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What I read in June 2020 (Part 1)

The next three books are all from our shelves. I had read them previously, but too long ago to remember much about them. They are all by JRR Tolkien.

The three books

The Silmarillion is a prequel to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It was compiled from JRR Tolkien’s papers after his death and published in 1977. All I could remember about it was that I was very disappointed with it shortly after its publication. With Middle Earth fresh in my mind I began reading it as soon as I finished The Return of the King. I found it very slow reading, but worth the effort. The early part included a sort of creation story and all the different races, which peopled Middle Earth, were slowly introduced with chronologies and genealogies for each. I could only read a few pages at a time, so interspersed the books in my previous post with this. It reminded me of the Books of Kings in the Bible, with the amount of information about each family and the characters of the individuals.

Later there is an exciting section about journeys and battles, but the best is kept until the very end, when the answer to a mystery is revealed. Having an index of characters, a map and other appendices this is a remarkable work ably edited by Christopher Tolkien, son of JRR Tolkien.

Tree and Leaf is a small volume. My 1974 edition has 50p as the price! Inside there is the text of a lecture about Fairy stories presented in 1938, with additional notes – some as footnotes, others appended. On Fairy Stories is followed by Tree and Leaf, a story, which I’d classify as a fable or allegory rather than a fairy story. However it does illustrate what Tolkien regarded as sub-creation – the creation of imaginary worlds. I had not remembered as much about this story as I thought. I still believe that Tolkien modelled one of the characters on himself, but for a different reason. The story is perhaps Tolkien’s equivalent to CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce, although their beliefs were not exactly the same. One thing, which struck me, is how the world has changed since Tolkien’s time. Would a young adult reader know about railway porters? Tolkien was writing in a time when train travel was the most usual and only a very small minority of people travelled overseas.

The third book I read really is a fairy story. Smith of Wootton Major is a tiny hard-backed volume with illustrations. If it has a lesson to teach, it is that people will believe what they want to believe, but it is best enjoyed as a story!