Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of Beren and Lúthien
“Among the tales of sorrow and of ruin that come down to us from the darkness of those days there are yet some in which amid weeping there is joy and under the shadow of death light that endures. And of these histories most fair still in the ears of the Elves is the tale of Beren and Lúthien. Of their lives was made the Lay of Leithian, Release of Bondage, which is the longest save one of the songs concerning the world of old; but here the tale is told in fewer words and without song.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we begin the epic tale of Beren and Lúthien by witnessing Beren’s beginnings and growth into the epic warrior he was to become.
The quote above begins the chapter, and we quickly learn of the Outlaws of Dorthonian led by Barahir, Beren’s father. These were the last twelve human men living in Dorthonian because “Barahir would not forsake” it. Pursued by Morgoth, these men hid in the moors of the highlands of that region at a lake named “Tarn Aeluin.”
“The waters of Tarn Aeluin were held in reverence, for they were clear and blue by day and by night were a mirror for the stars; and it was said that Melian herself had hallowed that water in days of old.“
These Men lived in peace for several years until one of the Outlaws, Gorlim, came home from a battle and “found his house plundered and forsaken, and his wife gone; whether slain or taken he knew not.”
Despite plundering this house, the Outlaws remained hidden and were a thorn in Morgoth’s side, so he “commanded Sauron to find them and destroy them.“
Sauron learned of Gorlim’s loss and, with his sorcery, set an illusion of Gorlim’s wife in the house. Then, when he came back from ranging, he saw her image in the place, “and her face was worn with grief and hunger, and it seemed to him that he heard her lamenting that he had forsaken her.”
Sauron’s trap had worked. Agents of Sauron captured Gorlim and “tormented him, seeking to learn the hidings of Barahir and all his ways. But nothing would Gorlim tell.”
The torment continued until Sauron finally offered Gorlim’s wife back to him. “Then Sauron laughed; and he mocked Gorlim, and revealed to him that he had seen only a phantom devised by wizardry to entrap him; for Eilinel (Gorlim’s wife) was dead.“
But he still promised to bring her back, and “In this way the hiding of Barahir was revealed.”
Morgoth’s agents descended on the troop and brutally slaughtered them. Fortunately, Beren, son of Barahir, was off-ranging when the devastation happened.
Beren returned after having a prophetic dream, telling of his father’s murder, but he was too late. He saw his fellow Outlaws dead next to the Tarn Aeluin. “There Beren buried his father’s bones, and raised a cairn of boulders above him, and swore upon it an oath of vengeance.”
Beren tracked the Orc party to their camp “at Rivil’s Well above the Fen of Serech.“
“There their captain made boast of his deeds, and he held up the hand of Barahir that he had cut off as a token for Sauron that their mission was fulfilled; and the ring of Felegund was on that hand. Then Beren sprang from behind a rock, and slew the captain, and taking the hand and the ring he escaped.“
For four years, Beren wandered Dorthonian as a “solitary outlaw.” Finally, he became one with the land, and “he became the friend of birds and beasts, and they aided him… and from that time forth he ate no flesh nor slew any living thing that was not in the service of Morgoth.”
Beren “did not fear death, but only captivity, and being bold and desperate he escaped both death and bonds; and the deeds of lonely daring he acheived were noised abroad throughout Beleriand, and the tale of them came even into Doriath.”
His deeds became so legendary that Orcs would flee instead of standing up against him if he were near. Finally, Morgoth became distraught that a man was causing such havoc in a land he was supposed to be in control of, so he ordered Sauron to flood the land with his armies to flush Beren out. “Sauron brought werewolves, fell beasts inhabited by dreadful spirits that he had imprisoned in their bodies.”
Dorthonian “was now become filled with evil, and all clean things were departed from it.” Sauron’s plan to find him didn’t work, but the land had become so overrun that Beren fled south, “There it was put into his heart that he would go down into the Hidden Kingdom” of Doriath.
“Terrible was his southward journey” through Ered Gorgoroth, where so many others had perished in that land “where the sorcery of Sauron and the power of Melian came together.“
Beren was known for many great deeds during his lifetime, and “that journey is not accounted least among the great deeds… but he spoke of it to no one after, lest the horror return to his mind.” That region is one of horror in Beleriand, save only for Angband itself. “There spiders of the fell race of Ungoliant abode, spinning their unseen webs in which all living things were snared; and monsters wandered there that were born in the long dark before the sun, hunting silently with many eyes.”
Imagine wandering through a land filled with creatures like Shelob from Return of the King and other creatures whose sole purpose was to destroy all that came from the light. This evil land survived independently from Morgoth because Ungoliant was the only creature Morgoth truly feared, yet Beren, with all his might,uuj]1 made his way through unscathed.
He finally “passed through the mazes that Melian wove about the kingdom of Thingol… grey and bowed as with many years of woe.”
But it was there in the forests of Doriath his journey was complete because “wandering in the summer in the woods of Neldoreth he came upon Lúthien, daughter of Thingol and Melian, at a time of evening under moonrise.“
The two star-crossed lovers have finally met. Join me next week as we discover how they last through a disapproving father and a curse that will come to doom Doriath.
The Lord of the Rings; The Two Towers, The Extended Edition
“If Aragorn survives this war, you will still be parted. If Sauron is defeated and Aragorn made king and all that you hope for comes true you will still have to taste the bitterness of mortality. Whether by the sword or the slow decay of time, Aragorn will die. And there will be no comfort for you, no comfort to ease the pain of his passing. He will come to death an image of the splendor of the kings of Men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world. But you, my daughter, you will linger on in darkness and in doubt as nightfall in winter that comes without a star. Here you will dwell bound to your grief under the fading trees until all the world is changed and the long years of your life are utterly spent.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we dive back into the movies and search for connections and clarifications to the second movie, “The Two Towers,” while trying to understand the motivations and plot developments in the film.
Long do the lives of the Valar echo through the mortal world. There are small scenes throughout this movie I had never caught before knowing about The Silmarillion and the events of the First Age, but after viewing them, you see how well Peter Jackson and crew dealt with the script of this series.
I’d first like to touch on the Elvenkind before going any deeper. While reading these books years ago and then later watching the movies, I always thought that Elves were higher beings. Beings able to see the future and were wise beyond their mortal coil. I thought they were so aloof because they had sight beyond and could see and form events before they happened. For example, I thought they knew how the war had to end, so they acted accordingly.
After reading the Silmarillion, I see that they are petty, selfish, and have a conflated ego. That sounds a little harsher than I mean it to because their actions come from love and fear; but they stayed, locked away in their respective lands (reminiscent of The Girdle of Melian) and let others fight battles that should have been shared.
A great example of this is the opening quote. It is a scene with Elrond and Arwen, where Elrond is giving Arwen a speech about how she needs to leave Aragorn behind and head off to Valinor. Elrond tells her that the only thing she will find in Middle-earth is death because she will outlive Aragorn and be alone. But, again, it is a father’s speech, a speech that comes from love, however misguided it is, and it’s only Arwen’s ultimate decision that makes Elrond make the right call.
Elrond even convinces Aragorn to talk with Arwen about leaving. Elrond knows that the quest for the ring doesn’t have good odds and that Arwen deserves to be with her people in the Gray Havens. Aragorn tells Arwen they are fools, and “what were they thinking?”
But there is a precedent for their actions. We will soon see Beren and Lúthien in an upcoming chapter of The Silmarillion, and while I don’t know their story, I know Beren was a Human warrior, and Lúthien was Thingol’s daughter (the daughter of the Maiar Melian of Girdle fame, and Thingol was a Sindar King holed up in Doriath). I’m excited to see if Aragorn and Arwen’s story echoes Beren and Lúthien. Those star-crossed lovers of the first age are mentioned in this context in the movies as well, though so fleetingly, you may miss it. Ultimately (for lack of a better phrase) reading the Silmarillion humanized elvenkind for me. They are just like humans, with all their flaws, and jealousies, and fears; they only have centuries more wisdom to rely on.
Speaking of Aragorn, there is the scene where they are fighting with the Wargs on the way to Helm’s Deep, where Aragorn falls over the cliff into the river and is thought dead. This scene was the biggest “ah ha” moment because while watching this in the Theater (and in subsequent viewings), I always thought it was a bit too convenient that Aragorn washes to shore, revived. What I didn’t notice (and now that I think about it, it might only be in the extended edition) was Arwen praying in the background (half in scene and half in voice over). Then, she calls the Valar and asks for them to help Aragorn. The Valar who has Men and Eldar’s greatest love is Ulmo, the Valar of water. There is no coincidence that Aragorn was injured and revived from the river. Ulmo healed him or brought him back from the dead because of his importance in the Battle against Morgoth’s Maiar General Sauron.
Speaking of Maiar, we have Gandalf and Sarumon and their dichotomous leanings. Gandalf was raised from the gray level to the white level (I’m still not sure what that truly means) because he was above the corruption of Sauron and the Palantir, which sullies Sarumon’s mind. The White Wizard of Orthanc turned to the ultimate evil…industry. He tears down the forest of Fangorn to fuel his war machine, which Tolkien believed was the ultimate evil. Tolkien believed in his mythology, whose genesis takes place in The Silmarillion. He believed that nature and music were tied together in their beauty and power and that those two things together were what made the world pure.
This concept directly corresponds to the Ents, created by the Valar Yavanna, whose music created the beauty of nature. The battle of the Ents against Orthanc is Tolkien’s way of showing that heart will always win over the industry. We can see this in real life (which was his inspiration) of destroyed battlegrounds, which recover and become lush green lands with little remnants of the horror that had once taken place there.
I’m sure there was much more I missed, but if I had any recommendation, it’s to read the Silmarillion (or at least read this blog!) because the movies have far more depth with the foreknowledge of what had already transpired.
Join me next week as we dive back into the Silmarillion and see the consequences of the Fourth Major Battle of Beleriand!
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