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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Here's a review of 'Beren and Luthien' from The New Republic


Jul 30 2017, 12:27am

Post #1 of 6 (1793 views)
Here's a review of 'Beren and Luthien' from The New Republic Can't Post

J. R. R. Tolkien's Love Story by Josephine Livingstone.

As so often with Tolkien, the reviewer has to spend considerable time just filling her readers in on the history and backstory of the work. But her analysis of the two characters is refreshingly modern and places them within a larger literary and heroic context rather than plopping them down into 'fantasy-land'. I also like the recognition of the overlay between JRRT's professional medievalism as a redactor of partial or lost ancient tales, and CT's work of recovering and publishing so many of his father's meandering manuscripts.

I am also struck by the magazine's inspired choice of illustration (see below): a Pre-Raphaelite painting by Burne-Jones from 1894 titled (after Browning's poem) "Love among the Ruins". According to a commentary I found, the picture most likely refers not to that poem but to a now-obscure Renaissance romance published anonymously in Venice around 1500 and lavishly illustrated with romantic woodcuts: Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. or "The Dream of Poliphilus". The wikipedia article makes the book sound like something after Tolkien's own heart:
"The text of the book is written in a bizarre Latinate Italian. Without explanation, the text is full of words based on Latin and Greek roots. The book, however, also includes words from the Italian language and illustrations which include Arabic and Hebrew words. Moreover, Colonna would invent new forms of language when those available to him were inaccurate. The book also contains some uses of Egyptian hieroglyphs, but they are not authentic.
... set in 1467, [the story] consists of a series of precious and elaborate scenes involving the title character, Poliphilo [who] wanders a bucolic-classical dreamland in search of his love, Polia. The author's style is elaborately descriptive and unsparing in its use of superlatives. The text makes frequent references to classical geography and mythology...
...The psychologist Carl Jung admired the book, believing the dream images presaged his theory of archetypes. The style of the woodcut illustrations had a great influence on late nineteenth century English illustrators, such as Aubrey Beardsley, Walter Crane, and Robert Anning Bell."

'Love Among the Ruins' (1894) Edward Burne-Jones

So The New Republic art department went in a completely different direction than simply looking about for the best Tolkien fan art. What a great picture to illustrate, not so much the legend of Beren and Luthien, but a book about the legend of Beren and Luthien!

squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary

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Jul 30 2017, 2:03pm

Post #2 of 6 (1749 views)
What a well-written review! [In reply to] Can't Post

Given (as you say) the amount of explanation that might be considered needed and the temptations of getting lost in log explanations, it's hard to write at this length and not spend all the time getting there. Instead, Josephine Livingstone does a great job of explaining why the story is not just a generic fantasy romance, and also fits in a good explanation of Christopher Tolkien's contribution, and why that makes it a gathering of the available draft, rather than the 'best text' route.
And she still has room ofr clear insights such as this:

Beren, meanwhile, is an unusually long-suffering hero. In most versions of the story, he spends endless months in captivity at the hands of evildoers. In valuing his beloved elf above all else, Beren’s heroism becomes one of sacrifice and forbearance. Lúthien is the rescuer, but he proves himself by continually choosing the path that will guarantee misery for himself while leaving his lover’s vow intact.

Josephine Livingstone https://newrepublic.com/...-tolkiens-love-story

Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


Jul 31 2017, 8:21pm

Post #3 of 6 (1667 views)
That is a gender flip [In reply to] Can't Post

Usually the long-suffering wife or bride-to-be suffers at home, alone, or in captivity awaiting rescue.


Aug 2 2017, 12:31pm

Post #4 of 6 (1631 views)
Very nice review! [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for sharing it. I am quite interested in seeing reactions to the book in mainstream media.

'But very bright were the stars upon the margin of the world, when at times the clouds about the West were drawn aside.'

The Hall of Fire

Michelle Johnston

Aug 12 2017, 1:15pm

Post #5 of 6 (1516 views)
Best Presentation Route [In reply to] Can't Post

Whilst I entirely understand her desire not to become involved in the best text argument which only leads to the much bigger and broader "disappointment" that Christopher has referred to previously that the Silmarillion is "not like" the LOTR, what i think would have been helpful, assuming she believed it true, for her is to endorse this book as the best presentation of the matter of Beren and Luthien. In other words endorse Christopher's remarks that this presentation communicates most effectively the matter and restores elements which are lost because of its different presentation.

I see the story now in three distinct phases, which I did not previously. The visionary opening offer of the tale , the magical immediacy of the central moments of the story presented so appropriately from the Ley and the final convoluted collapse into a palimpsest of tonally different elements where the narrative is over complicated and lacks the fluency of the first two elements.

What I am entirely convinced of from reading this book is if Christopher had stepped into the breech and finished the three great numenorean tales alluded to as the solution to the presentation by his father he would have had to take things away as well as add to give balance to the narrative and coherence to the larger story and that is something he never moved toward. He was the redactor and that placed him in his view in the right relationship as executor rather than take up the mantle of the professional writer who would have tidied things up and produce solutions.

Some would argue that this is a disappointment compared to the completeness of the COH that I think is understandable except when you read this book it makes clear why that presentation was not possible in this case.

I have seen very little in the way of reviews so finding this was most interesting thank you.

My Dear Bilbo something is the matter with you! you are not the same hobbit that you were.

(This post was edited by Michelle Johnston on Aug 12 2017, 1:17pm)


Aug 12 2017, 4:32pm

Post #6 of 6 (1499 views)
A thanks to him at any rate. [In reply to] Can't Post

he would have had to take things away as well as add to give balance to the narrative and coherence to the larger story and that is something he never moved toward.

And for my part he should have respect for that. It is rare to get a chance to look into an authors original drafts the way we have been allowed to do with Tolkiens. Christopher Tolkien either believed enough in them, that he though they would stand on their own, or he felt disinclined to embellish them. Perhaps his experience with the Silmarillion was key here.

(This post was edited by InTheChair on Aug 12 2017, 4:33pm)


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