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Beren, Lúthien, and Overcoming Prejudice} ?>
Ages before the romance of Aragorn and Arwen, Middle-earth was home to a Man named Beren and an Elf maiden named Lúthien Tinúviel. The story of their romance became one of the pillars for J.R.R. Tolkien’s history of Middle-earth, as well as a foreshadowing of the love between Aragorn and Arwen.
The most well-known version of the Beren and Lúthien story exists in The Silmarillion, but Tolkien wrote several versions of the tale—not all of them complete—and this past June, these versions were released in a single compilation, edited by Tolkien’s son, Christopher.
In the earliest version of the Beren and Lúthien story—entitled “The Tale of Tinúviel”—Beren is not a Man, but an Elf of the Noldor race. Like Aragorn and Arwen, much of the tension in the Beren and Lúthien story we know comes from the fact that he is mortal, while she is immortal. You would think that, in a version where Beren is immortal, Lúthien’s father wouldn’t mind Beren courting his daughter.
As it turns out, being immortal doesn’t help Beren’s case at all. Long before his time, the Noldor Elves made the journey from Middle-earth to Valinor, but later betrayed the Teleri (another Elven clan) in order to steal ships and return to Middle-earth. Luthien’s people, the Sindar, are related to the Teleri.
By the time “The Tale of Tinúviel” takes place, solid prejudice exists between the Noldor and the Sindar. Lúthien’s people thought the Noldor were “treacherous creatures, cruel and faithless.” In turn, “the lies of [Morgoth the Dark Lord] ran among Beren’s folk so that they believed evil things” of Lúthien’s people. These two clans should have been allies, but instead, they mistrusted each other, hardly better than enemies.
In my own life, I’ve seen prejudice between different generations. I used to work as a retail sales associate, and I stayed in that position for over three years. When I assisted middle-aged or elderly customers, they sometimes doubted my advice. If my coworker during the shift was older than me, the customer would sometimes ask my coworker instead of me, even if I was standing there as well.
It’s not easy to be looked down upon, and Beren certainly doesn’t find it so in “The Tale of Tinúviel.” When he is brought before Lúthien’s father, King Thingol, he boldly asks to marry her, but the king laughs at him. Thingol says that Beren can have Lúthien if he brings the king a Silmaril—a magical gem—from the crown of Morgoth himself. Thingol intends this remark as a scornful joke, but Beren is angered by the king’s derision and agrees to the task.
At first, Beren’s journey is fueled by anger, but once he realizes the magnitude of his task, he does not give up, even though he feels discouraged. Thingol’s scorn was enough to get Beren started, but it’s the memory of Lúthien that keeps him going. During Beren’s meeting with Thingol, she spoke up for him, and Beren carries the memory of her love and support with him.
The prejudice I encountered in my job wasn’t always from customers. After a while, I had enough experience that I was asked to train new employees, some of whom were older than me. Usually there wasn’t a problem, but occasionally, I could tell someone resented learning from a younger person. However, my managers liked me to give the training, because they knew I was thorough. I had some trainees who said they loved learning from me. Even though I encountered prejudice at times, I found affirmation from the people whose opinions really mattered.
Some might say that Beren’s journey was just a quest to save his wounded pride. But that only accounts for a tiny piece of the story. Beren truly admired and loved Lúthien, and she loved him in return, seeing his value as an individual instead of a member of a race with a tainted history.
By accepting Thingol’s challenge, Beren was essentially saying, “I know your opinion of me is wrong, because I know Lúthien’s opinion of me and hers is the one that matters. But for her sake, I’ll do what you asked and show you exactly what I’m made of in the process.” Gaining a Silmaril wasn’t ultimately about Beren’s pride, but about his love for Lúthien.
When I encountered prejudice because of my youth, I learned that the best reaction was not to challenge the person’s opinion. Instead, I relied on the opinions of better-qualified people, such as my managers, and let the prejudiced person find out the truth for themselves. Often, when a customer would ask my older coworker for help, my coworker would consult me because of my experience on the job. When a new employee resented my teaching, they found that other trainers told them the same thing I had. Just being me and doing my job properly was its own validation.
Beren may have been crazy for stealing a Silmaril, but he did it for the woman he loved and in the process, not only did he gain her love, but he proved himself to Thingol. There are times when people try to goad you into crazy tasks by wounding your pride, and they should be ignored as the fools they are. But other times, when people unfairly put obstacles between you and something you need, the best solution isn’t to argue with them—it’s to say, “Challenge accepted. Prepare to be amazed.”
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