Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Book of Lost Tales, pt 1, The Flight of the Noldoli
“Now tells the tale that as the Solosimpi wept and the Gods scoured all the plain of Valinor or sat despondent neath the ruined Trees a great age passed and it was one of gloom, and during that time the Gnome-folk suffered the very greatest evils and all the unkindliness of the world beset them. For some marched endlessly along that shore until Eldamar was dim and forgotten far behind, and wilder grew the ways and more impassable as it trended to the North, but the fleet coasted beside them not far out to sea and the shore-farers might often see them dimly in the gloom, for they fared but slowly in those sluggish waves (pg 166).”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we delve into Tolkien’s storytelling process and understand why he wrote the book and where he wanted it to go.
We left off last week with the Darkening of Valinor and the betrayal of Melkor. As soon as we start this chapter, we find that Tolkien intended this chapter to be part of the events of The Darkening of Valinor. Christopher edited this into a separate chapter because he knew where the narrative would eventually lead.
“There is no break in Lindo’s narrative, which continues on in the same hastily-pencilled form (and near this point passes to another similar notebook, clearly with no break in composition), but I have thought it convenient to introduce a new chapter, or a new ‘Tale’, here, again taking the title from the cover of the book (pg 164).”
Christopher segregated this chapter because, as it’s written, it’s missing some of the weight that goes into the betrayal and exile of the Noldor Elves.
The Book of Lost Tales tells the story of Valinor and the Valar, but the story at the core of The Silmarillion is about the Elves. They were the ones who created humanity and life in the world. Where the Valar did the act of making the world with their song, the Eldar (and later on Humans) created culture and meaning, which gave Middle-earth purpose.
In his development of The Book of Lost Tales (only called this because that’s what Christopher called it), Tolkien wanted to understand what these Angels were like; what their personalities were, how they treated each other, and how they treated the “Children.”
I’m not convinced that these books (The Book of Lost Tales, Vol 1 and 2) were ever meant to see the light of day, especially since Christopher admits that the material comes from notebooks and scrap paper, but what is impressive about them is that we get to see the development of the world from the ground up.
Tolkien was a plotter and wanted his mythology (his fairy tale) to be as complete as possible. So he worked for years (first putting pen to paper during his time in the trenches of the Great War), making sure that this Magnum Opus was precisely how he wanted it.
When it comes to this chapter, Tolkien came to realize that the Noldor was not severe enough. The fact that Melkor stole some gems and then was made to return some of them was not enough. The fact that Melkor killed Fëanor’s father, the first death of an Eldar ever, was not enough. He needed the Eldar to have their arc unique from the Valar and much more interesting than the Valar because stories where gods are the centerpiece just aren’t as interesting. Tolkien himself knew this, and that’s why his two “novels” (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) had simple people as the main protagonists. Life and art are just more enjoyable when you have to overcome obstacles.
So Tolkien took a look at his early flight of the Noldor and made a note:
“At the top of the manuscript page and fairly clearly referring to Fëanor’s words my father wrote: ‘Increase the element of the desire for the Silmarils’. Another note refers to the section of the narrative that begins here and says that it ‘wants a lot of revision: the [?thirst ?lust] for jewels – especially for the sacred Silmarils – wants emphasizing. And the all-important battle of Cópas Alqaluntë where the Gnomes slew the Solosimpi must be inserted (pg 169).'”
Cópas Alqaluntë is the core of why Christopher separated this chapter. The Noldor killing their kin to steal their boats to seek vengeance from Melkor doesn’t hit as hard if it is part of the story of the Darkening of Valinor.
Tolkien needed to create a new chapter and new motivations (which he did in The Silmarillion) to make their actions more impactful. This singular act creates a rift between the Eldar and the Valar, and Fëanor’s never-ending rage drives the narrative for the remainder of the Age.
His firey and charismatic personality gave the Noldori Elves something to rally behind, and the fact that he created the Silmarils himself (and that they held the light of the now-dead Trees of Valinor) raised the stakes much more.
Tolkien turned his thoughts bloody and created a visceral battle where the Noldor turned against their brethren in a brutal and bloody way, which was not present in this earlier version. This act is what damned the Noldor for the rest of time:
“Songs name that dwelling the Tents of Murmuring, for there arose much lamentation and regret, and many blamed Fëanor bitterly, as indeed was just, yet few deserted the host for they suspected that there was no welcome ever again for them back to Valinor – and this some few who sought to return indeed found, though this entereth not into this tale (pg 168).”
Join me next week as we delve into “The Tale of the Sun and the Moon.”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Book of Lost Tales, part 1, The Darkening of Valinor
“Now Melko having despoiled the Noldoli and brought sorrow and confusion into the realm of Valinor through less of that hoard than aforetime, having now conceived a darker and deeper plan of aggrandisement; therefore seeing the lust of Ungwë’s eyes he offers her all that hoard, saving only the three Silmarils, if she will abet him in his new design (pg 152).”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we’re going to dive into the philosophy of Tolkien’s world through the events of The Darkening of Valinor.
We’ve discussed it before, but Tolkien relied heavily on his Christian background while creating this mythology. He wanted something new and unique for England, and as we know, mythologies are all origin stories.
The people of Middle-earth (Elves, Men, Dwarves, etc.) are all iterations of our evolution, and it shows from the beginning of The Book of Lost Tales that Tolkien intended for Middle-earth to be a precursor to Earth (he even calls it Eä in the Silmarillion).
Because this is mythology, Tolkien brings his version of the afterlife and the angels he introduces to the world. Melkor, who is Tolkien’s version of Satan, is ostracized for stealing the Eldar gems and Silmarils. Cast out of Heaven as it were:
“Now these great advocates moved the council with their words, so that in the end it is Manwë’s doom that word he sent back to Melko rejecting him and his words and outlawing him and all his followers from Valinor for ever (pg 148).”
But it was still during this period that Melkor was mischievous, but he had not transitioned to evil yet, even after being cast out of Valinor. So instead, he spent his time trying to create chaos using his subversive words:
“In sooth it is a matter for great wonder, the subtle cunning of Melko – for in those wild words who shall say that there lurked not a sting of the minutest truth, nor fail to marvel seeing the very words of Melko pouring from Fëanor his foe, who knew not nor remembered whence was the fountain of these thoughts; yet perchance the [?outmost] origin of these sad things was before Melko himself, and such things must be – and the mystery of the jealousy of Elves and Men is an unsolved riddle, one of the sorrows at the world’s dim roots (pg 151).”
The great deceiver has been created out of jealousy and anger for these beings of Middle-earth, believing that they were given more than their fair share and his own acts were ruined from the beginning of the Music of the Ainur.
But what did the Elves do? Was there anything they received that made anything Melkor did excusable?
“And at the same hour riders were sent to Kôr and to Sirnúmen summoning the Elves, for it was guessed that this matter touched them near (pg 147).”
It was nothing that they did, but the fact that the Valar treated them as equals to the Valar and Melkor’s slights against them weren’t considered pranks he felt they were, so his anger grew.
They were also allowed to be near their loved ones even after death. Elves were given the gift of immortality but can still be killed by disease or blade. But where do their spirits go when they die? Remember that this is a Christian-centric mythology, so Tolkien built an afterlife.
Called Vê after the Valar who created it, the afterlife on Middle-earth is contained within and around Valinor. This early conception (nearly cut entirely from The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings) was that Vê was a separate area of Valinor, slightly above and below it but still present, almost like a spirit world that contained the consciousness of the dead.
This region was all about, and the Eldar cannot commune with their deceased, but they continue to live close to them, and their spirit remains in Valinor.
“Silpion is gleaming in that hour, and ere it wanes the first lament for the dead that was heard in Valinor rises from that rocky vale, for Fëanor laments the death of Bruithwir; and many Gnomes beside find that the spirits of their dead have winged their way to Vê (pg 146).”
Melkor is jealous that the Elves can be so close to their dead ancestors, but he also doesn’t fully comprehend what being dead means because he is a Valar and eternal. He sees these beings going off to a different portion of Valinor and is upset because he thought he found a way to create distress amongst them by killing one of them. He doesn’t realize that he made a fire in the Eldar that would never wane.
“‘Yea, but who shall give us back the joyous heart without which works of lovliness and magic cannot be? – and Bruithwir is dead, and my heart also (pg 149).'”
Melkor schemed and stewed in his frustration and anger, feeling that even with his theft and his killing of Fëanor’s father, the first death of an Eldar (whom Tolkien was still calling Gnomes in this early version), there was nothing he could do to prove his worth, so his worth turned to evil. His music was dissonant and didn’t follow the themes of the other Valar, and he was looked down upon for that and cast aside. He pulled pranks that caused the other Valar to imprison him. All the while, his anger, and distrust grew until he did the ultimate act, which caused his to turn to true evil: He partnered with Ungoliant (the giant spider queen and mother of Shelob) and killed Silpion and Laurelin, the Trees which gave light to Valinor.
“Thus was it that unmarked Melko and the Spider of Night reached the roots of Laurelin, and Melko summoning his godlike might thrust a sword into its beauteous stock, and the firey radiance that spouted forth assuredly had consumed him even as it did his sword, had not Gloomweaver (Ungoliant) cast herself down and lapped it thirstily, plying even her lips to the wound in the tree’s bark and sucking away it’s life and strength (pg 153).”
Melkor had finally become evil. He had turned against the Valar and what brought the world light and gave that power to evil creatures.
The Valar and Eldar cried out against Melkor for being cruel, but the tragedy of Melkor’s story was that he never had a choice.
Early in the mythology of this world, Tolkien tells us that Ilúvatar had a theme and a story for eternity, which the Valar were not privy to. Instead, they thought their music and their acts were meant to create only beauty and love.
Ilúvatar, however, knew that to have true meaning, there must be pain, conflict, and evil. Otherwise, all the world’s good would disappear and become mundane. So Ilúvatar created Melkor, knowing what he was going to become. He made Melkor evil in the world.
Melkor was born to suffer. Melkor was born never to know love. Melkor was created to become a creature that others could be tricked into feeling sorry for, and thus trade the light of the Valar for the Darkness of the Dark Lord.
Join me next week as we cover “The Flight off the Noldoli!”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Book of Lost Tales, part 1, The Theft of Melko
“Listen then, O Eriol, if thou wouldst [know] how it came that the loveliness of Valinor was abated, or the Elves might ever be constrained to leave the shores of Eldamar. It may well be that you know already that Melko dwelt in Valmar as a servant in the house of Tulkas in those days of the joy of the Eldalië; there did he nurse his hatred of the Gods, and his consuming jealousy of the Eldar, but it was his lust for the beauty of the gems for all his feigned indifference that in the end overbore his patience and caused him to design deep and evilly (pg 140).”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we kick off the events which changed the face of Eä and how those events changed from the original writings to the publication of The Silmarillion.
This chapter, more than anything before, indeed shows how Tolkien’s ideas shifted over time. The designs of Melkor and Sauron are so interwoven in this early work that the distinction between them when he finally got to writing about the later ages must have been muddled.
There are many instances in this chapter where Melkor is subversive, getting the Elves to believe in him and forsake the Valar. Melkor did some of this later in The Silmarillion, but most of his actions were facilitated out of anger and jealousy. Melkor is Tolkien’s iteration of Lucifer, the fallen angel who once desired to do positive things, whereas Sauron is evil when his visage hits the page.
In the beginning, Melkor was one of the Valar. He was around before the world was created, and indeed, it was through the music of the Valar (called Ainur) that the world was created. Melkor was disparaged early on because his music was discordant and didn’t match up with the music of the other Valar. His anger grew like a young child playing off-key in a band. The other Valar were upset with him because their music had themes, and with Melkor creating the music the way he was, the themes had strange off notes, making unintended things.
You may have heard the phrase: “There are older and fouler things than Orcs in the deep places of the world.” These “fouler things” were created from this discordant music as the world was being made. Thus, they are deep within the world, almost Cthulhu-godlike creatures born into the depths of the world, undescribed but horrible to behold.
Because of this mistake, The Valar treated Melkor differently. Then when the Eldar awoke, he perceived them as being favored over himself, so he folded in on his own conscious and acted out of hate and jealousy.
Sauron, on the other hand, was Melkor’s servant (Maiar), and it is possible that Sauron saw what was happening to Melkor and decided to fight against the world because of the treatment his master and Dark Lord received. However, he wasn’t written that way. Instead, Sauron wanted to rule the world from the moment he was created and was very subversive in his tactics.
In this chapter, Tolkien blends the two different personalities. First, Melkor tries to get into Fëanor’s head and turn him against the Valar and the other Noldor; however, in The Silmarillion, Fëanor is too clever, and Melkor attempts to corrupt Fëanor causes the Eldar to hate The Dark Lord eternally. In The Book of Lost Tales, Melkor ends up with different motivations entirely:
“At length so great became his care that he took counsel with Fëanor, and even with Inwë and Ellu Melemno (who then led the Solosimpi), and took their rede that Manwë himself be told the dark ways of Melko (pg 141).”
Melkor assists Fëanor in creating the Silmarils, much like Sauron helped Celebrimbor create the Rings of Power.
Tolkien doesn’t specifically call this out as a motivation for stealing the gems back; in fact, they seem to be an afterthought:
“With his own hand indeed he slew Bruithwir father of Fëanor, and bursting into that rocky house that he defended laid hands upon those most glorious gems, even the Silmarils, shut in a casket of ivory (pg 145).”
Melkor was after the gems because he wanted to take the Eldar’s possessions and knew they considered their jewels highly valuable.
The Silmarils themselves were still of high quality because they came from the starlight of Aulë’s forge, but in the writing of this chapter, it feels as though they were an afterthought for Tolkien.
Christopher (Tolkien’s son and editor) contends that Melkor is only there to steal the gems, and it wasn’t until later iterations of the story that the Silmarils became more critical.
Thinking like a writer, Tolkien always intended to have the Silmarils be necessary, but not because an Elf made them (or Gnome in this early version). I think his intent in the Book of Lost Tales was to have the Silmarils be so crucial because of the influence of the Valar. Still, as he progressed in history, he realized that it was the Eldar’s story, not the Valar’s, so he adjusted it to have Fëanor be of an original heritage (he became Finwë’s son instead of the unknown Bruithwir) and make the world-breaking Silmarils.
Later, when he had beings of a short life (Men and Hobbits), and everyday events played a much more critical role in their life, he adjusted the story to have Sauron be involved in creating the Rings of Power. It is a different story, and there are other stakes, not to mention that Sauron is a Maiar, not a Valar; thus, his power level isn’t as complete. The gods might not come down from the heavens to take care of someone lesser than them, where Melkor was one of their own and thus their responsibility.
While reading this book, you must remember that it was never meant to be published. Christopher Tolkien compiled the Book of Lost Tales from notebooks and scraps of paper. It was the Silmarillion that Tolkien himself meant to publish. Christopher published The Book of Lost Tales for the same reason I’m writing a blog about it; people who love Lord of the Rings might want to know the evolution of the story to what it eventually became.
Join me next week as we take a break from the Book of Lost Tales! I will give an update on current and future projects and cover some very exciting things to come!
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Book of Lost Tales part 1, The Making of Kôr
“Now therefore do the God bid the Elves build a dwelling, and Aulëaided them in that, but Ulmo fares back to the Lonely Island, and lo! it stands now upon a pillar of rock upon the seas’ floor, and Ossë fares about it in a foam of business anchoring all the scattered islands of his domain fast to the ocean-bed (pg 121).”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we get a more significant image of who the Elves, and each clan of Elves, were.
The first thing we have to cover is the making of Kôr:
“Behold there is a low place in that ring of mountains that guards Valinor, and there the shining of the Trees steals through from the plain beyond and guilds the dark waters of the bay of Arvalin, but a great beach of finest sand, golden in the blaze of Laurelin, white in the light of Silpion, runs inland there, where in the trouble of the ancient seas a shadowy arm of water had groped in toward Valinor, but now there is only a slender water fringed with white.At the head of this long creek there stands a lonely hill which gazes at the loftier mountains…Here was the place that those fair Elves bethought them to dwell, and the Gods named that hill Kôr by reason of its roundness and it’s smoothness (pg 122).”
This soft hill became the home of the Noldori Elves and the Teleri Elves. But, unfortunately, the only group that wanted to live in a new space were the Solosimpi Elves, the favorite of Ulmo the sea Valar. So the Solosimpi stayed out on Tol Eressëa, a place that “is held neither of the Outer lands or of the Great Lands where Men after roamed (pg 125).”
The Solosimpi became the favorite of Ulmo because they decided to stay away from Valinor. He taught them music and sea lore and lived in general harmony. They lived in the caves by the sea in connection with all other living creatures of the land. Valinor, at the time, had very few creatures (primarily sprites and fae), so the Solosimpi were better equipped to deal with strife because they could see the circle of life in motion. They could see creatures being hunted and killed so that others could live. They had worldly wisdom.
They also came to love birds for their beauty, simplicity, and grace. Ossë (Ulmo’s fellow water Valar, who in The Silmarillion became a Maiar), wanted to stoke this love, but he also didn’t like the Solosimpi to be estranged from their kin; “For lo! there Teleri and Noldoli complain much to Manwë of the separation of the Solosimpi, and the Gods desire them to be drawn to Valinor; but Ulmo cannot yet think of any device save by help of Ossë and the Oarni, and will not be humbled to this (pg 124).”
Yet again, we see Ulmo’s jealousy. The reason for the change in character between this book and The Silmarillion must be the change from the lesser Valar being siblings and children of the Valar to becoming a Maiar. This Sea-change of the power dynamics was twofold; 1. to make it a more straightforward narrative and include fewer names (which anyone who read The Silmarillion would attest to), and 2. To make the motivations of the Valar more clear. Melkor is the one who is supposed to be jealous and to take out that jealousy on the Eldar, not the other Valar. If they held these same jealousies, then both the Valar would be diminished, and Melkor wouldn’t be as much of a “Dark Lord” because others with his power level feel the same way.
Still, it is interesting to see that the transition, and the reality, of the concept of anger and jealousy in The Book of Lost Tales is much more feasible than in The Silmarillion. Somehow the events in this book make the Valar, just that much more relatable.
Going back to the quote above, Ulmo was not to be outdone by any other Valar, so he facilitated “the first hewing of trees that was done in the world outside of Valinor (pg 124).”
He partnered with Aulë, and together they “sawn wood of pine and oak make great vessels like to the bodies of swans, and these he covers with the bark of silver birches, or…with gathered feathers of the oily plumage of Ossë’s birds. (pg 124)”
Remember that the Solosimpi were in the later versions of the Teleri Elves, so this is the first iteration of the Lothlórien “Swan Shaped Barge,” which we also briefly glimpse Galadriel on in The Lord of the Rings.
The Noldor seemed to be flourishing on their island, and with the assistance of the Valar, each tribe seemed to specialize in different practices. Unfortunately, this eventually ended the Golden Age of the Eldar in Tol Eressëa (Kôr).
“Then arose Fëanor of the Noldoli and fared to the Solosimpi and begged a great pearl, and he got moreover an urn full of the most luminous phosphor-light gathered of foam in dark places, and with these he came home, and he took all the other gems and did gather their glint by the light of white lamps and silver candles, and he took the sheen of pearls and the faint half-colours of opals, and he [bathed?] them in phosphorescence and the radient dew of Silpion, and but a single tiny drop of the light of Laurelin did he let fall therein, and giving all those magic lights a body to dwell in of such perfect glass as he alone could make nor even Aulë compass, so great was the slender dexterity of the fingers of Fëanor, he made a jewel… Then he made two more…he those jewels he called Silmarilli (pg 128).”
Fëanor, in this early iteration, is just an unnamed Noldor, not Finwë’s direct lineage, but he still creates the Silmarils, which starts all the events of the First Age in motion.
There is very little said about Fëanor in this version. In the Silmarillion, he is prideful and firey (in fact, that is what his name implies in the language of the Eldar). Still, here it is just one of a race who is excellent at crafting and can infuse the light of the Trees of Valinor (Think the first magic contained in the land. Early and Old magic, potentially stronger than anything that comes after) into these pearls.
Join me next week as we see if there are differences in how Morgoth tries to steal these Silmarils in “The Theft of Melko!”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Book of Lost Tales, part 1, The Coming of the Elves
“There was a stir among the distant trees and words were spoken suddenly, and feet went to and fro. Then did I say what is this deed that Palúrien my mother has wrought in secret, and I sought her out and questioned her, and she answered: ‘This is no work of mine, but the hand of one far greater did this. Ilúvatar hath awakened his children at the last – ride home to Valinor and tell the Gods that the Eldar have come indeed (pg 114)!'”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we mark the entrance of the Eldar into Beleriand and Valinor, which also signifies a dramatic shift in the lives of the Valar.
The introduction of the Elves in these early works is a bit of a departure from The Silmarillion. Tolkien wrote this chapter with Valar filled with enthusiasm with their newfound “children.” They ran about Valinor cheering and crying out in joy. Oromë even interrupts Varda creating the Seven Stars from Aulë”s forge as he “shouts aloud so that all the ears in Valmar may hear him: ‘Tulielto! Tulielto! They have come – they have come (pg 114)!'”
This sounding call is echoed by many of the other Valar until they work themselves into a frenzy and end up doing something foolish. “Great joy blindeth even the forewisdom of the Gods (pg 114).”
Tolkien is referring to Manwë releasing Melkor from Angaino “before the full time of his doom (pg 114),” though he still kept Tilkal (his fetters or manacles) on his wrists and ankles. In fact, in this telling, the Tilkal stayed on him forever as a reminder of the ages he spent in bondage because of the trickery of the Valar. Manwë releases him because it’s such and event, and such a celebration that even Melkor should be involved. If this seems impetuous and over the top, it absolutely is.
Tolkien understood this and downplayed this excitement in The Silmarillion, though part still exists. The strange twist is that the only Valar who is not excited about the Eldar’s arrival in The Book of Lost Tales is Ulmo. It took me a little introspection to see what Tolkien was trying to sublimate, and it goes back to one of the quotes above. The Valar were blinded by their excitement, making them ignore their “forewisdom” in more than one sense.
In The Silmarillion, Ulmo was the Valar who was said to love the Eldar more than any other, and it was strange to me that he went against the will of those Valar to have the Eldar come to Valinor.
But why were the Eldar so happy that the Eldar had come? “and it was not until that hour that the Gods knew that their joy had contained a flaw, or that they had waited in hunger for it’s completion, but now they knew that the world had been an empty place beset with loneliness having no children for her own (pg 114).”
It wasn’t until the world was populated that the Valar realized the point of their existence. It was about creating a world for these other beings to exist. But unfortunately, they were so hung up on how their projects were progressing and angered at Morgoth for (Melkor) interrupting or ruining those projects that they didn’t realize that the world they had created didn’t have a soul. The coming of the Eldar made that soul in the world.
So why did Ulmo act against them? Because he understood this fundamental tenant because he helped create them. The Eldar were Ilúvatar’s children, but they were born next to “Koivië-néni or the Waters of Awakening (pg 115).” Remember that Ulmo is the Vala of the seas and water, and, in The Fellowship of the Ring, when the horses form in the river that wipe out the Dark Riders following the Hobbits and Aragorn, they were a creation of Ulmo and an indication of his interfering in the lives of the people of Middle-earth. Glorfindel says a prayer to Ulmo in that scene (which was changed to Arwen in the movie), and Ulmo helps them to Rivendell.
Ulmo immediately connects with the Eldar because of his association with them through the Koivië-néni (or Cuiviénen in The Silmarillion). Ulmo knows that exposing the Eldar directly to the immense knowledge of the Valar is a mistake that could, and does, end up having far-reaching issues later on in history. Ulmo believes the Eldar should live in the world and have their own life experiences rather than be involved with gods (or angels).
But Ulmo is outvoted, and three Eldar come in a procession to Valinor, one from each tribe, and we get this loaded paragraph:
“Great was the stir and wonder now about the waters of Koivië, and its end was that three of the Eldar came forward daraing to go with Nornorë, and these he bore now back to Valinor, and their names as the Elves of Kôr have handed them on were Isil Inwë, and Finwë Nólemë who was Turondo’s father, and Tinwë Lintö father of Tinúviel – but the Noldoli call them Inwithiel, Golfinweg, and Tinwelint. Afterward they became very great among the Eldar, and the Teleri were those who followed Isil, but his kindred and descendants are that royal folk of the Inwir of whose blood I am. Nolemë was lord of the Noldoli, and of his son Turondo (or Turgon as they called him) are great tales told, but Tinwë abode not long with his people, and yet ’tis said lives still lord of the scattered Elves of Hisilómë, dancing in its twilight places with Wendelin his spouse, a sprite come long long ago from the quiet gardens of Lórien; yet greatest of all the Elves did Isil Inwë become, and folk reverence his mighty name to this day (pgs 115-116).”
I’m sure you don’t recognize many of those names because Tolkien changed them around (and I suspect they changed which tribe would be which in their ultimate storyline). Isil Inwë later became Ingwë, the lord of the Vanyar, Finwë stayed Finwë lord of the Noldor, but Turgon moved from son to grandson (with the notorious Fëanor, creator of the Silmarils, in the middle). Tinwë Linto became Thingol, and Wendelin moved from a Sprite to the Maiar Melian.
The Eldar who went to Valinor were Ingwë, Finwë, and Elwë (Thingol), as spokespeople for the Eldar. They were met with great fanfare, but the omen of great strife began on that first visit to Valinor. Where Melkor “often did he lie to the Noldoli afterwards when he would stir their restlessness, adding beside all truth that he alone had withstood the general voice and spoken for the freedom of the Elves (pg 177).”
Join me next week as we see where the Elves go next with “The Making of Kôr.”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Return of the King
“‘I am with you at present,” said Gandalf, “but soon I shall not be. I am not coming to the Shire. You must settle its affairs yourselves; that is what you have been trained for. Do you not yet understand? My time is over: it is no longer my task to set things to rights, nor to help folk to do so. And as for you, my dear friends, you will need no help. You are grown up now. Grown indeed very high; among the great you are, and I have no longer any fear at all for any of you.'”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week will be the last of the “not quite blind” reads for Tolkien as we discuss The Return of the King before heading back into The Book of Lost Tales.
To begin, I want to reiterate that if you have not read these books yet, purchase this one first and read the appendices before you go back and read The Fellowship of the Ring. The Lord of the Rings is so much better when you have the history of the Legendarium under your belt, and the appendices give enough of this information to get a basic understanding of what happened in The Silmarillion.
To that point, The Dúnedain was a concept I had a challenging time with when I first read them. Why did Tolkien spend so much time discussing their armor, and what was the Star of Eärendil on their forehead?
I didn’t realize before reading The Silmarillion that Eärendil was Elros’ and Elrond’s father. He saved the world in the First Age by sailing to Valinor and getting the Valar to assist in the war against Morgoth.
That voyage was such a big deal because it was against the will of the Valar for a human to sail to Valinor (Eärendil was half-elven, but you get the point). Eärendil knew he would die, but he also knew that it would save the world, so he sacrificed himself for the betterment of the people of Beleriand (I.E. Middle-earth of the First Age).
For his bravery, the Valar made him immortal, and he would sail across the cosmos in his ship for the rest of eternity. Hence the Star of Eärendil guided the Dùnedain on their helmets (Tolkien brings up the helmets and the signet many times, especially before battles).
So why does the Dùnedain get the star and no one else? The book described them as Rangers like Aragorn, first introduced as Stryder. Who are these guys?
They are the living descendants of the Númenoreans.
Elros and Elrond chose to be Human or Eldar because they were both Half-elven (remember their parents were Half-elven). Elrond chose to be Eldar, but Elros chose to be human. Because he had the Eldar blood in his veins (the people who cannot die, but by battle or disease), the humans of his line were blessed with a much longer life. They also had the blessing of the Valar, which extended their lives even further, and this group became the Númenoreans.
They thrived and ruled humanity for many years from their island kingdom, but eventually, there was a split, made into a chasm thanks to Sauron. The faithful Númenoreans eventually became the Dùnedain, and the “Black Númenoreans” either died off or became part of Sauron’s cadre.
Sauron’s Luitenant (or The Mouth of Sauron), whom we see at the Battle of Morannon (The Battle at the Black Gate), is one of the Black Númenoreans who fell for Sauron’s lies and followed him into Mordor.
Much of this information is lost if you don’t read The Silmarillion or the Appendix at the end of The Return of the King.
But why read the book when the movies are so spectacular? Because you won’t get the end of this book, The Scouring of the Shire.
Saruman escapes from Orthanc and wanders the roads as a defeated man, or at least we are made to think this. Instead, we find out he orchestrated a greedy Hobbit to take over the Shire and employ “guards” who were goblins and ruffians Saruman controlled. These guards then took over the Shire entirely at the end of the book. It isn’t until our four Hobbits head back to the Shire and discover this that they become even larger heroes.
This event is the first time in all the books that the Hobbits take on enemies and fight them head-on without help. All of their experiences leading up to this make them able to be self-sufficient beings, even in the face of such a ruthless character as Saruman. The metaphor here is that they are finally grown, no longer children now that they are back from war, and aren’t putting up with anyone’s crap.
I hated this when I read it years ago, but there is a bit of poetic justice in it, as it brings these characters full circle.
The Hobbits are the ones who kill Wormtongue. Saurman throws Grima under the bus for the last time, and Wormtongue takes his knife and cuts Saruman’s throat, only to be shot to death with arrows by the Hobbits.
It seems a fitting end, The death of Saruman. But the fact that Saruman is an Istari, and once he “died,” he turned to mist, which gave me pause. We have seen this before. Saruman is not actually dead.
There are two different reasons for this. The first is Saurman is an Istari, which means he is a Maiar, one step down from the immortal Valar. Maiar are also eternal. Gandalf is a Maiar; and he died earlier in Fellowship of the Ring, only to be resurrected in The Two Towers. However, his memory was hazy on who he was before because his (their?) proper form is not the man we see walking around, but a god-like wizard from Valinor sent at the beginning of the Third Age to help fight against Sauron.
If Gandalf can come back, then it stands to reason that Saurman can also come back.
The second reason I’m sure Saruman will be back is that Sauron is a Maiar as well. In the Akallabeth (The second to last chapter about the Second Age in The Silmarillion), Sauron is killed during The Drowning of Númenór, but he becomes a mist and travels back to Mirkwood forest. This half-death is precisely how Sarumon’s death is described at the end of the Scouring of the Shire.
But does that mean that Sauron will also return because he is Maiar? Unfortunately (unfortunate for us because of the stories, fortunate for the people of Middle-earth!), no, and that’s because of J.K. Rowling.
No, not really, but she did seem to get an idea for Voldemort out of Tolkien. Sauron’s bodily form was defeated at the end of the Second Age when Isildur cut the One Ring from his hand. He was defeated because, to create the One Ring, he had to infuse all of his power into the Ring. Most of his life essence went into the One Ring when he created it. Yep, you guessed it, the One Ring is Sauron’s Horcrux.
When Gollum falls into the lava of Mount Doom with the Ring and destroys it, Gollum, in essence, destroys Sauron. So now, who’s the real hero?
Join me next week as we begin the next chapter of The Book of Lost Tales, “The Chaining of Melkor!”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Book of Lost Tales, Part 1, Religion of Valinor
“So fair were these abodes and so great the brilliance of the trees of Valinor that Vefántur and Fui his wife of tears might not endure to stay there long, but fared away for to the northward of those regions, where beneath the roots of the most cold and northerly of the Mountains of Valinor, that rise here again almost to their height nigh Arvalin, they begged Aulë to delve them a hall. Wherefore, that all the Gods might be housed to thier liking, he did so, and they and all their shadowy folk aided him. Very vast were those caravans that they made stretching even down under the Shadowy Seas, and they are full of gloom and filled with echoes, and all that deep abode is known to Gods and Elves as Mandos.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we conclude the chapter “The Coming of the Valar and the Building of Valinor” with a philosophical conclusion.
I’ve been trying not to spend too much time reviewing the events of the chapter as I go through because that would make these essays neverending and redundant, so the point is to show a much deeper and more analytic approach to Tolkien’s work.
That being said, what I love about this chapter, more so than anything in The Valaquenta (The Second Chapter of the Silmarillion covering these events) is that Tolkien was leaning into his religion. Because these stories are supposed to be a founding mythology for our world, Tolkien created a semi-Christian theology in these early chapters.
The first clue was that he calls the Valar gods (small g) throughout this book; however, he conspicuously dropped that moniker in the Silmarillion, choosing to have them be “beings of great power.”
The adjustment of the Valar might seem like a slight change, but it shows how Tolkien wanted to shape the world’s religions, just like he shaped the landscape and the language.
The Valar take a step down from being gods and become something more akin to Angels. They know what is happening in Middle-earth, and in fact, they foretell it through their music, but rarely do they interject with their power, preferring the people of Middle-earth to deal with their troubles on their own. Ulmo was the only Valar who interposed himself, and that’s because he was the Vala of water, so he was always in some way amongst the residents of that land.
There is also Melkor, who plays a much more sinister role in The Book of Lost Tales. Melkor in The Silmarillion (the later version of history) begins as an almost sympathetic character. He is one of the Valar who feels slighted by what he was given, as opposed to what the other Vala were given. Then when Ilùvatar’s children come around (Eldar and Men), he becomes jealous, which leads to his downfall. Yes, there are times early in the book when Melkor does mischievous deeds, but that’s just what they are. It isn’t until much later, once he joins forces with Ungoliant, the giant spider queen (and mother of Shelob), kills the Trees of Valinor, and steals the Silmarils, that he genuinely becomes evil.
But why does he become evil? Because he stays in his fortress in Angband and stews on his perceived (or real) slights against him. Those years upon years of hate compounding on each other until he can see the truth.
Melkor is Lucifer, which is why Tolkien wanted to change the Valar completely from gods to Angels. He tried to adjust his Christian theological worldview and overlay it with Middle-earth. That is not to say the goal was to make Middle-earth Christian, far from it, but his impetus for writing this Legendarium was that (in his opinion) no fantastic fairy tales came from England. On the other hand, England was a Christian country at the time of his writing, so it made sense that if he wanted to transition Middle-earth into our earth at a later age, he would have some similarities with the prevailing theology of the land at the time.
The concept of religion is even more profound when you read the quote which starts this essay.
Tolkien is trying to establish an afterlife here, but how does he do that with eternal gods and Elves which don’t die? By creating the halls of Mandos where two Valar live, Vefántur and Fui. These two were the rulers of the afterlife.
Vefántur created an underground world for the Eldar, “Thither in after days fared Elves of all clans who were by illhap slain with weapons or did die of grief for those who were slain (pg 76).” This place was “lit only with a single vessel placed in the centre, wherein there lay some gleaming drops of the pale dew of Silpion (pg 76).”
It is immediately apparent to me that Tolkien chose to use the tree of Valinor, which represents the silver light, or the moon, indicating that this was the twilight for the Elves that had passed. This place was an afterlife for brave and true Elves who fought for the right causes. Because Elves can only die when slain, Vê became a literal heaven for these Elves.
But if we have a heaven, then we must have a Hell:
“Thither cam sons of Men to hear their doom, and thither are they brought by all the multitude of ills that Melko’s evil music set within the world. Slaughters and fires, hungers and mishaps, diseases and blows dealt in the dark, cruelty and bitter cold anguish and thier own folly bring them here; and Fui reads their hearts. Some then she keeps in Mandos beneath the mountains and some she drives forth beyon dthe hills and Melko seizes them and bears them to Angamandi, or the Hells of Iron, where they have evil days (pg 77).”
Fui created purgatory for those who had done wrong, but she could read their hearts and see if they were genuinely horrible or just made bad choices. Those who were truly bad, with malevolent spirits, were sent to spend eternity in Angband with Melkor. At this early stage, Angband had not become what it later was (Morgoth’s fortress). Here, in this early iteration, Melkor has become the devil again and keeps the souls of the maleficent banded in the Hells of Iron.
Join me next week as we review The Return of the King!
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Book of Lost Tales, Part 1, The Coming of the Valar
“In this dimness the Gods stalked North and South and could see little; indeed in the deepest of these regions they found great cold and solitude and the rule of Melko already fortified in strength; but Melko and his servants were delving in the North, fashioning the grim halls of Utumna, for he had no thought to dwell amongst the others, howso he might feign peace and friendship for the time (pg 69).”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we move forward in the Book of Lost Tales and start on the third chapter, “The Coming of the Valar and the Building of Valinor.”
This chapter has three distinct cut points, so we’ll divide that up into three separate essays. The first will be about the entrance of the Valar into the tale and the theory behind Valinor, the second will be about the lamps of Valinor and the Vala dwellings, and the final will be about some new material we haven’t seen before.
We pick back up with Eriol, the human traveler, speaking with Rúmil, the storyteller of Tol Eressëa. Eriol asks Rúmil, “I would still hear many things of the earliest deeds within its borders (Valinor); of the labours of the Valar I would know, and the great beings of most ancient days (pg 64).”
Rúmil regales Eriol with the names, purpose, and works of the Valar throughout this chapter, and it’s not an easy read. However, the first few chapters of the Silmarillion and The Book of Lost Tales are about the beginning of time, and they frame everything that comes after.
This chapter is so tricky because Tolkien goes for pages upon pages and describes the various Valar. Still, once we begin to get into the stories of the Eldar, which comprise the majority of The Silmarillion, the Valar don’t play much of a part.
In the Book of Lost Tales, Tolkien spends more time describing the various Vala and their roles. Some of their names change slightly between when the writing of this book (remember that The Book of Lost Tales is an amalgamation of editions edited by Christopher. In the appendices for this chapter, Christopher even mentions that he collected and put together the best story he could from notebooks and even scraps of paper his father used for notes.), and the publication of The Silmarillion.
In later works, Tolkien had differing power levels for the Valar, almost like rankings. The Aratar (Exalted Ones) were the most powerful of the group in this iteration, who comprised most of the Valar, whom Tolkien calls gods during the Book of Lost Tales, but we’ll discuss this more in a moment. Many Valar had children considered lesser Vala, and Tolkien eventually formed the title Fëanturi for them. There was also a third ranking of these gods in Valinor, whom Tolkien later got rid of entirely, which were very similar in every aspect of the Eldar, except in conception:
“About them fared a great host who are sprites of trees and woods, of dale and forest and mountain-side, or those that sing amid the grass at morning and chant among the standing corn at eve. These are the Nermir and the Tavari, Nandini and Orossi, brownies, fays, pixies, leprawns, and what else are they not called, for thier number is very great: yet must they not be confused with the Eldar, for they were born before the world and are older than its oldest, and are not of it, but laugh at it much, for they not somewhat to do with its making, so that it is for the most part a play for them (pg 66).”
Tolkien later eliminated the fae and streamlined the Valar by re-facing lesser Vala (Lórien and Mandos) as the Fëanturi, Sindarin for “Masters of Spirits,” no longer children of the Aratar. He decided that the Valar would no longer be gods because Ilúvatar was the one God, and the Valar were his servants, who had free will to use their music to create and adjust life on Eä. The conception took the Valar from gods to angels, and the angels of the lesser degree were the Maiar, better known as the servants of the Valar. The best-known Maiar are Sauron, a servant of Melkor (also known as Morgoth), and the Istari, the wizards. You may know them as Gandalf, Radagast, and Saruman.
Tolkien’s primary objective was to create a fantasy world that would eventually become our world in later epochs. He studied mythology and fairy tales his entire life and felt as though England didn’t have appropriate myths. The most famous tale at the time as a mythology for England was The Faerie Queen, and obviously, this is where Tolkien started.
I believe that over time he wanted to distance himself from Edmund Spencer (also, from everything I’ve read, I don’t get the feeling he liked The Faerie Queen that much), so getting rid of the fae was always going to happen, but he didn’t get rid of them entirely. If we dig down into the quote above and remove specific verbiage: “for they were born before the world and are older than its oldest, and are not of it, but laugh at it much… (pg 66),” it brings to mind a specific character.
In The Fellowship of the Ring, we are introduced to Tom Bombadil, “the oldest being of Middle-earth, ” constantly laughing and merrymaking. The Council of Elrond even considers giving him the One Ring for safekeeping but decides against it because he is so old that the Ring’s power would be boring to him. Tolkien filtered down the fae creatures in The Book of Lost Tales to Tom Bombadil in later works. He wanted to keep the concept of a fae creature, but he also needed to distance himself from what came before so that he might have a complete mythology.
So now we have the fourteen Valar (eight in the Silmarillion), but we still don’t know anything about their home. So come back next week for the second section of “The Coming of the Valar and the Building of Valinor!”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Two Towers, Re-read
“‘All right!’ he said, ‘Say no more! You have taken no harm, There is no lie in your eyes, as I had feared. But he did not speak long with you. A fool, but an honest fool, you remain, Peregrin Took. Wiser ones might have done worse in such a pass. But mark this! You have been saved, and all your friends too, mainly by good fortune, as it is called. You cannot count on it a second time. If he had questioned you, then and there, almost certainly you would have told all that you know, to the ruin of us all. But he was too eager. But come! I forgive you. Be comforted! Things have not turned out as evilly as they might.'”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we’re back with a bit of a lie, this isn’t quite a Blind Read, but it’s been so long since I’ve read these books it might as well have been!
Before we discuss the books, I want to start by saying how amazed I am at how close the Movies were to the books. After reading them more critically, it is obvious how much the producers revered the core material. The ability to create a new medium that was inclusive of all who did not read the books but to be honest enough to the core material that hardcore fans love is a masterstroke in adaptation.
The only significant difference the movies had was in Fellowship because they took out the entire Tom Bombadil sequence (rightly so). Still, even then, I’ve seen deleted scenes where the hobbits get swallowed up by Old Willow. We’ll cover the differences in The Two Towers below, but we also dive more into the world’s lore.
The first thing I’d like to mention is Treebeard and the Ents. The movie played up his slowness and mistrust, and where many lines are taken directly from the text, Treebeard was not very slow to action speaking of page count. Yes, he does suspect Merry and Pippin of being Orcs at first, but he quickly decides they aren’t. He then calls the council of Ents, and within a few pages, they choose to mount an attack on Orthanc. Again, the movie drew it out for drama, but the book had these events happening quickly.
However, the biggest oddity I noticed in the book was a seeming discrepancy between The Silmarillion and The Two Towers. When speaking of his race, Treebeard (also known as Fangorn) says the Elves created Ents. However, later in the book Gandalf (also known as Mithrandir, but more on that later) tells the remaining Fellowship that Fangorn is the oldest living creature on Middle-earth (remember that Elves, Vala, Maiar, and even Dwarves were created on Valinor). Tom Bombadil verifies this statement in The Fellowship of the Ring. I stopped and thought about this before I could move on because I know that Tolkien re-wrote much of the history and was still in his re-writes while writing The Lord of the Rings, but was there a discrepancy this bold?
I decided to go back and do some digging to figure it out.
Returning to The Silmarillion, I verified that Yavanna (the Vala who was the “lover of all things that grew in the earth”) created Ents as part of her music theme. Part of her reason for doing so was because of other creations, such as the Dwarves (who were created but kept at rest for many years). Yavanna feared the trees themselves would not have a means of protecting themselves against the push of other creatures’ industrial nature (something that echoes Tolkien himself), so she made the Ents to be shepherds and protectors of the trees and forests. Tolkien even had an early iteration where he called them Tree Ents because the word Ent was derived from the Old English word Eoten, meaning Giant, so they were Tree Giants meant to protect. Tolkien seeds this in The Fellowship of the Ring when Samwise relays a story from his cousin Hal, who saw a “treelike giant” north of the shire. This anecdote was Tolkien’s way of seeding their entrance into the books.
So we know that Yavanna created the Ents – why then does Treebeard say that they were a creation of the Elves? Looking back at the text, one can see where I went wrong. The Ents and Entwives were creatures of the earth, and where they were sentient, they couldn’t communicate with other animals. They were meant solely to be of and for nature, so Treebeard says that the Elves taught them to speak Elvish and opened their minds to interact with other sentient creatures. The Elves brought the Ents to life; they didn’t create them.
I could go on and on about Ents and make it their own essay, but since this is about a re-read of The Two Towers, I want to dig into a few other short items.
The first is Gandalf. In The Fellowship of the Ring, he is of the gray order of the Istari (Maiar wizards), but because of his fall against the Balrog in that first book, he came back as an Istari of the White order, which is one of the most powerful, second only to the Black Order. This book teaches that the Istari are immortal like their masters, the Valar. Gandalf returned as a white-order Istari because of the power vacuum of Saruman, who abandoned his order for power. Saurman did not specifically side with Sauron (which we learn in The Silmarillion). Still, the Palantir corrupted him enough that he thought he could become the most powerful being in Middle-earth.
It isn’t until Gandalf returns that the party nearly ceases calling him by his common “gray” name, Gandalf. Instead, once he takes up the white mantle, most characters call him Mithrandir for the remainder of the series.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up what confused me the most when I read through the books before reading The Silmarillion—the Dúnedain and Aragorn’s lineage.
Throughout this book, there are constant references to Elendil and Eärendil, but I didn’t know who those people were other than they were Aragorn’s ancestors. Having that foreknowledge made the events and exposition of the story that much more lush and meaningful. It adds weight to Aragorn’s decisions and makes him a more dynamic character. Upon the first read, much of his character felt very one note and much more severe than was necessary. Still, after getting the history behind his lineage, one can genuinely feel the dynamics at play and the choices he must make as he forges his way to coming back to be King of the world of Men.
Come back next week as we continue “The Music of the Ainur” in the Book of Lost Tales!
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Book of Lost Tales, Part 1, The Music of the Ainur part 2
“Through him has pain and misery been made in the clash of overwhelming musics; and with confusion of sound and have cruelty, and ravening, and darkness, loathly mire and all putrescence of thought or thing, foul mists and violent flame, cold without mercy, been born, and death without hope. Yet is this through him and not by him; and he shall see, and ye all likewise, and even shall those beings, who must now dwell among his evil and endure through Melko misery and sorry, terror and wickedness, declare in the end that it redoundeth only to my great glory, and doth but make the theme more worth the hearing, Life more worth the living, and the World so much the more wonderful and marvellous, that of all the deeds of Ilùvatar it shall be called his mightiest and his loveliest (pg 55).”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we delve into the philosophy of Tolkien as we review “The Music of the Ainur,” the second chapter of The Book of Lost Tales.
Tolkien himself was a deeply religious and highly intellectual man. He surrounded himself with others of all opinions (see his writing group The Inklings, which included C.S. Lewis), and at the forefront of his mind was an anthropologic focus on the world. This curiosity of how the world works is what created the fantasy world we all respect so much.
This chapter, in particular, is about how Ilùvatar (God in this iteration) created the world through his Angels, which he named Valar.
Rúmil tells the story to Eriol and begins his tale by saying, “Before all things he sang into being the Ainur first, the greatest is thier power and glory of all his creatures within the world and without (pg 52).”
This passage marks Ilúvatar as a great creator. There is nothing closer to authentic Christianity than this first chapter, as it shows Ilúvatar’s great power and ability of forethought and humility.
Rúmil goes on, “Upon a time Ilúvatar propounded a mighty design of his heart to the Ainur, unfolding a history whose vastness and majesty had never been equalled by aught that he had related before, and the glory of it’s beginning and the splendour of its end amazed the Ainur, so that they bowed before Ilúvatar and were speechless (pg 53).”
Thus enters the theme of Predestination. Ilúvatar creates a concept that has a beginning and an end. But for such a grand creator, that is not satisfactory because there is no surprise in the world, no joy in watching the events of his grand scheme unfold. To counter this problem, Ilúvatar tells his Angels (they are interchangeably called Ainur and Valar), “It is my desire now that ye make a great and glorious music and a signing of this theme; and (seeing that I have taught you much and set brightly the Secret Fire within you) that ye exercise your minds and powers in adorning the theme to your own thoughts and devising (pg 53).”
Ilúvatar allows the Vala to create the middle of his great tale with their own “secret fire.” We learned in The Silmarillion (and to a lesser extent here) that the Vala all have their own minds, and they all have their passions. This is what the secret fire is, a passion for seeing something created, which is mirrored in Tolkien himself as he created the world of Middle-earth. That is not to say that Tolkien thought himself a god, or even to the level of the Valar, but he saw it as his duty to show that there was great beauty in the world. He wanted to elicit this emotion from people because of his experiences in the Great War. Let me explain:
“Yet sat Ilúvatar and hearkened till the music reached a depth of gloom and ugliness unimaginable; then did he smile sadly and raised his left hand, and immediatly, thoguh none clearly knew how, a new theme began among the clash, like and yet unlike the first, and it gathered power and sweetness (pg 54).”
This passage shows both the power and the weakness of the Valar, which in turn displays just how human they were. Which makes sense because we, as people, are the antecedents of the Angels. Humans are called Ilúvatar’s second children (after the Elves). The Valar wanted to create something with the same power as Ilúvatar, but they became despondent when things turned dark, and their grand theme became black with peril.
Indeed it was Melkor, later called the Dark Lord and master of Sauron, who saw this darkness and believed it was the only way to the end of the story.
“Mighty are the Ainur, and glorious, and among them is Melko the most powerful in knowledge (pg 54).”
Tolkien believed there was a balance to the world, making Predestination possible. Each Valar had their power or strength; Ulmo had control over water, Manwë had power over the air (The great eagles which bore Gandalf away from Orthanc and Frodo and Sam away from Mount Doom were agents of Manwë), and Aulë had control of the earth. But it was Melkor who had the greatest knowledge, and what Tolkien learned in World War I was that one could have a perception of darkness or a general concept of pain, but until you have the experience, you never really have knowledge of it.
Knowledge equals pain, which is a prime theme in Tolkien’s work. That may seem particularly depressing, but you cannot appreciate the most glorious mornings until you see the darkest of nights (this echoes in Sam’s speech at the end of The Two Towers. “They were holding on to something…”). Ilúvatar created Melkor to have the knowledge and sing about that knowledge which fostered despair in the world, but he could do nothing to change it. He became the Dark Lord because once the Children of Ilúvatar were created, they received gifts to experience the world’s joys and perils, whereas Melkor could only see troubles and darkness.
The Eldar were given long life and foresight that they would live to see the end of all time, which made them happier than humans. But to humans, Ilúvatar gave the gift of death.
Doesn’t it seem like much of a gift? Well, it harkens back to the question of knowledge. If you knew your time was short, you would live a more extraordinary life, a life filled with great pain and great joy, rather than being stuck in the middle and being “emotionless” as the Elves were.
This ability to have great highs and lows was specifically why Ilúvatar sang Melkor (also known as Morgoth) into existence. He knew what the Valar would do, but also knew it was necessary for a full experience of the world.
Come back next week for a recap and reread of “The Two Towers!”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Book of Lost Tales, Part 1, Chapter 2: The Music of the Ainur
“Then slept Eriol, and through his dreams there came a music thinner and more pure than any he heard before, and it was full of longing. Indeed it was as if pipes of silver or flutes of shape most slender-delicate uttered crystal notes and threadlike harmonies beneath the upon upon the lawns; and Eriol longed in his sleep for he knew not what (pg 46).”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we head back to The Book of Lost Tales and tackle Chapter Two’s opening, “The Music of the Ainur.” Christopher added something new to this chapter from the notes of this father and the result sheds light on the meaning of the chapter. When he began writing Eriol’s story, Tolkien created a transitional piece between the beginning of the story of the Ainur and The Cottage of Lost Play. We’ll be covering that transitional piece this week because there is so much in it that warrants discussion before we move on!
Before we get too far into it, I want to delve a little deeper into the difference between Gnomes and Elves, which has been a strange adjustment because I wasn’t sure if Tolkien was calling all Elves (otherwise known as Eldar) Gnomes or if it was only Noldor (also known as Noldori) Elves. Part of the confusion comes in because of all the different names involved.
Tolkien wanted the world to be lush and complete, but because of who he was and his background, Worldbuilding to Tolkien didn’t mean delving into culture, landscape, or image. Instead, to Tolkien, what made people unique was how they communicated, meaning language. Thus, the language and the beings who utilized this language changed through his world’s creation.
For example, the Teleri later become the Vanyar, The Noldoli (Gnomes) later become the Noldor, and the Solosimpi later become the Teleri. Why did he make all of these changes? Because of language.
The perfect example of this is what we began with: Gnomes. The word Gnomes brings to mind that small bearded garden variety with red pointy hats. I’m sure at some point in the writing of this epic; an editor approached Tolkien who mentioned that that word did not elicit that “They were a race high and beautiful… They were tall, fair of skin and grey-eyed, though their locks were dark, save in the golden house of Finrod (pg 44).” (just to be clear we are explicitly talking about the Gnomes or Noldor Elves. Christopher goes out of his way to make sure that is clear: “Thus these words describing characters of face and hair were written of the Noldor only, and not of all the Eldar… (Pg 44)“
So why did Tolkien call them Gnomes? Yep, you guessed it. Language! “I have sometimes used ‘Gnomes’ for Noldor and ‘Gnomish’ for Noldorin. This I did, for whatever Paracelsus may have thought (if indeed he invented the name) to some ‘Gnome’ will still suggest knowledge.”
In Greek, gnome meant thought or intelligence. Which then translated into words such as gnomic or gnostic. When Tolkien mentions Paracelsus, he refers to the 16th-century writer who used gnome as a synonym for pygmaeus, which means “earth-dweller.”
Tolkien was trying to establish that the Noldor were intelligent creatures who understood how the world worked. But he was also trying to create a distinction between the Noldor and the Valar. The two types of beings were almost interchangeable because they were both created by Ilúvatar.
At the beginning of this interlude, Eriol asks for clarification (Tolkien’s way of trying to clarify it himself): “Still there are many things that remain dark to me. Indeed I would fain to know who be these Valar; are they the Gods?” to which Lindo responds “So they be (pg 45).” And yet later, when describing gnomes, “nor might one say if he were fifty of ten thousand (pg 46).”
So he creates differences through the use of language. Both from the meaning of their names and the languages they speak. These themes also carry over into The Lord of the Rings because everyone has their distinct dialect, from Rohan to Gondor, from The High Elves of Rivendell to the woodland elves in Lothlórien. Here on Tol Eressëa, “there is that tongue to which the Noldoli cling yet – and aforetime the Teleri, the Solosimpi, and the Inwir had all their differences (pg 48).”
Language was a big theme in this introduction to make sure the reader understands what they are getting themselves into, but there are two other themes Tolkien stamps down, which carry over into all of his other writing; dreams and music.
All of these things are interconnected, and I chose the quote to open up this essay because it holds the essential themes Tolkien has brought into this tale.
If we remember from the first chapter (or go back and read it here), Eriol is a human of modern times. He travels and finds his way to Tol Eressëa, and he is a means to an end to tell the story of the beginning of time and the first age. What I find particularly interesting is that Tolkien intended there to be a “dream bridge” between Tol Eressëa and the rest of the world. So that outsiders could not find it while awake, and their knowledge of the isle would fade upon waking as dreams do; but dreams also leave us with subconscious memory, and feeling that stick with us, though we don’t remember details.
This intermittent chapter begins with Eriol heading to a room and falling asleep, and in that sleep, “came a music thinner and more pure than any he had heard before (pg 46).”
The Music of the Ainur, which we will get more into next week, is how the Valar (also known as Ainur) created the world. Their music brought into being plants, animals, and earth, as well as emotion and consciousness. This “pure music” is what Eriol hears in his mind as he sleeps. It is not the sound as it was when it created the world, but Tol Eressëa is so close to the center of everything that it echoes what came before. He hears the music of creation, and he doesn’t consciously recognize it, but he subconsciously melds into it.
I also find it interesting that he falls asleep and delves into dreams directly before being told the tale. Could it be that the entirety of The Book of Lost Tales is told through the Music of the Ainur while Eriol is sleeping?
Let’s see if we find out next week as we begin the Music of the Ainur!
Blind Read Through; The Fellowship of the Ring, revisited
“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken
The crownless again shall be king.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we take a nostalgic step backward and revisit an old classic, “The Fellowship of the Ring!” Though this is not quite a Blind Read, but it has been years since I’ve read these books. Years ago I remember reading them in preparation for watching the movies as they came out in the theater, so “some things that should not be forgotten, were lost” as it were.
I want to start this week by saying how much I missed when reading the books. They are jam-packed with history and I’m amazed at how well the novels were accepted at the time of publication because there is so much more you gain by reading the Silmarillion, which was published years after the original books were, and posthumously to boot. This time around the world seems so much more alive and complete than the first time because there is so much context present, just not explained. The world of Middle-earth is considerably more complex than the simple Hero’s Journey I had understood when I first read through it. But we’ll get into this in a minute.
In this essay, we’re only going to cover “The Fellowship of the Ring” as I’m going back through and re-reading the Lord of the Rings to gain a renewed experience after reading through the Silmarillion. Tolkien (according to his son and editor, Christopher) initially wanted to publish The Silmarillion in conjunction with The Lord of the Rings, and I can now understand why.
I remember reading the books some twenty years ago and being confused and turned off by the constant name-dropping and song, which didn’t make sense to me. I had no context to understand who Beren was, what Gondolin was, or why I should care about Eärendel. What I was missing was how full these details made the world of Middle-earth. There was a lush history beneath the surface, and I just hadn’t been privy to it to understand how that history created the world in which the characters lived. It truly makes all the difference.
The beginning of the novel has much the same charm as The Hobbit. It is evident that Tolkien had a much larger story in mind, but early on, the prose is more attuned to the “Children’s story” that was The Hobbit. It’s not until Tom Bombadil that that theme begins to change.
I remember hating Tom when I first read the books because, by his nature, he was always happy and highly overpowered. He and his wife dance around and make merry while some grave tidings are happening in the world, which is a significant call back to how Tolkien wrote The Hobbit. But the brilliance of this section of the book marks a change in the tone. Tom represents the last time in these books that the Hobbits needed rescuing when they don’t try to save themselves. In every other conflict in these books, after this point, the hobbits fight. Of course, they are outmatched at times as they need assistance, but against the Barrow Wight, they only wait for a savior instead of trying to do something about it.
Tom saves them and sends them on their way, and it’s at that point the merry-making and song end. Yes, there are many songs in the book beyond Tom’s section, but their tone is somber, and if you understand the history, they call back to the previous record and why the world has become what it has become. It even covers characters’ motivations, Like Aragorn, when he recites the Lay of Beren and Lúthien.
Later, when they get to the Council of Elrond, Tom Bombadil comes up again. They talk about potentially giving him the One Ring to protect it because he is so old and powerful. It seemed ridiculous when I originally read it, but after reading about the Valar and how they stayed out of the affairs of the Children (Men and Elves) it makes much more sense that they would try to get one of those powerful beings to protect it.
I was hoping to get more of a history of Bombadil in The Silmarillion, but how the Council spoke of him leads me to believe that he truly may be one of the Valar because of how he is described as too old and too powerful to care about the One Ring. If it was left in his care, he might forget about it or lose it. Gandalf, Saruman, and Sauron are all Maiar, so even beings of that power are indebted to, and scared of, the Ring’s strength. So Bombadil has to be one of the Valar who decided to stay on Middle-earth.
I look forward to reading his book (“The Adventures of Tom Bombadil”) when I get to it in the histories.
Bombadil doesn’t appear in the rest of the books, which leads me to believe that this was a transitional period in the novels. Tolkien wanted to keep his readership from the Hobbit, but he wanted to transition into something more meaningful and bold.
It isn’t until we reach Gandalf dying in Moria that the books finally feel much more realistic. The tone of the books shifts; the lays they recite are more lamentations than happy-go-lucky ditties that Tom Bombadil recites. The book shifts from a fun “children’s story” to a natural history of Middle-earth.
Elements of the Silmarillion are spread throughout the ending, but the stories they tell are direr and more immediate than what comes at the beginning. Tolkien does a masterful shift in the narrative from “Concerning Hobbits” to the “Breaking of the Fellowship,” We are left with desperation and an overwhelming desire to find out what happens to our friends in the next book.
As I mentioned above, when I read these books the first time I thought the whole point was to have a Hero’s journey, much like Joseph Cambell describes (though that is probably a whole series of essays to do at a later time). What we actually get is a wholly formed world. A World that is almost a character in and of itself. The characters are adding to that world and that history, but the book is not solely about them. It’s more about how their actions form the history of the world and not the other way around. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that has such a deep and realized history before, and I have to say I’m enjoying Tolkien like I never had previously.
Join me next week as we jump back into the Book of Lost Tales, part 1, and review “The Music of the Ainur.”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Book of Lost Tales Part 1, The Cottage of Lost Play Commentary
“I was from early days grieved by the poverty of my own beloved country: it had no stories of it’s own (bound up with its tongue and soil), not of the quality I sought, and found (as an ingredient) in legends of other lands. There was Greek, and Celtic, and Romance, Germanic, Scandinavian, and Finnish (which greatly affected me); but nothing English, save impoverished chap-book stuff (pg 22).“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we delve into the commentary of Christopher and hear from Tolkien himself about the meaning behind the tale and why he told it.
Last week we touched on Tolkien’s feelings about the mythology of his native England. The quote above is from a letter he sent to his friend Milton Waldman, where he states he felt that there were no real fairy tales originating out of England. So “the primary intention of his work was to satisfy his desire for a specifically and recognizably English literature of ‘faerie’ (pg 22).”
The idea of an old world filled with creatures great and small that was a precursor to our modern world swirled in his mind. In the beginning, “The story of Eriol, the mariner, was central to my father’s (Tolkien) original conception of the mythology (pg 22).“
The concept was to have Eriol find his way to a land of Faerie and learn some lost or archaic knowledge, which he would then report to the reader. This form is still in this “Book of Lost Tales.”
Tolkien started his (metaphoric) journey into Middle-earth with the basis in one of the oldest stories ever told – Beowulf.
This may seem strange because Beowulf has more history related to the Danes, but the first known translation of Beowulf is in Old English. Tolkien came to love the story because he was a linguist and one of his projects was to translate the tale from Old English. He took particular notice of the character Hengest, a sailor, traveler, and hero to the Thanes. Though Hengest only had a small appearance in Beowulf, Tolkien took notice. Again it was the language that garnered his interest, and we know this because Hengest and his brother Horsa’s names roughly translate to Stallion and Horse, respectively.
When Tolkien began to write his tales, not just translate those of others, he created Eriol; however, his original name was Ottor, and he used an old English name that meant wanderer. His father was Eoh which meant horse (of which he took from Hengest), and he had a very Cain and Abel relationship with his brother, Beorn. That name may sound familiar to those who read The Hobbit, as Beorn was the shapechanger.
Tolkien uses some Germanic, Finnish, Danish, and Ole English names to evolve his language, which eventually became Elvish (though at the time of writing these “Lost Tales,” he called it Gnomish). The evolution of the tale coincided with the development of the language.
Christopher spells it out in the commentary, and it makes perfect sense. “But in the earliest conception he was not an Englishman of England: England in the sense of the land of the English did not yet exist; for the cardinal fact of this conception is that the Elvish isle to which Eriol came was England – that is to say, Tol Eressëa would become England, the land of the English, at the end of the story. Koromas or Kortirion, the town in the centre of Tol Eressëa to which Eriol comes in The Cottage of Lost Play, would become in after days Warwick [and in elements Kor- and War- were etymologically connected] (pg 24-25).“
So it could be possible that in Tolkien’s mind, Eriol was a Dane of the line of Hengest who went traveling for adventure and happened upon a strange land that would eventually be called England but was then called Tol Eressëa. He came upon it with surprise because it hadn’t been there previously, because Ulmo, the Valar who most loved Man (read that as humans), moved the island of Tol Eressëa from the bottom of the ocean. It’s possible Ulmo did this because of his love of Man, enabling Eriol to discover it so he could propagate the Lost Tales.
The difficulty with that is Tol Eressëa was an island just off the coast of Valinor, so how could Eriol travel to Tol Eressëa and not see or experience Valinor?
Because Tolkien created a unique device that has become a staple in most modern Fantasy, from Robert Jordan to Terry Goodkind. The Dream World.
Tolkien called it Olórë Mallë, otherwise known as the Path of Dreams. “After the description of the Hiding of Valinor, it is told that at the bidding of Manwë (who looked on the event in sorrow) the Valar Oromë and Lórien’s devising was Olórë Mallë, the Path of Dreams; by this road, when ‘Men were yet but new-wakened on the earth’, ‘the children of the fathers of the fathers of Men’ came to Valinor in their sleep (pg 27).”
Men could gain access to Valinor at the bidding of the Valar by dreaming, so why couldn’t Eriol get the stories from the Valar instead of The Cottage? I see two different reasons. One is the nature of dreams; when we dream, we tend to forget details when we wake, and the second is The Valar wanted to remain hidden. Also, if they could have everyone coming to Valinor through the dream journey, it would upset the balance of the Music of the Ainur.
It is the Children on Tol Eressëa who use Olórë Mallë the most often. When Eriol comes to the Cottage, they are all sleeping, and it takes a gong to wake them. I’d propose they are communing with the Valar and gaining power, morals, and purpose, which gets syamped into their being, though they forget about the communion upon waking.
Remember that Eriol’s father was one of these children at one point, so it would stand to reason why he felt called towards Tol Eressëa and the Cottage in the first place.
Though most of this is conjecture (much of which on my part), it makes sense, especially because “The ‘Eriol-story’ is among the knottiest and most obscure matters in the history of Middle-earth and Aman.“
Christopher goes on to say, “Those ideas can indeed be discerned from his notes; but the notes were for the most part pencilled at furious speed, the writing now rubbed and faint and in places after long study scarcely decipherable…(pg 23).”
Join me next week as well take a step back and review “The Fellowship of the Rings” and unveil and few surprises!
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Book of Lost Tales, Part 1, Introduction
“As has now been fully recorded, my father greatly desired to publish ‘The Silmarillion’ together with The Lord of the Rings. I say nothing of it’s practicability at the time, nor do I make any guesses at the subsequent fate of such a much longer combined work, quadrilogy or tetralogy, or at the different courses that my father might then have taken – for the further development of ‘The Silmarillion’ itself, the history of the Elder Days, would have been arrested (pg 5).“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! We shift gears a little this week now that the Silmarillion is finished and jump into The Book of Lost Tales.
This week I wanted to review the Introduction, but in doing so, I wanted to check Christopher Tolkien’s words (John’s son and the editor of all of Tolkien’s estate since the publication of The Lord of the Rings). So this week will be a combination of analysis and opinion, even more so than any previous essay I have posted.
I’m going to cover two distinct points Christopher covers in the Introduction (there is more there, but for the purposes and desires of this blog, this is the focus). First, the difficulty of ‘The Silmarillion’ and John’s earlier works, and the novelistic approach versus the historical method through the evolution of ‘The Silmarillion’ from its earlier iterations versus Christopher’s edited publication. This last point is the tread that will bring us through the rest of the book and beyond.
“The Silmarillion is commonly said to be a ‘difficult’ book, needing explaination and guidance on how to ‘approach’ it; and in this it is contrasted to The Lord of the Rings (pg 1).“
In this quote, Christopher is saying what everyone else is already thinking; this is why I chose to do a Blind Read with these books because they are notoriously tricky. The Silmarillion begins with a story similar to the Book of Genesis, which was difficult to swallow after concluding one of the most popular stories in generations. “This produced a sense of outrage – in one case formulated to me in the words ‘It’s like the Old Testament’ (pg 2)!”
Which this book is – at the beginning. Once Tolkien moves beyond the archaic origins of the beings and the world of Ëa, the language softens a bit because it becomes more attuned to exposition instead of an elegiac homily.
I contend that it’s Christopher who makes the language so difficult. He is the son of a language professor and is part of the English academic elite. His language is not the same as the language of the masses, which made the book (even when “stories are being told” like Beren and Luthien) considerably more difficult, as opposed to Tolkien’s The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings.
That being said, we get an introduction to the original vision of the history of Middle-earth in “The Book of Lost Tales.”
“The letter of 1963 quoted above shows my father pondering the mode in which the legends of the Elder Days might be presented. The original mode, that of The Book of Lost Tales, in which a Man, Eriol, comes after a great voyage over the ocean to the island where the Elves dwell and learns their history from their own lips, had (by degrees) fallen away (pg 5).”
Tolkien wanted to tell his history, but he knew the difficulty of writing it as a historical book instead of a novelistic approach. But it was the novelistic approach with which he started. Tolkien began writing his histories before anything else (and the myth that the language developed and the book written to display that language is a misnomer. In the development of The Book of Lost Tales, we see the evolution of that language as he develops it over time.) in 1917. Tolkien wrote the history as if it were an oral tradition, which would alleviate some of the dry and dull exposition needed. It would stop the feeling of it reading “like the Old Testament (pg 2).“
So instead of a dry history, we get the Human, Eriol, traveling to the Cottage of Lost Play and meeting Elves (they were Gnomes in 1917, though still called Noldor) who gather around a fire, much like you would expect Hobbits to do and regale Eriol with their story.
That makes The Book of Lost Tales interesting, even though it is a rehashing of The Silmarillion. We get to see the evolution of the design and approach of the work and how Christopher decided to edit it and publish it after his father’s death.
Christopher mentions that his father wanted this story told. The fact that we have so much material that calls back to The Lord of the Rings proves that Tolkien wrote to make the world whole. To be more than what Christopher calls “the mise-en-scéne of the story (pg 7),” Tolkien wanted people to know that there was history and agency behind the action in the book. That history led the characters to where they are when we pick up the events in The Fellowship of the Ring.
But does Christopher take it too far? On the contrary, it looks to me as though he uses his father’s platform to carve out a space for himself: “There are explorations to be conducted in this world with perfect right quite irrespective of literary-critical considerations; and it is proper to attempt to comprehend its structure in its largest extent, from the myth of its Creation.“
I agree with what Christopher is saying here. If he didn’t take the mantle over, there wouldn’t be The Silmarillion, and the world of Middle-earth would have stopped at The Lord of the Rings. However, what he did by taking things over was indelibly stamp his prejudice on the material.
Would The Silmarillion have been better as a story as it is in The Book of Lost Tales? Would that have garnered a more significant audience if it were a more accessible tale?
These are all questions I hope to get a better answer for through the next couple of books. Both The Book of Lost Tales, part 1 and The Book of Lost Tales, part 2, are the earlier iterations of The Silmarillion through the storytelling perspective. So these Blind Reads will be much more analytical than previous Blogs as we follow the creative process of Tolkien as both he and Christopher work to uncover the definitive history of Middle Earth.
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, of The Rings of Power and the Third Age, Conclusion
“In all the days of the Third Age, after the fall of Gil-Galad, Master Elrond abode in Imladris, and he gathered there many Elves, and other folk of wisdom and power from among all the kindreds of Middle-earth, and he preserved through many lives of Men the memory of all that had been fair; and the house of Elrond was a refuge for the weary and oppressed, and a treasury of good councel and wise lore. In that house were harboured the Heirs of Isildur, in childhood and old age, because of the kinship of their blood with Elrond himself, and because he knew in his wisdom that one should come of their line to whom a great part was appointed in the last deeds of that Age. And until that time came the shards of Elendil’s sword were given into the keeping of Elrond, when the days of the Dúnedain darkened and they became a wandering people (pg 296).”
Welcome back to another Blind read! This week we conclude the Silmarillion as Tolkien brings us up to date with the events of “The Lord of the Rings.”
We left off last week finding out how Minas Morgul came into being, and it was there, in the tower of sorcery, the last King of Gondor was held prisoner. He rode to the gates of Minas Morgul and challenged the Morgul lord to single combat but was betrayed and taken captive and never seen again.
From that time forward, the horse lords of Gondor formed the Rohirrim, and the Stewards took over Gondor. These events led to the quote which opens this essay. Tolkien goes on to tell us that of the three Elven Rings of Power, Elrond took the Ring of Sapphire, Galadriel took the Ring of Adamant, and the Red Ring remained hidden, “and none save Elrond and Galadriel and Círdan knew to whom it had been committed (pg 297).”
What the Elves understood was that if someone found the Ruling Ring (otherwise known as the One Ring), then “the powers of the Three must then fail and all things maintained by them must fade, and so the Elves should pass into the twilight and the Dominion of Men begin (pg 297).“
The Elves passing into the twilight is what happens at the end of The Return of the King. The age of Elves had passed, and the ring’s power was gone. Many things didn’t change in the world, but Elves did leave once the One Ring was destroyed.
The only way that could come to pass is if Sauron found the Ring, or if someone else found it and destroyed it. Once Sauron woke and sought the Ring, a war against the Dark Lord was inevitable. But Elves, dwarves, and Men were not alone in their fight against Sauron: “Even as the first shadows were felt in Mirkwood there appeared in the west of Middle-earth the Istari, whom Men called Wizards (pg 298).“
These Wizards were Maiar, second only to the Valar, who sent them to Middle-earth from Valinor to assist in the fight against Sauron. “Chief among them were those whom the Elves called Mithrandir and Curunír, but Men in the North named Gandalf and Saruman (pg 298).“
Radagast was another Istari whom you might remember from The Hobbit movies, who came to Middle-earth at this time. “Radagast was friend of all beasts and birds, but Curunír went most among Men, and he was subtle in speech and skilled in all the devices of smithcraft. Mithrandir was closest in council with Elrond and the Elves (pg 298).“
The shadow continued to grow in Mirkwood, where Sauron returned to Middle-earth from Númenor. Mithrandir (Gandalf) was suspicious and went to Mirkwood and saw the signs, so he called the first White Council, “and therein were Elrond and Galadriel and Círdan, and other lords of the Eldar, and with them were Mithrandir and Curunír (pg 298).“
It was here that Curunír became chief of the council, and he “began to study the lore of the Rings of Power, their making and their history (pg 299).” It is here where Saruman began his fall from grace. The knowledge of the rings, and the study of them, corrupted him.
Gandalf went to Elrond and told him: “This is not one of the Ûliari, as many have long supposed. It is Sauron himself who has taken shape again and now grows apace (pg 299).”
Gandalf called for action against the Dark Lord. He asked that they move against him and try to capture or destroy him before he found the One Ring, “but Curunír spoke agianst him, and councelled them to wait yet and to watch (pg 299).“
They took his council, but they “were troubled, but none as yet percieved that Curunír had turned to dark thoughts and was already a traitor in heart: hor he desired that he and no other should find the Great Ring, so that he might wield it himself and order all the world to his will (pg 299-300).“
Saruman retreated to Isengard, and Elrond predicted to Gandalf that the Ring would be found again, which it was; “by a chance more strange than even Mithrandir had forseen. For it had been taken from Anduin long ere they sought it, being found by one of the small fisher-folk that dwelt by the River, ere the Kings failed in Gondor; and by its finder it was brought beyond search into dark hiding under the roots of the mountains (pg 301).“
Gollum had found the Ring. Tolkien spends the following few paragraphs describing the events of “The Lord of the Rings.”
The book ends with the revelation that Mithrandir “had long guarded the Red Ring of Fire (pg 302).” The third and final Ring of Power, entrusted to the Elves, was eventually given to Gandalf to assist in both hiding it and defeating Sauron.
It was also “in that time the last of the Noldor set sail from the Havens and left Middle-earth for ever. And the latest of all the Keepers of the Three Rings rode to the Sea, and Master Elrond took there the ship that Círdan had made ready. In the twilight of Autumn it sailed out of Mithlond, until the seas of the Bent World fell away beneath it, and the winds of the round sky troubled it no more, and borne upon the high airs above the mists of the world it passed into the Ancient West, and an end was come for the Eldar of story and of song (pg 303).“
It is a beautiful and lyrical ending to a beautiful and lyrical book. There are no better words than Tolkien’s to close out the book.
Join me next week as we jump into “The Book of Lost Tales Volume 1!”
Blind Watch: The Rings of Power; Episode 8, Alloyed
“I leapt from that ship because I believed in my heart that I was not yet worthy of it. I knew that somehow, my task here was not yet complete. And when I surfaced all I could do was swim and pray I had chosen wisely. I did not cross that bitter Ocean, onyl to drown now. And nor will I let you.”
Welcome back to another Blind Watch! This week we conclude The Rings of Power and close up all the messy and misused storylines.
There will be heavy spoilers in this essay, so if you have not watched the episode or show yet, please stop now and head back to Amazon and watch it!
This episode finally reveals who Sauron is as well as one other major character in the mythology.
The show begins by having “the stranger” walking through the woods. He has been exiled from the wandering Hobbits (though they are not called that yet), and the mysterious and dangerous wanderers dressed in all white appear before him and all but tell him he is Sauron. Then, they use out-of-place magic to fool him, but the entire exchange doesn’t make sense.
First, let’s follow along with the show’s storyline and assume that this tall Stranger is, in fact, Sauron (he’s not, and we find out later who he is). It doesn’t make sense that Sauron wouldn’t know who he is at this point in history. He was already in Middle-earth from the end of the First age. The only time in Middle-earth’s history that it would make sense that Sauron might not know who he was (that never happened in any Tolkien I have read) was after the Drowning of Númenor, when he was cast down into the abyss, shed his mortal form and retreated to Barad-dûr. The fact that he shed his human form is the only factor in thinking he might not know who he was, so instantly, we see this Stranger is not Sauron.
What bothers me about this interaction is how lazy the writers were. Why would Sauron’s servants not know who he was? Especially servants who were this powerful in magic? Notwithstanding that there never were any magic users mentioned in Sauron’s entourage, these characters are just a means to an end to show the power of the Stranger and to show who he is, which is an Istari, otherwise known as a Wizard. Namely, this Stranger is who I thought he was all along: Gandalf the Gray.
It is Halbrand who turns out to be Sauron in disguise. I’m a little discouraged that I didn’t catch this sooner, but the writers changed the history so wholly to make it challenging to understand who he was, so I’ll give myself a little grace. Afterall, the whole point of this first season wasn’t to tell a wonderful story about Middle-earth, they wrote it to hide who Sauron was and to make a dramatic reveal.
To met he problem isn’t that Sauron turned out to be Halbrand. Sauron did, after all, disguise himself to influence the making of the Rings of Power. In the Silmarillion, he disguises himself as Annatar, the Lord of Gifts, to control the Noldor Elves and influence them create the rings in the first place.
Elrond and Gil-Galad suspected Annatar was not who he said he was, so he left Lindon and went to Eregion, where they crafted the Rings. But, unfortunately, while they were making all the Rings of Power (not just the three for the Elves), Sauron retreated to Mount Doom and created the One Ring to rule them.
So the fact that the showrunners decided to change Sauron’s disguise from Annatar to Halbrand is acceptable. My problem comes in with how they introduced and framed him. Sauron is a master of deception, so much so, that he destroyed two different empires with influence alone (meaning that he didn’t raise an army against them).
But why was Sauron stranded on a raft? Do the showrunners want us to believe that he foresaw Galadriel jumping off her boat and swimming to a broken-down ship in the middle of the sea? And even if that was the case, there are far easier ways for him to ingratiate himself within the Elven culture.
Having Halbrand come up with such a soft cover as “King of the Southlands,” which was so easy to figure out “bloodline was broken,” is unlike Sauron. It makes him seem weak and lazy, which he is not.
Not to mention that there never was a human king in Middle-earth before Númenor. They were all traveling bands who were subjects of the Elven Kings.
The whole point of the entire show wasn’t to make an incredible Lord of the Rings show, but to hide the information about who Sauron was so they could have that reveal in the last episode. All the character’s motivations were to hide who he was, all the action was to hide who he was, and all the plot was to conceal Sauron’s true identity. I don’t mind that the showrunners wanted to change history, however, it doesn’t thrill me. The fact that they very obviously sat around a writing room and said they wanted the final reveal to be who Gandalf is and who Sauron is, then framed the rest of the show around that is just lazy.
This is why people don’t like the show. It’s not necessarily how they changed history because, without a doubt, this story is different from Tolkien’s. It’s not the show’s visuals because the special effects are spectacular. It’s how the writers decided that one event was enough to drive eight episodes. It’s how they took away the agency of every character to fit in with some big reveal (which was pretty lackluster).
I’m not sure if I’ll be watching the second season, if and when it comes out, but it’s no longer a Tolkien show, so there will not be another Blind Watch covering the events if there does turn out to be a second season.
Thank you all for reading, and join me next week as we complete The Silmarillion!
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of The Rings of Power and the Third Age, Part 3
“Thus the Exiles of Númenor established their realms in Arnor and in Gondor; but ere many years had passed it became manifest that their enemy, Sauron, had also returned. He came in secret, as has been told, to his ancient kingdom of Mordor beyond Ephel Dúath, the Mountains of Shadow, and that country marched with Gondor upon the east. There above the valley of Gorgoroth was built his fortress vast and strong, Barad-dûr, the Dark Tower; and there was a fiery mountain in that land that the Elves named Orodruin. Indeed for that reason Sauron had not set there his dwelling long before, for he used the fire that welled there from the heart of the earth in his sorceries and in his forging; and in the midst of the Land of Mordor he had fashioned the Ruling Ring (pg 290-291).“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we learn about the rise of Sauron and the beginnings of the downfall of the Númenórean lineage.
We left off last time learning how Isildur and Anárion built some of the most significant structures of Middle-earth, and we pick up this time realizing that “the malice of the Eye of Sauron few even of the great among Elves and Men could endure. (pg 291)“
We learn from the opening quote that Sauron took up residence in Mordor. He gathered great strength, recruited and bred servants, and expanded his empire beyond the firey mountain Orodruin; “and perceiving that Sauron had returned, the Númenóreans named that mountain anew Amon Amarth, which is Mount Doom. (pg 291)“
Sauron then used that great force to attack and sack Minas Ithil, “and he destroyed the White Tree of Isiluder that grew there (pg291).”
Isildur fled with a seedling of that great tree for a second time in his life and sought his father. Meanwhile, his brother held Osgiliath and drove Sauron back into the mountains, but “Anárion knew that unless help should come his kingdom would not long stand (pg 291).”
Elendil and Gil-Galad met with each other to come up with a strategy against this new Dark Lord. They decided that the only chance the people of Middle-earth had against his tyranny was to unite and make a stand. “Therefore they made that League which is called the Last Alliance (pg 292).“
Tolkien gives us two short paragraphs describing the events of this battle that rent the world. Every race had members on both sides, except the Elves, making it a struggle of kith and kin.
Gil-galad and Elendil fought valiantly and pushed Sauron back into Mordor, laying siege to his stronghold for seven long years. During these seven years in the fields of Gorgoroth, Anárion, Elendil’s son and Isildur’s brother died in battle. But it wasn’t until the last siege that Sauron himself came out to fight against his enemy, and “he wrestled with Gil-Galad and Elendil, and they both were slain, and the sword of Elendil broke under him as he fell. But Sauron also was thrown down, and with the hilt-shard of Narsil Isildur cut the Ruling Ring from the hand of Sauron and took it for his own (pg 292).“
Sauron, defeated, returned to shade form because he had put so much of his essence into the Ruling Ring. However, it was years before he took “visible shape (pg 292)” again. This victory marked the end of the Second Age of Middle Earth. The destruction of two great Kings and their powerful enemy ushered in a new age.
Isildur took the Ruling Ring for himself, and there was peace and prosperity for many years. Sauron’s minions were not wholly destroyed but reduced to a number Isildur was not worried about.
Isildur was not his father, though. “Never again was such a host assembled, nor was there any such league of Elves and Men; for after Elendil’s day the two kindreds became estranged (pg 293).“
Part of that estrangement came because Isildur refused to destroy the Ruling Ring, even upon the council of Elrond and Círdan. Instead, he took it as a token of success in dealing with the killing blow to Sauron and as recompense for the deaths of his father and brother.
Isildur went north to stake his claim to the throne in Eriador, his father’s seat, “and he forsook the South Kingdom (pg 293).” He set Meneldil, Anárion’s son, to rule Gondor in the south in his absence. To rule and to guard against the inevitable return of Sauron.
On Isildur’s trip north, he “was overwhelmed by a host of Orcs that lay in wait in the Misty Mountains (pg 293).” Unfortunately, Isildur was lazy because he deemed that he had won the war, so he didn’t set a guard when his caravan slept. As a result, the roving Orcs killed everyone except for three servants and Isildur, who escaped by slipping the ring on his finger and going invisible to his pursuers.
He jumped into the river, but “there the Ring betrayed him and avenged its maker, for it slipped from his finger as he swam, and it was lost in the water (pg 294).” With the ring off his finger, the Orcs could see him, and they filled him with arrows.
The surviving servants brought Narsil, Elendil’s broken sword, back to Imladris. But the sword was not reforged, “and Master Elrond foretold that this would not be done until the Ruling Ring should be found again and Sauron should return. pg 294)“
Over the beginning years of the Third Age, through war and isolationism, “the Men of Westernesse, the Dúnedain of the North, became divided into petty realms and lordships, and their foes devoured them one by one (pg 294).”
In the Southlands, the line of Númenor flourished for years under the leadership of Meneldil. They built immense structures and created the Gondor armor we are so used to seeing, but “the blood of the Númenóreans became much mingled with that of other men, and their power and wisdom was diminished, and their life-span was shortened, and the watch upon Mordor slumbered (pg 295).”
Eventually, a plague landed on them and killed the King’s lineage. They abandoned the border of Mordor and allowed evil to creep out of the boundaries. The evil took the shape of dark shadows. “It is said that these were indeed the Ulairi, whom Sauron called the Nazgûl, the Nine Ringwraiths that had long remained hidden, but returned now to prepare the ways of their Master, for he had begun to grow again (pg 295).”
They took Minas Ithil, Isildur’s former seat, and made it a place of dread and horror. “Thereafter it was called Minas Morgul, the Tower of Sorcery (pg 295).“
“But Minas Arnor endured, and it was named anew Minas Tirith, the Tower of Guard; for there the kings caused to be built in the citadel a white tower, very tall and fair, and it’s eye was upon many lands (pg 295).“
The stage is set, and the hallmarks of the Third Age are being revealed. Join us on the next Blind Read to see the resolution of “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age.”
Blind Watch: The Rings of Power; Episode , The Eye
“We ask for something sacred in this mountain, and so we offer something sacred in return. In exchange for access to your Mithril mines, the Elves are prepared to furnish this city with gain, grain and timber from the elder forests of Eriador for the next five centuries.“
Welcome back to another Blind Watch! This episode and subsequent essay are strange because there is quite a bit of racism between the species, but not how you would necessarily expect it, and not how Tolkien wrote it.
Elrond speaks the opening quote of this essay to King Durin III towards the beginning of the episode. Unfortunately, the showrunners have changed the Elves’ history and relegated their fall to the Second Age of Middle-earth instead of the Third Age. In doing so, they have changed the relationships between the Elves and Dwarves of this age and made Mithril something it is not.
At this time in Middle-earth history, the Elves and Dwarves had a friendship, or if that’s too strong a word, they had peace and an understanding. For example, Celebrimbor and Durin worked together to create incredible weapons and armor using the Mithril. Likewise, Gil-Galad and Elrond had a deep friendship (which the show posits is only on Elrond’s side, Gil-Galad just uses him) with the Dwarves. Beyond the weapons and armor, they build fantastic structures for Elves and Dwarves alike, and Celebrimbor even used Mithril to infuse into the doors of Moria to block outsiders. I’ve mentioned this before, but Gandalf needs to speak the Elvish word for “Friend” to enter the mines in the movies. If their relations were so strained, why would you have to use an Elvish word to enter a Dwarven City?
At this point in Tolkien’s history, there was no rift between the Elves and the Dwarves. Instead, the showrunners rely on the play between Gimli and Legolas to inform the audience of interracial conflict rather than showing the history.
The show also has a scene where Prince Durin throws a piece of newly mined Mithril to the end of a table next to a wilted leaf. The Mithril seemed to bring the leaf back to life, which was supposed to indicate how the Mithril would bring back both life to the world and nature to the Elves, but this was not the case in the book.
Tolkien intended to be vague in his writing and wanted an eventual rift between these two races because that created more drama. But, unfortunately, the showrunners are taking it a step further and dramatizing things that were never written to get more dramatics out of the show itself.
Beyond that, Mithril is just a metal. It’s a precious and rare metal, but it doesn’t have the magical power the show pre-supposes. What it does have is the ability to be a magical conduit, which is why Celebrimbor used it in the magical lock of the doors to Moria.
So the argument that King Durin is proposing to his son seems like a dangerous and backward-thinking proposition, but it’s spot on (at least in the show’s reality).
He tells his son, “The Fate of the Elves was decided many ages ago. By minds much wiser, much farther seeing than our own. Defy their will, and this entire kingdom might fall. Perhaps the entire Middle-earth.”
He is alluding to the Valar and how the deeper the Dwarves delve, the more danger they can bring upon themselves. In fact, one of the most well-known Balrogs was named Durin’s Bane.
If you remember Peter Jackson’s movies, there is a scene right before the Balrog comes out, and Gandalf says that the Dwarves delve too deep, in their greed. This anticipation of the Balrog is what the showrunners are trying to set up.
There are two other plotlines the show covers, and neither has any basis in Tolkien’s works, just the vague understanding of what might be happening behind and between the pages, with some outright falsehoods along the way.
Let’s get the falsehoods out of the way first, shall we?
Galadriel and Theo are speaking one night on their trek to find survivors of the volcanic explosion. Galadriel tells Theo that she lost her brother Finrod and her husband Celeborn to Sauron. There is no truth in these statements; her story of how she met Celeborn is convoluted with the tale of Beren and Lúthien. That is the story of Lúthien dancing in a meadow and Beren coming upon her, not how Galadriel meets Celeborn. To top that off, Celeborn doesn’t die; we see him in Fellowship of the Rings, so I’m not sure what they are trying to prove here.
In addition, Finrod died in the battle against the Dark Lord, but not the Dark Lord you might think. Finrod had one of the most epic battles told in The Silmarillion when he fought Morgoth, the fallen Valar and Sauron’s master. Sauron had nothing to do with Finrod’s death, so it seems strange that they would purposefully change history instead of just skewing it in their favor.
We also follow along with the Southlanders as they all come together, and we learn of Isildur’s death…which never happens in the book. Isildur’s closest brush with death comes when he steals the fruit from Nimloth, the tree of the Valar, when he still lived on Númenor, and even then, he is never considered dead.
Beyond these blatant changes, however, they do show what happened in history. The Southlands became Mordor, just not in the way the showrunners are proposing. Sadly, we don’t get to see Isildur and his brother develop the great cities of Middle-earth and bypass everything to get some fake fan service, but these are differing mediums, so I guess beggars can’t be choosers. You either get screen time in the Second age or don’t.
The last portion I would like to mention is the powerful magical strangers who come across the halflings. There is much mention that this is Sauron, but I don’t think that’s the case. Instead, I think this may be a younger version of Saruman or one of the other Istari.
Sauron didn’t travel in a group. Indeed he was famously solitary and did not need to mess with halflings. But then again, they have changed many other things, so let’s see where the ride takes us.
Join me next week as we delve back into The Silmarillion for the Penultimate essay on Of The Rings of Power and the Third Age before coming back for the final episode of The Rings Of Power!
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of The Rings of Power and the Third Age
“It is said that the towers of Emyn Beraid were not built indeed by the Exiles of Númenor, but were raised by Gil-galad for Elendil, his friend; and the Seeing Stone of Emyn Beraid was set in Elostirion, the tallest of the towers. Thither Elendil would repair, and thence he would gaze out over the sundering seas, when the yearning of exile was upon him; and it is believed that thus he would at whiles see far away even the Tower of Avallónë upon Eressëa, where the Master-stone abode, and yet abides. These stones were gifts of the Eldar to Amandil, father of Elendil, for the comfort of the Faithful of Númenor in their dark days, when the Elves might come no longer to that land under the shadow of Sauron. They were called the Palantíri, those that watch from afar; but all those that were brought to Middle-earth long ago were lost. (pg 290)”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! Whew, that was a long introductory quote! This week we progress into the places, deeds, and constructs of the Third Age as we get closer to the events of The Lord of the Rings.
We pick up right where we left off last week, with the creation of the Nazgûl, because “Sauron’s lust and pride increased, until he knew no bounds, and he determined to make himself master of all things in Middle-earth. (pg 287)”
Sauron’s shadow began to spread across Middle-earth, and he ruled with an iron fist, crushing any small insurrections before they could start. He oversaw the Orcs, and they “multiplied like flies. (pg 288)”
However, this era was still prosperous for the people of Middle-earth, and Sauron would not cross Ered Luin. “Gil-Galad was aided by the Númenóreans. (pg 288)” and so Sauron knew, even with his mighty garrison of Orcs, that he could not withstand the two races who had aligned against him.
It was at this time in History that the Númenóreans challenged Sauron, and as we learned in Akallabêth, he “left Middle-earth for a while and went to Númenor as a hostage of Tar-Calion the King. (pg 288)”
After the Drowning of Númenor, Sauron fell into the Abyss, but his spirit flew back to Middle-earth where he found Gil-Galad had taken over and made a wonderful kingdom of much of Middle-earth. So Sauron “withdrew to his fortress in the Black Land and meditated war. (pg 288)” as the Third Age began.
During this time of the great Flood that destroyed Númenor, the Faithful, Númenóreans who still believed in the Valar and the Eldar, sailed to Middle-earth. “The chief among these were Elendil the Tall and his sons, Isildur and Anárion. (pg 288)”
It was in Middle-earth that Elendil befriended the Elven King Gil-Galad, and had the freedom to settle in Eriador and create new kingdoms and structures. They built great towers in Emyn Beraid, “and there remain many barrows and ruined works in those places. (pg 289)” Probably the most memorable for casual readers/viewers would be the tower on Amon Sûl, otherwise known as Weathertop.
Elendil’s sons went south, “and they established a realm in those lands that were after called Gondor. (pg 289)” Aragorn, considered the king of men because his bloodline comes directly from Elros (Elrond’s brother) half-blood, is the direct descendant of Isildur. So Elrond is Aragorn’s uncle; if you put about 89 greats in front of Uncle, that is.
The Númenóreans were still a sea-faring people, so they created the most significant city along a great river, a city they named Osgiliath, with a great bridge to allow their spectacular ships to sail beneath. This structure is the Bridge destroyed in “The Return of the King,” and Osgiliath is the city Faramir is trying to defend from the Orc scourge.
They also built two prominent towers: “Minas Ithil, the Tower of the Rising Moon, eastward upon a shoulder of the Mountains of Shadow as a threat to Mordor; and to the westward Minas Anor, the Tower of the Setting Sun. (pg 289)” Remember these names. These become very important in everything that comes afterward.
Isildur settled into Minas Ithil, where Anárion settled into Minas Arnor, “but they shared the realm between them, and their thrones were set side by side in the Great Hall of Osgiliath. (pg 289)” Their towers were also set to either side of the great city, setting up the major areas of early Gondor, but they were not the only dwellings.
The Númenóreans also built many other cities, including the circle of Angrenost, otherwise known as Isengard, and the tower they built there was known as Orthanc. This is the tower where the Istari (wizard Maiar) Saruman took up abode.
Beyond the buildings, “Many treasures and great heirlooms of virtue and wonder the Exiles had brought from Númenor; and the most renowned were the Seven Stones and the White Tree. (pg 290)” Otherwise known as the Palantíri (the seeing stones) and the seed of Nimloth, which Isildur nearly died obtaining.
The seeing stones “Three Elendil took, and his sons each two. (pg 290).” Elendil set his in the towers of Emyn Beraid, on Weathertop, and the city of Annúminas. Isildur placed his in Minas Ithil and at Orthanc, and Anárion put his at Minas Arnor and Osgiliath.
These seeing stones were intended to be a balm against the darkness Sauron held in the land, but at this time in History, he was still trying to build power, so the significant structures of the Númenóreans in Middle-earth didn’t feel his presence often. Only Elendil realized the turn of the tide and understood the power of the Palantíri. He knew that if Sauron got his hands on those, his presence could reach far more deeply than ever. He saw Pharazôn be corrupted by only words, creating the downfall of Númenor. What if Sauron could control the visions the Great Kings of the Third Age were seeing and make them think they were all real? This would be far more pervasive than just playing to one’s Hubris.
The sons, however, one more step removed from the purity of their bloodline, believed in using these seeing stones for their power and protection of their people. So the seeing stones stayed where they were set. Orthanc fell into Saruman’s hands, and the power corrupted him (amongst other things), and Osgiliath, we know, stood until the end of the Third Age. But what of the other two towers? We have not seen the names Minas Ithil and Minas Arnor yet. Where do those come in?
Join me next time to find out!
Next week we’ll cover the penultimate episode of The Rings of Power before diving back into “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age.”
Blind Watch: The Rings of Power; Episode 6, Udûn
“My children, we have endured much. We cast off out shackles. Crossed mountain, field, frost, and fallow, till out feet bloodied the dirt. From Ered Mithrin to the Ephel Arnrn, we have endured. Yet tonight, one more trial awaits us. Our enemy may be weak, their numbers meager…yet before this night is through, some of us will fall. But for the first time, you do so not as unnamed slaves in far-away lands, but as brothers. As brothers and sisters in our home! This is the night we reach out the iron hand of the Uruk…and close our fist around these lands.“
Welcome back to another Blind Watch! This week we cover Episode six of The Rings of Power, Undûn. The episode is fast-paced and fun to watch, but there is very little content in this episode based on the core material.
This episode focused solely on the southland’s battle for survival against the orcish horde and showed the treachery of men wooed by Sauron’s power delicately and subtly. But it also shows how people can hold onto hope nearly as well as Peter Jackson did in “The Lord of the Rings.”
We start the episode with the Orcs storming the tower. The Southlanders have fled, and Arondir stays behind to lay traps for the scourge.
It’s here, Waldreg, the human who betrayed his kinsmen and ran off to join Adar shows his concern for the Orc Captain, but there is something strange about his motivations. He follows Adar fervently, but we don’t know why he does this. Earlier in the season, he shows the mark on his arm. He gained that mark from using the hilt which becomes a sword from his blood, but where did he get the hilt? Why did he lose it, and where did Theo get it? Was Waldreg previously a soldier in Sauron’s armies and used the blood sword? Has he been a spy all these years? Unfortunately, they haven’t given us enough to make a proper conclusion.
We then transition to Galadriel and the Númenóreans on the ship on their way to help the Southlands. They show a bit of interaction between Galadriel and Isildur, where Isildur says, “I was just trying to get away. As far as I could from that place.“
Isildur wanting to leave Númenor is actual history, but it takes place before the events in the show. Isildur was trying to get away from Númenor, but it wasn’t until after he was already a hero for taking the fruit of Nimloth and saving the tree’s offspring from the evil of Sauron and Pharazôn. Isildur was gravely injured because of his heroism and “went out by night and did a deed for which he was afterwards renowned.” The problem I have, is that he has already left Númenor, so if the showrunners decide this event is to be his redeeming deed, then they need to find some way to bring him back to Númenor before the great flood.
The remainder of the episode takes place in the Southlands. The Humans all retreat to the town and set up an ambush for the Orc army, who attacks them at night. They successfully attack and push back the Orcs but find that most of the beings they killed were, in fact, their fellow humans who left town to join Adar. These humans are just in disguise, made up to look like Orcs.
Once this realization happens, the actual garrison of Orcs attacks the humans, only to be pushed back again by the Númenóreans, who have the best possible timing.
If you weren’t paying attention, however, you might miss Adar saying, “Waldreg, I have a task for you.“
The Númenóreans go onto a glorious victory, at least it seems. We see Waldreg finds the broken hilt, and he places it in some lock which activates a flood.
The flood goes all the way through to what I can only imagine is Mount Doom, where Sauron forged the One Ring. Then, the water creates a chain reaction which causes a significant eruption.
You might wonder why the episode is called Udûn. It’s the Elvish word for Hell or Dark Pit. The tunnels that the Orcs had been tunneling weren’t just searching or trying to seek something. It was that because they wanted the hilt, but they were also making tunnels so the water released by the hilt key would create a chain reaction that would cause hell on earth for the humans. Fireballs and magma fill the ground, and it’s a more extensive form of destruction that hasn’t been seen since Ancalagon the Black crushed mountain tops underneath its claws (an enormous dragon ever to live in Middle-earth and servant to Morgoth). What is even more devious is that Udûn is Sindarin Elvish, which proves the point that these Orcs were indeed transitioned from Elves to these creates because of Sauron’s corruption. Udûn is also the name of the region just beyond the black gate of Mordor. Coincidence?
So there is just one question remaining. Arondir tries to destroy the hilt key earlier in the episode, but the hammer he uses breaks instead.
What can this blade be but Gurthang, the sword of Turin Turambar? Turin is a hero of legend in the first age, surrounded by bad luck. His sword was Gurthang, which he used to slay many powerful creatures, including Glaurung, Morgoth’s Dragon Captain. Unfortunately, Turin killed himself once he realized he was married to his sister (who killed herself just before he did the deed), and the blade broke asunder after that happened, which is the only way the sword could be broken. Gurthang was a sentient sword, and there is a prophecy (interesting prospect in a show heavily leading on the sign laden Palatirí) where Turin will use Gurthang in the Final Battle to kill Morgoth for infinity.
I could see the showrunners using Gurthang as a key to release Sauron from the trappings of his spirit form and return him to his mortal form.
This is the blade, after all, that feeds off blood and remembers its kills.
So despite the lack of history in the last few episodes, I am excited about where this is going because if I’m right about this sword being Gurthang, it opens up whole new worlds of history to be exposed. There will be considerably more people who have never read The Silmarillion exposed to its lush history.
So join me next week and experience some of that history as we continue with “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age!”
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 Watch: The Rings of Power; Episode 5, Partings
“Name it. I beg you. See? You were right to watch us, because we are destined for the darkness. It’s how we survive. Perhaps, it’s who we are. Who we will always be.“
Welcome back to another Blind Watch! We’re back for episode 5, “Partings.” Partings indeed! This episode was the showrunners doing their best to make an action show and divert from the core material. The characters are all the same, but the events and the characters are entirely different from the books. Not that this is a bad thing. The show is still beautiful and entertaining, and it is just quickly becoming a very highly funded fantasy show, instead of a Tolkien based show.
Let’s dig into it, shall we?
They follow three main storylines in this episode; The Númenóreans, the Southlanders, and the Dwarves mining Mithril.
I want to start with the story about the Southlanders because this is the one storyline that is not rooted in the source material. So why would I cover it, then? Specifically for two reasons. The first is the “key” hilt which Theo found. I still think this is Gurthang, Turin Turambar’s sword, which makes sense because there is a good possibility that these Southlanders could be descendants of Turin, but the question is, why would Adar want it?
Adar is the Elven commander of the Orcs, and Adar is Elvish for “father.” During the First Age in the fight against Morgoth, many Elves were taken captive and endlessly tortured by Morgoth. The first Orcs were Elves corrupted by Morgoth so entirely that they turned into these creatures. Many Elves who didn’t turn became thralls of the Dark Lord. I speculate that Adar is one of the first thralls of Morgoth and assisted the Dark Lord in transitioning his kindred into Orcs. Thus he is named Adar, Father of the Orcs.
Gurthang was responsible for the death of many high-ranking generals in Morgoth’s army, so what better retribution than using their ancestors’ weapons to conquer the Southlandlers?
From there, let’s move across Middle-earth to the Misty Mountains. Or rather the Mines of Moria beneath those mountains. This storyline is probably what defenders of Tolkien are the angriest about (at least so far as I have read).
Mithril was already a known commodity by this time in history (in fact, they even found it on Númenor), so the discovery and hiding of it in the show seem strange; despite that, it makes for an entertaining storyline. Where the showrunners are following is that the Elves and Dwarves entered a partnership toward the end of the Second Age, and they made the Rings of Power together (with influence from Sauron) using Mithril. Celebrimbor even built the Gates of Moria (where the Fellowship enters Moria during “The Fellowship of the Rings.” That’s why they need an Elvish word for Friend to enter a Dwarven mine) and infused Mithril into runes to lock and protect the mines from intruders.
The Dwarves and Elves didn’t have the most fantastic relations, so how they portray them is fine. Still, Gil-Galad, the Elvish King, was a great hero in The Silmarillion. He was the one who brought everyone together to fight against Sauron in the Last Alliance (The big battle in the prologue to the movie where Sauron is defeated). Unfortunately, the show makes it seem like Gil-Galad has some mysterious or devious ulterior motive.
Don’t see what I’m saying? Well, he tells Elrond that without Mithril, the Elves will perish. That Mithril is actually from some fantastic story of an unnamed Elf fighting a Balrog on the Misty Mountains, and somehow the light of the Silmaril gets infused into Mithril. The Silmarils are a creation of Fëanor, a fiery Noldor elf who created them from the light of the trees of Valinor (they were the only light in the world before the Sun and the Moon were made). The Silmarils were what caused ALL the great wars in the First Age.
The only problem? That story never took place in Tolkien. In addition, the Elvish light doesn’t begin to diminish until the dawn of the Third Age. So one of two things is happening here, and neither is faithful to the source material. Either Gil-Galad is lying to Elrond about the history to get Mithril to create the Rings of Power (which, if this is the case, I guarantee it is because he has one of the Palantirí and is being corrupted by its visions which Sauron influences), or the showrunners are making him the enemy to elevate Elrond to power.
Lastly, let’s head to the West to Númenor.
As told in Akallabêth (the history of the Second Age and Númenor in The Silmarillion), Ar-Pharazôn forcibly married Queen Miriel to gain power. Once he did so, he became the Nero (meaning the Roman Emperor who played the fiddle while Rome burned) of Númenor.
I’ve already covered that Galadriel never went to Númenor in the source material (so the vision of her being the catalyst for the downfall of Númenor is false). Beyond that, Miriel never sailed to fight for the Southlands. I think the showrunners are doing this to avoid an uncomfortable theme of Pharazôn forcing himself on Miriel, and quite frankly, I’m happy with this decision.
My more significant issue is actually with a single character. Isildur is a spoiled brat in the show. They are making him that way because they want to give him a redemption arc, but it’s just poor writing. Isildur was a young, impressionable man enamored with the history of the world. He trusted his father and the elves so much that he risked his life to save the seed of Nimloth, the descendant of the trees of Valinor (the same Trees the Silmarils were created to emulate).
The redemption arc is not an issue in and of itself, but Hollywood (even though this is Amazon Studios) has the propensity to give a massive angle for all characters. What I miss is having a character (like Legolas or Gimli in the movies) who is just a good character who doesn’t need redemption for what a douchebag they used to be.
I want to highlight these differences in honor of the core material, but I also want to say that I love the show so far. The storylines may be diverging, but the sets and the world-building are spot on for how I imagine everything looking at this time in Middle-earth.
One last thought. The Dwarves delved too deep into the Second Age, looking for Mithril. Instead, they woke a Balrog from the First Age, and that Balrog destroyed Khazad-Dûm. What does that mean? We’re going to see a Balrog soon!
Join me next week as we dive back into the source material and cover the first portion of “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age.”
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