Fr. Kimel shared a link in the comments of this post that anyone who has read the Silmarillion will appreciate:
Here are some reflections on J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Silmarillion’ I made when I was younger – not bad, if I do say so myself!
Central elements of the mythology include: Beren and Luthien, Hurin and his children, Earandil and his interceding on behalf of men, and Feanor and his war on Morgoth. there are more, but I’d say those are the key pillars to this mythology.
Of those, I think the most important to the mythology as a whole are Hurin and Earandil. Neither are entirely original in conception, but they are both incredibly important, moreso than any of the other of the stories Tolkien wove. wove into his mythology. Hurins story, called the Narn i Chin Hurin, in my opinion, is the entire Tolkien mythology in a nutshell. while based primarily in Finnish and Greek mythologies, especially the tradgedies, it’s a powerful story that sets the tone for the entire Middle-Earth legendarium.
The key points of the Narn are (a) Hurins imprisonment by Morgoth (b) the curse laid on Hurin and all his family and (c) Turins life lived under said curse. Hurin attempts to out-debate Morgoth, and failing, has a curse laid on him. This isn’t a normal curse though; if you look at the nature of Morgoth you’ll see its much more. The music of the Ainur was the fabric of creation, and since Melkor wove his own themes of pride and evil into it, evil is therefore ingrained into Arda by the doing of Morgoth. So Morgoth isn’t just predicting bad luck, he’s quite literally bending evil itself to work on Hurin and his children.
That’s the basic reason Turin is beset by bad fortune, death, sadness, etc. wherever he goes; because the evil in the fabric of creation, put into place by Morgoth is bending against him. There’s no escaping it for Turin, and any victories he does achieve turn out to be fruitless in the end. even his marriage is torn apart in a rather Odepian way, his bride being his sister, whose memory was lost from the spell of the great dragon Glaruraung. she kills herself, and Turin follows soon after. the point of all this being, Morgoth is not boasting when he says to Hurin how great his power is, and how his thought and will will go with Hurin and all his children all the days of his life.
the story as a whole, as i said above sets the tone for the vast majority of Tolkiens middle-earth mythology: long struggles, glorious defeats and victories at a great price.
The second most important tale in the mythology, at least in my mind is Earendil.
Earendil sailed into the west to valinor in order to get the Valar to help Elves and Men in the siege of Angband, morgoths stronghold. he was able to find Valinor by the power of the Silmaril on his brow. he enters valinor and procures the aid of the Valar, who come to middle-earth in force and defeat Morgoth in battle once and for all and exile him into the outer void, beyond time and space. in doing so, Beleriand is sunk below the sea. Earendil, having been to Valar, which no mortal had been to before, was then given choice to either remain a mortal man or become an elf. he and his wife both choose to be counted among the elves, and earendil then takes his ship and sails into the starless void with the Silmaril on his brow still; and becomes the star Earandil, which is seen in middle-earth for the rest of its days.
This tale is improtant, at least to my mind, because it establishes the power of hope and grace, even when it seems that all is failed. Earendil goes to the Valar because he rightly perceives that Morgoth cannot be overthrown by force of arms alone, and ” delivered the errand of the Two Kindreds. Pardon he asked for the Noldor and pity for their great sorrows, and mercy upon Men and Elves and succor in their need. And his prayer was granted”
Even though the elves had spit in the face of the Valar, defied their will and marched off to a 450+ year war in which countless people were killed, even though they attacked their own kind and stole their ships to get across the ocean, though they betrayed each other in the zeal for the Silmarils, despite all that and much much more, one simple prayer was enough to change the minds of the Valar and cause them to overthrow Morgoth.
Thus, Angband is broken(though not completely destroyed) and Morgoth banished beyond the door of Night, and a permanent guard is set on the walls of Night. but since evil did not simply come from Morgoth but was woven into the very fabric of creation itself, evil endured, and will continue to endure until the end of time, which leads into a rather big point in the whole mythology: the resistance to evil by good, even in the face of defeat.
Those are the two tales that i would say for the cornerstone of the Tolkien mythology. now on to the reason the Silmarillion is named the Silmarioion: the silmarils.
Feanor was the greatest artist/craftsmen to ever live. his power was immense, not only in art/making things but in speech as well. his will was indomitable, and he could not be made to change his path by force or counsel. such was his power of speech that he roused the vast majority of the Noldor to war in a speech given over the course of an entire day, the War of the Jewels. Feanor is a key character in the story, not only for his own sake, but also because of the seven sons he had. when he went to war to reclaim his jewels, his sons swore along with him to get back the jewels at any cost, no matter what. this oath would have devastating consequences and also cause the first kinslaying, the killing of elf by elf.
‘There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad. But for a long while they sang only each alone, or but few together, while the rest hearkened; for each comprehended only that part of the mind of Ilúvatar from which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly. Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony.’ (J.R.R. Tolkien, ‘ The Silmarillion’, p. 1)