Familiarity with The Silmarillion is assumed, and often some parts are missing because they are not really different from the published book. Also, without that knowledge (and/or a taste for Tolkien's poetry) you won't get far anyway.
One thing which might work would be to read Christopher Tolkien's introduction to The Children of Hurin, where he gives an overview of the First Age history. I'm not sure whether it is sufficient for the uninitiated, although I'm wonderig whether to recommend this course to my son.
Would be asking those who have read only some of them: Are they in the middle? Are only some of the books available? Did they begin and lose interest? Did they feel disappointed? Overwhelmed? Underwhelmed? Did they just decide in is not for them, or that they did not have the time for it?
I quite expected the greatest group would be those who've leafed through on of the twelve books, but never read all the series. But I am surprised at the small number of categorical "no"s.
I can say I haven't read all of them, because I haven't got my hands on books 3 and 5. Of the books I have read, I've loved them all. But I'm such a pathetic Tolkien junkie I immediately like everything he writes. If I haven't liked it before, I learn to like it - actually it was Tolkien who made me interested in botany and linguistics in the first place.
Just The Book of Lost Tales. I'd like to read the rest of it but the problem is at Barnes and Noble, you have to buy the entire set and I don't want to have two copies of Lost Tales. Part I was a bit difficult but I really liked Part II. Personally, my favorite story is The Fall of Gondolin, which fills in a lot of the missing gaps from the Sil. In the Lost Tales version of the story, Idril fights "like a tigress" to defend herself and her son. I'll never understand why this was cut from the Sil.
When Christopher was editing the book, I don't understand why he didn't use much more of this original tale. Obviously, not all of it is consistent with his father's final ideas, but much of it is and could have easily been used to create a much more detailed version of the story. This, and the cut of Hurin's wanderings are really some of the saddest cuts in the published Silmarillion. Glad we're able to read them somewhere though!
my reason is pretty lame. I prefer to read stuff that is more structured and finished. These would do as reference books but not enjoyable for me, like the Silmarillion. But I understand there is probably some interesting stuff about elves and their lives that I would like to settle down and read one day.
I've never read these series by Christopher Tolkien but it sounds interesting for someone who want to know everything about the process of creation of Middle-Earth, the writting and all those things and want to be scholar of the subject. I've seen them on the Internet and I should say the whole thing is quite expansive. I'll pass my turn for now. I am satisfied with the story books of Tolkien and a book like Unfinished Tales bring some deepening.
(This post was edited by sam90 on May 6 2012, 3:59pm)
I have read all but the Lord of the Rings history. I'm sure I will eventually, but for some reason it just doesn't compare to the history of the Elder Days. I think it's because Lord of the Rings is a completed, set in stone work, whereas the Sil is more of a compilation, so reading the backstory feels like reading actual history, not just stuff left on the cutting room floor.
I do find it is easy to get a lot of info off the net though. When bored, I'll punch up a random Encyclopedia of Arda or Wikipedia entry. I actually remember first finding the EoA website cause of its movie-goers companions, reading about some of the entries about First Age characters and thinking, "Man I wish I could read more about this." It wasn't until my brother told me about the Sil and UT that I realized I actually could!