Review: Beren and Luthien

Posted 6 November, 2017 by Lianne in Books / 3 Comments

Beren & Luthien
By: J.R.R. Tolkien
Format/Source: Hardback; my purchase

Painstakingly restored from Tolkien’s manuscripts and presented for the first time as a fully continuous and standalone story, the epic tale of Beren and Lúthien will reunite fans of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings with Elves and Men, Dwarves and Orcs and the rich landscape and creatures unique to Tolkien’s Middle-earth. The tale of Beren and Lúthien was, or became, an essential element in the evolution of The Silmarillion, the myths and legends of the First Age of the World conceived by J.R.R. Tolkien. Returning from France and the battle of the Somme at the end of 1916, he wrote the tale in the following year.

Essential to the story, and never changed, is the fate that shadowed the love of Beren and Lúthien: for Beren was a mortal man, but Lúthien was an immortal Elf. Her father, a great Elvish lord, in deep opposition to Beren, imposed on him an impossible task that he must perform before he might wed Lúthien. This is the kernel of the legend; and it leads to the supremely heroic attempt of Beren and Lúthien together to rob the greatest of all evil beings, Melkor, called Morgoth, the Black Enemy, of a Silmaril.

In this book Christopher Tolkien has attempted to extract the story of Beren and Lúthien from the comprehensive work in which it was embedded; but that story was itself changing as it developed new associations within the larger history. To show something of the process whereby this legend of Middle-earth evolved over the years, he has told the story in his father’s own words by giving, first, its original form, and then passages in prose and verse from later texts that illustrate the narrative as it changed. Presented together for the first time, they reveal aspects of the story, both in event and in narrative immediacy, that were afterwards lost.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that we’re still getting Tolkien material at an almost yearly basis, but LMAO that he’s getting more stuff out whereas George R.R. Martin is nowhere (supposedly) near releasing The Winds of Winter *shrugs* But anyway, I was very excited to get my hands ont his book since hearing about it as every Tolkienite knows of the story of Beren and Luthien.

Okay, I admit, I read this book at a weird time: I had just started classes again and was struggling to find a balance between school and work and whathaveyou so maybe my experience readin this book was marred a bit. But the highlight in reading this book was reading the changes the story had undergone from Tolkien’s early conception of their tale to the present form we’ve come to know in The Silmarillion. I mean, the core story is there–Beren and Luthein’s love, the impossible task Luthien’s father imposes on Beren–but other details of the story was pretty trippy to read, from the different names with some very Welsh roots to them to the Prince of Cats. Yes, there were cats in this story, which left me wondering whether cats have made an appearance any other time in any Middle Earth tale…

But anyway, the remainder of the collection was interesting enough. Christopher included fragments of poetry from various edits of the story over the years, which wee beautiful and again gives readers a glimpse of what has changed and what had remained the same over the course of the edits and revisits. I suppose that’s the highlight that these recent Tolkien books have been all about: that gradual process of how stories change over time from their initial edits to their final draft, how major appearances and disappearances of certain story elements really shape and change our perception of the story. Definitely worth checking out if you’re into that sort of thing…and of course major Tolkien fans 😉

Rating: ★★★★☆

Visit the official website of the Tolkien estate || Order this book from the Book Depository

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