Hurrah! We have made it to part eight of this series! I have been anticipating this special section of The Silmarillion since the very beginning of the project. It’s arguably one of the greatest adventures of the entire book: the story of Beren and Lúthien. If you recall, Beren was introduced a few chapters ago as a Man of the house of Bëor. Lúthien is the daughter of King Elwë (Thingol) and Melian the Maia, so she is half elf and half Maia. As you can probably guess, Lúthien was very beautiful—in fact she is called “the most beautiful of all the Children of Ilúvatar” in this chapter.
It’s understandable that Beren would fall in love with her, especially after what the poor guy went through. When Orcs invaded his land during the Battle of Sudden Flame and started hunting his people, Beren was the only one of his father’s band of defenders to escape. He wandered along the borders of Doriath, somehow finding a way through the magical maze because “a great doom lay upon him” as Melian had foretold.
He entered the realm of the Guarded Kingdom “grey and bowed as with many years of woe, so great had been the torment of the road,” and the instant he saw Lúthien, “all memory of his pain departed from him, and he fell into an enchantment.” Similarly, when Lúthien spotted him, “doom fell upon her, and she loved him.” From that moment on, their fates were inextricably connected, thus beginning a very unexpectedly serendipitous love story.
Oh, don’t worry, it’s not all rose petals and walking on clouds for this unfortunate pair. Those kind of love stories usually make me want to gag. No, I am happy to report that there’s plenty of drama and danger in this adventure! First off, Lúthien’s father is one of those overprotective dads you sometimes see in movies. When Beren walked up to Thingol and asked him for his daughter’s hand, the Elven king’s first response was: “‘Death you have earned with these words; and death you should find suddenly, had I not sworn an oath in haste; of which I repent, baseborn mortal, who in the realm of Morgoth has learnt to creep in secret as his spies and thralls.'” The only reason Beren did not meet his end right then and there was because Lúthien had made her father promise not to kill or imprison him.
Despite the proud name of Beren’s clan, the house of Bëor, Thingol adamantly refused to let him marry his daughter, saying, “‘I sell not to Elves or Men those whom I love and cherish above all treasure.” To earn Lúthien’s hand, he gave Beren the impossible task of capturing a Silmaril from the crown of Morgoth, meaning to send him to his death. Beren took on the challenge because of his great love for Lúthien, vowing that Thingol had “not looked the last upon Beren son of Barahir,” and departed to Nargothrond to ask the aid of King Finrod Felagund, who had been a friend of his father.
The sons of Fëanor who resided in Nargothrond, Celegorm and Curufin, stirred up trouble for Beren, for their oath drove them to not let any other being possess a Silmaril. Nonetheless, Felagund agreed to aid Beren, and their band began the journey northward. Unfortunately, they ran into Sauron. Does that name sound familiar? It should; Sauron is the evil dude in The Lord of the Rings who is trying to get the One Ring. In The Silmarillion, though, he is only one of Morgoth’s servants. Finrod Felagund “strove with Sauron in songs of power,” which essentially means they had a song battle—how cool is that? Even though King Felagund was powerful, Sauron prevailed over him, throwing him and his companions (including Beren) into a deep pit.
When Lúthien learned of Beren’s plight, she was determined to rescue him—no one else would, after all. Everybody hated Beren and wanted him to fail, except for her. Lúthien’s father, learning of her plan, put her under house arrest to keep her from carrying it out. He built a house high in the trees of Neldoreth Forest so that she could stay under the stars that she loved, then took away the ladders so that she was stuck there. Lúthien would not give up, however, using “arts of enchantment” to grow her hair very long and weave from it a cloak of shadow and a rope. She used the rope to escape the tree and the cloak to leave the forest unseen.
Sounds like a foolproof escape plan, right? Well…Lúthien didn’t count on being caught outside the border of Doriath by Huan, the wise old hound of Celegorm, son of Fëanor. They took her to Nargothrond, and Celegorm (the opportunistic fiend) sent messengers to King Thingol to demand Lúthien’s hand in marriage. Fortunately for Lúthien, Huan the hound helped her to escape, even allowing her to ride on his back. When they came to the place of Beren’s imprisonment, Huan and Lúthien together fought Sauron and defeated him; Lúthien then “stood upon the bridge, and declared her power; and the spell was loosed that bound stone to stone, and the gates were thrown down, and the walls opened, and the pits laid bare; and many thralls and captives came forth in wonder and dismay, shielding their eyes against the pale moonlight, for they had lain long in the darkness of Sauron.” Sadly, King Felagund and the others in his company had been killed by Sauron while imprisoned. Only Beren survived, and he and Lúthien returned to Doriath.
Because Beren had not yet accomplished the task given him by King Thingol, he tried to leave Lúthien behind where she would be safe while he traveled on to Morgoth’s lair. She would hear nothing of it, refusing to be separated from him and saying, “…our doom shall be alike.” Together they invaded Morgoth’s fortress of Angbard with clever disguises. After Lúthien enchanted Morgoth with a song and lulled him into a deep sleep, Beren cut a Silmaril from his crown. They fled, but Morgoth’s great wolf, Carcharoth, pursued them and bit off the hand with which Beren held the Silmaril. The poison of the wolf’s bite nearly killed Beren, but Lúthien saved him.
They returned to Doriath, where King Thingol, surprised by Beren’s feats of daring, allowed them to marry even though the Silmaril had not been delivered to him. Carcharoth the wolf, driven to madness by the burning of the Simaril in his stomach, stampeded to Doriath, causing great fear and destruction. During a hunt of the wolf, Huan the hound fought fiercely and killed Carcharoth, but also died. The Silmaril was retrieved from the stomach of the wolf. Having been mortally wounded while protecting King Thingol from the wolf, Beren died, and Lúthien also passed from the world. With her song, she petitioned Nàmo, the summoner of the spirits of the slain, to let her see Beren one last time. (For a beautiful interpretation of this, I would highly recommend checking out the song “Lúthien’s Lament” by Eurielle.) Nàmo was “moved to pity” by her song, and he allowed her to reunite with Beren in the halls of Mandos.
The Valar gave Lúthien a choice. She could dwell peacefully in the city of Valimar for the rest of eternity, “forgetting all griefs that her life had known,” but Beren could not go with her. Her other choice was to return to Middle-Earth with Beren, but she would be mortal, “subject to a second death.” Because of her love for him, she chose this latter option, and their spirits returned to Middle-earth for a time. So ends the tale of Beren and Lúthien.
That’s all for this week! Thanks for reading, my friends! Have a wonderful weekend and end of summer.