Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of Beren and Lúthien, pt. 2
“My fate, O King, led me hither, through perils such as few even of the Elves would dare. And here I have found what I sought not indeed, but finding I would possess for ever. For it is above all gold and silver, and beyond all jewels. Neither rock, nor steel, nor the fires of Morgoth, nor all the powers of the Elf-kingdoms, shall keep from me the treasure that I desire. For Lúthien your daughter is the fairest of all the Children of the World.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we continue the tale of the star-crossed lovers while deconstructing themes of selfishness and fear in Elvishkind, which we’ve mentioned before.
Last week we learned of Beren’s beginnings and his fight to exit Dorthonian and head south to Doriath. The path was dangerous, and by the time he made it to Doriath, he was “grey and bowed as with many years of woe, so great had been the torment on the road.” But it was there in the forests he espied “Lúthien… the most beautiful of all the Children of Ilúvatar.”
She was dancing and singing in the woods in a beautiful voice “he called her Tinúviel, that signifies Nightingale,” and upon viewing her and listening to her song, “all memory of his pain departed from him.“
He was instantly in love with her light and beauty, and he followed her dumbfounded, trying to speak but muted by her brilliance. When he was finally able to talk, Beren approached Lúthien, and Tolkien gives us a curious passage: “But as she looked on him, doom fell upon her, and she loved him.“
We will see soon that though this is Tolkien’s heart of The Silmarillion, Beren and Lúthien’s love signifies the end of Elvish rule in Beleriand. Morgoth is merely a means to an end, but the Hubris of the Elves marks their destruction. Whether it be Fëanor and his firey drive to kill Morgoth, Turgon’s desire to forsake others for his own people’s safety, or Thingol’s parental urge to “know” what is suitable for his daughter, these are the traits that brought the Elves down, not Morgoth.
Lúthien hid her love for Beren for a while, just as she hid him in the forest. She knew her love for a human was wrong, but she couldn’t help herself because “no others of the Children of Ilúvatar have had joy so great, though the time was brief.”
But there was a danger because “Daeron the minstrel also loved Lúthien, and he espied her meetings with Beren and betrayed them to Thingol.”
Thingol was beyond angry, but it was because of his Hubris as an Elf and fear as a father. He declared Beren a thief and a scoundrel, though reading it closely, one can tell that he can’t believe a man was able to do what no other being could – traverse the Girdle of Melian and enter the lands. He was also terrified of this man taking his daughter and what kind of dangerous life she would have with him because his pride could not allow Beren to remain in Doriath.
Lúthien speaks to Beren’s defense before Thingol tells her, “Let Beren speak!” Beren’s response is the quote that opens this essay.
Thingol still tries to find a way around his predicament. Finally, he accuses Beren of being a thrall or a spy of Morgoth, to which Beren responds:
“By the ring of Felagund, that he gave to Barahir my father on the battlefield of the North, my house has not earned such names from any Elf, be he king or no.“
He shows the Ring of Felagund, which we will see in the Third age, on the hand of Aragorn. Viewing this Ring and hearing his wife Melian’s caution, Thingol devised a plan. He tells Beren that if he wants his daughter’s hand in marriage, he would, “Bring to me in your hand a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown.”
Then, “he wrought the doom of Doriath and was ensnared within the curse of Mandos.” Because of his fear, he gave Beren an impossible task, bringing Doriath into the larger world. If Beren failed, Thingol would lose his daughter because of the knowledge of condemning Beren to an impossible task. If he succeeded, having a Silmaril would bring down the wrath of both the Noldor and the Valar. Thingol sealed his fate.
Beren, of course, accepts the mission. The young warrior heads north out of Doriath towards the wastes of Taur-Nu-Fuin, what was once Dorthonian – what was once his home. As he traveled, Beren realized he was spied upon, so he shouted to the hidden warriors and showed the Ring of Felagund; “Thus Beren came before King Finrod Felagund.”
He told the King what had befallen his father, and he said of his adventures, finally revealing to the King his quest to secure a Silmaril for Thingol so that he may be with his love. Finrod tells him:
“It is plain that Thingol desires your death; but it seems that his doom goes beyond his purpose, and that the Oath of Fëanor is again at work. For the Silmarils are cursed with an oath of hatred, and he that even names them in desire moves a great power from slumber; and the sons of Fëanor would lay all the Elf-kingdoms in ruin rather than suffer any other than themselves to win or possess a Silmaril, for the Oath drives them.”
Beren’s appearance came after the time of the Battle of Sudden Flame, when Curufin and Celegorm had fled to Nargothrond with them. The curse of Fëanor was strong, and the Hubris of the Noldor was even more potent. The sons of Fëanor would take their desire to gain the Silmarils to any extent, and Finrod knows this.
“And after Celegorm Curufin spoke, more softly but with no less power, conjuring in the minds of the Elves a vision of war and the ruin of Nargothrond. So great a fear did he set in thier hearts that never after until the time of Túrin would any Elf of that realm go into open battle; but with stealth and ambush, with wizardry and venomed dart, they pursued all strangers, forgetting the bonds of kinship.“
Much like we have seen in the Third Age, the Silmarils call out to the Noldor as the One Ring does. But unfortunately, their power corrupts absolutely, and their meaning has blinded the Noldor to bring about their demise.
Curufin and Celegorm, knowing they are the next in line to be King if Finrod falls in battle, encourage him to go and help Beren steal a Silmaril from Morgoth, “whatever betide.“
Join me next week as we continue Beren’s quest for the Silmaril and Lúthien’s hand in marriage!