An Adventure in Tolkien: Great Tales of the Elder Days

Previously on An Adventure in Tolkien: I was absolutely enamored with The Silmarillion.

This segment is going to be broken into three different parts, much like with The Silmarillion. This time, however, it’s because I’m reading three books. I’ll be tackling the Great Tales of the Elder Days, which includes The Children of Húrin, Beren and Lúthien, and The Fall of Gondolin. I think Christopher Tolkien does a great job in his introduction to the first one in what these stories are and why he published them:

“In an often-quoted passage of a long letter describing his work that my father wrote in 1951… he told of his early ambition: ‘once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a ind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy-story–the larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser drawing splendour from the vast backcloths… I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched.’

It seems thus unquestionable, from my father’s own words, that if he could achieve final and finished narratives on the scale he desired, he saw the three ‘Great Tales’ of the Elder Days as works sufficiently complete in themselves as not to demand knowledge of the great body of legend known as The Silmarillion.

Christopher Tolkien, The Children of Húrin

And so, while these novels are a little short, they’re much longer than any of the other (smaller) tales contained within The Silmarillion.

The Children of Húrin

Okay, disclaimer right from the beginning because this story bothered me in The Silmarillion, and it continued to bother me throughout this novel. Obviously, I do not support incest, and I really don’t understand why Tolkien did it. It’s completely unnecessary, and it just leaves me not able to enjoy this. I would have loved to read a story about Húrin’s children, but not when they’re accidentally falling in love with each other.

Now, before you get majorly squicked and run away from this, I do also feel obligated to note that Túrin and Nienor don’t fall in love knowing that they’re siblings. The last time Túrin sees his sister, she’s an infant, and when he finds Nienor, she’s had her memories wiped clean because Morgoth sucks, so she can’t tell him where she comes from/who her family is, so they don’t know, and that doesn’t make it any less okay, but it does remove blame from the actual people involved. It wasn’t their fault, guys.

Okay, so I read about 100 pages the first day, and I wasn’t really all that into it. It’s been interesting to get more detail about Túrin’s childhood, but at the same time, nothing has really happened yet. But ya girl is forgetful, and all of a sudden–

Hello, Beleg & Turin speedpainting tonight
Beleg & Túrin
Art by Juliette

Y’ALL I FORGOT TÚRIN’S BEST FRIEND WAS BELEG

You know what this means, right? I’m about to get sad. For those of you who haven’t read The Silmarillion, this is your typical elf watches man grow from boyhood and casually falls in love with him along the way, so then they traipse through the woods together gleefully until one of them (the man, always the man) is sad/angry/hurt by outside forces and goes into exile, leaving the elf to wander after him, always trying to find him, because they’re bros, but they’re also casually so damn in love, and when the elf finally finds the man, the man is in chains and has been tortured and SPOILER ACCIDENTALLY KILLS THE ELF BECAUSE HE THINKS IT’S HIS CAPTOR.

Image result for banging head gif

I hate everything.

“I seek him only in love, and to bring him good tidings.”

UGHHHHHHHH

Alright, so it’s been a couple days, and this book is seriously not a struggle to get through, but certainly not as enjoyable as The Silmarillion. Part of that, I think, is that I really just don’t want to read about Túrin and Nienor, but the writing is also meh in comparison. One thing I do find funny, though, is Tolkien’s complete disregard for suspense. Like, sure, let’s title this chapter The Death of Beleg because no one likes surprises at all. I’m eyerolling so hard. I mean, I knew that Beleg dies, but if you hadn’t read The Silmarillion, you’d be over here like “WAIT WHAT NO.”

Also, just so we can move on from this because I’ve already experienced Beleg dying once, and I DON’T WANT TO AGAIN.

wrechednothing: “I love how, in this Version of the Children of Húrin, Turin kisses Beleg on the mouth. Tolkien wrote some gay shit.. ”
Beleg & Túrin
Art by Doro

This is beautiful, and it’s not fair.

So I guess me reading Children of Húrin is just going to consist of me ignoring the incest and living for the gay. WHAT ELSE IS NEW?

Anyway. So it’s July 5th, and here’s the deal, y’all. I’m leaving for California tomorrow night, and I refuse to leave with this book still unfinished. I have 75 pages left, so this review is wrapping up today or else. And I, uh, I still have to buy the other two, which are, for some reason, stupidly expensive no matter where I look online.

I HAVE TWO CHAPTERS LEFT

oh my god it’s over okay quick thoughts

This was nowhere near as good as The Silmarillion, and honestly, I preferred the shorter version of this story. This longer version just went on forever, and much of it wasn’t even all that different from the shorter one. Tolkien just described it in more detail. Like, in The Silmarillion, we get that Túrin lived a shit life and hated himself and had a lot of names and killed everyone and their mother. In this longer version, we get all that, but double the description, and it’s just long and, frankly, kind of boring. Like, at the end of the day, this book is about two humans, and my favorite character is still an elf.

Beren and Lúthien

This is going to be better based purely on who it’s about. Also, I’d like to note that I was so put off by The Children of Húrin in general and how expensive the hardcovers were for the next two in the series that I’m just now reading this, almost three months later in September. I was supposed to post this review in July, and I just didn’t. Will I post it in September, either? Nah. I’ve got big plans for October, too, that don’t include The Fall of Gondolin, so like, maybe eventually? Who knows?

I fucking love Tolkien. Wow, we got to the second book before I started dropping f-bombs, THAT’S PROGRESS. I didn’t even make it to the main text of The Silmarillion before I had to start swearing. Look, Tolkien’s my fave because he says dumbass shit like this:

In passing, I would mention that he said also [in a letter of 1954] that he greatly regretted having used the word ‘Elves’, which has become ‘overloaded with regrettable tones’ that are ‘too much to overcome’.

Tolkien, my dude.

You practically invented the culture of elves. This is your fault.

So Beren and Lúthien had a preface that I honestly didn’t read, and then Notes on the Eldar Days, which I also didn’t read, because I remember both of those from The Children of Húrin being all stuff I learned in The Silmarillion, but there’s this text before the actual story of Beren and Lúthien begins, and it’s from Christopher Tolkien, who put all of these together into a coherent state, and so that’s him chatting about one of his dad’s letters.

And I just find it so hilarious that Christopher, thus far, has not just gone “what the fuck dad” in any of his text because literally, what the fuck, Tolkien. This man is a genius, but he’s also a man, and so he says really asinine things like “man Elves are just full of regrettable tones that I can’t get around” right after he creates the culture of Elves that we’re going to base most things on for the rest of forever.

(Side note: YES I KNOW TOLKIEN DIDN’T CREATE ELVES calm down)

wait wait wait

If you made it through my whole review of The Silmarillion (first wow you’re incredible), then this will make you cackle right along with me:

The Valar are often referred to as the Gods, and are called also the Ainur (singular Ainu). Melko (later Melkor) is the great evil Vala, called Morgoth, the Black Foe, after his theft of the Silmarils.

I am deceased.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, did you give all your characters 37 names because you were put off about having four? My favorite is when this waterfall gets renamed from something halfway decent to, like, the Shuddering Waters because Nienor (maybe?) shudders in fear while walking past it. Is there a meme for this? There’s gotta be, hold please.

lord of the rings meme - Google Search

THERE ISN’T, BUT THIS WILL DO

Lol well he's the author, he can write however he wants...

like literally if for nothing else, read Tolkien’s works so you can giggle endlessly over the fact that every character has 13 names and titles, and things get renamed every four chapters

WE HAVEN’T EVEN GOTTEN TO THE STORY YET

oh oh oh okay okay okay

I forgot what this story was about, I was so lost.

Okay, so Lúthien is “the fairest Elfmaiden” and all that, and Beren is in love at first sight because that’s how these things happen (hi this is a foil for Aragorn and Arwen), so he decides to be bold and ask Lúthien how to dance as well as she does. She brings him back to her dad, and her dad’s like “hey bro you can have my daughter if you steal Melkor’s crown.” Buddy, first, come on. That’s low. You can’t just sell your daughter off for some jewels. And secondly? Melkor? Really? The ENTIRE Silmarillion talks about why stealing Melkor’s crown is a bad idea. But whatever, Beren’s so enraged that that’s what it’s going to take, and he’s all, “Nay, but ’tis too small a gift to the father of so sweet a bride.” and rushes off to go steal Melkor’s crown.

Oh boy. This is going to end in death.

“where afterward Túrin slew Beleg by mishap”

YOU KNOW I DIDN’T NEED TO BE REMINDED OF THAT, BUT THANKS FOR THE TEARS

Beren a Luthien.... Tenhle příběh je dlouho má srdeční záležitost. Jedná se o nejkrásnější milostný příběh z Tolkienova světa. Můžete si všimnout pár narážek již během Pána prstenů, kde ho v lesních říších zpívají elfové. Dokonce Tolkien o něm sám říkal, že je inspirován příběhem jeho ženy, kterou nesmírně miloval. Na její náhrobek nechal vytesat jméno Luthien... Jedná se příběh o smrtelného muže, který se zamiluje do krásné elfské princezny, avšak rodina dívky s tím nesouhlasí a tak začíná dlou
Beren, Lúthien, and Huan cosplay by Marketa Novak

Okay, first of all, y’all. Do you see this cosplay? Like, DAMN. There are a ton on Marketa’s Instagram of her & her fiance as Lúthien and Beren, as well as a lot of other amazing shots, so definitely go check that out.

And second? This book is way different than The Children of Húrin. That was the same story as in The Silmarillion, but longer and sadder and boring, but this? Christopher drops a note that the original tale is much different than what ended up in The Silmarillion, but it’s still wild how vastly it’s changed between the original tale to the eventual published one. That, and the tale is super short, probably only a little longer than what’s given in The Silmarillion, so I’m really curious to see what the heck else these other 200 pages are about.

I’m on day two of this now, and probably going to finish it today. This is like if you mixed Beowulf with annotations and small bursts of text to explain the in between. Beren & Lúthien’s tale is told in its earliest stages, before The Silmarillion was published, and then The Lay of Leithian is broken up into a few different sections, which is really just an epic poem telling the same story, but the version of it that eventually got published in prose. That said, all of this is pretty repetitive, but still very interesting. Not sure I’d recommend it for someone who hadn’t read The Silmarillion, though.

And done! Overall, a very interesting look at the tale of Beren & Lúthien, but only if you’re prepared to read the same thing four different times, but with slight changes.

WAIT

HOLD ON

(let it be known that the section above was drafted as I finished the book in September, and I’m coming at you now in October for a mindblowing second)

NO ONE FUCKING TOLD ME THAT ARAGORN WAS SINGING THE LAY OF LEITHIAN I AM SCREAMING

The Fall of Gondolin

The absolute first thing I did post-Halloween month was pick up The Fall of Gondolin because damn ya girl misses Middle Earth something fierce, and I really, really want to get to The Unfinished Tales because THEN IT’S HOBBIT TIME. One thing immediately stood out to me in the preface of this, though:

To show that this is not fanciful, in his letter to me of 6 May 1944 my father wrote: ‘A new character has come on the scene (I am sure I did not invent him, I did not even want him, though I like him, but there he came walking into the woods of Ithilien).’

It is so nice to sometimes know that I am not the only insane one who has absolutely no control over the story and what it wants to do.

Also! On another episode of things Mary did not know about Middle Earth, apparently LOTR is supposed to be a sequel to The Silmarillion, not The Hobbit, because Tolkien felt it was “one long Saga of the Jewels and the Rings’,” and I find that delightful to know. Apparently, though, his publishers didn’t really like The Silmarillion and refused to publish both, and when I told my dad this, he said, “No one likes The Silmarillion except you because you’re a weirdo.” The Silmarillion is hilarious, and I will stand by its genius forever.

The way Christopher’s broken this down is that we get the original, unabridged tale of Gondolin that Tolkien’s wife helped edit, and then Christopher breaks it up to discuss different parts of it and also provide different version of it as time went on. However, he notes at the very beginning that the only time the full tale of Gondolin was ever written was in Tolkien’s youth. Many of the other tales, including the two above, that ended up as shorter versions in The Silmarillion, had several rewrites, but the full tale of Gondolin only had the one and then was condensed to put in The Silmarillion.

Look. Tolkien is trying really hard to be serious about this battle that’s going on right now, and I’m trying really hard to be serious with him, but all I can think about is how wildly hard fandom goes for Melko(r)/Morgoth, and I’m just

royal bros
Manwe & Melkor sketch
Manwë & Melkor/Morgoth
Art by Phobs

If Tolkien’s not careful, I’m going to be reduced to a Morgoth/Sauron mess again.

(And no, that’s not Sauron, that’s Manwë, and the caption is “royal bros”, AND I LOVE IT.)

Also, he’s not actually being serious about the battle part, we have yet to actually see any battle because he’s very focused on what everyone’s wearing. You know how, back in the day, fanfictions used to be overflowing with paragraphs of what the characters were wearing? Yeah, it’s been about three pages now, and I am here for it. They’re all so pretty.

Sidenote: I just finished listening to the FOTR soundtrack (extended, duh) and have switched to TT, and that first song, Glamdring, goes HARD.

Tolkien better finish up the fashion part of this war so my music matches my reading.

“This was the fashion and the array of the eleven houses of the Gondothlim with their signs and emblems.”

And we need to know how all eleven looked before they got blood on their fancy uniforms.

Also, the elves are like “they went into battle to the music of flutes” while Melko(r) (seriously why did he drop the r? why make the names even more confusing, you’re The Worst JRR) is all “the fiery hosts and the shapes like dragons.” Like, are we at all surprised that Melkor’s one of my favorite characters? He’s a badasss.

wait

I just saw the cutest art of this hold please

Morgoth with his dragons
Melkor/Morgoth & dragons
Art by Phobs

YOU’RE WELCOME

(what am I going to do with myself when I get to the Third Age and I have to love Sauron instead of this asshole, ughhhhhh)

Look, okay, yes, this is literally about the fall of Gondolin, which is Melkor’s fault, and I’m supposed to be rooting for Tuor or whoever, but Melkor is a literal dumpster fire, and I love him, and I’m going to keep focusing on him.

I’ve finished the main version of the tale, which was super interesting! Lots of elven fashion, except they’re called gnomes, and it literally makes me cackle the entire time. Lots of stabbing and throwing off of towers and pitching into fires. Lots of balrogs and dragons and orcs and Melkor just giggling madly in the background. Lots of heroic “I will burn with this city” and run-on sentences and eventually a defeat, which we don’t see often, so that was fun. I’m now onto the discussion bits with Christopher, where he breaks down different versions, talks about where the fall of Gondolin shows up in other stories, and anything else that Tolkien sketched out concerning it. And, I’ll be honest, I do a lot of skimming of these parts in all three books because I’ve read a solid portion of them in The Silmarillion and also in the other books and a lot of it is the same thing, but with slight differences, so Christopher usually summarizes what the big changes are at the end. I’ve usually gotten bored at this point (I am now), which is why I stop reading as fully. I’m not a Tolkien scholar dedicated to reading every single word he’s written, I just thought it’d be fun to work my way through his mythology, so reading the same story eight times is not my jam.

HOLD UP

saved by EmperorJaynus
Ulmo & Tuor
Art by Max Beech

There’s a second story hidden inside! So, we get the fall of Gondolin, and then we’re taken back to Tuor before he even arrives at Gondolin, on basically a pilgrimage to find the hidden city and to pay homage to Turgon, who he’s always admired from afar. For pages upon pages, Tuor’s just hanging out on the coast, meandering around, having a really peaceful time. Ulmo eventually rises up out of the sea like some Grecian god because he happens to like Tuor and his family, so he’s like “hey bro wanna do me a solid” and Tuor thinks this is the literal best thing that’s ever happened to him, so he eagerly says yes, and then Ulmo shows him the way to Gondolin WHERE EVERYTHING GOES WRONG. Like, dude was just trying to live out his dreams and ended up losing everything. That sucks.

yestereve

what a goddamn word

And done! Again, not something I’d recommend unless you were already deep in Tolkien, but it’s a nice companion to The Silmarillion.


And that is a wrap on the Great Tales of the Elder Days! If you stuck around this long, you’re truly a saint. If not, I get it. These are long and for a very niche audience. As a reward, here’s one last piece of art since I’m not actually sure if I’ll be able to yell about these two idiots in the next round of An Adventure in Tolkien, which is going to be a review of The Unfinished Tales, and then we finally move onto the main works!

Melkor/Morgoth & Mairon/Sauron
Art by m0rket

Previously: The Silmarillion | Next: The Unfinished Tales

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Mary RYT 200 Tibetan Buddhism Gryffindor Part-time witch, full-time novelist. Lover of words, planets, dragons, and mountains.

7 thoughts on “An Adventure in Tolkien: Great Tales of the Elder Days

    1. Ooh, yes! The bits that Christopher has shared throughout this trilogy have been really interesting, so I’ll definitely have to give that a look, thank you!

      Like

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