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Beren and Lúthien Hardcover – June 1, 2017
"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Learn more
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“A good introduction to LOTR fans nervous about taking on The Silmarillion, and also gives longtime fans a fascinating look at the Tolkiens’ myth-making process.”— EntertainmentWeekly.com
“A beautiful book.”— San Antonio Express-News
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I gave this 5 stars because Tolkien fans deserve to experience this story. HOWEVER - That will only happen if you can chisel your way through the ice cold preface and essays by his son Christopher Tolkien. Let me start this by saying I've spoken to a handful of Tolkien experts, people who actually teach Tolkien to students and they seem to all agree that Christopher Tolkien loves the history of his fathers work but seems to HATE the fandom and story/fantasy of it all.
Let me explain:
I've always had an issue with Christopher Tolkien's attitude toward his fathers work. I feel like I'm not wrong in
assuming 90% of the people reading this book have read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and fell in love with the world and characters
as wel las the excitement and magic it fills them with. And, upon hearing about this book, were excited to see one of Tolkien's earliest
and without a doubt most personal stories to date finally getting its own release. What little I knew of the backstory was that it was basically something he wrote in honour
of his wife, a love story and fairy tale, and upon her death had Luthien's name placed on her tombstone along with Beren on his. Such a heartbreaking but lovely story
that goes perfectly with this new edition. I was under the impression that Christopher, being their son, would shed a more personal light on this story making this book almost more interesting for its backstory than for the actual fictional tale itself.
But reading through the few pages Preface by Christopher Tolkien it seems his mind a of a single, academic type. He barely even skims over the personal detail and spends page after page discussing the intricacies and details that have changed in the original story, lay as well as Silmarillion and Lost Tales versions. Names and details that have no bearing on the story whatsoever except in the larger, academic scheme of things with regards to the large world and history JRR Tolkien created and changed over the years.
Normally I skip past Christopher Tolkiens introductions right to the meat of the story. But this may very well be the last of his father's stories that he edits, which he says himself in the preface, due to his age. So this time I thought out of respect and because I expected a personal touch, I read it.
Cold. Just cold. As if he has no perception of the heart of the stories his father told.
I am also fully aware he LOATHES the film franchise and has zero respect for them. This also grates me to no end because I'm sure without them MANY new generations of fans wouldn't exist and there would hardly be an audience for books such as this or Children of Hurin. It's one thing to hate the adaptation but another to take advantage of the popularity. I myself wouldn't know these books without the films.
Now I've said this in my Children of Hurin review, but I don't think there are many people who read these books out of interest for the academic achievement. They're fairy tales, well crafted fairy tales, but still fairy tales. With goblins and elves and trolls and wizards and magic spells. Don't try and pretend its much more than that. Again, they're amazing stories that bring a tear to my eye after dozens of reads. But Christopher Tolkien doesn't seem to understand why people love his fathers work. It's pure escapism. Fantasy. Embrace that and let the readers and fans feel good about that. Stop shutting them down and giving us nothing but cold academia.
I just hope in the years to come, whomever the estate and ownership of Tolkiens work is handed to, they treat future releases and adaptations with the LOVE, that's the key word, LOVE and respect they deserve.
This is not the book I was expecting. The quote that appears in my headline is straight out of the preface. And indeed the rest of the preface goes on to attempt to answer that question. In short, the goal was to get all of the existing revisions of Beren and Luthien into one place. This is very different from the purpose of The Children of Hurin. And the resulting product is a very different kind of reading.
If you have studied the History of Middle Earth series (and if you are considering the purchase of THIS book, you are almost certainly aware of them to some extent) then you already know that the major literary work of Christopher Tolkien's life has been to find a way to get all of the fragments of his father's writing, at all stages of his life, sorted out into chronological order and published with extensive commentary to show how his father's conception of the world, the languages, and the tales themselves changed over time.
Regrettably, very few of those tales were ever completed, and fewer still were completed at a stage that was compatible with his final conception of Middle Earth as seen in the Lord of the Rings.
Many of us, myself included, were fascinated by the Histories. They served a great purpose. And they curiously straddled an unusual divide: the meticulous level of documentation could be of interest only to scholars and historians, but they also contained the last bits of story that fans desperately wanted to read, even in their incomplete forms.
But sometimes.... you just want to read a cohesive story. Isn't that ultimately what we started this journey for? The story moved us. It's a tribute to the power of Tolkien's stories that we also wanted to "see how the sausage was made." Sadly, the last bits of even semi-completed narrative, that were also compatible with the published version of The Lord of the Rings, were published in 1980 in Unfinished Tales.
Until, that is - the publication of The Children of Hurin in 2007. It was a gift from above. Finally, we had one of the tales of the Elder Days definitively re-edited into a single, cohesive narrative, simply readable as a story - without constantly being interrupted to explain which folio the next three sentences were taken from, and why they are preferred over the pencil-erased version in the margins of an earlier notepad. I'm sure many of us believed that Beren and Luthien was to follow that model. It does not. This, to put it lightly, dashed my hopes. The book I hoped this would be, does not exist, and will never exist. Apparently the remaining fragments of text needed to complete a long-form prose version of this story were either never written, or Christopher Tolkien does not think them worthy of publication. Frankly, I don't think the marketing material was suitably clear on this. And that is my essential criticism.
The contents of the book are themselves wonderful. However, every word of it was taken from the first five volumes of The Histories. If you have those books, then you have no need (other than aesthetic) for this book. If you have not been introduced to those books, then you might be taken aback by the nature of this one.
This book really only serves three purposes:
1) It DOES succeed in making it much easier to follow the development of this one particular tale, outside of its possibly-overwhelming context. Yes. Having all of the material from the histories in one place makes researching the transition of Tevildo, Prince of Cats into Sauron, the Dark Lord in training much easier. (For example). It does not however give any new insight, since you've already read it in The Book of Lost Tales II.
2) It DOES look beautiful on a bookshelf full of other special editions of Tolkien's work. This point is not trivial to me, nor to some of you. We are readers. We consider a well-bound book to be a work of art.
3) As with The Children of Hurin, it contains a number of beautiful paintings by Alan Lee. These are worth seeing, and certainly won't be available in the mass market version.
tl;dr: I'm happy to have this book. I'm sad that it doesn't contain new material or a final cohesive narrative.
But the worst thing about this book is the constant interruptions by the unreadable Christopher Tolkien. He is incapable of writing a clear sentence or paragraph. He fills his tedious explanations up with weasel words like "aspect" and "somewhat" and for some reason is in love with pointless throat-clearing phrases like "It may be thought". There are some sections of his I read three times and still couldn't understand what on earth he was talking about.
The contrast between father and son is remarkable. J.R.R. Tolkien writes clear, beautiful prose the mind takes in with ease and delight. Christopher Tolkien writes blocks of constipated text that stare back at you like indigestable sludge.
I feel like a fool for having trusted the promotion and bought the book as a pre-order. I was expecting a proper story like Children of Hurin which I loved. Beware! This book is nothing like Children of Hurin.