Reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s posthumously published (edited by his now very advanced-in-years son, Christopher) Beren and Lúthien, brings me to ancient places I haven’t been to for ages, secret woodland paths and caves by rivers and cascades – it’s also a retelling of the legends of peoples, love, war and heroism.
(CAUTION, SPOILER ALERTS INCOMING)
Beren turns out the be a wild and noble-man, driven from hiding in the wilderness with his kinfolk by the Evil-One. Alone, lost, hungry, he stumbles into elf-country and encounters the princess of the woodland elves; smitten by the saintly vision and her singing voice he compares her to the Nightingale ‘Tinuviel’ … who in turn feels joy at now being chased through the woods by this charming swarthy brute. A love story ensues as the young man ties his fate to that of the woodland fairy; in exchange for her hand in marriage the elf king demands a silmaril from Morgoth’s crown, surely a death-sentence to anyone tasked with the quest.
Beren is captured by the Evil-One’s cat(Sauron) while attempting to enter the Dark Fortress. After failing to rouse interest in rescuing Beren, Lúthien takes it upon herself to free Beren from the cats. She manages to befriend a giant mythical dog who gets the cat and rescues her mountain-man. She then uses her enchantress-cloak to get into the palace and put the lullabies on the Evil-One and all his court. While all are asleep, Beren and Lúthien make off with one of the silmarils! Only to be intercepted by a giant wolf who bites off Beren’s hand, still clutching the jewel. He almost dies, they return empty-handed(?!) and so a war begins of the Orc armies unleashed on Beleriand. After a quick recovery, Beren and his companions slay the wolf, retrieve the silmaril and defeat the orc armies. He dies.
Lúthien Tinuviel works some final magic and descends alive down into Mandos Hall (Hades) to resurrect her beloved Beren from the dead. The Reaper allows their return to the world of the living, but on condition that Lúthien give up her elvish near-immortality and join her man in mortal life.
In this book Christopher Tolkien brilliantly pieces together the journey of his father’s creation of a mythology all his own. Legends and mythologies go through metamorphoses and the origins of ancient languages of people in another world are revealed.