Book Review: Beren and Lúthien, by J.R.R. Tolkien

We live in exciting times. Ten years since the last J.R.R. Tolkien book was released (Children of Hurin), fans finally can get their hands on the latest installment: Beren and Lúthien, a chronological version of a love story that Tolkien peppers throughout some of his other works.

For the non-Tolkien fans reading this, let me catch you up: J.R.R. Tolkien is dead (as of 1973). His son, Christopher Tolkien, acting as the world's foremost Tolkien scholar, has studied and compiled various drafts his father left. The 12-volume History of Middle-earth (known as "HOME" to fans) is perhaps the best example of this. Beren and Lúthien are two halves of a legendary love story and part of the world's lore.

But 100 years after writing, can a manifested version of Beren and Lúthien hold weight? Oh, it can and it does. The story speaks to a wider audience than HOME, much like Children of Hurin. While true that passages are also found in The Silmarillion and HOME, the appeal of this 2017 release is that it compiles all drafts containing the two characters, telling their history in one volume. This easy-to-follow read is more inviting for the less hardcore J.R.R. Tolkien fans.

The Plot of Beren and Lúthien

Beren was the Man of the House of Bëor of Dorthonion due to Barahir (his father) being the House's last supposed existing Chieftain. Beren, his father, and his father's loyal followers commit many acts of bravery, much to the dislike of Morgoth, the Dark King of Angband. After his father's death, Beren seeks vengeance but along the way falls in love with Lúthien, legendary elven princess and daughter of Elu Thingol. Unfortunately for the lovers, Elu is not in favor of their union, giving Beren an impossible task to overcome if they want to wed.

An Original Read, Remake, or Replica?

Much debate surrounds whether Beren and Lúthien is a complete original, a slight rewrite, or a copy of the stories told in The Silmarillion and HOME. This confusion surfaces largely because the book's editor, J.R.R. Tolkien's son, sometimes gets hands-on with his work. For example, he added a couple scenes while editing The Silmarillion. This rendition, however, reflects Christopher's attempt to display his father's original works, in draft form as they are.

The main difference between this book and other works containing these characters is how it is structured. The sections include the original version and passages from newer pieces, which serve to illustrate how the lovers' story evolves in the construct of the Middle-earth's history. Part scholarly work and part fiction, what the readers get is a museum-like replica constrained within the horizon of these two characters – Beren and Lúthien. Readers can better follow the unique love story they share, something not easily accomplished via the extended narrative in the HOME series.

Beren and Lúthien – a Must Read J.R.R. Tolkien Book?

Many of the drafts from this book exist somewhere in HOME, but this volume offers the chronological version of these lovers' story. Those who have yet to indulge in HOME can treat Beren and Lúthien as a glimpse of what they'll experience. For anyone already familiar with these characters, Beren and Lúthien will give insight into Tolkien's creative mind.

For those who finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy and want more of the world, reading Beren and Lúthien saves a lot of time. No need to jump knee-deep into The Silmillarion, as one of the prevailing stories is directly told in this book. The lives and love shared between these two characters work rather well on their own. Thus, the narrative reads much like a legitimate standalone novel and doesn't come across as random drafts forced together.

J.R.R. Tolkien enthusiasts already enjoy the subtle passages in his other books featuring Beren and Lúthien, so having it all in one place makes for a true literary gem. For hardcore Tolkien fans, this book will serve as a prestigious piece to hold in their collection and a direct reference point when citing either of these characters.


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