Thursday, May 15, 2014

Silmarillion Syndrome or Hung up on Structure

I don’t talk a lot about my writing in specific because it’s not an easy thing to talk about. Other writers all seem to have a “WIP” or Work in Progress that they are focused on and can discuss in detail. For me its different. I believe I suffer from what I’m going to call “Silmarillion Syndrome”.

What is it?

Everyone knows Tolkien for his masterpieces The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but the work that Tolkien devoted his life to was the body of legends that would become The Silmarillion, only published after his death. Tolkien began the stories that comprised The Silmarillion in his youth and some of them went through dozens of permutations. From early on he had the idea of fitting them together into a mythology of the Elves. First there was The Book of Lost Tales, wherein the tales of the Elves were told to a mortal Man who had found his way to the Elves’ island home. Later versions removed the Man and the told story aspect and made them into straightforward mythological accounts collected in a body called the Quenta Silmarillion. Tolkien wrote several versions which he was never quite happy with which is why it later fell to his son to edit together the sometimes fragmented legends into a publishable volume. Tolkien never saw his beloved Elven history in print.

This desire for an overarching structure to the tales and need to have them fit together seamlessly into a single legendarium is all too familiar to me. As is the perfectionism that led to countless versions and revisions. I too want a comprehensive mythology for my world that was full of origin stories and heroic legends. For the past year I have been studying and ruminating and plotting and planning to come up with my own overarching structure for my fantasy stories. I have been obsessed with the Big Picture, trying to create a structure that every idea and every story element I have ever had and will ever have can easily fit into.

Wow, writing it out like that makes it sound stupidly ambitious. Which is, I think, a phrase that perfectly describes me when I start getting creative. Sarah McCabe: Stupidly Ambitious Fantasy Stories. It could work.

Anyway, I’ve been trying to work out this overarching narrative for some time now and I believe I’ve made a real breakthrough. Puzzle pieces are starting to fit together, the Big Picture is almost in view. It’s a dizzying feeling actually because I had begun to doubt whether or not I had the skill to formulate an overarching narrative that created the sort of depth you get from Tolkien’s work. Now I think maybe I can actually plan it out, but it still remains to be seen if I can turn it into a well told story. And whether I can manage to finish such an ambitious project in my lifetime.


  1. It doesn't sound stupidly ambitious, it sounds awesomely ambitious! You could think of the whole thing as a WiP and share snippets of the world you've created :-)

    1. Thanks, Deniz. That is how I think of it. The whole world and it's mythology is my WIP. Though I am trying to write some stories on the side that take place in this world but aren't necessarily part of the central drama so that I can actually publish something sooner rather than later.


Comments, Precious, we appreciates them!