Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of The Rings of Power and the Third Age, part 1
“But Sauron gathered into his hands all the remaining Rings of Power; and he dealt them out to the other peoples of Middle-earth, hoping thus to bring under his sway all those that desired secret power beyond the measure of their kind. Seven rings he gave to the Dwarves; but to Men he gave nine, for Men proved in this matter as in others the readiest to his will.“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we start the last chapter of The Silmarillion and learn how the events of The Lord of the Rings came to be.
Tolkien begins this chapter by describing Sauron himself. Sauron was a Maia, one of the servants of the Valar, and just a half step down in power from them. Melkor seduced Sauron with his power and led him to serve the Dark Lord, but when Melkor was defeated, he begged forgiveness. Then, when it was clear that no quarter would come, he “hid himself in Middle-earth; and he fell back into evil, for the bonds that Morgoth had laid upon him were very strong.”
I contend that Sauron is much more evil than Morgoth (Melkor) because Melkor’s goal wasn’t ultimate power; instead, his story falls much more in line with Lucifer Lightbringer, who was an angel but pride made him feel slighted, which created his fall. Sauron chose evil from the beginning. There was never anything in him that tried to be or do good; his entire existence was about deception and power.
This whole chapter is basically about Sauron and his influence on how he corrupted the Rings of Power to gain control over the people of Middle-earth and what those people did to fight against him.
Tolkien tells us the land beneath Ossiriand on the eastern side of what was once Beleriand was re-formed by the surging of rivers and shifting of the ground. The region is now called Lindon, where many Elves settled to live.
Those that didn’t live there posted up in a region to the west of Khazad-dûm named Eregion. “In Eregion the craftsmen of the Gwaith-i-Mírdain, the People of the Jewel-smiths, surpassed in cunning all that have ever wrought, save only Fëanor himself; and indeed greatest in skill among them was Celebrimbor, son of Curufin, who was estranged from his father and remained in Nargothrond when Celegorm and Curufin were driven forth, as is told in the Quenta Silmarillion.“
Meanwhile, Sauron was growing in power and steering clear of Lindon. In fact, “elsewhere the Elves received him gladly, and few among them hearkened to the messengers from Lindon bidding them beware; for Sauron took himself a name of Annatar, the Lord of Gifts, and they had much profit from his friendship.”
Much like the Númenóreans, these Noldor of Eregion had their pride get in the way. They let Annatar give them advice on how to create, how to live, and how to rule. They even “refused to return into the West, and they desired to stay in Middle-earth.”
“In those days the smiths of Ost-in-Edhil surpassed all that they had contrived before; and they took thought, and they made Rings of Power.” Moreover, they did so under Sauron’s guidance, taking his advice in the Rings’ creation.
The Elves created many of these Rings, “but secretly Sauron made One Ring to rule all others, and their power was bound up with it, to be subject wholly to it and to last only so long as it too should last.” I think anyone who is reading this has heard of this Ring before. The One Ring allowed Sauron to rule and influence the decisions of those who wore the lesser rings.
But the Elves immediately understood their gaff: “As soon as Sauron set the One Ring upon his finger they were aware of him; and they knew him, and perceived that he would be master of them, and all they wrought.”
The Elves took off their rings and hid them away, but Sauron could feel them, and in his great wrath, he waged war against the Elves to take the rings back, “But the Elves fled from him; and three of their rings they saved, and bore them away, and hid them.“
They saved the rings of the greatest power, Narya, Nenya, and Vilya.
Narya was called the Ring of Fire and inlaid with a Ruby. Nenya was called the Ring of Water and inlaid with adamant, and Vilya was called the Ring of Air and inlaid with a sapphire.
The rings could “ward off the decays of time and postpone the weariness of the world.” But they were kept secret and not worn while Sauron wore the One Ring. “Therefore, the Three remained unsullied, for they were forged by Celebrimbor alone, and the hand of Sauron had never touched them.”
However, Sauron never gave up his quest for power over the rings and battled against the Noldor incessantly. During this time, “Eregion was laid to waste, and Celebrimbor slain, and the doors of Moria were shut. (Celebrimbor sealed the gates of Moria using Mithril and Elven magic. These are the gates we see the fellowship open in “The Fellowship of the Rings” by speaking the Elvish word for Friend).”
Because Sauron was raging so hard against the Elves, Elrond founded Rivendell as a sanctuary, as a way to rally against Sauron. It is here we get the opening quote to this essay.
The Rings given to the Dwarves were of Gold, matching their heart’s greed. These golden rings kindled the evil of profits in their hearts and they hoarded Gold, “but all these hoards long ago were plundered, and the Dragons devoured them.“
Men took nine of the rings, which gave them eternal life, “yet life became unendurable to them.” Then eventually, “they could see things in worlds invisible to mortal men; but too often they beheld only the phantoms and delusions of Sauron.“
The nine men who held the Rings fell into thralldom to Sauron, “And they became for ever invisible save to him that wore the Ruling Ring, and they entered into the realm of shadows. The Nazgûl were they, the Ringwraiths, the Enemy’s most terrible servants; darkness went with them, and they cried with the voices of death.“
Join me next week for a breakdown of Episode 6 of The Rings of Power before we jump back into the next section, “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age!”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Akallabêth, part 2
“In this Age, as is elsewhere told, Sauron arose again in Middle-earth, and grew, and turned back to the evil in which he was nurtured by Morgoth, becoming mighty in his service. Already in the days of Tar-Minastir, the eleventh King of Númenor, he had fortified the land of Mordor and had built there the Tower of Barad-Dûr, and thereafter he strove ever for dominion of Middle-earth, to become a king over all kings and as a god unto Men.“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we continue the story of Númenór and watch as they create cancer within themselves, eventually leading to their demise.
We left off last time with the Númenóreans hitting landfall in Middle-earth, so they could hold to their word that they would not sail East towards Valinor.
The people of Middle-earth “sat under the Shadow were now grown weak and fearful,” but the Númenóreans taught them to farm and trained them “in the hewing of wood and the shaping of stone.“
This enabled the people of Middle-earth to forget their ancestor’s transgressions and shed Morgoth’s taint. They revered the Númenóreans because of this and took them as godlike kings.
This power went to their heads. “And they said among themselves: ‘Why do the Lords of the West sit there in peace unending, while we must die and go we know not whither, leaving our home and all that we have made? And the Eldar die not, even those that rebelled against the Lords. And since we have mastered all seas, and no water is so wild or wide that our ships cannot overcome it, why should we not go to Avallónë and greet our friends?‘”
The sentiment of Hubris is central to the Númenórean downfall and the wars which would follow in the Second and Third ages. The Dúnedain thought themselves so great and powerful that they allowed their demise. There is a very close parallel with the Romans in the Númenórean storyline, and I have to wonder if Tolkien didn’t model their rise and fall after that ancient empire. We’ll touch on that more later.
Some heavy theology follows the above quote, which spans pages. It is Tolkien’s search for meaning between the godlike and the mortal. There is quite a bit of documentation that Tolkien eventually meant for these histories to progress into later ages, which would become our history, almost like alternate history and mythology to the real Earth. Because of this, we see this Theology in the struggle of suffering. Why do Men have to suffer and die when the Elves and Valar live eternally? These are surrogate Angels of our world, with Ilúvatar being God.
They go back and forth, showing the youth and entitlement the Númenóreans felt. Why shouldn’t they get to see Valinor and become undying like the rest? But the Valar argued with them, telling them they were given their own gifts; they were not allowed to have the gifts of the Valar and the Eldar.
The Númenóreans all believed this, so it wasn’t until Tar-Atanamir (King of the Dúnedain) that their quest for eternal life saw its first downfalls (which they were blind to) because “Atanamir lived to a great age, clinging to his life beyond the end of all joy; and he was the first of the Númenóreans to do this, refusing to depart until he was witless and unmanned.”
The curse they would keep was this obtuseness of desire. Instead, they would cling to power and life to the detriment of all else.
It was during this age that they built significant structures on the mainland. Many of the Númenóreans reveled in the worship they received from the men of Middle-earth, “and the power and majesty of their kings were increased; and they drank, and they feasted, and they clad themselves in silver and gold.”
Reading this passage, I couldn’t help but think of Denethor and his disgusting eating habits while Merry sang his lamentations.
But the Númenóreans had more power and prestige than Denethor, and it enabled Sauron to gain his own power. So it’s here in the book that we get this essay’s opening quote.
There are some confusing and contradictory passages here which I probably need to read a few more times to understand completely. Still, it seems as though Sauron was around and in the land building power and creating Mordor, and during the Númenórean King Tar-Minastir’s reign, he created the One Ring. It was a partnership between Tar-Minastir and Gil-Galad, the Elven King, which stopped his ascension to power. I hope to see what that struggle looks like in the last chapter of The Silmarillion, “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age.”
His fear and hatred of them grew through his exposure to the Númenóreans. “Yet Sauron was ever guileful, and it is said that among those whom he ensnared with the Nine Rings three were great lords of the Númenórean race. And when the Úlairi arose that were the Ring-wraiths, his servants, and the strength of his terror and mastery over Men had grown exceedingly great, he began to assail the strong places of the Númenóreans upon the shores of the sea.”
Because of this struggle against Sauron and their own Hubris, the Númenóreans continued their segregation from the Eldar and Valar. It was years and numerous Kings later when they stopped taking Elvish names and stopped tending the White Tree. They didn’t strike out against the Eldar but punished those of their ranks who sympathized with the Eldar. The Valar saw this, and they “gave them counsel and protection no more in their wroth.”
Tolkien does something exciting here. It’s the telling of the rise and fall of civilization over age, but he tells it so simply that it feels like one event after another leading to their eventual fall. But these events are slow-moving, and little things happen during the reign of each of the Númenórean great Kings. Of course, Sauron was around in Middle-earth during this time. Still, his influence was slight, mainly because of the impact of Gil-Galad, but also because he was interested in building up his great fortress, much like his Valar master, Morgoth.
There was no nail in the coffin for the Númenóreans, which makes this history so believable. Great empires can withstand a single significant event. What they cannot resist is years of degradation from the inside. The Númenórean pride and hatred lead them down a path of righteous death.
These people lived hundreds of years, and we’re up to the 24th King of Númenór, and we haven’t even gotten to the linchpin event, which caused the eventual downfall. Tolkien is taking his time, creating an environment within Númenór that will allow this linchpin event to happen.
So join me next time when we see what that event is as we continue on the story of Akallabêth!
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