Quest for the Silmaril
|Quest for the Silmaril|
|Location||Doriath, Nargothrond, Tol-in-Gaurhoth, Angband|
|Result||A Silmaril retrieved from Angband|
|Part of||War of the Jewels|
|Participants||Beren, Lúthien, Finrod Felagund, Huan, The Eagles, Sauron, Morgoth|
- "Then he drew forth the knife Angrist; and from the iron claws that held it he cut a Silmaril."
- ― Of Beren in The Silmarillion, "Of Beren and Lúthien"
The Quest for the Silmaril was the pursuit of Beren Erchamion for a Silmaril from the Iron Crown of Morgoth during the First Age. This was the price set upon Beren by Thingol, King of Doriath, for his daughter Lúthien's hand in marriage. Beren was aided in the Quest by Lúthien herself, King Finrod Felagund of Nargothrond and Huan the Hound of Valinor.
The Quest was immortalised in the Elvish poetic epic, the Lay of Leithian, and is also told in the nineteenth chapter of the Quenta Silmarillion. Moreover, the Quest, and its conception and evolution by author J.R.R. Tolkien, is detailed in the book Beren and Lúthien (2017), with one of the earliest iterations given in The Book of Lost Tales as The Tale of Tinúviel.
Coming to Doriath, Beren, son of Barahir, chanced upon Lúthien — daughter of Thingol, King of Doriath, and Melian the Maia — dancing in the woods of Neldoreth. There, doom was written for Man and Elf-maiden, and the two fell in love with each other. But Daeron the minstrel reported this to Thingol and Beren was brought to the King in Menegroth. Before the court of Thingol, Beren declared his love for Lúthien, and in his anger, Thingol set upon Beren a task he deemed impossible: to retrieve a Silmaril from the Iron Crown of Morgoth. Only then would he would allow Beren to receive Lúthien as his bride.
Departing Doriath and beginning in earnest his Quest, Beren travelled to Nargothrond, seeking the help of Finrod Felagund, who had aforetime sworn an oath to Barahir to come to the aid of his kin in need. Upon hearing Beren's plight, Finrod was dispirited, for he perceived the Oath of Fëanor to be at work. With ten companions, Beren and Finrod set out for Angband. By the arts of the Elven-lord, they were disguised as Orcs. However, in passing Tol-in-Gaurhoth, the company were captured by Sauron. Thus befell the renowned contest of Finrod and Sauron. The two strove against each other in songs of power, but ultimately, Sauron had the mastery, and, stripping them of their disguises, he held them prisoner in Tol-in-Gaurhoth. But being unable to discern their identities or purpose, he sent werewolves to devour them one by one, until only Finrod and Beren were left. When the wolf came for Beren, Finrod put forth all his power, burst his bonds, and slew it with his bare hands, but alas at the cost of his own life. There ended Finrod Felagund, fairest of all the Noldor, his oath to Barahir redeemed at the last. During their confinement, a darkness fell upon the heart of Lúthien, who learned from Melian that Beren was held as Sauron’s captive. Lúthien resolved to go and free him, but Thingol forbade this, and ordered for her to be guarded in a house built for her. But using her magic, she weaved a cloak of enchantment, and escaped from Doriath.
On her journey, Lúthien encountered Huan, the hound of the Valar, who brought her before his masters, Celegorm and Curufin, two of the Sons of Fëanor. And they were filled with wonder upon seeing her and feigned friendship with her. And Lúthien was glad. But through treachery, she was taken captive. Celegorm intended to take Lúthien as his wife, and for this purpose he sent emissaries to Thingol. For through an alliance with Doriath, Celegorm planned to become the mightiest of the princes of the Noldor; he desired to unite all of the Elves of Middle-earth under one banner before beginning an assault upon Angband in the hope of reclaiming the Silmarils. But Huan took pity on Lúthien, and had grown in friendship with her. Thus, for the first time, Huan spoke, giving her counsel, and freed her from her bondage. He bore her away at speed, and the two came at last to Tol-in-Gaurhoth.
Sauron was aware of them, and smiled, for he knew a great reward would await him for the capture of the daughter of Melian. So he sent wolves, including the father of werewolves, Draugluin, to the gate, but Huan slew them all. Then Sauron recalled the fate of Huan, foretold long ago in Valinor; that he would be slain by the mightiest wolf ever to walk the world. And Sauron, in his conceit, imagined that he himself could be the one to end Huan. So he took the form of a terrible wolf, and both Lúthien and Huan quailed before him. But, as Sauron advanced, by the power of Lúthien, he was struck by a blinding enchantment of weariness, and Huan took him by the throat. Lúthien demanded he yield the mastery of the tower, lest Huan destroy his mortal form. Sauron yielded, and fled in the form of a terrible vampire. Laying waste to the fortress and freeing many from thraldom, Lúthien found Beren and healed him. United once more, they buried the body of Finrod and departed that place, and Huan returned to the service of Celegorm.
Near Doriath, they were ambushed by Celegorm and Curufin, who knew of Beren's intentions to wrest a Silmaril from Morgoth. Curufin swept Lúthien up but Beren leapt into his saddle, and all fell to the ground. In that hour, Huan forsook the two sons of Fëanor, and with the aid of the hound, Beren defeated them. Being humiliated, Curufin shot an arrow at Lúthien, but Beren came in front of her and was struck. Huan pursued the brothers, who fled, and returned with herbs to aid Lúthien in the healing of Beren. After a time, Beren sought to discourage Lúthien from continuing the Quest with him, but Huan spoke for the second time, counselling that their fates were now bound together, whether Beren willed it or not. And Beren accepted this. Then by the arts of Lúthien, the two were arrayed in the hame of Draugluin, and the bat-like messenger of Sauron, Thuringwethil. Together, they passed through untold perils, and arrived finally at the Gates of Angband.
Guarding the gates was a creature of whom no news had yet reached the Noldor: the werewolf Carcharoth. And he denied them entry and bade them stand. Suddenly some power, descended from divine race, possessed Lúthien, and casting back her raiment she stood forth, radiant and terrible. Lifting up her hand, she commanded Carcharoth to sleep, and he was felled. Then Beren and Lúthien crossed the threshold of Angband, descended the serpentine stairs, and together wrought the greatest deed that has been dared by Elves or Men. For they came to the seat of Morgoth himself in his deepest hall, and it was full of fire, and horror, and death. Yet Lúthien was undaunted by Morgoth and began to dance and sing for him in the manner of a minstrel. He beheld her with lust, but her song was of such enchantment and power that all his court fell into a deep sleep. The Silmarils in the Iron Crown suddenly blazed forth, and the burden of the jewels became too much for even the will of Morgoth to bear, for he became drowsy. Then Lúthien sprang into the air and cast her cloak before his eyes, setting upon him a dark dream. And Morgoth was cast down in unconscious slumber.
Then Beren unsheathed his knife and cut a Silmaril from the crown of Morgoth. It did not burn him. It came then to Beren's mind to go beyond his vow and retrieve not one, but all three Silmarils from Angband. But such was not his fate, for the knife broke, and a shard struck the face of Morgoth. He and his court stirred. Realising their immediate peril, terror unknown came upon Lúthien and Beren, and they fled, heedless and without disguise. Upon reaching the surface, they were ambushed by Carcharoth. Beren raised the Silmaril before the wolf, but Carcharoth desired it and bit off the right hand of Beren. The jewel seared the wolf's innards, and Carcharoth fled, in agonising pain. In his madness he passed through the Girdle of Melian into Doriath, for fate, and the power of the Silmaril, drove him.
With the aid of Thorondor, Lúthien and Beren escaped the reach of Morgoth and came to the outer borders of Doriath. There Beren was nursed to health once more by Lúthien. After tarrying there for a time, they returned to Doriath, and Thingol marvelled to see Beren alive. Then Beren and Lúthien told their tale, and that a Silmaril was yet in his hand. The court of Menegroth was astonished; even Thingol himself held Beren among the greats in Arda from that day forward. And, at last, he yielded Lúthien to him, and the two were married before the throne of Thingol.
So there may have been peace and joy in Doriath, but Carcharoth was discovered, and a hunting party was sent to slay the beast. During the hunt, Thingol was nearly slain, but Beren saved him, at the cost of a mortal wound. Huan then slew Carcharoth, but was himself fatally wounded. Coming to Beren, he spoke for the third and final time, bidding him farewell. There died Huan, hound of the Valar. The Silmaril was cut from Carcharoth's burned flesh, and Beren presented it at last to Thingol, who had grown to hold him with the utmost reverence. Lúthien bade Beren wait for her in the Undying Lands. Looking upon her one last time, Beren died of his wounds, and his spirit found its way into the west, to the shores of the Outer Sea. Through grief, the spirit of Lúthien fled its body and came to the Halls of Mandos. There she sang a song of such woe, and beauty, and lamentation, that even Mandos was moved to pity. He summoned Beren's spirit, and there the two were reunited. But it was not within the power of Mandos to change the fates of the Children of Ilúvatar, so he went to Manwë, who sought counsel from Eru in his innermost thought, where the will of Ilúvatar was revealed to him.
Two choices were put before Lúthien. To remain in Valinor and its eternal bliss, forgetting the griefs of life, but without Beren. For to the Undying Lands, mortals were not permitted to come. The second choice was that she and Beren might return to Middle-earth as mortals, where they would both die a second death. Lúthien chose the latter, forsaking the Undying Lands for the love of Beren. So it came to pass that she and Beren returned to Doriath.
Many rejoiced at their return, but Melian saw in her daughter's eyes the mortal doom that was there written; she foresaw that a parting beyond the world was now due between mother and daughter. And it is told that no grief has been greater than that of Melian the Maia in that hour. But the Quest was completed; Thingol had received the Silmaril, and Beren and Lúthien had been wedded. The two went to dwell in Tol Galen, in Ossiriand, where their son, Dior Aranel was born. There they lived, to the end of their days. And where their bodies were finally laid to rest, no tale tells.
The Silmaril retrieved from Morgoth's crown brought about considerable changes in Beleriand. The deeds of Beren and Lúthien inspired Maedhros to create a military Union against Morgoth, resulting in the disastrous Nirnaeth Arnoediad. In this battle, many perished, and Húrin, father of Túrin Turambar and Nienor, was captured by Morgoth. These events seeded the tragedies that eventually befell the two children of Húrin.
A more direct impact was the Ruin of Doriath. In naming the desire of the Silmaril, Thingol awoke the Curse of Mandos and became ensnared in the Oath of Fëanor. Just as Finrod had cautioned Beren, so it came to be. Before long, the Sons of Fëanor sent messages demanding the return of the jewel. Melian counselled Thingol to give it up, and save Doriath from its doom. But Thingol was angered by the prideful words of the Sons of Fëanor, and since the jewel had been won by the efforts of Beren and Lúthien, he refused. Indeed, his thought turned unceasingly to that jewel, and it came to his mind to combine together the beauty of the Nauglamir with the majesty of the Silmaril. And, he instructed the Dwarves of Nogrod to reconstruct the Nauglamir like so. But the Dwarves desired the Silmaril and the Nauglamir for themselves, and they slew Thingol and tried to escape with the treasure after the Battle of the Thousand Caves. Most of them were slain by Beren and the Elves of Ossiriand in the Battle of Sarn Athrad and the Silmaril was returned to Melian. But it did little to soothe her, for she had tasted the bitterness of mortality in full, and she was overcome with grief. So she departed from Middle-earth and returned into the West, and the Girdle of Melian which had fenced Doriath from evil for many long years vanished in her absence.
This was the starting point for the eventual destruction of Doriath by the sons of Fëanor, when they tried to reclaim the Silmaril from Dior, slaying him in the process. They failed however, and the Silmaril was passed to Elwing, daughter of Dior. Eventually the sons of Fëanor, compelled by their oath, tracked her down, which led to the assault on the Mouths of Sirion. Elwing still managed to escape with the Silmaril.
Though Morgoth did not count the missing Silmaril as a great loss, it would soon result in his downfall. Elwing and her husband Eärendil were guided to Valinor by the Silmaril, and there Eärendil pleaded with the Valar on behalf of the two kindreds to forgive the folly of the Noldor and put an end to the darkness that had grown in the East. The Valar granted his plea. The lone Silmaril was set in the sky as a star, and the Valar assembled a mighty host in the War of Wrath, which resulted in the conclusive defeat of Morgoth, and the end of the First Age.
The Quest of Beren and Lúthien for the Silmaril became one of the greatest tales of the Elder Days by the Third Age. It was indirectly referred to in the Song of Beren and Lúthien sung by Aragorn to the four Hobbits, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin on Weathertop, after leaving Bree in T.A. 3018.
Other versions of the legendarium
The Quest for the Silmaril forms a key part of The Tale of Tinúviel as told in the book Beren and Lúthien. This was one of the earliest stories written by J.R.R. Tolkien (circa 1917) in his mythology that would later become The Book of Lost Tales. The main story arc is essentially unchanged when compared to that which appears in the Quenta Silmarillion, in that Beren and Tinúviel (Lúthien) attempt to retrieve a Silmaril from Melko (Morgoth) in his fortress Angamandi (Angband). There are however some key differences between the primitive and developed stories. Beren is not a Man in this early tale, but is instead an Elf, more specifically, a Gnome; the Gnomes would later become the Noldor as Tolkien rewrote the mythology. The mistrust of Tinwelint (Thingol) towards Beren is explained by the perception of the woodland Elves towards the Gnomes of Dor-lómin as being treacherous creatures. Further, the minstrel Dairon (Daeron) is the brother of Tinúviel. Beren is set to work in the kitchens of Tevildo, Prince of Cats (later replaced by the Necromancer Thû, who was an early construction of Sauron), after being brought before Melko by a band of orcs who captured him as prisoner. From here was he rescued by Tinúviel who, after befriending Huan of the Dogs, used her magic to free those in thraldom in the castle of Tevildo.
A notable absence in this early iteration of the Quest is the character of Felagund. Moreover, there is no early incarnation of the two Sons of Fëanor, Celegorm and Curufin. After developing the mythology in later years, Tolkien tied the tale of the Quest together with the events of Nargothrond, thus maturing the story towards the form it takes in the Quenta Silmarillion.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales Part Two, "I. The Tale of Tinúviel"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "A Knife in the Dark"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Beren and Lúthien, "Beren and Lúthien: [Unnamed introduction]"
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Beren and Lúthien, "The Tale of Tinúviel"