I just finished reading the Silmarillion. It’s only the second time I’ve read through it, but I think I’ll add this to my “annual reads” list – along with the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. After reading this narrative again I’m more firmly convinced modern students of the Old Testament (especially in the Industrialized West) should read the Silmarillion. Not because I think there are parallels between the Old Testament and the world of Tolkien, but because the Silmarillion can act as a bridge between modern reading expectations and the texts of the Bible.
The Silmarillion is a myth, and following the narrative requires gaining the ability to spot links between characters, foreshadowing refrains, and the ability to recognize cycilcal patterns in the plot. It does this in a dense format which is difficult for many modern readers to digest, but not so frustrating as to be inaccessible for an earnest reader.
The Old Testament is a complex narrative — filled with important links between characters, foreshadowing refrains, and cyclical patterns in the plot which highlight important points. It’s complexity, compounded by the “verse here – verse there” method of Scripture reading so prevelant in many churches, is a immense barrier of entry for many would-be readers. If readers learn to appreciate the shorter and more accessible narrative of the Silmarillion, however, the skills developed can help pry open the doors of the Old Testament. Such skills would allow readers to make the necessary links between characters, and hightlight the important refrains, which are essential to reading it’s pages. There will still be important interpretive work to be done, the world of the Ancient Near East is as alien to us as Middle Earth, but with the enhanced reading skills which are gained by reading works like the Silmarillion students of the Old Testament may be aided in knowing which questions to ask when they hit an interpretive wall.
As an added benefit, reading the Silmarillion enriches reading both the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. If nothing else it reveals just how severe was Galadriel’s temptation to take up the One Ring – and how much strength she showed in rejecting Frodo’s offer.