The brand new just published (June 1) book Beren and Lúthien presents the story of the human (or should I say “Man”?) Beren Erchamion, or “The One-Handed” (AKA Beren Camlost, for “the Empty Handed”) and the Elf-maiden Lúthien Tinúviel.

If you read The Lord of the Rings you may recall Aragorn telling their story to Frodo.

This Man and this Elf-Maiden lived over 6,000 years before the time of the Lord of the Rings, and their story is told in several places throughout the LOTR literature, in books that, frankly, most people don’t read. Christopher Tolkien, heir of J.R.R. Tolkien, and mapmaker of the The Lord of the Rings, created Beren and Lúthien from those original texts, and the book, much delayed, is coming out right now. You can pre order it here.

The story is in the form of Hercules’ myth, with the quest set to Beren to steal a Silmaril, which is a special jewel, from the Ainur Melkor. That would be roughly like trying to steal Donald Trump’s tweeting device while he is under the protection of the United States Secret Service. Or maybe a little harder.

Beren is sent on this quest because it is the only way he can keep dating the Elf-Maiden Lúthien, according to her Elf-Lord father.

Tolkien, in his own tradition which was not as uncommon in, say, the 19th century as it is now, having slowly disappeared over time, played fast and lose with his stories, changing them quite a bit across published forms. This happened within some of the texts, like The Hobbit, but more pervasively, across different instantiations of the total lore-set. For this reason, the story of Beren and Lúthien changes a great deal across the full body of written work. This makes it impossible to simply extract the original story and make it into a single coherent book that is also “true” to a particular telling.

Personally, I would have been happy if Christopher Tolkien had just settled on a version of the story and made this into a regular novel, but I’m probably the only fan of Tolkien’s work that would accept that. Therefore, the new work is much more complicated, written from the point of view of the author JRR Tolkien, integrating text taken from the original work.

This new book also serves to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the publication of The Children of Hurin. Come to think of it, you might want to read The Children of Hurin first, because it kinda sets up the context. (Since this is about LOTR, people will disagree!)

Yes, there are orcs.

Comments

  1. #1 Wow
    May 31, 2017

    SPOILER ALERT

    The task was supposed to see the end of Beren, so that Dorian could avoid forbidding his daughter her love (because that would not work, she’d tell him to STFU and go away anyway, JRR had several “damsels” do the same if they thought it a load of BS to obey or accept an edict) but still avoid Luthien marrying an animal (and losing immortality too).

    it just didn’t fail, still lost him his daughter, and lost him is rule, his life and the life of the only Ainur to die in truth.

    A colossal cockup.

  2. #2 Kurt Helf
    May 31, 2017

    I am a huge fan of Tolkien’s work and would also prefer one version of this story. I loved the first Unfinished Tales but the later works were simply a series of disconnected fragments and, to me, more useful as a source of academic research rather than excellent storytelling. While I also loved “The Children of Hurin” I probably will not buy “Beren and Luthien” based on your description.

  3. #3 Dunc
    June 1, 2017

    I really like the version in The Silmarillion, but I’ll buy this anyway because it’s by far my favourite of all of the tales of the First Age. (And I’m one of the few people who thinks The Silmarillion is far, far better than either The Hobbit or LoTR.)

    Anybody who thinks Tolkien never writes strong female characters should take a look at Luthien, because she totally kicks all kinds of arse.

  4. #4 Wow
    June 1, 2017

    Hm.I’d figured nobody would get this unless they’d read at least the unfinished tales, even if they’d not managed to get through the silmarilion.

    The point is that the story is pretty much a typical greek tragedy plot, and was designed so by JRR, and that additionally though there aren’t many women characters in the books, there’s a lot more strong independent and powerful women in it than men, if only because the women that are included are more plot critical, therefore more plot active.

    I didn’t go into how it led to the end of Doriath because it doesn’t matter to the tragedy progression, only that the task was set for selfish reasons and that was the seed of a catastrophe bigger than the loss of his daughter by a hell of a stretch. He’d have been better off forbidding it and losing his daughter when she runs off than making a dumb fake acceptance.

    Which is part of the whole tragedy thing: not just bad things happen, but bad decisions that ultimately cause the tragedy.

  5. #5 Wow
    June 1, 2017

    (proportionally more strong women than men) should have said.

  6. #6 Dunc
    June 8, 2017

    I can now confirm that this is indeed excellent, and probably worth having even if you’ve already got all of the sources that the various different versions of the tale have been previously published in. (Although if you’ve already got all of those, you’re probably the sort of completist that would buy Tolkien’s collected laundry lists anyway.)

    Just one minor point that I didn’t pick up on originally:

    Tolkien, in his own tradition which was not as uncommon in, say, the 19th century as it is now, having slowly disappeared over time, played fast and lose with his stories, changing them quite a bit across published forms.

    None of the versions of the tale were actually published in Tolkien’s lifetime. What we see here is how the story evolved (along with the surrounding mythos) as he worked on it in different forms.

    I just wish he’d managed to finish The Lay of Leithian