Beren & Luthien: Kindergarten

Aiya, nildonyar…you are not abandoned! I have recently acquired a new job, and that has kept me rather busy and without a standard time frame to write these. I am working on rectifying that, I promise. In the meantime, today we will cover a whopping one (1) chapter in the Silmarillion, but it’s a Big and Important one. Some would argue that it is the defining story in the book, and certainly I think it’s probably the most readable in its original form, if you’re going to ever actually pick up the book and read it.

(pictureless for now, but I shall add them in later)

This story starts back in the last chapter with the Pinky-Swear of Eternal Friendship between the Elven king Finrod, and his Man-buddy Barahir. Finrod was cut off and surrounded when Morgoth unleashed the Volcano of Death, and Barahir saved him, at which point Finrod gave him his ring in recognition of his service.

Barahir returned home only to find that the orcs had been busy killing, looting, and otherwise making things unpleasant to be around, so he took eleven trusted friends into the wilderness and started a band of outlaws who killed orcs whenever they could. What laws Morgoth had actually set up for them to break and become outlaws…your guess is as good as mine. Eventually Sauron catches one of them, tortures him for information, finds their base, and kills them all. But Barahir’s son Beren was out hunting, so he escapes. He comes back, hunts down the party of orcs who killed his buddies, and reclaims his father’s ring from the bad men.

So Beren’s got nowhere to go now, and he wanders around lost and alone for awhile. Eventually he wanders into the enchanted forest of Doriath, where King Thingol (he who got lost in the woods on the way to Valinor) lives with his angel-wife Melian and super-cool daughter Luthien. Beren sees Luthien dancing in the forest at night, and is struck dumb by her beauty. They get along swimmingly, and continue to meet in secret, until an elf named Daeron sees them. Daeron used to be best friends with Luthien, only now he sees her running off to meet up with this strange Beren character, and he’s mad jealous. So he tattles on her to her dad, and Thingol has his guards trap Beren and drag him in for questioning.

Beren doesn’t so much handle the situation well, basically admits that he’s head over heels for Luthien, and that he’d do anything to get her back. Oh and also, see this ring I’ve got? It’s from my dad saving your favorite nephew, so you should treat me with some respect. Thingol’s not a happy elf — he’s one of those guys who thinks his daughter should stay home and be pretty and never ever get married. Ever. And also he decides that Beren didn’t treat him with Proper Respect or something, so he comes up with a clever (he thinks) plan : Beren can marry Luthien, if he brings Thingol a Silmaril. It’s not like that would be a hard task or anything, all he’s got to do is break into Morgoth’s fortress, go right up to Morgoth, take the crown off Morgoth’s head, and pry a Silmaril out — because Morgoth is so super possessive of his shinies that he always has them on his person and never lets them out of his sight. And being a god, also, he never sleeps. So that’s pretty much a death trap. Which is exactly what Thingol wants — he looks like he’s offering a “fair” deal, while really getting Beren killed, and then Luthien can stay home forever like he wants. Beren does not lack in the Awesome Recklessness category, so he’s all like, “Sure, no big, next time you see me I’ll have it in hand.” Melian is not thrilled, and warns her husband that the Silmarils are bad juju, and reminds him that they got a bunch of his close kin treacherously murdered by Feanor and his buddies back in Valinor, and that he’s dooming himself by getting involved with them. Thingol is too full of his Clever Plan to pay any attention, however.

Beren realizes that maybe he’s bitten off more than he can chew by himself, so he goes to his dad’s buddy Finrod and asks for help. Finrod is like, your dad saved my life, of course I come help. Problem : some of Feanor’s ilk are lurking about and they’re like, SILMARILS ARE OURS RAWR, and nobody else is allowed to touch them. That of course, does not mean that they’re actually going to get off their lazy bums and try to get them. Just to yell at anyone else trying to get them. Because we needed an illustration of just how worthless Feanor’s crew is, you know. Finrod uses some magic and makes himself and Beren look like orcs, and they try to fake like they’re bad guys. But Morgoth’s henchman Sauron catches them and tosses them in prison, where he has his werewolves come and eat their loyal companions one by one. And eventually they haul Finrod in front of Sauron, and they have a magic fight, which Sauron wins, because he’s Sauron. Alas, exit another king of the Elves. Not a safe career choice these days.

Meanwhile Luthien gets put under house arrest, because Thingol thinks she might try to go save Beren, and that’s not part of the Clever Plan. But she manages to escape anyway, and tracks Beren over to Finrod’s court. Feanor’s sons are all, Beren’s trying to get a Silmaril and we don’t approve, and you’re trying to save him, which we also don’t like, so we’re going to lock you up too. But their dog Huan doesn’t care for that, so he eventually helps Luthien escape AGAIN, and the two of them go off hunting for Beren.

They arrive at Sauron’s tower, and Huan kills all of the wolves guarding it, because it was foretold in Valinor that only the Mightiest Wolf Evar would kill him. Sauron figures, hey, I’m great, I’ll take the shape of a wolf and kill Huan. So he does, and they fight, and Huan beats the crap out of Sauron for his pride, because it turns out Sauron was not the Mightiest Wolf Evar. Luthien has a showdown with Sauron and says, gimme the gate key or my dog here’s gonna rip your throat out and kill you. So Sauron hands it over, Luthien frees Beren, and they go on their merry way. Huan goes back (temporarily) to his masters.

(There’s some other episodes in here which I am glossing over for simplicity. Look for more in the more detailed version!)

They eventually reach Morgoth’s lair, and Luthien sings a song that puts everyone to sleep…even Morgoth. And he falls off his throne to the ground, his crown rolls off and stops right in front of Beren, and he’s like, hey, that was easier than I thought. So he cuts a Silmaril out of the crown and they’re about to book it out of there when up comes : The Mightiest Wolf Evar. Beren shoves his hand in the wolf’s face, waving the Silmaril at him, because hey, evil things don’t like shinies, right? The wolf is not amused, and bites off Beren’s hand with the Silmaril still inside it. Oops.

So they run like crazy, make it back to Thingol, and Beren’s like, haha, I’m holding a Silmaril in my hand right now. Thingol’s like, yeah…whatev, I don’t see it. And Beren goes TADA and brings his stump around from behind his back. Thingol is not amused, but Melian rules that the bargain was fulfilled so he’s gotta let them get married.

It turns out that Beren wasn’t totally off the mark, and the Silmaril’s burning away inside the Mightiest Wolf Evar’s guts, and the burning drives him crazy, and he goes on a rampage of death and destruction. Thingol gets word of this, they go on a big hunt to get him, and Huan comes along. They corner the wolf, there’s a big fight, and Huan kills the wolf. The wolf kills Huan, like the prophecy said. They cut open the wolf, find the Silmaril still clutched in Beren’s remarkably preserved hand, and Thingol takes it to make a pretty necklace. Hint : flaunting your possession of a Silmaril when the sons of Feanor still don’t have any of them, not so much a great idea.

But in the meantime, Beren dies of wounds received in the big fight, and Luthien goes down to the halls of death to reclaim his spirit. She tries her old tactic, singing a song, but that doesn’t so much work. So she barters away her immortality to Mandos, the god of death, to bring him back, and they live happy lives together before eventually both dying of old age several years hence.

Why is this important? The most obvious is that it’s a foretelling of that later Elf/Man match, Arwen and Aragorn. It’s also a story that was near and dear to Tolkien’s heart — he had their joint tombstone engraved with Beren & Luthien’s names. On a sentimental note, then, I leave you with a quote from a letter Tolkien wrote to his son shortly after his wife died :

“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.”

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