“My fate, O King, led me hither, through perils such as few even of the Elves would dare. And here I have found what I sought not indeed, but finding I would possess for ever. For it is above all gold and silver, and beyond all jewels. Neither rock, nor steel, nor the fires of Morgoth, nor all the powers of the Elf-kingdoms, shall keep from me the treasure that I desire. For Lúthien your daughter is the fairest of all the Children of the World.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we continue the tale of the star-crossed lovers while deconstructing themes of selfishness and fear in Elvishkind, which we’ve mentioned before.
Last week we learned of Beren’s beginnings and his fight to exit Dorthonian and head south to Doriath. The path was dangerous, and by the time he made it to Doriath, he was “grey and bowed as with many years of woe, so great had been the torment on the road.” But it was there in the forests he espied “Lúthien… the most beautiful of all the Children of Ilúvatar.”
She was dancing and singing in the woods in a beautiful voice “he called her Tinúviel, that signifies Nightingale,” and upon viewing her and listening to her song, “all memory of his pain departed from him.“
He was instantly in love with her light and beauty, and he followed her dumbfounded, trying to speak but muted by her brilliance. When he was finally able to talk, Beren approached Lúthien, and Tolkien gives us a curious passage: “But as she looked on him, doom fell upon her, and she loved him.“
We will see soon that though this is Tolkien’s heart of The Silmarillion, Beren and Lúthien’s love signifies the end of Elvish rule in Beleriand. Morgoth is merely a means to an end, but the Hubris of the Elves marks their destruction. Whether it be Fëanor and his firey drive to kill Morgoth, Turgon’s desire to forsake others for his own people’s safety, or Thingol’s parental urge to “know” what is suitable for his daughter, these are the traits that brought the Elves down, not Morgoth.
Lúthien hid her love for Beren for a while, just as she hid him in the forest. She knew her love for a human was wrong, but she couldn’t help herself because “no others of the Children of Ilúvatar have had joy so great, though the time was brief.”
But there was a danger because “Daeron the minstrel also loved Lúthien, and he espied her meetings with Beren and betrayed them to Thingol.”
Thingol was beyond angry, but it was because of his Hubris as an Elf and fear as a father. He declared Beren a thief and a scoundrel, though reading it closely, one can tell that he can’t believe a man was able to do what no other being could – traverse the Girdle of Melian and enter the lands. He was also terrified of this man taking his daughter and what kind of dangerous life she would have with him because his pride could not allow Beren to remain in Doriath.
Lúthien speaks to Beren’s defense before Thingol tells her, “Let Beren speak!” Beren’s response is the quote that opens this essay.
Thingol still tries to find a way around his predicament. Finally, he accuses Beren of being a thrall or a spy of Morgoth, to which Beren responds:
“By the ring of Felagund, that he gave to Barahir my father on the battlefield of the North, my house has not earned such names from any Elf, be he king or no.“
He shows the Ring of Felagund, which we will see in the Third age, on the hand of Aragorn. Viewing this Ring and hearing his wife Melian’s caution, Thingol devised a plan. He tells Beren that if he wants his daughter’s hand in marriage, he would, “Bring to me in your hand a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown.”
Then, “he wrought the doom of Doriath and was ensnared within the curse of Mandos.” Because of his fear, he gave Beren an impossible task, bringing Doriath into the larger world. If Beren failed, Thingol would lose his daughter because of the knowledge of condemning Beren to an impossible task. If he succeeded, having a Silmaril would bring down the wrath of both the Noldor and the Valar. Thingol sealed his fate.
Beren, of course, accepts the mission. The young warrior heads north out of Doriath towards the wastes of Taur-Nu-Fuin, what was once Dorthonian – what was once his home. As he traveled, Beren realized he was spied upon, so he shouted to the hidden warriors and showed the Ring of Felagund; “Thus Beren came before King Finrod Felagund.”
He told the King what had befallen his father, and he said of his adventures, finally revealing to the King his quest to secure a Silmaril for Thingol so that he may be with his love. Finrod tells him:
“It is plain that Thingol desires your death; but it seems that his doom goes beyond his purpose, and that the Oath of Fëanor is again at work. For the Silmarils are cursed with an oath of hatred, and he that even names them in desire moves a great power from slumber; and the sons of Fëanor would lay all the Elf-kingdoms in ruin rather than suffer any other than themselves to win or possess a Silmaril, for the Oath drives them.”
Beren’s appearance came after the time of the Battle of Sudden Flame, when Curufin and Celegorm had fled to Nargothrond with them. The curse of Fëanor was strong, and the Hubris of the Noldor was even more potent. The sons of Fëanor would take their desire to gain the Silmarils to any extent, and Finrod knows this.
“And after Celegorm Curufin spoke, more softly but with no less power, conjuring in the minds of the Elves a vision of war and the ruin of Nargothrond. So great a fear did he set in thier hearts that never after until the time of Túrin would any Elf of that realm go into open battle; but with stealth and ambush, with wizardry and venomed dart, they pursued all strangers, forgetting the bonds of kinship.“
Much like we have seen in the Third Age, the Silmarils call out to the Noldor as the One Ring does. But unfortunately, their power corrupts absolutely, and their meaning has blinded the Noldor to bring about their demise.
Curufin and Celegorm, knowing they are the next in line to be King if Finrod falls in battle, encourage him to go and help Beren steal a Silmaril from Morgoth, “whatever betide.“
Join me next week as we continue Beren’s quest for the Silmaril and Lúthien’s hand in marriage!
“Among the tales of sorrow and of ruin that come down to us from the darkness of those days there are yet some in which amid weeping there is joy and under the shadow of death light that endures. And of these histories most fair still in the ears of the Elves is the tale of Beren and Lúthien. Of their lives was made the Lay of Leithian, Release of Bondage, which is the longest save one of the songs concerning the world of old; but here the tale is told in fewer words and without song.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we begin the epic tale of Beren and Lúthien by witnessing Beren’s beginnings and growth into the epic warrior he was to become.
The quote above begins the chapter, and we quickly learn of the Outlaws of Dorthonian led by Barahir, Beren’s father. These were the last twelve human men living in Dorthonian because “Barahir would not forsake” it. Pursued by Morgoth, these men hid in the moors of the highlands of that region at a lake named “Tarn Aeluin.”
“The waters of Tarn Aeluin were held in reverence, for they were clear and blue by day and by night were a mirror for the stars; and it was said that Melian herself had hallowed that water in days of old.“
These Men lived in peace for several years until one of the Outlaws, Gorlim, came home from a battle and “found his house plundered and forsaken, and his wife gone; whether slain or taken he knew not.”
Despite plundering this house, the Outlaws remained hidden and were a thorn in Morgoth’s side, so he “commanded Sauron to find them and destroy them.“
Sauron learned of Gorlim’s loss and, with his sorcery, set an illusion of Gorlim’s wife in the house. Then, when he came back from ranging, he saw her image in the place, “and her face was worn with grief and hunger, and it seemed to him that he heard her lamenting that he had forsaken her.”
Sauron’s trap had worked. Agents of Sauron captured Gorlim and “tormented him, seeking to learn the hidings of Barahir and all his ways. But nothing would Gorlim tell.”
The torment continued until Sauron finally offered Gorlim’s wife back to him. “Then Sauron laughed; and he mocked Gorlim, and revealed to him that he had seen only a phantom devised by wizardry to entrap him; for Eilinel (Gorlim’s wife) was dead.“
But he still promised to bring her back, and “In this way the hiding of Barahir was revealed.”
Morgoth’s agents descended on the troop and brutally slaughtered them. Fortunately, Beren, son of Barahir, was off-ranging when the devastation happened.
Beren returned after having a prophetic dream, telling of his father’s murder, but he was too late. He saw his fellow Outlaws dead next to the Tarn Aeluin. “There Beren buried his father’s bones, and raised a cairn of boulders above him, and swore upon it an oath of vengeance.”
Beren tracked the Orc party to their camp “at Rivil’s Well above the Fen of Serech.“
“There their captain made boast of his deeds, and he held up the hand of Barahir that he had cut off as a token for Sauron that their mission was fulfilled; and the ring of Felegund was on that hand. Then Beren sprang from behind a rock, and slew the captain, and taking the hand and the ring he escaped.“
For four years, Beren wandered Dorthonian as a “solitary outlaw.” Finally, he became one with the land, and “he became the friend of birds and beasts, and they aided him… and from that time forth he ate no flesh nor slew any living thing that was not in the service of Morgoth.”
Beren “did not fear death, but only captivity, and being bold and desperate he escaped both death and bonds; and the deeds of lonely daring he acheived were noised abroad throughout Beleriand, and the tale of them came even into Doriath.”
His deeds became so legendary that Orcs would flee instead of standing up against him if he were near. Finally, Morgoth became distraught that a man was causing such havoc in a land he was supposed to be in control of, so he ordered Sauron to flood the land with his armies to flush Beren out. “Sauron brought werewolves, fell beasts inhabited by dreadful spirits that he had imprisoned in their bodies.”
Dorthonian “was now become filled with evil, and all clean things were departed from it.” Sauron’s plan to find him didn’t work, but the land had become so overrun that Beren fled south, “There it was put into his heart that he would go down into the Hidden Kingdom” of Doriath.
“Terrible was his southward journey” through Ered Gorgoroth, where so many others had perished in that land “where the sorcery of Sauron and the power of Melian came together.“
Beren was known for many great deeds during his lifetime, and “that journey is not accounted least among the great deeds… but he spoke of it to no one after, lest the horror return to his mind.” That region is one of horror in Beleriand, save only for Angband itself. “There spiders of the fell race of Ungoliant abode, spinning their unseen webs in which all living things were snared; and monsters wandered there that were born in the long dark before the sun, hunting silently with many eyes.”
Imagine wandering through a land filled with creatures like Shelob from Return of the King and other creatures whose sole purpose was to destroy all that came from the light. This evil land survived independently from Morgoth because Ungoliant was the only creature Morgoth truly feared, yet Beren, with all his might,uuj]1 made his way through unscathed.
He finally “passed through the mazes that Melian wove about the kingdom of Thingol… grey and bowed as with many years of woe.”
But it was there in the forests of Doriath his journey was complete because “wandering in the summer in the woods of Neldoreth he came upon Lúthien, daughter of Thingol and Melian, at a time of evening under moonrise.“
The two star-crossed lovers have finally met. Join me next week as we discover how they last through a disapproving father and a curse that will come to doom Doriath.
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin, Conclusion
“But at length, after the fall of Fingolfin, Sauron, greatest and most terrible of the servants of Morgoth, who in the Sindarin tongue was named Tol Sirion. Sauron was become now a sorcerer of dreadful power, master of shadows and of phantoms, foul in wisdom, cruel in strength, misshaping what he touched, twisting what he ruled, lord of werewolves; his dominion was torment.“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we shift perspective from the Eldar battle against Morgoth to the war between Men and the Dark Lord, while we also get a taste of the Sauron, the Dark Lord of the future.
This portion of the chapter begins with a page break. It immediately switches to speaking about Barahir and his last stand against Morgoth with his minions in the woods of Dorthonian (the land to the north, just beneath the wastes of Ard-Galen). One of the objectives I’m looking for while reading through this book is to find the connectors with the Third Age and see how Beleriand became the Middle-earth we all know. This chapter speaks of Minas Tirith being near Tol Sirion, the river that flows by the mountains of Dorthonian and Mithrim. Dorthonian was a land once rife with greenery and trees, but with the Dagor Bragollach, or the Battle of Sudden Flame, Dorthonian turned into a place of ash. Tolkien tells us in this second half of the chapter that Sauron “took Minas Tirith by assault.” If we remember the map of Middle-earth in the Third Age, Minas Tirith was in Gondor, on the border of Mordor, land protected by mountains on all sides. Could it be that the once Elven stronghold of Dorthonian became Mordor?
It seems so as the Noldor and Men of Beleriand were forced out of their lands to the south, and “Many of the Noldor and the Sindar they (orcs) took captive and led to Angband, and made them thralls, forcing them to use their skill and their knowledge in the service of Morgoth.“
Much of Morgoth’s success in this late battle came from the work he seeded early on. His lies sowed misinformation and strife, making them distrustful of their kin. Hereafter Dagor Bragollach, Morgoth used these Elves and Men “…for his evil purposes, and feigning to give them liberty sent them abroad, but he chained their will to him, and they strayed only to come back to him again.“
These thralls proved his earlier lies that the Noldor couldn’t trust one another, so they stayed locked behind their doors. Doriath and Gondolin remained strong as the other kingdoms weakened. But through all of this, “To Men Morgoth feigned pity.” Many men went to Morgoth because they believed his sincerity, even while the world around them burned.
Some men stood and fought through all this deceit while the Noldor retreated; the Haladin, human friends of Thingol, sent word to him. As a result, the Elvish marchwarderns from Gondolin, led by Beleg Strongbow, and the Haladin (also known as the People of Haleth) destroyed the Orc-legion in the northwest.
But where the Eldar were a peaceful, non-violent people (with the exception of the Noldor), the Men of Beleriand were born without the light of the Valar and knew that they had to fight for what they needed to survive.
The disparity of existence led to strife between some bands of elves and men because the elves believed that they needed to be reserved. So it shows in the tale of Húrin and Huor (there is a book that we will eventually get to, which is a narrative tale of the Children of Húrin) as they went to a battle to save a company of men who were “cut off from the rest” at the Ford of Brithiach. They fought hard and valiantly but “would have been taken or slain, but for the power of Ulmo, that was still strong in the Sirion.“
Remember in “The Fellowship of the Ring” when Arwen takes Frodo after being stabbed by the Morgul blade on Weathertop? She says a prayer to Ulmo, and the waters rise (in the form of Horses) and wipe out the Nine Black riders as they pursue. This scene frames my concept of how Ulmo saved Húrin and Huor (who was merely 13 in this battle).
But Ulmo, though he loved the residents of Beleriand the most, was not the only Valar who would help. Thorondor, the King of the Eagles, created at the hand of Manwë, came down and brought the two men to Turgon, who housed them in Gondolin.
Thorondor will be familiar to everyone because he was the Great Eagle who came to Frodo and Sam’s rescue in “The Return of the King” and saved them from the cliffs of Mount Doom after they threw the ring into the fire.
The battle raged on, and many Men and Elves died at the hands of Morgoth as Turgon kept Gondolin’s gates shut tight. Turgon had “received his guests well,” (Húrin and Huor) but because these Men grew without consciously knowing of the love and assistance of the Valar, they were angry and anxious to get back out and help their kin in the fight. So when they approached Turgon and his attendants, the King gave them surprising grace:
“The King’s grace is greater than you know, and the law is become less stern than aforetime; or else no choice would be given you but to abide to your life’s end.“
Turgon never let anyone leave for fear that they would reveal the secret location of Gondolin, but the Men held to their word, not even telling their family where they had been for the past months, thus strengthening the bond between Elf and Man.
But Turgon saw the writing on the wall and sent secret messengers to Valinor to ask for the succor of the Valar. Still, Valinor remained hidden from the exiled Noldor, holding to their word that the Noldor would never step foot on the shores of the Grey Havens. “Therefore none of the messengers of Turgon came into the West, and many were lost and few returned, but the doom of Gondolin drew nearer.”
“Rumour came to Morgoth of these things, and he was unquiet amid his victories, and he desired greatly to learn tidings of Felagund and Turgon.” So he sent out spies to learn where Nargothrond was hidden and understand where Turgon hid. But unfortunately, the secret of Gondolin still had not been released, so Morgoth didn’t even know of the great city’s existence.
His desire to eradicate the Noldor led him to send another wave of Orcs to wipe them out completely. “He sent a great force against Hithlum. The attack on the passes of the Shadowy Mountains was bitter, and in the siege of Eithel Sirion Galdor the tall, Lorn of Dor-Lómin, was slain by an arrow.“
The battle was pitch, and it looked grim for Hithlum until “the ships of Círdan sailed in great strength up the firth of Dengrist, and in the hour of need the Elves of the Falas came upon the host of Morgoth from the west.“
They pushed the host back to Angband, and in the absence of a ruler in Dor-Lómin, Húrin, son of Galdor the tall, took over and ruled while serving Fingon.
“His wife was Morwen Eledhwen, daughter of Baragund of the house of Bëor, she who fled from Dorthonian with Rían daughter of Belegund and Emeldir the mother of Beren.“
These “outlaws of Dorthonian” were accompanied by Beren, and Tolkien tells us that tale in the next chapter. Tolkien called the story of Beren and Lúthien “The Heart of The Silmarillion,” which makes me very excited to reach that chapter finally!
Join me next week as we start the journey “Of Beren and Lúthien.”
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!
“‘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!”
“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.”
“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.”
“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!
“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.”
“The hearts of the Noldor were high and full of hope, and to many among them it seemed that the words of Fëanor had been justified, bidding them seek freedom and fair kingdoms in Middle-earth; and indeed there followed after long years of peace, while their swords fenced Beleriand from the ruin of Morgoth, and his power was shut behind his gates. In those days there was joy beneath the new Sun and Moon, and all the land was glad; but still the Shadow brooded in the north.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we delve into the lore of the Noldor Elves and begin to see that despite the chapter name’s promise, Valinor is now beyond the reach of our supposed protagonists.
I began this chapter assuming that the title “Of the Return of the Noldor” would have to do with them returning to Valinor; however, as the chapter progressed, I realized that the name intended to show that the name’s meaning was the Noldor had returned to Beleriand to stay.
This chapter shows many great struggles over the land of Beleriand between the Eldar (the elves) and Morgoth, including two different “wars for Beleriand.“
We begin by rehashing previous chapters, the landing of Fëanor and his sons “on the outer shores of the Firth of Dengrist.” They “made their encampment” in Mithrim, in the northwest of Beleriand. Morgoth, seeing the flames of the ships they burned to stop Fingolfin from following them, anticipated their arrival and brought a host of foes to attack them. The skirmish is “the Second battle in the Wars of Beleriand,” and in Elvish, Dagor-nuin-Giliath, or “The Battle Under the Stars.”
We have jumped around in time in telling these histories because this battle took place before the creation of the Sun and Moon that we saw a few chapters ago. The altercation is known as “The Battle Under the Stars” because neither the Sun nor Moon had risen. Any light in Beleriand came from the stars of Valinor.
But Morgoth made an error in judgment because he didn’t truly comprehend the fury of Fëanor and his vast hatred for Morgoth:
“The Noldor, outnumbered and taken unawares, were yet swiftly victorious, for the light of Aman was not yet dimmed in their eyes.”
The starlight is the same light you see in Galadriel’s eyes in the movie, as she is the last of the Noldor who had lived to see the stars of Valinor.
Fëanor pushed Morgoth’s forces back to Ard-galen (above the mountains at the very north of Beleriand) and his stronghold at Angband. The Noldor had won, but Morgoth struck a victory because “Fëanor, in his wrath against the Enemy, would not halt, but pressed on behind the remnant of the Orcs, thinking so to come at Morgoth himself.“
Fëanor became surrounded by Balrogs, and “at the last he was smitten to the ground by Gothmog, Lord of the Balrogs.“
Fëanor’s sons rescued him from Gothmog and the Balrogs, but the blow was fatal and knew, just before “his body fell to ash, and was borne away like smoke” that “no power of the Noldor would ever overthrow” Angband.
Maedhros, Fëanor’s eldest son, took control of the Noldor and accepted terms from Morgoth, “acknowledgeing defeat, and offering terms, even the surrender of a Silmaril.” Still, it was a trap, and Maedhros was captured, his host slaughtered.
Maedhros’ brother’s retreated to regroup, and at this time, Fingolfin made his way across the icy torrential pass between Valinor and Beleriand. At this time, the Sun rose in the sky, and the dark loving host of Morgoth retreated to the darkness of Angband and its surrounding mountains.
Fingon, the son of Fingolfin, saw more similarities between the Eldar than differences and made a daring plan to save Maedhros and try to bring the Elves together. First, he went to Angband. “Then in defiance of the Orcs, who cowered still in the dark vaults beneath the earth, he took his harp and sang a song of Valinor that the Noldor made of old, before strife was born among the sons of Finwë; and his voice rang in the mournful hollows that had never heard before aught save cries of fear and woe.“
Maedhros hears this song and cries out for him to end him and his torment, but Manwë (the Valar) also hears this song of hope and sends help. “There flew down from the high airs Thorondor, King of Eagles, mightiest of all birds that have ever been, whose outstretched wings spanned thirty fathoms; and stayed Fingon’s hand he took him up, and bore him to the face of the rock where Maedhros hung.“
Strife and distrust continued for many years, but there was gradual acceptance between the different tribes of Elves in Beleriand. The Dwarves, also distrusting, agreed to assist in light of the terror of Morgoth’s influence over the land.
The one hold out was King Thingol, who was safely interred in his “girdle of enchantment.” However, Thingol gave leave for the Noldor and the Naugrim (Dwarves) to stay in the surrounding lands:
“In Hithlum the Noldor have leave to dwell, and in the highlands of Dorthonion, and in the lands east of Doriath that are empty and wild; but elsewhere there are many of my people, and I would not have them restrained of their freedom, still less ousted from thier homes.“
I get the feeling that Thingol will play a much more significant role in things to come, but thus far, he has decided to hole up and take an isolationist stance against Morgoth. We see this echoed in The Lord of the Rings, as initially, the elves want nothing to do with the war against Sauron. Will Thingol change his mind?
Next week, let’s find out as we cover the second half of the chapter “Of the Return of the Noldor.”
“To Hildórien there came no Vala to guide Men, or to summon them to dwell in Valinor; and Men have feared the Valar, rather than loved them, and have not understood the purposes of the Powers, being at variance with them, and at strife with the world.“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we learn of a new species born into Beleriand, Men, and how they came to inherit the world.
This chapter is unique because it gives us a basic overview of how Men (Tolkien uses Men as a stand-in to mean Human-kind) came into being, but Tolkien does not expound upon the History of Middle-earth. Instead, this feels more like his effort to understand the motivations (and potential weaknesses) of Men as unknowing Children of Ilùvatar.
Tolkien tells us: “At the first rising of the Sun the Younger Children of Ilùvatar awoke in the land of Hildóren in the eastward regions of Middle-earth; but the first Sun arose in the West, and the opening eyes of Men were turned towards it, and their feet as they wandered over the Earth for the most part strayed that way.”
Men were called Hildor, otherwise known as the followers, not because they were sheep, but because they were born after Elves and Dwarves. They also had many other names, “the Usurpers, the Strangers, and the Inscrutable, the Self-cursed, the Heavy-handed, the Night-fearers, the Children of the Sun.“
Men were born after the glory of Valinor, and they knew only the cold, complex beauty of Beleriand. They awoke without the knowledge of the Valar or Ilùvatar, which was the Quendi birthright. They were born without knowledge of the light of the Trees of Valinor. All they had was the Sun.
Tolkien fought in World War I, and where he contends that he doesn’t use or like allegory, much of his work is informed by the experiences of his life. In addition, he was a religious man, even co-sponsoring a writing group called the Inklings with C.S. Lewis. The concept of religion and God in The Great War led to his description of Men in The Silmarillion. A few chapters ago, I mentioned that Tolkien’s primary idea with these histories was to eventually tie it back to our Earth (which we caught glimpses of in the chapter last week (Of the Sun and the Moon and the Hiding Valinor). In this chapter, Tolkien tells us how humans were born into a world of ignorance and darkness, yet they strove for the light. As we saw in the quote earlier, Men went west following the Sun, despite their ignorance of its origin.
On top of that, Ulmo tried to get them messages without actually coming back to Middle-earth to inform Men: “and his messages came often to them by stream and flood. But they have not skill in such matters, and still less had they in those days before they had mingled with the Elves. Therefore they loved the waters, and their hearts were stirred, but they understood not the messages.“
I have never met a person who could stand before the Ocean and turn away. The waters bring life to us, and they stir our souls to peace. This connection to the water is what Tolkien was looking for to glue our world with Aman.
Beyond that, Tolkien tells us, “Men were more frail (than the Eldar), more easily slain by weapons or mischance, and less easily healed; subject to sickness and many ills; and they grew old and died.“
We also catch a glimpse of a story yet told; “None have ever come back from the mansions of the dead, save only Beren son of Barahir, whose hand had touched a Silmaril; but he never spoke afterward to mortal Men. The fate of Men after death, maybe is not in the hands of the Valar.”
This paragraph shows Tolkien’s framing of an afterlife, with a Persephone-like callback. Beren dies and then comes back because he has more profound knowledge of the world because of his connection with the Silmaril, which garners its power from The light of the Trees of Valinor. Beren is brought back from the dead through the power of Heaven.
We end the chapter by Tolkien telling us, “those of the Elven-race that lived still in Middle-earth waned and faded, and Men usurped the sunlight.“
Men, the ignorant, had now taken over the world. The magic of the world (the Music of Ainur) began to fade, and a feeling of hard-and-fast reality began to occur.
This chapter is fascinating and tragically beautiful. It is very short (which is why I wanted to discuss various theories rattling around in my brain), but there is perhaps more weight in this chapter than in any previous one.
And where do we go from here? Join us next week as we progress in the story in the next chapter: “Of the Return of the Noldor.”
“Isil the Sheen the Vanyar of Old named the Moon, flower of Telperion in Valinor; and Anar the Fire-golden, fruit of Laurelin, they named the Sun. But the Noldor named them also Rána, the Wayward, and Vása, the Heart of Fire, that awakens and consumes; for the Sun was set as a sign for the awakening of Men and the waning of the Elves, but the Moon cherishes their memory.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! Instead of continuing on the tale of the Wars of Beleriand, Tolkien takes a step back this week and gives us some worldbuilding. We are prepping for the coming of Man, and this chapter paves the way for that to happen.
The chapter opens by returning us to Valinor and the council of Valar as they try to discern a course of action in the wake of the death of Telperion and Laurelin (the Trees of Valinor).
Yavanna goes to the trees, mourning their passing until she realizes that “Telperion bore at last upon a leafless bough one great flower of silver, and Laurelin a single fruit of gold.“
Manwë then hallowed them, and Aulë made a vessel to hold and protect them and their light. These vessels were to “become lamps of heaven,” so the Valar “gave them power to traverse the lower regions of Ilmen.” Ilmen is their word for the sky or the heavens (specifically, Tolkien called it “The region above the air where the stars are” in the name index).
The Valar did so to bring light back to Middle-earth, but also because “Manwë knew also that the hour of the coming of Men was neigh.” Since the Valar went to war with Melkor over the Quendi, they decided that they must then do something for the subsequent children of Ilùvatar. Men were to be mortal, whereas the Elves were not, so as a gift to them, these “lamps of heaven” were to become the Sun and the Moon, which we see in the opening quote of this essay.
We get two understandings from creating these two celestial bodies—the knowledge of mortality and the future sign of the Elves.
We know that Men are mortal, though, in Middle-earth, they had very long lives. But why would men be mortal when all other creatures are immortal (in Aman, beings can be killed at any time, Men are the only ones who have a definitive end to their life span)?
It’s the coming of time.
Before creating the Sun and the Moon, there was no absolute distinction of the passing of time. These started a day and an evening before Men even existed, thus establishing time benchmarks.
Men came into being knowing that there were absolutes, and where Tolkien doesn’t come out and say so (at least not yet), there is little coincidence here because Tolkien chose his wording very carefully.
It is also the first time we see “Earth” in the text instead of using Aman or Eà. I had heard somewhere that Tolkien’s main goal was to tie the history of Middle-earth into our own, so it would make sense that this is an origin story of mythological levels.
The second understanding we get here is the sign of the Elves. The Leaf of Telperion becomes the sign for the Moon or of Twilight. The Elves in Middle-earth prefer to live in Twilight, and we even see this in “The Lord of the Rings” with Arwen, also called Arwen Evenstar. Remember that Tolkien was a linguist, so knowing how we think about language, the phrase “Evening Star” could become the contraction of Evenstar.
The Evenstar is quintessentially recognizable because it’s the trinket that holds her essence, which she gives to Aragorn.
Peter Jackson took some liberties with the movie because here in the text of The Silmarillion; it’s told that the Evenstar, the sign of the Elves, is a “Flower of Silver.“
There is a certain melancholy associated with the Elves because “Evening, the time of the descent and resting of the Sun, was the hour of greatest light and joy in Aman.”
The Elves didn’t like the light; they preferred the Twilight, which could be why they called the land in Valinor “The Grey Havens.” It was not to indicate depression, but of a final blessing, the last light to be with the Valar in Valinor where they are meant to be. The Grey Havens are almost a moniker for Heaven. The phrasing is so close that it’s hard to refute.
But it was also during this time that Heaven became challenging to attain. The Valar became concerned for Valinor because of Morgoth’s wrath. He settled into his rage, and the Valar finally came to realize that Morgoth was intractable; thus, they created a barrier around Aman:
“But in the Calacirya they set strong towers and many sentinels, and at its issue upon the plains of Valmar a host was encamped, so that neither bird nor beast nor elf nor man, nor any creature beside that dwelt in Middle-earth, could pass that leaguer.“
Thus the creed of Mandos we saw two chapters ago became true:
“Thus it was that as Mandos foretold to them in Araman the Blessed Realm was shut against the Noldor; and many messengers that in after days sailed into the West none came ever to Valinor – save one only: the mightiest mariner of song.“
So how does Fëanor take this? Does he get along with the new children of Ilùvatar, Men?
Find out next week in “Of Men.”
“And when the building of Menegroth was achieved, and there was peace in the realm of Thingol and Melian, the Naugrim yet came ever and anon over the mountains and went in traffic about the lands; but they went seldom to the Falas, for they hated the sound of the sea and feared to look upon it. To Beleriand there came no other rumour or tidings of the world without.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we take a step back from the Noldor and look at their Kin, the Sindar, who remained in Beleriand and forsook the light of Valinor. We also get a look at a brand new race, only glanced over in previous chapters.
This chapter looks to fill in the blanks from what transpired on Beleriand during the ages of Melkor on Valinor. In the first few sentences, Tolkien informs us of another famous legend of Middle-earth; a child of Eldar and Maiar. Next, we find that “at the end of the first age of Melkor… there came into the world Lùthien, the only child of Thingol and Melian.”
I don’t know much about Lùthien, but I know that she loved Beren and had such a well-known story; it’s even told during “The Lord of the Rings.” The good news is we won’t have to wait long because their tale is Chapter 19 in The Silmarillion.
This chapter goes back to the more complex language, as it’s more exposition than storytelling; however, I find it fascinating how many little details Tolkien inserts throughout the text. They are barely mentioned, but they give flavor to the world and take higher importance in “The Lord of the Rings.” For example:
“and there in the forest of Neldoreth Lùthien was born, and the white flowers of niphredil came forth to greet her as stars from the earth.”
The niphredil is a white flower that bloomed only in the moonlight with Lùthien’s birth, but they were also in Lothlorien during “The Fellowship of the Ring.”
These are the connections I was hoping to find in this project. They may be small and seemingly insignificant, but they bring together the world in such a way that makes it a cohesive history rather than just a series of tales. I’ll continue to point these little nuggets out as best as I can from my current understanding of the history of Middle-earth and its environs.
Back to the story:
“It came to pass during the second age of the captivity of Melkor that Dwarves came over the Blue Mountains of Ered Luin into Beleriand. Themselves they named Khazâd, but the Sindar called them Naugrim, the Stunted People, and Gonnhirrim, Masters of Stone.”
The Dwarves earned that name because they delved into the mountains, more specifically Ered Luin on the eastern side of Beleriand. There they built (or instead dug) their massive cities, Gabilgathol and Tumnunzahar, but the “Greatest of all the mansions of the Dwarves was Khazad-dûm, the Darrowdelf, Hadhodrond in the Elvish tongue, that was afterwards in the days of its darkness called Moria.”
If you are reading this essay, you know what Moria is and will be, as it’s central to The Fellowship of the Ring, but what’s noticeably absent is the animosity the Dwarves and Elves feel for each other. There is even a passage where Tolkien tells us: “but at that time those griefs that lay between them had not yet come to pass…”
The Dwarves were eager to learn the Elvish tongue, and even though the Naugrim (Dwarven) tongue was “cumbrous and unlovely.” the Elves learned it back as well.
They trafficked goods with each other and praised one another. Then, after years of this communion, Melian “councelled Thingol that the Peace of Arda would not last for ever.”
So Thingol sought council with the Dwarves, and they agreed to dig him out of a dwelling for protection against a possible incursion from Morgoth and his minions. They called this underground mansion Menegroth or the Thousand Caves.
They did it at the right time because “…ere long the evil creatures came even to Beleriand, over passes in the mountains, or up from the south through the dark forests.”
Of course, there are Orcs, but we also see new creatures, Wolves and Werewolves. Seeing these new and horrid creatures, the Dwarves made for the Elves armor, which”surpassed the craftsmen of Nogrod, of whom Telchar the smith was greatest in renown.”
The Sindar drove off the creatures of darkness with the help of the “war-like” Dwarves. For a time, there was peace. Then, Denethor gathered the Elves who did not make the journey into Beleriand (no, not that Denethor. This is an Elf, Son of Lenwë, and a chieftain of nomadic/hunter-gather elves.) and brought to Menegroth.
During this gathering and goodwill, Morgoth and Ungoliant were busy fleeting Valinor and soon headed east to clash with King Thingol and the Thousand Caves. Orcs descended upon Menegroth in ferocity, and there was “fought the first battle in the Wars of Beleriand.“
The Elves were victorious, but so brutal and quickly spawning the Orcs were, that Melian had to use some of her Maiar powers and formed “the Girdle of Melian, that none thereafter could pass against her will or the will of King Thingol.” They were thus protected, but unfortunately, outside of the field, the creatures of Morgoth roamed free.
But across the seas, things were stirring. It was just after the Girdle of Melian was created that Fëanor and his host made their way to Beleriand.
Now we have three forces coming together, and thinking back on the “Questionable decisions” Fëanor made that forced his wife from him, I have to wonder if this firey elf caused the Wars of Beleriand. Could he be the reason the Dwarves and Elves dislike each other? Could he be the cause of the Wars of Beleriand altogether?
Next week, let’s find out in “Of the Sun and Moon and the Hiding of Valinor.”
I had some difficulty with this chapter because my time frame kept getting confused. That’s because Tolkien uses “ages” as a time sobriquet. This chapter had the “first age of Melkor’s chaining.” which is different from the “first age of the Valar” and even more different from “the first age of man” or the “First age of Èa.”
It takes a minute to dig down into what’s happening, but this is Tolkien’s definition of time. The way he wrote these histories they were short stories he framed (or rather his son, Christopher, did) into a larger spectrum. So for his brain to formulate the times, they were ages, and the events could happen within those ages. We haven’t gotten to the language or time of Tolkien, but both of those will need individual essays.
I anticipated releasing the conclusion of Lurker at the Threshold today, but due to a WordPress blip, half of the essay was gone when I logged on this morning. So that essay will be coming to you next week while I re-write it, followed by an essay on some final thoughts of H.P. Lovecraft. What I want to spend the rest of this update doing is letting you know what’s coming after that!
Blind Read Series:
I’m going to transition directly from H.P. Lovecraft to J.R.R. Tolkien (I didn’t think there were enough initials in my titles!). I read The Hobbit as a child and loved it, but when I started to read The Lord of the Rings, I was stuck at Tom Bombadil. I eventually read that massive tome in three sections, but I’ve always been interested in Tolkien’s lost tales and histories. I know many people are, but the text itself is daunting, so I intent on continuing the Blind Read series and reading, analyzing, demystifying, and connecting all of Tolkien’s side tales and histories of Middle Earth. In three weeks from today I’ll release the first section of the Silmarillion!
The weather is cooling and the spooky season is coming. I intend to write a number of short shorts (somewhere in the ballpark of 1000 words) to release periodically in the fall months. These are going to be similar to the Universal Monster shorts I did last year, but Halloween will be the connecting factor this year. This is a call back to all those terribly awesome 80’s horror/schlock films such as The Monster Squad, Fright Night, and Hocus Pocus (I know, I know, that one is the 90’s). So come join me for some kinda, maybe not so scary fun!
Elsie Jones Adventures:
Get ready for a new look of Elsie Jones! I’ve been passively looking for a new Illustrator to take over the series, but this fall I’ll continue in earnest. Get ready for a new authors edition of Elsie Jones and the Book Pirates, and a cleaner Elsie Jones and the Captain’s Guard. Twelve of the 15 books are written, so I anticipate a good release schedule! If you’re curious you can purchase any of the first three books here!
Currently in it’s fourth edit. This is my adventure novel I finished last October. Think if Dan Brown partnered with Indiana Jones this is what you’d get! I’ve always loved the intrigue and the adventure of following the clues to discover and uncover a mystery! Inspired by the incredible Oak Island (research it if you don’t know about it). I’m hoping to have this published in some fashion in 2022.
The Monster in the Woods:
This is the first book in my Revolution Cycle. I’ve been stewing on this series for 20 years or so, and I’m finally getting it to where I want it. I’ve already written two novels that’s I’ve been unhappy with and consider exploratory novels into the world, but I’ve been spending quite a bit of time outlining everything that will go into this 10 book series. The first book is very heavily inspired by The Goonies (I’m catching a 80’s inspiration thread here), but the larger story is told with the backdrop of impending war, and how the group from the first book will deal with it. The Monster in the Woods is a Heist/Gooniesesque adventure, with a few twists along the way.
That’s all for now, with much more on the way!
“In the spring of 1847, the little village of Ruralville was thrown into a state of excitement by the landing of a strange Brig is the harbour. It carried no flag, and no name was painted on its side, and everything about it was such as would excite suspicion. It was from Tripoli, Africa, and the captain was named Manuel Ruello. The Excitement increased, however; when John Griggs, (The magnate of the village) suddenly disappeared from his home. This was the night of October 4th – On October 5th the Brig left.“
Welcome to another Blind Read! This week we work to find the threads which link the Mystery of the Graveyard and The Mysterious Ship to Lovecraft’s larger works, all the while uncovering the enigma of his mind and…potentially…how the mythos came into being. Both of these stories have their beginnings firmly in the dime and nickel novels of the time, pulling from their pulpy plots and over the top protagonists.
“The Mystery of the Graveyard” also goes by the alternate title “A Dead Man’s Revenge” and has remarkable plot twists for the length of the story. Agatha Christie could have had a run for her money if Lovecraft made the turn towards mystery instead of the darker pivot towards horror. He even has a hero detective protagonist to rival Hercule Poirot in King John.
The story begins with the funeral of Joseph Burns. Burns gave some very strange and specific requirements during his funeral. He asked the rector, Mr. Dobson, “Before you put my body in the the tomb, drop this ball onto the floor, at a spot marked ‘A.‘” Dobson goes down to the tomb and does so, but never returns. The mystery follows. The second chapter begins as Dobson’s daughter gets a letter from a mysterious Mr. Bell insisting he knows where her father is and extends a demand of a ransom to get him back. Flustered, she goes to the police and asks for King John who is “a famous western detective.”
The story runs around and around as King John strives to find Bell and figure out the mystery of where the rector went until, finally, he finds that the “A” in the tomb is a trap door that activates with pressure. Dobson fell into a sub-tomb and was hidden away there until he finally escaped. After the trial it was found that all along it was a revenge plot against the rector because Joseph Burns and his brother Francis Burns had a vendetta and hired Mr. Bell to trap and hold Dobson.
The story is told in twelve very short chapters…so short that in fact they are each only a few sentences long and every chapter has a title letting the reader know what to expect. This also strikes me as Lovecraft’s way of structuring his thoughts. When we look forward to other works like “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” as a long example and my more recently reviewed “The Thing on the Doorstep” as a shorter example, Lovecraft has a certain structure in his writing in which is easier to elucidate with these stories. In both “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” and “The Thing on the Doorstep” Lovecraft breaks his writing up into chapters, but instead of having a single narrative flow, those chapters are almost single distinct stories in and of themselves. For example in both stories the first chapter is about the protagonist of the story (other than the narrator of course). It gives the reader the background and the perspective of the (supposed) “hero” of the story. The second chapter of these stories gives background to the antagonist (Curwen in “Ward” and Asenath in “Doorstep”), then each subsequent chapter has an event which drives the narrative forward. “The Mystery of the Grave-Yard” is the same type of structure, though Lovecraft breaks this down even further, presumably so he can keep the narration on track…a common tool for very young, or beginning writers. Notice how he begins the plotting the same way (Chapter 1 is about the main focal point of the story, Dobson, and chapter two introduces Bell, the main antagonist), and then has each chapter surrounds an individual event. In his later years he does a better job at painting a bigger, more lush picture by expounding on detail and experience. Tone and atmosphere are what Lovecraft is missing in his Juvenilia, but it’s what he perfects later in life and makes him the legend of horror and supernatural that he is. This point is proven even more when we move onto the next story, “The Mysterious Ship.”
This second short is told two different times in the collection I have (I’ve actually gone through a number of different collections, starting off with the Del Rey books. Where the artwork in those books are excellent, the collections themselves aren’t that great. Language was changed and in the process, meaning seems to have changed. I’m currently working of the most recent Barnes and Noble edition which seems to be far superior), the first is an earlier shorter edition and the second is a more fleshed out atmospheric piece, where each chapter is just a few sentences longer and gives a clearer understanding and better atmosphere than the shorter one before it. These two vignettes give a better glimpse of the growth of the writer than nearly anything else I’ve seen. Lovecraft is devoid of the pomposity of literature of someone like Pynchon because Lovecraft’s first love was adventure. He wanted to tell stories that were weird and fun and wild, which led to his unique “serious, but pulpy” tales. He chose his archaic and complex writing style to compliment the wild stories he wanted to tell, not the other way around. It may seem like a small distinction, but it’s an important one.
Back to the adventure! The second story follows the titular ship which you can see in a little bit of detail in the opening quote to this essay (which is in fact the opening chapter of the longer version). It’s about a ship which journeys around and kidnaps people. The Captain and crew are eventually caught and the purloined victims are returned, bringing the story to a nice ending all tied up in a bow. The tale doesn’t have much in the way of satisfaction, but it does show Lovecraft’s love for adventure.
Between the two of these stories you can see the natural divergence of the path in which Lovecraft took. We have the standard horror or cosmic horror element with the Mystery of the Grave-Yard, in that atmosphere and the darker places he normalizes as just standard backdrops for the story…complete with sneaky plotters and nefarious acts. Then we have the adventurous bend we take with The Mysterious Ship, which feels like the beginnings of the dreams lands and such stories as “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.” These tales aren’t so much focused on the horror elements as they are on the adventurous journeys the protagonists (well really just Randolph Carter) take.
I kept these Juvenilia for the end because I wanted to have something to call back on while discussing them, and I can’t say how glad I am that I did. To be able to see the growth is tremendous and its always fun to see how a writer that I’ve become this involved in began.
Next week we dive into the last story Lovecraft wrote on his own. It means this series is rapidly coming to an end, but we still have a bunch of the stories which August Derleth wrote with Lovecraft’s notes and I plan on ending this series with Lovecraft’s essay on Horror.
Join me next week as we view the “Shadow out of Time.”
“But at this time it was all horribly real, and nothing can ever efface the memory of those nighted crypts, those titan arcades, and those half-formed shapes of hell that strode gigantically in silence holding half-eaten things whose still surviving portions screamed for mercy or laughed with madness.”
Wow, what a wild ride this story was. This was probably the scariest and most classic horror of any H.P. Lovecraft that I’ve read up to date.
As the story begins we are introduced to detective Thomas F. Malone who is on extended medical leave for trauma. The first portion of the story describes how he’s living and dealing with this trauma, of which we are still ignorant.
The second portion of the story covers Red Hook. We get a call back to HE, as there is a similar tenement structure our narrator experienced there. This story also takes place in New York, which is absolutely unique for Lovecraft. It does not hold the same atmosphere as much of his work, but from the start of this story the tone has a much darker and sinister feel. The basis in New York gives Lovecraft the ability to explore different themes than the usual fantasy/cosmic horror that he frames in New England.
The third portion of the story is the introduction to Malone’s quarry, Robert Suydam. “Suydam was a lettered recluse of an ancient Dutch family,” and he purchased a space in the run down, twisting alleyways of Red Hook. After a strange trip to Europe, Suydam began to deteriorate. His personal hygiene took a hit, he lost friends, and “When he spoke it was to babble of unlimited powers almost within his grasp, and to repeat with knowing leers such mystical words or names as ‘Sephiroth’, ‘Ashmodai’ and Samael’.” And there it is. We have three demons from the Kabbalah and Christian religions. The text has gone beyond the normal Lovecraft, no longer in the world of the cosmic horror. We are no longer in the dreamlands (though there is a little bit of dream stuff to come), we have now crossed over into religious horror. To me this raised my hackles. I find this subject matter far more terrifying that anything I have yet come by within Lovecraft’s oeuvre.
The fourth section of the story delves into the police work. Trying to uncover just what strange dealings that Suydam has been up to. They raid his home, which is empty, and they come across blasphemous art work and things that Malone simply “did not like”. They also found an inscription:
O friend and companion of night, thou who rejoices in the baying of dogs and spilt blood, who wanderest in the midst of shades among the tombs, who longest for blood and bringest terror to mortals, Gorgo, Mormo, thousand-faced moon, look favourably on our sacrifices!
I had no idea what this meant. Though obviously a atmospheric quote, I believed it had deeper meaning. Lovecraft infuses lots of Greek mythology and heritage within his work. There is a certain amount of admiration he obviously felt for the culture and the artwork. He loves the idea of marble structures and busts and even includes some of that iconography in this story as well. So when I came across this quote, it was no surprise to me that it was about Hecate, the Greek Goddess of the underworld, ghosts, and magic. This story was not going to deal with cosmic horror, it was going to deal with something closer to home. It was about Hell.
The next short section of the story tells of a journey Suydam takes across the sea, where he dies. He instructs that his body be conveyed to the bearer of the note provided.
Then we move into the Horror. Malone goes to Red Hook and investigates, noticing a melee. He goes to allay the fight and finds strange sounds and smells while all the participants of the battle flee. Malone suspects something nefarious behind a large door, so he takes a stool and breaks the door open, “whence poured a howling tumult of ice-cold wind with all the stenches of the bottomless pit, and whence reached a sucking force not of earth or heaven, which, coiling sentiently about the paralysed detective, dragged him through the aperture and down unmeasured spaces filled with whispers and wails, and gusts of mocking laughter.“
Malone is sucked into Hell. He experiences some truly horrific scenes, perfect for any fan of this type of fiction, and much more evocative than anything I’ve experienced from Lovecraft. We see Suydam giving himself over to a demon, finally getting what he was after, and becoming one with hell.
The final section explains how the mysterious group brought Suydam’s body back to that experience and how Malone could hear that same refrain from some “hag” speaking to young children about Hecate. The knowledge of the fate of Suydam and that whatever devious magic caused it is still alive and well in Red Hook is what truly throws Malone over the edge.
When I think of Lovecraft I don’t generally think “disturbing”, but I have to say that this one was up there. That penultimate chapter covering Malone’s experiences in Hell were truly unsettling.
What do you think?