There were no hobbits in this book.
Okay, you want real commentary.
I had been warned that this book was rather more like reading a history textbook than a novel, yet I decided to read it anyway, because I was dying of curiosity about the Silmarils and the Two Trees. I did, in fact, find it a bit like a history book, but also a bit like reading the King James version of the Bible or a collection of Greek myths that were all somehow interrelated but didnít form a cohesive whole. Many of the themes seemed familiar (Paradise Lost especially stuck out for me, and there was a definite bit of Rapunzel), but there was a lot of originality within the ďepicĒ framework, or at least stuff that I had never seen in that form before. Here Iím thinking of the great hound who aids Beren and Luthien and is permitted to speak only three times before he dies. I donít remember his name.
There were an awful lot of names in this book. Many of them were very similar. Although I understand why Tolkien wanted the names to be similar (Germanic and Anglo-Saxon naming practices), it made it much more difficult to follow. I think I got the rough outline of what was happening, but I got confused a lot too. Iím fairly certain I understand about the creation of the world, the creation of the Silmarils, and the destruction of the Two Trees, and Iím much clearer on who the Numenoreans were and what happened to them, but I still donít understand the differentiation between the various lineages of Elves; and I started to get really confused when Men and Dwarves were thrown into the mix but not necessarily identified by race.
So anyway, the Silmarillion had its moments of narrative excitement, but it wasnít really like a novel. I think I have a better understanding of the back story, but I donít think itís necessary to have read the Silmarillion in order to understand the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The appendices are particularly helpful - one is a glossary of proper names and place names with one or two lines about each, and the other is a glossary of elements in elvish names, which would be especially good if I was trying to learn elvish; though it might not help me because even though I know there are two forms of elvish I still donít really understand the difference.
The Silmarillion gets 5 pints for artistic merit. The language is very beautiful, and itís a very effective synthesis and retelling of many of the myths Iím familiar with as well as several more that Iím not. But then it loses 2 pints for not really being a novel, for having too many names that were very similar, and for not having any hobbits. So the total score is