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Grey Annals

Lúthien

Lúthien Tinúviel is a fictional character in the fantasy-world Middle-earth of the English author J. R. R. Tolkien. She appears in The Silmarillion, the epic poem The Lay of Leithian, The Lord of the Rings (although not directly) and the Grey Annals, as well as in other material.

Character overview

Lúthien was the only child of Elu Thingol, king of Doriath, and his queen, Melian the Maia. Lúthien's romance with the mortal man Beren is one of the greatest stories of the Elder Days and was considered the "chief" of the Silmarillion tales by Tolkien himself. Her character is revered even at the end of the Third Age and honoured still by the likes of Aragorn and various other peoples of Middle-earth. The legacy that Lúthien left behind can be most clearly seen throughout the later ages in those who stem from her ancestry, including the Royal Family of Númenor, being the line of Elros of which Arathorn and his son Aragorn were descended and Elrond Half-elven who was Lúthien's great-grand son. She is described as the Morning Star of the Elves, a term meaning that she was the most beautiful of all her people at the height of their glory, whilst Arwen is called Evenstar, the Evening Star of the Elves, meaning that in her the beauty of Lúthien Tinúviel and the great Elvish Princesses of old have appeared on Middle-earth for the final time, and will never again appear after her.

Etymology

The name Lúthien appears to mean "enchantress" in a Beleriandic dialect of Sindarin, but it can also be translated "blossom. However, the root for "blossom" is "loth" as in "Lothlórien", and "luth" is clearly given by Tolkien as the root for "enchantment", which casts some doubt on this alternate translation. Tinúviel was a name given to her by Beren. It literally means "daughter of the starry twilight", which signifies "nightingale".

Biography

Background Information

Lúthien is half-elven royalty through her father Elu Thingol and half-divine (of the race of the Valar) through her mother Melian the Maia. She was born in the year 4700 of the Years of the Trees according to the Grey Annals. But although this is given as her date of birth in the text, it is actually unknown exactly when she came into the world, meaning that this is an approximation. At her birth, the white flower niphredil is said to have bloomed for the first time in Doriath.

She fell in love with Beren, a Man of the House of Bëor. Their first meeting was in the forest of Neldoreth, which lay within the guarded realm of Doriath, hidden kingdom of Lúthien's father Elu Thingol and his Queen Melian. The kingdom was fenced by a barrier known as the Girdle of Melian which was formed by the power of Lúthien's Maia-mother and barred the entry of any save those granted access by the King and Queen. This meant that none except that privileged minority could find and even see the secret and hidden lands sheltered within. Their relationship was doomed from the beginning as Lúthien was not just the cherished only daughter of Thingol, the first and most powerful Elven-king in Beleriand, but also the daughter of a Maia, a powerful angelic being named Melian, who had existed since before time and creation itself. Beren on the other hand, was a mortal man on the run from the Dark Lord Morgoth and an outlaw, without father and exiled from the land of his kin. Whilst Lúthien had lived for thousands of years in the world already, Beren was young even by human standards.

The Meeting of Beren and Lúthien

Initially it was Beren who saw Lúthien dancing from afar under moonrise beside the Glades of Esgalduin in her father's forest. From the moment he saw her with his eyes he loved her, for she was the most beautiful of all Elves and Men, the fairest of all the Children of the World. Because of this he revealed himself in the shadows wishing to be near enough to Lúthien to touch her, but Daeron her companion, noticed Beren and believed him to be a wild animal. Thus he shouted for Lúthien to flee, but at first she stood there unmoving, as she had never experienced fear or pain in her life and was confused. Then she saw Beren's shadow and was disturbed, making her dash away quickly. But as she hid in the foliage Beren reached out and touched her arm. To this Lúthien ran away in shock, believing indeed it to be an animal stalking her in the woods. As a result he was unable to voice his love for her, since a chain was on his limbs and he was so enchanted by her loveliness. So instead he longed for her in his heart calling her Tinúviel an Elvish (Sindarin) name which means "Daughter of Twilight" signifying Nightingale and searched for her. Then after a period of watching her from afar, it happened that one day in summer when Lúthien was dancing on a green hill surrounded by hemlocks, she started singing and the sheer beauty of her voice awakened Beren from his enchantment. Then he ran to her out of the shadows and again she turned and tried to escape in fright but he called to her crying "Tinúviel" since he did not know any other name for her, and when Lúthien gazed upon him for the first time she reciprocated his love and was thus chained with his curse and burdens. He kissed her on the lips, but she slipped away from him and he fell into a deep sleep of grief and bliss. But in his hour of despair, when he was groping to see the light of her countenance once more, she appeared before him, and in the Hidden Kingdom set her hand in his and cradled his head against her breast. From then on they met secretly and conducted a clandestine relationship, and none before or after were as happy as they were, walking through the woods together hand-in-hand.

The Quest of the Silmaril

However this joy did not last. Daeron an elf and childhood friend of Lúthien who was her partner in music and dance, espied her meetings with Beren and reported this to her father. This wasn't out of spite, but because he also loved Lúthien but his love was not reciprocated sexually. Secondly he cared greatly for her, thinking that this mortal man would bring her into trouble, possibly even death. Furthermore it was forbidden in Doriath for any Elf to have contact with mortal Men, let alone the King's beloved daughter, and never before had mortal and immortal fallen in love. Thingol was determined not to let Beren marry his daughter, and set a seemingly impossible task as the bride price: Beren had to bring him one of the Silmarils from Morgoth's iron crown. He did not kill him outright since he had promised Lúthien that he would spare his life, and because of his renown. Beren left Menegroth immediately and Lúthien remained grieving.

The Vision and Imprisonment of Lúthien

Afterwards Lúthien had a vision in which she saw Beren lying suffering in the hellish pits of the Lord of Wolves, and horror weighed upon her heart. She sought the counsel of her mother who told her that Beren was indeed captive in the dungeons of Sauron, the Dark Lord's evil Regent. Because of this Lúthien decided that she must risk her life to save him, and face Sauron herself. She asked her friend Daeron for help, who thinking it was best for she whom he loved, betrayed her secret to Thingol. In angry love and fear the King had her locked in a prison up in the branches of the great beech tree of Doriath and had it patrolled by guards. Daeron was filled with remorse and so Lúthien forgave him. However she devised a plan to escape. Since her mother was a Maia (an angelic being) this conferred on Lúthien as half-Maia, great magical abilities. She grew her locks long and from them devised a spell that made her hair become a cloak that had the power of inducing sleep. With this she beguiled the guards and ran out of her prison.

Lúthien's Captivity and the defeat of Sauron

However en route to rescuing Beren she was found by Huan the Hound of Valinor, and taken to his master Celegorm and his brother Curufin. Celegorm became enamoured of her beauty and plotted to force her into marriage to himself. But he concealed his true motives and appeared to her as a friend, willing her to firstly follow the brothers to Nargothrond. She did so, but when she arrived they held her hostage and forbade her to talk to anyone save themselves. Celegorm wanted to gain family status with Thingol and Lúthien was the window through which he could grasp this golden opportunity, as well as being the prettiest woman in the world. But Huan took pity on her and decided to rebel against his master and free her. He was allowed to speak with words only three times ere he died, which was prophetically said to be by the "greatest wolf of all". Despite this he counselled her with words and together they escaped from Nargothrond.

They came to Sauron's Isle. Here Lúthien sang for Beren to hear. He answered her call, thinking that it was a figment of his imagination and in his grief at the loss of his friend sang in answer. Then Sauron hearing that Lúthien was there became filled with malice. He had heard of her beauty and wished to bring her prisoner to Morgoth his master as pretty toy to play with. So he sent wolf after wolf to slay Huan, but each time the hound killed them. Finally he sent his most powerful werewolf Draugluin, who Huan also defeated. After this Sauron decided to finish Huan off himself. Filled with confidence that he was the one that would finally kill the famed hound, he transformed himself into the most powerful werewolf ever born. In this form Huan wavered and leapt aside, but Lúthien remained to face him. Sauron lunged for her, but she lifted a fold of her enchanted cloak and struck him, making him become momentarily disoriented and Huan then attacked him. The two fought for long, but Huan eventually won despite Sauron changing into many different shapes and forms. Finally Lúthien commanded him to leave and to surrender the lordship of the Isle to her or have his body ruined and destroyed by the terror of the wrath of Huan. Sauron gave up the keys of the tower and changed into a hideous vampire, before he flew away into the night-sky, shamed and defeated.

Then Lúthien took control of the island and by her powers destroyed the Tower and freed the prisoners. Lúthien found Beren lying beside the dead body of Felagund and so thought him dead. She fell down into a state of grief, but then became reunited with Beren at the rising of the sun as he awakened and realized that his lover was there. They buried Finrod Felagund there on his Isle. Afterwards Huan returned to Celegorm his master but the lovers walked the woods once more in joy.

Of Celegorm, Curufin and the dance of Lúthien before Morgoth

But Beren became worried for Lúthien and pleaded with her to return to her father, since it was not fitting for an Elvish princess to live in the woods like a bandit of mortal men. Lúthien refused and confessed her undying love for Beren but just as they went to embrace the Sons of Fëanor, Celegorm and Curufin appeared. Lúthien's exploits had caused a stir in Nargothrond, in which the brothers were expelled. Because of this the brothers fought Beren who won and shamed them. Huan then forsook his master and fought on the side of Beren and Lúthien. Beren stole one of their horses and at the command of Lúthien spared their lives. However as they fled Curufin aimed a shot of his bow at Lúthien. Beren at this point jumped in front of the arrow and took the blow. Huan chased the brothers until they vanished and came back to aid Lúthien. By Lúthien's magic and love Beren was restored to life. As she slept he gave her into the care of Huan and journeyed to Angband.

When Lúthien awoke she was distraught and together she and Huan assumed the form of Thuringwethil, the vampire servant of Morgoth and Drauglin the Werewolf. She found Beren and gave him the hide of the great Werewolf. In the form of vampire (which Lúthien took) and werewolf they entered Angband. At the gates, however, Carcharoth the mightiest werewolf of all confronted them. However Lúthien suddenly became possessed by the ancient angelic power in her blood and forced him into a deep slumber. Together they reached the Throne of Morgoth and here the Dark Lord saw through Lúthien's disguise and stripped her of it. Lúthien then declared herself and offered to sing for Morgoth and filled with an evil lust for her he accepted. But when she began to sing Morgoth and his entire court fell into deep sleep. After this she sprang into the air and placed her cloak over Morgoth's eyes, shielding Beren and herself from him. She awoke Beren and after he had thrown away his disguise he cut a Silmaril from Morgoth's crown using Angrist. But Beren tried to get all three Silmarils, so he attempted to cut another one from the crown but his blade broke, and struck Morgoth's cheek and awakened him. At this Beren and Lúthien fled away, with the whole army of Morgoth's servants still slumbering. When they reached the gates Carcharoth attacked them. Beren wanting to protect weakening Lúthien thrust the Silmaril into the wolf's face to threaten him. The wolf then bit off Beren's entire hand and swallowed the Silmaril. In terror and pain he fled leaving Lúthien cradling a mortally wounded Beren in her arms, with the hosts of Angband on their heels. The Wolf's fangs were poisonous and so Lúthien sucked the venom out with her lips and with her failing power tried to restore him. But just when all hope seemed lost the Eagles of Manwë came and bore them up into the sky away from the angry hordes. They had come at the summons of Huan and they carried the two into the realm of Doriath and laid them on the ground.

The Return to Doriath and the death of Beren

Here Lúthien waited by Beren's side and healed him. Then together they entered Doriath and stood before the throne of Lúthien's father, who when he heard their story was amazed and thought Beren to be above all other mortal men. Because of this he allowed them to marry, and they did so before his throne that day. But at this time Carcharoth was ravaging all living beings on the borders of Doriath, in a crazed fit because of the burning jewel in his stomach. And so Beren, Thingol, Huan the Hound of Valinor, Mablung of the Heavyhand and Beleg Strongbow went out with other Elves to defeat the beast. In this Beren was assaulted by the wolf. Huan then leaped to his aid and killed the beast, but died soon after from mortal wounds, by his friend Beren's side. Then Beren was carried to Doriath where he died in Lúthien's arms, after she bidded him to await her by the great sea in the afterlife.

Lúthien becomes mortal for Beren

In grief, Lúthien lay down and died as well, going to the Halls of Mandos, a spiritual afterlife similar to purgatory and preceding one's eternal destination (Valinor if Elvish or beyond if mortal). There she sang a song of woe before the throne of Mandos Lord of the Dead, of the tribulations and suffering of both Elves and Men, the greatest ever sung, so touching that Mandos was moved to pity for the first and only time. As a result he summoned Beren from the houses of the dead and Lúthien's spirit met his once again by the shores of the sea, where the souls of men depart from the material world and never return, unlike Elves who are reincarnated in a body exactly like their own and live forever in a physical paradise until the end of the world. Because of this, she knew that this would be their final meeting, since Beren could not remain on the earth beyond his time and she was thus faced with the prospect of eternal widowhood. Mandos consulted with Manwë King of Arda, who presented Lúthien with the only choice possible in their unique situation: to live in Valmar in the immortal land of Valinor where she could forget all her grievances and have eternal happiness along with her people and the Gods (Valar) but without Beren since he was mortal and could not go there, or to return to the land of Middle-earth together with Beren as a mortal, with neither certainty of life or death, and to accept the Doom of Men and be bound by Beren's curse and chains. She chose to become mortal and to share the fate of Men since she loved Beren and could not bear an eternity of separation from him. In doing this she not only gave up her Elvish immortality, but her people, her homeland, her culture, her Royal home of Doriath and all its grace, her mother and father and everybody and everything that she held dear and had done so for millennia before Beren and the coming of Men. With this she accepted death as a mortal woman, and although it wasn't the fate of her race, she turned creation upside down for her love of Beren and relinquished everything for him and became a mortal woman.

Together in their new bodies they returned to Doriath and released the winter of Thingol, who had been in grieving ever since his daughter's death. But Melian could not look at first into her daughter's eyes, since she could see the doom of mortality written in them and she knew that Lúthien would be parted from her for ever and leave the material world behind with Beren, when the time came for her to die. Melian on the other hand would exist forever until the end of Arda, as Lúthien should have if she had not became mortal for her husband. By nature she was still Elven, and was so in everything except eternal life, meaning that her child would still have immortal blood through her.

Lúthien's life after she gives up her immortality until her death

After this, they dwelt together in Ossiriand the land of seven rivers as man and woman until after the sack of Menegroth. They had a son, Dior Half-elven, called Elúchil — the Heir of Thingol. Many years later an army of Dwarves marched through Doriath and murdered King Thingol, taking with them the Silmaril and Necklace of the Dwarves, known as the Nauglamír which Húrin the Steadfast had presented to the King before his death, for the safe-keeping of his deceased family, that was removed from the Ruin of Nargothrond. The Silmaril was however stolen by Beren once more and set in the Necklace of the Dwarves after they were defeated by him and his army of Green-elves and Ents, upon the remaining Dwarves' journey through that land. This was the only recorded event of the First Age in which the Ents actually took part. The Jewel (Silmaril) was given to Lúthien to wear around her neck, although it did not ease her pain to know that the Dwarves who had killed her father and forced her mother to abandon Middle-earth (leaving Doriath leaderless and open to attack from enemies) were dead. Nevertheless her beauty combined with the splendour of the gem and necklace was to make her home of Tol Galen the fairest land ever to have existed east of Valinor, outwith the immortal lands.

After her death the Nauglamír was delivered to her son Dior, which led to the ruin of Doriath. It is said that the Silmaril hastened Beren's and Lúthien's end since Lúthien's beauty with the Silmaril around her neck was too bright for mortal lands to bear. Whilst Lúthien wore the necklace no one dared assail her, but when Dior took it up the Sons of Fëanor, motivated by their unholy oath ransacked the kingdom of Doriath and slayed Dior and his wife Nimloth (otherwise known as the Lady Lindis).

Lúthien Tinúviel gave up her life along with her husband Beren at the age of 43,703 solar years old, in the fair, green land of Ossiriand where their son and grandchildren had been born. Accordingly the Elves never recovered from her death, since she alone of the Quendi (Elves) had left the world, meaning that they have lost she whom they treasured most, forever.

Elrond the Half-elven and Arwen Evenstar are descendants of Lúthien, as is Aragorn, a descendant of Elrond's brother. According to legend, her line will never be broken. Through the valiant efforts of Lúthien's granddaughter, Elwing, and her husband Eärendil, all of Lúthien's half-elven descendants may choose either an elven or mortal destiny. This choice seems to only apply to those who were previously counted among the ranks of elves, as the mortal descendants of Elros, who was himself a descendant of Lúthien, were not given this choice, which became a major source of contention. Amongst her elven descendants Elros and Arwen alone have chosen to give up their immortality and bear the fate of Men and they are now completely lost to the Elves, their souls having travelled beyond the confines of the world.

Earlier versions

In the various versions of The Tale of Tinúviel, Tolkien's earliest form of his tale, as published in The Book of Lost Tales, her original name is Tinúviel (Lúthien was invented later). Beren is, in this earlier version, an Elf (specifically a Noldo, or Gnome), and Sauron has not yet emerged. In his place, they face Tevildo, the Prince of Cats, a monstrous cat who is the principal enemy of the Valinorean hound Huan. However Tolkien initially created the character of Beren as a mortal man before this in an even earlier but erased version of the tale.

The story is also told in an epic poem in the The Lays of Beleriand, upon which most of the finer details of her life and relationship to Beren is extracted from in this article, since The Silmarillion provides only a generalization of the tale.

Inspirations

In a letter to his son Christopher, dated 11 July 1972, Tolkien requested the above inscription for Edith's grave "for she was (and knew she was) my Lúthien. In a footnote to his letter, Tolkien added "she knew the earliest form of the legend...also the poem eventually printed as Aragorn's song." The name may be derived from the Old English word Lufien, which means love. The tale of Beren and Lúthien also shares an element with folktales such as the Welsh Culhwch and Olwen and others — namely, the disapproving parent who sets a seemingly impossible task (or tasks) for the suitor, which is then fulfilled. In Tolkien's version the woman actually helps the suitor fulfil his task. The tale of Beren and Lúthien also might have symbolism that is related to Tolkien's devout Catholic faith. The figure of Lúthien has similarities to Jesus Christ, in that she becomes mortal and suffers for the sake of Beren. Christ in the same way was God (Immortal) and became a mortal man to save humankind. Therefore the love of Lúthien in giving up her immortality is like Jesus becoming mortal and dying for the sins of humanity. Although Tolkien hated allegory, the similarities are subtle and may reflect the author's Catholic mindset rather than deliberate symbolism.

The Tolkien grave

Edith and J.R.R. Tolkien lie in Wolvercote Cemetery (North Oxford). Their gravestone shows the association of Lúthien with Edith, and Tolkien himself with Beren. The stone reads:


References

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