Reflecting on “Beren and Luthien”

I sort of feel as if I need to apologize for this post–I received this book for Christmas last year, but it didn’t occur to me until recently to write about it here. Not sure why, though, because it’s quite a fascinating read.

As pretty much anyone familiar with The Lord of the Rings is aware, one of the legends recounted therein is the story of Beren and Luthien. Beren, a mortal Man, fell in love with the immortal Elf princess Luthien, but her father King Thingol forbade the marriage unless Beren could steal a Silmaril from Morgoth. Recounted in further detail in The Silmarillion, this was an important story because it showed the very first human/elf marriage, a marriage whose descendants included Elrond and Aragorn. But the story we got in The Silmarillion was only the latest version of a story that had taken many different forms over Tolkien’s writing career.

Beren and Luthien is not a strict retelling of the version found in The Silmarillion; rather, it is a compilation of the various different versions Tolkien had written over the years. There are some rather surprising variations of the tale–for instance, in one of the earliest versions, Beren was an Elf, not a Man, and Luthien’s name was Tinuviel (instead of being the name Beren gave to her when he first saw her). Other versions are more recognizable but still deviate from the Silmarillion one. Some are told in prose, others in poetry.

Tying everything together is Christopher Tolkien’s commentaries on his father’s work, explaining certain changes and adding helpful notes on the Elvish language. Some people might find stuff like that a bit boring, but I was fascinated. Beren and Luthien might not be for everyone, but for die-hard Tolkien fans, it’s a must-have.

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