The fairest of all Children of Ilúvatar, Lúthien is not an ordinary character. Being the daughter of an Elf and a Maia, she inherited various traits of both kindreds. Among many of her gifts and skills singing was one of the most exceptional. However, when it comes to talking about Lúthien’s singing, we should bear in mind that hers was not renowned just for being done in a beautiful voice. Lúthien’s songs possessed special power.

To have a broader look into Lúthien’s singing power, let us first look at her parentage. Lúthien’s mother was Melian — a Maia, that is an Ainu of a lesser power, a being created from Ilúvatar’s thought. Among her people Melian was the wisest, the most beautiful and the most skilled in songs of enchantment:

It is told that the Valar would leave their works, and the birds of Valinor their mirth, that the bells of Valmar were silent and the fountains ceased to flow, when at the mingling of the lights Melian sang in Lórien.

(The Silmarillion, p. 54)

Nightingales followed Melian and learnt their song from her. After Melian had left Aman for Middle-earth, it was first the song of nightingales and then Melian’s voice which enchanted Elwë, who would later become known as Elu Thingol, and led him to where Melian was standing. Thus happened the meeting of Lúthien’s parents.

The meeting of Beren and Lúthien many years later followed a similar scenario. Beren first saw Lúthien in Neldoreth and became enamoured of her. Interestingly, it was even before he heard the Elf-maiden’s singing that he called her Tinúviel — a Nightingale or Daughter of Twilight. It was only following long wanderings around the woods that Beren heard her magical song:

Keen, heart-piercing was her song as the song of the lark that rises from the gates of night and pours its voice among the dying stars, seeing the sun behind the walls of the world; and the song of Lúthien released the bonds of winter, and the frozen waters spoke, and flowers sprang from the cold earth where her feet had passed.

(The Silmarillion, p. 193)

It is clear that Lúthien gift in songs of enchantment came from Melian. That song had a releasing power, not only for nature, but also for Beren: he was able to speak to Lúthien after hearing it, whereas before he had been silent and unable to utter a single word. It is noteworthy that when Beren departed from Doriath on the quest to retrieve a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown, Lúthien ceased singing and “brooding silence fell upon the woods, and the shadows lengthened in the kingdom of Thingol” (The Silmarillion, p. 197).

Another song of Lúthien had a growing power. She used it to escape from the house in the branches of Hirilorn, where she was forced to dwell by her father Elu Thingol because of her plan to follow Beren on the king’s quest. The episode is treated in more details in The Lay of Leithian: in order to grow her hair very long, Lúthien instructed her guards to bring her water and wine in certain vessels and in a special way. Then she used her song to grow her hair very long:

A magic song to Men unknown

she sang, and singing then the wine

with water mingled three times nine;

and as in golden jar they lay

she sang a song of growth and day;

and as they lay in silver white

another song she sang, of night,

and darkness without end, of height

uplifted to the stars, and flight

and freedom. And all names of things

tallest and longest on earth she sings…

(Lays of Beleriand, p. 205)

These longest things include the tail of werewolf Draugluin, the body of dragon Glómund (known as Glaurung in The Silmarillion), the peaks rising over Angband, the chain Angainor, the locks of the Longbeard dwarfs, the giant of Eruman, the sword of Nan and the hair of Uinen. These mentions also serve as cultural references within Middle-earth, belonging to the lore of Middle-earth and being its crucial part. Apart from implementing the theme of length into her song, Lúthien added a theme of sleep to it. So when her hair grew very long very quickly, she cut it and wove it into a cloak. On the maiden’s perilous journey that cloak helped conceal her very well, as well as cast others into sleep.

Undoubtedly two of the most dangerous and impressive encounters that Lúthien had after joining Beren on his quest were with the two Dark Lords. Her arrival to Tol-in-Gaurhoth, where Sauron dwelt and Beren remained the only survivor from the small company that had followed him and Finrod from Nargothrond, was marked with a powerful song. The marvel of Lúthien’s song was well known in Beleriand, so both Sauron and Beren understood who had come. Her second song was even more powerful: it shook the isle and made the wolves howl. It also served as a challenged to Sauron, who wished to hold Lúthien captive in order to pass to Morgoth for a rich reward. All the wolves he sent to the bridge were killed by Huan the hound, who accompanied Lúthien, and Sauron himself nearly perished in a wolf shape with the hound’s teeth on his throat. Thus Sauron yielded to Lúthien the mastery of his isle and using the spell he had given to her, she destroyed the tower and freed the captives of Tol-in-Gaurhoth.

Lúthien’s facing Morgoth himself within the walls of Angband became a feat of even greater daring and bravery. Stripped of her disguise as a bat, she found herself in front of the terrible Dark Lord of Angband. Still, she did not lose her nerve and “out of the shadows began a song of such surpassing loveliness, and of such blinding power, that he [Morgoth] listened perforce; and a blindness came upon him, as his eyes roamed to and fro, seeking her” (The Silmarillion, p. 212-213).

It was this song of power with a dance, involving Lúthien’s magical cloak, that cast the whole court, including Morgoth himself, into sleep and thus allowed Beren to cut a Silmaril from the Iron Crown. It is curious how the Silmarils in the crown reacted to Lúthien’s song as they shone with a bright, white flame and for that moment made the crown much heavier for Morgoth to wear.

Such a feat did not pass without its toll, though: on their way from the halls of Morgoth, Lúthien could not deal with Carcharoth like she did on the way to Angband as she was spent and had no strength left to confront the wolf. This is yet another proof that her songs involved more than just a beautiful voice, but also using her inner powers, strength, skills of enchantment.

The last song we hear from Lúthien in The Silmarillion is the one in front of Mandos. After Beren’s death, her spirit departed to the Halls of Mandos because of her grief and she sang before Mandos himself:

The song of Lúthien before Mandos was the song most fair that ever in words was woven, and the song most sorrowful that ever the world shall hear.

(The Silmarillion, p. 220)

With the sorrows of Elves and Men woven into that song, Mandos was moved to pity, which never happened again. The song was then remembered in Valinor and on hearing it, the Valar were grieved: so sorrowful it was.

Lúthien’s gift in the songs of power is exceptional. She often used singing in situations of dire need, desperation and, sung with great inner power, enchantment skills and feeling, this art never failed her in many perilous situations.

Further reading:

On the songs of challenge

On the songs of power

Works consulted:

  1. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1999.
  2. J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien – The Lays of Beleriand; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2015.

Featured image: Claude Monet – Meadow with Poplars (Wikimedia Commons)

15 thoughts on “On Lúthien’s power of singing.

  1. When I learned to program in C (in the Elder Days) this is what came to mind when I found out about system libraries. Those libraries let a user have access to the underlying structure of the computer. They give great power and carry great danger. I imagine that Lúthien’s songs tapped into some of the themes of the Music of the Ainur, which gave them power in Arda the same way.

    Tolkien would have hated this analogy.

  2. The “tallest and longest” things catalogue is a wonderful moment in the Lay of Leithian. The references are so rich, and some of them don’t go anywhere… but that’s okay. It makes Arda feel wider.

  3. What a beautiful reflection! All the way through I was thinking of the words from The Song of Solomon, “Love is stronger than death”. I am awed by Lúthien’s passion. Thingol becomes a mean and grasping man but Lúthien bursts from his cage. Then how wonderfully you described the power of her songs that are the power of love itself. The last one that is the power of love over death itself in the Halls of Mandos convinced me that I was on the right lines. For all their self-glory it is not Morgoth or Sauron who is her greatest foe but Mandos who has never released a single person who has come to him. But such is her love that even he must give way. Wonderful!

    1. Thank you!
      None of the effects of her powerful singing would have been possible without her love and passion. Real love can work wonders, as we can see from Beren and Lúthien’s story.

  4. Hi Olga,
    I am a singer/songwriter and have always marveled at how Luthien’s singing wove such a powerful enchantment. At times it seems to me that her music is woven from the liminal realm of twilight. At times it is a weapon and at others a seemingly innocent lull-a-bye that soothes the savage beast(s). I believe in the power of music, and it does not surprise me that Tolkien would have drawn upon the mythic tales that speak of its power. I also note that he gives this power to a female protagonist. I know the voice of Ulmo is heard in the music of the waters, so to speak but I don’t know of any other male character who weaves an enchantment by singing.

    Thanks for this lovely summation of Luthien’s powerful singing.

    1. Hi Robin,
      Thank you for your comment! Music is indeed powerful in Tolkien. The world was created by the Music of the Ainur, so it’s only natural that it has such a power in the whole mythology.
      Concerning male characters, Finrod Felagund was capable of such songs. First, he was able to transform Beren, himself and their companions into Orcs by means of a song. Then he fought with Sauron using songs of power. Thus, Sauron was also capable to work enchantment by means of songs. I wrote about their duel here on my blog. Songs are used for different purposes, but what impresses me most is that such songs have visible results in the world. Amazing!
      Thank you for reading! 🙂

  5. Thank for this, Olga. I don’t comment on your posts as often as I should and for that I apologize because you so often make excellent observations.

    A number of things fascinate me about the power of Luthien’s song. Melian’s singing in Valinor made everything stop, while Luthien’s released the Spring. The world stopping to listen is of course a mark of the singing of Orpheus, who like Luthien uses song to win back his love from death by moving the master of the afterlife. Her song secures the release of Beren just as it releases the Spring from the death of Winter. Unlike Orpheus, Luthien gets to keep her love, but only for a time. Winter will come again despite the power of her song which wins them a reprieve, if only for a season, as it were.

    I am also fascinated by the comparison of Luthien, the nightingale, to the lark, which famously sings at dawn, as Tolkien well knew. She combines both dawn and twilight.

    1. Thank you so much, Tom!
      These are fantastic observations! They add more to understanding of these singing powers, so thank you so much for sharing them.
      The combination of dawn and night in Lúthien is fascinating. What a truly unique character she is!

    2. I remember the feeling I had when I realized one day that Tolkien was referencing not just Orpheus and Eurydice, but also Sir Orfeo and Heurodis (their story itself a “fairy bride” adaptation of the original) in the story of Beren and Lúthien. It was a jaw-dropping kind of amazement combined with shock that I hadn’t noticed it before. I have a similar feeling right now, because I’m just putting all that together with the realization of the fact that Tolkien inverted the story by having the fairy bride be the rescuer, not the rescuee.

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