The Tale of the Silmarils introduces readers to many of the themes found in the Lord of the Rings (LOTR): the lust for power, the struggle against an evil lord, the frailty of men (and elves), war, and ultimate redemption. It is altogether a grimmer tale than LOTR but one which enriches any reading of Tolkien’s main works.
The Quenta Silmarillion (QS) raises several questions which are interesting in the philosophy of religion. I say religion deliberately as the QS offers a rather useful view of the construction and development of myth, sacred or otherwise. Obviously Tolkienism is not a religion: His sub-creative sojourn in Faerie is consciously fictional but the creation itself is, I think, in some ways true. More basically, his is also simply the construction of a story, which is how most religions begin. More on this here.
Two philosophical problems present themselves in the QS: free will and theodicy. On free will, the term employed by Tolkien is “doom.” The elves who vow to regain the Silmarils, leave Valinor, and kill their kin at Alqualondë, find themselves under the Doom of Mandos:
Tears unnumbered ye shall shed; and the Valar will fence Valinor against you, and shut you out, so that not even the echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains. On the House of Fëanor the wrath of the Valar lieth from the West unto the uttermost East, and upon all that will follow them it shall be laid also. Their Oath shall drive them, and yet betray them, and ever snatch away the very treasures that they have sworn to pursue. To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well; and by treason of kin unto kin, and the fear of treason, shall this come to pass. The Dispossessed shall they be for ever. [Read more…]