Beren was a mortal man, but Lúthien was an immortal Elf. Her father, a great Elvish lord, was deeply opposed to Beren, and imposed on him an impossible task that he must perform before he might wed Lúthien. Undaunted by Lord Thingol’s challenge, Beren and Lúthien embark on the supremely heroic attempt to rob Morgoth, the greatest of all evil beings, of a Silmaril, one of the hallowed jewels that adorn the Black Enemy’s crown. The tale of Beren and Lúthien, which was written shortly after J.R.R. Tolkien returned from the Battle of the Somme in 1916, was an essential element in the evolution of The Silmarillion.
In this book Christopher Tolkien has extracted the various versions of Beren and Lúthien from the comprehensive work in which they are embedded. To show something of the process whereby this Great Tale of Middle-earth evolved over the years, he tells the story in his father’s own words by giving, first, its original form, and then passages in prose and verse from later texts that illustrate the narrative as it changed. Presented together for the first time, they reveal aspects of the story, both in event and in narrative immediacy, that were afterwards lost.
Donato Giancola: Beren and Luthien in the Court of Thingol — Lúthien enchants Morgoth (href=”https://www.tor.com/2018/06/06/a-dogs-purpose-full-wrought-the-trifold-dooms-of-huan-beren-and-luthien/”>source) — Justin Gerard: Beren and Carcharoth — Randy Vargas: Húan — Ted Nasmith: Huan’s Leap — Ted Nasmith: the Nauglamír
Beren and his beloved Elven lady Lúthien Tinúviel are remembered as the star-crossed lovers of the First Age: Their names are as inseparable in lore as the two lovers were during their lives; and as Lúthien was as instrumental as Beren in performing one of the First Age’s greatest deeds of valor, it is only fitting that they should be placed on an equal footing.
Beren was the son of Barahir, the last chief of the House of Bëor. After Barahir had saved the life of Finrod Felagund, lord of Nargothrond, during the fourth Battle of Beleriand, Finrod vowed to always come to the assistance of Barahir and his kin, and he gave him his ring as a token of that oath. The ring, subsequently known as The Ring of Barahir, became a heirloom to the surviving Bëorians. When Barahir and his companions, twelve of the last thirteen members of the House of Bëor alive, were in turn killed shortly thereafter, Beren — the only one of them to survive — avenged his father by killing the Orc who had slain Barahir, and he retrieved his father’s hand with the ring on it, which the Orc had taken it away.
Having had to leave his native but now Orc-infested Dorthonion and after wandering in the wilds for some time, Beren finally made his way to the Sindarin King Thingol’s court in Doriath, where he could not fail to meet Thingol’s daughter Lúthien Tinúviel — and it was mutual love at first sight. Thingol, having hoped for an Elven husband for his daughter instead of a mortal Man, flat-out told Beren that the price for his daughter’s hand was one Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown (in other words: “You’ll get her when hell freezes over”). But if he had hoped that this would make Beren back off, he soon saw that he was sorely mistaken, because not only did Beren take the challenge literally and accept it as if it were so much child’s play — even worse, Lúthien decided to set out and join him not long after he had departed.
Beren first traveled to Nargothrond, to claim Finrod Felagund’s assistance in fulfillment of the vow that Finrod had made to his father and confirmed with Barahir’s ring. However, together with their companions selected from Finrod’s Court, they were captured by Sauron near the river Sirion (the Great River of the First Age) and imprisoned in a fortress that Finrod himself had once built on an island in the river as a watchtower over the valley of the Sirion. Finrod had named the fortress Minas Tirith, “Tower of the Guard” — the same name as that given much later to the capital of Gondor –, but under Sauron it came to be known as Tol-in-Gaurhoth, “Isle of Werewolves”; and it was a werewolf, sent by Sauron to kill his captives one by one in order to coerce them into revealing their identities and purpose, that ended up killing Finrod, who by killing the werewolf in turn redeemed his vow and saved Beren’s life.
Lúthien meanwhile had had a run-in with two sons of Fëanor, Celegorm and Curufin, who had tried to abduct her and forcibly marry her to Celegorm, but she escaped, accompanied by Celegorm’s giant hound Huan, an erstwhile present from Oromë when the Ñoldor had still been living in Valinor. (Celegorm and Curufin, it turned out, had also been the ones to betray Beren and Finrod to Sauron.) Now Lúthien arrived at Tol-in-Gaurhoth, where she and Huan made short shrift of the werewolves, even driving Sauron himself to flee, after he had taken the shape of a huge werewolf, too. When Celegorm and Curufin reappeared, there was another skirmish, in which Beren was wounded but healed by Lúthien and Huan, who now turned against his former master once and for all. After a bit of back and forth over the question whether they’d continue the quest together or whether Beren would go on to Angband alone — which Huan, making use of his limited gift of speech, resolved by telling them that their fates were now entwined, so the issue didn’t actually even arise — they finally arrived at the gates of Angband, disguised as Sauron’s servants, the werewolf Draugluin and the vampire bat Thuringwetil. There Lúthien used the magic powers she had inherited from Melian to enchant Morgoth and his entire court by her singing and dancing until they fell into a deep sleep, and Beren managed to cut a Silmaril from Morgoth’s iron crown; his blade snapped, however, when he attempted to cut off a second Silmaril.
Beren and Lúthien had barely escaped from Morgoth’s throne room, when on their further way out of Angband they found their path barred by the hellhound Carcharoth, who was not even deterred by the Silmaril that Beren held up to him — he just bit off Beren’s hand, still clutching the stone. As in the Silmaril, however, was locked the light of the two Trees of Valinor, and the stones had been hallowed by Varda, the Silmaril burned so brightly that it scorched Carcharoth from inside, and he ran away, howling with pain and leaving a trail of destruction and terror behind him wherever he went. Beren and Luthien, meanwhile, were rescued by the Great Eagles and, after Lúthien had once more healed Beren, returned to Doriath, to report “mission accomplished” and tell Thingol that all he had to do in order to retrieve the Silmaril still held by Beren’s bitten-off hand was to catch and kill Carcharoth. So Huan was called upon to serve the lovers once more, but although he did kill Carcharoth when they had at last hunted down the hellhound, Morgoth’s creature also killed both Huan and Beren. This, in turn, caused Lúthien to wither away with grief. Yet, in the Halls of Waiting her song moved Mandos himself to grant both her and Beren a new lease of life (Lúthien now becoming mortal), after which they lived together on the island of Tol Galen in the river Adurant, the southernmost of the seven rivers of Ossiriand and its southern border, until they finally died of old age.
Meanwhile, at Thingol’s request, Dwarves had set the Silmaril into a magnificent necklace known as the Nauglamír, but a dispute arose between the Elven-king and the Dwarves over the ownership of, and payment for the work, as a result of which Thingol was killed and the Dwarves sacked Menegroth, the capital of Doriath. Beren’s final fight was his participation in the party that hunted down the Dwarves, in the course of which mission he acquired the Nauglamír and brought it to Lúthien. From her, it passed to their son at her death; but it was to remain unlucky for Beren and Lúthien’s descendants, as it caused two further Elven Kinslayings, initiated by the seven sons of Fëanor in pursuit of their oath to regain possession of the Silmaril for their own House as that of its original maker. Ultimately it would take the great heart of the Silmaril’s final keepers, Beren and Lúthien’s granddaughter Elwing and her husband, Eärendil the Mariner, as well as the intervention of the Valar, to rescue this Silmaril, the only one to survive the First Age, and determine its ultimate fate.
The Realms of the Ñoldor and the Sindar and their rulers (map by Sirielle)
Karen Wynn Fonstad: Menegroth, seat of the rulers of Doriath
An exchange elsewhere on this book and on The Children of Húrin, in lieu of a full-text review:
(Note: “It” in the initial question refers to Beren and Lúthien.)
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