'By Elbereth and Lúthien the Fair,' said Frodo with a last effort, lifting up his sword, 'you shall have neither the Ring nor me!' From: Flight to the Ford, The Fellowship of the Ring
'No, sir, of course not. Beren now, he never thought he was going to get that Silmaril from the Iron Crown in Thangorodrim, and yet he did, and that was a worse place and a blacker danger than ours. But that's a long tale, of course, and goes on past the happiness and into grief and beyond it -- and the Silmaril went on and came to Eärendil. And why, sir, I never thought of that before! We've got -- you've got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we're in the same tale still! It's going on. Don't the great tales never end? ' From: The Stairs of Cirith Ungol, The Two Towers
Of Beren and Lúthien and Frodo and Sam
I first read The Silmarillion back in 1977, when it was originally published. Unlike The Lord of the Rings, I found it a bit of a struggle, as it unfortunately lacks the key ingredient that made LotR so enthralling for me, and that ingredient is, of course, hobbits. So my copy of the book mostly gathered dust on my bookshelves after that, until a couple of years ago when I started writing a series of stories with an OC based on a character in The Silmarillion. It seemed a good idea then to go back and re-read the part of The Silmarillion where this character appears, the chapter called ‘Of Beren and Lúthien’.
Of course one doesn’t have to read The Silmarillion to recognize the similarities between Frodo and Beren, both of whom set out on what appear to be impossible quests, and against all odds fulfill them. But between the time I first read The Silmarillion and my re-reading of ‘Of Beren and Lúthien’, a huge change had occurred in my life. I had discovered fanfic and F/S slash, and started writing myself. When I re-read that chapter it was through different eyes, and in my own private quest to understand why Frodo and Sam spoke so deeply to me as a pairing, and seemed so profoundly and inevitably right, I realized that I had discovered one of the keys.
In many ways the journey that Frodo and Sam take is a mirror to that of Beren and Lúthien, as much a mirror as the journey of Aragorn and Arwen. In Letter 131, Tolkien writes: “The chief of the stories of the Silmarillion, and the one most fully treated is the Story of Beren and Lúthien the Elfmaiden. Here we meet, among other things, the first example of the motive (to become dominant in Hobbits) that the great policies of world history, ‘the wheels of the world’, are often turned not by the Lords and Governors, even gods, but by the seemingly unknown and weak… It is Beren the outlawed mortal who succeeds (with the help of Lúthien, a mere maiden even if an elf of royalty) where all the armies and warriors have failed…”
As far as Arwen and Aragorn, I think we all know how their story parallels that of Beren and Lúthien: parental opposition, a nearly impossible task to accomplish in order for the lovers to wed, an immortal Elf giving up her immortality to marry a mortal Man. But I confess that I’m one of those who find Arwen a pretty unsatisfactory character in and of herself, especially by comparison to Lúthien.
If you haven’t read ‘Of Beren and Lúthien’ (and you should- but here is a link to an excellent summary of the Tale of Beren and Lúthien, with gorgeous illustrations: Beren and Lúthien), believe me, Lúthien is one kick-ass Elf maiden (despite what Tolkien says about her being a ‘mere maiden’, there is nothing 'mere' about her). What Aragorn tells the hobbits on the road to Weathertop gives only a hint of the extraordinary lengths to which she went to help Beren achieve his quest for the Silmaril, or of her bravery and devotion, which (in my opinion) is very much more mirrored by Sam- albeit on a hobbity scale- than by Arwen.
Frodo and Sam as Beren and Lúthien? Now that may seem like a somewhat outrageous statement, so let me offer a few examples:
When Lúthien escapes from imprisonment by her father to go to Beren’s aid, when she refuses to be parted from him over and over after that, you can’t help but be reminded of what Sam said to Frodo in the Woody End before they had even left the Shire: 'If you don't come back, sir, then I shan't, that's certain,' said Sam. 'Don't you leave him!’ they said to me. ‘Leave him!’ I said. ‘I never mean to. I am going with him, if he climbs to the Moon, and if any of those Black Rulers try to stop him, they'll have Sam Gamgee to reckon with,’ I said.’
When Frodo and Sam are in Shelob’s Lair, Tolkien deliberately invokes Beren and Lúthien: There agelong she had dwelt, an evil thing in spider-form, even such as once of old had lived in the Land of the Elves in the West that is now under the Sea, such as Beren fought in the Mountains of Terror in Doriath, and so came to Lúthien upon the green sward amid the hemlocks in the moonlight long ago.
When you read about Lúthien braving the Wizard’s Isle to rescue Beren from the dungeons of Tol-in-Gaurhoth, you can’t but help think of Sam braving the Tower of Cirith Ungol to rescue Frodo. When Lúthien sings on the bridge there, and Beren hears her and answers, you can’t help but think of Sam’s song in the Tower and how Frodo tries to answer it.
When Beren and Lúthien disguise themselves as werewolf and vampire bat in order to enter Angband, you can’t help but think of Frodo and Sam dressing in orc gear and thus passing almost unnoticed into the very heart of Mordor.
Even after the Quest is achieved, we see the ties that bind them: But the Queen Arwen said: 'A gift I will give you. For I am the daughter of Elrond. I shall not go with him now when he departs to the Havens; for mine is the choice of Lúthien, and as she so have I chosen, both the sweet and the bitter. But in my stead you shall go, Ring-bearer, when the time comes, and if you then desire it. If your hurts grieve you still and the memory of your burden is heavy, then you may pass into the West, until all your wounds and weariness are healed. And, of course, it is through Frodo that Sam is able also to pass into the West.
If the story of Beren and Lúthien is one of love and devotion and sacrifice, of choices that are both bitter and sweet, so too is the story of Frodo and Sam. When Sam and Elanor have the following exchange in one of the unpublished epilogues from Sauron Defeated, can there be any doubt that Sam is referring, at least in part, to himself?
'And when you’re tired, you will go, Sam-dad. You will go to the Havens with the Elves. Then I shall go with you. I shall not part with you, like Arwen did with Elrond.’
‘Maybe, maybe,’ said Sam kissing her gently. ‘And maybe not. The choice of Lúthien and Arwen comes to many, Elanorëlle, or something like it; and it isn’t wise to choose before the time.’
But rather than go on and on (which I could *g*), I thought instead I would pair up a few actual quotes from ‘Of Beren and Lúthien’ and the LotR; Tolkien’s writing is so much better than mine :) (Quotes from ‘Of Beren and Lúthien’ are in bold, quotes from the LotR are in italics.)
There Beren, being torn between his oath and his love, and knowing Lúthien now to be safe, arose one morning before the sun, and committed her to the care of Huan; then in great anguish he departed while she yet slept upon the grass…
‘Thrice now I curse my oath to Thingol,’ he said, ‘and I would that he had slain me in Menegroth, rather than I should bring you under the shadow of Morgoth...’
Then Beren perceived that Lúthien could not be divided from the doom that lay upon them both, and he sought no longer to dissuade her.
'Oh, Mr. Frodo, that's hard! ' said Sam shivering. `That's hard, trying to go without me and all. If I hadn't a guessed right, where would you be now? '
`Safely on my way.'
`Safely! ' said Sam. `All alone and without me to help you? I couldn't have a borne it, it'd have been the death of me.'
'It would be the death of you to come with me, Sam,' said Frodo, ‘and I could not have borne that.'
`Not as certain as being left behind,' said Sam.
`But I am going to Mordor.'
`I know that well enough, Mr. Frodo. Of course you are. And I'm coming with you...'
`So all my plan is spoilt! ' said Frodo. `It is no good trying to escape you. But I'm glad, Sam. I cannot tell you how glad. Come along! It is plain that we were meant to go together…’
Terrible was his southward journey. Sheer were the precipices of Ered Gorgoroth, and beneath their feet were shadows that were laid before the rising of the Moon. Beyond lay the wilderness of Dungortheb, where the sorcery of Sauron and the power of Melian came together, and horror and madness walked. There spiders of the fell race of Ungoliant abode, spinning their unseen webs in which all living things were snared…
`Galadriel! ' he called, and gathering his courage he lifted up the Phial once more. The eyes halted. For a moment their regard relaxed, as if some hint of doubt troubled them. Then Frodo's heart flamed within him, and without thinking what he did, whether it was folly or despair or courage, he took the Phial in his left hand, and with his right hand drew his sword. Sting flashed out, and the sharp elven-blade sparkled in the silver light, but at its edges a blue fire flicked. Then holding the star aloft and the bright sword advanced, Frodo, hobbit of the Shire, walked steadily down to meet the eyes.
They wavered. Doubt came into them as the light approached. One by one they dimmed, and slowly they drew back. No brightness so deadly had ever afflicted them before. From sun and moon and star they had been safe underground, but now a star had descended into the very earth. Still it approached, and the eyes began to quail. One by one they all went dark; they turned away, and a great bulk, beyond the light's reach, heaved its huge shadow in between. They were gone.
'Master, master!' cried Sam. He was close behind, his own sword drawn and ready. 'Stars and glory! But the Elves would make a song of that, if ever they heard of it! And may I live to tell them and hear them sing.'
But Beren came not. Therefore Huan and Lúthien sought him in the isle; and Lúthien found him mourning by Felagund. So deep was his anguish that he lay still, and did not hear her feet. Then thinking him already dead she put her arms about him and fell into a dark forgetfulness.
’He's dead! ' he said. 'Not asleep, dead! ' And as he said it, as if the words had set the venom to its work again, it seemed to him that the hue of the face grew livid green.
And then black despair came down on him, and Sam bowed to the ground, and drew his grey hood over his head, and night came into his heart, and he knew no more.
In that hour Lúthien came, and standing upon the bridge that led to Sauron’s isle she sang a song that no walls of stone could hinder. Beren heard, and he thought that he dreamed; for the stars shone above him, and in the trees nightingales were singing. And in answer he sang a song of challenge that he had made in praise of the Seven Stars, the Sickle of the Valar that Varda hung above the North as a sign for the fall of Morgoth. Then all strength left him and he fell down into darkness.
At last, weary and feeling finally defeated, he sat on a step below the level of the passage-floor and bowed his head into his hands. It was quiet, horribly quiet. The torch, that was already burning low when he arrived, sputtered and went out; and he felt the darkness cover him like a tide. And then softly, to his own surprise, there at the vain end of his long journey and his grief, moved by what thought in his heart he could not tell, Sam began to sing.
His voice sounded thin and quavering in the cold dark tower: the voice of a forlorn and weary hobbit that no listening orc could possibly mistake for the clear song of an Elven-lord. He murmured old childish tunes out of the Shire, and snatches of Mr. Bilbo's rhymes that came into his mind like fleeting glimpses of the country of his home. And then suddenly new strength rose in him, and his voice rang out, while words of his own came unbidden to fit the simple tune.
In western lands beneath the Sun
the flowers may rise in Spring,
the trees may bud, the waters run,
the merry finches sing.
Or there maybe 'tis cloudless night
and swaying beeches bear
the Elven-stars as jewels white
amid their branching hair.
Though here at journey's end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars for ever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done,
nor bid the Stars farewell.
‘Beyond all towers strong and high,' he began again, and then he stopped short. He thought that he had heard a faint voice answering him…
`I can hardly believe it,' said Frodo, clutching him. `There was an orc with a whip, and then it turns into Sam! Then I wasn't dreaming after all when I heard that singing down below, and I tried to answer? Was it you?'
High above the realm of Morgoth Thorondor and his vassals soared, and seeing now the madness of the Wolf and Beren’s fall they came swiftly down, even as the powers of Angband were released from the toils of sleep.
Then they lifted up Lúthien and Beren from the earth, and bore them aloft into the clouds. Below them suddenly thunder rolled, lightnings leaped upward, and the mountains quaked. Fire and smoke belched forth from Thangorodrim…”
And so it was that Gwaihir saw them with his keen far-seeing eyes, as down the wild wind he came, and daring the great peril of the skies he circled in the air: two small dark figures, forlorn, hand in hand upon a little hill, while the world shook under them, and gasped, and rivers of fire drew near. And even as he espied them and came swooping down, he saw them fall, worn out, or choked with fumes and heat, or stricken down by despair at last, hiding their eyes from death.
Side by side they lay; and down swept Gwaihir, and down came Landroval and Meneldor the swift; and in a dream, not knowing what fate had befallen them, the wanderers were lifted up and borne far away out of the darkness and the fire.
So, what does this all mean to this particular Frodo/Sam reader and writer? It means that their love has an underpinning based in canon that is far stronger and deeper than I understood when I first became involved in fandom. Of course I am not making any claim that Tolkien intended us to interpret the relationship of Frodo and Sam in a slashy or sexual way. But they are intricately woven into the tapestry of a great romantic love story, one that is invoked over and over in the LotR. How we each interpret their share of that story is up to us to decide. More important to me, I guess, is the increased richness that understanding the parallels with Beren and Lúthien can bring to our ongoing love affair with Frodo and Sam- whether we happen to think or write of them as slash partners or as beloved and devoted friends.