So, I've been thinking back on the initial reception of THE SILMARILLION, and remembering how negative the reviews were and how no one challenged their demonstrably false claim that people might be buying the book but no one was actually reading it: that's not the conclusion that twenty-one consecutive weeks as #1 book on the NEW YORK TIMES bestsellers list wd normally lead to, it being far more probable that word of mouth kept people trying out the book in a widening circle all that fall and winter.
For my own part, having read the appendices of LotR(parts of it many times) I found the Silmquite readable with only one major flaw: too many names that started with 'F' or 'A': Finwe and Fingolfin and Finarfin and Fingon and Finrod and Feanor, not to mention Aegnor, Angrod, Amras, Amrod,* and Aredhed. Plus of course Celegorm and Curufin and Caranthir. It's like the French kings with too many Louises; more variety among the family names wd make it less difficult to keep track of the large cast of characters (e.g., the fifteen cousins, Finwe's grandchildren, who are the major characters of the Elves wars of Beleriand). Perhaps the strangest thing about the book, looking back now, is that an author so supremely talented in fantasy nomenclature as Tolkien left us with so many similar sounding names.**
Even so, the solution was easy: I started the book over again as soon as I finished, with the page in the back with the family trees bookmarked for easy reference during that re-read. Though truth to tell it was really only with the third read that I really started to get the hang of it.
As for the story, The Silmarillion itself, I was struck by how many surprises it held even to the most diligent reader of Tolkien's earlier works already in print.
For example, Feanor is mentioned several times in LotR, most notably in the palantir chapter when Gandalf wishes he cd have seen him at work in person. Here at Marquette I just finished reading the manuscript passage that brings in Feanor in a different context, as the one who made the Three Rings of Earth, Sea, and Sky: one text asserts that Feanor made the Three but it was The Great Enemy who brought them across the great sea to Middle-earth.
Absent from any of these references was any indication of the evil that Feanor did, the long stream of deliberate heinous acts that ultimately destroyed his family and followers and the greater part of his people. And while he was the most evil elf depicted by Tolkien, he was not alone: many of his followers committed horrific acts as well. And yet no hint of evil elves had found its way into THE LORD OF THE RINGS, where the elves have put all that behind them.
To use an analogy, who knew the Vulcans had once all been Romulans?
--in Milwaukee, one week in
*whom we learned much later, via HME, never reached Middle-earth at all but died along the way; he essentially becomes his twin brother's imaginary companion, so far as they story is concerned -- which does explain why the two never appear separately or undertake independent action anywhere in the main tale.
**the intended effect, of course, wd have been to convey family kinship through nomenclature, as with Malory's names for the House of Orkney, the five brothers Gawain and Agravaine and Gaheris and Gareth and Mordred, where the first and last go back to much earlier stages of the legend and the others were added later by writers introducing spin-offs to fit a few more knights into an already crowded Round Table.