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Beren and Luthien (WIP)

By TurnerMohan
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The sons of Feanor attack the fated lovers in the woods of Brethil. This is a composition that I've had in my head for a long time, being one of my favorite moments in the Silmarillion; tense, dire, hot with sexual jealousy and racial animosity, it's considerably more compelling and satisfying as "romantic fairy-story" than much of the material that surrounds it. I'd hoped to have it brought to a level of finish I was satisfied with by the time the recent "Beren and Luthien" had hit the shelves, oh well. consider this the "impressionist version."

part of the Weekly Tolkien Sketchblog
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Zeonista's avatar
Hey, it is still an interesting and dynamic composition, whether "impressionist" or not. You needed to include Huan, but that was about the worst thing I could say about it. Interestingly enough, although you have Beren & Luthien in the foreground, and Luthien is at the center, the eye is drawn upwards to Celegorm, with Curufin as his shadow-image. The immediate setting on the edge of a large clearing in the ever-present great forest give great lighting & framing to the action. I would rather have Beren in a less passive and more ready state, as he would be aware that the two brothers resent him, and want to kill him in a convenient manner. Luthien may be seeking peace, but Beren is sadly aware that the Shadow has reached out again. Also, his avoidance of Celegorm's attack will prepare him for the celebrated leap. Given some knowledge of stunt work and the difficulty of leaping not only laterally but upwards to a horse, it was an action worthy of renown. 
TurnerMohan's avatar
I intentionally left him out actually. the presence of a large irish wolfhound-looking creature is inexplicable to anyone not familiar with the story (a group who i believe should always be considered in creating an  illustrated scene) and even to those in the know would unnecessarily steal focus (and therefore tension/impact) from the four players in the moment. this image to me is not about how convenient it is to have culain's hound intervening on your behalf, but about the fear, anger and jealousy between these characters.
Celegorm is almost invariably the viewers first focus. we will see his face (always a thing that draws the eye) and his body language most clearly in the final piece, and he is in a way meant to guide the veiwer's eye and focus down that spearpoint into the rest of the image.
as for beren, he is the most difficult character in the piece, in my mind. there is an opinion (which i entirely agree with) about frank frazetta that part of what gave his figures and their poses such power - not just anatomically but in how well they served the narrative of the images they occupied - was that he captured the absolute moment of tension, as if he'd paused on the single most visually compelling and narratively intriguing frame in a 24frame/second film reel. I've damn near drawn all those twenty four frames for beren here (something frazetta  -renowned for his instincts and ability to wing it - probably never would have done) and am still in debate about which one is best. i see his movement as evolving from what i'll call (and have called in my earlier studies of the scene) the "jack and rose" pose - of the two lovers still holding eachother's arms in preparation for the shared danger about to be upon them in the immediate future - to the "frazetta hero" pose, inwhich he is ready - mentally and in his posture - to engage the threat looming directly before him. as is often the case a half measure (the pose i have him in here) is unsatifying in both ways, but for this composition i consider it crucial, the moment (as i envision it and hope to portray it) hinging on beren's ability to make the transition without skimping on either what came before it or what will follow. he will get under that spear, avoiding celegorm's onslaught, and a moment later will take curufin down, he is a man of grit and courage, and fate is on his side, but he's also (for all intents and purposes) a boy in love, getting attacked by foes far above his pay-grade. if i can catch both those realities of his situation I'll have done my job right
Zeonista's avatar
Not having Huan was the only thing I could say as a negative, and it seemed like petty purist comment at the time. But you have satisfied me with some solid thematic reasoning. It would be alright if Huan was not immediately present, but understood as being offstage awaiting his cue to step in. For this moment caught in paint, it is the moment of confrontation between love and obsession. The indeterminate pose of Beren looks better now that you have explained it. It's a great visual depiction of the scene through and through!
Qitian's avatar
This may be unfinished as yet, but I already love the dynamics of it. I'm in awe of how much you express through the body language of both Lúthien and Beren (and also Celegorm). It brings the urgency and terror of the situation across - as well as the courage, love and anger. It's a very tense situation for sure! I'm very much looking forward to the finished version, but that's just greediness for more - the impressionist version already works perfectly on its own.
Nice work!
I like the circumstance (was it intended?) that if you continue an imaginary line from the foremost rider's (I guess, it's Celegorm due to his brighter hair) spear it points toward Beren, yet a line thought from the man's arms directs the onviewer's look at Luthien. And her posture too makes her the centre of this picture as she the maybe most important character in that whole tale. Sure, Beren went through great adventures, but in my opinion he was somehow dragged through most of the perils by more powerful allies like Huan, Fingon and Luthien. However I do not see this weakening the immense meaning of Beren's deeds. I actually like that he appears more like a everyday man rather than an (almost) invincible hero blessed by the God's that Tuor is, or a dark, desperate hero totally the opposite - cursed by the Dark One, like Turin was. Beren is more like a typical ("real world") fairy tale protagonist - a poor miller's son that somehow falls into an adventure and gets through it by using mainly luck and the benevolent powers of the persons and beasts he encounters. (And sure, there is a fair princess he has to be protected from evil, first against her father's will, but in the end...)
Well, what I wanted to say is that I am very pleased by your idea to make this piece of work Luthien's one. She's a hell of a strong character and deserves it to be depicted not "only" as the most beautiful being in Arda, but a firm-minded elvish Lady.
TurnerMohan's avatar
luthien (i have long thought) is the real 'star' and hero of the lay of leithian, much moreso than beren. it's very apparent through all available materials on the subject that luthien was to a large extent intended as a stand-in - in the elevated, mythic context of tolkien's world of elves and gods - for his own wife edith, he 'holds the character up' as he likely did his own wife (as many people do) and seems to have no difficulty painting beren - being similarly a version of himself - as second fiddle in their tale. to that end yes, the character, though accounted as one of the legendary heroes and elf-friends of the elder days, seems more an 'ordinary man' - and in my vision probably less tall and naturally regal, less 'elf like' you might say - than turin or tuor. there's a little bit of bilbo (tolkien's other not-so-subtle literary avatar) or sam gamgee in beren - dogged, out of his depth, an honorable thief, his main advantages being his courage and good luck - and it seems to me that among the great heroes of the tales of the first age ("the great stories,' as sam himself memorably intones) he would be the most relateable to those later figures.

concerning the composition (because you remarked on it and because it's been so far my most challenging one, trying to get the scale, energy, and motion of the characters all right in themselves and in relation to eachother, frozen in a single moment of tension) my hope (which i'm hoping will be fully realized when the image is finally rendered up to a resolution I can consider myself happy with) is that the character dynamics of the scene will take center stage: Celegorm and Beren, and their interplay, are intended to be the most dire element (that spear will likely fly in another fraction of a second) with celegorm, the emotionally "hottest" character of the four, driving in on beren, the barreling mass of his horse forcing the lovers apart as he directs all his rage and jealousy at the man under him (i consider it a moment closely akin to johnny's beating of daniel in 'karate kid,' cocoum's attack on john smith in 'pocahontas,' cal's attempt to shoot jack in 'titanic' or any one of the other (literally dozens of) iterations of the boy-from-the-other-side-of-the-tracks-wins-the-girl's-heart-and-incurrs-the-wrath-of-male-competitors-from-her-world story (one of the most common and reliable of romantic archetypes)). Luthien and curufin (who is essentially there to help his bro get some) are second-stringers, with luthien's attention just shifting to the darker noldor prince's approach, but my hope (and it sounds like you think I'm succeeding) is that, by placing luthien in the center of the scene, as the only character "engaging" all the others (one might expect she would cry a warning to beren, or to celegorm to stop, or to curufin to stop him, if the moment allowed her enough syllables) and as the "object" of all the other's focus (either directly or indirectly) she will read as the figure around whom all the action of the scene pivots.

my apologies if that got long-winded :) but, as this is a WIP i am still somewhat pre-gaming it myself, and often i find that doing so in writing is effective. hopefully wasnt too much of a burden to you ;)
Dont you apologize! :D (Big Grin) I deeply appreciate "long winded" replies like this one, especially if they bear that much of thoughts. Moreso since the lay of Leithan is so damned tempting to like. I totally love how well it ends in fact with the simultanious death of the happy couple, reminding me of the ancient greek story of Philemon and Baucis. No other author than Tolkien ever (at least in my opinion) was able to outline an "ordinary" hero more perfectly with his ability to be content with the very small things such as love is. Hats off, Luthien sacrificed her immortality for the sake of love. (Sure, other fictional characters probably did too, but it never really touched me in a comparable way.)
For the finishing of your masterpiece to be I wish you all the best! I am especially curious to see what you make out of Curufin. He's some sort of favorite second line character of mine in this story (and the Silmarillion in general), because he is the only one of great Feanor's descendends to reproduce. And boy, did he... I'd like to know more about this never illustrated plot, but somehow I eschew reading fan fiction...Sweating a little... 
SaMo-art's avatar
This scene is amazing! Clap 
Irsanna's avatar
I understand: the fantasy that an elf can fall in love with a mortal is very flattering to this race, but you are not at all embarrassed by the fact that she died in the end result?
TurnerMohan's avatar
I don't think it's unduly flattering, there's a lot about 'men' - mortal humanity - that (in the entirely hypothetical scenario of the existence of beings like tolkien's elves) would feasibly draw the immortal elves to us; our vigour, our impetuousness, our courage in the face of the curious and in many ways terrifyingly ambiguous mortal fate we've been given. in a way humanity's appeal seems to me the appeal of the unlearned barbarian or holy fool, in many ways seeming hopelessly inadequate yet not daunted by our inadequacies, ready to risk and to live and love in the moment, you might say we 'run hotter' of the two.

as for whether it should be considered regrettable that Luthien died and left the world for their great love, I think I (and several commentors) probably spoke my peace on the subject better under this drawing
(which you might enjoy, if you havent seen it already) than I could do again
Irsanna's avatar
I just want to say that maybe it makes sense to consider the actions of the elves and from the point of view of the elves, and not only from the perspective of anthropocentrism.
TurnerMohan's avatar
I do that quite a lot, if the results of my pondering on the elves don't lead me to the same conclusions as you maybe it's not so much because one of us is right and the other isn't as because there are, ultimately, many ways to interperate Tolkien's work, but it isn't for lack of "consideration" of the subject that my opinions are what they are
Elaini-the-Mystic's avatar
Well done so far! There are also other elements of sexual tension in the story, though, at least in the part where she dances for Morgoth as a well planned distraction. She could be very bold if it helped any of her goals - though they had good intentions. She's not a too traditional "damsel in distress", because she doesn't like sitting around if that ever happens. She's rather "I dare you to put me and my lover in distress". Actually I think in a way she accomplished much more than Beren in his own task.
Libra1010's avatar
 Splendid Work Master Mohan - this definitely seems to be a worthy evocation of a most dramatic scene!Nod 
humanoidhominid's avatar
It really communicates a sense of what the early Edain might have felt when first seeing armed, mounted Eldar - that is to say, absolute terror. To be confronted by these strange folk with such a powerful, lordly presence, thundering forth astride and in command of beasts you've only before seen in the wild, wielding weapons like and unlike your own, made of bright, hard metal rather than bone and stone. To be charged by a mounted warrior is scary enough, but add all the above to the mix and you might need a change of loincloth...
romenriel's avatar
AlystraeaArt's avatar
This is wonderful! The sense of movement is amazing. I love this scene too, and for the same reasons. Beautiful work. Can't wait to see the finished piece.
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