Thursday, August 29, 2019

J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Beren and Lúthien”

As with all of Tolkien’s great tales of the First Age, the story of Beren and Lúthien transformed dramatically over sixty years from its first imagining and version in 1916 and 1917 to its relatively finalized version in 1977’s The Silmarillion. During those six decades, it appeared as a long tale of the Lost Tales, as a summary in the 1926 Sketch of the Mythology (written for Tolkien’s beloved professor from King Edward’s, R.W. Reynolds), as a radically ambitious poetic lay, The Lay of Leithian (1925-1931), and as an essential story within the various versions, including the final version, of The Silmarillion. 
Yet, the essence of the story has remained the same in all of its many versions. Or, as Christopher so wisely put it, “The fluidity should not be exaggerated: there were nonetheless great, essential, permanences.”[5] 
A daughter of an Elf king, Thingol, and a fay (a Maia—the offspring of the angelic powers; roughly of the same power as Gandalf), Lúthien-Tinúviel expressed her joy and love through dance. One day, Beren, a heroic but displaced outlaw, spies her dancing. “Yet now did he see Tinúviel dancing in the twilight, and Tinúviel was in a silver-pearly dress, and her bare white feet were twinkling among the hemlock-stems.”[6] In Tolkien’s Lay of Leithian, he describes in terms comparable only to the Blessed Virgin Mary: 
Her starry jewels twinkled brightIn the risen sun like morning dew;The lilies gold on mantle blueGleamed and glistened.[7] 
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