Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of Turin Turambar, part 3
“But as he stood, finding himself free, and ready to sell his life dearly against imagined foes, there came a great flash of lightning above them; and in its light he looked down on Beleg’s face. Then Túrin stood stonestill and silent, staring on that dreadful death, knowing what he had done; and so terrible was his face, lit by the lightning that flickered all about them, that Gwindor cowered down upon the ground and did not raise his eyes.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we continue to see how Túrin progressed, along with a few more tragedies he had to endure.
We left our heroes betrayed by the Dwarf Mîm. Mîm showed the agents of Morgoth to his home where Túrin, Beleg, and the Outlaws were hiding. Unfortunately, the Orcs took them by surprise, slaying most of them and kidnapping Túrin. We start this week with Beleg, after shunning Mîm for his betrayal, set out to track the orcish horde who had kidnapped his friend.
He never lost the track, “and not even in the dreadful woods of Taur-nu-Fuin did he swerve from the trail, for the skill of Beleg was greater than any that have been in Middle-earth.” and he came upon an injured Elf laying at the foot a great dead tree.
This Elf was Gwindor, son of Guilin, who we last saw captured in Nirnaeth Arnoediad by Morgoth and imprisoned to work, forging, and mining gems. But by “secret tunnels known only to themselves the mining Elves might sometimes escape.”
Gwindor saw the group of Orcs pass and saw Túrin with them, chained. Gwindor tried to persuade Beleg not to follow, but nothing could stop Beleg from his quest, so they followed the trail to Thangorodrim. It is here we see the true glory of Beleg Strong Bow.
“When all the camp were sleeping Beleg took his bow, and in the darkness shot the wolf-sentinels, one by one and silently. Then in great peril they entered in, and found Túrin fettered hand and foot tied to a withered tree.”
They snuck in, gathered Túrin, and carried him to a nearby dell, and Beleg took out Anglachel, that cursed blade forged by Eöl the Dark Elf, to cut his bonds. “But fate was that day more strong, for the blade slipped as he cut the shackles, and Túrin’s foot was pricked.”
After being beaten and enslaved, he was not in his right mind, and he only knew that someone was hurting him again, but he was free from his bonds, so he lept up “and grappling with him in the darkness, he seized Anglachel, and slew Beleg Cúthalion thinking him a foe.”
We then get the opening quote for this essay. A great storm arose at the death of Beleg and wiped the trail of Túrin and Gwindor, and the Orcs left empty-handed and returned to Morgoth. The man and the Elf buried Beleg there with his bow.
“Thus ended Beleg Strongbow, truest of friends, greatest in skill of all that harboured in the woods of Beleriand in the Elder Days, at the hand of him whom he most loved; and that grief was graven on the face of Túrin and never faded.”
When Tolkien calls this story a tragedy, this is the heart of it. We experienced a story of love and heroism with Beren and Lúthien, and this tale is the other side of the token.
Much of Tolkien is about good versus evil. The battle for the nature of the world. But when the world becomes corrupted, what does it mean to win? The Lord of the Rings has little snippets of these tragedies, but The Silmarillion is unfettered with the need or desire to hold a traditional narrative; thus, Tolkien can show his true intentions.
Tolkien lived and fought through World War One, and where his tales are not allegories, they mirror his experience. In war, you have two similar people; one comes out with what they desired, and one does not. The point is the struggle and how they hold themselves through the process. Of course, the lives of individuals go deeper than this generalization, but the fact is valid.
This tale is a tragedy, and the Beren and Lúthien tale is the book’s heart.
The whole book has a melancholy feel to it. From the first page, you can feel the horrible things coming, and that transcends the entire history (at least so far), but what Tolkien does so well is the infusion of hope in the most desperate times.
At this point in history, Morgoth has won. Over half of Beleriand is his, and he is killing more of the residents. What’s worse is the agents of Morgoth either kill or actively work to drain spirits. Only these few heroes like Turin and Beleg keep the hope alive.
So Túrin walked the lands with Gwindor, grieved and seemingly lost, until they came to the River Sirion and he lay in the waters, and the Love of Ulmo allowed him to release his pain, “and his tears were unloosed at last, and he was healed of his madness.”
He and Gwindor head to Nargothrond to continue the fight and the journey.
The people of Nargothrond welcomed Gwindor with open arms, and they accepted Túrin because he was traveling with the Elf. In time, he grew to be respected, primarily because of his appearance. The Elves knew he was the son of Húrin and Morwen, but he also knew the speech and language of Doriath so that “even among the Elves he might be taken for one from the great houses of the Noldor; therefore many called him Adanedhel, the Elf-Man.” Though we know that being associated with the Noldor isn’t always the best thing.
The smiths in Nargothrond reforged Anglachel to rid it of its horrible connotation, and Túrin renamed it “Gurthang, Iron of Death.” He proved himself to those Elves and became known as Mormegil, The Black Sword. He was considered invisible, so they gave him Dwarven hewn armor and a “dwarf-mark all gilded.”
When Gwindor and Túrin made it back to Nargothrond, Gwindor picked back up with Finduilas, daughter of Orodreth, the current King. Gwindor loved Finduilas to his fullest extent (and is insinuated that he always had), but the curse of Túrin followed even this Elf who broke his bonds. Finduilas fell in love with Túrin and out of love with Gwindor.
Finduilas could not help her love, even after being told that “this man is not Beren.” insinuating that Beren was a once-in-a-lifetime person who could hold onto the love of an Elf and make it work. But the heart wants what the heart wants.
Túrin, taken by surprise, did not return the love, honoring his friendship with Gwindor; but that relationship had turned. Gwindor approached Túrin, and the man tried to plead his case, but Gwindor spoke words no more factual said:
“The doom lies in yourself, not in your name.”
Join me next week as we continue the journey of Túrin!
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of Túrin Turambar Part 2
“And now there came another dwarft bearing light to greet him, and they spoke together, and passed swiftly down into the darkness of the cave; but Túrin followed after, and came at length to a chamber far within, lit by dim lamps hanging upon chains. There he found Mîm kneeling at a stone couch beside the wall, and he tore his beard, and wailed, crying one name unceasingly; and on the couch there lay a third. But Túrin entering stood beside Mîm, and offered him aid. Then Mîm looked up at him, and said: ‘You can give no aid. For this is Khîm, my son; and he is dead, pierces by an arrow. He died at sunset. Ibun my son has told me.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we continue our journey with Túrin as he navigates his trials and tribulations. Last week we read that Tolkien called this story “The Tale of Grief,” and we traverse this story; we’ll see why!
We jump in right where we left off. Túrin leads a band of Outlaws and Beleg Strongbow, picking up the mighty sword Anglachel and some lembas bread and going back out into the wilds to watch over Túrin.
Túrin, however, told Beleg that if he were to find him again, it would be on the slopes of Amon Rûdh, an isolated mountain peak just east of Doriath. So it’s either divine providence or sheer luck that the group of Outlaws would come across three dwarves. So naturally, being outlaws, they attacked the group (I’m assuming to rob them, but it’s not clear. Dwarves were known for their smithing and the gems they mine from the mountain cores) and captured one of them.
This dwarf, named Mîm, pleaded with Túrin “and offered as ransom to lead them to his hidden halls which none might find without his aid.”
And where is this home? “High above the land lies the house of Mîm, upon the great hill; Amon Rûdh is that hill called now, since the Elves changed all the names.”
On the journey to the peak, Tolkien gives us a little taste of what to expect on this journey. One of the Outlaws sees a red flower, seregon, on the ridge, and with the sun shining through it, he says, “There is blood upon the hill-top.”
He thinks this because of how the sun reflected off this flower. Still, in the Quenya tongue, sereg means blood, indicating that whatever happens here won’t be a happy-go-lucky experience.
The trouble starts immediately once the group gets into Mîm’s cave, as we get the quote that begins this essay. It was Túrin who killed Khîm with an arrow. It was Mîm’s clan the outlaws attacked below the peak.
Túrin is apologetic but stands tall. He owns the fact that he applied the killing blow, and because of Dwarven mentalities, Mîm respects him, saying, “You speak like a dwarf-lord of old.“
Túrin learned of Mîm and his people, who were known as the Noegyth Nibin, or the Petty Dwarves. They were outcasts from the Blue Mountains, and they came into Beleriand first, before even the Noldor made their dangerous trip across the sea to this land. As a result, they lost their crafting abilities and “became diminished in stature.” Orcs and Noldor hunted them and considered all creatures of Beleriand enemies, so “they took to lives of stealth, walking with bowed shoulders and furtive steps.”
They were the Dwarves who dug the tunnels which became Nargothrond, but the Noldor pushed them out, and they came here to Amon Rûdh, the Bald Hill, where they made their home.
Living on the hill was difficult, especially since it was “said that the winters worsened in Beleriand as the power of Angband grew.” But Túrin lived there with Mîm and the remaining dwarves and outlaws. Eventually, while holed up in the hill, a figure appeared from the terrible cold no one else dared traverse.
“suddenly among them a man, as it seemed, of great bulk and girth, cloaked and hooded in white; and he walked up to the fire without a word. And when men sprang up in fear, he laughed, and threw back his hood…and in the light of the fire Túrin looked again on the face of Beleg Cúthalion.”
Beleg again tried to coax Túrin to return with him to Doriath, even bringing “out of Dimbar the Dragon-helm of Dor-lómin” to pull at his heartstrings. But Túrin remained steadfast, so Beleg stayed with him. “Those that were hurt or sick he tended and gave them lembas of Melian,” but despite his care, it is evident that he was only there for Túrin, and “hatred of Mîm for the Elf that had come into Bar-en-Danwedh grew ever greater, and he sat with Ibun, his son in the deepest shadows of his house.”
Spring had finally come to Beleriand, but Angband’s reach had grown, and many had lost hope, but “Túrin put on again the Helm of Hador; and far and wide in Beleriand, the whisper went, under wood and over stream and through the passes of the hills, saying that the Helm and Bow that had fallen in Dimbar had arisen again beyond hope. Then many who went leaderless, dispossessed but undaunted, retook heart, and came to seek the Two Captains.” Dor-Cúarthol, the Land of Bow and Helm, and Túrin who “named himself anew” as Gorthol, the Dread Helm.
Their deeds were known far and wide, but finally, Morgoth took notice and realized that Gorthol was Túrin, “Then Morgoth laughed.“
A raiding party of Orcs took Mîm and Ibun captive while they were gathering roots, and Mîm led those Orcs back to his home with a promise that they would not harm Gorthol (Túrin).
“Thus was Bar-en-Danwedh betrayed, for the Orcs came upon it by night at unawares, guided by Mîm. There many of Túrin’s company were slain as they slept; but some fleeing by an inner stair came out upon the hill-top, and there they fought until they fell, and thier blood flowed out upon the seregon that mantled the stone. But a net was cast over Túrin as he fought, and was enmeshed in it, and overcome, and led away.“
Beleg found Mîm after the battle, the dwarf finding Anglachel on the ground and brandishing it at the giant Elf. But Mîm was no match for the large ranger, and Beleg took the sword back from the diminutive dwarf. Then, as Mîm fled, Beleg called after him:
“The vengeance of the house of Hador will find you yet!“
Beleg knew that Túrin had been captured and taken to Angband, so he healed himself from battle and set off to help his friend in the shadow of the bloody seregon on the hilltop.
Join me next week as we continue the tale of Túrin Turambar!
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of Turin Turambar, Part 1
“And now again the might of Angband was moved; and as the long fingers of a groping hand the forerunners of his armies probed the ways into Beleriand. Through Anach they came, and Dimbar was taken, and all the north marches of Doriath. Down the ancient road they came that led through the long defile of Sirion, past the isle where Minas Tirith of Finrod had stood, and so through the land between Malduin and Sirion, and on through the eaves of Brethil to the crossings of Teiglin. Thence the road went on in the Guarded Plain; but the Orcs did not go far upon it, as yet, for there dwelt now in the wild a terror that was hidden, and upon the red hill were watchful eyes od which they had not been warned. For Túrin put on again the Helm of Hador; and far and wide in Beleriand the whisper went, under wood and over stream and through the passes of the hills, saying that the Helm and Bow that had fallen in Dimbar had arisen again beyond hope.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we are regaled with one of Tolkien’s famous Lays, which later became the book “The Children of Húrin.”
“Here that tale is told in brief, for it is woven with the fate of the Silmarils and of the Elves; and it is called the Tale of Grief, for it is sorrowful, and in it are revealed most evil works of Morgoth Bauglir.”
We left off the last chapter with Húrin, Lord of Dor-Lómin (the human duchy by Hithlum in the North East), captured by Morgoth and tied to a pole enduring horrible torture but giving nothing up to that horrific diety.
In that time after Nirnaeth Arnoediad, Easterlings came to Dor-Lómin. These men were subservient to Morgoth, who “despised the remnant people of Hador, and oppressed them, and took their lands and their goods, and enslaved their children.” Still, Morwen, Húrin’s wife and Túrin’s mother, was feared. “and they whispered among themselves, saying that she was perilous, and a witch skilled in magic and in league with the elves.” This fear gave more freedom to Túrin, and she was able to “send him away in secret, and to beg King Thingol to harbour him, for Beren son of Barahir was her father’s kinsman, and he had been moreover a friend of Húrin.“
Beleg Strongbow, part of Beren’s fellowship, found Túrin outside Doriath. Beleg brought Húrin to Menegroth and sent a contingent of Elves to get Morwen back with him. Still, because of the strife of her people, she decided to stay with them in Dor-Lómin but sent back a keepsake for Húrin: “when the Elves departed, she sent with them the Dragon-helm of Dor-Lómin, greatest of the heirlooms of the house of Hador.“
Túrin grew solid and proud in Menegroth under the tutelage of both Thingol and Beleg Strongbow, but he needed more because he “was filled with fear for his mother and his sister.” So he donned his armor and the Dragon-helm and joined Beleg in battle on the marches of Doriath.
Túrin gained notoriety, but that is dangerous for a human in the land of Elves. Because “Now one there was in Doriath, of the people of the Nandor, high in the councils of the King; Saeros was his name.“
Saeros was jealous of Túrin because of his relationship with Thingol, so he bullied and taunted him to the point that Túrin fought back, throwing a goblet and striking Saeros in the face.
Embarrassed, Saeros approached Túrin in the forests outside of Menegroth and tried to best him in a fight. However, Túrin, who had been fighting against Orcs in the marches, quickly overtook him and forced Saeros to do what Saeros frequently said the human woman did, “Run naked as a hunted beast through the woods.”
Saeros was so terrified at his predicament, that he “fell into a chasm of a stream, and his body was broken on a great rock in the water.“
Túrin, knowing that he was a Man among a gathering of Elves, doesn’t feel safe, despite others telling him that Saeros’ fall was not his fault. So he decides to flee the judgment of the Elves, “deeming himself an outlaw and fearing to be held captive.”
Captivity is a prominent theme in this book, and I also think in the larger world of the Lord of the Rings. There are many passages where the characters in question (Beren, Túrin, Fingolfin, Morgoth, Hador, etc.) intimate, or Tolkien tells us through exposition, that they would do anything to escape captivity. Captivity and loss of their freedoms are central themes in these books. The people caught (Maedhros and, more recently, Húrin) were tortured perpetually.
Despite being captured and tortured, I don’t think Tolkien wrote a history of his world to have all characters be afraid of being captive, but instead I think it was Tolkien’s fear of progress and industry which spurned this theme.
When a character gets imprisoned, it’s always in a bleak tower away from all nature. In some ways, I think Tolkien was projecting his fear of what would happen to society if it succumbed to industry. People would no longer be free to head off into the forest and enjoy some good pipe tobacco and a book. Instead, they would be enslaved to the industry and metaphorically tied to towers to watch Morgoth’s fires (or Mordor’s) burn eternally.
The fear of death is secondary to being forced to do another’s bidding. The wars of Beleriand and the wars of the Third Age of Middle-earth are all for this exact reason, much as the real war Tolkien fought in, The First World War. They were wars for the freedom to be who you wanted and move about unmolested. I think that’s why these books still resonate so many years later.
So to escape this enslavement, Túrin ran from Menegroth. He was mistaken, though, because Thingol “took Húrin’s son as my son,” and Thingol grieved that Túrin didn’t believe he would be welcomed back into Menegroth. Beleg Strongbow, also aggrieved, responded to Thingol:
“I will seek Túrin until I find him, and I will bring him back to Menegroth, if I can, for I love him also.”
Beleg ranged and found Túrin, now chief of an outlaw brigade in the forests outside the Girdle of Melian. He tried to persuade Túrin to go back, but because of pride or embarrassment, Túrin refused. He wanted to be his own man, so he sent Beleg away. But Beleg knew that after the battle of Unnumbered Tears, Beleriand was not safe for Túrin to wander with just a few brigands, so he went back to Thingol and asked the King’s leave to guard Túrin from a distance. Thingol agreed and told him to take anything except the King’s sword to aid him in his quest.
“Then Beleg chose Anglachel; and that was a sword of great worth, and it was so named because it was made of iron that fell from heaven as a blazing star; it would cleave all earth-delved iron. One other sword only in Middle-earth was like to it. That sword does not enter into thi tale, though it was made of the same ore by the same smith; and that smith was Eöl the Dark Elf, who took Aredhel Turgon’s sister to wife.“
Thingol warns Beleg, “There is malice in the sword. The dark heart of the smith still dwells in it. It will not lvoe the hand it serves; neither will it abide you long.”
There is no greater foreshadowing than this statement.
Beleg leaves with Anglachel and a gift of Lembas “the waybread of the Elves, wrapped in leaves of silver, and the threads that bound it were sealed at the knots with the seal of the Queen, a wafer of white wax shaped as a single flower of Telperion.”
“and he returned to them no more.”
Join me next week as we continue the tale of Túrin Turambar!
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad
“Great was the triumph of Morgoth, and his design was accomplished in a manner after his own heart; for Men took the lives of Men, and betrayed the Eldar, and fear and hatred were aroused among those that should have been united against him. So from that day the hearts of the Elves were estranged from Men, save only those of the Three Houses of the Edain.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we return to war and learn of the battle of Unnumbered Tears and how the Elves’ mistrust of each other and the other races ultimately led to the destruction that came in this battle.
Tolkien starts us off with a small send-off to Beren and Luthien. We learn they “passed beyond the River Gelion into Ossiriand, and dwelt there in Tol Galen the green isle, in the midst of Adurant, until all tidings of them ceased,” they were never to be heard from again.
I believe Tolkien added that little epilogue to their story at the beginning of this chapter because he wanted to have a happier ending for them. When they are together, there is a bit of sadness in the tone of Tolkien’s writing, a melancholy subsumed beneath their love and happiness together. I believe he wanted to start this chapter with that tone partly because they isolated themselves from the hatred of the Noldor, and it’s precisely that viciousness that causes Morgoth’s successes in this battle.
The chapter begins by telling of Maedhros deciding to take arms up against Morgoth because, through Beren and Lúthien’s actions, he saw that Morgoth was fallible. He also understood that alone, the Elves could not fight him. They needed to come together and make a collective assault.
But the Noldor were too prideful. They could not let old grievances lie. The sons of Fëanor said they would only fight with Thingol if he submitted the Silmaril, but he didn’t trust them. Orodreth also would not march with Maedhros “because of the deeds of Celegorm and Curufin.“
So Maedhros turned to the Naugrim (Dwarves) and Men. Fingon in Hithlum to the east, “ever the friend of Maedhros,” also came to aid. Maedhros looked upon his army and “made trial of his strength too soon” and “resolved to assault Angband from east and west.” He would attack from the east and draw out Morgoth’s armies, while Fingon and the Men would pincer from the West.
A great army amassed in the east, and they were ready to fight, but Morgoth’s deception continued. One of the Men, Uldor the accursed, was a spy for Morgoth and was able to delay Maedhros from the attack.
Seeing the might of Fingon’s army, Turgon of Gondolin decided that he must help and sent a leaguer from Hidden Gondolin. But Morgoth had planned and built a massive army. So he sent forth the largest army of Orcs the world had seen, “and yet but part of all that he had made ready.”
Morgoth’s Captain had orders to bring Fingon to the battlefield, but he could not taunt him out, so they sent a party and asked for a parley. Here is where the true evil of Morgoth appears. Gelmir, a Lord of Nargothrond, was sent out to answer the parley, but the legion of Morgoth captured him, “and they hewed off Gelmir’s hands and feet, and his head last, within sight of the Elves.“
This betrayal lit a fire in the Noldor, and Morgoth’s plan succeeded. They charged the field of battle, just as he had planned.
“And in the plain of Anfauglith, on the fourth day of the war, there began Nirnaeth Arnoediad, Unnumbered Tears, for no song or tale can contain all it’s grief. The host of Fingon retreated over the sands, and Haldir lord of the Haladin was slain in the rearguard; with him fell most of the Men of Brethil, and came never back to their woods.”
But Turgon and the Gondolindrim came to the rescue, breaking the ranks of Orcs. But this was Morgoth’s plan all along because now that he had weakened the West, Maedhros finally joined the battle on the east, and “Morgoth loosed his last strength, and Angband was emptied. There came wolves, and wolfriders, and there came Balrogs, and dragons, and Glaurung father of dragons.“
They battled fiercely, but the force was not Morgoth’s greatest weapon because “…neither by wolf, nor by Balrog, nor by dragon, would Morgoth have achieved his end, but for the treachery of Men. In this hour the plots of Ulfang were revealed. Many of the Easterlings turned and fled, their hearts being filled with lies and fear; but the sons of Ulfang went over suddenly to Morgoth and drove in upon the rear of the sons of Fëanor, and in the confusion that they wrought they came near to the standard of Maedhros.“
The remaining sons of Fëanor could flee, “gathering a remnant of the Noldor and the Naugrim,” and most of the treacherous men were slain by Morgoth when they came to collect on the reward he had promised them for their betrayal.
It came down to one last force to make a stand. The Dwarves of Belegost, “and thus they won renown.” They could withstand heat much better than either Men or Elves, and “it was their custom moreover to wear great masks in battle hideous to look upon.” So the Dwarves drove off Glaurung and the dragons losing Azaghâl, Lord of Belegost.
Meanwhile, Fingon and Turgon were surrounded by “a tide of foes thrice greater than all the force that was left to them.” A multitude of Balrogs surrounded Fingon, and Gothmog turned to face Fingon. “That was a grim meeting.”
They battled one on one in a brutal and epic fight until one of the Balrog “cast a throng of fire about him.”
“Then Gothmog hewed him with his black axe, and a white flame sprang up from the helm of Fingon as it was cloven. Thus fell the High King of the Noldor; and they beat him into dust with their maces, and his banner, blue and silver, they trod into the mire of his blood.“
Once Fingon had died, Húrin and Huor, the Men of Hador, told Turgon to retreat, and they would guard his exit. Fingon was able to withdraw back into the mountains, to hold fast in Gondolin to be the last bastion of the North against Morgoth. While Húrin and Huor fought against Morgoth’s armies and died, “Thus was the treachery of Uldor redressed.“
Húrin made a name for himself fighting the Troll-guard of Gothmog, crying out, “Aurë entuluva!” (Day shall come again!) with every kill, he too eventually fell.
“Thus ended Nirnaeth Arnoediad.“
The opening quote of the essay follows. The lords of the North were defeated, and they no longer held their lands. “The Orcs and the wolves went freely through all the North and came further southward into Beleriand. They destroyed the Havens and círdan and took over all of the North, leaving only Gondolin, the hidden kingdom, and Doriath, the last two great kingdoms.“
There are tales of courage and horror following the battle of Unnumbered Tears, and Tolkien leaves us with a paragraph of woe and hope in the great horror that Beleriand had become:
“By the command of Morgoth the Orcs with great labour gathered all the bodies of those who had fallen in the great battle, and all their harness and weapons, and piled them in a great mound in the midst of Anfauglilth; and it was like a hill that could be seen from afar. Haudh-en-Ndengin the Elves named it, the Hill of Slain, and Haudh-en-Nirnaeth, the Hill of Tears. But grass came there and grew again long and green upon that hill, alone in all the desert that Morgoth made; and no creature of Morgoth trod thereafter upon the earth beneath which the swords of the Eldar and the Edain crumbled to rust.“
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