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Probably written after I 5031
Tells the story of Beren and Lúthien, a Man and an Elf
Open to interpretation2
Other names


About this entry:

  • Updated 30 September 2021
  • This entry is complete

‘Release from Bondage’

The long tale of the Lay of Leithian

The translated title of the long lay known as the Lay of Leithian, telling the story of Beren and Lúthien and their Quest to recover a Silmaril from Morgoth's Iron Crown. The idea of constraint and release is a running theme that weaves through the tale, with both Beren and Lúthien finding themselves captured or imprisoned several times over, and each time being rescued or effecting an escape.

The narrative events are bound up within a larger and more profound working of the theme of release from death itself. Beren was mortally wounded in the Hunting of the Wolf that brought his Quest to an end, and the immortal Lúthien passed away from grief. In the Halls of Mandos she pleaded for Beren's life, and her words moved the Vala Mandos to pity. Thus both Beren and Lúthien were released from their fates and returned to life. They dwelt as mortals for a time on the Green Isle of Tol Galen before moving on together beyond the Circles of the World.



Neither the authorship nor the dating of this lay are known in any detail. The full story of Beren and Lúthien included their final deaths in I 503, so presumably the tale of Release from Bondage was written after that date (though its unfinished state makes even this difficult to say with certainty). A plausible origin would be the Havens of Sirion in the later First Age, especially as we know that Dírhavel wrote his Tale of the Children of Húrin there.


The 'bondage' being escaped in the lay is a matter of interpretation. The entire story builds to the escape of Beren and Lúthien from the fates decreed for their peoples, and this must be the larger meaning of the 'Release from Bondage'. Within the story, however, the ideas of 'escape' and 'release' return again and again. To give a few of the very many examples: Beren escapes from Taur-nu-Fuin and later Tol-in-Gaurhoth; Lúthien escapes from Hírilorn and later Nargothrond; a Silmaril is freed from Morgoth's Iron Crown; and Huan releases himself from service to Celegorm. On this level, then, it's hard to pin down a single 'release from bondage' that the title might refer to; rather it's an overarching theme within the work that recurs at larger and smaller scales.

The Silmaril recovered by Beren and Lúthien would later prove critical in allowing Eärendil to reach Aman, and thus in bringing about the downfall of Morgoth. So, from an even wider perspective, the lay represents an overture to the Release from Bondage of all the peoples of Middle-earth.


About this entry:

  • Updated 30 September 2021
  • This entry is complete

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