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.
- J. R. R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1999.
- J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien – The Lays of Beleriand; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2015.
Featured image: Claude Monet – Meadow with Poplars (Wikimedia Commons)