FA 462 – 468
*OK, so, this nineteenth chapter of The Silmarillion follows immediately upon the last chapter, beginning in the same year the previous chapter ends.
*This one actually shows us in more detail about how Barahir's men are killed. In essence, it's Sauron who does it. Beren escapes because he's been sent away to spy on the enemy.
*There's mention here of the Lay of Leithian, which is apparently a long poem detailing the story of Beren & Luthien. It's much longer than this section of the book, according to the author.
*So, anyway, Beren, fleeing desperately ahead of Sauron's forces, stumbles into Doriath and there spies, in the woods, Luthien, the most beautiful being that has ever been created.
*Or, you know, maybe second after this girl I used to work with. I don't know. It's probably a dead heat.
*The two fall in love, of course, but this other guy that loves Luthien (as everyone in this story does; again, like this girl I used to work with) catches them in the woods, mooning over each other . . .
*I initially typed 'mooning at each other,' and then realized that meant something altogether different.
*Anyway, Thingol, Luthien's father finds out about it and is rather incensed because, you know, he's Thingol and he gets incensed a lot. Just a whole lot. At least Galadriel didn't have anything to do with it this time.
*Beren does his whole "I'm going to prove my worth lay some quest on me big daddy" thing and Thingol challenges him to go and steal back one of the Silmarils from Morgoth's crown.
*At last! Feanor dies and everyone just decides screw the Silmarils, let's start gardening or something. And this is the whole reason they came to Middle Earth. And for about four hundred years, they've all just been sitting around.
*Thingol, of course, is intending to scare Beren off or else make sure he dies. There's no way he expects him to actually take him up on it; and even if he does, he'll surely be killed in the effort.
*Beren gets off a great burn line: "For little price do Elven-kings sell their daughters: for gems, and things made by craft." Ouch, dude, just ouch.
*So, Beren goes to visit Finrod; now remember, in the Battle of Sudden Flame at the start of last chapter, Barahir, Beren's father, saved Finrod and all of his men in battle. Thus, Beren asks Finrod to repay him by accompanying him on his quest to recover a Silmaril. Finrod agrees and takes along a few others for good measure.
*Remember, long time ago, when Galadriel asked Finrod why he had never married and he had that flash that he would one day have to swear a dreadful oath and then fulfill it. This would be that. He's been hanging without a wife for about 300 years now. But the day has finally come. I got a little chill at this, especially since we kind of know already, thanks to this visionary flash, that Finrod won’t be coming back from this quest.
*However, Celegorm and Curufin are visiting Finrod and they hear of the quest. These are, I think, sons of Feanor. Frankly, they're pissed; they swore the oath beside their father that they would never rest until they'd recovered the Silmarils and they don't want Beren to go and just give one to Thingol. Thingol, remember, wasn't even among the Elves that went to Valinor. So why should he get one?
*Of course, the fact that they've already broken their oath by basically laying around eating grapes and smoking pot for four hundred years isn't their problem.
*Thus, the seeds are sown for a great sundering of the Elves; Finrod and his people against the sons of Feanor and their people; the sons of Feanor and their people against Thingol and his people.
*So, Finrod, Beren and the other ten Elves that came with them kill a company of Orcs and steal their armor. Nice foreshadowing to Sam and Frodo doing the same thing.
*They're caught by Sauron, however, when they try to pass his watchtower and all taken captive.
*There follows a quotation from the Lay of Leithian, the first poetry section we've hit. We'll be getting a lot more of this kind of stuff, as I'm sure you all know.
*Long story short, Finrod and Sauron have a sing-off, basically competing in magic spells, until finally Finrod is defeated and Sauron throws all twelve of the captives down in a pit with a werewolf.
*I found this quite interesting. It reminded me of the 'poetry contest' motif in Journey to the West, that great Buddhist epic by, dang, by . . . well, anyway the best translation is by Anthony C. Yu.
*No, that's not a joke; his name is really Anthony C. Yu.
*Anyway, Journey to the West is a two thousand page epic, published in four volumes in the Yu translation, about a Buddhist monk who is escorted into the West by a motley crew of animal dieties/spirits, chief among them Monkey, who is certainly one of the most significant trickster figures in all of world literature and one of the most important literary figures to come out of all of Chinese literature.
*It's a rollicking adventure tale as the monk and his guardians head into the West to recieve enlightenment and carry it back to their people. Monkey is headstrong, impetuous, cruel, violent, mean-tempered and an all around good time; the monk is arrogant, pretentious, prissy and a little wimpy; Hog, another compatriot, is lazy, foul-mouthed, irreverent and also an all around good time. It's a great sort of template for the buddy movie, really, as the three main characters slowly grow to care about each other and Monkey in particular is the template for every crazy cop or loner cowboy you've ever seen or read about. It's a great read; don't let the extreme length scare you off. It's suspenseful, hilarious and great fun.
*But anyway, at one point, the monk has to save all of them by engaging in a poetry contest with some demons that capture them. The poetry contest was a big part of Chinese life and Chinese art way back when. Someone would propose a theme and then they’d go around the table; whoever can come up with the best short poem about the theme (off the top of their head, you know) wins that round. Of course, in Journey to the West, it's their lives he's fighting for.
*So, this whole song contest reminded me of that. Seriously, read Journey to the West; it's a blast.
*So, anyway, Luthien worries about Beren and she sneaks out of Doriath to go and find him. Celegorm and Curufin, meanwhile, have gone hunting and they stumble across her and kidnap her. They send messengers to Thingol to force him to let Luthien marry Celegorm.
*That's right, Celegorm is in love with her too.
*Luckily, so is Celegorm's hound dog, Huan. He's the one who actually found her on the hunting trip. Luthien, being lonely during her imprisonment, tells Huan all about Beren and how she loves him. Huan, also loving Luthien (but, I guess, like a dog) helps her escape from Celegorm and goes with her to help her find Beren.
*Yup, I've had dogs like that. Your best friend. As long as no one else shows up with tears and a sad story.
*Although this dog, he actually talks to Luthien and tells her how he's going to help her escape. Seriously. He can talk three times before he dies. Which seems . . . arbitrary.
*So, all the other Elves are finally dead, the werewolf having eaten them all one by one. When the werewolf comes to get Beren, Finrod fights the werewolf and he manages to kill him, but Finrod also dies in the battle.
*Damn, good ol' Finrod. Hard to believe I could connect with a guy named Finrod, but he's actually been one of my favorite characters to this point. I'll miss you, dude.
*Of course, if you could have killed the werewolf this whole time, why the hell didn't you do it when there were still twelve of you?
*So, Luthien & Huan show up at Sauron's watchtower where Beren is imprisoned. Huan starts slowly taking out all the werewolves guarding the tower. So finally Sauron sends out Drauglin, like the king of the werewolves and Huan and Drauglin have an epic knock down drag out fight. Drauglin escapes and flees back into the castle. He makes it to Sauron's throne, gasps out "Huan is here" and then dies.
*That is badass. Just stating a fact.
*Now everybody in Middle Earth knows that back when Huan left Valinor with his master Celegorm that it was prophecied that Huan would die after fighting the greatest wolf anyone had ever fought. So Sauron turns himself into a wolf and goes out to fight Huan.
*But Huan wins! He pins Wolf-Sauron down and won't let him up. Luthien puts her blade to Sauron's throat and tells him that either he leaves and yields Beren to them or else she'll kill the body he's inhabiting and send him back as a formless spirit to Morgoth.
*Of course, if I understand correctly, this whole bodiless spirit thing is what's going on with Sauron during The Lord of the Rings, right?
*But it doesn't happen yet; Sauron yields, Huan lets him up and Sauron turns into a vampire and flies away.
*So, Beren is freed by Luthien and Huan. They head back to Doriath, Beren intending to leave Luthien there and head out for Morgoth's stronghold again. On the road, however, they run into Celegorm and Curufin.
*Word has travelled back to Finrod's people of his death and they've set Finrod's brother on the throne. Celegorm and Curufin tried to get 'elected' or whatever, but failed, so they've been turned out of the caves and sent back to their own people.
*So, on the road they meet. And there's this totally badass bit with Curufin grabbing Luthien off the road onto his horse and then Beren leaping onto the back of Celegorm's horse and them fighting on the back of the horse and all.
*And then anyway, Beren gets Luthien back and sends the two brothers off on Curufin's horse, Beren keeping Celegorm's. TREACHERY! An arrow is loosed at Beren as he turns his back. Yuan does a double backflip and catches it in his mouth: BEST IN SHOW!
*Another arrow, this one aimed at Luthien (*sings* it's a thin line . . . between love and hate sings) but Beren leaps in front of her and takes the arrow to the chest himself. The two C-brothers gallop off, Huan pursuing them.
*When that dog changes sides, he frigging changes sides.
*Also, this would be a great action sequence on the big screen.
*So, there's trouble as Beren wants Luthien to go back to Doriath and wait for him and she wants to come with. Huan decides to use his second voice thingy and he counsels Beren to let Luthien come with.
*Beren, perhaps bowing to wisdom or perhaps just being dumbstruck at the fact that a dog is giving him advice, allows Luthien to come along.
*Huan also says that, seriously, dude, take Luthien, cause I'm sure as hell not coming with you on this damn fool idealistic crusade. And then Huan leaves.
*Beren, perhaps hurt at the rejection or perhaps just dumbstruck that he's just been given the ol' brush off by a talking dog, presses ever onward.
*So, Beren and Luthien walk up to Angband and Luthien casts a sleeping spell on everyone and they walk in to Morgoth's throne room where Morgoth has snoozed right off of his throne and Beren cuts a Silmaril off of his crown.
*SERIOUSLY! SERIOUSLY?!! YOU JUST ******** WALK IN THERE?! AND FOR LIKE FOUR HUNDRED YEARS EVERYONE'S BEEN LIKE 'OH IF ONLY WE COULD GET THE SILMARILS BOO HOO WOE IS US WAH SOB?!' AND YOU'RE SERIOUSLY JUST LIKE, 'OH HELLO MORGOTH HOW ARE YOU TODAY GO TO SLEEP NOW THANKS FOR THE SILMARIL BYE?!' REALLY?! SERIOUSLY?! GOD!!!
*Just frigging hack it off there with a little knife. My God. Four hundred ******* years. Buncha underachievers.
*Morgoth stirs in his sleep and anyway the knife breaks so they just take the one. It does at least enter the minds to go ahead and take the other two (gee, you think?), but it apparently doesn't enter their minds that now might be a good time to just kill the ol' bastard.
*I mean, holy crap, war all over, dead bodies piled to the height of the mountains, fire and dragons and smoke and poison and then just slip the guy an Ambien and he's out on the floor. I mean, wow. It's a shame no one thought of this before.
*But they're caught by the great wolf, Carcharoth, on the way out as he awakens from his sleep.
*So Beren waves the Silmaril at him, thinking that Carcharoth will be smart enough to realize that it can burn him since he's evil but instead he's like "I just woke up this must be breakfast" and he BITES BEREN'S WHOLE ******* HAND OFF WITH THE SILMARIL IN IT!!
*So, then in the next scene, Beren, Luthien and Morgoth are all at the vet's and the vet is like, "He'll be fine," and Morgoth is like, "He'd better and what about my Silmaril?" and the vet is like, "Just a matter of time" and Luthien's like, "Gross" and Beren's like, "What, Elves don't poop?"
*Well, no, not actually, because this isn't a sitcom, it's the HISTORY OF MIDDLE EARTH.
*So, Carcharoth goes completely wild, since the Silmaril burns anything evil it touches and, sure enough, it's all over his insides now, burning him up. So, he goes off and starts just rampaging all over the world, killing people and stuff.
*So Beren passes out and Luthien's like all out of Ambien and Morgoth wakes up and there's a giant wolf having a seizure right in front of her so she can't leave and all looks to be lost.
*Leave it to Thorondor the eagle to swoop down and grab Beren & Luthien and take them back to Doriah.
*God, the Eagles sure save a lot of people in this story. I hope that doesn't ever happen again. Not ever again. Never. I bet it won't.
*So there's this great scene where Beren goes before Thingol and he's like, "As I promised you, a Silmaril is even now in my hand" and then raises his stump. That's totally frigging awesome. Great scene for the movie.
*But Carcharoth is approaching Doriath still doing his whole "ARR RAWR KILL MAIM OW I NEED PRILOSEC STAT MAIM KILL DISMEMBER SERIOUSLY OW WOOF ARF" thing.
*So, Thingol leads a party to go kill him before he can do any more damage. So, Carcharoth bites Beren and then Huan shows up and there's this huge epic battle and this wonderful bit that actually made tears well up in my eyes:
*"Huan in that hour slew Carcharoth; but there in the woven woods of Doriath his own doom long spoken was fulfilled, and he was wounded mortally and the venom of Morgoth entered into him. Then he came, and falling beside Beren spoke for the third time with words; and he bade Beren farewell before he died. Beren spoke not, but laid his hand upon the head of the hound, and so they parted."
*That was just deeply moving to me. I had a beagle once and he was just about the best dog I've ever known. He had such a great personality; he was a little neurotic, but we had some great times together. And that is sort of wonderful at the end there, the dog speaking and the man not.
*Because I know when my dog finally died and I was there and I really couldn't talk at all; my throat just closed up on me. And I know, what with him being a stray and having been abused by an old owner and then me taking him in and giving him a home for the last years of his life, I really felt something profound there, like maybe taking care of him was the first really, truly good thing I'd ever done. And at that moment most of all, you really feel the lack of a common language. I mean, there was so much I wanted to say to him and have him understand; and I like to think he would like to have said a lot to me too at the end there.
*But what's incredible is how good he was at communicating with me anyway. But of course then he was so sick he couldn't even really move, but I remember his eyes and I just remember wishing that we could actually understand each other just that once to say goodbye. But, I mean, we looked into each other’s eyes and it was like we both just knew, right? We just knew that we had loved each other and we were going to miss each other, but it was going to be okay.
*God, is that maudlin or what? And I was in college, not kindergarten when he died. Oh, well. I love dogs and I'm not ashamed to admit it and that beagle was just frigging incredible. *So that wonderful moment, hand on head one last time, the dog able to speak at last, the man unable to do so . . . wow, that really got me.
*So, Beren's death scene:
*"They bore back Beren Camlost son of Barahir upon a bier of branches with Huan the wolfhound at his side; and night fell ere they returned to Menegroth. At the feet of Hirilorn the great beech Luthien met them walking slow, and some bore torches beside the bier. There she set her arms about Beren, and kissed him, bidding him await her beyond the Western Sea; and he looked upon her eyes ere the spirit left him."
*I suppose this chapter worked really well because by these last two pages, yeah, I was just a mess. I nearly cried over that too. What a beautiful thing: "bidding him await her beyond the Western Sea; and he looked upon her eyes ere the spirit left him." What a master Tolkien was.
*So, Luthien sort of falls into a coma after Beren's death and her spirit goes to Mandos, keeper of the halls of the dead and she there sings her story to him and, for the first and only time, Mandos is moved to such pity by the story of her love for Beren that he decides to make an exception in the rules.
*So, he grants Luthien two choices. She alone of all the Elves can return to Valinor and there she will instantly forget Beren and all her griefs. Or else she and Beren and return to life and live together as mortals for a brief time and then pass into shadow as all men do.
*She chooses, beautiful, wonderfully, perfectly, the second; to remember and to live, even if not forever. And so it happens; the two of them move onto a small island to live out their short window of life together.
*And thus, in Beren & Luthien, the nineteenth chapter concludes with the Two Kindreds, Men and Elves have been at last truly joined.
*God, what a story.
*Anyway, if you've read the books, or seen the EEs, of LotR, you may recall Aragorn singing part of the song of Beren and Luthien and attempting to apply the power of the ancient myth to his own love for Arwen.
*Tolkien apparently, according to Christopher Tolkien, thought that the three most significant stories of the Elder Days were, the story of Turin, soon to be told in Children of Hurin, the Fall of Gondolin, which we'll come to in the Silmarillion, and the story of Beren & Luthien. This nineteenth chapter is, I think, the longest in the Quenta and the most novelistic. It would have expanded very well into a longer work, but it functions nearly perfectly as a little gem of a short story, some thirty pages of deeply evocative and emotional moments.
*It was thrilling too, by the way, to get to see Sauron in his prime, really in serious action. But this had it all; love, people jumping from horses, arrows being caught out of mid-air, hands being bitten off, and some great big fight scenes. And a talking dog.
*So, yeah, sixth movie: this right here. It would kill everything at the box office. What a story.
*MOVIE #6: The Silmarillion: The Burning Jewel
*Next time, things continue to get a little out of hand in chapter 20 of the Quenta Silmarillion. Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad and a great cliffhanger ending and then . . . well, enough about that for now. Just join me next time!