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Tag - J. R. R. Tolkien

4LN Book Review: J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Beren and Lúthien”

Beren and Lúthien has been on a 100-year journey from conception to publication.  Like previous posthumous works of Tolkien, such as Children of Hurin, and The Silmarillion, Beren and Lúthien is edited by J. R. R. Tolkien’s son Christopher Tolkien from old notes and manuscripts that belonged to his father.  This book has been on my radar for a long, long time, and I am happy that it is now available.

Summary from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:

‘The tale of Beren and Lúthien was, or became, an essential element in the evolution of The Silmarillion, the myths and legends of the First Age of the World conceived by J.R.R. Tolkien. Returning from France and the battle of the Somme at the end of 1916, he wrote the tale in the following year.

‘Essential to the story, and never changed, is the fate that shadowed the love of Beren and Lúthien: for Beren was a mortal man, but Lúthien was an immortal Elf. Her father, a great Elvish lord, in deep opposition to Beren, imposed on him an impossible task that he must perform before he might wed Lúthien. This is the kernel of the legend; and it leads to the supremely heroic attempt of Beren and Lúthien together to rob the greatest of all evil beings, Melkor, called Morgoth, the Black Enemy, of a Silmaril.

In this book Christopher Tolkien has attempted to extract the story of Beren and Lúthien from the comprehensive work in which it was embedded; but that story was itself changing as it developed new associations within the larger history. To show something of the process whereby this legend of Middle-earth evolved over the years, he has told the story in his father’s own words by giving, first, its original form, and then passages in prose and verse from later texts that illustrate the narrative as it changed. Presented together for the first time, they reveal aspects of the story, both in event and in narrative immediacy, that were afterwards lost.

Published on the tenth anniversary of the last Middle-earth book, the New York Times bestseller The Children of Húrin, this new volume will similarly include drawings and color plates by Alan Lee, who also illustrated The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and went on to win Academy Awards for his work on The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

Like Túrin Turambar – the tragic hero of The Children of Húrin – before them, a version of Beren and Lúthien’s story appears in the first section of The Silmarillion.  What sets this book apart from other posthumous works edited by Christopher Tolkien, is that this book contains multiple tellings of the same story that offers a rare look inside the evolution of one of Tolkien’s first stories in his legendarium.  As noted in the summary above, Beren and Lúthien was conceived in 1917 shortly after Tolkien returned from WWI, and the central love story was so important to him that he had Lúthien inscribed on his beloved wife’s tombstone, and Beren inscribed on his own.

Beren and Lúthien opens with a truly fascinating preface from Christopher Tolkien in which he goes in-depth into the origins of the story, the evolution of the story, and why, at the ripe age of 93, he chose this to be his final work.  From here, Christopher provides some notes on the Elder Days, which is useful as a refresher for readers of The Silmarillion, and new readers alike.  I found these introductory pages captivating.  It’s not often you get such a comprehensive look into the mind of an author from someone who knew them as well as their own son.

The first chapter tells the first narrative version of the story which is called “The Tale of Tinúviel.”  In this early version Beren – who would eventually be re-imagined as human – is a Gnome, but not in the sense that gnomes are thought of now.  Tolkien’s use of the term “gnome” actually stems from the Greek and means “thought intelligence,” and is a race of Elves in this story.  In later versions he abandons this word as it was too misleading.

Next, each version of the story is given alongside an essay from Christopher Tolkien documenting the changes from one to the next.  The reader is also treated to the multitude of writing styles of J. R. R. Tolkien.  While the first version is told more-or-less as a narrative tale, later versions are in a complex poem-like prose that uses purposefully arcane language.

Ultimately, Beren and Lúthien is perfect for fans of J. R. R. Tolkien.  The book provides an interesting look into one of his most beloved creations, and the backstory provided by Christopher Tolkien is truly captivating. Fair warning, if you are a casual fan of J. R. R. Tolkien’s, or have mainly stayed within the bounds of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, this book might be a bit on the dense side. Conversely, for those of us who’ve dug deep in the Tolkien mythos it’s a much easier read than The Silmarillion.  All-in-all, I found Beren and Lúthien to be the perfect farewell tome by Christopher Tolkien, who has provided Tolkien fans with myriads of unfinished stories about Middle-earth.

More Like This:

Wisdom from Tolkien’s Middle-earth

A Brief History of the First Age of Middle-Earth as Found in the Silmarillion and Other Writings

The Hobbit Life: How The Lord of the Rings Helped Me Become a Better Person

Fantasy Books to Read While Waiting for Game of Thrones Next Summer

The sad news, though it’s been expected for awhile now, is official: Game of Thrones will only run seven episodes next season. And thanks to the appearance of winter (finally!!) in the story line, producers will start shooting later than usual. That means our usual April start date for a new season is getting pushed back to sometime next summer.

So what do you do this extended offseason while waiting for Game of Thrones’ delayed return? How about sinking your teeth into a solidly written fantasy book series.

Here’s a couple of exceptional works to check out while enduring the long wait for Season Seven:

1. The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss

Kingkiller Chronicles

Patrick Rothfuss, a modern day fantasy writer whose received much acclaim from George R.R. Martin himself, wrote the first “Kingkiller Chronicle” book, “The Name of the Wind” in 2007. The story follows a great adventurer named Kvothe as he recalls the story of his life over the course of three days (each book representing a different day).

Much like Tolkien, Rothfuss really focuses on detail, emphasizing the mundane parts of Kvothe’s journey as well as the landmark events. And though the world in “Kingkiller” has political complications similar to Westeros, Rothfuss exposes the reader to situations through the eyes of someone of “low birth” as oppossed to the members of noble families Martin uses to tell his story.

Now much like Martin, Rothfuss has been slow to get his third book finished (A Wise Man’s Fear was released in 2011). But at least “The Kingkiller Chronicle” is likely to be finished before Lionsgate makes a film/tv version of the series.

2. The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson

Stormlight Archives

“The Stormlight Archive” follows the Martin style of alternating third person perspectives as Brandon Sanderson presents a world coming to grips with both a looming threat and the reemergence of mystical powers lost thousands of years before.

But while Sanderson’s world has as similar scope to Martin’s, he centralizes it on a hand full of characters in one central location instead of bouncing around all over the map. This makes his story easy to follow, but (at least at this point) lack some of the “punch in the gut”moments that make Martin’s work so special. He also does a nice job anchoring his story with a flashback arc for one major character that provides insight into why they think and act as they do in the present.

Sanderson has currently released two of his books: “The Way of Kings” and “Words of Radiance.” The third book of five (with a possible ten if a second set of five books goes on as planned), “Oathbringer,” has a tentative release set for sometime next year.

3. Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

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Yes, the artwork on the covers of these books is really cheesy. But the story absolutely is not. It also takes two books for the story to really establish itself. But once it does, “The Wheel of Time” is very hard to put down.

Robert Jordan focuses mostly on a group of central characters who begin the story together (much like Tolkien’s “Fellowship of the Ring”) only to take distinct paths as the story progresses. And like Martin, Jordan’s world is full of distinct political alliances and situations. But while Martin bounces back and forth between all these different areas, Jordan mostly uses the central characters to introduce and update us on the conditions of these diverse locations.

The downside to Jordan’s books is they are a long haul. The series is comprised of 14 books and 1 prequel book. In fact, Jordan died before the series was completed. So Brandon Sanderson (the author of the previously mentioned “Stormlight Archive”) stepped in to finish it.

But if 14 books is not too large a commitment for you, I strongly recommend Jordan/Sanderson’s masterpiece.

4. Read the Classics

Martin vs. Tolkien

Or you could just stick with GoT’s source material. If you haven’t read “A Song of Ice and Fire,” jump on Martin’s series first. Though Martin’s books can be just as long as the previously mentioned authors, they read much quicker. And the experience is a distinctly different one than the TV series, so don’t let the spoilers you already know from the show discourage you from reading the books.

The same goes for J.R.R. Tolkien, the father of modern fantasy. Yes, it is a chore to get through the first half of the first “Lord of the Rings” book, “Fellowship of the Ring.” But if you’re willing to see it through, Tolkien rewards you with, arguably, the best work of fantasy fiction of all time. And much like Martin’s work, the books are a much different experience than the movies.

And if you’ve been through all of Tolkien’s works (including “The Hobbit”), check out “The Silmarillion,” the Middle Earth origin story that is much darker than Tolkien’s previous works. 4LN’s Cam Clark wrote this piece about the Silmarillion. He also recently did a brief history of Middle Earth using “The Silmarillion” and other works by Tolkien.

I’m currently working my way through the Wheel of Time series. And I’m also hopeful “The Winds of Winter” will be available before Season Seven starts (though I’m not holding my breath on this). What are some other works you’ve been reading or plan to read while we wait on the next season of Game of Thrones?

4LN Movie Review – The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

In my opinion, the three Hobbit movies have been a bit of a letdown. Not necessarily in the quality of the movies, but in the experience of the films. The reason for my disappointment is because it’s hard not to compare the three Hobbit films to their predecessors, the Lord of the Rings Trilogy from the early to mid 2000’s (remember when it only took one movie to express the story of a book).

Anyone with an affinity for nerd culture owes a significant debt of gratitude to those films. Before LoTR, stories of fantasy were only appreciated by a few while being soundly dismissed by the majority. “Have fun reading those graphic novels, playing those silly board games, and dressing up for those silly comic conventions you guys go to. We’ll sit in here and enjoy our 90’s sitcoms and action hero/end of the world flicks, thank you very much,” said most of America until Peter Jackson convinced New Line Cinema to lay down between 200 and 250 million dollars on the production of three Tolkien inspired films (unheard of at the time because of the disaster a first movie flop could mean for the production company).

But then, “Fellowship of the Ring” hit the theaters. J.R.R. Tolkien’s work, only familiar to a few before, was now being experienced by the masses. And the graphics!!!! Revolutionary in its use of CGI, Jackson recreated Middle Earth on a scale that would not have been possible even five years before. “Return of the King” would take best picture at the Oscars a couple of years later. I remember walking into a packed theater at the Opry Mills 20 in Nashville on opening night as we watched the final three hour installment of Jackson’s masterpiece.

Fast forward to today and the once taboo nerd culture is all around us. Book series’ being bankrolled for multiple movies has become the norm with Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight, Harry Potter, and some HBO TV show based on a book series I am somewhat familiar with. CGI is now expected by moviegoers (a key element, in my opinion, to the popularity of the ongoing Marvel Universe, beginning with Iron Man in 2008).

But as the final Hobbit movie is released this weekend, any buzz for its arrival is extremely muted. I am sure many will go see it and hundreds of millions of dollars will be made, but lacking is the excitement that was present for “Return of the King.” And “Battle of Five Armies” can thank its predecessor for that. The graphics in the Hobbit are spectacular, but they are in every movie now. The movie wastes no time getting right to the action, settling the previous editions cliffhanger. But it’s the third movie, and so we now expect the third of a trilogy to waste no time with plot points and pleasantries between characters. “Battle of Five Armies” is very entertaining filled with action throughout, but it wasn’t the same experience as sitting in that packed house in Nashville on opening night in 2004 when LoTR, the pioneer for modern cinema, finished its run.

Now, if you can forget what you experienced a decade ago, treat “Battle” as its own stand- alone experience, then you will still enjoy this picture. When we last left Bilbo and his dwarf friends, they thought they had killed Smaug, the dragon who was sitting on Thorin Oakenshield’s treasure. But Smaug escapes, and we are left with a cliffhanger: Smaug is free and ready to wreak havoc on Dale, the village inhabited by men close by. As a book reader, I appreciate Jackson playing out in real time important scenes that Tolkien, for some odd reason, chose not to.

Tolkien told the tale of Smaug’s attack on the city of Dale in a flashback. But Jackson opens “Battle” with a conclusion to this as well as Gandalf’s dealings with the Necromancer. Once again, this is another issue Tolkien chose to deal with off the pages of the book, having Gandalf disappear for half the book to deal with it, only to come back later and say, “It’s taken care of.” The Necromancer scene also sets the stage for the events in LoTR just like any good prequel should do.

The rest, and most significant part, of the movie deals with the battle. Recall that throughout the trilogy, the dwarves, on their way to reclaiming their gold, have angered orcs, goblins, elves, and men. All these groups are heading to the mountain the dwarves are sitting in to settle each of their particular grudges. While the first LoTR movies had very clearly defined good guys and bad guys, the third Hobbit movie does not (at least not when all these groups first converge). I like the range of emotions the different characters express in the events leading to and events that happen throughout the battle. Each group has their own selfish interests in mind, which is far more realistic than the good vs. evil fight to save the world in “Return.” I did feel as if some characters (and the overall conclusion of the battle) were shortchanged as the battle scene wound down towards its conclusion. But the goal of a movie is to entertain. And “The Battle of Five Armies” does that, even if any buzz it creates blends in with all the other noise from all the other series movies LoTR helped originate.

 

(Editor’s Note: This review was written by Jeff Merrick.)

The Silmarillion and the Creation of Middle-Earth

A few months ago I wrote about J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earthian tragedy, The Children of HúrinInitially, after I finished the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, I wanted to read the Silmarillion, BUT I couldn’t find it at my local used bookstore.  Instead I read, the soul-ripping tale of Túrin and his tragic exploits mentioned above.  Having emotionally recovered from that depressing tome by reading lots and lots of comics , I was ready to begin yet another adventure into Tolkien’s universe (side note: Jason Aaron’s Men of Wrath is NOT a viable palate cleanser).  As luck would have it, I found a cheap copy of the Silmarillion and spent the next couple of weeks learning more than anyone really needs to know about the mythology within the Lord of the Rings (and I loved it).

Before we get started, let me get something out of the way.  The language found in Tolkien’s work can be dense.  He was a philologist, meaning that he was a HUGE fan of languages and the written word.  That coupled with the fact that Tolkien started this book in 1914 and worked on it until his death (it was completed by his son, Christopher Tolkien), means this tome can be a bit overwhelming for someone that has mostly stuck to novels written, you know, in the last two or three decades.  I had been reading several of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes short-stories prior to working my way through Lord of the Rings, the Children of Húrin, and the Silmarillion, which made the transition a bit smoother than my earlier attempts at Tolkiening.

Originally, I was going to give you a brief synopsis on the five parts that make up the Silmarillion.  The problem is this book comprises a vast swath of time, and each part is almost a microcosm for a specific area of the mythos/lore found throughout the books and films.  The third part, which we will get into below, contains a series of stories that are sometimes interconnected, and sometimes not.  Trust me when I say it’s really difficult to provide a synopsis, let alone a “brief” one (I just deleted several paragraphs that solely pertained to the first part).  You see, the Silmarillion isn’t necessarily a prequel to Lord of the Rings, although it does take place before that story.

Confused?

Let me attempt to explain that oxymoron of a sentence over the next paragraph or four.  The Silmarillion is comprised of five parts, all of which were translations of Elven histories written by none other than Bilbo Baggins in his book, Translations from the Elvish.  Bilbo had a lot of time on his hands after handling the One Ring for so many years, so he decided to spend it writing dense histories.

The Ainulindalë, the first section basically serves as the Genesis of Tolkien’s universe.  This chapter and the next, the Valaquenta, are full of myth and lore, like how the sun and moon were created, destroyed, and created again; where the stars came from; detailed descriptions of fourteen Valar and some of the Maiar (all of whom were created by Eru (aka Illúvatar, aka God), and how much of a jerk Melkor is.  Some of the Maiar that were seduced to the Dark Side by Melkor became Balrogs, we see one of these in The Fellowship of the Ring, when Gandalf (also a Maiar) tells one exactly where he will not be passing.  Another Maiar of note: Sauron.  That’s right, the big baddie from Lord of the Rings is one of Melkor’s lackeys.

melkor

Melkor (also known as Morgoth) Elf for scale

The Quenta Silmarillion, which makes up a majority of the book, is a series of interconnected stories that make up the history of the Elves.  These tales are full of valor, treachery, blood oaths, magical jewels made from the light of the Two Trees destroyed by Melkor and Ungoliant the enormous spider, you know, the usual stuff.  The tales range from beautiful, to dark, to rather bland, but I enjoyed learning the history of the Elves.  Also, Sauron’s physical form gets mauled by a giant war hound.

The last two parts are titled the Akallabêth and Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age.  While the Quenta Silmarillion mostly focuses on the Elves, the Akallabêth centers on the rise and fall of the kingdom of Númenor.  The men of Númenor started off strong.  The men lived long, fruitful lives and the kings of Númenor were friends of the Elves and Valar.  However, the line of kings eventually turned their backs on the Elves, moved against Sauron (who in turn befriended but ultimately betrayed them), and eventually fell (somewhat literally).  Some of the Númenoreans stayed true to the Valar and left Númenor settling on Middle-Earth.  One of these Elf-friends, was a man named Isildur.  You might remember him as the man who cut the One Ring off Sauron with the broken sword called Narsil, reforged as Andúril, the Flame of the West, which was presented to Aragorn, Isildur’s heir and true king of Gondor.

Ulmo, the Lord of the Waters

Ulmo, the Lord of the Waters

The final chapter, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, is probably the most relevant chapter if you are reading this purely to have a deeper understanding of the Lord of the Rings.  This chapter details Sauron’s rise to prominence, the establishing of the White Council (headed by Sarumon), the forging of the Rings of Power by Celebrimbor (featured prominently in the video game Shadows of Mordor), and the forging of the One Ring to rule them all by Sauron.

Ultimately, this book was a lot of fun.  Sure, parts of it were dry (looking at you “Of Beleriand and it’s Realms,” the chapter that literally is only about the land of Beleriand and it’s realms…), but there were just so many good stories in this book that it definitely tipped the scales to the positive.  I will say that this book is definitely not for everyone.  Just the sheer number of names per person makes it hard to keep everything straight (seriously, everybody has like five interchangeable names).  I would definitely recommend reading the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings prior to reading this book, despite the Silmarillion taking place prior to the events in those books.  The reason I say that is because this book can be a little drab at times, but it’s real appeal lies in just how much context this book provides for the rest of Tolkien’s world.

If you are a fan of Lord of the Rings, or Tolkien’s other works, and wish to know more about that world, this is the book for you.  Otherwise, I would stick to the more well-known Tolken books.

 

J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Children of Húrin

The Lord of the Rings looks and feels (and reads) like a mythological epic.  One of the more prominent reasons for this is that there is a vast amount of history and lore referenced throughout the book(s) and the films that makes the world more feel more complete than most tales of fantasy (this is called Tolkien’s Legendarium).  The Hobbit, which is about to finish up it’s final film, is one of the better known “histories,” but there are a myriad of books that look much further back than the Third Age.  After finally reading The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, I wanted more.  The Children of Húrin was my first step into a larger mythological world, and boy was it good… in a dark, brutal, I-might-have-had-an-existential-crisis-at-the-end sort of way.

The Children of Húrin plays out like a Greek tragedy with Túrin, a child of Húrin, playing the role of the tragic hero.  In Aristotle’s Poetics, Aristotle (see: Philosophy 101) shares that the hero of a tragedy should evoke a since pity or fear stemming from the hero experiencing misfortune through no fault of his own, other than some error in judgement.  In this story, Húrin, who is the lord of the House of Hador, is defeated in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears and taken to Angband, the stronghold of the dark lord Morgoth (Sauron’s predecessor).  Morgoth desperately wants to know where the Doriath, hidden city of the Elves, is located, but he is unable to break Húrin.  As recompense, Morgoth placed a curse on the children of Húrin that evil would befall them throughout their lives, and imprisons Húrin on a throne at the peak of Thangorodrim so that he may watch as the curse plays out.

Húrin was married to Morwen. Together they had two, later three, children: Túrin, Laileth, and Nineal, who was born after Húrin was captured and after Túrin was sent away to Doriath when his father did not return from the Battle of Unnumbered Tears.

At this point the story shifts from the imprisoned Húrin to Túrin.  Fearing Morgoth’s wrath, Morwen sends her son to Doriath, but in her pride would not go (it’s also important to note that she was pregnant at this time).  Upon his arrival, Thingol, the lord of Doriath, took Túrin as his fosterling and raised him as his own son.  As he grew older Túrin became a mighty warrior who wished to reclaim his land.

Please note: there will be minor spoilers in the following paragraph, but I will do my best to not give away the biggest twist in the story.  However, it is important to note how this story ends in the context of a tragedy.

Túrin is shown to be a courageous and valiant warrior responsible for many great deeds, even the slaying of Glaurung, a dragon of Morgoth’s.  However, we also see Morgoth’s curse at play throughout the story through a series of events that get progressively darker as the story moves forward.  During his journey he is responsible for the death of friends and family, as well as the fall of cities and kingdoms.  Towards the end of the book he is also directly responsible for the death of his wife, sister, and unborn child, which culminates with Túrin throwing himself on his own sword in anguish, thus completing the curse of Morgoth.

inspiration-of-medieval-language-literature-j-r-r-tolkien-22the-children-of-hurin22-turin-glaurung-art-by-alan-lee

I said this book was dark, right?  I spent about five minutes just staring out the window trying to wrap my head around this book.  However, if you enjoy the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, this is worth a read.  But be warned, there is no happy ending in this tale.  It is a solid, but very bleak read.

The book was released to mostly positive reviews, being called “completely brilliant,” and a “darkly beautiful tale.”  Although it was given a scathing review by the pinnacle of journalism, Entertainment Weekly, for being “awkward and immature.” Quick note: Entertainment Weekly’s front page currently has a piece on both Kaley Cuoco’s new hairstyle, as well as Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea’s remix of “Booty.”

What I am trying to say is, I completely disagree with this assessment.  The Children of Húrin can feel a bit unfinished, which is because it was an unfinished story.  Tolkien began this book in 1910, but never finished it himself.  Instead, it was finished posthumously by his son, Christopher Tolkien, who used his father’s notes and other writings to complete the story.  There are also times when the dialog can feel a bit stiff, especially when it comes to the multitude of names and places, but ultimately this a book steeped in myth and tragedy, written by an author who understood myth and tragedy.  Fans of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, high fantasy, and tragedy should give this a read.