The (Tarnished) Silmarillion

by bookwyrmbound

I recently finished my first fine binding, a refined, modern, full-leather binding that often features decorations informed by the contents of the book. What we learn at the North Bennet Street School is a variation of the French style of fine binding, although it’s been informed by the English style. Because we had free reign to choose the book for this project, and I am a huge geek, I bound a copy of The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Here is the finished product (as always, click for full-sized images):

My binding of the Silmarillion, showing both boards

My Silmarillion, completed.

The book was sewn on German tapes, rounded and backed to 90 degrees, and laced onto boards. It was trimmed in boards and all three edges were decorated with guache and sprinkled gold and palladium. The endbands were sewn with silk around double cores. The spine has a hollow tube. The covering is dark blue Harmatan goatskin, with edge-to-edge doublures in the same leather, a leather hinge, and marbled flyleaves.

flyleaf, doublure, and two decorated edges

The Silmarillion open, showing the flyleaf, leather doublure, and two sprinkled edges.

Fine binding is a long and labor-intensive process, so that all aspects of the book are as refined as possible. There is a lot of careful measuring and a lot of sanding involved. Fortunately, there are also a lot of opportunities to be creative with the design, and so I finally got to put some of the leather-decorating techniques we learned back in the Fall to use on a real book!

When I re-read the book in preparation for binding it, I was struck by the theme of decay, and so I wanted that to be represented in my binding. I decided to make use of materials that will tarnish over time. The two trees are surface-gilt on the cover–Laurelin, the Gold Tree, in imitation gold leaf and Telperion, the White Tree, in silver leaf. In the time between gilding the trees and finishing the binding, the edges of the silver branches were already darkening.

Telperion begins to tarnish

Over time, the book will literally enact the destruction of the Two Trees. But the flower in Telperion’s branches and the fruit in Laurelin’s are tooled in palladium and gold, respectively, so they will stay bright. In the book, this last fruit and flower become the Sun and the Moon.

The edge decoration represents the fate of the Silmarils. To let Tolkien himself explain: “And thus it came to pass that the Silmarils found their long homes: one in the airs of heaven, and one in the fires of the heart of the world, and one in the deep waters” (254).

Earendil's Silmaril

one in the airs of heaven,

Silmarillion tail edge

and one in the fires of the heart of the world,

Silmarillion foredge

and one in the deep waters.

One of my favorite things about this binding was making my own finishing tools so that I could do the titling in Tengwar. In Middle-Earth mythology, the letter-forms were invented by Feanor, who also made the Silmarils, so it didn’t seem right to title in anything else. I’ll probably do a post just about the process of making finishing tools, but the basic idea is to cut lengths of brass keystock, polish the ends to a mirror finish, and then file away unwanted brass until you reach the desired shape. The tool is then mounted in a wooden handle. For the title, I made nine finishing tools. I’m planning on making the other six I need to be able to tool the complete Tengwar alphabet soon.

Tengwar finishing tools

Tengwar finishing tools--shaped, but not yet mounted

I titled the book in palladium, with the author’s name at the base of the spine, done with gold in 8pt Centaur handle letters.


Titling--Tengwar (Feanorean) characters, in the Classical mode

Author detail

Author, in gold

It was really fun to make, despite the inevitable setbacks with flaking gold and uncooperative leather and all those other little things. Now I just have to make a box for it, and then I can start plotting more things to use my Tengwar finishing tools on!