Middle-earth Profiles: Beren
Beren is one of the giants of the Silmarillion. The story of the mortal who achieved the impossible task of retrieving one of the sought-after Silmarils so he could marry an immortal princess, is nothing but inspiring. That they both die and are resurrected adds even more mystique to the story and it's no wonder that their descendants among the Second Age Numenorean kings and the later Third Age Dunedain people claim this heritage with such pride. But like my other profiles, I am most interested in his in-universe motivations, underneath his legend. What motivates a man to keep going after so much loss, and what effect does encounters with the divine have on his mortal psyche?
The Labors of Beren
Beren was from the royal house of Bregor that ruled Ladros, a buffer state in a northern region of Beleriand called Dorthonion. They were allied with its ruling Noldor Elf-lords, Angrod and Aegnor. Their function was to help contain the renegade Vala, Morgoth in the far north and be the first defense if any invasion began. It was a role that Beren’s family performed for generations since his great-grandfather, Boron became Ladro’s first lord.
When the Dagor Bragollach War began, they naturally bore the brunt of the main assault. After much bloody fighting, Dorthonion fell, it’s armies overrun and it’s Elf-lords killed in battle. However, while Morgoth’s forces continued to spread on beyond Dorthonion, the royal house along with other survivors continued a guerilla war against their occupiers. Beren was involved in all of this at a young age. , Attrition eventually wears down their numbers and their families are sent away to Dorlomin in the west for safety. Among them were his second cousins, Morwen and Rian.
The rebels’ hideout is discovered while Beren is away and all of them are killed. Beren returns to the devastated camp and hunts down the Orcs who killed his comrades and family. Successful, he then continues the struggle awhile longer, making a name for himself. Things get to a point where even he is forced to abandon his home and escapes southward through the mountains, barely surviving. Sometime later the refugee arrives in Doriath and encounters Luthien. The two start a secret relationship that is eventually revealed to Luthien’s father and Sindarin High King, Thingol.
Initially intimidated, Beren regains his composure and defends both his heritage and his relationship. Things become heated after an intense exchange with the High King, causing Thingol to trick Beren into accepting the task of retrieving a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown. Beren accepts that he may marry Luthien, but needs help. Remembering a tale from his father, Barahir about aiding the Elf-lord, Finrod and his subsequent promise to him, Beren goes to Nargothrond where the Noldor king rules. At the cost of his own kingship, Finrod, along with a personal guard, chooses to go with Beren to help him with his quest and honor the promise he made. But they are discovered by Sauron, who has taken control of the Noldor fortress, Minas Tirith.
The party is interrogated and left to die at the hands of the Miar general’s werewolves. All but Beren are killed because of Finrod’s last minute sacrifice killing the last of the creatures. At that time, Luthien, who had followed after Beren sometime after his departure from Menegroth, and her new companion, the wolf-hound, Huan, arrive. They defeat Sauron, liberate the fort, and free Beren.
Now reunited, the couple choose to continue the quest, making their way via disguise all the way to Thangorodrim, Morgoth’s center of power. Sneaking into the inner depths of the fortress, they are again revealed, but Luthien manages to subdue Morgoth and the rest of his court long enough for Beren to cut a Silmaril from his crown. But during the escape, they are blocked by the werewolf, Cachorth and Beren loses a hand that was holding the jewel before they are rescued by eagles.
Returning to Menegroth, Beren presents himself as the quest achieved, yet without the Silmaril as it now lays in carchorth’s stomach and driving the werewolf mad. Thingol is nonetheless impressed and allows the Human to marry his daughter. However, Carchorth has now managed to breach Melian’s barrier and his rampaging throughout Doriath. Beren accompanies Thingol and his guard as they hunt the beast down. Mortally wounded by the successful hunt, Beren dies but is asked by Luthien to wait for him at the Halls of Mandos in Valinor, before finally passing on. His spirit does so and eventually is reunited with Luthien’s spirit, who also died not long after her husband from grief.
Luthien makes a plea to the Vala of judgement about everything that has gone down in MIddle-earth since the Beleriand wars began and the misery it has caused. Mandos is moved and petitions his peers for a special case. Beren and Luthien are allowed to be resurrected, but Luthien will become mortal, losing all powers, privileges, and her immortality that she was born with. When they both die, they will pass beyond the circles of Arda to wherever mortal spirits go.
The resurrected couple returns and reassures Thingol, but causes Melian great grief as she has now become aware of the depth of what it has cost, as well as the full gravitas of mortality. Beren retires from the ongoing wars and away from all other humans to the Ossiriand, south of Beleriand where the fighting has not reached and is not heard from again until decades later.
He briefly comes back onto the world stage to avenge his father-in-law’s murder and the first sacking of Menegroth by the Dwarves. He only claims the Silmaril that he originally took and was the cause of Thingol’s downfall. After that, the last thing heard from him is that he dies at some unknown time, passing on the family heirloom to Dior, who is about the task of rebuilding the kingdom of Doriath.
“It’s a war within yourself that never goes away.”— - 2015 Documentary, Buried Above Ground
Put bluntly, Beren has got a ton of issues. To be more precise, he’s been killing since his youth, seen death on a massive scale-including his own family’s, was isolated for a number of years as a refugee, survived other unnamed horrors during the hardship of his escape, was again the lone survivor of a another group of comrades, come face-to-face with a Valar and Miar-twice each, and had his hand bitten off.
That’s a lot of shit to deal with.
Beren was going to have a deep, deep case of PTSD from the outset and no one would blame him. As a member of the royal house, he’s probably encountered the High-Elves before. That would be difficult for anyone in his position to wrap their head around: that the Elf they are looking at is the same Elf who hired his great-grandfather that he’s never met! Beren also would have fought alongside them. Warfare brings its own baggage of mental issues, so to have to process all of that, paired with fighting alongside beings far older than him, but don’t look it, would take its toll.
That the war was then lost and switching from a royal lifestyle to an outlaw’s would be another burden. At least though he had others to share that burden with: people who understood why they were there, what was lost, and what they were about. I think the real number was done after Beren lost that support system when the camp was destroyed. Now the prince was the only one left of his rebel band and his family who hadn’t fled, as well.
Guerrilla warfare can be even harder on the psyche than conventional warfare because of the extra stress from the lack of resources, material, and manpower. Beren only had himself, so that was more responsibility placed upon him. Still, his time as a one-man army probably helped him with that weight. Killing Orcs allowed an outlet-albeit an extreme one-for that pain and anger to vent itself. But that had to give way at some point, and he was forced to leave a land full of so many memories and attachments behind, never to see it again.
During his trek, refugee Beren apparently saw other ghastly horrors and was probably almost killed by them as well: more stress, as well as probably a lack of proper nutrition to boot. God knows what his appearance and mental state would have been when he first gets to Doriath’s forests. I’ve seen a lot of artwork portraying him as still handsome, but seriously, look at what this guy’s gone through and it’s not even halfway through his story yet!
It's telling that he doesn’t even tell Luthien, the one person he loves and trusts the most, what happened during that time. Also is the fact he has trouble speaking to others while in Doriath, as that's the first time he’s encountered other people in a year since he abandoned his homeland. That’s how horrifying it was.
That he befriends Finrod, only to watch him and his other Elven volunteers die would have added further to Beren’s survivor's guilt. That him, a mere mortal was still alive while those of more noble and older lineage seem to be dropping like flies all around him.
It's no wonder then that when Beren is resurrected, that he chooses to retire far away from most other people, as Ossiriand was known for its isolation. Beren has experienced more things in his life than any other Human during the First Age and I don’t think he could fully comprehend that. The best he could hope for was something to ease that mental burden.
Beren has also had more encounters with the supernatural than any other mortal. During the First Age, Humans as a whole already had difficulty relating to the Eldar. Despite being similar in appearance and even to a degree being able to speak the same language, the two races’ understanding of their shared realities were vastly different. Yet Beren has not only dealt with the Eldar, but Miar and Valar as well.
His first encounter with Melian while he’s interrogated by Thingol had a profound change on him. Being at first unable to speak, his unspoken conversation with her seems to restore-maybe even heal-some of his mental wounds, so that he is able to properly defend himself before the far-older High King. His second encounter with another Miar, Sauron, does the exact opposite. Having now seen with his own eyes how over-cruel cruel these spirits in mortal form can be, Beren becomes catatonic.
From there, he goes to encountering a court full of evil Miar spirits, Orcs, and finally, a Valar itself: Morgoth. While he is largely a spectator during these confrontations, Beren still has a front row seat to the powers he’s been fighting all his life at work. He then holds a Simaril, an object that holds the light and power of the Valar and Valinor, then loses that hand to the mightiest werewolf ever seen, as well as being poisoned twice by the same creature. The second time kills Beren, his spirit traveling to the Halls of Mandos on the far borders of Valinor, witnessing the spirits of deceased Humans and Elves while encountering yet another Vala, Mandos. And then sees the rest of Valinor and the entire court of the Valar.
Upon resurrection, I don't think Beren completely grasps these extreme experiences. He’s seen the multiple levels on which Arda operates beyond just mortal life and the Beleriand wars. No other Human would have grasped what was going on with him anymore.
Peer Among the Privileged Few
It’s worth comparing these experiences with Beren’s two other peers, Tuor and Earendil. Both lived generations after him during the First Age. They were also the only other Mortals to not only encounter the divine spirits of Arda, but also make the journey to the Holy West peacefully. While Tour’s fate is officially a mystery, it was said that he was so much like the Eldar that he was permitted to live among them. And Earendil was present before the entire court of the Valar and Eldar when he was in Valinor as well. Point being though that both men had literally seen too much and could not be permitted to go back to Middle-earth with the knowledge they now possessed. Something that invading army of Numenor, whom came by force rather than peace, finds out the hard way at the close of the Second Age.
That Beren, the first of these men, is allowed to return, is considered a special favor granted to him by Illuvutar himself, not the Valar. No one else had that choice and that once back among the living where he can do anything he wants, Beren chooses to go into a self-imposed exile with Luthien rather than return to his own people, now living in Dorlomin. It’s a contrast to his contemporaries, Hurin and Hour, who also fought during the Dagor Braggolach and had seen the wonders of the hidden city of Gondolin, yet choose to go back to war with their brethren.
The combined weight of both his mortal and after-life adventures had effectively separated Beren from the rest of Humanity. He was nothing like the young man fighting in Dorthonion and had no other connections to mortals to speak of, unlike aforementioned brothers. I think Beren needed a long time to come to terms with that loss and change, to heal from everything that has happened, and make the most of what time he and Luthien had left.
Keeping Your Head Up
It’s easy to forget that Beren was a prince. However, I think he acquired a low-self-esteem after his escape from Dorthonion. That wasn’t to say that Beren was ashamed of his heritage, despite others’ best efforts to do so. Much of this could be attributed to survivors guilt. While he was of a royal house during which time he may have had more confidence, none of that seemed to matter at the lowest points of his life and to the greater powers of the world. It did not win him any special privileges or rewards that weren’t eclipsed by the races and events that he was now involved with. The only gain was having Finrod join Beren on his quest, and look where that got him. Even before that, it took a mental boost from Melian for Beren to not only recall the deeds of his family, but to be able to speak it as well.
For a long time, Beren was always quick to try and send Luthien away because of the strong sense of unworthiness he constantly felt underneath the surface of their relationship. He was extremely hard on himself, being quick to take the blame for what happened to others who had clearly made their own choices. Yet Beren had good reason to be struggling with his inner self, fore as I had said earlier, he was dealing with forces that Humans barely comprehended. That has a way of humbling a person real quick.
No one needed a support system more than Beren. It’s important for anyone going through extreme PTSD, as well as maintaining good mental health in general. Someone has to be there to listen, to vent to, or best case, empathize and understand the invisible maelstrom that goes on within the mind.
We’ve already seen what the lack of that can do to a person in the lives of an elderly Hurin and his children. Beren had several support people throughout his adventures. His family and comrades, then and consistently afterwards Luthien, Melian, Finrod, and Huan. They helped him not only bear the burden of the hell he was living, but in the case of Finrod and Luthien, also helped Beren release some of that tension. It was the only reason I think he did not go mad.
The biggest obstacle for constant survivor though was trust and circumstances. Most people whom Beren allowed himself to rely on ended up brutally killed. Beren doesn’t want to carry anymore of that weight, which is why he keeps trying to leave Luthien behind. Her death no doubt would have ended him for certain.
However, these struggles also highlight Beren’s mental fortitude as well. For the most part, Beren is able to function very capably despite his mental suffering and the severity of multiple circumstances. So much so that he becomes infamous among the Orcs and a name synonymous with endurance among his descendants long afterwards. Though he clearly was suffering from the effects of PTSD, he had enough sound mind to survive and at least make it long enough to where someone was able to help him regain his full state of mind. Most other people have broken under half of what he endured.
Beren’s fortitude had it’s limits but it was literally at the end of the world. I think the resurrection, while not breaking him per se, did blow his mind on several levels above other mortals and even the Elves given the circumstances of his return. He may have been somewhat aware of the magnitude of his second life, but never came to full grips with that, even when he retired to Ossiriand. So the best option he had, now that his main ordeal was over, was to just get away and shed the responsibilities and burdens that were both forced upon and chosen by him.
Beren became experienced in warfare at a young age and had fought alongside the Noldor. That experience probably helped him when he later fought Curufin and defeated him. Bear in mind that Eldar were considered superior to all other races as a whole during the First Age. Yet a mortal was able to best one of them in single combat, and a noble no less. It’s an impressive feat that a rare few can claim.
His combat experience also probably helped during battle with the Dwarves later in his life. The Green Elves of Ossiriand had not had much success in direct combat, costing them their own royal line long centuries before. That they were willing to engage the Dwarves, a race as equally renowned in warfare as the Noldor, implies that they must have felt they had a strategic edge over them. Beren was already familiar with unconventional tactics with fewer resources from his guerrilla warfare days in Dorthonion and most likely taught that to the Elves.
More impressive though is the man’s conditioning. Enduring war, travelling long miles as a refugee and during his quest would have required great endurance. An older Beren was able to duel capably during that battle with the Dwarves after not having seen war for decades and already missing a hand, also says something of his fitness.
He was also poisoned three times, once by Curufin and two from bites from Carcharoth on two occasions. The last one being the one that kills him. To have survived two long enough to be healed rather than immediately dying from the previous wounds requires good constitution. While Beren was not considered the mightiest mortal warrior of Middle-earth (that title goes to Hurin and Turin respectively), he was certainly one of the most enduring of the First Age.
Partner in Crime
Everyone is already familiar with the importance of Beren’s relationship with Luthien and what it meant. However, there’s one aspect that makes their relationship more unique than any other. And it’s not Luthien’s sacrifice of her immortality or that she loved a mortal.
The couple were a true co-partnership in every since of the word. At first I wasn’t sure, as Beren initially seemed like a stalker to me when he first meets her. Luthien though not only chooses of her own freewill to be with him, but aids him even when he pushes her away for her own good. The retrieval of the single Silmaril would not have been accomplished without the two working together as a team. In a world where it’s often the case that most women by their own choice support the men, whether Human or Elf, Luthien was a front-line person and wanted to be by Beren’s side through everything. This love is what supports Beren and pushes him to go through the extremes he endures. It’s this aspect that many couples in the Silmarillion and the stories of Middle-earth seem to lack. It’s to no fault of their own and others have made it work, like Aragorn and Arwen in the Third Age, but there was a reason why their ancestors became the legends that they were.
Winning the Marathon
Compared to his contemporaries and descendants, Beren doesn’t have a lot of victories to his credit and loses more than he gains. Yet he perseveres and is able to become more than he was. By the time of his final death, that he is of the royal house of Beor no longer mattered to him, because of his love of Luthien. Everything else is second place. This is important since objectively speaking, no Human would have even heard of their tale until the Nirnaeth Arnoediad War at the earliest, and then only those near the top of the command chain.
More than likely, his exploits become public knowledge during the Second Age as Numenor becomes a rising power and it’s lineage of kings is celebrated. By the Third Age, it becomes a well-known legend to the Dunedain, the Elves of Rivendel, and the lords of Gondor, until Aragorn becomes the new High King of a United Arnor and Gondor. I imagine that people would want to know why this guy’ from nowhere is so special.
All this of course mattered little to Beren. He wasn’t trying to become a legend or the father of kings and queens. He was a soldier in war, a refugee trying to survive, a man trying to prove his love, and someone looking for peace.
© 2020 Jamal Smith