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.“