The Geste part 5
For those who haven't seen my occasional posts on Tolkien's other work, this should be fairly self-explanatory...
It is quite simply, a very different kind of Book Spoiler. To try and encourage those of us who seldom, or never, brave the world of the Reading Room to look deeper into all that Tolkien created. At the moment we are going through extracts from the Lay of Beleriand, which covers the story of the mortal Beren and his beloved elven Lady Lúthien. Two lovers in whose footsteps Arwen and Aragorn later walked.
I'll give some explanation of what is going on, and feel free to comment any way you like, ask questions, note the poetic style, the imagery, the story line, tell us if you hate it, find it boring, fall into hysterical weeping.. anything really. And if you've discovered some exciting nugget of information yourself, feel free to add it!
Well, without further hesitation, I thought I'd just throw you straight in this week and give you a chance to explore the poetry for its own sake before I give you some information as to what it's all about. Tolkien's words alone are enough to give you a sense of atmosphere!
In Wizard's Isle still lay forgot,
enmeshed and tortured in that grot
cold, evil, doorless, without light,
and blank-eyed stared at endless night
two comrades. Now alone they were._________2570
The others lived no more, but bare
their broken bones would lie and tell
how ten had served their master well
There in the dark they wrestled slow,__________2620
remorseless, snarling, to and fro,
teeth in flesh, gripe on throat,
fingers locked in shaggy coat,
spurring Beren who there lying
heard the werewolf gasping, dying._____________2625
Then a voice he heard: 'Farewell!
On earth I need no longer dwell,
friend and comrade, Beren bold.
My heart is burst, my limbs are cold.
Here all my power I have spent
To break my bonds, and dreadful rent
Of poisened teeth is in my breast
I now must go to my long rest
Neath Timbrenting in timeless halls
Where drink the gods, where the light falls
Upon the shining sea.' Thus died the king
As elvish singers yet do sing.
so, what's going on?
Well, I'll start with where the scene is set.
The 'Wizard-isle' is also known as 'Tol-in-Gaurhoth' - The Isle of Werewolves.
It was originally 'Tol Sirion', an island in the middle of the river Sirion, on which the elf Finrod Felagund (Galadriel's brother) built the first Minas Tirith - which literally means 'Tower of the Guard'. A tower that watched over the western pass of Beleriand to protect it from attack by Morgoth or his servant Sauron.
Alas. In the late First Age it was captured by Sauron who held it himself for about ten years. He inhabited the tower instead of destroying it, filling it with his dark malice and the filthy, evil servants at his command.
Meanwhile, Beren enlisted the help of the dispossessed Finrod to go on the quest to Angband to snatch a Silmaril from Morgoth's crown. He hoped, as I'm sure you know by now, that by doing this he would win permission to take Lúthien's hand. The story is fairly familiar in many ways. It mirrors the path that Frodo and Sam take in LOTR.
Dressed in the guise of Orcs (heard that one before?) they passed through Anfauglith. Anfauglith was originally the plain of Ard-galen -literally the 'Green-Region'-, between the Elvish realms of Beleriand and Morgoth's Angband stronghold. It was a beautiful grassland in which the Elves set up their camps during their siege of Morgoth's lair. One dreadful day, which was to be known as 'Dagor Bragollach' - the Battle of Sudden Flame - Morgoth sent rivers of flame pouring out from Angband which destroyed the Elvish armies and turning Ard-galen into a desert.
"Thus Ard-galen perished ... and it was called Anfauglith, the Gasping Dust. Many charred bones had there their roofless grave..."
(Quenta Silmarillion 18 - Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin)
That reminds me of the plains of Dagorlad (or 'Battle Plain') outside Mordor that Tolkien describes as having the detritus of Mordor vomited all over it. Nasty!
In a reversal of Frodo's fortunes, it was while dressed as Orcs that Beren and Fingon were captured. And Sauron held them in the pits of Tol-in-Gaurhoth, surrounded by "...werewolves; fell beasts inhabited by dreadful spirits that he [Sauron] had imprisoned in their bodies" (The Silmarillion, 19 Of Beren and Lúthien).
Alas in a mortal irony Finrod is killed by Sauron's minions - or perhaps simply by the dread nature of his captivity - in the very tower that he created to keep Sauron out.
But what of Beren? Has his quest to reach Angband and the Silmarils failed too?
Well, as Beren lies in the dark dungeons of Sauron's Isle, Lúthien becomes aware of a darkness creeping over her heart. Her mother Melian tells her that this is a sign of Beren's capture. So the Elven Lady travels northward to find him, but gets tangled in her own adventures. Then comes Huan the Hound of Valinor:
Thus Huan spake, who never before
had uttered words, but twice more
did speak in elven tongue again:
'Lady beloved, whom all Men,
whom elfinesse, and whom all things
with fur and fell and feathered wings
should serve and love--arise! away!
Put on thy cloak! Before the day
comes over Nargothrond we fly
to Northern perils, thou and I.
And so she makes her way to Tol-in-Gaurhoth to try to rescue her beloved, with Huan in tow to aid her fight against the fell beasts of Sauron's making.....