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Beren and Lúthien
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Group Reads > Group Read June-August 2017: Beren and Lúthien

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Michael | 445 comments Mod
The newly-published Beren and Lúthien by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien, and illustrated by Alan Lee, is our Group Read for June to August 2017.

There's a bit of an overlap with our Lord of the Rings Group Read, but you can't have too much Tolkien!

Spoilers: Please discuss the book freely, but do clearly mark posts with spoilers, or better yet, use spoiler tags ☺

Michael | 445 comments Mod
Some of the group have already read the book (very fast work!), and it would be nice to hear from them if they'd like to share their views and impressions.

I'm going to read the book in a couple of weeks, in all probability, due to other commitments - though I still had to rush out and buy it as soon as it came into stock! Nevertheless, I have read Christopher Tolkien's introduction, in which he makes some interesting comments.

Firstly, there is no new material in this book but, as Christopher Tolkien says, this is the first time all the versions of the Beren and Lúthien story have been gathered together in one place, so it does make it easier to appreciate the way J.R.R. developed his ideas.

Out of the deeply interconnected narrative of The Silmarillion, J.R.R. told his publisher that three stories could be abstracted without the need for the reader to know the whole history of the First and Second Ages of Middle-earth. We had The Children of Húrin ten years ago, now Beren and Luthien. So it seems in accordance with his father's wish (or, at least, his conception) that the story should be presented to us as a separate volume. Whether that's enough of a reason to spend hard-earned money on words you may already have is for each of us to decide (though if you're reading this, that decision has probably already been made in the affirmative).

The third story Professor Tolkien mentioned was The Fall of Gondolin. Christopher Tolkien makes the poignant observation that, being in his ninety-third year, Beren and Luthien is likely to be the last book upon which he works. I suspect, however, that with the appetite for Tolkien's legendarium growing stronger, another editor will be found for The Fall of Gondolin in due course.

Christopher kindly shares a memory of his father telling him stories from the Silmarillion, and specifically of Beren and Lúthien, and if, sadly, these are to be the last of his words that we read, how fitting that he leaves us with such a warm and comforting image, of the father and son enjoying time together in love and fellowship.

message 3: by Michael (last edited Jun 22, 2017 10:53AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Michael | 445 comments Mod
Well, now - I've finished the first telling of the story, The Tale of Tinúviel, and greatly enjoyed it. SPOILERS hereafter 😊 (ignoring my own recommendation to use tags!)

It reads more like a fairytale than the Silmarillion version I'm most familiar with, which makes it quite charming. Lots of folklore motifs - the lovers forbidden to meet by the woman's father; the impossible quest to win her hand; her imprisonment and escape, and many more.

I particularly life the character of Tevildo, Prince of Cats and, while missing him and his folk from the later versions, can understand why this, as one of the most fairytale-esque elements was dropped.

I've resisted the temptation to look at all of Alan Lee's illustrations, reserving the (hoped for) pleasure of seeing them as the story unfolds. The first illustration graces the prefatory material of the first tale and, actually, I was rather disappointed. I understand that Lee's style is often ethereal with a subdued colour palette, and a painting of Tinúviel dancing in a moonlit forest glade would seem to suit that style perfectly, but it's so washed out, and Tinúviel so lost in the landscape, that it took me a while to make out what it was he'd depicted. I think, perhaps, this particular painting would benefit from a larger-sized reproduction (2018 Middle-earth calendar?). Thankfully, the next painting of Tinúviel in the court of Tevildo is a clear rendition, and one more to my liking - well, that's all personal and each will have their own view, but those were my initial impressions.

The next section is a hefty chunk of poetry from The Lay of Leithian - onwards!

Elentarri | 29 comments I've always preferred John Howe's Tolkien paintings to Lee's. Most of Lee's paintings are always so washed out and bland - it might not matter if you are depicting scenery but a book like this focuses on the characters. Michaela Kaluta also has nice Tolkien paintings. Too bad no one bother's to get him to do Tolkien calendars anymore.

message 5: by Michael (last edited Jun 23, 2017 06:20AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Michael | 445 comments Mod
Elentarri wrote: "I've always preferred John Howe's Tolkien paintings to Lee's. Most of Lee's paintings are always so washed out and bland - it might not matter if you are depicting scenery but a book like this focu..."

Lee is so iconic a Tolkien illustrator that it feels almost blasphemous to criticise him, and yet I do sometimes find his work too lacking in vitality. When he's good, though, he's very good. Another of his colour illustrations in the Lay extract beautifully captures Tolkien's verse portrait of a haggard Beren appearing amongst the crows and ravens in a dank forest. Though, so pale is Beren that at first I mistook it for an illustration of the shade of the traitor, Gorlim.

The extract from the Lay wasn't as hefty as I'd initially thought - only 250 lines, quickly read both because of the ease of the verse form, and because Tolkien captures the urgency of his story so well.

Michael | 445 comments Mod
Well, I got distracted from reading B&L, but back to it now...

Beth | 23 comments Oops. I misremembered the date for this group read (thought it was Aug-Sept, because the LotR read ended in June) but now I've ordered the book and hopefully I can read it in the next few weeks. I'll come back to this discussion then.

Tara  | 55 comments I read the book when it first came out, but I neglected to post on this thread, so I feel like I need to go back to recapture some of the specific details. I do agree with the comments about Lee's illustrations. I feel like the story depends more life, and the pictures, especially the color palette, feel incomplete somehow.
I loved all of the different versions of the Beren and Luthien story, particularly the poetry sections which were so epic and beautiful.

message 9: by Hyarrowen (last edited Aug 15, 2017 06:05PM) (new) - added it

Hyarrowen | 65 comments I read this weeks ago, but have only just remembered to type up my notes. So detailed discussion is going to be beyond me, I'm afraid! But these are the impressions I had at the time.

Number one impression was “that's a great picture of Tevildo!” He's a very cool cat indeed. I was sad about Umuiyan, though. JRRT was definitely a dog person, rather than a cat person.

I love the landscape descriptions in the Lay – like on p 124; that's incredibly vivid and gives me a real sense of being there in Beleriand.

The poem is wonderfully easy to read, too.

I find the idea of immortal hounds a bit difficult to grasp. Are they the same sort of being as the Eagles? And was Huan there at the Kinslaying? :(

I loved the story of the Morning and Evening Star, right at the end. Mandos is such a lawyer (copying from my notes here; I can't remember actual instances!) The pictures for this section are a delight – I always enjoy seeing Aman the unattainable. And it's good to know that Earendil's three companions get sent back to Middle-earth, presumably safely. I always worried about them.

I wonder if Earendil and Elwing met Idril and Tuor in Valinor? Everyone's fate seems a bit bleak if not. But then, it's Tolkien, and bleak is what he does.

message 10: by Beth (new) - rated it 5 stars

Beth | 23 comments I am almost finished. This would probably be a great introduction to The Silmarillion for someone who hadn’t read it; the “Tale of Tinuviel” and the extracts from the Lay of Lethian present a more detailed version of the story that makes it more accessible.

I’ve read most of this before (except the excerpts from previous versions of the Quenta Silmarillion). But I haven’t read The Book of Lost Tales (where the “Tale of Tinuviel” was first published) in a long time. A few things that struck me this time:

I really like the little detail that Beren could hear Luthien across the distance between them: ”at night time it seemed to him that his heart heard her sometimes weeping softly for him far away in the woodlands of her home: and this was indeed true.”

also, this is interesting, because it’s so different from what happens in the Lay and in The Silmarillion:
“… Tinuviel grew at last to long sorely for Gwendeling her mother and the songs of sweet magic she was used to sing to her children as the twilight fell in the woodlands by their ancient halls. Often she half fancied she heard the flute of Dairon her brother, in pleasant glades where they sojourned, and her heart grew heavy.”

She tells Beren that she wanted to return home, and Beren is reluctant to leave their life in the woods with Huan, This seems like one of the most significant changes to the characters in the later version - in which she always insists on coming with him, and he’s the one who tries to leave her behind when they reach the borders of Doriath.

I think the extracts from the Lay of Leithian here include the most memorable parts of the story. The version included in The Silmarillion is complete in length, but not in detail - the dialogue passages in particular add something special to this tale.

I think my favorite passages are these two:

To Felagund then Beren said:
''Twere little loss if I were dead,
and I am minded all to tell,
and thus, perchance, from this dark hell
thy life to loose. I set thee free
from thine old oath, for more for me
hast thou endured than e'er was earned.'
'Ah, Beren, Beren hast not learned
that promises of Morgoth's folk
are frail breath. From this dark yoke
of pain shall neither ever go,
whether Sauron learn our names or no,
with his consent. Nay, more, I think,
yet deeper of torment we should drink,
knew he that son of Barahir
and Felagund were captive here,
and even worse if he should know
the dreadful errand we did go.'
A devil's laugh they ringing heard
within their pit. 'True, true the word
I hear you speak,' a voice then said.
''Twere little loss if he were dead,
the outlaw mortal. But the king,
the Elf undying, many a thing
no man could suffer may endure…”

“A love is mine, as great a power
as thine, to shake the gate and tower
of death with challenge weak and frail
that yet endures, and will not fail
nor yield, unvanquished were it hurled
beneath the foundations of the world.
Beloved fool! escape to seek
from such pursuit; in might so weak
to trust not, thinking it well to save
from love thy loved, who welcomes grave
and torment sooner than in guard
of kind intent to languish, barred,
wingless and helpless him to aid
for whose support her love was made!'

Thus back to him came Lúthien:
they met beyond the ways of Men;
upon the brink of terror stood
between the desert and the wood.”

message 11: by Beth (new) - rated it 5 stars

Beth | 23 comments My review of the book is finished & posted at last:

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