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  1. Beren & Lúthien

    How are folks liking the new Beren and Lúthien book? I'm not quite done -- I'm in the long excerpt from the Lay, just before Beren and Lúthien are about to confront Carcharoth at the gates of Angband -- but I'm pretty impressed so far. More so than I expected to be in some ways, if I'm honest.

    I have to confess to be a bit disappointed that there wasn't any new material in the book. A part of me still very much wants to read the 1950's 'prose saga' mentioned by Christopher Tolkien, but which has not appeared in any publication. I trust that it does indeed contain no significant narrative evolution of the tale (and so could be omitted from the various books that have been dedicated to to showing the evolution of the tales). My desire to read it is on purely aesthetic grounds: I like this story, and would want to read as rich a telling of it as possible, even if it breaks off very early.

    But other than this omission, 'aesthetic grounds' are what make this new book really worthwhile. Christopher Tolkien has done a brilliant job of making an extremely readable book, choosing his excerpts very judiciously, and providing his commentary very strategically. I was expecting it to take a lot longer for me to read, but almost without realizing it I'm 70 pages from the end. He's giving an impression of the evolution of the tale, while mostly letting the texts speak for themselves.

    The illustrations are of course also wonderful. Alan Lee has really outdone himself this time. The pencilled sketches at chapter ends and beginnings are delightful, and the full-page colour illustrations are really beautiful. My favourites so far are the dream-tree full of bloody ravens between pages 96 and 97, and the stunning woodland scene of Celegorm and Curufin riding off while turning to shoot their infamous arrow back at Beren and Lúthien, between pages 144 and 145 (actually the placement of this one is odd, since the scene itself only occurs some 30 pages later...).

    One nice touch -- seemingly minor but I think possibly actually rather important -- is that all of these full-page illustrations have frames. For Lee's other really iconic Tolkien book, The Children of Húrin, the full-page illustrations were truly full page, like photographs slotted in to the book (I know Lee has done other Tolkien books, but these are the two he did from the start, and whose feel is really partly defined by his illustrations). This brought to mind Tolkien's own criticism of illustrations like that from On Fairy Stories:

    It was an irresistible development of modern illustration (so largely photographic) that borders should be abandoned and the 'picture' end only with the paper. This method may be suitable for photographs; but it is altogether inappropriate for the pictures that illustrate or are inspired by fairy-stories. An enchanted forest requires a margin, even an elaborate border. To print it conterminous with the page, like a 'shot' of the Rockies in Picture Post, as if it were indeed a 'snap' of fairyland or a 'sketch by our artist on the spot', is a folly and an abuse.
    (On Fairy Stories, note H, Flieger & Anderson 2008, p. 84)

    I liked Lee's illustrations for The Children of Húrin, but I think Tolkien's point is borne out by the effect the frames bring to the paintings in Beren and Lúthien. They give the whole thing a 'storybook' feel, an air of adornment which is missing from the earlier book. (Actually this could be said to suit the narrative forms of the books well: the former was a 'complete' story told in a realistic, saga-like mode, while the latter gives a number of versions and excerpts mostly in 'fairy romance' style, each 'framed' narratively by Christopher Tolkien's light commentary. But I suspect that frames would have suited The Children of Húrin very well.)

    In any case, I'm looking forwards to finishing the book, and am thoroughly enjoying coming back to these wonderful stories reset in their new, beautiful frames.
    Last edited by Lord of the Rings; 24/Jun/2017 at 10:23 AM.
    It is laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination.

  2. Saranna's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Can't think clearly today, due to antibiotics, but I have to say my reaction is very similar to yours; it's a beautiful book and by separating out from HoMe the various strands of the story it's hopefully made the tale more accessible. Yet there must be more we could have had....
    Remembering halfir by learning more each day

    Death comes to all
    But great achievements raise a monument
    Which shall endure until the sun grows cold.
    George Fabricius, 'In Praise of Georgius Agricola'

  3. Athelas_H's Avatar
    Guard of the Mark
    Join Date
    Aug 2010
    Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Lee's illustrations complemented well. I think this book was a bit of cash grab, but I enjoyed it regardless. It was exactly what I expected: separate versions of the tale all mushed together in one book; it flowed nicely. Sad that it's Christopher's last book, but he went out with a bang. I hope this book receives more attention from the general public; it would make a great film one day.
    Even if you're only a boy you can fight like a girl. ~ EA <X3

  4. For any who may be interested, my review of Beren and Lúthien is available online at the Journal of Tolkien Research:


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