Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

March Books 30) The Lays of Beleriand, by J.R.R. Tolkien

This is the third volume of the History of Middle Earth; it contains two unfinished poems tackling the two key narratives of the Silmarillion. The first, a version of the tale of Túrin told in alliterative blank verse, did not really appeal to me, and while I can see why Tolkien, with his background, wanted to give it a try, it's not very surprising that the effort did not come off. The Lay of Leithian, however, is a different matter - telling the story of Beren and Lúthien in rhyming couplets of iambic tetrameter, it has a tremendous energy that Tolkien never quite managed in the prose versions of the story, despite its strong personal significance for him. Also I had forgotten, or had never realised, just how kickass a heroine Lúthien actually is. The couplets are occasionally a little unpolished, but Christopher Tolkien reproduces a mock source-critical analysis by none other than C.S. Lewis suggesting that the least good bits are obvious interpolations by later scribes. J.R.R. Tolkien then revised the poem in line with Lewis' suggestions, but typically started expanding it from the middle again and never got around to finishing it.

Years later, it was part of the disorganised bundle of papers submitted to Unwin as material for a potential sequel to The Hobbit. Unwin's reader, who clearly had not been given much background, found the poem indigestible and urged instead an expansion of the prose summary of the rest of The Silmarillion. Tolkien wasn't up for this at that point, and wrote The Lord of the Rings instead. And thus was history made.
Tags: bookblog 2011, writer: tolkien
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