Middle-earth Profiles: Luthien
The daughter of High King Thingol and High Queen Melian, Luthien holds a unique place in Middle-earth for several reasons: She is the first mixed-race person, being both half-Maiar and half-Elf. She is also the only hybrid that is part-Ainur. She and Beren are the progenitors of all future-mixed race people in Middle-earth, and lastly, she is the first Elf who chose mortality over immortality and passed beyond Valinor and the Circles of the World to wherever human souls go to. That’s a lot by itself. What interests me most, though, is who she was as a person.
Luthien’s history begins with her birth in Doriath, which like herself, was during a time of contrast. Doriath is a realm ruled directly by her father, Thingol, in Beleriand, which itself is at war between the Noldor/Sindar Elven alliance and the renegade Valar, Morgoth. Doriath, however, is protected by an invisible barrier erected and maintained by Melian the Maiar, so Luthian’s birth was peaceful, all things considered.
The most part of her life is uneventful, spending time in Doariath’s great forests until an encounter with the Human refugee, Beren. A survivor of the most recent war, his kingdom was destroyed and had fled south. He somehow is able to bypass Melian’s barrier and at some point, sees Luthien. After a short time of pursuit, she falls in love with him but is later discovered by Thingol when ratted out by Daeron, one of her confidants and would-be suitor. The High King, who had banned all Humans from Doriath, is further enraged by Beren’s relationship with his only daughter. Luthien, aware of Thingol’s anger, procures a promise from him not to kill Beren, and he has the man brought before him.
In awe of the cavern capital of Menegroth, Beren is speechless before the High King and Queen as Thingol questions and insults him. Luthien acts as his spokesperson before Thingol silences her, demanding the survivor answer himself. Inspired by Melian, Beren soon begins to stand up for himself before Thingol, almost leading to a violent impasse between the two. However, Thingol decides to send Beren on an impossible quest to retrieve a Silmaril: one of the three jewels that began the Beleriand wars in the first place.
Beren agrees and leaves, but Thingol imprisons Luthien in a tall tree to keep her from following him after Daeron again betrays her, which ultimately fails. While searching for Beren, Luthien encounters the Noldorian Elf-lords, Celegrom and Curufin, who from the realm of Nargothrond. The princes deceive and then imprison Luthien again, trying to use her status as a princess and daughter of Thingol to increase their power. While there, she learns that Beren went to the island fortress of Minas Tirith with the former king of Nargothrond, Finrod Felagund, and hasn’t been heard from since.
Befriending the great hound, Huan, Luthien escapes and goes to Minas Tirith to rescue Beren. There she confronts Morgoth’s Maiar general, Sauron, in wolf-form. The mixed-race princess momentarily stumbles him, allowing Huan to subdue him to surrender the fort and flee in disgrace. She finds Beren, again being the lone survivor of his company, and is barely able to resuscitate him. Soon afterward, the couple is ambushed by now-exiled Celegrom and Curufin, who try to kidnap Luthien and kill Beren. Yet Luthien is saved by Huan and Beren’s efforts; it nearly kills Beren.
Beren tries to leave her behind twice, now understanding that the quest is meant to kill him and thinking that Luthien deserves better. Luthien rejects his efforts to dissuade her, and with Huan’s advice, they decide to continue the quest together. They eventually make their way to Morgoth’s stronghold of Thangorodrim by disguise, where Luthien subdues the mighty werewolf, Carcharoth, and they manage to sneak into the throne room. The Valar discovers Luthien’s identity, but Luthien sings a song with such power that Morgoth and the entire room fall under her spell. Beren seizes the opportunity and takes one of the Silmarils. When he tries to steal another, his blade breaks and hits Morgoth, stirring him.
The intruders flee and just make it out of Thangorodrim before Carcharoth stops them. Luthien is too weakened by her efforts to subdue Morgth to stop the wolf this time, but Beren steps in with the Silmaril. Carcharoth is only briefly halted before he bites off the man’s hand but then flees in pain, driven mad by the Silmaril’s power inside him. The couple’s fate would have been sealed had eagles not swooped in and rescued them, flying them back to Doriath.
There Luthien finds her father in a depressed stupor but awakens him from it. Thingol and Melian then accept Beren as Luthien’s chosen, and the two are married. However, the mad Carcharoth has now breached Melian’s barrier, and Thingol leads a company out to kill it, including Beren. Luthien remains behind and sees the result of their mission, with Huan dead and Beren about to be. In despair, Luthien bids her husband wait for her before he finally passes beyond Valinor. A short time later, Luthien also dies.
Her spirit goes to the Halls of Mandos, where mortal spirits pass beyond the world and petitions Mandos, the Valar guardian there for mercy, telling her story in song. Moved, Mandos agrees, but his superior, Manwe, puts a choice upon Luthien to either remain immortal and still bound to creation or to become mortal like Beren. She chooses the latter, and both are resurrected in Doriath, but Luthien’s change is immediately apparent to her mother.
The couple retired to Tol Galen and are not heard from again until later when an army of Dwarves sacked Menegroth after their murder of Thingol and Melian’s departure from Middle-earth. Beren and their son, Dior, lead a retaliatory strike on the returning army, wiping them out. The one object he takes from the victory is the Nauglamir, a necklace with the Silmaril bound to it and the reason for the conflict. It is given to Luthien, who is said to have looked divine when she had it on. After that, not much is heard as the two eventually die and leave the world forever.
"The Doom (or the Gift) of Men is mortality, freedom from the circles of the world.”— J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion
The first thing I noticed about Luthien is her forcefulness and impatience. She is single-minded once her mind is set and doesn't look back afterward, even when physically unable to move forward. While I wouldn't say this was due to a lack of fear, as she was afraid of Sauron and also while fleeing Thangorodrim, her devotion to Beren was always greater than her fear.
She would defy anyone who stood in her way regardless of who they were or what rank they held, including Beren. Even her petition to Mandos could be argued as a kind of passive defiance as she was not willing to just accept that her husband would pass on without her as had been decreed by Illuvatar for all his race. Stubbornness was a part of this trait, and how much of this can be attributed to her youth (in immortal terms) or something she inherited from her father, Thingol, is hard to say. For she most certainly inherited her assertive tendencies from him.
However, Luthien was also open-minded, choosing a Human as a partner in a time where that kind of relationship didn’t exist between the races, and especially in Doriath, where no Humans were supposed to enter, period. This may have been influenced by her parent’s relationship since they too were of separate races.
Some of Luthien’s openness may also have been part naivete as well, such as her willingness to trust Curufin and Celegrom. She also seemed in wonder of the natural world before meeting Beren. I wonder if she became more cynical as time wore on because of the betrayals she had suffered at the hands of her own kind: Thingol, Daeron, and the Noldorian princes. Her mother was largely silent, so the only ones who seem to be acting remotely noble are Beren and Huan. If so, then that may have played a part in Luthien’s willingness to forgo her birthright and abilities that came with it. Once trust has been proven, Luthien's loyalty doesn’t waver.
The princess’s major trait is her love for Beren, which, if I were to be honest, seems almost at points to be irrational. After all, she initially rejects Beren at first. To go from that to forsaking her immortality, family, status, and powers for him is in my mind at least, extreme. Over time it becomes so deep that the two almost seem to share a symbiotic relationship, as Luthien at times senses when Beren is in mortal danger. I wonder if she willed herself to death after Beren’s first passing. Perhaps this is her father’s impulsiveness acting out in her? Yet despite that, she still has her own mind, and though Luthien looks the part of the quiet princess, it is anything but.
That said, Beren’s miserable state and inborn mortality may have made the open-minded princess curious, being a sharp break from her sheltered world. Also, associating with a mortal was a new experience from any other the princess ever had. It was a first-hand encounter with the real world beyond Doriath, and that affected her empathy greatly, no more so than when she pleas to the Valar, Mandos, by telling the tragedies of both races rather than just the Elves. Beren’s devotion to her also seems to inspired Luthien, being willing to put her life at risk on multiple occasions and stepping up when he was unable to.
Huan seems to be the only other being Luthien trusted outside of Beren. This might be in part motivated by the fact that Huan was the only one immune to Luthien’s powers, and the hound was famous for relentless and loyal nature. The rep alone was enough to give enemies pause before engaging or crossing him. Also, he initially followed Curufin, and that association couldn’t have sat well with her. Even so, Luthien basically had no real choice but to trust the hound if she was to find Beren. Huan was not like the princes, and Luthien saw this.
The two became friends in her time of need, and Human also risks his life, besides giving Luthien and Beren true advice not tinted by malice or blind optimism. Everyone else either hid the truth from her, glossed it up, lied, or wanted something. I think the hound’s pure love for Luthien and his straight-forwardness was what made the bond between him and Luthien so strong.
The last point regarding the hound and one that I think is often overlooked is that Huan was never considered a pet by the couple. He was an equal, superior to both of them in many ways, and was listened to when he spoke.
Next to Beren, Luthien’s most notable relationship is with her father. As aforementioned, Luthien’s more aggressive traits come from him. She has her mother’s beauty and power, but in all other things is her father’s daughter. She willingly and openly defies him, even coaxing an agreement out of Thingol to not kill Beren: an agreement he regrets later. When Beren can’t speak, Luthien does in his place. It would appear that during verbal conflicts, Luthien lacks the subtlety of her mother. This might be why Thingol locks her away, sensing how much like him she is.
Luthien has a strong connection with her mother, though it seems more implied than specific examples. Their bond seems to be an unspoken one, which given Melian’s reserved but caring nature wouldn’t be that surprising. It’s close enough though that Luthien does seek out advice from Melian when she needs it, even giving her information that Beren is captured, possibly knowing that her daughter would pursue him. Melian is also able to see or sense the change in her daughter when she’s resurrected that Thingol doesn’t, and it hits hard enough to visibly distress the Maiar for the first time.
Melian is also able to impart to Luthien compassion and empathy for others outside of her race and nationality. Thingol was notably cold towards the Noldor, passively dismissive of the Dwarves, and openly hostile to Humans. Luthien takes after her mother in this, though after her experiences with the Noldor princes, may have come to the same conclusion about them as Thingol.
Something I’ve noticed that often goes unmentioned about Luthien is her power, and I feel it deserves mentioning. Immortality already a given, being half and half of divine races already would have bestowed upon her an incredible amount of inborn powers: something that Elves and Maiar already had in general. She inherits these from Melian, whom, as I mentioned in her profile, was arguably the most powerful being in Middle-earth during her time or at least a peer.
However, what makes Luthien interesting is how she applies those abilities. While not seemingly as diverse as Melian’s, Luthien has no issues proactively using them. Its applying Thingols' assertiveness with her Melian’s power that makes this combination formidable. Both Morgoth and Sauron are subdued by her power: one still being among the mightiest Valar in creation-though slightly weakened, and the other the mightiest of his generals and also of her mother’s kindred. Luthien also is able to do the same with the mightiest werewolf that Middle-earth had ever seen.
The only apparent drawback she seems to have is that it is not limitless. Granted, even the Valar needed to rest after exerting great amounts of power, but they had literal ages to recuperate. Luthien had plenty left after encountering Sauron and Carcorath but was tanked after her encounter with Morgoth.
The other drawback was that Luthien did not have the full power set of a Maiar as Melian did. For example, the abilities available to her didn’t include Melian’s foresight or creating barriers over great distances. Luthien's powers also seem to work for a limited time, whereas Melian’s lasted as long as the High Queen willed it.
The Death of a Dream
In many ways, Luthien’s legacy is the most well known of the characters in the Silmarillion, being the ancestor of not only the half-Elven, but also the future line of Numernorean, Arnor, and Gondor kings that would stretch all the way to Aragorn in the Third Age. Yet, I think there is another part of her legacy as well, one that represents loss.
The half-Elf, half-Ainur represented what the world could have been had it not been corrupted. Being a daughter of a relationship between the divine rulers of Middle-earth and the immortal Elves would have been the best of all worlds. Immortal and ruling in times of peace where it should have been just maintaining the world they were in while maintaining a physical presence there. Moreover, she was a physical manifestation of when Ainur chooses to completely devote and immerse themselves into the veins of Middle-earth rather than distance themselves from it, i.e., Melian’s marriage to Thingol. More so than her descendants, it's a unique union that happened once and once only.
This symbolism lasted until the reality of Middle-earth finally intruded into Doriath through its vessel, Beren. After that one encounter, the dream starts to decay through the quest of the Silmaril, Luthien’s experiences outside of Doriath, Thingol’s murder, and Melian’s subsequent departure, and finally, Luthien’s death. So when Melian sees her daughter for the first time since returning from the dead, she not only sees her mortality: she sees the death of the utopia that was once a pre-Morgoth First Age and the utopia that her was family.
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© 2019 Jamal Smith