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!