Dear Romeo and Juliet: You don’t have anything on Beren and Lúthien. J.R.R. Tolkien wins this round, Shakespeare! We’ve encountered stories of love in The Silmarillion but nothing quite like this sweeping tale. I’m glad we only focused on a single chapter for this installment of Nerdist Book Club because oh-my-stars, there’s so much to discuss. Let’s dive in.
Chapter 19 – Of Beren and Lúthien
The chapter opens with tragedy. It’s not an unfamiliar theme in the book. So many people warned me about The Silmarillion being a dry and boring history tome, but aside from a couple of chapters, I’ve found it to be quite emotional – not like any of the flat text books I had to read in high school or college. In just a couple of pages, I encountered Gorlim (if we’ve met him before, I don’t remember it), learned that he lost his wife, and saw him tortured and killed. It takes place quickly but managed to hit me in the gut, and Tolkien is talented at making you feel invested in characters in a short period of time.
Events with Gorlim and Barahir served to put Barahir’s son, Beren, on a Batman-like path of vengeance. After slaying Orcs and anything Sauron threw at him (and becoming a vegetarian!), Beren set out for Doriath and there encountered Lúthien. He fell in love instantly, and she came to love him as well. You can imagine how King Thingol the Grumpy reacted when he found out. For Lúthien’s hand, he demands that Beren bring him a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown. He does get points for adding “if she will” in regards to Lúthien giving her hand.
It took me a second to realize why his words stirred the curse of Mandos and wrought the doom of Doriath, and it’s best explained a little later in the chapter when Beren speaks with Felagund. The curse is such that when the gems are named in association with desire that it moves the power from slumber and the sons of Fëanor can’t resist going after those questing for the Silmaril. Felagund is torn but knows Celegorm and Curufin’s hearts and minds aren’t their own anymore and goes with Beren to Angband.
Fate of Beren and Lúthien by Jian Guo
The group doesn’t make it because Sauron traps and kills most of them. Luckily, Lúthien isn’t the kind of damsel who sits around waiting for her knight to return with a prize. She takes charge, escapes the tower/tree house Thingol imprisons her in, and goes after Beren. Like a badass. Along the way, she meets Huan, the chief of wolfhounds. He’s like a direwolf from A Song of Ice and Fire but cooler.
In broad strokes, Huan betrays his master (one of Fëanor’s sons) and helps Lúthien get to Beren and Felagund. Only Beren is alive when she arrives, and to get him out, Lúthien (with the help of Huan) sends Sauron running to the hills. Again, like a badass. Despite arguments and attempts to leave Lúthien behind for her safety, Beren eventually listens to her and she travels with him to Angband to face Morgoth.
And what a showdown! Lúthien stands up to Morgoth and enchants him, and Beren cuts a Silmaril from his crown with Angrist. Three cheers for teamwork! Stealing the Silmaril felt surprisingly easy to me, but that’s only because it wasn’t over. Carcharoth the werewolf wouldn’t let them past the gate and out of Angband, and he chomped Beren’s Silmaril-grasping hand right off. Hands are not safe in Beleriand.
Their quest completed, Thingol finally accepted the union (about time). It wasn’t over yet though as they still had to remove the Silmaril from Carcharoth’s gut. Beren died in the act, and in the final part of the story of Beren and Lúthien, Mandos gets permission to resurrect Beren and make Lúthien a mortal so they can live together in Middle-earth. Mandos was moved by Lúthien’s song and given the importance of music in this world, that was probably the only way to move the Valar.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go weep.
Beren and Lúthien flee Angband by Pete Amachree
Relevance to The Hobbit and/or Lord of the Rings
Though the story was all about Beren and Lúthien, there are a couple of threads to later Middle-earth stories. Their love obviously parallels Aragorn and Arwen to a degree; the latter couple didn’t have adventure on quite the same level but Aragorn sort of did have to complete a quest in order for Elrond to approve. Angrist was also broken against Morgoth’s crown as was Narsil when used against Sauron. Narsil was made by the same Dwarf who made Angrist – Telchar.
We met Draugluin, the first werewolf in this world, and it’s possible that the Wargs we know in the Third Age are descended from his line.
Let me know if I missed any references.
“Among the tales of sorrow and of ruin that came 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.”
“Blue was her raiment as the unclouded heaven, but her eyes were grey as the starlit evening; her mantle was sewn with golden flowers, but her hair was dark as the shadows of twilight. As the light upon the leaves of trees, as the voice of clear waters, as the stars above the mists of the world, such was her glory and her loveliness; and in her face was a shining light.”
“‘Death you have earned with these words; and death you should find suddenly, had I not sworn an oath in haste; of which I repent, baseborn mortal, who in the realm of Morgoth has learnt to creep in secret as his spies and thralls.'”
– Why is the Rapunzel story incorporated into Lúthien’s escape?
– While I’m glad the Valar allowed Beren and Lúthien to be together, was it fair that they received a second chance?
– If Melian was in charge of Doriath instead of Thingol, would things have gone differently or was the land doomed regardless?
Lúthien and Huan by Toni-Marie Hudson
The Silmarillion Club on DeviantArt
A cute cartoon about Silmarils by LittleFormosa
Beren and Lúthien search on DeviantArt because there’s so much wonderful, heartbreaking, and happy fan art
I only included a few discussion questions this time because I want to hear your reaction to the adventure and love and feelings present in Chapter 19. Anyone else feel like the tale of Beren and Lúthien could be its own film (one film, Peter Jackson, not three of them)? Head to the comments and share your thoughts! Feel free to tweet me and use the #NerdistBookClub hashtag.
Come back for Part 9 next Tuesday, September 2, at 10:30am PST. We’ll be going over Chapter 20 of The Silmarillion.
Top image: Lúthien Tinúviel by Alvaro Obregon