Beren (also known as Beren Erchamion, "the One-handed", and Beren Camlost, "the Empty-handed") is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium. He appears in The Silmarillion. He is a human, and his love for the elf maiden Lúthien is central to the Tolkien legendarium.
Beren was the son of Barahir, the lord of Dorthonion. During his youth, the Battle of Sudden Flame destroyed his kingdom. Thenceforward the young Beren lived with his father and ten loyal followers as outlaws in the highlands at Tarn Aeluin, and they performed many acts of bravery, to the great frustration of Morgoth, the Dark Lord of Angband. But one of the group betrayed the others to Sauron, Morgoth's lieutenant, and they were all killed by orcs except Beren who was away scouting. Beren tracked down the orcs and killed the murderer of his father, and recovered his father's ring, a gift from Finrod Felegund, who had given the ring to Barahir as a symbol of gratitude for Barahir's saving his life. After this, Beren lived as a solitary outlaw, with the aid of animals, until he had established such a high reputation that the price on his head was equal to that on Fingon, high king of the Noldorin Elves. Beren was finally forced from Dorthonion by Sauron's army. He crossed a path of terror, passing an impenetrable boundary by the will of fate, into Doriath, where he saw and fell in love with the elf maiden Lúthien, princess of the Sindar and daughter of Thingol and Melian.
Thingol haughtily refused to give Lúthien's hand in marriage. He scornfully said that he would allow the marriage if Beren recovered one of the Silmarils, the three hallowed jewels which the Noldorin Elves had lost to Morgoth, from the Iron Crown of Morgoth. He intended the task to be impossible, but Beren vowed he would return with a Silmaril in his hand. Lúthien followed Beren and together, with the aid of Finrod and Huan the Hound of Valinor (both of whom died protecting Beren), they braved many perils, even besting Sauron, and finally reached Angband and came before Morgoth. Lúthien made the Dark Lord fall asleep through her singing, and Beren pried a Silmaril from his crown. He then attempted to go beyond his vow and take another one, but the tip of his dagger Angrist splintered and a shard struck the cheek of Morgoth. As they fled from Angband, the great wolf Carcharoth attacked them. Beren held out the Silmaril, hoping that its radiance would avert the beast, but he was mistaken. Carcharoth bit off his hand and swallowed it along with the Silmaril (thus Beren was called Erchamion, One-hand). The wolf, burned by the holy jewel, proceeded to run rampant through Beleriand. Lúthien and the unconscious Beren were rescued by the Eagles of Manwë.
Beren and Lúthien returned to Doriath, where Thingol demanded to know why Beren had returned. Beren claimed that his oath was fulfilled, saying "even now there is Silmaril in my hand." When he showed the king the stump of his arm, the king was moved to compassion for Beren, and allowed him to wed Lúthien. But Carcharoth was still wreaking destruction throughout the land, so Beren then participated in the Hunting of the Wolf, in which Carcharoth was slain and the Silmaril recovered, but Beren was mortally wounded.
Lúthien's love for Beren was so strong that, hearing of his death, her spirit fell into darkness and fled to the Halls of Mandos. There, she sang a song of such grief and beauty that Mandos was moved to pity for the first and only time. He therefore gave Lúthien a choice: either that she would go to Valmar, healed of all memory of her grief, and let Beren pass beyond the Circles of the World, or that she and Beren would both return to Middle-earth for a time, and then both should die and her spirit, unlike that of all other Elves, would pass out of the world forever. She chose this second choice, forsaking her kindred and her immortality for her love. Thus Beren and Lúthien lived again, and dwelt on Tol Galen in the middle of the river Adurant in Ossiriand. There they stayed apart from other mortals; Beren was involved with the events of the First Age only one further time, when he waylaid a group of Dwarves who had destroyed Doriath and stolen the Nauglamír in which the Silmaril was set.
Lúthien bore Beren a son, named Dior, Thingol's heir, considered to be one of the fairest beings to ever live, for in him flowed the blood of Men, Elves and Maiar. Through his descendants, the blood of Beren and of Lúthien was preserved among the Eldar and the Edain. In fact, Elrond was Dior's grandson.
Beren and Lúthien dwelt together for thirty-seven years more. In the year 503, the Green-elves sent the Nauglamir to Dior, and he knew that Beren and Lúthien had died. But it is not known where they passed, nor where their final resting place was.
|Half-elven family tree|
The BBC Radio adaptation of The Lord of the Rings includes a scene from The Fellowship of the Ring in which Aragorn summarizes the story of Beren and Lúthien for Frodo Baggins and his companions. Frodo later comes to realise the connection between their story and that of Aragorn and Arwen.
The animated adaptation of The Lord of the Rings includes a similar scene in which Aragorn is relating the story of Beren and Lúthien for the Hobbits, but here there is no connection made between the two to Aragorn and Arwen, since the latter does not appear.
The special extended edition of Peter Jackson's movie version of The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) contains a brief mention of the story. During the journey from Bree to Rivendell Frodo hears Aragorn singing quietly to himself one night and asks who the woman is of whom he is singing. Aragorn replies that he is singing of Lúthien. When Frodo asks what happened to her Aragorn replies, "she died". This is true enough, and can be seen as a reflection of Aragorn's concern over Arwen's renunciation of immortality for his sake.
Concept and creation
The story of Beren and Lúthien, though mentioned only briefly in The Lord of the Rings, was a central part of the legendarium. Tolkien once referred to it as "the kernel of the mythology". He went on to say that it "arose from a small woodland glade filled with 'hemlock'", which he visited while serving in the Humber Garrison in 1918 (during World War I).
It is widely believed that the story and the characters were largely inspired by the young Tolkien's romance with Edith Bratt, his future wife, who danced for her husband in the woodland glade.
The tale of Beren and Lúthien also shares an element with folktales such as the Welsh Culhwch and Olwen and others— namely, the disapproving parent who sets a seemingly impossible task (or tasks) for the suitor, which is then fulfilled.
It may also have real-life parallels: some sources indicate that Edith's Protestant family strongly disapproved of Tolkien's Catholic Faith. In addition, Tolkien's guardian, a priest of the Birmingham Oratory, forbade him from having any contact with Edith until he turned 21. Tolkien's guardian clearly feared that his young charge was in danger of losing the Faith. Tolkien obeyed to the letter, but telegraphed Edith on his 21st birthday. Although she was engaged to another man, she returned the ring and announced her engagement to Tolkien instead.
The Tolkien grave
Edith and J.R.R. Tolkien lie in Wolvercote Cemetery (North Oxford). Their gravestone shows the association of Lúthien with Edith, and Tolkien himself with Beren. The stone reads:
- Beren and Lúthien are Flown to Safety as illustrated by Ted Nasmith Archived January 8, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
- Carpenter, Humphrey, ed. (1981), The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, #165, ISBN 0-395-31555-7
- see note and references in the article on J. R. R. Tolkien
- Christopher Tolkien (1989), The History of Middle-Earth, The Lost Road, p.352; ISBN 0-395-45519-7
- Carpenter, Humphrey (1977), Tolkien: A Biography, New York: Ballantine Books, p. 56, ISBN 0-04-928037-6