The Silmarillion is an account of the Elder Days, of the First Age of Tolkien’s world. It is the ancient drama to which the characters in The Lord of the Rings look back, and in whose events some of them such as Elrond and Galadriel took part. The tales of The Silmarillion are set in an age when Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, dwelt in Middle-Earth, and the High Elves made war upon him for the recovery of the Silmarils, the jewels containing the pure light of Valinor.
Included in the book are several shorter works. ‘The Ainulindale’ is a myth of the Creation and in the Valaquenta the nature and powers of each of the gods is described. ‘The Akallabeth’ recounts the downfall of the great island kingdom of Númenor at the end of the Second Age and ‘Of the Rings of Power’ tells of the great events at the end of the Third Age, as narrated in The Lord of the Rings.
The Silmarils: made by Fëanor and stolen by Morgoth during the Darkening of Valinor
(Fëanor: art by Steamey — Silmarils: source — Melkor / Morgoth: art by Frédéric Bennett)
The Timeline and Geography of Arda and Middle-earth
Timeline: Introductory Comments and Overview
While there is no substantial difficulty in fixing the time periods known as the Second, Third, and (beginnings of the) Fourth Age of Arda and Middle-earth, it is somewhat trickier to determine what exactly was “the First Age”, how long it lasted and which events it comprised. For a discussion of the whys and wherefores see The Encyclopedia of Arda: The First Age (https://www.glyphweb.com/arda/f/firstage.html); for present purposes, I’ll just note the essentials:
- There is no measure of time for the period of the creation of Eä and Arda, referred to in the Silmarillion as the Deeps of Time.
- After Arda had been created by the Music of the Ainur (aka the Great Song), the Valar entered it and began to shape it physically. During this process occurred what is known as the First Battle (between the Valar and Melkor). There is still no measuring system for this early stage, but by the systems applied later, the First Battle is reckoned to have lasted 1,500 Valian years (= approximately 14,000 solar years) from the moment the Valar had first entered Arda, ending when Melkor fled back into the Void and the Spring of Arda began.
- In its first incarnation in the Spring of Arda, the world was illuminated by the Two Lamps, Illuin (“sky-blue”) in the north and Ormal (“high-gold”) in the south. This period is sometimes referred to as the Years of the Lamps. According to the Annals of Aman in The History of Middle-earth: Morgoth’s Ring, the building of the Lamps is first mentioned in Valian year 1500, and they are recorded as being finally raised in 1900. They continued to shine for 1,600 Valian years (= ca. 15,342 solar years) until their destruction by Melkor, which occurred 1,550 Valian years (= ca. 14,854 solar years) before the Sun and the Moon first rose over Middle-earth.
- After the Two Lamps had in turn been destroyed by Melkor, the Valar created a new home for themselves at the western Edge of Arda, known as Aman (“the Undying” or “the Blessed Lands”), where they lived in Valinor (“the Land of the Valar” / “of the Powers”). This was originally illuminated by the Two Trees of Valinor, Laurelin (golden) and Telperion (silver), during a period known accordingly as the Years of the Trees. According to the Annals of Aman, the Trees shone for a total of 1,495 Valian years (= ca. 14,325 solar years).
- The making of the Two Trees of Valinor marks the beginning of the Valian years. One Valian year roughly equaled 9.582 solar years.
- According to a draft of The Tale of Years also published in The History of Middle-earth, the Awakening of the Elves (the Firstborn or Elder Children of Ilúvatar) — some 1,050 Valian years or 10,062 solar years after the making of the Trees — marks the beginning of the First Age.
- Time, however, ceased to be measured in Valian years after the Two Trees were destroyed by Melkor and Ungoliant, and the Darkening of Valinor ensued.
- From the last fruit of the Two Trees, Yavanna and Nienna created the Sun and the Moon. This occurred some 1,500 Valian years (= ca. 14,374 solar years) after the making of the Trees and 450 Valian years (= ca. 4,312 solar years) after the awakening of the Elves. From the moment of their first rising, “years” are equivalent to our solar years.
- For purposes of consistency with the time measurement of the Second and Third Ages (which are entirely given in solar years) — and consistent with the Grey Annals contained in The History of Middle-earth: The War of the Jewels — “Year 1” of the First Age (“FA 1”) is usually treated as beginning with the first rising of the Sun and the Moon. This is also the year that marks the coming of Men (the Younger Children of Ilúvatar).
- The term The Eldest Days comprises the entire time period from the creation of Eä and Arda to Melkor’s / Morgoth’s downfall at the end of the First Age. The expression “the Elder Days” typically has the same meaning, though on occasion it is also used to reference the Second Age or even the early years or centuries of the Third Age.
The Eldest Days
Enano Akd: Eru Ilúvatar and the Timeless Halls / Jerrel Salvatierra: Powers of Arda
The Years of the Lamps and the Years of the Trees
Andrey Maximov: Illuin and Ormal / Ted Nasmith: Illuin
Karen Wynn Fonstad: The Spring of Arda — from Almaren and the Great Lake in the Time of the Lamps
to Middle-earth and Valinor in the Years of the Trees.
Aman and Valinor
Left:source Wikipedia — right: map by Karen Wynn Fonstad (excerpt)
Valinor with the Two Trees, Telperion and Laurelin (art by MrSvein872)
Ted Nasmith: Tirion
The First Age
Karen Wynn Fonstad: Eä (the universe created by Eru Ilúvatar) and Arda after the Battle of the Powers
Karen Wynn Fonstad: Arda with Aman and Middle-earth in the First Age
The three Elvish ambassadors to Valinor and representatives of the three Kindreds, Ingwë, Finwë and Elwë (aka Elu Thingol)
(Art by Peter Xavier Price)
Ted Nasmith: The Ships of the Teleri drawn by Swans, and The Kinslaying at Alqualondë
Stefan Meisl: Helcaraxë
The topography of Beleriand and the Northern Lands (art by John Howe)
Karen Wynn Fonstad: Beleriand and the Northern Lands
The Realms of the Ñoldor and the Sindar and their rulers (map by Sirielle)
Sindar of the First Age: Thingol (art by Kimberly), Lúthien (art by Aerankai), and Círdan (source)
Karen Wynn Fonstad: Menegroth, seat of the rulers of Doriath
Karen Wynn Fonstad: Nargothrond
Karen Wynn Fonstad: Gondolin
Alan Lee: Gondolin
The War of Wrath (source)
Eärendil’s ship (art by alarie-tano) — Eärendil and Ancalagon the Black (source) — John Howe: Elwing’s Tower — Steamey: Eärendil and Elwing — Alan Lee: Gil-Estel — The light of Eärendil and Galadriel’s phial (source)
Middle-earth before and after the War of Wrath (source)
The Second Age
Karen Wynn Fonstad: Arda with Valinor, Númenor and Middle-earth in the Second Age
Karen Wynn Fonstad: Númenor
Númenor: White ships from Valinor near Andúnië (art by Ted Nasmith)
— Rómenna (art by MatejCadil) — Armenelos the Golden (art by Ralph Damiani)
Left: Númenórians (source) — Ar-Pharazôn (art by Steamey) — Elros Tar-Minyatur (art by MellorianJ) — Númenorian ships in harbor (art by Emilio Rodríguez) — Giovanni Calore: Secret Harbor — Rómenna (source);
Right: The White Tree and Forest of Mallorn Trees (both by Ted Nasmith) — Arrival of Ar-Pharazôn in Umbar (art by ivanalekseich) — Isildur and Nimloth (source) — Ar-Pharazôn’s armada (source) — Ted Nasmith: The Ships of the Faithful — Darrell Sweet: The Fall of Númenor
Rulers of Númenor and major developments in Númenor and in Middle-earth:
The Third Age
Karen Wynn Fonstad: Circles of the World before and after the change from flat to round Earth
Karen Wynn Fonstad: Middle-earth in the early Third Age
The topography of Middle-earth (source)
From Middle-earth to Our World
An exchange elsewhere on the audiobook edition of the Silmarillion (in lieu of a full-text review):
The Middle-earth Project
- Introductory Post: Adventures in Arda
- Main Page
Book Reviews and Blog Posts
Book by J.R.R. Tolkien
- The Hobbit: Audiobook performed by Andy Serkis
- The Lord of the Rings: Audiobooks performed by Andy Serkis
- The Silmarillion
- Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth
- The Lays of Beleriand
- The Fall of Gondolin
- Tales from the Perilous Realm