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Thursday Quotables – Beren and Lúthien

But Thingol was wroth and he dismissed him in scorn, but did not slay him because he had sworn an oath to his daughter. But he desired nonetheless to send him to his death. And he thought in his heart of a quest that could not be achieved, and he said: If thou bring me a Silmaril from the crown of Morgoth, I will let Lúthien wed you, if she will. And Beren vowed to achieve this, and went from Doriath to Nargonthrond bearing the ring of Barahir. The quest of the Silmaril there aroused the oath from the sleep that the sons of Fëanor had sworn, and eveil began to grow from it. Felagund, though he knew the quest to be beyond his power, was willing to lend all his help to Beren, because of his own oath to Barahir. But Celegorm and Curufin dissuaded his people and roused up rebellion against him. And evil thoughts awoke in their hearts, and they thought to usurp the throne of Nargothrong, because they were sons of the eldest line. Rather than a Silmaril should be won and given to Thingol, they would ruin the power of Doriath and Nargothrond.

This is part of what’s only one of the few synopsis for the Silmarillion Tolkien wrote (Christopher Tolkien calls this particular one Quenta Noldorinwa), but it’s so absorbing and fascinating. That image of the oath awakening and feeding evil is something powerful. Gave me the chills when first I read it.

Up to when I stated to read Beren and Lúthien with my group of Tolkien readers, I had only read “finished” works by Tolkien. Even The Children of Húrin (another unfinished project), which we had read a couple of months before, had been presented by Christopher Tolkien in as complete a form as he could managed.
Beren and Lúthien is a different book. Tolkien did have the entire story in mind, he wrote it in synopsis and outlines, one always progressing on the previous. Still this material is insufficient to recreated a complete manuscript of the most advanced versions, as it was managed with The Children of Húrin. So what Christopher did was gathering everything he had, choosing the more complete and final version he could find – be it fragment, note, synopsis or outline – and bring them together following the plot of the story, connecting them with his own comments.
This was the very first time I had an opportunity to “see Tolkien at work” and I was bewitched.

Beren and Lúthien: an Evolution

Tolkien’s story of the Elder Days hinge on three Great Tales. Beren and Lúthien is one of them, the others being The Children of Húrin and The Fall of Gondolin. Later I learned from The Book of Lost Tales that Tolkien long debated whether to make Beren and Lúthien the first of the three or rather The Children of Húrin, though apparently both were already written at that time. He finally decided for Beren and Lúthien and never changed the sequence again.

Going up to him the door-cat Umuiyan spoke in his ear softly, saying, ‘A maiden awaits thy pleasure, my lord, who hath news of importance to deliver to thee, nor would she take my refusal.’ Then did Tevildo angrily lash his tale, half opening and eye – ‘What is it – be swift,’ said he, ‘for this is no hour to come desiring audience from Tevildo Prince of Cats.’

‘Nay, lord,’ said Tinúviel trembling, ‘be not angry; nor do I think that thou wilt when thou hearest, yet is the matter such that it were better not even whispered here where the breeze blow,’ and Tinúviel cast a glance as it were of apprehension toward the woods.

‘Nay, get thee gone,’ said Tiveldo, ‘thou smellest of dog, and what news of good came ever to a cat from a fairy that had had dealings with the dogs?’
‘Why, sir, that I smell of dog is no matter of wonder, for I have just escaped from one – and it is indeed of a certain very might dog whose name thou knowest that I would speak.’ Then up set Tiveldo and opened his eyes, and he looked all about him, and stretched three times, and at last bade the door-cat lead Tinúviel within; and Umuiyan caught her upon his back as before. Now was Tinúviel in the sorest dread, for having gained what she desired, a chance of entering Tiveldo’s stronghold and maybe of discovering whether Beren were there, she had no plan more, and knew not what would become of her – indeed had she been able she would have fled; yet now do those cats begin to ascend the terraces toward the castle, and one leap does Umuiyan make bearing Tinúviel upward, and then another, and at the third she stumbled so that Tinúviel cried out in fear, and Tevildo said: ‘What ails thee, Umuiyan, thou clamsy-foot? It is time that thou left my employ if age creeps on thee so swiftly.’

In this book Christopher also offers the oldest version of the story of Beren and Lúthien, The Tale of Tinúviel.
Although the main features are already there, the story sounds more like a fairy tale than the epic story it will become.
The entire episode of Tiveldo Prince of Cats will disappear to be replaced by the confrontation with one of Morgoth’s lieutenants, Thû, who will slowly turn – through years and revisions – into who we know as Sauron.

But what surprised me the most is the lack of the one idea that I’ve always associated with the story of Beren and Lúthien. In several of the earlier versions, Beren is an Elf as well as Lúthien.
I’ve always thought about Beren and Lúthien as an interracial love story. Beren is a mortal Man, Lúthien is an immortal Elf, still they fall in love and they choose to face their faith together, bringing their different weaknesses and strengths to the table. This is what makes their union so powerful. Because they are so different, they complete one another. It’s when they are together – or are trying to get together – that they are most powerful.
Christopher suspects that Beren was indeed created a Man and only afterward his father debated whether to have him a Man or an Elf. In this oldest complete version of the story, Beren is an Elf. He’s also clearly less powerful than Tinúviel, who’s most definitely the main character (as the title implies) and the mover of the story, when instead later there will be a great balance between the two characters.

"Beren and Lúthien by JRR Tolkien isn't just a love story. It is a celebration of the power of togetherness #JRRTolkien #Tolkien Share on X

The Lay of Leithian

‘Farewell now here, ye leaves of trees,
your music in the morning-breeze!
Farewell now blade and bloom and grass
that see the changing season pass;
ye waters murmuring over stone
and meres that silent stand alone!
Farewell now mountain, vale, and plain!
Farewell now wind and front and rain,
and mist and cloud, and heaven’s air;
ye star and moon so blinding-fair
that still shall look down from the sky
on the wide earth, though Beren die –
though Bere die not, and yet deep,
deep, whence comes of those that weep
no dreadful echo, lie and choke
in everlasting dark and smoke.
‘Farewell sweet earth and northern sky,
For ever blest, since here did lie,
and here with lissom limbs did run
beneath the moon, beneath the sun
Lúthien Tinúviel
more fair than mortal tongue can tell.
Though all to ruin fell the world,
and were dissolved and backward hurled
unmade into the old abyss, yet were its making good, for this –
the dawn, the dusk, the earth, the sea –
that Lúthien on a time should be!

As Tolkien started working to the Lay of Leithian – the story of Beren and Lúthien as he intended it to be – Beren had become a Man again.
In this form, Tolkien never went beyond the conquest of the Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown (roughly a third of the entire story) and boy do I regret it!
I’ve never been a poetry girl. In general, I don’t understand poetry, but maybe because this is also a story, I completely fell in love with the Lay of Leithian. The way Tolkien expresses it in verses is just a step beyond: The sound, the rhythm, the imagery, everything is so clear and strong, that it sucks you in, adding meaning to a story that is strong in its very core (the excerpt above is Beren’s farewell to all good things in life, when he decides to leave Lúthien behind and face Morgoth alone. More chills!).
Tolkien was of course very accustomed to poetry and epic stories in verses. That was not only his field of academic studies, but also his life-long passion. Only when I read these versions of his stories, I truly understood what he saw in this form of storytelling.

The Lay of Leithian

Canto I

Canto II

Canto III

Canto IV

Canto V

Canto VI

Canto VII

Canto VIII

Canto IX

Canto X

Canto XI

Canto XII

Canto XIII

Canto XIV

The Lay of Leithian Roccemmence

The Lay of Leithian Roccemmence

Beren and Lúthien and the power of togetherness

I’ve always understood that the strength of Beren and Lúthien’s story is their love, their willingness to give themselves to the other regardless of their differences and what their differences might mean in their life. Being together is worth it. Being together is the point. It is the strength to do what one alone would never achieve.
This is a message worth giving in itself, but as I read Tolkien’s works more at large, I realise this is only a part of a larger view of life.
Throughout all of the Silmarillion, there is a strong idea that what unite us makes us stronger. Being love or loyalty, friendship or family bonds, trust or camaraderie, being together, accepting the bond, and so in part accepting that we are not completely free and independent, makes us not weaker but stronger. It’s only through sharing (a goal, a vision, ideals, feelings and thoughts) that we may hope to go further. Sometimes a lot further than we ever thought we could do.
This is how Beren, a mere mortal Man, could face Morgoth and win a Silmaril from his very crown. This is where Lúthien found the strength to make her ultimate choice.
Beren and Lúthien is the story where this message shines brighter.

Tolkien explored the reverse idea in The Children of Húrin. What happens when these bonds are shattered? When one has to face their faith alone, when loyalty and trust are in short supply and when bonds of friendship and family are broken or severed?
That’s another powerful story.

Beren and Lúthien

Notes on the Elder Days

Beren and Lúthien

The Tale of Tinúviel (Part I)

The Tale of Tinúviel (Part II)

The Lay of Leithian
Gorlim

The Lay of Leithian
The Magic Fight Between Felagund and Thû

The Lay of Leithian
Death of Felagund

Lay of Leithian
Celegorm

The Lay of Leithian
The Bat and the Wolf

The Lay of Leithian
Lúthien’s Magic Dance and the Silmaril

Appendix
The Revison of the Lay of Leithian



READ MY ARTICLES ABOUT TOLKIEN ON MY MEDIUM PUBLICATION


DISCLAMER:  Of course, none of these images belongs to me. I’ve only collected them in order to share my feelings about the story, but every image belongs to its own creator.

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In post is part of the Thursday Quotables meme. If you want to discover more about this meme and maybe take part in it, head over to Bookshelf Fantasies


5 Comments

  • Margot Kinberg
    Posted August 2, 2018 at 19:37

    I’ve always admired the way Tolkien was able to weave those larger messages into his work, but at the same time, tell a story that people really want to read. His work is allegorical at times, I think, but it never feels like preaching, if that makes sense.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted August 3, 2018 at 11:31

      He was a master storyteller and an author that sure had a lot to say. I have very seldom read an author whose work is so layerd and dense with meanings, and still so compelling and involving. So human.
      Fine, fine, end of my fan-girling for today ;-P

  • Brian
    Posted August 3, 2018 at 08:37

    Thanks for the post. I’m in the middle of the book and love it. Also, I like the artwork on this page, but what’s with the pointed ears?

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted August 3, 2018 at 11:35

      Thanks for stopping by, Brian. I’m happy you liked the post.
      I feel like, whatever the subject, I always say that’s my favourite thing by Tolkien (errr….), but truly Beren and Luthien is among my very favourite stories of him. So powerful and so hopeful.

      LOL! Well, in creating the collections of pics, I’ve often gone for the mood rather than the philological rendition 🙂

  • Teagan R Geneviene
    Posted August 5, 2018 at 15:40

    This is fascinating, Sarah. It’s been ages since I’ve read Tolkein. I was ready to say that I had not read any of his “non-finished” work… but this seems familiar. Marvelous post. Have a lovely Sunday. Hugs.

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