Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of The Noldor in Beleriand
“And on a time Melian said: ‘There is some woe that lies upon you and your kin. That I can see in you, but all else is hidden from me; for by no vision or thought can I perceive anything that passed or passes in the West: a shadow lies over all the land of Aman, and reaches far out over the sea. Why will you not tell me more?‘”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! We do not quite jump back into the story this week but instead dive deeper into the politics of the Eldar in Beleriand and learn just how tenuous relations are.
Tolkien starts the chapter with a non sequitur. He tells how Turgon, the second son of Fingolfin, under the guidance of Ulmo, finds a location to build a city in the upper Sirion:
“Then Turgon knew that he had found the place of his desire, and he resolved to build there a fair city, a memorial of Tirion upon Túna.“
If you remember, Túna was a great green hill at the edge of Valinor, and Tirion was the great watchtower built there. If we remember from last week which great city was built upon the upper Sirion, we know that Turgon will build Gondolin “after two and fifty years of secret toil.”
Over the years, Turgon brought his people there from Nevrast (The north-western coast) in secret. As a result, they flourished in Gondolin; “their skill in labour unceasing, so that Gondolin upon Amon Gwareth became fair indeed and fit to compare even with the Elven Tirion beyond the sea.“
Tolkien gives us a page break and switches gears on us. We go south to Doriath, through the Girdle of Melian into Menegroth, “The Thousand Caves.”
We immediately get the quote that opens this essay and know that Tolkien is showing us the rift, which will give Morgoth enough space to wiggle in.
The conversation is between Galadriel and Melian, where Melian asks for the story of how the Noldor came to Beleriand. Unfortunately, Galadriel is cagey, and where she tells Melian the truth of what happened, Galadriel lies by omission. Melian sees through the deception:
“I believe not that the Noldor came forth as messengers of the Valar, as was said at first: not though they came in the very hour of need.“
Galadriel decides that she must give more information, but does not want to betray her kin, so she “spoke to Melian of the Silmarils, and the slaying of King Finwë at Formenos; but still, she said no word of the Oath, nor the Kinslaying, nor the burning of the ships at Losgar.”
Melian takes it in but is not fooled. “Now much you tell me, and yet more I perceive. A darkness you would cast over the long road from Tirion, but I see evil there, which Thingol should learn for his guidance.”
It must be challenging to fool a Maiar.
She foretells “the Light of Aman and the fate of Arda lie locked now in these things (the Silmarils), the work of Fëanor, who is gone. They shall not be recovered, I foretell, by any power of the Eldar; and the world shall be broken in battles that are to come, ere they are wrestled from Morgoth.“
Thingol replies that he is not worried about it because Morgoth is their shared enemy, and Thingol believes that he is safe as long as Morgoth is around. Then, Melian gives one final chilling phrase: “Their swords and their councils will have two edges.”
We get another page break, indicating Tolkien is taking us to a different locale, thrusting us into a council of the Eldar of Beleriand. It is here that the truth comes out:
“‘I marvel at you, son of Eärwen,’ said Thingol, ‘that you would come to the board of your kinsman thus red-handed from the slaying of your mother’s kin, and yet say naught in defence, nor seek any pardon!’“
They argue, these sons of Finwë, but once all comes clear, Finarfin and Fingolfin, descendants from a Sindarin mother, are given amnesty from Thingol. It is the sons of Fëanor, the pureblood Noldor, who accept the wrath of Thingol:
“‘Go now!’ he said. ‘For my heart is hot within me. Later you may return if you will; for I will not shut my doors forever against you, my kindred, that were ensnared in an evil you did not aid. With Fingolfin and his people also I will keep friendship, for they have bitterly atoned for such ill as they did. And in our hatred of the Power that wrought all this woe our griefs shall be lost. But hear my words! Never again in my ears shall be heard the tongue of those who slew my kin in Alqualondë! Nor in all my realm shall it be openly spoken, while my Power endures. All the Sindar shall hear my command that they shall neither speak with the tongue of the Noldor nor answer it.“
The sons of Fëanor left, knowing that the words of Mandos, uttered so many years before, were coming true. The language of Noldor was not spoken outside of the clan. The Noldor learned and spoke the Sindarin tongue.
Here the rift created by Fëanor’s hot-blooded anger for Morgoth takes hold. The Noldor lived without consequence for hundreds of years, and now their lives have darkened.
While reading this history, I have been wondering how the Noldor would take the consequences spoken by Mandos, and I have been thinking that they will just become isolationists and not participate in future conflicts with Morgoth. However, now I wonder if there are insurgent feelings within the Noldor. Could they possibly bring the war to their kin?
Next week, let us find out in chapter sixteen, “Of Maeglin.”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of Beleriand and its Realms, Pt 2.
“Thus the sons of Fëanor under Maedhros were the lords of East Beleriand, but thier people were in that time mostly in the north of the land, and southward they rode only to hunt in the greenwoods. But there Amrod and Amras had their abode, and they came seldom northward while the Siege lasted; and there also other of the Elf-lords would ride at times, even from afar, for the land was wild but very fair. Of these Finrod Felagund came most often, for he had great love of wandering, and he came even into Ossiriand, and won the friendship of the Green-elves. But none of the Noldor went ever over Ered Lindon, while their realm lasted; and little news and late came into Beleriand of what passed int he regions of the East.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we finish covering the holdings of the denizens of Beleriand and try to take a deeper look into how that will shape the world.
We began last week by covering Morgoth’s home, so this week I wanted to start by revisiting another old nemesis, Ungoliant.
If you remember, she left Angband and went south through Dorthonian. On “the sheer precipices of Ered Gorgoroth, Mountains of Terror,” it was there that Ungoliant, the giant spider dwelt. It was also there in the Mountains of Terror that her “foul offspring lurked and wove their evil nets, and the thin waters that spilled from Ered Gorgoroth were defiled, and perilous to drink, for the hearts of those that tasted them were filled with shadows of madness and despair.“
It’s worthy to note that Shelob, the giant spider creature from Return of the King, was one of those offspring of Ungoliant. Mordor must have spawned in Dorthonian because the children of Ungoliant made their home on the side of those mountains which bordered Dorthonian (The area known as Nan Dungortheb), and that was the pass Frodo and Sam took, through the den of Shelob, to get to Mordor.
But back to the First Age. Directly south of Ungoliant’s hovel is “the guarded woods of Doriath, abode of Thingol, the Hidden King, into whose realm none passed save by his will.” Thingol’s realm takes up the majority of the very center of Beleriand guarded by the Girdle of Melian. Everything in Doriath, from the caves of Menegroth in the east to the south where the River Aros met the River Sirion is within Thingol’s rule and protection.
To the west of this confluence, there is a region named Aelin-uial, or The Twilight Meres; “the land rose into great wooded highlands of Taur-en-Faroth.” These highlands are the region where Finrod established Nargothrond.
Nargothrand was set in a part of a range of hills that spread from Taur-en-Faroth to East Beleriand and ended in a single stand-alone hill called Amon Ereb. It was there, on Amon Ereb, where Denethor I (again this is the Elf and not the Steward of Gondor from Return of the King) had his last stand against the minions of Morgoth to assist Thingol.
Tolkien takes us to the east of Beleriand and spends a page describing the River Gelion. “he rose in two sources and had at first two branches; Little Gelion that came from the Hill of Himring, and Greater Gelion that came from Mount Rerir.“
Gelion breaks up East Beleriand and creates two separate regions. Thargelion and Ossiriand, otherwise known as The Land of the Seven Rivers. In Ossiriand, a tributary of the southmost river, Tol Adurant, created Tol Galen, which made an island, “There Beren and Lúthien dwelt after their return.” We’ll get to it in a later chapter (I’m assuming, but there is a chapter called “Of Beren and Lúthien,” so that’s gotta be it, right?).
But we must understand that this is The Land of Seven Rivers, so there has to be some presence from Ulmo, the Valar of water. But, beyond that, this is also the land of the Green-Elves, who had some incredible talents:
“The woodcraft of the Elves of Ossiriand was such that a stranger might pass through their land from end to end and see none of them. They were clad in green in spring and summer, and the sound of their singing could be heard even across the waters of Gelion; wherefore the Noldor names that country Lindon, the land of music.”
The mountains from which all seven rivers come are a mountain range named Ered Lindon (or Ered Luin). Because of the nature of the Green-Elves, I believe these Eldar are the most faithful to the Valar of any of the Elves remaining in Beleriand.
If you recall from the Ainulindalë (otherwise known as the Music of the Ainur), the Valar musical themes are what formed the world. It is still, even to this point in the First Age, music of the Valar that can augment the world or inspire change in minds. These Green-Elves are still signing and using music as part of their lives and religion. In contrast, no other Eldar, the Sindar in Doriath nor the Noldor in Mithrim, uses music anymore. One believes in isolationism (Thingol and Melian, ruling from their girdle), and the other believes in nationalism (putting down and only trusting those who are Noldor). The Green-Elves are the only ones who never lost their way… and they never even got to Valinor. I have to wonder if this is why Beren and Lúthien went there to recuperate.
Before I get too far into speculation, let’s take a step back because this chapter merely describes locations, not histories. So we jump from Ossiriand and go north to the March of Maedhros, which we touched on briefly last week.
Himring lies on the Western edge of the March of Maedhros, but if we follow this range east, it goes all the way to Mount Rerir where the River Gelion starts, and there in the shadows of Ered Lindon “was Lake Helevorn, deep and dark, and beside it, Caranthir had his abode.”
Caranthir was the fourth son of Fëanor and the most like his father: Quick to judgment and anger. He ruled “all the great land between Gelion and the mountains, and between Rerir and the River Ascar.” Below this was Ossiriand and above it was Lothlann. To the west was Beleriand and to the right beyond Ered Lindon was the Blue Mountains; the land of the dwarves. “it was here (in Thargelion) that the Noldor first met the Dwarves.“
The stage is now set. We know where the Eldar have taken their stake in Beleriand and its surroundings. I can only imagine that Tolkien wanted to clarify where everything was because he wanted to move forward with some action, some history, without forever having to explain where things were.
As we move forward, I’ll do my best to harken back to this chapter for clarity so everyone knows where in the land these events are happening. Not only for clarity but hopefully also for foreshadowing on events that we know occur in the future.
So join me next week as we continue on this incredible journey in “Of the Noldor in Beleriand.”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of Beleriand and its Realms, pt. 1
“Thus the realm of Finrod was the greatest by far, though he was the youngest of the great lords of the Noldor, Fingolfin, Fingon, and Maedhros, and Finrod Felagund. But Fingolfin was held overlord of all the Noldor, and Fingon after him, though their own realm was but the northern land of Hithlum; yet their people were the most hardy and valiant, most feared be the Orcs and most hated by Morgoth.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we delve into the realm of Beleriand and gain a greater understanding of where each faction of the Eldar takes as their home.
The book has gone beyond being very dry to transitioning to some fascinating tales. So, unfortunately, this chapter takes a step backward, but for an important reason:
“This is the fashion of the lands into which the Noldor came, in the north of the western regions of Middle-earth, in the ancient days; and here also is told of the manner in which the chieftains of the Eldar held their lands and the leaguer upon Morgoth after the Dagor Aglared, the third battle in the Wars of Beleriand.”
We finally get some reference to the locations and people described.
Tolkien was known to love nature and hate what industry did to the purity of the world. We can see this in The Lord of the Rings movies on full display with the destruction of Fangorn Forest through the industry of Isengard. Here, in the First Age, Morgoth does much the same. First, he makes his fortress in the wastes of the north and calls it Angband, otherwise known as “The Hells of Iron.” He then built a great tunnel leading out of Ered Elgin (Ered is the Elvish name for Mountain. Thus, Ered Elgin is called the Iron Mountains) for his minions to spread throughout Beleriand. At the end of this tunnel, he built a mighty gate, “But above this gate, and behind it even to the mountains, he piled the thunderous towers of Thangorodrim, that were made of the ash and slag of his subterranean furnaces, and the vast refuse of his tunnelings.”
This passage shows the Evil (with a capital E) in Tolkien’s eyes. The destruction of the world in the (false) name of progress.
But since this chapter glosses over events, for want of explaining locals, we switch to the other residents of Beleriand who managed to live with and in the world, just as Yavanna’s song of creation would have them.
“To the West of Thangorodrim lay Hísilómë, the Land of Mist…Hithlum it became in the tongue of the Sindar who dwelt in those regions.“
From my meager knowledge, I believe that the lands of Beleriand make up much of what we know of the landscape of Middle-earth in the Third Age, and based upon the name of the region, could this be what will become the Misty Mountains? There is no direct correlation except through the wording. However, Tolkien was always so specific with his world and language that I will go out on a limb and say it’s so.
Then we come across another little gem hidden in the text. Within Hithlum to the south is a region known as Dor-Lómin:
“But their cheif fortress was at Eithel Sirion in the east of Ered Wethrin, whence they kept watch upon Ard-galen; and their cavalry rode upon that plain even to the shadow of Thangorodrim, for from few their horses had increased swiftly…Of those horses many of the sires came from Valinor,”
I have to wonder if these are the glorious beginnings of the wonderous horses of the Rohirrim, which we see in “The Two Towers” as the riders of Rohan, whose duty it was to guard the fields of that land. Again there is no definitive statement, but it makes quite a bit of sense.
Moving west still, we go to Nevrast, where “for many years was the realm of Turgon the wise, son of Fingolfin.” Nevrast was a marshy land settled between the sea and the mountains where most of the Grey-elves lived.
Directly east of Dor-Lómin, across Ered Wethrin and Tol (Elvish for River) Sirion, lay Dorthonion where “Angrond and Agnor, sons of Finarfin, looked out over the fields of Ard-galen.” and in the west of Dorthonion was the Tol Sirion, where Finrod ruled. It was there, “in the midst of the river he built a mighty watch-tower, Minas Tirith; but after Nargothrond was made he committed that fortress mostly to the keeping of Orodreth, his brother.“
Minas Tirith! I had no idea Minas Tirith was built in the first age! No wonder it is so massive and beautiful! It was created in the “Pass of Sirion,” the largest and most prominent passage to Beleriand from Ard-galen and where Morgoth would most likely take a straight shot to attack that land. Minas Tirith, and Gondolin, which were built on the opposite side of the river, are the two most significant guardians of the land created by the Eldar.
The last region we’ll talk about this week is the March of Maedhros, which was east of Dorthonian. It was here “dwelt the sons of Fëanor with many people, and their riders often passed over the vast northern plain, Lothlann the wide and empty, east of Ard-galen, lest Morgoth should attempt any sortie against East Beleriand.”
This region was known as Himring, the Ever-cold, “and that was wide-shouldered, bare of trees, and flat upon its summit, surrounded by many lesser hills.” I thought about this area quite a bit, and I wonder if this might be Weathertop, where Frodo took the poison of the blade of the nine. The description of the geography seems appropriate, but I’m unsure of the region.
What is so fascinating is that the Gray Elves, or Sindar, had never gone to Valinor. Instead, Thingol married a Maiar named Melian, and they took up residence in Beleriand (look back at the Girdle of Melian here). Still, it was Fëanor and Fingolfin who came after during the departure of the Noldor from Valinor. These two relations took a protective stance against the rest of the realm.
All locations described in this part of the chapter are lookouts or guards surrounding Ard-Galen so that they might protect against Morgoth and his minions. The opening quote of this essay describes their purpose nicely because it’s curious that Thingol, the Elf who had been there the longest, with a Wife who is more powerful than any Eldar, would hide within their girdle. At the same time, the Noldor would be the protectors. But it is because of that hatred Fëanor had for Morgoth that this came to being.
When he died, his sons took up his mantle, and where they didn’t have the fire, he had to go after Morgoth actively; they took it as their duty to guard the land and stop The fallen Valar from further destruction.
Join me next week as we cover the remainder of Beleriand and complete this chapter!
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of the Return of the Noldor, Conclusion
“In many parts of the land the Noldor and the Sindar became welded into one people, and spoke the same tongue; though this difference remained between them, that the Noldor had the greater power of mind and body, and were mightier warriors and sages, and they built with stone, and loved the hill-slopes and open lands.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we conclude “Of the Return of the Noldor.” and have a deeper discussion about how the world progresses.
We completed the last chapter with Fëanor dying, Maedhros (Fëanor’s son) kidnapped by Morgoth, and Fingon, son of the rival clan of Fingolfin, saving him.
This second portion of the chapter is about the Eldar taking a stake in the land. In contrast, the first half of the chapter was about the fury of Fëanor and the repercussions of that drive to destroy Morgoth (which ultimately failed. Morgoth is still in power at Angband in the north, and he still has the Silmarils). Finally, after “twenty years of the Sun had passed,” this chapter takes place when Fingolfin held a great feast known as the “Feast of Reuniting.”
This gathering brought together Eldar of all kinds together in the woods of Beleriand. They began to learn each other’s languages and healing began to happen, but still, Morgoth brooded in the north.
Tolkien then takes us another thirty years further into the future, past the time of ease and Elves coming together. During this time, Finrod took precedence ahead of all other Elves. Ulmo, the Valar of the Seas, gives both Finrod and Fingolfin a vision that shows trouble caused by Morgoth streaming out from Angband. Both relatives internalize this message and design not to address it with each other, thus preparing for the coming war separately instead of on a conjoined front.
Finrod then brings his sister Galadriel to Doriath, the region which houses Menegroth, the underground mansion of Thingol. “Then Finrod was filled with wonder at the strength and majesty of Menegroth, its treasures and armouries and its many-pillared halls of stone; and it came into his heart that he would build wide halls behind ever-guarded gates in some deep and secret place in the hills.” This “secret place in the hills” soon became known as Nargothrond, which was based on Menegroth and aided in construction by the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains. This secret mansion was the beginning of Finrod’s plans to protect his people against the might of Morgoth when he decided to attack.
But what of Galadriel? She “went with him not to Nargothrand, for in Doriath dwelt Celeborn, kinsman of Thingol, and there was great love between them. Therefore she remained in the Hidden Kingdom, and abode with Melian, and of her learned great lore and wisdom concerning Middle-earth.“
Celeborn is still with her in the Third Age when the Fellowship goes to greet them. He is King to her Queen and stands beside her when they meet the nine wanderers. Here, she came to great power because she learned from Melian, a Maiar, second in power only to the Valar themselves (Gandalf himself is Maiar), which is why I believe she knows so much is so powerful by the time the Third Age comes around.
Concurrently, while Finrod is building his home, while Thingol is hiding in his girdle, while Fingolfin is making his lands in Mithrim, Morgoth stirred. “Believing the report of his spies that the lords of the Noldor were wandering abroad with little thought of war,” he decided to make his move. So his army of Orcs poured south through the fields of Ard-galen, “But Fingolfin and Maedhros were not sleeping,” and they led a host of warriors and utterly wiped out Morgoth’s brood.
“That was the third great battle of the Wars of Beleriand, and it was named Dagor Aglareb, the Glorious Battle.”
The Noldor pushed Morgoth back to Angband and laid siege to the fortress, “Yet the Noldor could not capture Angband, nor could they regain the Silmarils; and war never wholly ceased in all that time of the Siege, for Morgoth devised new evils, and ever and anon he would make trial of his enemies.”
Through hundreds of years following this, there were many skirmishes where Orcs would make their way out of Angband but got consistently pushed back. Even Morgoth’s “new evils” such as “Glaurung, the first of the Urulóki, the Fire Drakes,” could not forge a wedge into the foothold the Noldor had in Beleriand. In fact, after Glaurung’s defeat and retreat to Angband, “…there was the Long Peace of well-nigh two hundred years” where the Noldor and the Sindar built lives and homes in Beleriand.
We are beginning to see how its residents separate Beleriand. The Dwarves are in the Mountains of the East, concerned only with mining and producing their minerals. Many mention their isolationist stance. They don’t care what’s going on above ground in Beleriand and only work with the Noldor and Sindar because they trade.
The Sindar take up residence right smack dab in the middle of the land. Still, the Noldor take the western coast and the northwest with Mithrim (which I also find interesting because of the notorious mineral the Dwarves make into some of the most fantastic armor in the world – Mithril is very close in name to this Noldor held land).
Then there is Morgoth, who is held in his citadel in Angband in the north, too far north, in fact, for any map I’ve seen to show where Angband is.
So what happens next? Do we get any more information about the land and its peoples? Next week, let us find out in “Of Beleriand and it’s Realms.”
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