Frodo-heads rejoice: from the Tolkien factory comes a foundational story a century in the making, one yarn to rule them all.
“I cannot think of anything more to say about hobbits,” J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in frustration to his publisher. “But I have only too much to say, and much already written, about the world into which the hobbit intruded.” The story of Beren, a mortal human, and Lúthien, an immortal elf, resonates throughout the corpus of Tolkien’s work; born while Tolkien was shaking off the horrors of combat in World War I, it figures in The Silmarillion, the first of the major posthumous books, and in other of the Middle-earth books, to say nothing of The Lord of the Rings itself, when Aragorn sings of the fraught love between the two legendary figures. As reconstructed here and presented whole, the saga adds back story to much of LOTR: it explains the mistrust of Treebeard and the other forest denizens for the world of men, and it provides a foreshadowing for the whole of the canonical Rings trilogy, since it describes a kind of ur-Saruman who lusts for both power and magical jewels, setting off a chain of events that implicates Orcs, dragons, humans, elves, and all manner of other beings. Some of the tale here is in verse, done in a kind of Tennyson-esque meter: “Then Sauron laughed aloud. ‘Thou base, / thou cringing worm! Stand up, / and hear me! And now drink the cup / that I have sweetly blent for thee!' " Sweetly blent indeed. Other moments are worthy of Mikhail Bulgakov, such as Tolkien’s conjuring of giant malevolent cats, their “eyes glowing like green lamps or red or yellow where Tevildo’s thanes sat waving and lashing their beautiful tails,” and of Tennyson himself, as when Beren tells how for Lúthien’s love “he must essay the burning waste, / and doubtless death and torment taste.”
The story has it all: swords, sorcery, and pure and undying love. (Excellent illustrations, too.) Essential grounding for an epic cycle that shows no signs of ending anytime soon.