Who are Beren and Luthien?

wiseGEEK Writer

Beren and Luthien are characters created by J.R.R. Tolkien for his work The Silmarillion. Their story is also frequently referred to in The Lord of the Rings. It parallels the central love story in Rings of Arwen and Aragorn, and to some extent, Tolkien's own romance with his wife.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

In brief, the story of Beren and Luthien is of the first marriage between an immortal elf, Luthien, and a mortal man, Beren. Elves had immortality, which they could forsake if they chose a married life with a mortal. The two fall in love, and then commence a dangerous rescue mission to steal a silmaril, a special stone, from the enemy at Angband. However, the mission is less perilous than Luthien’s choice. She willingly gives up living forever in order to love Beren, whose life is cut quite short. According to Tolkien, prior to Arwen, Luthien is the only elf to have truly died.

In The Lord of the Rings Aragorn and Arwen are frequently compared to Beren and Luthien. Arwen too has the choice of remaining immortal or marrying Aragorn. She chooses Aragorn and thus chooses death, a subject of much pain to her father, Elrond, who will live forever with only his recollection of her.

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The story held a deeper, personal significance to Tolkien himself. Tolkien was frequently unhappy with people comparing his work to his life story. Tolkien definitely compared his relationship to his wife, Edith Bratt, to the relationship between Beren and Luthien. When Tolkien first met Bratt, she was a Protestant, and Tolkien, a devout Catholic was advised not to marry her. In fact, Bratt did forsake her family by converting to Catholicism. Even the first meeting of the two is an echo of Tolkien’s life

Beren spies Luthien dancing in the woods and falls deeply in love with her. On a romantic starry night, Edith danced for Tolkien and immediately entranced him. Edith was older than Tolkien; she was 19 and he was 16. This reflects Luthien’s agelessness and maturity, as compared to Beren’s relative youth. Further Tolkien referred to Edith as his Luthien, and to himself as Beren.

Clearly the family struggle that ensued and the opposition Edith encountered in attempting to marry Tolkien was a source of pain to Edith. Luthien is shown as sorry for the family conflict she causes, yet resolute in her path to marriage. Tolkien’s words breathe a kindly sympathy to Edith’s family and an understanding of their pain, while celebrating Edith’s choice for his sake.

Tolkien’s relationship to Edith, and his deep love for her are perhaps even more romantic than his fictional treatment of the subject. To be Luthien, the most beautiful and desired of her people in Tolkien’s eyes, was the highest regard he could possibly give a woman. Further it expresses Tolkien as almost feeling he doesn’t quite deserve the grace that is Luthien.

The end of Edith and Tolkien’s lives mark the continued love story, and the conclusion of its romance. Edith’s grave is marked with the name Luthien, and Tolkien’s with the name Beren. They appear to have always remained to each other, the great lovers of Tolkien’s imaginings.

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