Anyone who’s been longing for a return to Middle-earth is in luck.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt released a new illustrated book last week that draws on the archives of J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of “The Lord of the Rings” fantasy epic and its predecessor, “The Hobbit.” The new book, “Beren and Lúthien,” was compiled and edited by Christopher Tolkien, the third son of the author.
The younger Tolkien has served as his father’s literary executor since the writer’s death in 1973 and has worked to edit and release many of his unpublished writings, including “The Silmarillion” and the collection “The History of Middle-earth.”
According to the publisher, the new book traces the romance between a human, Beren, and an elf, Lúthien, whose love is stymied by the elf’s powerful father. He assigns Beren a task that brings the couple into conflict with an evil creature called Melkor, a thematic predecessor to Sauron, the villain of “The Lord of the Rings.”
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“In my ninety-third year this is (presumptively) my last book in the long series of editions of my father’s writings, very largely previously unpublished, and is of a somewhat curious nature,” Tolkien writes in the preface to the new book.
“This tale is chosen in memoriam because of its deeply-rooted presence in his own life and his intense thought on the union of Lúthien, whom he called ‘the greatest of the Eldar,’ and of Beren the mortal man.”
The story of the romantic protagonists, who are mentioned in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, grew deeper and richer over the years as Tolkien returned to their tale in both poetry and prose. The new book attempts to distill the story of their relationship from the volumes of “The History of Middle-earth” in which, as Christopher Tolkien remarks in the preface, it can be difficult to follow.
The 288-page book includes drawings by Alan Lee, an illustrator who has worked on past books written by Christopher Tolkien, and who won an Academy Award in 2004 for his work on “The Return of the King,” the third film in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The book arrives a decade after “The Children of Húrin,” the last book about Middle-earth released by the author’s estate, which topped the New York Times best-seller list.
According to a blog post on the website of the Tolkien Society, the publication of “Beren and Lúthien” comes almost 100 years after a memorable encounter between the author and his wife, Edith, which the author later described to his son as an inspiration for the story of the human and the elf. The Oxford gravestone shared by J.R.R. and Edith Tolkien includes the names Beren and Lúthien.