[I]n his fate Lúthien was caught, and being immortal she shared in his mortality, and being free received his chain; and her anguish was greater than any other of the Eldalië has known (Silmarillion, 165-6).
Lúthien Tinúviel is vital to any discussion of the Half-Elven, although she technically is not one of them. Indeed, she is one of the central characters of Tolkien’s mythos; so much so that even those who have read only LotR and not The Silm may still be familiar with who she is. Her actions and her choice set into motion events that continued to effect Middle-earth for Ages after her death.
Lúthien was the only person in Arda who had Maia blood flowing through her veins. Her mother, Melian, did what no other Ainur had ever done–she took on a permanent physical form out of love for one of the Children of Ilúvatar. For those who are unfamiliar with the history of the First Age, the Maiar are lesser angels that help the Valar (the higher angels) govern the world. Gandalf, Sauron, and Saruman were all Maiar. While the Maiar are not all equal–some are more powerful than others and they each have a particular area of specialization, so to speak–Lúthien’s mother was one of the most powerful individuals in Middle-earth. One could argue that she was indeed the most powerful after Morgoth (the supreme Dark Lord and Sauron’s master).
Lúthien’s father, Thingol, was no joke either. Not only was he compelling enough that a Maia fell in love with him, but he was a wise and just ruler. He was one of the oldest Elves in Middle-earth and the only one of the Grey-Elves to have seen the light of the Two Trees (the light from which the sun and the moon came).
Lúthien’s parentage was pretty impressive. She was believed to be the most beautiful of all the Children of Ilúvatar (Elves and Men). Although we know very little of her life before she met Beren, she demonstrated her own power and courage in aiding his quest. It’s safe to say that Lúthien was the cream of the crop–a guy couldn’t do any better than to marry her. She could have had anyone she wanted (although apparently she wasn’t much interested in marriage before Beren, but we’ll get to that later). So for her to choose a mortal–a disposed outlaw with no land, money, or power–was quite a step down.
Obstacles to Love
Keep in mind that Lúthien had never even met a mortal before. Thingol forbade any man from ever entering his kingdom because he had been troubled by dreams regarding them. And yet she made the choice to love him–to follow him to death, if it came to that.
She was not the first of the Eldar to love a mortal. Aegnor, the brother of Finrod and Galadriel, was the first. Before Beren was ever born, he loved Andreth, sister of Bregor, father of Barahir, father of Beren. Yet Aegnor chose not to marry her, for it was a time of war and Elves do not marry or beget children during time of war. Both Aegnor and Andreth were aware of the disparity of their races–of the ultimate sorrow to come when she grew old and he did not.
Lúthien paid no heed to any of this. It is quite possible that she was aware of Aegnor’s love and his choice, since his sister, Galadriel, dwelt often in Doriath. She didn’t allow concern about their disparate fates come between them. She accepter her love–her doom–and followed it to the bitter end.
Some may argue that Lúthien didn’t choose to accept Beren, that it was simply her fate and she had no choice in the matter. While she didn’t choose to fall in love with Beren (who really chooses to fall in love with a particular person?), she did indeed choose to love him. The Silm makes it clear:
Then the spell of silence fell from Beren, and he called to her, crying Tinúviel; and the woods echoed the name. Then she halted in wonder, and fled no more, and Beren came to her. But as she looked on him, doom fell upon her, and she loved him; yet she slipped from his arms and vanished from his sight even as the day was breaking (Silmarillion, 164; emphasis added).
Although she loved him at first sight, she clearly didn’t choose to abandon everything she had ever known at first sight. Instead she ran away, presumably to ponder what had happened and what she should do.
Eventually she did indeed make the final choice. When Beren was finally killed, she died of grief. Her spirit sang before the throne of Mandos, the keeper of souls, and she moved him to pity. Then the Valar gave her the choice: she could live in the Blessed Realm forever, forgetting all of her griefs; but Beren could not live there. Or she and Beren could return to Middle-earth as mortals, “but without certitude of life or joy” (Silmarillion, 187). They would both die again–as mortals–and not be born again as is the fate of Elves. Lúthien chose mortality for Beren’s sake. She gave up all that she had known–her parents, her kingdom, her kindred, her very fate–out of love for a mortal.
Why make this choice? She had it pretty good before. She was immortal, she would live forever. Doriath, her father’s kingdom, was protected by her mother. No evil had ever entered there before. For all she knew, her mother’s power would protect the kingdom forever against Morgoth. Lúthien had no cause to be weary of life or fearful of the future. Indeed, because of Melian’s protection, Lúthien probably experienced little grief during her life. Doriath rarely sent soldiers to aid the Noldor in their war against Morgoth, so it’s even possible that Lúthien had never known the loss of a loved one. She chose to give all of that up–to be permanently separated from her family–for a dirty, smelly outlaw with nothing to offer but himself.
It almost seems ridiculous that anyone would make such a choice. Why give up everything she had ever known up to that point? What was so compelling about Beren? The first thing that comes to mind is that Beren was, to use a colloquial term, a badass. He was unstoppable–almost literally. He was the only survivor of a group of outlaws who were famous for the damage they did to Morgoth’s forces. Even as the lone survivor, he lived for four years on his own.
[T]he deeds of lonely daring that he achieved were noised abroad throughout Beleriand, and the tale of them came even into Doriath. At length, Morgoth set a price upon his head no less than the price upon the head of Fingon, High King of the Nolder; but the Orcs fled rather at the rumour of his approach than sought him out. Therefor an army was sent against him under the command of Sauron; and Sauron brought werewolves, fell beasts inhabited by dreadful spirits that he had imprisoned in their bodies (Silmarillion, 164).
They literally sent an army to catch a single man. What does Beren do when the army comes? He decides (sensibly) to escape. Except he chooses to escape through Ered Gorgoroth, the Mountains of Terror, which few had ever attempted before.
So we’ve established Beren’s prowess. Let’s not forget about his relationship with Lúthien–he absolutely adored her. It’s pretty compelling to have a man who is so feared by the enemy and praised by the good guys worship the ground you walk on. But is that really enough to give up everything?
Perhaps the sacrifice is part of the appeal. Lúthien did what no one had ever done before; she chose to love a mortal and join herself to him. She defied her father to aid the man she loved. She confronted Sauron (with the aid of Huan, of course) and threw down the foundations of his tower. She and Beren went to face the Dark Lord himself. They went where no other had ever gone willingly before–to the very throne of Morgoth. They did what the powerful sons of Fëanor had not been able to do: they recovered a Silmaril.
Let’s not forget that love is kind of weird. It’s not always easy to explain why people do what they do. There’s also the matter of fate or doom. Was Lúthien compelled to do what she did against her will–or at least without consulting her free will? Based on the choice the Valar gave her–to return to life as an immortal without Beren or a mortal with him–it would seem that she did indeed have free will. If she didn’t, if it was inevitable that she would become mortal and thus enrich the blood of mankind, then why bother to present her with a choice?
The actions of Beren and Lúthien brought hope and wonder to all of Beleriand. Both Elves and Men saw that Morgoth, the enemy who seemed to be unassailable, was not. While he could not be easily overcome, it was possible. Even Fingolfin, the former High King of the Noldor who challenged Morgoth to a duel, was not able to accomplish as much as they did.
The Choice of Lúthien set the stage for future generations, both Men and Elves. Her actions, along with Beren’s, forever changed Middle-earth.
This is part of an in-depth series on the half-Elven:
The Choice of the Half-Elven
Half-Elven Part II: The Choice of Lúthien
Half-Elven Part III: Those Denied the Choice
Half-Elven Part IV: The Union
Half-Elven Part V: The Children of Choice
Half-Elven Part VI: The Last Ones
Half-Elven Part VII: Concluding Thoughts on Mortality
Photo Credit: hans van den berg