Monday, January 14, 2019

Beren and Luthien

JRR Tolkien
Completed 1/14/2019, Reviewed 1/14/2019
3 stars

Towards the end of last year, a bunch of Tolkien’s works went on sale at the Kindle store.  I bought lots of the posthumous works, including this one.  I went into this one with trepidation because I had read some reviews and knew that unlike The Children of Hurin, this was not just the prose version of the story.  Rather it has a prose version and then some prose and verse segments detailing parts of the story as well as providing some introductory pieces, plus explanations by Christopher Tolkien on the evolution of the story.  It’s not as much of an analysis of the work, like what we get in the History of Middle Earth series, but a compilation.  So instead of feeling like visiting an old friend like with Hurin, it felt a little tired. 

The plot begins a little complexly.  In the earliest form Beren and Luthien were elves of different branches of the race.  There was little love between the races, but Beren falls in love with Luthien when he spies her dancing to her brother’s flute playing.  In the later form, Beren is a human outlaw whose father was killed by Morgoth’s armies.  But then the stories coincide.  Luthien’s father is a king of the elves who dismisses Beren by offering Luthien’s hand in marriage if he can steal one of the Silmarils from Morgoth.  Beren, who is serious about his love for Luthien, takes up the task.  Luthien despairs and wants to help Beren, but her father locks her in a house in a hugely tall tree.  She escapes and together they brave Morgoth’s compound to achieve the task.  The versions of the story then differ and coincide in different details of the plot. 

The prose is beautiful but it comes from his writings from a hundred years ago.  So there’s a lot of “thou’s” and “thee’s” as well as archaic words in the text.  It makes for a little difficult reading, but I still enjoyed it.  The poetry is also beautiful, but I have a hard time absorbing the content of poetry as I get distracted by the mechanics of it.  I have to work hard to get what’s being said.  Add that to the typical myriad of names and places that Tolkien uses and it makes for some laborious work. 

There’s not much in the way of character development or other things I usually talk about in my reviews because the story is so short and packed with a lot of action.  One of the side characters though that was really interesting was Tevildo, the evil cat ruler who is kind of a forerunner to Thu the Necromancer and eventually to Sauron.  Tevildo and his crew of cats work the kitchen for Morgoth.  Morgoth captures Beren and makes him a thrall to Tevildo.  Its archenemy is Huan the wolfhound, who Luthien enlists to help free Beren.  It makes me wonder if Tolkien was not really a cat person. 

I give the book three stars out of five.  I think if I hadn’t read so many other books containing the story of Beren and Luthien, I might have given it a higher rating.  But I think if a person wants to read the story, its best treatment was in The Silmarillion, unlike The Children of Hurin which was superior to the Turin Turambar treatment. 

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