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Probably written after I 5031
Tells the story of Beren and Lúthien, a Man and an Elf
Leithian is pronounced 'lay'thee-an'
A 'lay' is a poem intended to be sung; Leithian means 'freeing' or 'release'; the name of the lay is translated 'Release from Bondage'2
Other names


About this entry:

  • Updated 23 January 2022
  • This entry is complete

Lay of Leithian

Release from Bondage

The long Elvish lay that told the story of Beren and Lúthien, their Quest for the Silmaril, and their return from Mandos. It was said to be the second longest of all such tales (with the longest being the Narn i Chîn Húrin, the story of Túrin and Niënor).

The Lay tells the story of Beren's escape from Dorthonion after the loss of his father Barahir. Coming into the south, he entered Doriath and came across Lúthien Tinúviel in the woods. They desired to wed, but Lúthien's father Thingol set an impossible bride-price on his daughter - a Silmaril from the Iron Crown of Morgoth in the deepest pits of Angband. Beren set out on his hopeless quest with the aid of Finrod Felagund, but they were captured and imprisoned by Sauron. Lúthien came to their aid through many troubles of her own, and with the help of Huan the Hound she rescued Beren. Using her magical arts, they penetrated Angband and stole one of the Silmarils, but in their escape Beren's hand, holding the Silmaril, was bitten from his wrist by the great wolf Carcharoth. Eventually, the wolf was hunted and slain, and the Silmaril recovered, but only at the cost of Beren's life. Then Lúthien, too, passed away, and pleaded before Mandos himself. Both Beren and Lúthien were returned to life, and they dwelt in the south of Ossiriand for a time. Lúthien had become mortal herself, and she passed away at last with her beloved beyond the Circles of the World.

The Lay is not a mere literary invention - it does substantially exist, and is contained within volume III of The History of Middle-earth, appropriately named The Lays of Beleriand, with substantial extracts also appearing in the book Beren and Lúthien. Though the extant lay runs to more than four thousand lines, Tolkien never fully completed the poem.



The prose form of the lay (that is, chapter 19 of Quenta Silmarillion) closes with the final deaths of Beren and Lúthien, an event which occurred in I 503. The original verse form, however, is unfinished, and never reaches this point. So, while the full tale must have been compiled after I 503, parts of the original lay might conceivably have originated earlier.


The story ultimately ends with Lúthien convincing Mandos to release her spirit, as well as Beren's, so that they could remain together forever. This must be the overarching meaning of the 'release' of the title, but the lay reworks this theme throughout in different ways and at different levels, with each of its characters being imprisoned and gaining their freedom again, sometimes several times.


There is perhaps room for confusion in the fact that this lay is known as both the Lay of Leithian and the Lay of Lúthien. Despite the similarity of these names, these two Elvish titles have distinctly different meanings. Leithian is a Sindarin word for 'release' (hence the translation 'Release from Bondage'), while Lúthien is the name of Thingol's daughter (said to mean 'enchantress') whose story is told in the lay.


About this entry:

  • Updated 23 January 2022
  • This entry is complete

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