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Beren and Lúthien

A beautiful and fitting close to two men's ouevre.

August 09, 2017Filed under Art#book-reviewsMarkdown source

I keep my book review ratings simple—they’re either required, recommended, recommended with qualifications, or not recommended. If you want the TL;DR, this is it:

Recommended: This is a beautiful book—not, perhaps, for everyone, but truly delightful for its intended audience.

Beren and Lúthien is a beautiful collection detailing the progression of what was perhaps J. R. R. Tolkien’s personally most-treasured tale he wrote. This slim little volume was also likely the last of Tolkien’s works to be published by his now very-old son Christopher, who has made the history of his father’s literary creation his own latter life’s work. At 92, he is (as he notes in this volume’s foreword) unlikely to publish any more material. This was a good note to end on.

But this is not a book I would hand to just anyone. As a picture of the development of one of the central tales in Tolkien’s legendarium, it is fascinating—though little of the material is new; much of it was presented already in the various histories Christopher Tolkien compiled over the past decades. For a casual reader of fantasy, or even a casual fan of Tolkien himself, it is unlikely to be interesting at all. But for those who love Tolkien’s work, and especially those who love this particular tale, this is a little treasure.

The version of the tale in The Silmarillion is quite beautiful in its own right—I read it aloud to Jaimie many years ago, on a night when the only thing that would calm baby Ellie was the combination of Jaimie holding her and the sound of my voice, and it made Jaimie weep. Tolkien could do that. But the version in which his elegant and lyrical tone finds its fullest expression (and the best version of the tale) is here, in The Lay of Leithian. The love story in poetic form—sadly, unfinished—is utterly lovely. I couldn’t have been happier, in literary terms, than when I was reading its many lines of coupled verse.