O Beren, Beren, wherefore art thou Beren?
It’s a love story that transcends the physical world; a powerful narrative on the hopes and destinies of the two principal races in The Silmarillion.
The first of the three Great Tales from the First Age, ‘Of Beren and Lúthien’ highlights Tolkien’s mastery in balancing the vast and the epic, with the intricate and romantic.
Forget Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, or Dante’s Paolo e Francesca. The story of Beren and Lúthien may have been inspired by these older tales, but they are merely sketches that made way for the final masterpiece.
It’s impossible to summarise a chapter that runs over 20 pages and still do it justice. Therefore, I urge you to read through the book first (if you haven’t done so already) and then come back to these few meager lines that follow in this post …
Chapter 19 – Of Beren and Lúthien
Having escaped from the annihilation of his people at the hands of Morgoth, Beren wanders alone and distraught in the wilderness. Before long he stumbles into Doriath and beholds Lúthien, daughter of King Thingol and Melian, singing and dancing in the forest.
He is captivated by her beauty and as the two meet they fall in love with each other. As often happens when a seemingly “unpairable” couple meet, a parent or two will counsel against it. Beren, being the hero that he is, accepts Thingol’s challenge to enter Angband and reclaim a Silmaril in exchange for the hand of Lúthien.
The story progresses at a dynamic pace: constantly sifting between hope and despair at the obstacles confronted. Amongst other things, Finrod Felagund (Lord of Nargothrond) dies as a prisoner under Sauron, Lúthien assists Beren to escape, and both individuals transform into a wolf (Draugluin) and the vampire Thuringwëthil respectively, to proceed undetected to the gates of Angband. They are also assisted by Huan – the hound of Valinor – who renounces his loyalty to Celegorm (son of Fëanor) to safeguard the two lovers (he even defeats Sauron in wolf-shape).
At the gates of Angband, the massive shape of a wolf named Carcharoth (the Red Maw), stands guard. Lúthien puts a sleeping spell on the creature, allowing the couple to enter the impenetrable horror and darkness of Angband and reach the throne of Morgoth himself. The Dark Lord is amazed by Lúthien’s beauty and is soon under her spell as she begins to sing as song of unsurpassing power. The hosts of Morgoth also fall asleep and Beren is able to remove a Silmaril from the Dark Lord’s crown.
Beren Steals a Silmaril
Reaching the gates once more, they are challenged by Carcharoth who has now awakened from slumber. Beren, holding the shining Silmaril to ward off the creature, has his hand bitten off by the wolf – who flees in rage and pain as the Jewel burns his accursed flesh.
Lúthien and a wounded Beren managed to escape and return to Thingol. Meanwhile, Carcharoth’s rampage along the borders of Doriath continue and as the wolf approaches Menegroth, Beren – together with Huan, Thingol and his company – rides out to repel the threat.
A fight ensues between Carcharoth and Huan, whereby the Hound of Valinor slays Morgoth’s wolf but is in turn mortally wounded. Beren too faces death after having saved Thingol’s life.
The Silmaril is reclaimed from the belly of the creature, and while Beren is held in mighty praise, Lúthien’s grief is too much too bear and her spirit departs from her body over the sea towards Aman. There, in the Halls of Mandos, she pleads for Beren’s life.
Thus, doing what no other child of Ilúvatar ever did or would do, she moved the Valar to pity and both were sent back to dwell together in Middle-earth, upon condition that Lúthien renounce her immortality and die as all Men do.
For Lúthien wove two themes of words, of the sorrow of the Eldar and the grief of Men, of the Two Kindreds that were made by Ilúvatar to dwell in Arda, the Kingdom of Earth amid the innumerable stars. And as she knelt before him her tears fell upon his feet like rain upon stones; and Mandos was moved to pity, who never before was so moved, nor has been since.