Alan Lee to illustrate new edition of JRR Tolkien’s love story, “Beren and Lúthien”

Tolkien-inspired art by watercolour artist Alan Lee

Tolkien-inspired art by watercolour artist Alan Lee

HarperCollins will publish a new JRR Tolkien title, Beren and Lúthien, in May 2017, a love story that has inspired many creators to illustrate scenes from their story. This edition will feature art by Alan Lee, an award-winning artist long associated with Tolkein’s works, who also worked on the Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth films.

Edited by his son Christopher Tolkien, The Bookseller reports Beren and Lúthien will be published simultaneously in the US, by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and in other territories by Tolkien publishers worldwide.

other w extracted the tale of lovers Beren and Lúthien from The History of Middle-earth, a 12-volume series that collected and analysed material relating to the fiction of J R R Tolkien. The story of Beren and Lúthien has evolved since it was first written in 1917, and has been reworked in various forms, including poetry, its final version featuring in The Silmarillion. To reflect this, the new book opens with Tolkien’s original text, before including passages from later texts that rework the tale. Presented together for the first time, they reveal aspects of the story hitherto discarded.

The Tale of Beren and Lúthien is the story of the love and adventures of the mortal man, Beren, and the immortal Elf-maiden Lúthien, and takes place during the First Age of Middle-earth, about 6500 years before the events of The Lord of the Rings, which mentions the lovers.

JRR Tolkein and Edith Tolkein's grave in Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford. Image: Wikimedia Commons

JRR Tolkein and Edith Tolkein’s grave in Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Tolkien took inspiration for Lúthien from his wife, Edith. While he said he never called her Lúthien in life, “she was the source of the story that in time became the chief pan of the Silmarillion,” he once related, also revealing the story “was first conceived in a small woodland glade filled with hemlocks at Roos in Yorkshire (where I was for a brief time in command of an outpost of the Humber Garrison in 1917, and she was able to live with me for a while).

Tolkein’s love for Edith is clear from his memory of her – and in death, the names Beren and Luthien are shared on their grave at Wolvercote Cemetery in Oxford.

“In those days her hair was raven, her skin clear, her eyes brighter than you have seen them, and she could sing – and dance. But the story has gone crooked, and I am left, and I cannot plead before the inexorable Mandos.”

Devon-based Alan Lee has illustrated dozens of fantasy books, including some nonfiction, and many more covers, and several of Tolkien’s works, including the Tolkien centenary edition of The Lord of the Rings, a 1999 edition of The Hobbit that was boxed with it, and Narn i Chîn Húrin: The Children of Húrin, published in 2007.

His other work includes Faeries (with Brian Froud), Lavondyss by Robert Holdstock, The Mabinogion, Castles and Tolkien’s Ring (both nonfiction by David Day), The Mirrorstone by Michael Palin, The Moon’s Revenge by Joan Aiken, and Merlin Dreams by Peter Dickinson.

Alan was asked by publishers HarperCollins to illustrate the special centenary edition of The Lord of the Rings in 1992, which was released to mark the 100th anniversary of the author’s birth and his work on that led him to be asked to provide the artwork for the sets of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Lee became the lead concept artists of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, working alongside and John Howe were and both were recruited by director Guillermo del Toro in 2008 for continuity of design in the subsequent The Hobbit films, before joining Jackson when he took over the films project.

Lee won an Oscar for his work on the third LOTR film, Return of the King. In 2005, he published The Lord of the Rings Sketchbook, featuring a selection of his work from the centenary edition and the films.

A reclusive artist, Lee recalls being commissioned to illustrate Tolkien’s work for the centenary edition back in 1992 was, for him, an unbelievable opportunity come true for the self-confessed Tolkien fanatic and it was the drawings in this centenary book which attracted the attention of Lord of the Rings director, Peter Jackson.

“I had read The Lord of the Rings when I was about 17 and really just inhabited that world for a number of years afterwards,” he told the BBC Devon in an extensive interview in 2008. “I just loved the whole world that he created and so it was a dream come true really to get the chance to illustrate the books later on.”

Beren and Lúthien will be published on the 10th anniversary of the last Middle-earth title, The Children of Húrin.

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