A Boy, A Girl, & A Dog:
The Lay of Leithian Dramatic Script Project
aka “The Script,” “The Play of Leithian,” and “This Madness”…
(with apologies to Messrs. Shakespeare and Tolkien)
“For every minstrel hath his tune;
and some are strong and some are soft,
and each would bear his song aloft,
and each a little while be heard,
though rude the note, and light the word.”
—Lúthien Tinúviel to Morgoth, The Lay of Leithian, Canto XIII (J.R.R. Tolkien transl.)
The Leithian Script —— Why?
Well, it's more fun than the Cliff Notes…
Seriously, it was forged out of a combination of several consecutive retellings of the story, set into the wider Arda Mythos context on the fly, to younger, teenage Tolkien fans who had either not read Silmarillion or not lately; several particularly inane Usenet statements and a general tone of obliviousness cluelessness as to character motivations; and a free morning when I didn't feel like cleaning the house…
It had started as nothing more than the cartoon which accompanies it, the mental exercise of imagining how the throne room scene would appear if one were actually there to witness it having caused me too many fits of giggles not to inflict it on — er, share it with — others. Unfortunately, the rest of the scene insisted on playing itself out, and thus The Script was born…
Then, although it was only conceived as a one-off short sketch, I was urged repeatedly to keep going, which didn't happen until I finally figured out how to do this — it truly is a very complicated architectonic and stylistic construction, and not a simple matter of translation at all. Then a way to make it work, as a unified drama, occurred to me, and the madness went on…
Here I show you the ropes and pulleys, the gaffers and grips, making it all happen — that is to say, the textual citations, in-jokes, obscure/obligatory references, and terrible puns, along with interpretations & interpolations of Canon — and ultimately the answer to "Why?" such a project at all…
List of Abbreviations Employed Throughout:
- JRRT - John Ronald Reuel Tolkien
- LOTR - The Lord of the Rings
- FOTR - The Fellowship of the Ring
- TTT - The Two Towers
- ROTK - The Return of the King
- Silm. - The Silmarillion
- HOME - the "History of Middle-earth" series of ancillary/auxilliary works by JRRT, collected and annotated by his son Christopher.
- LB - The Lays of Beleriand, part of HOME
- LL1 - the first Lay of Leithian fragment, contained in LB
- LL2 - the second Lay of Leithian fragment, contained in LB
- UT - Unfinished Tales
- LT1 - The Book of Lost Tales, vol. 1
- LT2 - The Book of Lost Tales, vol. 2
- LR - The Lost Road
- MR - Morgoth's Ring
- Shaping - The Shaping of Middle-earth
Now, as far as The Script goes, overall I'm following the story and Canon as set forth in the 1977 Silmarillion, which as far as I can tell from subsequent reading is close to, if not quite identical with, the unpublished 1930 Silmarillion for the story of Beren and Luthien. However, I also have made massive recourse to the Fragments of the Lay of Leithian, written out in the last half of the '20s, mostly, and found in The Lays of Beleriand together with the earliest version of The Lay of the Children of Hurin, which I will refer to as LL1 and LL2, the latter being a revision of some of the cantos begun ca 1950. Generally speaking I will take the Lay Fragments as primary, though not always, when there are differences.
I have also utilized where I have found them relevant facts and information from elsewhere in the History of Middle Earth, where sometimes a small sentence or aside will provide vast insights into the connections or complications of the story. And, of course, there is the whole question of variations internally, which I treat by a) picking the versions I like best; b) acting as though the writings are actually translations of pre-and post-Atalantaean works recovered by Professor Tolkien, which have been mucked about with and partially mangled and partly forgotten and often rewritten, just like The Song of Roland and other real epics and romances of the Primary World. So The Script is, on one level, an attempt to harmonize these various rescensions of Canon, just as it is on another level an attempt to make the obscurer parts comprehensible to a modern audience.
Three things are important to remember: first, the Silmarillion version of Beren & Luthien is complete in length, but not in detail; secondly, the LB versions are not complete in length (what I would not give for the lost 3.5 cantos!) but much fuller in detail; thirdly, there are hints and crucial elements developed in the adjunct notes and summaries jotted down as Tolkien developed the plot more fully. But the LB is very hard to work with, due partly to the typeface and partly to the masses of interpolated scholarly commentary, which are useful on one level, but do not make for easy or fluid reading. And it's poetry in a high-medieval style, like that of the famous "Ubi Sunt" — which goes like this in part:
Were beth they biforen us weren,
Houndes ladden and hauekes beren
And hadden feld and wode?
The riche levedies in hoere bour
That wereden golden in hoere tressour
With hoere brightte rode……
Were is that lawing and that song,
That trayling and that proude gong,
Tho havekes and tho houndes?
which is not a style natural to us these days, (or most of us, at least) and requires some adjustment to be readable as a novel is to us. But oh, it has some grand stuff in it, and I at least enjoy "the character of its hero," and do not find it merely "a treasure chest of trivia," as the blurb on the back cover calls it.
He grew afraid amidst his power once more;
renown of Beren vexed his ears,
and down the aisléd forests there was heard great Huan baying.
Why did I choose to render it in a pseudo-Shakespearean format, modeled on Henry V with the device of the Narrator, Gower the medieval poet-historian, on loan from that play? Partly because it's fun to do neo-Elizabethan verse (at least for me) and partly because it allows me to add commentary and make connections past what information would be available to the characters at any given scene. And because it bridges well the divide between the epic story and the flippant modern style I've adopted, and provides an almost-plausible (I hope at least) framework with which to counteract the synapse-shorting dichotomies — in Henry V, Gower exists "outside time," speaking to the audience directly from the context of the theater group which is thus acknowledged to exist and to be merely portraying the events, and so the artificiality of the play-world is thus dissipated by recognition, and anachronisms and historical differences are likewise obviated.
In other words, Gower can talk about computer screens, and it isn't "wrong" any more than when he asks us to imagine that "this wooden O" is the battlefield of Agincourt or the hall of the King—
And so, I present:
THE THRONE-ROOM SCENE OF THE LAY OF LEITHIAN
retold in the vernacular as a dramatic script (with apologies to Messrs. Tolkien & Shakespeare)
Dramatis Personae & Cast, in order of appearance [this is how I'd cast them - you're free to supply your own actors, of course.]
The Human Bard Gower (appearing courtesy of The Rose Playhouse) Derek Jacobi (appearing courtesy Henry V)
Luthien aka Tinuviel, Princess of Doriath Claudia Black (appearing courtesy Farscape)
Elu Thingol, King of Doriath Jeremy Irons (appearing courtesy Brideshead Revisited)
Melian the Maia, Queen of Doriath Emma Thompson (appearing courtesy Sense & Sensibility)
Beren Barahirion, Human Warrior Christian Bale (appearing courtesy Treasure Island, Little Women)
Mablung, Captain of Doriath Ronald Colman (appearing courtesy The Prisoner of Zenda)
Beleg Cuthalion, Elven Ranger David Niven (appearing courtesy The Prisoner of Zenda)
Daeron the Bard, Elven Flautist Lani John Tupu (appearing courtesy Farscape)
Citizenry of Doriath (nonspeaking parts) as themselves (appearing courtesy of Mandos)
Act 1: SCENE I
envision wide upon this meager screen,
the lofty arches of deep Doriath,
where Elu Thingol, gray King of Elves
and Melian the Wise his wife
whose birth precedes the eldest stars,
hold high court before their host.
--Let thy mind
make of our panel white and keystrokes black
Shining caverns, enlumened all with bright
lamps of white gems all fashioned fair
upheld by dragons carved and gilt,
and water flowing o'er the stone
like to a grotto fashioned of the gods
where birds do sing beneath no sun --
into the shade of the holy trees
Luthien Tinuviel doth lead her love,
Beren the wanderer from out the woods,
before her mother musing and infuriate sire
before the assemblage of her friends and kin
and doubtful Daeron that betray'd of love . . .
Mom, Dad -- this is my fiance, Beren.
Well, well, well. So you're the fellow who's been camping in my woods this past year. How did you get past the security system?
Um? [distracted by the spears/crowd/nightingales/jewels/waterfall/trees/Melian]
How . . .? I, er, just, erm, kept walking, and . . . then I was here.
--Yeah, right. [aloud]
So, --Beren, is it? --what do you do for a living?
Orcs. Um. I, uh, I hunt them. Sir. [winces]
Really. And do you foresee a long-term career in this . . . admirable venture of yours?
Beren: [desperate flippancy]
Well, I expect I'll be doing it the rest of my life.
Thingol: [not amused]
And this should impress me why?
Well, my dad was a good friend of the King of Nargothrond, saved his life at the Siege of Angband, and they say I take after Da -- I might be useful to have around, is all I'm saying.
Thingol: [biting sarcasm]
In case you hadn't noticed, this isn't Nargothrond -- or do I look like Finrod Felagund to you?
I, I don't know, sir; I've never met King Finrod --
Thingol: [forced patience]
--That was a rhetorical question, boy. I'm saying I don't care who your friends-and-relations are, I want to know what you have to offer my daughter. I didn't raise Luthien to be a beggar or a wandering healer -- I expect her to take over the administration of Doriath after me. We have lots of people who can kill Orcs, and with eons more experience than you've got, so I don't really see a place for your talents in our organization.
Well, my parents ran a realm too, not as big as this, but nevertheless --
Thingol: [losing it]
Silence! Impertinent puppy! Can you give me one good reason why I shouldn't throw you into the labyrinth and delete the key? Do you really expect me to believe that you've just been taking music lessons from my daughter in the forest? I should chop you into pieces and chop the pieces into pieces! --unfortunately, you'd miss most of it --
Um, I know this isn't the best time to remind you, but Tinuviel did say you'd promised me a safe conduct . . .
. . .
It's my nickname, Daddy. Like yours is Thingol. Because of my singing. And you did promise. In front of witnesses.
Thingol: [raising voice]
--but as I was about to say, I stupidly promised her that I wouldn't kill or maim you (I can't think why, all she does is look at me and I give her whatever she asks for) but that doesn't mean I can't find other ways to keep you from getting at her, you empty-handed vagabond--
The good news is -- that he isn't a brainwashed slave sent here by our Enemy to assassinate you, kidnap Luthien or corrupt Doriath.
Hmph. What's the bad?
That he isn't a brainwashed slave sent here by our Enemy to assassinate you, kidnap Luthien or corrupt Doriath.
!?. . . !?
He's just a boy who's fallen in love with a stranger he met in the woods.
--It was different for us...
Melian: [mindspeech, sighing]
It's always different...
[Simultaneous w/previous exchange: Enter the two chief warriors of Doriath.]
All right, all right, what's all the fuss?
Daeron, old boy! Fill us in!
[Daeron gives a guilty start and almost drops his flute]
Erm. Hullo, chaps. It's that Man you were all out looking for. He just turned up. --How did he get past you?
How indeed? We figured he'd jumped the gate and made a run for it. Done a bunk, as it were.
Right. When was the last time anyone got past us, Strongbow?
Mm, seventy-four years ago. That wolf light-cavalry unit down the cliffs on the other side. Didn't get far, though.
You sure it's been that long?
Sure I'm sure.
I don't remember all of that -- I think you've got an extra decade in there.
No, that was the winter before the winter that the borders got four cubits of snow and five of those things with six legs and two heads.
Anybody know what those things are? What are they called, anyway? Daeron?
[Daeron gives a guilty start]
You're the bard around here -- don't you know?
What's wrong with 'those things with six legs and two heads?' or better yet, 'those dead things with six legs and two heads' --?
[Melian gives them a Look, and they quiet down. The conversation regarding a suitable dowry is just concluding.]
So, if I brought back all three of them, and you had three daughters, would you let me marry all of them? --Just curious, sounds like a real bargain on elf-princesses--
Luthien: [stage whisper]
Beren! Shush! I don't know how long it would take me to get you out of the labyrinth -- it might take a hundred years!
[Beren hushes up.]