Canonicity Issues (Spoilers) — or, What Just Happened There?
Most of this derives from Lays of Beleriand and the Author's Notes that accompany them, as well as the Silmarillion and other parts of HOME, such as the opening details of Beren's nightmare before learning of his father's betrayal from Gorlim's shade, while he slept hidden from Orc-patrols in a badger's den. What does not, comes from imagination founded on personal experience, not excluding the hearing of others' experience, and wide reading in many fields across three decades, not least of expeditions and disasters as well as war. —Some of it also derives from LOTR:TT, "Cirith Ungol."
The source of the story itself comes from the echoing significance of two separate lines from the Lays concerning the events at Tol-in-Gaurhoth: first, that "ten had served their master well," (LB-LL1, Canto IX) and secondly, that "thither swiftly ran the fame of their dead king and his great deed," (LB-LL2, Canto X) — words which make little sense to me if there were not more active contest of dominion than mere endurance of death. Other lines also bear weighty implications (at least for me) such as the following, when after (apparently from weakness due to isolation) the last two survivors accidentally betray their identities in speech, believing themselves unobserved:
" 'Twere little loss if he were dead,
the outlaw mortal. But the king,
the Elf undying, many a thing
no man could suffer may endure."
For the source of my derivation of the proper name Beren from the early Elvish word ber see Ardalambion's Nandorin section,
There is a profound historical irony (or perhaps rather a unity) in this, as the House of Bëor's original culture was strongly influenced by the Avari, the lost Elven tribes of the East, and there is a tradition that in his second life Beren became a chief of the Dark Elves of Ossiriand, the Nandor (or more properly Laiquendi, the Green Elves, or Singers) who never went to Aman, but preferred the woods of Middle-earth to the long and dangerous journey to the West. The parallels between this and the lives of certain other figures of the Arda Mythos would take longer to explore but are well worth considering. (Someday, someday—)
The fact that Beren was the greatest hunter in his country before giving up both hunting and meat upon his father's death, slaying only creatures of the Enemy, is attested in both Silm. and LL 1 & 2. The image of Emeldir, last Lady of Dorthonion, as blonde, a warrior, and taller than her menfolk is also founded in the texts of Silmarillion and HOME.
The idea that the first ancestors of the Dunedain might decorate their homes with the apotropaic symbols of stars and eagles is my own, but suggested by the old custom mentioned by George Bain (Celtic Art: The Methods of Construction, 1951/Dover 1973) of Scots housewives painting white clay spirals about the threshold; similar customs in other cultures such as the mud-walled cities of West Africa where reincarnatory monotheism is to be found; and a line from an old Mystery song, "Five, for the Symbols at your door" which also contains the line "Seven, for the Seven Stars in the sky," as well as the conclusion, "One is One and all alone and ever more shall be so."
For the offer of a new hröa, I reference the offer made to Hurin by Morgoth in LB-NIHH, where the Fallen Vala tempts the mortal warrior with the opportunity of becoming chief of his Balrogs, if he will only betray Turgon. This might have been a false offer, of course, but given the canonical description of even his aide, Sauron, as master of "phantoms and of wandering ghosts" which are after specified to be his werewolves, and the fact that all of his minions were once various other kinds of beings to whom he had given bodies of his constructing (whether biological or mechanical, or both), I think this an extremely likely possibility — and a very real temptation.
That an Elven-warrior might endure injuries that would kill a mortal outright, be able to crawl from the battlefield, and recover fully, if discovered by friends and assisted by healing magic, is found explicitly in LB-NIHH as well. It would probably take somewhat longer than a week, for someone less rugged than Beleg Cuthalion, and without Maiar assistance, but nevertheless … I at least can easily envision how superior healing ability might not always be to one's advantage. (There was a chap called Prometheus once, I hear…)
For the question of what forces warred under the foundations of Minas Tirith (I) I invoke the texts of the Lays, and of the Summaries that Tolkien wrote to outline what must happen in the story. It is not debatable that Singing Magic was employed on both sides; it is not debatable that sorcery was utilized in the binding of the captives; it is not debatable that Sauron's power is death-magic, and that he used the memories of their own collective moral failure at Alqualondë to defeat them in combat; it is not debatable that it was late autumn at a high northerly parallel; it is debatable but more probable in my mind that the version which states that the King managed to conceal not merely their identities but the fact of Beren's mortality is correct; it is most certainly not debatable that he succeeded in keeping them not only alive but sane for weeks in circumstances of appalling degradation, sensory deprivation and hopelessness — and most importantly, that not one turned to the Dark Side.
For the rest — as to how it was done, (at least in general, being neither Power nor sorcerer myself) I have had recourse to my own invention, but not without I think at least canonical warrant: much of it drawn out from very deep implication, but also invoking the immense canopy of the Tree of Story beneath which all elements of Otherworld magic have their foundation. There is a great deal of stasis-magic and transformation magic involving exchange of spirits in the world's mythoi, much found in (but not limited to) the Indo-European tradition, as well as the traditions of Egypt, Ugar (and Finland) and Points East. The battle of Powers on the bridge over the Sirion where shift after repeated shift still fail to shake the hold of Good is likewise in that same tradition (q.v. "Tam Lin," "Prince Lindworm," and the Myth of Proteus, the Old Man of the Sea, found in both the Greek and Arabic legends of wandering Sea-lords.)
As to the ultimate nature of High Elven magic: it is of course both dil and mel — that is to say, love. But love which is without selfishness or desire for control, which appreciates for the sake of that which is loved alone and not as means to other end, not thought of as cold and divorced from affection but encompassing it, and which does not seek to diminish but which rejoices in the good and the glory of that which is beloved. —Which some of us would consider the only meaning of the word worth having—
That this is not mine own invention I offer especially Canto XI of the Lay of Leithian, Fragment 1, of which I provide two most relevant examples exerpted from much longer passages in the same spirit, the first uttered at the borders of Angband in anticipation of failure and future captivity, the second in reply:
"…Though all to ruin fell the world,
and were dissolved and backward hurled
unmade into the old abyss,
yet were its making good, for this—
the dawn, the dusk, the earth, the sea—
that Lúthien on a time should be!"
"…Not thus do those of elven race
forsake the love that they embrace.
A love is mine, as great a power
as thine, to shake the gate and tower
of death with challenge weak and frail
that yet endures, and will not fail
nor yield, unvanquished were it hurled
beneath the foundations of the world.
Beloved fool! escape to seek
from such pursuit; in might so weak
to trust not…"
Thus back to him came Lúthien…
Exerpts from The Lays of Beleriand, © J. R. R. Tolkien, released by Ballantine/Del Rey, 1985.
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