The Lay of Leithian
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|The Lays of Beleriand chapters|
The Lay of Leithian is the third chapter of The Lays of Beleriand. The full title is The GEST of BEREN son of BARAHIR and Lúthien the FAY called TINUVIEL the NIGHTINGALE or the LAY OF LEITHIAN Release from Bondage.
Tolkien stated in his diary that he started the Lay during the time of summer examinations of 1925 at the University of Leeds. Confirming this, the first recorded date of the writing of the Lay was at Line 557: August 23, 1925. The next date is two and a half years later, 27-8 March, 1928, at line 1161. Over the next nine days he wrote fully 1769 lines, up to 2929. These dates are for the copying out of the manuscript, not for their writing, so Tolkien may have had many passages earlier before he put them together. In September 1931, he abandoned the Lay. He sent it to C.S. Lewis, who wrote back the following:
I sat up late last night and have read the Geste as far as to where Beren and his gnomish allies defeat the patrol of orcs above the sources of the Narog and disguise themselves in the rëaf [ OE: 'garments, weapons, taken from the slain']. I can quite honestly say that it is ages since I have had an evening of such delight: and the personal interest of reading a friend's work had very little to do with it. I should have enjoyed it just as well as if I'd picked it up in a bookshop, by an unknown author. The two things that come out clearly are the sense of reality in the background and the mythical value: the essence of a myth being that it should have no taint of allegory to the maker and yet should suggest incipient allegories to the reader
—The Lay of Leithian introduction
Later he wrote a detailed criticism, which pretends to treat the Lay as if it were a historical document. Tolkien was influenced by Lewis' comments, and made several minor changes based on them.
- Canto I - concerning Elu Thingol and Doriath
- Canto II - concerning Barahir the Bold, the treachery of Gorlim, his death, and Beren Erchamion's vow for revenge
- Canto III - concerning the meeting of Beren and Lúthien Tinúviel
- Canto IV - concerning Beren's capture and the bride-price of Lúthien as layed down by Thingol: a Silmaril
- Canto V - concerning Lúthien in Doriath and her escape
- Canto VI - concerning Beren in Nargothrond, with Finrod Felagund and the scheming of Celegorm and Curufin
- Canto VII - concerning the battle of minds between Finrod and Thû, and the fall of Finrod
- Canto VIII - concerning Celegorm and Curufin's capture of Lúthien, and her meeting with Huan
- Canto IX - concerning Huan's battle with Thû, the destruction of Wizard's Isle, and the freeing of Beren
- Canto X - concerning the second parting of Beren and Lúthien and the battle with Celegorm and Curufin
- Canto XI - concerning the reunion of Beren and Lúthien and the approach to Thangorodrim
- Canto XII - concerning the battle of Fingolfin and Morgoth and the enchanting of Carcharoth
- Canto XIII - concerning Lúthien's dance before Morgoth, his enchantment, and the stealing of the Silmaril
- Canto XIV - concerning the flight of Beren and Lúthien and the rage of Carcharoth
Appendix: Commentary by C.S. Lewis
Recycling the Lay
Tolkien recycled parts of the older version of the Lay, most notably in The Fall of Gil-galad and the Song of Durin, both poems included in The Fellowship of the Ring. Following are pieces found in both the Lord of the Rings and the Lay:
his silver lances long and keen;
the starlight in his shield was caught,
...There might and glory, wealth untold
Were wielded from his ivory throne
In many-pillared halls of stone.
There beryl, pearl, and opal pale
And metal wrought like fishes' mail
Buckler and corslet, axe and sword
And gleaming spears were laid in hoard
All these he had and loved them less
Than a maiden once in Elfinesse...
Lord of the Rings
his lance was keen.
His shining helm afar was seen;
the countless stars of heaven's field
were mirrored in his silver shield.
...There forged was blade, and bound was hilt;
The delver mined, the mason built.
There beryl, pearl, and opal pale,
And metal wrought like fishes' mail,
Buckler and corslet, axe and sword,
And shining spears were laid in hoard.