not Tolkien’s most important novel, ‘The Silmarillion’ resonates as one of the best fantasy books ever written. Its world-building paved the way for some of the most important literary devices used in modern fantasy books today.

How did World War 1 influence ‘The Silmarillion’?

The battles of World War 1 introduced Tolkien to the horrors of war and the workings of battle strategies. It also introduced him to newly developed machines of warfare like armored tanks and planes, which became the dragons and other monsters in the book.

Fave Ehimwenma
About Fave Ehimwenma
Fave Ehimwenma is a proficient writer, researcher, and content creator whose love for art and books drives her passion for literature reviews.
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