Eucatastrophe, Fate, and Free Will in the Life of Beren and Lúthien
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After Beren avenges his father’s murder and spends years as an outlaw, he climbs the Mountains of Terror and sees the land of Doriath from far away. “There it was put into his heart that he would go down into the Hidden Kingdom” (The Silmarillion 161). He endures a horrific journey to travel where no mortal had been and so receives his first consolation: the sight of Lúthien dancing in a glade. Fate had already protected him from capture and death to bring him to this point, which now intersects with Lúthien’s fate. They spend many happy moments together before a jealous minstrel betrays them to Lúthien’s father, Thingol. The Elf-lord burdens Beren with a terrible doom and says that only if the man survives the impossible task of bringing back a Silmaril from the crown of Morgoth will he have the hand of Lúthien. Beren freely accepts this challenge and leaves Doriath to fulfill it.
Lúthien learns from her mother, the Maia Melian, that Sauron had captured Beren. She resolves to go and free him but is again betrayed by the minstrel and held prisoner by Thingol. After escaping, Huan, the Hound of Valinor, finds her and brings her to his master, Celegorm, who wishes to have her as his own and holds her captive. But Huan frees her and flees with her. They come to Tol-in-Gaurhoth where Sauron dwelt and where Beren was held prisoner. In this terrible place, the grieving and despairing man receives his second consolation as he hears, beyond all wonder, Lúthien singing. He sings himself in response and she sings once more, which alerts Sauron. After Huan slays all the wolves the malicious servant of Morgoth sends after Lúthien, he comes himself in the form of werewolf. At first hound and maiden are overcome by the terrible wickedness of the fallen Maia, but then Huan defeats Sauron so soundly that the dark spirit cannot get away unless he abandoned his body. Lúthien threatens to send him shapeless back to Morgoth unless he surrendered his tower to her. Sauron does this and once Huan releases him, he takes the form of a vampire and flees to Taur-nu-Fuin.
Lúthien frees many prisoners as well as Beren, who she first fears is dead. But the man wakes, and he and his beloved have the consolation of a joyful time together again in the woods. As they near the border of Doriath, Beren determines that he will take up the quest once more that he had accepted from Thingol once he is sure that Lúthien is safe at home. The Elf maiden, however, wishes to remain with her treasure wherever he goes, whether this means he will forsake his word to her father and become an outlaw, or he remains true to it and enters the very depths of darkness. “On either road I shall go with you, and our doom shall be alike” (Silmarillion 175). Once more Lúthien freely chooses to bind her fate with Beren’s. The man had already told Thingol when he first met him that he had not been seeking Lúthien, but once he found her, he did not wish to let her go. She repeatedly makes it clear from her actions and words that she does not wish to part from him either.
Beren, however, does not wish to bring Lúthien into the incredible evil that he has vowed to enter. As she sleeps, he leaves her with Huan, who has returned to them. The man travels near to Taur-nu-Fuin and sings the Song of Parting, from both the light of Lúthien and the stars, neither of which he thinks he will see again. He does not know that Huan and Lúthien were following hard after him and that Lúthien hears his song and sings in answer. At first Beren does not understand for even though he hears her beloved voice, he only sees a terrible wolf and vampire. But Lúthien returns to her true form and offers Beren the consolation once more of her company, though the idea that he will bring her into the presence of the greatest evil torments him. Huan gives him counsel, one of the three times the hounds speaks with human words, and once more brings to light the intertwining of the fate of Beren and Lúthien that comes from their free choices. “‘From the shadow of death, you can no longer save Lúthien, for by her love she is now subject to it. You can turn from your fate and lead her into exile, seeking peace in vain while your life lasts. But if you will not deny your doom, then either Lúthien, being forsaken, must assuredly die alone, or she must with you challenge the fate that lies before you – hopeless, yet not certain’” (Silmarillion 178). After Lúthien had earlier told Beren that she would follow him on whatever road he chose to trod, he resisted such loyalty for he did not wish to bring her to such doom. But after listening to Huan, “Then Beren perceived that Lúthien could not be divided from the doom that lay upon them both, and he sought no longer to dissuade her” (ibid.).
Beren and Lúthien then enter the mighty fortress of Angband and into the terrible presence of Morgoth. The song of Lúthien contains power to put everyone, including this most dreadful enemy, to sleep, which allows Beren to cut a Silmaril from Morgoth’s iron crown. They flee but the great and evil wolf that guards the gates bites off Beren’s hand and swallows the Silmaril. Its power sears the animal with awful pain that it drives him mad. Beren lays nigh to death from the poison of the wolf’s fangs, but Lúthien does what she can before Eagles eucatastrophically arrive to spirit the two away. The great birds carry them to the borders of Doriath, where the man returns from the border of death and heals from his wounds. They wander happily in the woods for some time, but Beren knows he must return to Doriath and bring Lúthien home. Once Thingol sees that Beren suffered the loss of a hand in order to win the hand of Lúthien, he relents and accepts that his daughter’s fate is to be with the man. But this is not the end of their story. The maddened wolf Carcharoth threatens the land, and Beren, Thingol, and others, including Huan, leave to hunt and destroy it if they can. In the battle that follows, Huan meets his own fate and kills Carcharoth but is mortally wounded in the attempt. Beren is deeply injured as well, but the touch of the Silmaril that had been within the wolf revives him for a while before he dies.
The spirit of Lúthien also flees her body after a time, and she comes to the halls of Mandos. There she sings before him and moves him to grant the greatest consolation and eucatastrophe of Beren’s life. Mandos offers her two choices: either to leave his halls and live in Valimar with the Valar and forget her grief but also have to forsake Beren, or to return to Middle-earth, with Beren and herself alive once more but bound to die a second death. “This [latter] doom she chose, forsaking the Blessed Realm, and putting aside all claim to kinship with those that dwell there; that thus whatever grief might lie in wait, the fates of Beren and Lúthien might be joined, and their paths lead together beyond the confines of the world” (Silmarillion 187). Thus an immortal Elf with the blood of a Maia chose a mortal life so she would never again be sundered from the man she loved.
Throughout Tolkien’s major works, he uses the intertwining roles of fate and free will as people choose to embrace “hopeless, yet not certain” dooms and do so out of love. The tale of Beren and Lúthien is no exception. There is no contradiction or confusion between the two because fate and free will go together. Man and maiden were fated to meet, but it was Lúthien’s repeated free choices to bring herself into great peril to follow her beloved that truly allowed their futures to become entwined.
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Silmarillion. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. Illustrated by Ted Nasmith. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004.
This is one of the papers I wrote for my Master’s Degree at Signum University.