While both Elves and Men were considered the “children of Ilúvatar,” it is well known that in the world of Middle-Earth, both races encounter significantly different fates after death. Men were granted relatively shorter lives, after which they passed to the Halls of Mandos. On the other hand, Elves were bestowed with long lives but were doomed to watch the world they loved so much fade from glory and beauty. This slow paling of their home culminated in their departure to the Undying Lands at the end of the Third Age. These distinct fates seem markedly unbalanced, and in private letters, Tolkien expressed concern with, “death as a part of the nature, physical and spiritual, of Man, and with Hope without guarantees.” Despite these apparently insurmountable differences, there are in fact three record instances in the legendarium of Man-Elf unions: Beren and Lúthien, Tuor and Idril, and Aragorn and Arwen. This article will recount these love stories, and a subsequent article will attempt to discuss the significance of these stories.
Beren and Lúthien
The love story between Beren and Lúthien is well-documented in a collection of several writings written by Tolkien, and provides one of the best narrative examples of love, bravery, faith, and fate.
Following the Dagor Bragollach, or the “Battle of Sudden Flame,” in the year F.A. 455, the league of Men was scattered by Morgoth’s forces, forced to grapple with ceaseless onslaughts by Orcs. One such group was led by a Barahir, a great friend to the Elf King, Felagund. While his son Beren was away on a separate mission, his group was ambushed and all including him were killed. Returning to find his company slain, Beren buried his father and slew the band of Orcs that had mercilessly slaughtered his kin. Before burying his father, he took possession of a ring given to his father by Felagund that became known as the Ring of Barahir. In fact, Aragorn, a descendant of Barahir, wears it throughout the Quest of the Ring.
Beren roamed aimlessly around Dorthonion, solely living to kill as many Orcs as possible. Troubled by his actions, Sauron’s armies placed a bounty on his head, forcing Beren to seek shelter in the woods of the kingdom of Doriath. While there, he chanced upon Lúthien, the daughter of Thingol and Melian and the princess of Doriath. Much like many early encounters between Elves and Men, Beren fell in love with her immediately. He called to her as Tinúviel, Sindarin for “Nightingale,” and when Lúthien lay eyes on Beren she too returned his feelings. Together, they spent time together in utter bliss in the forest of her kingdom.
However, the idyllic peace of these two lovers did not last for long, as Thingol became aware of their attachment and demanded that Beren be brought to him. Unwilling to accept the love of a mere mortal for his daughter, Thingol demanded that Beren retrieve a Silmaril from the crown of Morgoth before he would give permission to marry his daughter. Confident in his abilities and armed with his love for Lúthien, Beren accepted this quest. Calling upon the friendship of Finrod Felagund, one of the greatest of the Noldor, Beren attempted to pass into Sauron’s land. However, their company was discovered by Sauron. Sauron engaged Felagund in a lengthy battle of song and emerged victorious, after which he cast both men and their companions into a deep pit. In an attempt to divine Beren’s purpose in coming into his land, Sauron periodically sent werewolves to their prison to devour Beren’s companions; however, they all remained loyal to him and did not disclose his mission. When a wolf came to kill Beren, Felagund slew it out of loyalty to his friend but was mortally wounded in the process.
Meanwhile, a heavy shadow settled upon Lúthien’s heart, and she left her kingdom against her father’s wishes to find Beren. Encountering many perils of her own, she eventually arrived at Sauron’s lair with Huan, the Hound of the Valar, who defeated many of Sauron’s wolves in their journey. She rescued Beren, and after burying the body of Felagund in what honors they could provide, they returned to Doriath. Although Beren desired to leave Lúthien in the care of Huan and depart to Angband alone, Huan counseled him that he could no longer turn Lúthien from her fate, after which both lovers and Huan traveled together. To their dismay, they discovered that the Gates of Angband were guarded by the great wolf Carcharoth; however, Lúthien commanded the wolf to slumber with her immense power, and he fell into unconsciousness.
Beren and Lúthien descended deep into the chambers of Angband, encountering numerous horrors on the way, and came face-to-face with Morgoth. Although there seemed to be no hope in front of such an adversary, Lúthien began to sing a song of such immense power and beauty that Morgoth and his court fell into a slumber. Beren cut all three Silmarils from the crown of Morgoth, and he and Lúthien hurriedly left the fortress. However, as they exited the fortress, they encountered a now awake Carcharoth. While initially intimated by the light of the Silmaril that Beren held aloft, Carcharoth angrily bit off the hand in which Beren held the jewel, consuming the Silmaril. The jewel seared his innards and he fled, howling wildly in fits of madness.
The fangs of Carcharoth were laced with venom, and while Beren was moments away from death’s door, the King of the Eagles, Thorondor, came to the aid of Beren and Lúthien and bid them haste to the borders of Doriath. There, Beren was tended to by Lúthien and Huan and survived against all hope, after which he was given the name Erchamion, “the One-Handed.” The two lovers stood confidently before Thingol, their quest complete. Thingol realized that these two lovers were fated to be in love, and finally consented to their marriage.
However, their love was not destined to last. As both lovers pursued Carcharoth with Thingol and his men, Lúthien had a premonition that the world would soon be drained of love and beauty. So too did this happen, as in an attempt to defend Thingol from the claws of the mad Carcharoth, Beren was fatally injured. Lúthien bore Beren to Menegroth, and after she requested that he wait for her beyond the Western Sea, Beren took his last breath and passed from the world.
The spirit of Beren lingered in the Halls of Mandos, waiting until he could say his final farewell to Lúthien. Beckoned to him, the spirit of Lúthien fled her body and arrived at the Halls, and there she sang to Mandos a song of such beautiful sorrow and pain that Mandos was moved to pity. Unable to undo the rules of the world, Mandos counseled Manwë who sought guidance from Ilúvatar. Lúthien was given the option to either remain in Valinor without Beren and allow time to heal her wounds or return to the mortal world with her beloved and there live with him in an ambiguous future. Without hesitation, she chose to forsake the undying lands and live as a mortal with Beren. Both lovers were sent back to Middle-Earth, where they retreated from the events of the world around them and lived in presumed happiness, after which they departed the world together at the end of their lives.
Tuor and Idril
The Nírnaeth Arnoediad, or the “Battle of Unnumbered Tears,” in F.A. 472 brought profound sadness to many people. When Huor, a Man and great friend of the Elves, was killed covering the retreat of Turgon, the king of Gondolin, his wife Rían wandered into the wild and was taken in by the Grey-elves. Before the end of the year, she gave birth to a son, Tuor, whom she entrusted to the care of the Gray-elves and passed from the world.
Tuor was fostered by the Elves in the distant mountains of Beleriand. When he was a young man, he was captured by the Easterlings, a group of Men who pledged their loyalty to Sauron. He spent three years in captivity before escaping, and because he was unable to escape from the mountains surrounding him, he started living an outlaw. The Vala Ulmo, Lord of the Waters, heard of Turo’s plight and chose him to deliver a message of warning to Turgon, the King of Gondolin, as Morgoth had become aware of the hidden city. Through his power, Ulmo created a spring near Tuor’s cave, which delivered him through the ancient Gate of the Noldor, to the shores of the Great Sea Belegaer, and finally to the hidden city of Gondolin.
When Tuor arrived in Gondolin, he sought an audience with Turgon and counseled him to abandon the city. Turgon refused but impressed with Tuor’s perspicacity, he decides to take him into his confidence. Over time, Tuor fell in love with Turgon’s daughter, Idril. Turgon readily granted his permission for the two to wed due to his fondness for Tuor, and their marriage was celebrated with great pomp and happiness. Tuor was made the leader of one of the twelve houses of Gondolin. Unknown to the new couple, blackness was growing from the heart of Turgon’s nephew Maeglin, who desired Idril for himself. One day while wandering outside the mountains guarding Gondolin, which was strictly banned by Turgon, Maeglin was captured by Orcs. In exchange for Idril’s hand and Tuor’s slaughter, he betrayed the city’s location to Morgoth. He returned to Gondolin assured that no one discovered his true purpose, but as time passed, Idril grew more suspicious of him and subsequently started constructing a secret passage out of Gondolin.
In F.A. 510, Morgoth sent a legion of minions to the city of Gondolin, and after a mighty battle succeeded in destroying the city. Tuor was able to successfully lead Idril and their child Eärendil to safety. They reached the estuary of the Mouths of Sirion, where Tuor and the remainder of his people founded a city on the Isle of Balar. Although Tuor is able to provide peace and contentment to his people, a longing for the Sea grows in his heart. He builds the great ship Eärramë, and he and Idril choose to sail across the Great Sea. Although no word was heard from them, in his heart, Eärendil realizes that they reached Valinor and there continued to live in peace. From his mother, Eärendil inherited the Elfstone Elessar, a stone that bestows healing powers on those who wield it. This jewel is passed down to his descendants and eventually is inherited by Aragorn, who at the end of the Third Age, takes the name Elessar.
Aragorn and Arwen
Aragorn, of the line of Elendil and the Heir of Isildur, was fostered in Rivendell during his early life to keep his lineage secret from those who would seek to break the line of the Kings of Men. During Aragorn’s twentieth year, he was once roaming the woods of Rivendell and singing the tale of Lúthien. Suddenly, he sees Lúthien walking in the woods and called out to her, “Tinúviel, Tinúviel!” However, he soon realizes that the Elf he had called out to was Arwen, the daughter of Elrond. Although Aragorn and Arwen fall deeply in love with one another, Elrond is uncertain of their attachment. He told Aragorn that he will either be the greatest of his line since Elendil or fall into darkness, and he was reluctant to attach his daughter to such an uncertain fate. With the foresight of his people, Aragorn realized that Arwen will have to choose between accompanying her father to the Undying Lands or staying in Middle-Earth.
Arwen and Aragorn met in Lothlórien nearly thirty years later. As soon as Arwen saw him, she made her choice; they both climbed the hill of Cerin Amroth and pledged their love for one another. Although Elrond acknowledged their attachment, he told Aragorn that they would only be able to marry when he becomes king of Gondor and Arnor. Promising to return, Aragorn departed with the Fellowship and led the forces of the West to victory in the War of the Ring. Aragorn became King of Gondor, and he wed Arwen in Minas Tirith. So too passed the end of the Third Age, and Elrond departed from Middle-Earth, never to see his daughter again.
Aragorn and Arwen lived together as King and Queen of Gondor for 120 years in utter bliss. However, upon reaching his 210th year, Aragorn chose to lay down his life and he and Arwen conversed on the nature of death and the consequences of her choice. After reiterating their love for one another, Aragorn said his final farewell to Arwen and their son Eldarion and passed from the world. Although Arwen still had more life in front of her to live, she became keenly aware of the bitterness of her decision and Aragorn’s passing, and afterwards left Gondor for Lorien. When she reaches Lorien, she was saddened by the dimness of her homeland, the glory of which had faded with the departure of Galadriel and Celeborn. Arwen wandered under the falling leaves of the mallor trees and thus passed away, the only elf since Lúthien to pass away from old age in Middle-Earth.