Cons: Whoa, confusing...
The Bottom Line: It's going to take more than one reading to get everything in this book - but it's worth it!
As usual, Tolkien's past work comes alive.
If you ever wanted to know how Middle Earth came to be (as well as it's inhabitants) then The Silmarillion will tell you. In a way, it is almost like the Bible of Middle Earth and Beleriand.
The book is broken down into several different sections. These sections are Ainulindale (The Music of the Ainur), Valaquenta (Account of the Valar), Quenta Silmarillion (History of the Silmarils) with the appendix of Akallabeth (The Downfall of Numenor) and one final piece, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age.
Ainulindale is the very beginning. It begins with Eru, or Iluvatar (to be blunt, he is like God) who makes the Ainur (the Holy Ones), each one being a part of him. They are like lesser gods. Ainulindale deals with the Ainur and Iluvatar and the creation of Ea (the Universe) and Arda (Earth). This is done through the music the Ainur sings, and also visible are the beginnings of conflict between the Ainur and Melkor, one of the Ainur who desires to be like Iluvatar (and resembles Satan further in the future).
Note: Though I refer to Iluvatar here as God and Melkor to Satan, I am in not trying to suggest Tolkien meant this or anything else. I am simply giving you a something familiar to compare these characters to.
Valaquenta is a short section with small subheadings of "Account of the Valar and Maiar according to the lore of the Eldar, Of the Valar, Of the Maiar" and "Of the Enemies." The first piece is a brief summary of what has just been read, Ainulindale. "Of the Valar" describes the Ainur who entered the Earth, thus their name becoming the Valar. It discusses each of the Valar by name, what they do on Earth, and other tidbits of information. Though Melkor descended onto Earth with them, he is no longer counted among the Valar, and no one speaks of him. "Of the Maiar" deals with gods even lesser than the Valar. The Maiar are the Valar’s servants and helpers. Here brief pieces are written on them. "Of the Enemies" discusses Melkor, who is forever after known as Morgoth through the words of the Elves. He was given great power and knowledge by Iluvatar, but because of his desires to rule and gain power, they were taken for granted. Here is written about his frightening greatness and how Maiar were drawn to him from it, and this is what Sauron is – a Maiar. Blarogs, demons of terror and fire served him also.
Quenta Silmarillion (History of the Silmarils) is broken up into 24 chapters, each dealing with a specific topic. The events go in chronological order, but sometimes there are so many names of places and people (sometimes multiple names of one person or place) to remember, it can feel as though you’re going in circles. This is the meat of The Silmarillion. Here you will learn about The Beginning of Days, The Coming of the Elves (Elves are also known as the Firstborn because they came before Men), how Dwarves were made, the doings of Morgoth (Melkor), and a long story on the Elf Feanor and how his creations, the Silmarils, jewels that held the beauty and light of the two trees of the Valar, became a curse. These Silmarils are the reason for Elven kinslaying, wars between Elves, Men, and Morgoth, and the reason Dwarves and Elves hate each other. Also included are many other wars dealing with Morgoth and his servants against Elves, Men, and Dwarves, and occasionally the Valar who step in to put down Morgoth. Afterward, you will read how things came to an end…and yet not so.
Akallabeth (The Downfall of Numenor) is a long, detailed explanation on just what the title says – the downfall of the kingdom of Numenor. From its beginning to its end, you will find out why Numenor was created and why it was destroyed.
Finally there is Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age. This is simply a shortened version (a very shortened version!) of The Lord of the Rings with a little bit of prehistory to explain the reasons for the aforesaid book to have occurred.
After this are various tables and pieces of information. These include Genealogies (four of them), a table of the different forms of Elves (that’s right, they’re not all exactly the same!), Pronunciation lists, an Index of Names, and an appendix of Quenya and Sindarin names (Elvish names). In this book are also two maps for you to look at and perhaps use as you read.
This book contains stories of death, life, rebirth, betrayal, and true love. Most notably (as the title denotes) is the love between Beren and Luthien, found in the Quenta Silmarillion. Their love is many times referred to when it comes to Aragorn and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings. A Human and an Elf coming together against seemingly impossible odds to eventually live happily ever after - whether that be in death or life.
The Silmarillion is so rich in detail and information it is hard to even begin describing how amazing it is to see such worlds and people come to life through Tolkien's hand. It is without much dialogue, and the dialogue that does exist is within the paragraphs and not as a usual story. Though it make take some time to read, and maybe even a few times through, it's worth it. And besides, if you want to know even more information when reading The Lord of the Rings, then this is the only way to get it.
If you want to know a lot more about the third age, to take a gander at my review of The Lord of the Rings, where it all began.
Notes from the playlist: "Feast of Starlight" by Howard Shore