The Lay of Leithian

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Title

The title of the poem, "leithian" is an Elvish word which derives from "leithia," meaning "release." It is translated to "release from bondage" by the author. It is not known what the title refers to wherefore there are several possible interpretations.

Furthermore the title bears a strong resemblance to the word "Leithien," the name for England in earlier versions of Tolkien's legendarium. This similarity may have been intentional.

ynopsis

After the ruin of his land in the Battle of Sudden Flame the Man Beren fled into the elvish realm Doriath. There he met the Elf-maiden Lúthien and they fell in love with each other. Thingol, the father of Lúthien, did not want his daughter to marry a mortal man. Therefore he asked Beren for a Silmaril, one of the hallowed jewels which the Dark Lord Morgoth had stolen from the Elves, as the bride price. With the help of Huan and Finrod Felagund, Beren and Lúthien defeated Sauron and came to Angband, where they stole a Silmaril from Morgoth's crown. The unfinished poem ends when they encounter the wolf Carcharoth at the gate of Angband.

Besides the main story the poem also tells of many events which happened before, like the meeting of Thingol and Melian, the oath of Fëanor, the return of the Noldor, the war of Beleriand and the duel of Fingolfin and Morgoth.

Analysis

The poem consists of over 4200 lines of iambic octameter. It is written in rhyming couplets.

Writing

Tolkien worked on "The Lay of Leithian" from the summer of 1925 until September 1931, when he abandoned it with only thirteen of the seventeen planned cantos completed. During the composition he made many amendments of the already existing parts of the poem, partially based on the criticism of his friend C. S. Lewis who had read the poem in 1929. In the 1950s, after the publishing of "The Lord of the Rings", he resumed working on the poem, of which he rewrote many passages, particularly of the second canto which was expanded and split into two. Nevertheless the poem never reached a complete or definite form.

Publishing

In 1937 Tolkien sent the current version of "The Lay of Leithian" together with a prose version of the yet unfinished part of the poem to his publisher Allen & Unwin who had asked for further material of his fictional world after the success of "The Hobbit". As Tolkien did not add any further information on the text the reader who was given it believed the poem to be an attempt to retell the prose version, which he thought to be a Celtic tale. Despite praising the prose he criticized the poem wherefore it was rejected. In 1985 the poem was published posthumously in "The Lays of Beleriand", the third volume of "The History of Middle-earth". The two versions of the poem are given independently, and the development of them is commented on in detail by Christopher Tolkien.

External links

* [http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Lay_of_Leithian Lay of Leithian] at the Tolkien Gateway, with a [http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Cantos_of_the_Lay_of_Leithian Canto-by-canto] analysis


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