Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin
“Thus Ard-Galen perished, and fire devoured its grasses; and it became a burned and desolate waste, full of choking dust, barren and lifeless. Thereafter its name was changed, and it was called Anfauglith, the Gasping Dust. Many charred bones had there their roofless grave; for many of the Noldor perished in that burning, who were caught by the running flame and could not fly to the hills. The heights of Dorthonian and Ered Wethrin held back the fiery torrents, but their woods upon the slopes that looked towards Angband were all kindled, and the smoke wrought confusion among the defenders. Thus began the fourth of the great battles, Dagor Bragollach, the Battle of Sudden Flame.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we tell a tale of Hubris and horror; as the table is set, the players are in their places, and there is nothing left to do but act.
We begin by learning that Fingolfin, “the King of the North, and High King of the Noldor,” wanted to assault Angband and eliminate Morgoth. So he brought a council of Elves and Men together but could not get enough support to act against the horrid Valar in the mountains of Thangorodrim to the north.
But while this council was in session, during the sixth generation of men, Morgoth had similar hopes; “For Morgoth had long prepared his force in secret, while ever the malice of his heart grew greater, and his hatred of the Noldor more bitter; and he desired not only to end his foes but to destroy also and defile the lands that they had taken and made fair.“
Recall that Morgoth was an aspect of Ilúvatar, and his intentions started pure. His story is that of Lucifer the Lightbringer. He was an angel (Valar) who followed their own way, their own vision, and it led to their downfall. They both fell so far that nothing remained but a burning hatred for those they were supposed to love.
Tolkien also uses the imagery of fire, which Satan was known for, from the scene in Revelations where he was cast into the fire. Here, Tolkien takes that concept and gives the power of flame to Morgoth: “Then suddenly Morgoth sent forth great rivers of flame that ran down swifter than Balrogs from Thangorodrim, and poured over all the plain; and the Mountains of Iron belched forth fires of many poisonous hues, and the fume of them stank upon the air and was deadly.”
That quote leads directly into the passage which opens this essay, and we see that the horror of Morgoth’s wrath is spreading down to Dorthonian, where the seat of Turgon, Gondolin, resides.
And forgive the excessive quotes, but Tolkien describes the effects of the Battle of Sudden Flame better than I ever could:
“In the front of that fire came Glaurung the golden, father of dragons, in his full might; and in his train were Balrogs, and behind them came the black armies of the Orcs in multitudes such as the Noldor had never before seen or imagined. And they assaulted the fortresses of the Noldor, and broke the leaguer about Angband, and slew whereever they found them the Noldor and their allies, Grey-elves and Men. Many of the stoutest of the foes of Morgoth were destroyed in the first days of the war, bewildered and dispersed and unable to muster their strength. War ceased not wholly ever again in Beleriand; but the Battle of Sudden Flame is held to have ended with the coming of spring, when the onslaught of Morgoth grew less.”
The Elves were in a bad state. The sons of Finarfin took the heaviest losses, particularly at the Pass of Sirion, so much so that King Finrod Felagund was cut off and would have died if Barahir, a man, brother of Bregolas of the house of Bëor, didn’t bring a company of men to come and save him and take him back to Nargothrond.
In the east, Fingolfin and Fingon retreated to Hithlum “because of the strength and height of the Shadowy Mountains, which withstood the torrent of fire, and by the valour of the Elves and the Men of the North, which neither Orc nor Balrog could yet overcome, Hithlum remained unconquered.”
But further east on the other side of Dorthonian, Celegorm and Curufin were getting slaughtered and lost the pass of Aglon to Morgoth. So those elves fled south to Nargothrond and the strength of Finrod Felgund.
It was only Maedros who stood up Morgoth’s armies, as he held the Hill of Himring just to the east of the Pass of Aglon. It was Maedros who had been captured and tortured by Morgoth, only to later be saved by his kin and the Eagles. Maedros called upon that anger and held fast against the horrible armies.
But he became the sole outpost as Glaurung appeared at Maglor’s gap to the east, and Morgoth’s armies took all the lands down into eastern Beleriand down to Mount Dolmed, burning and pillaging the land.
Concurrently, “…news came to Hithlum that Dorthonian was lost and the sons of Finarfin overthrown, and that the sons of Fëanor were driven from their lands.“
Fingolfin saw these kingdoms falling, and his kin dying. Anger over took his body and he rode out with mighty speed over the barred and burned lands, all the way to Angband, and when he got there he challenged Morgoth to single combat. Morgoth begrudingly accepted and they fought like no other fight written in Tolkien (I’ll have it down below for you to enjoy!).
Eventually Morgoth overtook Fingolfin and slay him in the shadow of Angband, thus ending the reign of one of the mighty Noldor kings. And there he would have stayed, as Morgoth threw his body to the wolves, but Thorondor, King of Eagles came down, scratched Morgoth’s face and took up the body of Fingolfin to bring back to the Grey Havens.
We are only halfway through this epic chapter through all of these battles. So I’m going to go a bit slower and give a few more quotes so we can enjoy the events of the end of the First Age.
Join me next week as we conclude “Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin.”
Post Script: The Battle between Morgoth and Fingolfin.
“Therefore Morgoth came, climbing slowly from his subterranean throne, and the rumour of his feet was like thunder underground. And he issued forth clad in black armour; and he stood before the King like a tower, iron-crowned, and his vast shield, sable unblazoned, cast a shadow over him like a stormcloud. But Fingolfin gleamed beneath it as a star; for his mail was overlaid with silver, and his blue shield was set with crystals, and he drew his sword Ringil, that glittered like ice.
Then Morgoth hurled aloft Grond, the Hammer of the Underworld, and swung it down like a bolt of thunder. But Fingolfin sprang aside, and Grond rent a mighty pit in the earth, whence smoke and fire darted. Many times Morgoth essayed to smite him, and each time Fingolfin leaped away, as a lightning shoots from under a dark cloud; and he wounded Morgoth with seven wounds, and seven times Morgoth gave a cry of anguish, whereat the hosts of Angband fell upon their faces in dismay, and the cries echoed in the Northlands.
But at last the King grew weary, and Morgoth bore down his shield upon him. Thrice he was crushed to his knees, and thrice arose again and bore up his broken sheild and stricken helm. But the earth was all rent and pitted about him, and he stumbled and fell backward before the feet of Morgoth; and Morgoth set his left foot upon his neck, and the weight of it was like a fallen hill. Yet with his last and desperate stroke Fingolfin hewed the foot with Ringil, and the blood gushed forth black and smoking and filled the pits of Grond.
Thus died Fingolfin, High King of the Noldor, most proud and valient of the Elven-kings of old.”
You can also listen to the battle below! Please give him a like and a follow!
The Lord of the Rings; The Two Towers, The Extended Edition
“If Aragorn survives this war, you will still be parted. If Sauron is defeated and Aragorn made king and all that you hope for comes true you will still have to taste the bitterness of mortality. Whether by the sword or the slow decay of time, Aragorn will die. And there will be no comfort for you, no comfort to ease the pain of his passing. He will come to death an image of the splendor of the kings of Men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world. But you, my daughter, you will linger on in darkness and in doubt as nightfall in winter that comes without a star. Here you will dwell bound to your grief under the fading trees until all the world is changed and the long years of your life are utterly spent.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we dive back into the movies and search for connections and clarifications to the second movie, “The Two Towers,” while trying to understand the motivations and plot developments in the film.
Long do the lives of the Valar echo through the mortal world. There are small scenes throughout this movie I had never caught before knowing about The Silmarillion and the events of the First Age, but after viewing them, you see how well Peter Jackson and crew dealt with the script of this series.
I’d first like to touch on the Elvenkind before going any deeper. While reading these books years ago and then later watching the movies, I always thought that Elves were higher beings. Beings able to see the future and were wise beyond their mortal coil. I thought they were so aloof because they had sight beyond and could see and form events before they happened. For example, I thought they knew how the war had to end, so they acted accordingly.
After reading the Silmarillion, I see that they are petty, selfish, and have a conflated ego. That sounds a little harsher than I mean it to because their actions come from love and fear; but they stayed, locked away in their respective lands (reminiscent of The Girdle of Melian) and let others fight battles that should have been shared.
A great example of this is the opening quote. It is a scene with Elrond and Arwen, where Elrond is giving Arwen a speech about how she needs to leave Aragorn behind and head off to Valinor. Elrond tells her that the only thing she will find in Middle-earth is death because she will outlive Aragorn and be alone. But, again, it is a father’s speech, a speech that comes from love, however misguided it is, and it’s only Arwen’s ultimate decision that makes Elrond make the right call.
Elrond even convinces Aragorn to talk with Arwen about leaving. Elrond knows that the quest for the ring doesn’t have good odds and that Arwen deserves to be with her people in the Gray Havens. Aragorn tells Arwen they are fools, and “what were they thinking?”
But there is a precedent for their actions. We will soon see Beren and Lúthien in an upcoming chapter of The Silmarillion, and while I don’t know their story, I know Beren was a Human warrior, and Lúthien was Thingol’s daughter (the daughter of the Maiar Melian of Girdle fame, and Thingol was a Sindar King holed up in Doriath). I’m excited to see if Aragorn and Arwen’s story echoes Beren and Lúthien. Those star-crossed lovers of the first age are mentioned in this context in the movies as well, though so fleetingly, you may miss it. Ultimately (for lack of a better phrase) reading the Silmarillion humanized elvenkind for me. They are just like humans, with all their flaws, and jealousies, and fears; they only have centuries more wisdom to rely on.
Speaking of Aragorn, there is the scene where they are fighting with the Wargs on the way to Helm’s Deep, where Aragorn falls over the cliff into the river and is thought dead. This scene was the biggest “ah ha” moment because while watching this in the Theater (and in subsequent viewings), I always thought it was a bit too convenient that Aragorn washes to shore, revived. What I didn’t notice (and now that I think about it, it might only be in the extended edition) was Arwen praying in the background (half in scene and half in voice over). Then, she calls the Valar and asks for them to help Aragorn. The Valar who has Men and Eldar’s greatest love is Ulmo, the Valar of water. There is no coincidence that Aragorn was injured and revived from the river. Ulmo healed him or brought him back from the dead because of his importance in the Battle against Morgoth’s Maiar General Sauron.
Speaking of Maiar, we have Gandalf and Sarumon and their dichotomous leanings. Gandalf was raised from the gray level to the white level (I’m still not sure what that truly means) because he was above the corruption of Sauron and the Palantir, which sullies Sarumon’s mind. The White Wizard of Orthanc turned to the ultimate evil…industry. He tears down the forest of Fangorn to fuel his war machine, which Tolkien believed was the ultimate evil. Tolkien believed in his mythology, whose genesis takes place in The Silmarillion. He believed that nature and music were tied together in their beauty and power and that those two things together were what made the world pure.
This concept directly corresponds to the Ents, created by the Valar Yavanna, whose music created the beauty of nature. The battle of the Ents against Orthanc is Tolkien’s way of showing that heart will always win over the industry. We can see this in real life (which was his inspiration) of destroyed battlegrounds, which recover and become lush green lands with little remnants of the horror that had once taken place there.
I’m sure there was much more I missed, but if I had any recommendation, it’s to read the Silmarillion (or at least read this blog!) because the movies have far more depth with the foreknowledge of what had already transpired.
Join me next week as we dive back into the Silmarillion and see the consequences of the Fourth Major Battle of Beleriand!
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of the Coming of Men into the West
“‘Into Doriath shall no Man come while my realm lasts, not even those of the house of Bëor who serve Finrod the beloved.’ Melian said nothing to him at that time, but afterwards she said to Galadriel: ‘Now the world runs on swiftly to great tidings. And one of Men, even of Bëor’s house, shall indeed come, and the Girdle of Melian shall not restrain him; and the songs that shall spring from that coming shall endure when all Middle-earth is changed.'”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week feels more like the 6th book in a seven-book series, where everything is building to support the next book and conclude the series. There is not much substance in this chapter, but Tolkien introduces some interesting characters that will have a much more prominent place in the future of Beleriand.
At the beginning of The Silmarillion, Tolkien flat out tells us that it’s the story of the Eldar and the Silmarils. There are mentions and tales of other races, but their place is on the back burner. This chapter must happen because there is no precedent for Beren (whom I had only a fleeting memory was human. This chapter solidifies that fact.) without it.
We learn that “three hundred years and more were gone since the Noldor came to Beleriand.” It wasn’t until now that Bëor made his way across the Blue Mountains to the west, where the Eldar had made its home. Bëor, whose name in the human tongue was Balan, was considered by the Noldor the “First Man” because he was the first one to make contact. They named him Bëor because “Bëor signified ‘Vassal’ in the tongue of his people.” He was the first Vassel to the Noldor, bowing to Finrod Felagund.
These men settled in Estolad, the land just below Nan Elmoth of Eöl fame (if you remember from the previous chapter, Eöl was the Dark Elf, Father of Maeglin). They stayed there for many years until we got the quote from the beginning of this essay. The “man” they are talking about is Beren, for he falls in love with the elvish maiden Lùthien (their tale is coming soon), and this seems to indicate some of the downfall of Beleriand.
The Elves have a large amount of Hubris, and they see themselves as the perpetual rulers of Beleriand. This Hubris is what eventually leads to their downfall. This chapter holds the second instance of Thingol being obstinate in believing that the Girdle his wife holds over Doriath will protect them from all tragedies happening in the world, and it’s the second time Melian prophesizes that he’s wrong. This is where the quote to open this essay comes in, and I’m pretty sure the “One of Man” to enter Doriath is actually Beren, a great hero of the first age, and the man Aragorn looks up to the most.
We also get Tolkien’s version of the first Ruling Queen of the land with Haleth, who was able to bring her people through Nan Dungortheb, the horrid land of Ungoliant:
“That land was even not yet so evil as it became, but it was no road for mortal Men to take without aid, and Haleth only brought her people through it with hardship and loss, constraining them to go forward by the strength of her will.“
We bring this history of Men to a close by going through some genealogy. First, we learn that Boromir (namesake of the famous Lord of the Rings character) was the Great-Grandson of Bëor and the FatherFather of Beren:
“The sons of Hador were Galdor and Gundor; and the sons of Galdor were Húrin and Huor; and the son of Húrin was Túrin the Bane of Glaurung (the FatherFather of the Dragons of Morgoth); and the son of Huor was Tuor, FatherFather of Eärendil the Blessed. The son of Boromir was Bregor, whose sons were Bregolas and Barahir; and the sons of Bregolas were Baragund and Belegund. The daughter of Baragund was Morwen, the mother of Túrin, and the daughter of Belegund was Rían, the mother of Tuor. But the son of Barahir was Beren One-hand, who won the love of Lúthien Thingol’s daughter, and returned from the Dead; from them came Elwing the wife of Eärendil, and all the Kings of Númenor after.”
Follow all that? That’s alright, and it’s ok to get discouraged sometimes while reading this dense work. The important thing is to stay with it because the more you read, the more it makes sense, and then The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit begin to have that full back story that makes sense and enriches those worlds. And that’s just based upon memory. So I intend to get through a few of these history books and then re-read those books to catch the world-building Tolkien infused within the world.
These events framed his mind when he sat down to write The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Those Third Age works are informed by the history of this work, and that history keeps getting darker. The stage is set. We now have the Noldor in Beleriand, the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains, and Men have finally come to the west. Join me next week as we see the subsumed treachery of Morgoth take hold of the denizens of Beleriand in “Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin!”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of Maeglin
“‘This is the land of the Teleri, to which you bring war and all unquiet, dealing ever proudly and unjustly. I care nothing for your secrets, and I came not to spy upon you, but to claim my own wife and son. Yet if in Aredhel your sister you have some claim, then let her remain; let the bird go back to the cage, where soon she will sicken again, as she sickened before. But not so Maeglin. My son you shall not withhold from me. Come, Maeglin son of Eöl! You father commands you. Leave the house of his enemies and the slayers of his kin, or be accursed!’ But Maeglin answered nothing.‘”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we finally get to see the dark turning point of Beleriand and begin to understand the total damage that will be coming to Aman.
We begin the chapter in Gondolin, the city we saw Turgon build last week in the previous chapter. Here we meet Aredhel Ar-Feiniel, Turgon’s sister and daughter of Fingolfin.
The chapter begins with a sibling spat because Aredhel wants to see the world, and Turgon doesn’t want her to leave. He’s torn between his tight bond and the fear of having the “Hidden Kingdom” of Gondolin exposed.
Eventually, “Turgon appointed three lords of his household to ride with Aredhel, and he bade them lead her to Fingon in Hithlim” and wary of Morgoth and his minions. This escort was the only way he would let her out of Gondolin to go and see kin.
However, when the group left Gondolin, Aredhel convinced the riders to take her off to see other parts of the world. They first tried to go south, “But the march-wardens denied them; for Thingol would suffer none of the Noldor to pass the Girdle.”
Undeterred, they decided to go to the Hill of Himring because, “There dwell, as we believe, Celegorm and Curufin,” Sons of Fëanor.
So the group turned “and sought the dangerous road between the haunted valleys of Ered Gorgoroth and the north fences of Doriath.” We know to be the home of the horrible spider creature Ungoliant and her offspring. In “Nan Dungortheb, the riders became enmeshed in shadows, and Aredhed strayed from her companions and was lost.”
Aredhel continued bravely on her own and eventually made it through the dark and shady land and made her way across the ford of the River Aros known as Arossiach to Himlad, the region just underneath Himring and between the River Aros and the River Celon.
She eventually became restless and rode south to explore, when came across a dark wooded forest called Nan Elmoth, where the trees were “the tallest and darkest in all Beleriand.” In these woods dwelled Eöl, “who was named the Dark Elf.“
“There he lived in deep shadow, loving the night and the twilight under the stars.” and was a friend, more of the Dwarves than the Elves of the land, and it was from these Dwarves that he learned to Smith.
Aredhel was taken with Eöl and became his wife in those dark woods of the east, and they eventually had a child, whom Aredhel named “Lómin, that signifies Child of the Twilight,” but whom they called Maeglin.
As Maeglin grew, Eöl taught him everything he knew, and Aredhel told great stories of Turgon and their kin in Gondolin. Over time, those stories made Aredhel homesick and Maeglin anxious to see the world. So when Maeglin went to Eöl to ask him to see Gondolin, Eöl told his son, “You are of the house of Eöl, Maeglin, my son… and not of the Golodhrim. All this land is the land of the Teleri, and I will not deal nor have my son deal with the slayers of our kin, the invaders and usurpers of our homes. In this, you shall obey me, or I will set you in bonds.“
Well, of course, the teenager responded how most teenagers would respond. He waited until Eöl went out to do business with the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains, and he talked his mother into leaving to seek Gondolin.
They left on horseback and hugged the forests of Doriath, making their way to Gondolin, but Eöl came back sooner than they expected and when they weren’t home he gave chase to them.
He stopped in Himlad and spoke to Celegorm and Curufin, who had no love for Eöl but still told him they saw his wife and son making their way West. So he rode hard and finally saw them in the distance at the Outer Gate of Gondolin.
The Noldor and Turgon rejoiced upon the returning of Aredhel and brought Maeglin in as a son: “And Maeglin shall have the highest honour in my realm.“
Maeglin begins a courtship with Idril, the Kings daughter, and all seems peaceful and kind. Then Eöl was brought forth by the guards and presented to Turgon, who accepted him graciously, but let him know that, now that Eöl knew where Gondolin was, he would not be able to leave by the laws of his land.
“I acknowledge not your law,” Turgon responds, and we get the quote that opens this essay. The two Elves verbally spar and eventually impasse with Turgon telling Eöl he must stay or die. Suddenly Eöl, “swift as a serpent, (he) seized a javelin that he held hid beneath his cloak and cast it at Maeglin, crying: ‘The second choice I take and for my son also! You shall not hold what is mine!'”
Aredhel, anticipating his movement, dove in front and took the spear, eventually dying that evening from the wound it caused.
Turgon took up Eöl in grief and “cast him over the Caragdûr,” killing him.
Remember at the beginning of this essay; I mentioned that we began to see the rift forming? Idril, Turgon’s daughter, gained a considerable mistrust of her kinsmen for this act. She grew and eventually married, despite Maeglin’s ever-deepening love of her. This love “turned to darkness in his heart” that the “dark seed of evil was sown.”
Maeglin became a great warrior and prince of the land and brought the technology of the Dwarves to Gondolin, which made the weapons and armor so advanced as they ended up being, which was essential during Nirnaeth Arnoediad, or the Fifth battle in the Wars of Beleriand. Otherwise known as “Tears Unnumbered.”
These rifts in the kin who are growing to take power are the corrupted seeds of doubt that will cause the destruction coming. Essentially we have a number of Noldor (Turgon, Celegorm, and Curufin) who have come in contact with this Teleri. Eöl may have been looking for his wife and son, but the disrespect he showed created even deeper bad feelings between the Noldor and the remaining Elvish clans.
Then beyond that the progress the Noldor are making in technology. Remember that industry is a four-letter word to Tolkien, and whereas the development of weapons and armor aren’t necessarily industry per se, the Noldor are the only elves seeking to be industrious in the ways of war, whereas the rest are looking to enjoy their solitude.
There have been hints of the Noldor assaulting Thingol in Doriath, and there are hints of the absolute destruction of Beleriand. Where will we see the traces of this destruction?
I have a suspicion we’ll find new information next week in “Of the coming of the Men into the West.”
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