The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

General information

The book is a collection of mythopoeic works which was edited and published after Tolkien’s death by his son, Christopher Tolkien, with assistance from Guy Gavriel Kay in 1977. The book comprises five parts which were initially separate works. They are as follows:

1. Ainulindalë (tells of the creation of Eä, the “world that is”)

2. Valaquenta (gives a description of the Valar and Maiar, the supernatural powers in Eä)

3. Quenta Silmarillion (divided into twenty-four sub-chapters; which forms the bulk of the collection, chronicles the history of the events before and during the First Age)

4. Akallabêth (relates the history of the Downfall of Númenor and its people, which takes place in the Second Age)

5. Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age (is a brief account of the circumstances which led to and were presented in The Lord of the Rings)


 

 

 

 

 

 

Plot overview

The plot of ‘The Silmarillion’ is very complex and incorporates numerous details of vast importance. That’s why I’ve decided not to write it by myself. Just click on the part of your interest and read a thorough description of the chapter.

1. Ainulindalë

2. Valaquenta

3. Quenta Silmarillion

– Of the Beginning of Days

– Of Aulë and Yavanna

– Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor

 Of Thingol and Melian

– Of Eldamar and the Princes of the Edalië

– Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor

 Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor

– Of the Darkening of Valinor

 Of the Flight of the Noldor

– Of the Sindar

 Of the Sun and Moon and the Hiding of Valinor

– Of Men

– Of the Return of the Noldor

– Of Beleriand and Its Realms

 Of the Noldor in Beleriand

– Of Maeglin

– Of the Coming of Men into the West

– Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin

– Of Beren and Lúthien

– Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad

– Of Túrin Turambar

 Of the Ruin of Doriath

 Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin

– Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath

4. Akallabêth

5. Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age

Review

If I were to think of one word describing the book, it would be definitely the word “challenging”. Personally, I regard Tolkien as the master of confusing the reader with names of places and protagonists, diverse events incorporated in his stories and, of course, the language used in his works. ‘The Silmarilion’ is one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read. It doesn’t mean that I don’t like it. Not at all. The story which came into being thanks to Tolkien is very interesting and engrossing. However, the style of writing and presenting ideas doesn’t let the reader just sit, relax and read. It requires a lot of focus, cause if one doesn’t pay attention, they may get lost very easily. During my first attempt to read the book I had to re-read some pages, or even chapters, to be able to follow the story. But one thing for sure, Tolkien’s imagination was limitless. All the worlds he created, characters he brought to life… that’s really amazing and impressive. That’s why I like his works, even if they’re hard to read. Cause thanks to him I can move to a completely different world, co-exist with characters in a totally diverse reality. So, if you like the world of fantasy and if you have enough patience and are able to really focus on reading, ‘The Silmarillion’ should be a good choice.

Curiosities

Did you know that…

1. Euclid is the most successful textbook writer of all time. His Elements, written around 300 B.C., has gone through more than 1,000 editions since the invention of printing.

2. Vergil, who is generally accepted as the greatest of the Roman poets, left instructions that, upon his death, his manuscript of the Aeneid should be burned because he had not been able to polish it. Roman emperor Augustus—who may have been the one who requested Vergil to write it—stepped in and countermanded Vergil’s request. He had others polish the work, and ordered it published.

3, The first volume of recipes was published in 62 A.D. by the Roman Apicius. Titled De Re Coquinaria, it described the feasts enjoyed by the Emperor Claudius.

4. As most early literate civilisations were located around the warm Mediterranean region, the first mention of an iceberg in world literature did not appear until the ninth century A.D., when an account of the travels of the Irish monk St. Brendan in the North Atlantic, three centuries before, appeared. It mentioned that he saw a “floating crystal castle.”

5. Paper was invented in China around 105 A.D., by the eunuch Ts’ai Lun. According to the official history of the Han dynasty (3rd century A.D.), Ts’ai Lun was given an aristocratic title after he presented Emperor Ho Ti with samples of paper. In 751 A.D., Chinese papermakers were captured by the Arabs at Samarkand, and by 794 A.D. several state-owned paper mills operated in Baghdad. The Arabs were manufacturing paper in Spain around 1150. It was not until 1590 that the first English paper mill was founded, at Dartford.

6. The story of Cinderella first appears in a Chinese book written in the 850s.

7. The first novel ever written is believed to be The Tale of Genji, written in the first decade of the 11th century by Murasaki Shibuku, a Japanese noblewoman. It contains 54 chapters.

8. In the early 11th century, Persian Sultan Mahmud promised the poet Firdausi one gold dinar (about $4.70) for each couplet of his poem Shah-nama or Book of Shahs (a poem containing the history of the Kings of Persia) upon completion. When Firdausi delivered the poem in 1010, it was 60,000 lines long. Mahmud’s advisors claimed the requisite fee would be exorbitant, and paid Firdausi in silver instead. Firdausi, outraged, left the court. In 1020, Mahmud was struck by the beauty of a couplet that he learned was written by Firdausi. He repented his miserliness and sent a camel caravan with 60,000 gold dinars’ worth of indigo to Firdausi with a letter of apology. Unfortunately, it arrived in the village of Tus as Firdausi’s funeral procession was passing through the streets.

9. The sole surviving written record of Mayan history is three codices written in hieroglyphs on bark paper. All three are now held in European cities.

10. Copernicus’ revolutionary book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, which argued that heavenly bodies move around the sun, ignited a scientific revolution, but was a financial failure. Published in 1543, it was overpriced and went out of print. A second edition was not printed until 1566, and a third edition was not printed until 1617.

11. Shakespeare used around 29,000 different words in his plays. About 6,000 words only appear once. About 10,000 words are not found in any surviving English literature prior to Shakespeare.

12. Edgar Allan Poe wrote a short story in 1838, “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket”, in which three shipwreck survivors in an open boat kill and eat the fourth, a man named Richard Parker. In 1884, in the real world, three shipwreck survivors in an open boat killed and ate the fourth, whose name was Richard Parker.

13. It is estimated that over 7,500,000,000 copies of the Bible have been made.

14. Agatha Christie is the top-selling English-language author of all time. She wrote 78 mystery novels that have sold an estimated 2,000,000,000 copies.

15. The Guinness Book of World Records, first published in 1955, got into itself nineteen years later, in 1974, by setting a record as the fastest-selling book in the world.

16. The largest book in the world, a copy of the Tripitaka, the sacred Buddhist text that includes Buddha’s teachings, is inscribed on 729 marble slabs, each 3.5′ × 5′ × 5″, and occupies a thirteen-acre site on the grounds of the Kuthodaw pagoda in Mandalay, Burma.

17. By the fifteenth century, manuscript copyists had set up mass-production workshops capable of turning out sizable quantities of books. An order in the year 1437 (found at Leyde, the Netherlands) called for 200 copies of the Psalms of Penitence, 200 of Cato’s Distichs in Flemish, and 400 of a small prayer book.

 

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

” The Historian amounts to something profound… We encounter obsession, possession and the struggle against the brevity of life. It is an exploration of the eternal desire for intimacy”

– Saffron Burrows, London Times

“Brooding and atmospheric… Kostova has re-created a Dracula every bit as horrifying and as terrible as when the bloodsucking vampire first became fixed in popular culture with Bram Stoker’s celebrated telling of the tale in 1897… In the end, Kostova may have outdone Stoker”

– Carol Memmott, USA Today

General information

‘The Historian’ is a debut novel by an American writer Elizabeth Kostova, published in 2005 by Little, Brown and Company, a publishing house established by Charles Coffin Little and James Brown. Author’s idea for the book was based on stories about Dracula told by Kostova’s father when she was a child. She worked on a book for ten years and it was sold within few months to the publishing house mentioned above. The novel may be classified as Gothic novel, adventure novel, detective fiction, postmodern historical novel or historical thriller. The book presents history’s role in society, the importance of books, the nature of good and evil as well as the relationship between the Christian West and Islamic East.

Awards:

1. Hopwood Award for Novel-in-progress in 2003 (winner)

2. Quill Award for Debut Author of the Year in 2005 (winner)

3. International Horror Guild Award for Best Novel in 2005 (nominated)

4. Book Sense Award for Best Adult Fiction in 2006 (winner)

Plot overview

Part one: 1930. Bartholomew  Rossi, a graduate student in history, finds a mysterious book containing only an engraved picture of a menacing dragon. Through diligent research at Oxford and Istanbul, he discovers that Dracula (or rather, the historical figure, Vlad the Impaler, on whom Dracula is partially based) is alive, hiding in a secret tomb somewhere in Europe. However, as Rossi pursues this information, people close to him begin to die of violence and blood loss. He ultimately decides it is too dangerous to push any further, and goes back to his usual life at school.

Part two: mid 1950’s. Paul, another graduate student in history, finds a mysterious book containing only an engraved picture of a menacing dragon. He takes it to his mentor, Bartholomew Rossi, who shows Paul his book and recounts some of the events in plot one. Then Rossi disappears, leaving only evidence of a violent and bloody fight. Paul becomes convinced that Rossi has been kidnapped by Dracula and taken back to his hidden tomb for some unknown evil purpose.

He joins forces with Helen, another student who turns out to be Rossi’s illegitimate daughter from a trip Rossi took to Romania in 1930 to search for Dracula’s tomb. (Rossi was given a potion to force him to forget this part of the trip, and thus abandoned Helen and her mother.) Paul and Helen, pursued by an “evil librarian” vampire, search museums, monasteries and libraries in Istanbul and Cold War Eastern Europe for clues to the location to the tomb in a frantic attempt to rescue Rossi. They finally find the tomb in Hungary, but too late: Dracula has fled and Rossi has received the three bites which doom him to become one of the Undead compelled to serve the master vampire. (Dracula kidnapped Rossi because of Rossi’s intelligence and persistence, intending to force Rossi to become…the curator of Dracula’s extensive library.)

With terrible grief, Paul and Helen drive a stake through his heart to spare him that awful fate. In the course of plot two we learn: a) Dracula is the one leaving the mysterious books to students, in order to find brave and brilliant scholars; b) Helen is a direct descendent of Dracula; c) Helen has been bitten twice and carries the vampire taint, although she is not yet one of the undead; and d) Paul and Helen fall in love and become the parents of the narrator of plot three.

Part three: mid 1970’s. Paul and Helen’s eighteen year old daughter narrates. She has been raised by her father; her mother died, apparently of suicide, when she was a baby. She finds her father’s dragon book in his study, and her father slowly tells her, through stories and letters, the events of plot one and two. In the midst of this, he leaves abruptly; she learns he is going to an ancient monastery in France to confront Dracula and rescue her mother, who is really alive and has been hunting the vampire all these years. She follows him to help; most of the book unfolds as she reads letters on the long train ride from England to France. She and her father confront Dracula, and are about to be destroyed when Helen arrives and shoots him through the heart with a silver bullet, reducing him to dust. The family is reunited and lives happily for many years.

Postscript: Present day: The narrator, now a respected professor of history, goes to Philadelphia to look at Bram Stoker’s notes for the book, “Dracula”. As she is leaving, she discovers in her briefcase a mysterious book containing only an engraved picture of a menacing dragon. (Yes, another one.) As she recoils, we end with a description of Vlad Dracul in medieval times, planning his eternal life and eventual world domination (and, presumably, extensive book collecting). (taken from http://www.thebookspoiler.com)

Review

‘The Historian’ is definitely and undeniably one of my favourite novels ever. It was love at first reading. However, I’ll start with one negative thing about the book (the only one I can think of). It requires some patience at the beginning, since until the story gets its pace, it seems to be a little boring and confusing. But when you get into the world which the author created, you’ll become lost in pages until you reach the very last of them. What I liked about the novel, and what can be regarded as a drawback by some readers, is its complexity. It refers to both the protagonists and the plot itself. Kostova incorporated not only fictional characters into her novel, but also real ones. It makes the story more reliable and definitely more interesting. When it comes to the plot, the way the author composed her story is simply amazing. It’s a multi-level construction involving several stories of the main characters. What is interesting, these individual plots float around the same topic and are joined together at the end. This “story within a story”  device used by Kostova makes the book dynamic and puts it on a higher literary level. I really appreciate historical facts and characters which the author made use of. Thanks to this, the book has not only an entertaining function, but also an educational one thanks to which readers get to know the world used as a setting for the plot as it actually was. Finally, I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t mention the atmosphere of the novel. Supernatural elements, mysterious places and events, unsolved puzzles, evil standing just behind characters’ backs… that’s what I always seek in books. That’s what makes me want to read one more chapter, and one more… until my eyelids start falling.

Here’s an online audiobook which I’ve found. I’ll put only Part One here. The rest of them are on the same site. Enjoy 🙂

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Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

General information 

The novel was written by an American writer Ira Levin and published in 1967. It is considered to be the classic when it comes to horror genre and the best-selling horror novel of the 1960s (over four million copies sold). The author found his inspiration in the Church of Satan founded in 1966 by Anton La Vey.

Plot overview

The novel presents the story of a married couple, Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse, after they move to Bramford, an old, Gothic apartment building. The place has a disturbing history involving witchcraft and murder, however, the housewife and her husband overlook this fact and are very excited about their new flat. Soon after moving in they meet their new neighbours, Minnie and Roman Castevet, who turn out to be an eccentric elderly couple. Although Rosemary is a bit suspicious of her neighbours, Guy seems to get on very well with them and spends more and more time in their company. As the time goes by Guy’s life suddenly starts to change, and so does his attitude towards family life. His bad luck on a professional field appears to be over after his theatrical rival goes blind and Guy takes his part. He also changes his mind when it comes to having babies (before, he wanted to wait for establishment). Finally, Rosemary gets pregnant, however, it takes place in mysterious circumstances. After that, Minnie gets strangely overprotective and starts to snoop on the pregnant woman. With her friend’s help, Rosemary realises that her neighbours are leaders of a Satanic coven and want to sacrifice her child after it’s born. However, no one seems to believe her. Even her husband thinks she’s lost her mind. After she finds out that she was wrong about Minnie and Roman’s plans, she discovers that the truth is even more horrific. It turns out that the baby she carries is Satan’s child, who is supposed to be brought to this world to rule and cover the earth with chaos.

Review

I’ve always been into books involving motifs of religion, good vs. evil, supernatural etc. and I regard ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ as a classic as long as this literary genre is concerned. Why? First of all, because of the atmosphere the book has. It’s not this kind of overwhelming horror, with too many “scary” moments which after all turn out to be rather funny and ridiculous than horrifying. The way the author describes the surrounding, presents characters (especially the baddies) is enough to give you goose bumps from time to time. There doesn’t need to be a monster behind every corner to make a good horror novel. What’s more, the suspense increases with every few pages until a reader can’t hold any longer and wants to finally discover the truth, solve the mystery. In my opinion, the plot is quite daring. A woman giving birth to the Antichrist is very likely to be found scandalous. However, it cannot be denied that Levin’s novel somehow gave birth to this kind of writing. Various writers have found their inspiration in this ’67 horror. What I liked most about this novel is the main protagonist. a scared to death woman, who is left alone in a situation she finds very hard to comprehend. However, she doesn’t give up, doesn’t let her fears take control over her. She fights for her own life and for her baby’s. She turns out to be an extremely strong person who unconditionally loves her son, even after the truth about his real nature is revealed. I strongly recommend this novel to everyone, not only horror lovers, since it’s rightly called a classic.

The novel was made into a film in 1968, directed by Roman Polański (a Polish director born in France). The cast included Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer. Below you can take a look at the trailer.

You can also listen to a famous lullaby from the film. It was created by a Polish composer Krzysztof Komeda and in the original version the voice belonged to Mia Farrow.