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)?
  • 7
    Three is a magical number in mythology, like seven and nine. Tolkien liked to use these magical numbers, as in "Three rings for the Elven Kings", etc. Why he used it in this particular case, I don't know (and possibly no-one does), but it lends a mythological feel to the story, like a genie only granting three wishes. Jan 4 at 8:17
  • 5
    The more often he can talk, the less important any given sentence of his is. Jan 4 at 12:45
  • 2
    That doesn't necessarily mean that he was given a ration of three times to begin with, and then he used it up. It may be that on a particular occasion, he was given permission to speak once, and this happened to occur two more times, and at some time afterward he died, before such an occasion had arisen a fourth time.
    – nebogipfel
    Jan 6 at 15:53
  • 1
    @Brian, you can practically ignore anything from David Day. The number of mistakes he makes repeatedly in all of his works are just horrendous. He's about as reliable as anybody's pet parrot.
    – Edlothiad
    Jan 7 at 20:05
  • 1
    I've been thinking about this question, and an answer for it a lot. I believe I have an answer for your second bullet point but based on your comment you've left me a little confused as to what you actually want answered. Is your question specific to Huan, or are you wondering why there aren't more cases like Huan's?
    – Edlothiad
    Jan 7 at 20:06

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