“The ring passed to Isildur, who had this one chance to destroy Evil forever. But the hearts of men are easily corrupted. And the ring of power has a will of its own. It betrayed Isildur to his death. And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend, legend became myth and for two and a half thousand years, the ring passed out of all knowledge until, when chance came, it ensnared a new bearer. The ring came to the creature Gollum who took it deep into the tunnels of the misty mountains and there it consumed him. The ring brought to Gollum unnatural long life. For five hundred years, it poisoned his mind. And in the gloom of Gollum’s cave, it waited.“
Welcome back! This week is not exactly a Blind Read, but more of an integration of other media so that we can gain a much more full and expansive understanding of what Tolkien was striving to create.
Tolkien was first and foremost a professor and linguist, and because of this, he spent much of his time in his head creating and developing languages and histories. The writing was his escapism. A young Tolkien went to war during World War I and fought along the Western Front. He fought in many battles, including the formative Battle of the Somme, which would eventually influence his writing style along with his staunch Catholicism.
During his time in the war, the mythology of Middle-earth was born. Tolkien decided to create a mythology for his homeland, England, during convalescence. He put pen to paper and began what is now known as “The Fall of Gondolin,” part of “The Book of Lost Tales.”
From there, things blossomed into other fragments and poems that would eventually become “The Silmarillion” (we will be getting to the histories eventually, even though there are supposedly contradictions and reiterations between the stories).
The Silmarillion is the basis of everything that came after, beginning with “The Hobbit.” and eventually “The Lord of the Rings.” What makes Tolkien more lasting and more entrenched in the ethos of public consciousness is the depth of his world and, thus, his histories.
Tolkien was always going to write The Lord of the Rings. However, at the behest of Tolkien’s publisher for “The Hobbit,” it became the novel that we know and not some dry history that’s as inaccessible as “The Silmarillion,” but the brilliant story that’s an extension of the history he had already created. The Lord of the Rings is the Third Age of Arda, whereas the “Silmarillion” is Arda from the beginning of time (The First Age).
The Fellowship of the Ring begins with the backstory of The Second Age, the first battle between the Maiar acolyte of Morgoth, Sauron, and his creation of the Rings of Power, or more specifically, The One Ring.
The opening quote of this essay is the passage that has stayed with me since watching it for the first time. “Some things that should not have been forgotten were lost.” Upon rewatching The Fellowship of the Ring, I was trying to watch it through the lens of the histories. How well did Jackson adhere to the story while at the same time honoring the history behind the tale? The answer is obvious because of the popularity of the movies. Peter Jackson’s team gave little hints about the history in the “Introductions” to the movies (I.E., the quote above). You would miss small moments if you were not paying attention and would not notice if you knew anything about the histories.
The first significant connection is with the Silmarils. The jewels of power that Fëanor created had a call to power, much like the One ring does in The Fellowship. However, the Silmarils do not show up, so what is the connection? It is not the back story with Ilsildur either, because he was a man of the Second Age. However, it is with the Elves of both Rivendell and Lothlórien. They are all ready to accept their destinies and head to the “Gray Havens,” otherwise known as Valinor. The tale of Middle-earth (or, even better, the larger world of Arda) begins with the Silmarillion, with Ilùvatar creating the Valar, and then later the Elves and Men. From what I have seen thus far in the Silmarillion, the Elves have an overwhelming draw to Valinor. Despite the rifts created by jealousy, Valinor is the Elvenhome.
There is much-maligned of the Elves’ decision not to take part in the battle for Middle-earth. However, by looking at things through Elven eyes (Elrond has an excellent little speech when asked to take part that lightly touches on this point), you can see that Middle-earth is not, and never indeed has been, their home. There is a slight threat that Sauron could conquer all of Middle-earth and encroach upon Valinor, but Morgoth could not even succeed in this aspect, so the thought is that his successor does not stand a chance of it. So why should the elves bother putting their lives at risk?
In the extended version, there is a scene that shows Frodo and Sam watching from the forest as wood elves sing during their exodus to Valinor. It is a shame this scene was cut from the regular version because it shows the reasoning behind the elves’ decision not to fight (to which they later decide to help). They know that the world has moved beyond their time. They are no longer the lords and ladies of Middle-earth; it has now truly become the time of men.
There is only one thing that stands out to me about the history of Middle-earth as they pass through the generations. Galadriel discusses the Rings of Power in the opening monologue and mentions that three are given (or made by?) to the Elves. I have to wonder how this correlates to the Silmarils since there were three of those crystals. Are the rings supposed to be consequent to the Silmarils? Are they supposed to hold similar power? I feel we will find the answer to that as we delve deeper into the history of Middle-earth.
Join me next week as we cover the next chapter in the Silmarillion: “Of The Flight of the Noldor.”
“Then the Unlight of Ungoliant rose up even to the roots of the Trees, and Melkor sprang upon the mound; and with his black spear he smote each Tree to its core, wounded them deep, and their sap poured forth as it were their blood, and was spilled upon the ground. But Ungoliant sucked it up, and going then from Tree to Tree she set her black beak to their wounds, till they were drained; and the poison of Death that was in her went into their tissues and withered them, root, branch, and leaf; and they died.“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we transcend mythology and enter into the true darkness of Middle-earth history.
With Melkor’s rise and an introduction of a surprising and terrible new antagonist, we get a return of Christianity in this chapter and with it, comes the darkest twist of Middle-earth’s history.
We begin this chapter centering upon Melkor, who has become even more adept at fooling the denizens of Valinor:
“Thereafter the watch was redoubled along the northern fences of Aman; but to no purpose, for ere ever the pursuit set out Melkor had turned back, and in secrecy passed away far to the south.“
Melkor finds his way to Avathar, “that narrow land lay south of the Bay of Eldamar,” where he approaches Ungoliant, a giant spiderlike creature who is the ancestor of Shelob of “Return of the King” fame.
Coming across this creature, I wondered where she originated. The Valar created the world with their song, so how could something like a giant evil spider come into being? It turns out that Melkor had a hand in this as well. Suppose you remember that Melkor created the Balrog through his corruption of the Maiar (the assistants of the Valar). It seems that Ungoliant “was one of those that he corrupted to his service.” So just like the Balrog, Ungoliant was not a Giant Spider but transitioned to become a demon much like the Balrog. Still, because she lived amongst the creatures of the forests and mountains, she took the visage of a giant spider instead of the beasts of fire the Balrog became.
These two evil creatures teamed up and created what was known as the Darkening of Valinor, both in metaphor and reality. The quote to begin this essay shows the two killing the Trees of Valinor, blanketing out their light, and blanketing the hope of the Valar.
The most exciting aspect of this chapter is the depiction of the two of them, which is the correlation to Satan (Ironically called the Lightbringer). Melkor, ruled by jealousy, is not outright evil, but because he felt slighted his anger and jealousy grow and eventually devolve him into the demon he is destined to be. Beyond that, we’ve only seen from him as a trickster, much like the demons of other religions and mythologies. This chapter has a few choice quotes to indicate his nature, such as “Thus did the great thief set his lure for the lesser.” (meaning Ungoliant) and another which describes Ungoliant, but has an indication that it duplicates for Melkor: “she hungered for the light and hated it.”
This duplicity perfectly encapsulates the transition from good to evil, but with that sliver of hope, that sliver of light, means that one is not truly evil. Just as Satan was born an Angel and fell because of his jealousies, Melkor was born a Valar of the light of Ilùvatar, but fell to darkness because he believed he deserved more. It was here that Melkor decided that he had indeed chosen his path. The path of darkness instead of light. The Valar could take on any avatar they wished and it was at this point, just before the darkening of Valinor, that Melkor “…put on again the form that he had worn as the tyrant of Utumno: a dark Lord, tall and terrible. In that form he remained ever after.“
But even as darkness comes, and sometimes because darkness comes, the most light shines through. During this time of Darkening, Fëanor made up with his brother Fingolfin to bring the world back together. It was when “The Light failed, but the Darkness that followed was more than loss of light.” It was a time when “all song ceased.” Seeing this, the death of the Trees of Valinor is what spurred on the fellowship of the light.
This light, at a time when Melkor’s “vengeance was achieved.”
Join me next week as we take a look at the Extended Edition of “The Fellowship of the Rings” and tie it to these histories!
There is a mention of another history I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for; The Aldudénië. It is not present in this book, and I hesitate to look forward to other books of the Histories because I don’t want to spoil the nature of the Blind Read, but this is supposedly the tale of the time of the Darkening of Valinor: “So the great darkness fell upon Valinor. Of the deeds of that day, much is told in the Aldudénië, that Elemmírë of the Vanyar made and is known to all the Eldar.” Look out for it in the future!
“Thus with lies and evil whisperings and false council Melkor kindled the hearts of the Noldor to strife; and of their quarrels came at length the end of the high days of Valinor and the evening of its ancient glory. For Fëanor now began openly to speak words of rebellion against the Valar, crying aloud that he would depart from Valinor back to the world without, and would deliver the Noldor from thraldom, if they would follow him.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we inch forward through the history of the elves and get a deeper glimpse into the transgressions of Fëanor.
Last week we learned a bit about the Fëanor’s lineage and how much he progressed beyond his fellow elves. We dig down deeper into Fëanor this week and understand why his wife, Nerdanel, finally ended their relationship.
It’s important to know that Fëanor, the “heart of fire,” emerged as one of the most brilliant of the Noldor, not only in intelligence but in construction, learning much and creating even more. It’s at the beginning of this chapter that we discover a new and exciting revelation:
“In that time were made those things that afterwards were most renowned of all the works of the Elves. For Fëanor, being come to his full might, was filled with a new thought, or it may be that some shadow of foreknowledge came to him of the doom that drew near; and he pondered how the light of the Trees, the glory of the Blessed Realm, might be preserved imperishable. Then he began a long and secret labor, and he summoned all his lore, and his power, and his subtle skill; and at the end of all, he made the Silmarils.”
Ah, here it is! I’ve been waiting to see what the Silmarils are and what they have to do. But unfortunately, we don’t get much information, even in this chapter of their creation. Still, it’s good to know that Fëanor created them, using all the guile he developed from the Valar, and harnessing the light of the two trees of Valinor:
“And the inner fire of the Silmarils Fëanor made of the blended light of the Trees of Valinor, which lives in them yet, though the Trees have long withered and shine no more.”
The Valar were so taken with the “wonder and delight at the work of Fëanor” that “Varda hallowed the Silmarils, so that thereafter no mortal flesh, nor hands of unclean, nor anything of evil will might touch them” and also that “the fates of Arda, earth, sea, and air, lay locked within them.“
So we know immediately that something of that magnitude must have others who crave its power. “Then Melkor lusted for the Silmarils, and that very memory of their radiance was a gnawing fire in his heart.”
Melkor had been released on “good behavior” from his imprisonment but still held that anger in his heart (which we saw last week), but he doesn’t come right out and wage war to get the stones. Instead, he uses a much more subsumed tactic and begins spreading rumors amongst the Noldor:
“Visions he would conjure in their hearts of the mighty realms that they could have ruled at their own will, in power and freedom in the East.“
These visions were the first wedge in the rift between the Eldar and the Valar. Rumors abounded that the Valar were jealous of the Eldar ruling themselves, and that’s why they were brought to Valinor so that they might be subjects instead of free people.
In addition to that, the Eldar (elves) didn’t know about the coming of Men, so Melkor used this lack of knowledge and put thoughts within the Eldar’s heads that the Valar would call Men to the world to supplant them.
This Melkor did to the Elves in general because of his hatred for them, but Fëanor was the focus of his ardor because of the Silmarils, which Fëanor would flaunt and wear; he kept them to himself. In fact, “Fëanor began to love the Silmarils with a greedy love and grudged the sight of them to all save to his father and his seven sons; he seldom remembered now that the light within them was not his own.“
This passage reminds me of something else we’ll see later in the Second and Third Ages. The One Ring. Something with such power and wonder makes people subject to its will.
The influence of the Simarils and the whisperings of Melkor caused the quote at the beginning of this essay. Fëanor created incredible weapons and armor at his secret forge and spoke out against his half-brother Filgolfin and drove him from the house.
Strife billowed out from the house of Finwë (Fëanor’s father), and finally, the Valar understood the unrest brewing within the Noldor. The problem was “since Fëanor first spoke openly against them, they judged that he was the mover of discontent.“
They held a council and found that Melkor was indeed who began the conflict. However, Fëanor still had to answer for the strife he caused, so he was moved to the north of Valinor into the mountains where he had a vault any Dwarf would be proud of, complete with an iron vault that held the Silmarils. This incident was the beginning of the rift between the sons of Fingolfin (Elrond’s ancestor) and Fëanor, which lasted for generations.
Melkor, trying to extend his deception and get a hold of the Silmarils, went to Fëanor and tried to continue his illusion. Still, if you remember from the last chapter, Fëanor held only hatred for shifty Valar, and he banished Melkor (whom Fëanor named Morgoth) from his home. Not having much choice, Melkor fled Valinor back to Araman, giving false hope to all those who dwelt in Valinor, for the shadow moved beyond their vision and grew. To what end?
Next week, let’s find out while we review the chapter “Of the Darkening of Valinor.”
“Then he looked upon their glory and their bliss, and envy was in his heart; he looked upon the Children of Ilùvatar that sat at the feet of the Mighty, and hatred filled him; he looked upon the wealth of bright gems, and he lusted for them; but he hid his thoughts, and postponed his vengeance.“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we focus on an individual and witness the beginning of the rift, which brought the first age to a close.
The chapter begins right where the previous one left off. The Elves were all brought together in Valinor, seemingly happy and together for the first time since the sundering. “This was the Noontide of the Blessed Realm, the fullness of its glory and its bliss, long in tale of years, but in memory too brief.”
This quote seems very appropriate for Elvenkind because they live forever (unless killed), but time does the same thing to everyone. Life passes by quickly, unbeknownst until the time is already gone. I wonder if there is a bit of autobiography here with Tolkien and if his feelings about life and time commingle with the complexity of Middle-earth and Elves.
We soon dive into the reasoning behind this feeling of how long and beautiful and how fleeting life can be.
“In that time was born in Eldamar, in the house of the King in Tirion upon the crown of Tùna, the eldest of the sons of Finwë, and the most beloved. Curufinwë was his name, but by his mother he was called Fëanor, Spirit of Fire; and thus he is remembered in all the tales of the Noldor.”
Thus began days of bliss, but “bearing of her son Míriel was consumed in spirit and body,” and she soon realized that, “Never again shall I bear child; for strength that would have nourished the life of many has gone forth into Fëanor.” She left for the gardens of Lórien to rest but instead passed from the world of Aman.
There is considerable foreshadowing in this sequence. The first is Finwë’s name, Fëanor, because it means Spirit of Fire. The other being that we know of so far in the whole book who has a connection with fire is Melkor; and even created servants for himself through the Maiar made from the deepest of flames – the Balrog.
We also have a trope that Tolkien is introducing. Fëanor has lost his mother and has to deal with the knowledge that his birth pulled the life force from his mother. His internal guilt fuels that Spirit of Fire within him, but beyond that, Finwë then finds another wife not of the Noldor but the Vanyar. Fëanor then has two siblings from a different sect of elves and has a new stepmother.
Finwë did try hard; in fact, we are told, “All his love he gave thereafter to his son.” Fëanor soon “became of all the Noldor, then or after, the most subtle in mind and the most skilled in hand.” Fëanor even “discovered how gems greater and brighter than those of the Earth might be made with skill.”
This essay is a Blind Read, so the only knowledge I have of the world is from the public ethos and reading The Lord of the Rings (which I read before the movies came out). Nevertheless, I remember hearing that the Silmarils (which is what this book is based upon…The Silmaril-lion) were gems the Elves held dear. Could this be the first time we see them?
There is also a connection with the avian creatures which pop up. However, again, “The first gems that Fëanor made were white and colourless, but being set under starlight they would blaze with blue and silver fires brighter than Helium; and other crystals he made also, wherein things far away could be seen small but clear, as with the eyes of the eagles of Manwë.” So there must be some connection between the sentience of the eagles and the gems produced by the Noldor.
Getting back to the story, Fëanor eventually marries Nerdanel, “daughter of the great smith named Mahtan.” “Nerdanel also was firm of will…and at first she restrained him when the fire of his heart grew too hot; but later his deeds grieved her, and they became estranged.” Fëanor and Nerdanel had seven children together, but even that connection was not enough for Fëanor, and his temperament burned too intensely.
Fëanor hotly disliked his two new siblings, Fingolfin and Finarfin, who sired Elrond and Galadriel, as we saw last week. As we move deeper in the story, we can assume this might be where the rifts came from between Fëanor and Nardanel and Fëanor and the rest of the Noldor.
We soon came to the end of the Noontide of Valinor, as Melkor came up for parole (or rather, the Valar gave him a definite “term for his bondage“). However, still, “hatred filled him” and “envy was in his heart.”
How could the Valar possibly do such a thing, you might ask? Nevertheless, Manwë was the one who gave Melkor his release because he believed “that the evil of Melkor was cured.“
How could he possibly believe that imprisonment had cured Melkor? “For Manwë was free from evil and could not comprehend it, and he knew that in the beginning, in the thought of Ilúvatar, Melkor had been even as he; and he saw not the depths of Melkor’s heart and did not perceive that all love had departed from him forever.”
So now Melkor was free. He knew that some of the Valar, like Ulmo, did not believe his repentance, but he hid his vengeance well. He hated the Eldar with everything he had, so he started corrupting them. The Vanyar, however, “held him in suspicion,” but the “Noldor took delight in the hidden knowledge that he could reveal to them; and some hearkened the words that it would have been better for them never to have heard.”
Uh oh. Now we have Melkor released and Fëanor with his soul filled with fire. Would these two spar together and become a new power rising? No.
“Melkor indeed declared afterwards that Fëanor had learned much art from him in secret, and had been instructed by him in the greatest of all his works; but he lied in his lust and his envy, for none of the Eldalië ever hated Melkor more than Fëanor son of Finwë, who first named him Morgoth.“
Apparently, “Fëanor was driven by the fire of his own heart only, working ever swiftly and alone.”
This is where the chapter ends, but we have the beginnings of a wonderfully epic confrontation between the Noldor and Morgoth. From what I understand, Morgoth was the antagonist of the First Age, and it seems as though I may have been wrong. Maybe the power of the fire of Fëanor’s soul is the only thing that saved the Eldar from the matching fire of Morgoth.
Next week, let us find out how the fight began in “Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor.”