Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of Thingol and Melian
“In after days, he became a king renowned, and his people were all the Eldar of Beleriand; the Sindar they were named, the Grey-elves, the Elves of Twilight, and King Greymantle was he, Elu Thingol in the tongue of that land.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we have a concise chapter, so I thought it would be the perfect time to review and dig into theories about what we’ve read so far in The Silmarillion.
This chapter follows Melian, a Maiar (the servants of the Valar), and Elwë, the Lord of the Teleri, whom we saw in the last chapter.
Melian “dwelt in the gardens of Lórien, and among all his people there were none more beautiful than Melian, nor wiser, nor more skilled in songs of enchantment.” She came to middle-earth at the same time as Yavanna, “and there she filled the silence of Middle-earth before the dawn with her voice and the voices of her birds.”
The Teleri who “tarried on the road.” across Middle-earth to Valinor were led by Elwë and Olwë, two brothers. Elwë Singollo, which surname we found in the previous chapter signifies Greymantle, heard the song of the lómelindi (the Nightingales), and in that song he heard the beautiful voice of Melian.
He set out to follow that song, and in doing so, “He forgot then utterly all his people and all the purposes of his mind,” and he was lost in the forest. He met Melian there, lost under the twilight stars, “and straightaway, a spell was laid on him.” He had fallen deeply in love with her and stayed with her in eastern Beleriand, starting their own faction of Eldar, which is what we see in the opening quote of this essay. He became Elu Thingol, King Greymantle of the Sindar, where Olwë, his brother, assumed kingship of the Teleri in his absence and took them to Valinor.
“And of the love of Thingol and Melian there came into the world the fairest of all the Children of Ilùvatar that was or shall ever be.” Namely the Sindar, or Grey-elves.
That is the chapter; not a lot to it, but there are some key points here to latch onto and I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on them. First, we are currently discovering the creation of the peoples of Middle-earth at this point known as Beleriand (from my basic knowledge, Beleriand was sundered in the wars of the first age, which I’m sure will be covered in the remaining text of the Silmarillion.)
The first point I’d like to discuss is song. There was much made of music and song in Peter Jackson’s seminal trilogy and even more in the text of the books. There were characters like Tom Bombadil who basically spoke in music (and I’m inquisitive to see if we get a glimpse of where he came from), poems, and songs sung throughout the books, culminating in Pippin’s song near the end of Return fo the King.
Song and music are rampant throughout Tolkien’s world, and it wasn’t until I began this journey into The Silmarillion that I began to notice that there is a reason behind this. Music is the cornerstone of life; it’s what brings the people of Middle-earth life and happiness and sorrow. Indeed the entire world was built by song…The song of the Valar and Ilùvatar. The music that we’ve all experienced while traversing this incredible creation is an offspring of this idea. The old themes are sung to elicit feeling and emotion and give a glimpse of the past and the future. There is a theory that all music is derivative; all music comes from just a few early and core songs. This shows more gloriously here than anything else because all music portrayed echoes past, an echo of the songs sung by the Valar as the world was being created. One must assume that they all have their own tone and theme incorporated into their song, as varied as a love of nature to the agony of war. The pieces of this music are what create the world and the destination of those within it. I’m so excited to see what other music or song is incorporated moving forward.
The second point I wanted to touch on was language. Tolkien famously created this world based on language, and everything else came from that. This is what makes The Silmarillion so hard to read because there are multiple names for each character and sobriquets based upon whom they interact with. However, the more I dig into the history, the more I’m beginning to understand the language (with the help of the index, of course). Once you come across a name (like Beleriand, the land beyond the bay of Balar), if you’ve paid attention to the core of the word, there’s a good chance you’ll understand where the story is going to go surrounding that character.
The best example of this I can imagine is the introduction of Elwë Singollo. Immediately we are told that Singollo indicates the Greymantle, then everything that follows points towards the creation of the Grey Elves. The Nightingales sing at Twilight, the grey mist when Thingol and Melian meet, right down to their children and followers tribe name…Sindar, which is a derivative of Singollo. They are the Grey Elves, not because of their skin color, but because they were not of the light, meaning that they never went to Valinor, nor are the Sindar from the Dark; they are Elves of Twilight, both of time and location. It is these nuggets I’ll work to uncover as we continue on throughout this blind read.
What will we uncover next?
Join me next week as we move into “Of Eldamar and the Princes of the Eldalië!”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor
“Yet be sure of this: the hour approaches, and within this age our hope shall be revealed, and the Children shall awake. Shall we then leave the lands of their dwelling desolate and full of evil? Shall they walk in darkness while we have light? Shall they call Melkor lord while Manwë sits upon Taniquetil?“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week the First of Ilùvatar’s Children (Elves) awaken, Melkor is thwarted, and we get some in-depth understanding of the creation of Middle-Earth, its peoples, and its antagonists.
We begin this chapter of the history of Middle-earth by finding that the Valar grew comfortable with their creations. Melkor was defeated, and they put him out of their minds, staying away from his lands and “the evil things that he had perverted.” Melkor created a stronghold, commanded by his lieutenant, Sauron (sound familiar?), named Angband. It was here we find the perverted things including the Maiar who followed him: “those spirits who first adhered to him in the days of his splendour, and became most like him in his corruption: their hearts were of fire, but they were cloaked in darkness, and terror went before them; they had whips of flame. Balrogs they were named in Middle-earth in later days.”
This is where we get the opening quote of this essay. The Valar, on their seats in Valinor, had a great debate on what to do with Middle-earth and the impending Awakening of the first Children of Ilùvatar, the Elves.
Varda, Manwë’s spouse, decided that the Elves should not be born into the darkness that blanketed Middle-earth, so she created the stars (which is why the Elves then called her Elentári in their tongue means ‘Queen of Stars’). I’ll leave the passage for this in the postscript because several names aren’t pertinent to this portion, but I have a sneaking suspicion they will be later!
Anyway, the Elves woke next to Cuiviénen (a lake in Middle-earth, otherwise known as “The Water of Awakening“), and the first thing they saw were the beautiful stars and “Long they dwelt in their first home by the water under the stars...” They even developed their own speech, then naming themselves the Quendi, “signifying those that speak with voices” as the Valar had no need for voice.
These Children of Ilùvatar were “stronger and greater than they have since become;” and the Valar decided that they needed to get these children to join them in Valinor, so Oromë had them follow him back, and those that did he named the Eldar, or the people of the stars.
But why didn’t they all follow Oromë, you ask? Melkor put stories into their heads to scare them off from the great hunter. Reports of “a dark Rider upon his wild horse that pursued those that wandered to take and devour them.” Melkor was able to ensnare some of these unfortunate Elves by this deception, and “those of the Quendi who came into the hands of Melkor, ere Utumno was broken, were put there in prison, and by slow arts of cruelty were corrupted and enslaved; and thus Melkor breed the hideous race of the Orcs in envy and mockery of the Elves, of whom they were afterwards the bitterest foes.“
So Melkor created Orcs from the Elves, but not just from the Elves… from the Quendi, who were stronger and greater than what the Elves later became. So it makes sense why the Orcs are thought of as so terrifying.
Understanding that Melkor was gaining in power the Valar decided that they must do something about it, so they decided to ride out against Melkor and capture him; to save the Quendi from the spread of his darkness. Apparently little is known of this battle because it didn’t take place in the view of the Quendi, except that “the Earth shook and groaned beneath them, and the water moved, and in the north there were lights as of mighty fires.”
The battle was so savage that the shape of the land itself was altered permanently, but eventually Melkor “was bound with the chain Angainor that Aulë had wrought, and led captive; and the world had peace for a long age.” The Valar discovered and defeated many of the ranks of Melkor, but they never did find his lieutenant, Sauron.
The world was at peace, and after long years of discussion, the Valar decided that the Quendi should join the Valar in Valinor far to the west. They sent for Ingwë, Finwë, and Elwë, who were ambassadors of the Elves and later became their kings, but free will got in the way.
“Then befell the first sundering of the Elves.”
The kindreds of these ambassadors followed Oromë to the west and became known as the Eldar. The ones who stayed behind loved their home of Middle-earth, the seas, the trees, and the stars and they refused the summons. These Elves became known as the Avari, or the Unwilling.
But beyond this first sundering, even the Eldar split as well. The three different ambassadors had their own followers, each with their own predilections. The followers of Ingwë were known as the Vanyar, or the Fair Elves, who are closest to the Valar and few men have ever seen.
Then there are the Noldor, the people of Finwë, otherwise known as the Deep Elves, who were known as great fighters and laborers.
Lastly there were the followers of Elwë Singollo (Singollo signifies Greymantle. I have a feeling we’ll find more out about that next week!), who were named the Teleri, who “tarried” on the roads and were the last to appear in Valinor. They are known as the Sea Elves, or Falmari, because of their love for the sea and making music beside the breaking waves.
These three kindreds of Elves who made it to Valinor are called the Calaquendi, or Elves of the Light (or a very literal translation, “Those who speak of the light“)
These Elves do not take much part in the story of the Silmarillion, but rather those they left behind, those that the “Calaquendi call the Umanyar, since they came never to the land of Aman and the Blessed Realm.” These Umanyar and the Moriquendi (or the Elves of Darkness who came later and “never beheld the Light that was before the Sun and Moon.” are who the remaining history of Middle-earth pertains to.
The Nandor, who were led by Lenwë and “forsook the westward march, and led away numerous people, southwards down the great river, and they passed out of the knowledge of their kin for long years were past.” until years later Denethor (not to be confused with Denethor II the steward of Gondor from the Third Age. Aka, father to Boromir and Faramir), son of Lenwë, decided to lead his people west over the mountains and into Beleriand (the westernmost land of Middle-earth).
We have finally gotten past the rich history of gods and angels and are getting into the creation of Middle-earth as we know it. I’m most curious to see where the coming of men, the second of the Children of Ilùvatar, come into play as the Elves begin to build their roots in the land. Do you have an idea of where we’re headed?
Let’s find out next week as we discover “Of Thingol and Melian.“
As promised, here is your passage…
“Then Varda went forth from the council, and she looked out from the height of Taniquetil, and beheld the darkness of Middle-earth beneath the innumerable stars, faint and far. Then she began a great labor, greatest of all the works of the Valar since their coming into Arda. She took the silver dews from the vats of Telperion, and there-with she made new stars and brighter against the coming of the First-born; wherefore she whose name out of the Deeps of Time and the labours of Eä was Tintallë, the Kindler, was called after by the Elves Elentári, Queen of the Stars. Carnil and Luinil, Nénar and Lumbar, Alcarinquë and Elemmírë she wrought in that time, and many other of the ancient stars she gathered together and set as signs in the heavens of Arda: Wilwarin, Telumendil, Soronúmë, and Anarríma; and Menelmacar with his shining belt, that forbodes the Last Battle that shall be at the end of days. And high in the North as a challenge to Melkor she set the crown of seven mighty stars to swing, Valacirca, the Sickle of the Valar and sign of doom.”
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