I Love Maps!
The next two chapters in The Silmarillion – strategically placed in the middle of the book – offer a descriptive glimpse into the lands of Beleriand and the establishment of the Noldor and the other races.
They are not complex chapters to deal with, but the intricate details with which Tolkien describes every waterfall, shrub, lowland and grain of earth, might feel slightly overwhelming.
That’s where the maps come in …
Chapter 14: Of Beleriand and its Realms
Readers of Tolkien’s works may marvel at Middle-earth’s level of depth and realism as introduced in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
It’s almost incomprehensible how one man could conjure up such a vast and rich landscape.
Then along comes The Silmarillion, and in particular this chapter, and you realise how Middle-earth (at least, the region we’ve come to know in the events of the War of the Ring) is really just the tip of the iceberg.
The Silmarillion is really just one giant world-building project and, as if not satisfied enough with the enormous task ahead, Tolkien even gave us the most beautiful creation story of the world (and Universe) itself!
From this grand tapestry Tolkien utilises this chapter to “zoom-in” on the westernmost region of Middle-earth known as Beleriand: where all the major tales of The Silmarillion take place.
It’s a place teeming with life and the writing could easily find a place in a real historical document.
The Silmarillion may have been an incomplete, fragmentary work – in which Christopher Tolkien worked intensely to structure a cohesive narrative – but the descriptive details of the world are as strong and impressive as those found in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Unlike some other readers, do not dismiss this as a “boring” or “unnecessary” chapter that has no connection to the main narrative.
On the contrary.
Go back to it throughout the story to keep on discovering more and more.
Keep reverting to that little gem at the back of your book, and take a moment to survey the map: looking at the place names and geographic details.
Where does Fingolfin reside? How do the seven sons of Fëanor split-up into different groups?
Chapter by chapter, wading through the wonderful paths of Beleriand can leave you slightly mesmerised and disorientated. Take some time to recover your senses by gazing at that map as you go along with your reading.
You’ll keep discovering new things every time you do so. That’s a guarantee, I can assure you (even after my 10th re-read).
This is the fashion of the lands into which the Noldor came, in the north of the western regions of Middle-earth, in the ancient days;
Chapter 15: Of the Noldor in Beleriand
Along the lines of the previous chapter, we are presented with a brief chronicle of the different dwellings established by the Noldor upon their arrival in Beleriand.
The “Who’s who?” and “What’s where?” are provided with clarity, further aided by the inclusion of a dedicated map embedded in the pages of the previous chapter.
Maps are wonderful little objects. They’re not there just to fill the pages of a book.
Maps are there for a reason.
They help us visualise the world or the setting of a story. In Tolkien’s case, this is a necessity.
From a geopolitical perspective, how will the settling of the Noldor affect Thingol’s realm and that of the Sindar? And where are the Dwarves in relation to all this?
Turgon builts the hidden city of Gondolin and Finrod establishes the fortress of Nargothrond? Are they far from each other? What other lands lie in-between?
Fingolfin and the Noldor consult a map of Beleriand; clearly lost.
Let the text and the map speak for themselves. I find the repetitive process of shifting between the writing and the map to be of great help in visualising the setting.
Embrace these chapters with love. At the same time, they’re a great mid-read break after the taxing storytelling of the previous chapters.
Furthermore, it’s a nice “quiet before the storm” section before all hell breaks loose – literally.
And last of all Turgon arose, and went with his household silently through the hills, and passed the gates in the mountains, and they were shut behind him.
Next week it’s all about a certain dark elf and the coming of men … ouch!