Review: Beren and Lúthien by J. R. R Tolkien - 9/10*
Straight from the pages of The Silmarillion, this tale has been given new authority and the chance to stand on its own.
And such a story it is. It’s about a mortal man who fell in love with an immortal elf. Unlike the romance between Aragorn and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings this relationship foregrounds the narrative: it is the narrative. Given an absolutely impossible task to prove his devotion, no less than stealing a Silmaril from the crown of Melko (Morgoth- the first dark lord), Beren sets off on a seemingly hopeless quest. But he is not without allies. When a man displays such courage, conviction and fortitude other honour bound individuals feel compelled to assist him.
Indeed, such as Huan the mighty hound of Valinor. What follows is a tale as epic and fantastical as any you would expect from middle earth. Sauron also appears in several different forms as the loyal servant of Melkor, long before he took up the mantel his fallen master would eventually drop. What I also found interesting (I’ve been researching middle-earth family-trees) is that Aragorn and are Arwen are both distant descendants of Beren and Luthien. It’s a strange repeat of such a similar theme, one Aragorn actually recalls in The Lord of the Rings.
Is it worth buying for those who have read The Silmarillion?
As I always say in my reviews of posthumously published Tolkien works, it really depends on how interested you are in Tolkien as a writer. For me, this edition was worth purchasing. Not only do we get more fantastic (and unrivalled) illustrations by Alan Lee, but we also get a thorough a succinct introduction to the text by Christopher Tolkien detailing how it came about and the reasoning behind his father’s writing. He also mentions that this is going to be his last restoration of his father’s writing, a true shame but he is now ninety-three years old. I digress, not many readers will go for a book on these reasons alone. So what of the actual work?
The version in The Silmarillion is very concise and straight to the point. It’s a compelling account, told with a certain degree of distance afforded by such writing. This, however, is closer to normal prose. It is the same story again, but it gets to the heart of the matter with more clarity. That being said, I did prefer the shorter version. What this edition does have, and something I have not seen before, is The Lay of Leithian. Now this is a verse version of the same story. Some fantasy readers may hate poetry and verse (or at least may find themselves out of their comfort zone) but for me it was the most enjoyable part of the book.
So for this reason I recommend this book to those that have read many of Tolkien’s works. If you enjoyed Tolkien’s poetry editions such as Beowulf a Translation and a Commentary and The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun along with the books set in middle-earth then this will be for you. Readers who are expecting to enjoy a prose story will, ultimately, be disappointed with the content here.