A Spoiler-Free Book Review: Beren and Lúthien by J.R.R. Tolkien (edited by Christopher Tolkien)

A Spoiler-Free Book Review: Beren and Lúthien by J.R.R. Tolkien (edited by Christopher Tolkien)

Looking back, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t enamored with the Tolkien’s Middle Earth. I read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit while I was relatively young, and the film versions were released in my middle school and junior high years. I distinctly remember my dad, my brother, and myself having The Lord of the Rings movie marathons multiple times, because we were all equally obsessed with the stories.

With that being said, I am ashamed to admit I still have yet to read The Silmarillion in its entirety. I started it when I was in high school, but never completed it, and I have yet to pick it back up. I also haven’t read many (read: any) of Tolkien’s posthumously published works – that is, until now.

My copy of Beren and Lúthein

I had pre-ordered Beren and Lúthien on Amazon, and the book was delivered to my door the same day it was released for sale in stores (Amazon Prime da real MVP here, y’all). As is my usual style, though, it took me about a million years before I was finally able to finish the book in its entirety. This is due in large part to my school schedule, and also because I was not prepared to be reading in verse again. Full disclosure: a sizable chunk of this book is written in Tolkien’s epic poetry style of verse, which is a format I hadn’t read since my days in AP English in high school and something that I definitely had to adjust back to reading so that my mind would actually process what my eyes were taking in.

The front cover illustration: Beren, Lúthien, and Huan the Dog

The story itself is broken down into several parts, interspersed throughout with commentary by Tolkien senior’s son, Christopher (who is now 92 years old, and admits in the foreword that this will be the last edited version of his father’s works that he will be releasing). The text shows the progression of the story from the time Tolkien first started writing it in 1917 until he abandoned it as a separate entity sometime in the 1930s. To be completely honest, I was expecting just the story itself, and so when I realized this book had multiple versions of the story in their various stages of development and revision, I was equal parts thrilled and irritated – thrilled, because I loved seeing how the writer’s mind changed aspects of the story within the realm of the greater overall history of Middle Earth, which was being developed simultaneously at that time; and irritated, because I truly was expecting a start-to-finish story without all the (seemingly) superfluous details.

The back cover illustration, Lúthien dancing in the woods

The main tale of Beren and Lúthien is broken down into two main sections in this book – “The Tale of Tinúviel,” which is the prose version of the story, and The Lay of Leithian, which is written entirely in verse. Both versions tell the same basic tale, although The Lay of Leithian is significantly longer, more detailed, and much closer to what the final version of the story may have looked like, had Tolkien finished it to his satisfaction (alas, he did not).

An Alan Lee line drawing found in the book – this depicts the tree house where Lúthien Tinúviel’s father had her kept to keep her from running off after Beren on a fool’s errand

As you would expect from any Tolkien narrative, the story even in its incomplete state is richly detailed and beautifully written. Beren and Lúthien’s story in many ways parallels the story of Aragorn and Arwen, which is seen much later on in the history of Middle Earth. Even though a final version was never completed, Tolkien still leaves little to be desired as far as details go, and the book offers the reader several different endings to the tale of Beren and Lúthien, which really allows you to pick the one you like best. Christopher Tolkien does a lovely job of compiling all the separate versions of the story into one readable text, and gives the reader enough background information and details about changes in names and histories about the characters that even someone who has never read The Silmarillion (like me), which is where the story of Beren and Lúthien originally appeared, is able to keep relatively well with the story’s progression and development.

Probably one of my favorite sections of verse from “The Lay of Leithian”

Overall, I give the book 4/5 stars. I truly enjoyed the different versions of the story and how I was able to watch the progression and development of the characters and their histories within the context of the greater history of Middle Earth. Once I got used to reading epic poetry again, I also was thoroughly pleased with the “The Lay of Leithian” and its grand poetic style, although this may be a sticking point for some readers who neither enjoy nor desire to read verse in any manner, shape, or form. If nothing else, the book reminds me that I really need to delve more into Tolkien’s other works in Middle Earth, because I just love the world and the characters who live in it as much now as I did when I was twelve.

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