Beren and Lúthien is the most recently published story to take place in Middle-earth. Published in 2017, it is painstakingly restored from Tolkien’s manuscripts and presented for the first time as a continuous and standalone story.
The tale of Beren and Lúthien was, or became, an essential element in the evolution of the mythology of ancient Arda (the Creation through the First Age) conceived by J.R.R. Tolkien, which were published as The Silmarillion. Returning from France and the battle of the Somme at the end of 1916, he wrote the tale in the following year.
Essential to the story, and never changed, is the fate that shadowed the love of Beren and Lúthien: for Beren was a mortal man, but Lúthien was an immortal elf. Her father, a great elvish lord, in deep opposition to Beren, imposed on him an impossible task that he must perform before he might wed Lúthien. This is the kernel of the legend; and it leads to the supremely heroic attempt of Beren and Lúthien together to rob the greatest of all evil beings, Melkor, called Morgoth, the Black Enemy, of a Silmaril.
In this book Christopher Tolkien has attempted to extract the story of Beren and Lúthien from the comprehensive work in which it was embedded; but that story was itself changing as it developed new associations within the larger history. To show something of the process whereby this legend of Middle-earth evolved over the years, he has told the story in his father's own words by giving, first, its original form, and then passages in prose and verse from later texts that illustrate the narrative as it changed. Presented together for the first time, they reveal aspects of the story, both in event and in narrative immediacy, that were afterwards lost.
Published on the tenth anniversary of the last Middle-earth book, the international bestseller The Children of Húrin, this new volume will similarly include drawings and color plates by Alan Lee, who also illustrated The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and went on to win Academy Awards for his work on the The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
The intent of the book is to extract a 'single narrative' out of the ever evolving materials that make up The Tale of Beren and Luthien. It does not contain every version or edit to the story, but those chosen by Christopher Tolkien which he believed would offer the most 'clarity' without need to over explain the complexities of the changes.
- ...I have tried to separate the story of Beren and Tinúviel (Lúthien) so that it stands alone, so far as that can be done (in my opinion) without distortion. On the other hand, I have wished to show how this fundamental story evolved over the years.
- The purpose of this book, then, is altogether different from that of the volumes of The History of Middle-earth from which it is derived. It is emphatically not intended as an adjunct to those books. It is an attempt to extract one narrative element from a vast work of extraordinary richness and complexity; but that narrative, the story of Beren and Lúthien, was itself continually evolving, and developing new associations as it became more embedded in the wider history. The decision of what to include and what to exclude of that ancient world ‘at large’ could only be a matter of personal and often questionable judgement: in such an attempt there can be no attainable ‘correct way’. In general, however, I have erred on the side of clarity, and resisted the urge to explain, for fear of undermining the primary purpose and method of the book.
The book starts with the most complete version of the beginning of the tale as told in the Book of Lost Tales (with only some slight character/place name editing to add referencess from later versions of the story to avoid confusion). However, the general aspects of the story have not been modified, for example Beren is a 'Gnome (Nolder)' the son of Egnor bo-Rimion, rather than the human son of Barahir (Beren's heritage switches between 'elf' and 'man' throughout the story depending on which portion of the story is being told). No major modifications are made to make the older material inline with the newer material.
As Christopher explains:
- A further problem which I should mention arose from the very frequent changes of names. To follow with exactness and consistency the succession of names in texts of different dates would not serve the purpose of this book. I have therefore observed no rule in this respect, but distinguished old and new in some cases but not in others, for various reasons. In a great many cases my father would alter a name in a manuscript at some later, or even much later, time, but not consistently: for example, Elfin to Elven. In such cases I have made Elven the sole form, or Beleriand for earlier Broseliand; but in others I have retained both, as in Tinwelint/ Thingol, Artanor/ Doriath.
Then the book continues the story in later sections/chapters through later poems, summaries and prose showing how the story evolved over time and 'myth'. These follow in order of the chronology of the story itself (but not the release order of the texts being used). These are made up of portions of different versions of The Lay of Lethian, and various versions of the Silmarillion, and later chapters of the Lost Tales in the order of where they take place 'in the full story'.
Due to the nature of the story undergoing the most changes and edits and style over time by J.R.R Tolkien the presentation of this story is somewhat 'fractured', and there is some overlap of details (and discrepancies in continuity), but mostly the sections are put in order that creates a 'complete and continuous' story. Christopher Tolkien included further editorial explanations and historical details to bridge between sections.
It also mean some details 'lost' in later accounts get reintroduced back into the 'complete narrative' such as the Tevildo (who due to the nature of his introduction is treated as his own character, rather than an preconception of Sauron for the sake of the narrative), Thu the Necromancer (treated as the first appearance of Sauron), and even some of the stories including the Wicked dwarves/treacherous Dwarves (one of The Hobbit's references back to the Lost Tales), and other terminology such as Gnome, Fays, Fairy, leprawn, pixies, etc (some of the terminology were used in some editions of The Hobbit, but lost in later stories of the legendarium.
The book offers a somewhat 'in-universe' perspective for some of the inconsistencies being rather evolution of stories being told by different perspectives/voices over time, with both 'historical/mythic' styles (but also mirroring his own father's 'styles' and interpretive changes over time).
- the First Age in The History of Middle-earth was in those books conceived as a history in two senses. It was indeed a history— a chronicle of lives and events in Middle-earth; but it was also a history of the changing literary conceptions in the passing years; and therefore the story of Beren and Lúthien is spread over many years and several books. Moreover, since that story became entangled with the slowly evolving ‘Silmarillion’, and ultimately an essential part of it, its developments are recorded in successive manuscripts primarily concerned with the whole history of the Elder Days.
This book reintroduces much of what was lost in the highly edited version in Of the Ruin of Doriath by including the cursed treasure of Mim, and the fact that Doriath was betrayed from the inside by treacherous elves allowing dwarves to bypass the Girdle of Melien, as well as dwarves already inside the city, and that Thingol was able to push the dwarves out of the city, and that he is later killed while on a hunt by the dwarven forces lying in wait. It roughly reconciles the elements of early Lost Tales with what was constructed by Guy Kay for the chapter in the Silmarillion to put it back in line with what J.R.R. Tolkien had intended in later revisions and ideas for the story in 1950-60s (see The War of the Jewels).
- ...there are brought to light passages of close description or dramatic immediacy that are lost in the summary, condensed manner characteristic of so much Silmarillion narrative writing; there are even to be discovered elements in the story that were later altogether lost. Thus, for example, the cross-examination of Beren and Felagund and their companions, disguised as Orcs, by Thû the Necromancer (the first appearance of Sauron), or the entry into the story of the appalling Tevildo, Prince of Cats, who clearly deserves to be remembered, short as was his literary life.
It is made up of chapters including;
- The Tale of Tinúviel (this is largely based on the 1915 version with only a few edits))
- A Passage from the 'Sketch of the Mythology'
- A Passage Extracted from The Lay of Leithian
- The Quenta Noldorinwa
- A Passage Extracted from the Quenta
- A Second Extract from The Lay of Leithian
- A Further Extract from the Quenta
- The Narrative in The Lay of Leithian to its Termination
- The Quenta Silmarillion
- The Return of Beren and Luthien According to the Quenta Noldorinwa
- Extract from the Lost Tale of the Nauglafring
- The Morning and the Evening Star
- Revisions to The Lay of Leithien
- List of names in the Original Texts
Behind the scenes Edit
The book doesn't include every version of the story or every reference to the story made, but it is Christopher's attempt to combine the most 'complete' or 'clear' versions of the story and put into an order that more or less forms a single continuous narrative through the book, and which expands beyond the shorter summary version and constructions made by Guy Kay included in the original Silmarillion with more details.
Of particular note is Christopher Tolkien now in his nineties at the time of editing this book, admits this will probably be his last book. This seems to indicate that he has no plans finish the trilogy of "Great Tales" with an edition that covers material concerning the The Fall of Gondolin.
- In my ninety-third year this is (presumptively) my last book in the long series of editions of my father’s writings, very largely previously unpublished, and is of a somewhat curious nature. This tale is chosen in memoriam because of its deeply-rooted presence in his own life, and his intense thought on the union of Lúthien, whom he called ‘the greatest of the Eldar’, and of Beren the mortal man, of their fates, and of their second lives.
But Beren and Luthien might give us a glimpse at what an authorised The Fall of Gondolin book might look like without heavy handed editorial presence to Tolkien's original written text; in comparison to limited un-authorised (without Christopher's consent) release of The Tale of Gondolin edited by Alex Lewis which used judicious editing to merge what was originally conflicting materials from different stages of development into one cohesive whole (he has met his own criticism for his choice of process).
In The Children of Húrin Christoph Tolkien speaks of a late stage attempt at rewriting The Lei of Leithan into a long prose story before it was abandoned. It's not clear from Beren and Luthien release if any of that material was utilized or not.
- He began a revision of the Lay of Leithian (the poem in rhyming verse telling the story of Beren and Lúthien that was abandoned in 1931) that soon became almost a new poem, of much greater accomplishment; but this petered out and was ultimately abandoned. He embarked on what was to be a long saga of Beren and Lúthien in prose, closely based on the rewritten form of the Lay; but that too was abandoned. Thus his desire, shown in successive attempts, to render the first of the ‘great tales’ on the scale that he sought was never fulfilled.
- ↑ Tolkien, J.R.R.. Beren and Lúthien (Kindle Locations 86-88). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
- ↑ Tolkien, J.R.R.. Beren and Lúthien (Kindle Locations 129-135). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
- ↑ Tolkien, J.R.R.. Beren and Lúthien (Kindle Locations 124-129). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
- ↑ Tolkien, J.R.R.. Beren and Lúthien (Kindle Locations 74-79). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
- ↑ Tolkien, J.R.R.. Beren and Lúthien (Kindle Locations 95-99). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
- ↑ The Book of Lost Tales Vol 2, actually discusses a version edited in 1925 (and later changes details such as Egnor to Barahir made casually, an attempt to bring it in line with later ideas, but no changes to Beren's race in the manuscript, and "Tiberth" replaces Tevildo (but still the Prince of Cats), Thingol replaces Tinwelint, Melian replaces Gwendeling, etc.