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Leithian Script: Act I: 5. The Leithian Script — Why?
Seriously, it was forged out of a combination of several consecutive retellings of the story, set into the wider Arda Mythos context on the fly, to younger, teenage Tolkien fans who had either not read Silmarillion or not lately; several particularly inane Usenet statements and a general tone of obliviousness cluelessness as to character motivations; and a free morning when I didn't feel like cleaning the house…
It had started as nothing more than the cartoon which accompanies it, the mental exercise of imagining how the throne room scene would appear if one were actually there to witness it having caused me too many fits of giggles not to inflict it on — er, share it with — others. Unfortunately, the rest of the scene insisted on playing itself out, and thus The Script was born…
Then, although it was only conceived as a one-off short sketch, I was urged repeatedly to keep going, which didn't happen until I finally figured out how to do this — it truly is a very complicated architectonic and stylistic construction, and not a simple matter of translation at all. Then a way to make it work, as a unified drama, occurred to me, and the madness went on…
Here I show you the ropes and pulleys, the gaffers and grips, making it all happen — that is to say, the textual citations, in-jokes, obscure/obligatory references, and terrible puns, along with interpretations & interpolations of Canon — and ultimately the answer to "Why?" such a project at all…
Now, as far as The Script goes, overall I'm following the story and Canon as set forth in the 1977 Silmarillion, which as far as I can tell from subsequent reading is close to, if not quite identical with, the unpublished 1930 Silmarillion for the story of Beren and Luthien. However, I also have made massive recourse to the Fragments of the Lay of Leithian, written out in the last half of the '20s, mostly, and found in The Lays of Beleriand together with the earliest version of The Lay of the Children of Hurin, which I will refer to as LL1 and LL2, the latter being a revision of some of the cantos begun ca 1950. Generally speaking I will take the Lay Fragments as primary, though not always, when there are differences.
I have also utilized where I have found them relevant facts and information from elsewhere in the History of Middle Earth, where sometimes a small sentence or aside will provide vast insights into the connections or complications of the story. And, of course, there is the whole question of variations internally, which I treat by a) picking the versions I like best; b) acting as though the writings are actually translations of pre-and post-Atalantaean works recovered by Professor Tolkien, which have been mucked about with and partially mangled and partly forgotten and often rewritten, just like The Song of Roland and other real epics and romances of the Primary World. So The Script is, on one level, an attempt to harmonize these various rescensions of Canon, just as it is on another level an attempt to make the obscurer parts comprehensible to a modern audience.
Three things are important to remember: first, the Silmarillion version of Beren & Luthien is complete in length, but not in detail; secondly, the LB versions are not complete in length (what I would not give for the lost 3.5 cantos!) but much fuller in detail; thirdly, there are hints and crucial elements developed in the adjunct notes and summaries jotted down as Tolkien developed the plot more fully. But the LB is very hard to work with, due partly to the typeface and partly to the masses of interpolated scholarly commentary, which are useful on one level, but do not make for easy or fluid reading. And it's poetry in a high-medieval style, like that of the famous "Ubi Sunt" — which goes like this in part:
Were beth they biforen us weren,
Houndes ladden and hauekes beren
And hadden feld and wode?
The riche levedies in hoere bour
That wereden golden in hoere tressour
With hoere brightte rode…
…Were is that lawing and that song,
That trayling and that proude gong,
Tho havekes and tho houndes?
which is not a style natural to us these days, (or most of us, at least) and requires some adjustment to be readable as a novel is to us. But oh, it has some grand stuff in it, and I at least enjoy "the character of its hero," and do not find it merely "a treasure chest of trivia," as the blurb on the back cover calls it.
He grew afraid
amidst his power once more; renown
of Beren vexed his ears, and down
the aisléd forests there was heard
great Huan baying.
Why did I choose to render it in a pseudo-Shakespearean format, modeled on Henry V with the device of the Narrator, Gower the medieval poet-historian, on loan from that play? Partly because it's fun to do neo-Elizabethan verse (at least for me) and partly because it allows me to add commentary and make connections past what information would be available to the characters at any given scene. And because it bridges well the divide between the epic story and the flippant modern style I've adopted, and provides an almost-plausible (I hope at least) framework with which to counteract the synapse-shorting dichotomies — in Henry V, Gower exists "outside time," speaking to the audience directly from the context of the theater group which is thus acknowledged to exist and to be merely portraying the events, and so the artificiality of the play-world is thus dissipated by recognition, and anachronisms and historical differences are likewise obviated.
In other words, Gower can talk about computer screens, and it isn't "wrong" any more than when he asks us to imagine that "this wooden O" is the battlefield of Agincourt or the hall of the King—
ACT I — An Appointment in Menegroth
The title of course refers to the traditional story "An Appointment in Samara" with its invocation of Fate and the ironic consequences of elaborate precautions to avoid it. It is told in Silmarillion how Elu Thingol, King of Doriath, in justifiable apprehension of the consequences of having scads of ambitious, powerful, talented, troublesome relatives and their entourages grabbing up territory on all sides, refused to open his borders to the returning Noldor and warned them against displacing the native peoples of Beleriand.
We are also told that he had had premonitions in prophetic dreams of doom and destruction concerning mortal Men and the future of Doriath, and so unlike others of the lords of the Eldar, refused to allow Men into his kingdom or into his service at all. Read the Sil. chapter "Of the Coming of Men into the West" to get a lot of backstory on the political situation of Beleriand (which is a lot more interesting than modern Earth politics, since we don't have Oracles and acknowledged Powers involved in the affairs of nations these days) and the foreshadowing of Doom in the conversation on all this between Melian and her apprentice, Finrod's little sister Galadriel…
Act I, being very brief, is really a quite straightforward take on the scene as presented in Silm. and LL1, my own interpolations and emendations being limited to two (besides the fact that I've "translated" the dialogue into the modern style) of significance.
The first is the presence of Mablung and Beleg at the Court — although they are not specifically mentioned, and given the rather unregimented style of Doriath could well have been anywhere in the realm, I chose to include them for several reasons. The foremost is to provide a foreshadowing/unifying to the end of the story, as they are, so to speak, "in at the kill" and involved deeply along the way — also, introducing them as ancillaries to the scene allows for a slightly less entangled version/vision of events than is available to any of the participants, including Daeron, whose wierd behavior we are told has been noted, if not understood, by other people in the community.
The second is assuming that the description of Beren in LL1 as making his dramatic exit and farewell to Luthien so abruptly before the thrones of King and Queen is more bardic traditional than historically literal — I consider it justifiable artistic license to give them a longer and semi-private leave-taking, as the Doriathrin aren't monsters nor is saying goodbye anywhere else in the story ever shown to be quick or easy any more than for lovers today — "There isn't enough room for all the truth in songs," is a saying I've heard, and any comparison, or simple consideration, of the needs of narrative compression will prove this.
"brainwashed slave" — this refers to one of the major security concerns in Silm., "Of the Return of the Noldor", described as Morgoth turning the power of his eyes on any of the Eldar he could take alive, and so daunting them "that they needed chains no more, but walked ever in fear of him, doing his will wherever they might be." This fact features majorly in the Nargothrond interactions, when the sheer number of freed thralls, and the fact that they're escorted home by Huan, makes it darn hard to ignore them or turn them back at the borders. It also features not insignificantly in the Gondolin story… It's my assumption that one of the uses of such victims, in addition to the canonical use as spies, would be as assassination attempts, (perhaps unwarranted and caused by too many viewings of Manchurian Candidate, but I doubt it.)
"different for us" — referring to the story of Thingol's meeting with
Melian and their subsequent marriage as related in Silm. and LL1. Er, it wasn't that different, really.
"labyrinth" — Thingol does threaten to trap Beren in the maze of the Girdle, and hence avoid technically breaking his promise to Luthien, which Beren calls him on, (whether it would have worked or not, now that they knew he was there, is an open question), comes from LL1. Beren's compulsive mouthing-off to powerful people who mean him no good is Canon from Silm, but even more amplified in LL1.
Again, pretty obvious, I tend to think. For amendation, only the assignment of the suggestion/reminder to seek out Finrod Felagund for assistance to Luthien is really mine. Beren is certainly no fool, but the creative genius of the pair is Luthien, and particularly considering the stressfulness of the recent scene, it isn't a stretch to think her cool-headed enough to make the association for him.
"low-impact lifestyle" — what, you think that's funny? That is exactly what he's been doing, and no more. (—Okay, it is supposed to be funny…)
I get the impression that Luthien never talked about her family because she just assumed everyone in Doriath knew who she was, and that Beren assumed she was on her own completely, until the fateful moonlit evening when she says, "My parents want to meet you..."
"—You have parents? —Here?"
"my parents' dilemma" — Emeldir, called "Manhearted", would rather have stayed and died fighting in the defense of their homeland at the side of her husband and son — yet duty compelled her to take the last survivors of Dorthonion out of the war zone to shelter with her mother's side of the family in Hithlum. Included among those were her two nieces, Morwen and Rian, who will later marry Hurin and Huor of the House of Hador; they and their children of course are famous and infamous in their own rights; qv. the stories as told in Silm. of the Children of Hurin, and The Fall of Gondolin.
I wrote this before I was aware that there was a statement anywhere in HOME that fifty was the ordinary age for getting married right away, as early twenties in the present day and mid teens in past centuries — being aware that Elves age slower than mortals to begin with, and simply looking to find a fraction of millennia+ that would be equivalent to "too young" — and absurd given that Luthien is almost a millenium and a half old; so I should possibly change this. However, that is for Aman, after all, and might not be the same in Middle-earth.
"Fell" — this entire exchange refers to both the continual assaults on the outskirts of Doriath beyond the Girdle which accompanied Morgoth's unresulting efforts to see past Melian's defenses, and the horrible mutative effects which occurred along the northern borders where the residual traces of Ungoliant's time there not only corrupted the environment but interacted with Melian's power and created, we are told, still more hideous things which only grew worse as time went on. (They weren't half so bad a few generations ago when Haleth led her people through to Brethil, for example.) I don't know that any of them were multi-headed monsters, but in the vague descriptions of the half-seen creatures of Dungortheb it is implied that they had more eyes than creatures should, and not all of them were spiders…
The Captains of Doriath have had some encounters with mortals — Beleg, for example, took a relief force to help the Haladin during the aftermath of the Dagor Bragollach into Brethil some seven or eight years prior to this occasion, when Tol Sirion fell to Sauron — but as the Haladin live outside Doriath proper (obviously) and keep to themselves, even as the people of Doriath, at this point in time it is unlikely that they would be terribly familiar with Men, unlike the Elves of Fingolfin's House and of Nargothrond.
"Twenty-five" — Beren's age is never given in the stories themselves, and only according to early and rather doubtful chronologies is any mention made, from which it is said that he was thirty when he began the quest. However, according to the Silmarillion, the sixth generation of the Edain was not yet fully grown, when the Dagor Bragollach erupted, and as far as I can work out it is ten years, between the battle and Beren's arrival in Doriath — two years after the battle when Tol Sirion falls to Sauron, and Emeldir takes the children and other women left into the western mountains; four years after that when Sauron is sent in to personally deal with the Dorthonian Rebels, and Barahir is killed with his men; four more years that Beren wages a lone war against the Enemy, and then about a year and a half that he lives in Doriath, from his arrival after the winter crossing of the mountains to seeing Luthien for the first time in the summer, to the following spring when they meet, up to the end of summer when they are betrayed.
Hence I give his age as "about twenty-five" because that would make him fifteen at the Dagor Bragollach — any older, and I cannot see any reason why he would not also go with the muster to the Leaguer, like his cousins — and that would make the explicit statement that Finrod recognizes him without need of token an irrelevance not worth mentioning; obviously the King would recognize someone he'd met before. "About" because after living so long in the wilds without human companionship, no communal events or celebrations, calendars would be essentially irrelevant to him, and similar seasons flow together.
Beren's remarkable outdoorsmanship is repeatedly invoked in the Lay — he is described as being "elf-wise in wood" as well as "tireless on fell, light on fen," — and there is a supernatural aspect hinted at, in that he is protected by the trees, the free beasts and birds, and even by the obscure spirits of the place that inhabit the rocks and wilds of his homeland. This is of course something that deserves a great deal more consideration, and comparison to the archetypes both of folktale and mythology; but for the present I will only remark that for him to remain unobserved, though granted in a deserted border region of Doriath, for several seasons, and to be uncaught even when his presence is revealed by Daeron and the King sends search parties to arrest him, until he arrives voluntarily with Luthien at court, indicates that there is no exaggeration and that he is at least the equal of an Elven Ranger.
Doriath really does run in this rather informal way — after all, they have enjoyed an impenetrable security system for centuries upon centuries — and in the story of Turin it is related how Beleg would spend time at any of various lodges he had around the kingdom, or staying with friends, while in the account of the Nirnaeth it is told that after Thingol refused to send troops to the war where they would be serving alongside the House of Feanor, both Mablung and Beleg object that they can't just stay on the sidelines of history, so he says to the effect of "Oh, all right — just make sure you march with some other commander, okay?"
Luthien's final speech is not a throwaway line. Remember this bit: it will come back to haunt everyone.
Frontspiece — Meeting the Parents
This is the heart of it all — the original scene that endeavored to
explain why, just possibly why, on the most basic level, Thingol and Melian might not have been entirely thrilled over their daughter's choice of prospective husband. Your brilliant, talented, grown-up daughter it never occurred to you not to trust on her own, shows up with a (significantly!) younger guy, who just happens to be homeless, jobless, broke, and living in your woods for the past year. The fact that for the past half-dozen years and more he's been a guerrilla warrior and besides owning no other property than the armor and weapons he's wearing, has no other skills to offer besides killing monsters is just going to be added insult — most parents are not going to be leaping ecstatically up to welcome him into the family, regardless of race and immortality issues, oracular forebodings, or anything else. Not in my experience, at least …
This sketch is a little rougher than the ones which followed, as it
was only a dashed-off idea, essentially, and I'd never done a cartoon at all. But the intent is to convey the organic and woodland style of Menegroth, together with its brightness and glory, contrasted with the utter scruffiness of Beren and how far out of place he is there — at least superficially. And you may notice a slight ancient-classical influence in Melian's costume, as in Luthien's — this is deliberate, and refers to the archetypal antecedents of women of divine origin met in groves of nightingales and offering wisdom and song, or taking earthly lovers. Remember, JRRT was a trained and practicing Classicist before devoting his life to other projects…
Tulkas, of course, is the Power you want on your side when you need someone pounded but maybe not necessarily to go into too much detail about why — the Wrestler is loyal, brave, enthusiastic, but he's not terribly much interested in the finer ins and outs of theory and so forth!
And yeah, Luthien does pretty much start out thinking that simply meeting Beren will be enough to convince her family of how wonderful he is — I wouldn't call her dumb, myself, though, but rather that she expects the best from the people she loves, the same high standards they've raised her to believe in, and is sadly disappointed…
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