Tuesday 6 January 2015

Very well read, but disgracefully badly presented. Review of the Audiobook of The Silmarillion (of 1977) by JRR Tolkien read by Martin Shaw

Martin Shaw reads The Silmarillion with great commitment and seriousness; slowly and with a very detailed inflection; and this seems to me the best - and only - way to read this work (Christopher Tolkien adopts the same style in the excerpts he has recorded).

The Silamarillion - published in 1977 - was made by Christopher Tolkien (helped by Guy Gavriel Kay) from the unpublished manuscripts left by his father - these have since been published much more fully in the Twelve Volume History of Middle Earth leaving the Silmarillion of 1977 in a rather strange and not-quite-canonical position among Tolkien's works - something like a sneak preview or an interim report.


My own view of the 1977 Silmarillion is mixed. I cannot feel it to be a single entity, like a novel - it seems like a collection of disparate pieces, carefully arranged, but neither novel-like nor annal-like.


For me, the 1977 Silmarillion starts dully (I know some people love it; but I find it hard to tolerate the descriptions of creation and the gods), and broadly gets better to reach a peak with the section on Numenor titled Akallabeth. This gives the whole history, tragedy of the the rise and fall, of a great civilization.

And not just any civilization - Numenor is the most delightful, the most desirable, civilization ever described! - at least for mortal Men. I would rather have lived in the early years of Numenor than at any other time or place in Tolkien's universe (or, indeed, this one!) - which is not surprising since it was made to be an earthy paradise for (fallen) Men, as a gift and reward for their long travails against Morgoth.

However, this paradise inhabited by the noblest and wisest and most fortunate of Men, becomes incrementally corrupted into one of the vilest tyrannies in history; one which makes war upon the gods; an act which leads to its destruction by a direct act of the One God (and a re-shaping of the earth).


In general, I find the Silmarillion much more enjoyable and satisfying to hear read aloud as an audiobook, than I do to read it myself. Therefore I recommend this performance as a way of extending the appreciation and knowledge of Tolkien's world beyond the Lord of the Rings.


However, as a production, the boxed set of 13 CDs is disgracefully deficient.

There is no description of the book - not even the elvish names of the sections of the book; no description of each CD; no description of the tracks to enable navigation; there no information about any aspect of the audio production except the name of the reader. For example, there is some effective introductory and closing music - but no indication of who wrote or performed it.

Harper Collins, Tolkien's publisher, ought to be ashamed at such a slapdash and shoddy presentation.


1 comment:

garymar said...

I doubt I would ever buy this, though I'm sure Shaw's gravelly voice does it justice.

I read the book long ago in paperback, and like many, found the opening the most interesting part -- the "Genesis" chapter if you will. The back cover had blurbs from reviewers that included this interesting bit: "how it that one man could become the literary equivalent of an entire people?"

Mostly it read like detailed notes for a series of novels yet to be written. It reminded me of Nietzsche's Will to Power -- another pastiche cobbled together from notes. Both books being a kind of peek into a creator's workshop.