A Tolkien Virgin: The Journey Begins - Pre-Amble
Before I begin with my review of the specific sections of the Silmarillion, allow me to pose a question: Is the Silmarillion a history or a cosmology?
Why is this important? Well, it's a matter of approach. Should I approach it as a cosmology that is full of myths, exaggerations, and representative characters? Or should I approach it as a history that tells of actual events in which real people took a part. Don't get me wrong; I know that the Silmarillion is fiction. Naturally, though, Tolkien treats his fictional realm as a real one. So, the question isn't whether Middle Earth is real, but whether the events really took place and persons acted, thought, felt, and even existed the way the Silmarillion describes.
In the end, the Silmarillion is a cosmology that pretends to be a history. I don't care what Tolkien intended, the Silmarillion makes for terrible history. I have a degree in history, but not my masters. I'm familiar with a certain amount of history and historiography, but there's a good chance some of you have more substantial knowledge in these areas. So, feel free to counter this argument. But, approaching it as a history, I found myself making mental lists of things that were wrong with the Silmarillion--things as far ranging as unbelievable character development and the ridiculousness of the ""Grand Narrative"" approach to history that Tolkien--writing earlier this century--was clearly aping.
If you disagree with me, that's fine. If you think I'm being nitpicky, that's fine too. Because all of that is preface for me to say, don't read the Silmarillion as a history. Don't let character inconsistencies, stereotypes and inadequate physical descriptions, unbelievable turns of events, the passing of hundreds of years in a single sentence, and Tokien's failure to describe the possibly rich and varied cultures of the peoples who are the primary actors in this story ruin it for you.
Chances are, I'm going to point out a few of these as we go, but rest assured, whatever I write I'm not mudslinging. I'm not determined for Tolkien to be bad just to shove it in your faces (Lord knows I'd be outnumbered). I'm not determined for Tolkien to be bad at all. In fact--brace yourselves--I'm actually enjoying the Silmarillion. It's really quite good, and I would even recommend it.
Enough with the pre-amble, let's get started.