Among the tales of sorrow and of ruin that come 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. Of their lives was made the Lay of Leithian, Release from Bondage, which is the longest save one of the songs concerning the world of old; but here the tale is told in fewer words and without song.
(The Silmarillion, 162)
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This post continues my chapter-by-chapter walk through of The Silmarillion. This time, I examine the first part of the 19th chapter of The Silmarillion, "Of Beren and Lúthien". You can see all the posts in this series by clicking here. You can also find other Silmarillion resources here.
In my view, “Of Beren and Lúthien” is the crown jewel of The Silmarillion. I love it so much I wrote a book about it. It was one of Tolkien’s favorites too, and it’s one of the longest chapters in The Silmarillion, so we are going to spend at least a few posts on it. It picks up where the last chapter left off, in the aftermath of the Battle of Sudden Flame.
- Gorlim: The "unhappy" member of Barahir’s band who goes searching for his wife, only to be abducted by Sauron and tortured into revealing the whereabouts of his comrades.
- Beren: Son of Barahir, he is the lone survivor of Barahir’s band and becomes a "lone wolf" outlaw in the regions north of Doriath.
- Lúthien: Daughter of Thingol and Melian, she is a unique being as the offspring of Elf and Maia.
- Sauron’s Treachery & Gorlim’s Failure: Though promising Gorlim reunion with his wife even as he tortures him, Sauron proves just how despicable he is when he gets the information he needs and then puts Gorlim to death.
- Beren and Lúthien Meet: After years alone in the wilderness, Beren comes stumbling into Doriath and happens upon Lúthien dancing in the open, beneath the moon and stars. They fall for one another, and are enmeshed in one another’s fates.
- Thingol’s Brideprice: Thingol is not pleased when he learns of Beren’s interest in his daughter, but he opportunistically sends Beren on a quest to obtain a Silmaril from the Iron Crown of Morgoth as a bride price.
- Doomed Love: When Lúthien falls for Beren, it is said that being immortal she came to share in Beren’s mortality. This will apply in a number of ways.
- Thingol’s Arrogance: Thingol demonstrates utter contempt not only for Beren but for Men in general. Furthermore, in sending Beren on an "impossible" quest he shows that his arrogance has led him into grave foolishness, something Melian recognizes and calls out. The irony, of course, is thick.
- The Doom of Doriath: Though Doriath has essentially been untouched by the troubles of Beleriand, Thingol’s underhanded dealing nevertheless ensnares it in greater fates.
- Sinister Sauron:
Now Gorlim would have drawn back, but daunted by the eyes of Sauron he told at last all that he would know. Then Sauron laughed; and he mocked Gorlim, and revealed to him that he had seen only a phantom devised by wizardry to entrap him; for Eilinel was dead. ‘Nonetheless I will grant thy prayer,’ said Sauron; ‘and thou shalt go to Eilinel, and be set free of my service.’ Then he put him cruelly to death. (163)
- Beren’s Agonizing Bliss:
It is told in the Lay of Leithian that Beren came stumbling into Doriath grey and bowed as with many years of woe, so great had been the torment of the road. But wandering in the summer in the woods of Neldoreth he came upon Lúthien, daughter of Thingol and Melian, at a time of evening under moonrise, as she danced upon the unfading grass in the glades beside Esgalduin. Then all memory of his pain departed from him, and he fell into an enchantment ; for Lúthien was the most beautiful of all the Children of Ilúvatar. Blue was her raiment as the unclouded heaven, but her eyes were grey as the starlit evening; her mantle was sewn with golden flowers , but her hair was dark as the shadows of twilight. As the light upon the leaves of trees, as the voice of clear waters, as the stars above the mists of the world, such was her glory and her loveliness; and in her face was a shining light. (165)
- Hey Jealousy:
But Daeron the minstrel also loved Lúthien, and he espied her meetings with Beren, and betrayed them to Thingol. Then the King was filled with anger, for Lúthien he loved above all things, setting her above all the princes of the Elves; whereas mortal Men he did not even take into his service. Therefore he spoke in grief and amazement to Lúthien; but she would reveal nothing, until he swore an oath to her that he would neither slay Beren nor imprison him. But he sent his servants to lay hands on him and lead him to Menegroth as a malefactor; and Lúthien forestalling them led Beren herself before the throne of Thingol, as if he were an honoured guest. (166)
Please feel free to share your thoughts on this chapter in the comments below.
Want to learn more about The Silmarillion? My book Tolkien's Requiem explores the stories of Middle-earth's First Age through the prism of Tolkien's most personal tale: Beren and Lúthien. It's designed to work as a "back door" approach for those who struggle to get a start on The Silmarillion. Click here to learn more!
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