The great hound of Valinor, Huan, had many talents outside what is typical of hounds, one of which is speech. However, Huan was not allowed to just speak freely but instead was only able to speak thrice before he died.
... and Huan understood all that was said. For he comprehended the speech of all things with voice; but it was permitted to him thrice only ere his death to speak with words.
The Silmarillion, Of Beren and Lúthien
As far as I can tell, there is no explanation for this limitation on Huan's ability to speak.
My understanding is that in Tolkien's mythology magical ability and power tends to diminish incrementally over time and after use until the once powerful beings are simply no longer as powerful as they were in the past and can no longer do the same awesome acts (be it creating mountains, taking a physical form, building giant and impenetrable towers, etc.). To me, the fact that Huan is given a finite number of times to perform this magical activity is out-of-place in Tolkien's mythology.
- Is my reading correct that the Valar (or Eru) gave Huan the ability to only speak no more than three times? If so, why? I would be particularly interested in an out-of-universe reason as to why Tolkien chose to make this (as far as I can tell) unusual choice of giving Huan a specific number of occasions to speak, though an in-universe would be interesting as well.
- Or, am I reading this incorrectly and this was actually intended to be a prophesy (or doom) wherein when Huan speaks for the third time his death will soon follow (e.g. Huan was technically able to speak as much as he wanted but a prophesy indicated once he got to three he would have no more opportunity)?