Beren and Lúthien
by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published June 1st 2017 by HarperCollins.
I will begin by saying that this book is most definitely not for the Tolkien neophyte. The Silmarillion is unquestionably required reading before attempting this collection (for collection it is), and a firm understanding of that work at that. Christopher Tolkien does a splendid job of curating his father’s various iterations of the Beren and Lúthien story, but place and character names are taken as implicitly understood, so be ye warned. (Though a full glossary of names is included, handy even for Tolkien scholars.) All that having been said, I am just such a Tolkien aficionado, and so on we go.
What the book is not is a summary, retelling or re-imagining of the story of Beren and Lúthien. Far from it. What C. Tolkien has done is to collect together his father’s various versions of the tale (and related elements) in order of composition. By doing so he makes the book more of a study of his father’s creative process than a strict narrative, and I for one found this element particularly fascinating. Over time Tolkien adapted and enhanced the story, abandoning characters and scenes (like the thankful removal of Tevildo, Prince of Cats) while deepening the romance, intrigue and tragedy. What ultimately resulted is a tale of magic, wonder and love to rival The Lord Of The Rings or, for that matter, any Greek myth.
Furthermore, Tolkien composed much of the story as a poetic lay, an impressive achievement all of itself. The lay’s structure lends itself well to the mythic subject matter, while still conveying all of the dramatic detail of prose, and a great deal more atmosphere. Tolkien used clever and evocative language to convey the terrors of Sauron’s island tower and Morgoth’s terrible throne room; and equally the beauty and magic of Lúthien herself as well as her father’s realm.
In all, this collection brings together all of the various, scattered elements of the tale of Beren and Lúthien, and though fragmented and arguably incomplete, their story stands at the forefront of the canon of Middle Earth. For hardcore devotees of Tolkien mythology, Beren and Lúthien is required reading. For the rest of you, there will no doubt be a spectacular Hollywood production in the not-too-distant future.