J.R.R.Tolkien ~ Biography ~ The Inklings ~ Tolkien the Artist ~ Tolkien’s Passing ~ Tolkien’s Grave ~ Beren and Lúthien
Tolkien Toast ~ Tolkien Canon ~ Expanded Mythology ~ Tolkien Tuesdays
Beren and Lúthien
“She was (and knew she was) my Lúthien. I will say no more now…
For ever (especially when alone) we still met in the woodland glade and went hand in hand many times to escape
the shadow of imminent death before out last parting.”
~ On why he wished to include the name “Lúthien” on Edith’s tombstone (written to Christopher Tolkien)
The tale of Beren and Lúthien as many of you may know has it’s root in the real life love story of Ronald and Edith Tolkien. Tolkien was fond of telling the story of how Edith danced for him in a glade with flowering hemlocks and as love loomed between then the seeds of a story grew in Tolkien’s mind. Tolkien found inspiration for his great fictional love in his own life experience in the great love and affection he held for Edith. The memory of Edith dancing under the trees inspired his vision of the meeting of Beren and Lúthien.
As many of you probably know, Tolkien had the names Beren and Lúthien along side their own of the headstone above their graves. Tolkien wrote this about his beloved Edith.
“She was (and knew she was) my Luthien. I will say no more now… For ever (especially when alone) we still met in the woodland glade and went hand in hand many times to escape the shadow of imminent death before out last parting.”
Shortly after his wife’s death, Tolkien wrote the following in a letter to their son Christopher.
“I never called Edith Luthien ~ but she was the source of the story that in time became the chief part of the Silmarillion. It 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). 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, & I am left, and I cannot plead before the inexorable Mandos.”
Like all of Tolkien’s love stories they are tinged with sorrow… as he wrote so eloquently in this passage from The Silmarillion.
“Among the tales of sorrow and of ruin that came down to us from the darkness of those days there are yet some in which amid weeping there is joy and under the shadow of death light that endures. And of these histories most fair still in the ears of the Elves is the tale of Beren and Lúthien”
I find the interweaving of reality and fiction in Tolkien’s life and writing fascinating. Though Professor Tolkien is renowned for his creation of a fantastical and mythical world, and yet it’s because his writing is rooted in reality and the personal events of his life, that it holds such a power over the reader.
Tolkien considered the love of Beren and Lúthien as the central theme of his mythical world of Middle-earth.
“She danced, and at her feet was strewn a mist of silver quivering.”
The Tale of Beren and Lúthien begins with the adventures of the mortal Man Beren and the immortal Elf-maiden Lúthien. The tale takes place during the First Age of Middle-earth, about 6500 years before the events of, The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien wrote several versions of their story, with the final being published in The Silmarillion, which was edited together from Tolkien’s writings by his son Christopher. In addition the tale of Beren and Lúthien is recounted in The Lord of the Rings, when Aragorn tries to calm the fears of the Hobbits under the shadow of Weathertop.
The first version of the story is the Tale of Tinúviel, which was written in 1917 (Soon after Tolkien Met Edith Bratt.) That version has since been published in The Book of Lost Tales. During the 1920s Tolkien started to reshape the tale and to transform it into an epic poem which he called The Lay of Leithian. He never finished it, leaving three of seventeen planned cantos unwritten. After his death The Lay of Leithian was published in The Lays of Beleriand, together with The Lay of the Children of Húrin and several other unfinished poems. The final version of the tale is told in prose form in The Silmarillion and is mentioned in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. It also seems to be the inspiration for the love between Arwen and Aragorn that is alluded to in the trilogy and given more depth in “The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen”, in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings.
The marriage of Beren and Lúthien was the first of the three unions of a mortal Man and an Elf, of which came the Half-elven, those who had both elven and human ancestry. Like Lúthien, they were given the choice of being counted among either Elves or Men. The extended live-action film of The Fellowship of the Ring would make this connection through a song Aragorn sings at night in Elvish. When questioned by Frodo, he simply explains that it relates to an Elven woman, who gave up her immortality for the love of a man.
The story of Beren and Lúthien
Beren was the last survivor of a group of Men led by his father Barahir that had still resisted Morgoth, the Dark Enemy, after the Battle of Sudden Flame, in which Morgoth had conquered much of northern Middle-earth. After the defeat of his companions he fled from peril into the elvish realm Doriath. There he met Lúthien, the only daughter of King Thingol and Melian the Maia, as she was dancing and singing in a glade. Upon seeing her Beren fell in love, for she was the fairest of all elves. She later fell in love with him as well, when he, moved by her beauty and enchanting voice, gave her the nickname “Nightingale.” As Thingol disliked Beren and regarded him as being unworthy of his daughter, he set a seemingly impossible task on Beren that he had to achieve before he could marry Lúthien. Thingol asked Beren to bring him one of the Silmarils, the three hallowed jewels made by Fëanor, which Morgoth had stolen from the elves.
Beren left Doriath and set out on his quest to Angband, the enemy’s fortress. Although Thingol tried to prevent it, Lúthien later followed him. On his journey to the enemy’s land Beren reached Nargothrond, an Elvish stronghold, and was joined by ten warriors under the lead of King Finrod, who had sworn an oath of friendship to Beren’s father. Although Fëanor’s sons, Celegorm and Curufin, warned them not to take the Silmaril that they considered their own, the company was determined to accompany Beren. On their way to Angband they were seized by the servants of Sauron, despite the best efforts of Finrod to maintain their guise as Orcs, and imprisoned in Tol-in-Gaurhoth. One by one they were killed by a werewolf until only Beren and Finrod remained. When the wolf went for Beren, Finrod broke his chains and wrestled it with such fierceness that they both died.
When she was following Beren, Lúthien was captured and brought to Nargothrond by Celegorm and Curufin. Aided by Huan, Celegorm’s hound (which according to prophecy could only be defeated by the greatest werewolf ever), she was able to flee. With his aid she came to Sauron’s fortress where Huan defeated the werewolves of the Enemy, Draugluin the sire of werewolves, and Sauron himself in wolf-form. Then Lúthien forced Sauron to give ownership of the tower to her. She freed the prisoners, among them Beren. Meanwhile, Sauron took the form of a vampire and fled to Taur-nu-Fuin.
Beren wanted to try his task once more alone, but Lúthien insisted on coming with him. However they are attacked by Celegorm and Curufin, who have been exiled from Nargothrond. Beren was wounded by Curufin, but Lúthien healed him. Through magic they took the shapes of the bat Thuringwethil and the wolf Draugluin that Huan had killed. Thereby they were able to enter the enemy’s land and at last came to Angband and before Morgoth’s throne. There Lúthien sang a magical song which made the Dark Lord and his court fall asleep; then Beren cut a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown. As he tried to cut out the others, his knife broke and a shard glanced off Morgoth’s face, awakening him. As they attempted to leave, the gate was barred by Carcharoth, a giant werewolf, who was bred as an opponent to Huan. He bit off and swallowed Beren’s hand, in which Beren was holding the Silmaril. Carcharoth was burned by the pure light of the Silmaril and ran off madly. Eagles then helped Beren and Lúthien escape.
Beren and Lúthien returned to Doriath, where they told of their deeds and thereby softened Thingol’s heart. He accepted the marriage of his daughter and the mortal Man, although Beren’s task had not been fulfilled. Beren and Huan participated in the hunt for Carcharoth, who in his madness had come into Doriath and caused much destruction there. Both of them were killed by the wolf, but Carcharoth was also slain. Before he died, Beren handed the Silmaril, which was recovered from Carcharoth’s belly, to Thingol.
Grieving for Beren, Lúthien also died, and came to the halls of Mandos. There she sang of her ill fate, that she would never again see Beren, who as a mortal Man had passed out of the world. Thereby Mandos was moved to pity. He restored Beren and Lúthien to life and granted mortality to the Elf. Lúthien left her home and her parents and went to Ossiriand with Beren. There they dwelt for the rest of their lives, and both eventually died the death of mortal Men.
The origin of some content on this page from Wikipedia