Tolkien’s Requiem: A Book Review

Over the weekend I read Tolkien’s Requiem: Concerning Beren and Lúthien by John Carswell. Pressed into my hands by my friend Kaitlyn (blogger over at Tea with Tolkien), I was excited to dive into this book. A tiny little paperback (only 75 pages) that fits in the palm of your hand,  the book was surprisingly dense and packed a powerful punch (much like a hobbit). John Carswell certainly did his research, and his knowledge and love for Tolkien and his life seeps from the text.

Tolkien’s Requiem provides the reader with an overview of Beren and Lúthien’s love story: an integral component to Tolkien’s  The Silmarillion. Carson makes the famous introduction to Tolkien’s Middle-earth approachable by summing up the major themes and concepts broken up into digestible chunks. This is a book meant to be read slowly in bits at a time: the reader pausing and taking time to reflect and truly allowing the ideas to sink in. Tolkien’s Requiem felt like a condensed version of a literary class taught by a knowledgeable professor: the topics were detailed but not a stew of technical words, and the book makes you look at Tolkien’s writing in a new critical light.

Particularly resonating was Carson’s distinction between escape and escapism in the introduction: “Whereas escapism might seek to retreat and escape from the problems of this world, almost deny that they even exist, Tolkien likens ‘escape’ of fantasy to a prisoner seeking to escape the confines of his cell.” Fantasy can be a powerful tool in allowing the reader to look at the world from a new perspective: finding introspectively the answers to the questions we come across in life, rather than avoiding them and ignoring their existence.

If you have ever tried reading The Silmarillion and abandoned it, or are looking to pick it up in the future, this book is a must. It would be a perfect book to read through before picking up Beren and Lúthien, recently published this past month.

Question of the Day:

Have you ever abandoned a book? The first time I attempted Lord of the Rings I was ten, and couldn’t make it past the first few chapters!

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