[In 1909] I met the Lúthien Tinúviel of my own personal ‘romance’ with her long dark hair, fair face and starry eyes, and beautiful voice . . . Now she has gone before Beren, leaving him indeed one-handed…
– Tolkien 1972
Sure, you’ve read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but have you ever read the story that Tolkien himself called “the kernel” of the Middle-earth mythology?
“Of Beren and Lúthien” sits smack dab in the middle of Tolkien’s notoriously difficult The Silmarillion, yet it is perhaps the most immediately accessible of all of the book’s stories. It’s also packs a powerful punch, hitting with the same sort of emotional mix that makes The Lord of the Rings unforgettable.
In Tolkien’s Requiem, I give “Of Beren and Lúthien” a closer look, exploring how it opens up the whole Silmarillion saga and serves as a key turning point in the history of Middle-earth. I also consider how the story can serve as wisdom literature, yielding insight for our own lives. Finally, I seek to provide a “back door” entryway into The Silmarillion itself, for those (like me!) who have always wanted to read it but have had trouble getting a start on it.
We look down as if from a visionary height upon the house of man in the valley of the world. A light starts . . . and there is a sound of music; but the outer darkness and its hostile offspring lie ever in wait for the torches to fail and the voices to cease. (33)
And even the man’s own descendants . . . were heard to murmur: ‘He is such an odd fellow! Imagine his using these old stones just to build a nonsensical tower! . . . ‘ But from the top of that tower the man had been able to look out upon the sea. (8)
This is the first part in a series on Tolkien’s essay “Beowulf: The Monster and the Critics.” You can find all of my posts about this series under Concerning Tolkien’s Works here.