Friday, July 07, 2017

Beren and Luthien, A Tolkien Retrospective: The Platypus Reads Part CCCXIII

Pastel is the right medium for The Silmarillion even if I haven't figured out how to properly scan it. I suppose that's ok given that Tolkien himself could never settle on the right medium for his massive corpus of myths and legends. Following his father's will, Christopher Tolkien attempted to codify the stories of the Elder Days into a definitive version -a sort of "elven bible" -the published Silmarillion. Over the next forty years, however, Christopher developed his own ideas regarding the presentation of his father's work. As a scholar himself, he chose to bring out groups of fragments as they stood contextualized by a mass of critical apparatus. As a consequence, The History of Middle Earth, and the stand-alone volumes that followed it have garnered many scholarly readers and very few lay ones. For good or ill, it is the choice Christopher has made and his long work is now complete with the final volume: Beren and Luthien.

Beren and Luthien presents no new material, but rather offers a compendium of every version of the tale that Tolkien committed to paper over sixty years of adult life. The reader is invited, with a little help from Christopher, to watch the tale develop and unfold in prose and verse, historical voice and more detailed narration. The final effect is arrestingly beautiful -like reading an actual body of myth. To put it another way, C.S. Lewis once stated that it baffled him how J.R.R. Tolkien could keep whole worlds inside his little head. In Beren and Luthien Christopher Tolkien uses all his professional and personal skill to show us exactly how accurate that statement is.

Beren and Luthien is by Christopher's intent a requiem on two lifetimes of work. It is his father's last word, graven on the tombstone he shares with his wife, and as far as Christopher's work on middle earth, it is now his as well.

There was a man and a woman who loved each other with such love that they changed the mighty world -for a time. Now, all that is left to us is a memory and song. 

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