Beorn - The Origin of a Skinchanger

Understanding Beorn's origin is another of Middle-earths great enigma's. Because we know he is a man, we must then try to seek an origin for him among the Edain. The following study tries to establish a link between Beorn and Beren, who of all ascendents seems the most likely.

Let's look at the Beren - Beorn descendant enigma;

Beren - Lúthien = Eluréd, Elurín and Elwing

Eluréd, Elurín were both killed in the assault of Doriath by the Sons of Fëanor. Neither had children.

Elwing - Earendil = Elrond and Elros

Elrond - Celebrian = Elladan, Elrohir and Arwen

Elladan and Elrohir did not have children, if they did, it was at least until after the arrival of Beorn. Arwen we know married Aragorn.

Elros - Unknown = Vardamir Noliman, Tindomiel, Manwendil and Atanalcar. This line of Númenoreans is numerous and is the beginnings of the line of the Dúnedain of the North, who may possibly be the link of the early descendents of Beorn.

If Beorn was to be descended through the line of Beren, it could only have been through Elros. However, it is unclear where this could have developed or from whom this ability could have been passed. There is no record of any of the line of Elros ever possessing this ability or even using it. Therefore I would contest that the ability to skin-change was ever actually passed from the lineage of Beren.

One particular reason for this is the fact that Beren never actually change himself into any beast. Though there are some similarities between Beorn and Beren, the main one is the relationship between the Birds and the Beasts of the forests.

Thereafter for four years more Beren wandered still upon Dorthonion, a solitary outlaw; but he became the friend of birds and beasts, and they aided him, and did not betray him, and from that time forth he ate no flesh nor slew any living thing that was not in the service of Morgoth.
''The Silmarillion - Of Beren and Lúthien

Gandalf said to Bilbo about Beorn; He lives in an oak-wood and has a great wooden house; and as a man he keeps cattle and horses, which are nearly as marvellous as himself. They work for him and talk to him. He does not eat them; neither does he hunt or eat wild animals.

This is where the similarity ends in my opinion.

Beren is not recorded as ever having changed himself into any other shape or skin. This was achieved by the skills of both Felagund and Lúthien.

By the arts of Felagund their own forms and faces were changed into the likeness of Orcs; and thus disguised they came far upon their northward road, and ventured into the western pass, between EredWethrin and the highlands of Taur-nu-Fuin.

By the counsel of Huan and the arts of Lúthien he was arrayed now in the have of Draugluin, and she in the winged fell of Thuringwethil. Beren became in all things like a werewolf to look upon, save that in his eyes there shone a spirit grim indeed but clean; and horror was in his glance as he saw upon his flank a bat-like creature clinging with creased wings. Then howling under the moon he leaped down the hill, and the bat wheeled and flittered above him.

These are the only two instances where Beren was changed in form, neither of which has any relation to Bears and neither he managed himself. Therefore I do not believe that this ability was anything to do with Beren at all.

So, where does this leave Beorn? We still can't answer how he managed to skin-change from Man to Bear.

Gandalf again to Bilbo:

He is a skin-changer. He changes his skin: sometimes he is a huge black bear; sometimes he is a great strong black-haired man with huge arms and a great beard. I cannot tell you much more, though that ought to be enough. Some say that he is a bear descended from the great and ancient bears of the mountains that lived there before the giants came. Others say that he is a man descended from the first men who lived before Smaug or the other dragons came into this part of the world, and before the goblins came into the hills out of the North. I cannot say, though I fancy the last is the true tale.
The Hobbit - Queer Lodgings

We cannot doubt either that he is a man, although Gandalf stated;

I once saw him sitting all along on the top of the Carrock at night watching the moon sinking towards the Misty Mountains, and I heard him growl in the tongue of bears: "The day will come when they will perish and I shall go back!" That is why I believe he once came from the mountains himself.'

In addition, Tolkien says in his letters that Beorn's lifespan was no greater than that of an ordinary Man. It's very unlikely, then, that he survived much beyond TA 3000. (See Letters #144, dated 1954). In the same letter, Tolkien explains that despite his remarkable abilities, Beorn definitely belonged to the race of Men: 'Though a skin-changer and no doubt a bit of a magician, Beorn was a Man'.

This also dispels the Maia myth that is frequently suggested.

So at least there is some confirmation of the magician theory. Yet it is also clear that Beorn must have been the first of his line or people to have this ability, hence the people being known as Beornings.

Beorn indeed became a great chief afterwards in those regions and ruled a wide land between the mountains and the wood; and it is said that for many generations the men of his line had the power of taking bear's shape, and some were grim men and bad, but most were in heart like Beorn, if less in size and strength. In their day the last goblins were hunted from the Misty Mountains and a new peace came over the edge of the Wild.
The Hobbit - The Return Journey

My theory is complete speculation; Beorn has no known ancestors, though he is from the race of Men. Is it impossible to imagine that Beorn may have been both of Men, yet raised by Bears? He has an intense dislike of Goblins, who may have been responsible for attacking his family home in the mountains of the North. This is not dissimilar to Kiplings, 'Jungle-Book?', where Wolves rear the young Mowgli. A book Tolkien would have read as he penned his early thoughts. Beorn could only have learnt his skill from the Bears he was akin too, over years having been in their company, been fed on milk and honey and assuming the ability to control his own form. Possibly Radagast may have had a hand in his upbringing, although this idea is not developed, only that Gandalf says;

'I have heard of you, if you have not heard of me; but perhaps you have heard of my good cousin Radagast who lives near the Southern borders of Mirkwood?''Yes; not a bad fellow as wizards go, I believe. I used to see him now and again,' said Beorn.
The Hobbit - Queer Lodgings

I do not believe in the link with Beren, or Beren's genetic ability to skin-change. He was never responsible for his form changing and only managed this by the skills of others and their enchantments upon him. Beorn is skilled in skin-changing; he has a natural ability to do this at will. Only through magic of his own or that of the animals he is akin to can he do this.

Comments and Discussion

By "no known descendants" do you mean "no known ancestors?" His known descendant is his son Grimbeorn the Old, mentioned to Frodo by Gimli in the chapter "Many Meetings". -- [JohnCowan?]

I rather think the author of the essay meant "no known descendants with the ability to change skin"... -- ChW
Meanwhile I have spoken with RayinBangor, you were right he meant ancestors and asked me to correct it... -- ChW
True enough, I had meant 'ascendents' as relating to no known relatives with such ability in the ascendency... -- Rayinbangor

Just as a wild speculation. Beren and Lúthien could have had mortal desendents that were born at TolGalen. Childern that were not mentioned in the Silmarillion because they were not part of that story. This would satisfy the requirement of Beorn being decentant from Beren and the Skinchanger power would have come from Lúthien. Of course the power of disguise that we know Lúthien had is not the same as the power that Beron had. Perhaps the power changed over time and maybe some actual bear blood was infused into the line along the way. I leave how the idea of mating of man and bears to your own imagination. I refuse to draw that picture for you.

Your welcome -- DtC

i read in a doc of alternative MERP rules the possibility that beornings where descendents of the people from the house of Beor that fleed back to Eriador in the First Age. They where led by Bereg, grandson of Baran. This is the best explanation that i had read to date. The idea of Radagast and Beorn being a magician does not sound too strange to me. -- RobertoScattini?


(C) The Tolkien Wiki Community Page last changed: October 19, 2006