Mablung and Beleg present themselves to Fingon to fight in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. Things get awkward.
So, this is a week late, but I thought I would post it anyway. Since the alternate title for “Of Beren and Luthien” is “Release from Bondage,” I decided to enumerate all the incidences I remember in the story of characters escaping (death, imprisonment, the circles of the world, etc.) and do a teensy analysis on each one, because I am a dorky English major and librarian and thus like making lists like these.
Everyone always talks about Finrod Felagund’s duel with Sauron, but the one I would love to see animated is Luthien and Huan kicking Sauron’s butt out of his tower and all the way to Mordor. ^.^
I love how insanely powerful Luthien is, and how Sauron’s initial glee and arrogance at what he believes are easy pickings suddenly turn to dismay and desperation as Luthien wipes the floor with him.
In a perfect Discworld/Silmarillion crossover, Angband’s super mega burocratic cause that’s what Hell’s like in Discworld, and orcs basically wage war while sitting behind little moving desks, asking you to fill forms and telling you to make a line in floor 23b and sending you across arda to get a specific stamp on that sword because that thing does not fit the current regulation, y’know?
The entire Nirnaeth was one particularly horrible committee meeting.
One of my favorite love poems ever. Even if the universe ends and everything was for naught, because you lived it was all worth it.
Reminds me of the Nietzsche quote: “What else is love but understanding and rejoicing in the fact that another person lives, acts, and experiences otherwise than we do …?”
Even more powerful since it was probably also a poem for Edith Tolkien. :)
As The Lord of the Rings sweeps the BBC’s Big Read, Christopher Hart reviews Tolkien and the Great War, a study that seeks to explain Tolkien’s motivation in writing “the only fantasy novel worth reading…a 20th-century epic about loss”.
This is an older article from 2003, but I find it particularly heartbreaking. “By 1918,” Tolkien says, “all but one of my best friends were dead.” It’s no secret that much of Tolkien’s literature is about loss, but the story of Beren and Luthien, although a story of loss from the elven point of view, is ultimately a break from the relentless tragedy of the Noldorin war against Morgoth, a war that reflected his own life’s story.
Tolkien’s friend Rob Gilson died at the Battle of the Somme. GB Smith, Tolkien’s greatest admirer, died of gas gangrene after a seemingly inconsequential wound. As more of Tolkien’s friends fell to the horrors of war, he found himself returning to a home overshadowed by the ghosts of family and friends, now the only bearer of their legacy.
In his book The Great War: The Threshold of Middle-Earth (which I now very much want to read), critic John Garth examines how Tolkien’s World War I experiences affected his writings. As for me, I think that the loss and sense of responsibility Tolkien inherited infused his work with a deeply personal sense of tragedy that only enhances its beauty and effectiveness as art.
Take Beren. He’s the sole survivor of horrific and dismayingly fruitless conflict. Beren’s entire community is either enslaved or killed in the war against Morgoth’s forces, forcing him into a cruel crucible of a journey which leaves him bent and aged (perhaps much like Tolkien’s wartime illness). Its not until he meets Luthien that the burden of tragedy is lifted from him and he regains his lost youth and purpose.
And a second time, Beren survives the horrific experience of Finrod and company’s death in Sauron’s tower, after which he is left in a despairing stupor, from which Luthien again awakens him, and Beren finds healing - and inspiration - in her presence.
In the article, Garth’s research suggests that in childhood, Tolkien and his friends had unfortunate (albeit normal for the time period) chauvinistic views in their boyhood, discrediting the importance and even the necessity of women in intelligent society. However, the story of Beren and Luthien seems to suggest somewhat of a turnaround in this opinion.
Luthien is not saved from her tower. In fact, Luthien is the powerhouse of the story, and saves Beren from his tower instead. It’s Luthien who travels to the underworld to save Beren and free them from the doom of separate fates. It’s Luthien whose power keeps both her and Beren safe on their journey and in their ethereal second life on Tol Galen.
I don’t want to suggest that the love of Tolkien’s wife Edith (who seems woefully under-discussed in most Tolkien biographies I’ve read) single-handedly healed the wounds of World War I or that the inspiration Tolkien received from her now-famous dance in the hemlock is solely responsible for this incredible story. I don’t even want to suggest Edith’s influence on Tolkien’s life is responsible for his changing views, since I haven’t done enough research to even guess. However, Tolkien’s love for Edith makes the narrative resonate with powerful emotion and human stakes.
I do think the greatest poignancy of Beren and Luthien’s story is that Tolkien finds hope, love, and beauty in the face of horrific violence and shattering grief. Knowing Tolkien’s personal story here only increases the power of this - my favorite tale in the Silmarillion - even more.