Ossus Library Index
Fantasy Index


by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien
(2017, Harper Collins)

Great Tales of Middle-Earth, book 1


Beren and Luthien fall in love and flee the safety of their realm, searching for a Silmaril from the enemy so they can get married with her father’s permission.


+ -- First reading (ebook)
May 20th to 24th, 2019


I’ve read all the earlier drafts before, some of them more than once. But it was interesting to see the story as it progressed from the initial form to the last draft, and in as much isolation as the author could give us to the rest of the mythology. As with the History of Middle-Earth series, the poetry did very little for me, and although it did push the story development forward, I looked forward to seeing most of that translated to prose in the following section.

Spoiler review:

While it was the stated goal of Christopher Tolkien to present the tale in isolation, without confusing the readers with the myriad details of the Middle-Earth setting, I’m not sure he succeeded. In trying to explain every reference to the outside world in the tale, he brings that outside world into the story in so many fragments that I think new readers would be just as confused as they already are in reading The Silmarillion. Still, it’s a great effort, and appreciated. The stories as presented in The Book of Lost Tales and the other History of Middle-Earth volumes are presented chronologically, and present the evolution of the grand tapestry of Middle-Earth and the Undying Lands. We go from the Tale of Beren and Luthien to the tale of Turin, and move forward, without looking at how the individual stories changed.

With this book, this single tale can be explored. Some of it is interesting, like the Prince of Cats, who predated Sauron and changed the role completely, and other parts, like the extracts from the Lays of Beleriand, were a struggle. I recall struggling through it as a book, and even piecemeal here it was hard. There were several developments, though, such as the man who betrayed Beren’s father. On the other hand, these details were mostly taken up in the later prose versions. For completeness, they are necessary, and there are some items that remain only in the poetic form.

I liked the way Beren went from elf to man, and how he grew his friendships with those he came across, because of his loyalty and persistence, and his valor. I never understood the vow the King of Nargothrond (Felagund) made, so that he would give up his kingship to follow the man’s son into such danger. But those were different times, and Felagund was an honorable elf -still, the mission itself shouldn’t have seemed very honorable.

The end of the story was less developed, as the tale of Beren and Luthien’s second lives was not rewritten as many times. Still, it was intriguing, and I enjoyed revisiting the entire flow of the story, from beginning to the very end, when Earendil landed in the Undying Lands, looking for help. Not just the tale of Beren and Luthien, but of their children and grandchildren as well.


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