“The Hunting of Carcharoth” or “What to do when your hand gets bitten off by a giant wolf.“
Some might argue that if you have your hand bitten off by a giant devil-wolf made by the High Lord of Darkness himself, that you might just leave well enough alone. Maybe pursue different career opportunities. But not Beren here. Beren concludes that the only right thing when you’re a human in an elf’s world is to dive right back down that devil-wolf’s throat and get your hand back. (We humans have fairly high standards of insanity to keep up after all.)
Those familiar with the Tale of Beren and Luthien might point out that there was also an enormously valuable diamond down that wolf’s throat and that Beren was, after all, trying to impress a girl at the time, but let’s be honest, it’s madness. (But if you’d like a better explanation of Beren’s motives and the backstory here, check out this great article by Jeff LaSala from Tor.com)
This scene is most often depicted as a battle between Huan and Carcharoth (and even Tolkien himself spends a lot of his narrative energy on the moment of their battle. I suspect if he were art directing then that would be the moment he’d pick for me to illustrate). But I really wanted to focus on Beren and Carcharoth. The relation between the two is just so interesting to me. There is a bit of Captain Ahab in there, a bit of Captain Hook, and perhaps a bit of Beowulf in Beren’s relation to this beast that now has a piece of him.
In keeping with Beren’s actions in the story, I began the drawing for this image by immediately making a terrible blunder (and getting my hand bitten off.)
My first rough comps of this were of a wild and sharp composition involving Beren, on a noble whitesteed, his spear colliding with the horrific wolf which has now been driven mad with the Silmaril burning deep in his gullet. I was really taken in by the sheer dynamism, power and mayhem of it all.
But it was wrong.
As it turns out, in this passage from Beren Luthien, it is fairly clear that while Beren and Thingol did ride out on the hunt for Carcharoth, Beren apparently dismounts at some point because it says he “stood next to Thingol,” and when the wolf lept at him it says that Beren, “strode before him with a spear”. So he probably shouldn’t be the guy on the horse here. In my excitement over this initial drawing I think I replaced strode with rode in my mind.
So now, like so many other times in my life, I have to ask myself, “What on earth am I going to do with this horse?“
I was already well into the final when I discovered this error, and I had to rework the two characters so that they fit the composition. The figure on the horse, now had to have a helmet, so as to not take too much attention away from the real drama of the scene. (And he could even have his hand back if he liked!) The downed figure below the wolf’s crushing claws was initially meant to be Beleg, (A warrior with 2 hands and no beard as far as I can tell) but now that would be Beren, who would take his rightful place: Getting crushed to death by the wolf. (Which really folks, Beren should have known better than to go riding off after that wolf. The wolf already had his hand after all. Beren might have retired to live a quiet life alone in the hills, perhaps become a town notary in some quaint little village off in the hills. He would live out his days in peace and quiet, with his 2 goats and an elderly cat. But then of course, he would have been forgotten, his stories never told, no songs ever sung of him, and Middle Earth would be the poorer for it.)
In the end, like Beren hunting the wolf that ate his hand, I think it was better to get it right so that the image has a better chance of doing something great and something that needed doing. With Beren as the downed figure instead of on the horse the scene might lose some of the dynamism, but in exchange it gains drama, truth, and narrative punch instead.
So I guess the lesson here is don’t be afraid to go back, with a crudely fashioned red marker and risk wrecking everything, if that is what it takes to get it all back.
If you have any questions please let me know in the comments! And as always, if you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future post please let me know.
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