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Last week, Beren and Luthien showed what they were made of as they stole one of the Silmarils. Of course, everything didn’t quite end up according to plan, leading to the climax of their story (which we’ll finally reach today).
Quenta Silmarillion: Chapter 19 part 6
After taking one of the Silmarils and losing it (and Beren’s hand) to Carcharoth (Wolf of Angband), Beren heals under Luthien’s care and they spend quite a while living out in the forest. All they really want is to be with each other anyways, so Luthien doesn’t care that she’s completely abandoned the palace she used to call home to live in the forest like a hunter. However, Beren doesn’t feel so great about it. He did make a promise to King Thingol (Luthien’s father), and it only seems right to face him, even if he’s sure that Thingol won’t be so happy to see him.
What Beren doesn’t know is that Thingol and Melian (Luthien’s mother) aren’t the only ones back in Doriath who miss Luthien. The whole kingdom has fallen under a melancholy shadow. Since she left, Thingol had been listening to rumors of Luthien’s whereabouts. Last he’s heard, Beren and King Finrod are dead, and Luthien has been captured by Celegorm (who isn’t such a great guy). In case that isn’t bad enough, Carcharoth — the dreaded Wolf of Angband — has been ravaging the countryside and has now somehow broken through Melian’s magical barrier and is roaming through Doriath, his own kingdom.
It’s at this moment — when everything seems to be falling apart — that Luthien and Beren show back up in Doriath. Obviously, Thingol is thrilled to see his daughter, though he’s not so keen on this Beren guy. If it hadn’t been for Beren, there wouldn’t have been so much sorrow in his happy kingdom. Still a bit miffed, Thingol asks Beren for that Silmaril. After all, that’s what he was supposed to bring back in return for marrying Luthien.
And this is where it gets good. Like Macduff’s surprise for Macbeth good. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you have to read Shakespeare’s Macbeth… and think of Eowyn and Merry from The Return of the King as you do. After all, Macbeth was an inspiration for several of Tolkien’s ideas, including the Ents. “Biram Wood comes to Dunsinane…”)
Beren simply tells Thingol that he did fulfill the quest, and “even now a Silmaril is in my hand.” (218) Then he shows where Carcharoth bit off his hand, which had the Silmaril in it.
I would dare to say that Thingol is impressed. His animosity for Beren diminishes, and he does allow Beren to marry Luthien, as promised.
But that’s not the end of the story because the quest still isn’t finished. Carcharoth is still out in Doriath’s forests, and they need to take him out and save the Silmaril once and for all. Thingol and Beren join the hunt, leaving Luthien behind. Again.
It’s not long before they find Carcharoth, soothing his burning insides with some of the enchanted waters. Huan (hound from Valinor) doesn’t hesitate to attack, and Beren charges in after him. Within moments, Beren is badly wounded. Thingol drops everything to tend to him.
Meanwhile, the two hounds fight it out until both are mortally wounded. Carcharoth dies, and Huan limps to Beren’s side, where he collapses. Since Huan is only able to speak three times before his death and he has only spoken twice so far, he uses his last time to bid farewell to Beren. Beren rests his hand on Huan’s head, and the brave hound dies.
One of the Elves cuts Carcharoth open, finding Beren’s whole hand and the Silmaril still wrapped in it. He quickly takes the Silmaril and lays it in Beren’s good hand. At this, Beren, who’s been in and out of consciousness, offers it to Thingol and then slips back into darkness.
The Elves quickly bring Beren and Huan back to the palace. Before they can reach it, though, Luthien meets them. She wraps her arms around Beren, knowing that he’s fading fast, and tells him to wait for her “beyond the Western Sea.” Then he dies.
But this isn’t the end of the story either. Beren does indeed wait for her in the Halls of Mandos, which is a place where the dead live in Valinor. It doesn’t sound like mortals usually hang out there for long (or at all), but Beren does. And, after a time, Luthien finally arrives there as well. It’s not clear exactly how she accomplished this, but Tolkien spends no time explaining it, so I’m not worrying about it.
When she arrives, Luthien immediately enthralls everyone with her beauty and sorrow. Mandos (the Vala in charge of the dead) notices her and listens as she sings “the sorrow of the Elves and the grief of Men” (221). This song is so incredible that others later sing it as well, and it is still sung in Valinor.
For the first and only time in history, Mandos is moved. So moved, in fact, that he hurries to Manwë (the head Vala) and asks if there’s anything that they can do. Manwë speaks in turn with Iluvatar, who reveals his will.
Luthien has two choices. She can either live among the Elves over the Sea forever, but without Beren. Or she can give up immortality, her kinship with the Elves, and any assurances of a long, happy life and be returned to Middle-earth with Beren. She chooses the second, and she and Beren are reunited. (How could she not, after fighting so hard to be with him and help him with the quest?) They both will face a “second death” (222), but they will be together.
And while this is the end of the chapter, it’s not quite the end of Luthien and Beren’s story. There’s a little more about them both at the beginning of the next chapter and towards the end of the “Quenta Silmarillion.” But here ends the beginning (and the most exciting) part of their tale.
Next week, it’s time for another war against Morgoth, spurred on by one of Fëanor’s sons.