Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin
“Thus Ard-Galen perished, and fire devoured its grasses; and it became a burned and desolate waste, full of choking dust, barren and lifeless. Thereafter its name was changed, and it was called Anfauglith, the Gasping Dust. Many charred bones had there their roofless grave; for many of the Noldor perished in that burning, who were caught by the running flame and could not fly to the hills. The heights of Dorthonian and Ered Wethrin held back the fiery torrents, but their woods upon the slopes that looked towards Angband were all kindled, and the smoke wrought confusion among the defenders. Thus began the fourth of the great battles, Dagor Bragollach, the Battle of Sudden Flame.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we tell a tale of Hubris and horror; as the table is set, the players are in their places, and there is nothing left to do but act.
We begin by learning that Fingolfin, “the King of the North, and High King of the Noldor,” wanted to assault Angband and eliminate Morgoth. So he brought a council of Elves and Men together but could not get enough support to act against the horrid Valar in the mountains of Thangorodrim to the north.
But while this council was in session, during the sixth generation of men, Morgoth had similar hopes; “For Morgoth had long prepared his force in secret, while ever the malice of his heart grew greater, and his hatred of the Noldor more bitter; and he desired not only to end his foes but to destroy also and defile the lands that they had taken and made fair.“
Recall that Morgoth was an aspect of Ilúvatar, and his intentions started pure. His story is that of Lucifer the Lightbringer. He was an angel (Valar) who followed their own way, their own vision, and it led to their downfall. They both fell so far that nothing remained but a burning hatred for those they were supposed to love.
Tolkien also uses the imagery of fire, which Satan was known for, from the scene in Revelations where he was cast into the fire. Here, Tolkien takes that concept and gives the power of flame to Morgoth: “Then suddenly Morgoth sent forth great rivers of flame that ran down swifter than Balrogs from Thangorodrim, and poured over all the plain; and the Mountains of Iron belched forth fires of many poisonous hues, and the fume of them stank upon the air and was deadly.”
That quote leads directly into the passage which opens this essay, and we see that the horror of Morgoth’s wrath is spreading down to Dorthonian, where the seat of Turgon, Gondolin, resides.
And forgive the excessive quotes, but Tolkien describes the effects of the Battle of Sudden Flame better than I ever could:
“In the front of that fire came Glaurung the golden, father of dragons, in his full might; and in his train were Balrogs, and behind them came the black armies of the Orcs in multitudes such as the Noldor had never before seen or imagined. And they assaulted the fortresses of the Noldor, and broke the leaguer about Angband, and slew whereever they found them the Noldor and their allies, Grey-elves and Men. Many of the stoutest of the foes of Morgoth were destroyed in the first days of the war, bewildered and dispersed and unable to muster their strength. War ceased not wholly ever again in Beleriand; but the Battle of Sudden Flame is held to have ended with the coming of spring, when the onslaught of Morgoth grew less.”
The Elves were in a bad state. The sons of Finarfin took the heaviest losses, particularly at the Pass of Sirion, so much so that King Finrod Felagund was cut off and would have died if Barahir, a man, brother of Bregolas of the house of Bëor, didn’t bring a company of men to come and save him and take him back to Nargothrond.
In the east, Fingolfin and Fingon retreated to Hithlum “because of the strength and height of the Shadowy Mountains, which withstood the torrent of fire, and by the valour of the Elves and the Men of the North, which neither Orc nor Balrog could yet overcome, Hithlum remained unconquered.”
But further east on the other side of Dorthonian, Celegorm and Curufin were getting slaughtered and lost the pass of Aglon to Morgoth. So those elves fled south to Nargothrond and the strength of Finrod Felgund.
It was only Maedros who stood up Morgoth’s armies, as he held the Hill of Himring just to the east of the Pass of Aglon. It was Maedros who had been captured and tortured by Morgoth, only to later be saved by his kin and the Eagles. Maedros called upon that anger and held fast against the horrible armies.
But he became the sole outpost as Glaurung appeared at Maglor’s gap to the east, and Morgoth’s armies took all the lands down into eastern Beleriand down to Mount Dolmed, burning and pillaging the land.
Concurrently, “…news came to Hithlum that Dorthonian was lost and the sons of Finarfin overthrown, and that the sons of Fëanor were driven from their lands.“
Fingolfin saw these kingdoms falling, and his kin dying. Anger over took his body and he rode out with mighty speed over the barred and burned lands, all the way to Angband, and when he got there he challenged Morgoth to single combat. Morgoth begrudingly accepted and they fought like no other fight written in Tolkien (I’ll have it down below for you to enjoy!).
Eventually Morgoth overtook Fingolfin and slay him in the shadow of Angband, thus ending the reign of one of the mighty Noldor kings. And there he would have stayed, as Morgoth threw his body to the wolves, but Thorondor, King of Eagles came down, scratched Morgoth’s face and took up the body of Fingolfin to bring back to the Grey Havens.
We are only halfway through this epic chapter through all of these battles. So I’m going to go a bit slower and give a few more quotes so we can enjoy the events of the end of the First Age.
Join me next week as we conclude “Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin.”
Post Script: The Battle between Morgoth and Fingolfin.
“Therefore Morgoth came, climbing slowly from his subterranean throne, and the rumour of his feet was like thunder underground. And he issued forth clad in black armour; and he stood before the King like a tower, iron-crowned, and his vast shield, sable unblazoned, cast a shadow over him like a stormcloud. But Fingolfin gleamed beneath it as a star; for his mail was overlaid with silver, and his blue shield was set with crystals, and he drew his sword Ringil, that glittered like ice.
Then Morgoth hurled aloft Grond, the Hammer of the Underworld, and swung it down like a bolt of thunder. But Fingolfin sprang aside, and Grond rent a mighty pit in the earth, whence smoke and fire darted. Many times Morgoth essayed to smite him, and each time Fingolfin leaped away, as a lightning shoots from under a dark cloud; and he wounded Morgoth with seven wounds, and seven times Morgoth gave a cry of anguish, whereat the hosts of Angband fell upon their faces in dismay, and the cries echoed in the Northlands.
But at last the King grew weary, and Morgoth bore down his shield upon him. Thrice he was crushed to his knees, and thrice arose again and bore up his broken sheild and stricken helm. But the earth was all rent and pitted about him, and he stumbled and fell backward before the feet of Morgoth; and Morgoth set his left foot upon his neck, and the weight of it was like a fallen hill. Yet with his last and desperate stroke Fingolfin hewed the foot with Ringil, and the blood gushed forth black and smoking and filled the pits of Grond.
Thus died Fingolfin, High King of the Noldor, most proud and valient of the Elven-kings of old.”
You can also listen to the battle below! Please give him a like and a follow!
“If Aragorn survives this war, you will still be parted. If Sauron is defeated and Aragorn made king and all that you hope for comes true you will still have to taste the bitterness of mortality. Whether by the sword or the slow decay of time, Aragorn will die. And there will be no comfort for you, no comfort to ease the pain of his passing. He will come to death an image of the splendor of the kings of Men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world. But you, my daughter, you will linger on in darkness and in doubt as nightfall in winter that comes without a star. Here you will dwell bound to your grief under the fading trees until all the world is changed and the long years of your life are utterly spent.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we dive back into the movies and search for connections and clarifications to the second movie, “The Two Towers,” while trying to understand the motivations and plot developments in the film.
Long do the lives of the Valar echo through the mortal world. There are small scenes throughout this movie I had never caught before knowing about The Silmarillion and the events of the First Age, but after viewing them, you see how well Peter Jackson and crew dealt with the script of this series.
I’d first like to touch on the Elvenkind before going any deeper. While reading these books years ago and then later watching the movies, I always thought that Elves were higher beings. Beings able to see the future and were wise beyond their mortal coil. I thought they were so aloof because they had sight beyond and could see and form events before they happened. For example, I thought they knew how the war had to end, so they acted accordingly.
After reading the Silmarillion, I see that they are petty, selfish, and have a conflated ego. That sounds a little harsher than I mean it to because their actions come from love and fear; but they stayed, locked away in their respective lands (reminiscent of The Girdle of Melian) and let others fight battles that should have been shared.
A great example of this is the opening quote. It is a scene with Elrond and Arwen, where Elrond is giving Arwen a speech about how she needs to leave Aragorn behind and head off to Valinor. Elrond tells her that the only thing she will find in Middle-earth is death because she will outlive Aragorn and be alone. But, again, it is a father’s speech, a speech that comes from love, however misguided it is, and it’s only Arwen’s ultimate decision that makes Elrond make the right call.
Elrond even convinces Aragorn to talk with Arwen about leaving. Elrond knows that the quest for the ring doesn’t have good odds and that Arwen deserves to be with her people in the Gray Havens. Aragorn tells Arwen they are fools, and “what were they thinking?”
But there is a precedent for their actions. We will soon see Beren and Lúthien in an upcoming chapter of The Silmarillion, and while I don’t know their story, I know Beren was a Human warrior, and Lúthien was Thingol’s daughter (the daughter of the Maiar Melian of Girdle fame, and Thingol was a Sindar King holed up in Doriath). I’m excited to see if Aragorn and Arwen’s story echoes Beren and Lúthien. Those star-crossed lovers of the first age are mentioned in this context in the movies as well, though so fleetingly, you may miss it. Ultimately (for lack of a better phrase) reading the Silmarillion humanized elvenkind for me. They are just like humans, with all their flaws, and jealousies, and fears; they only have centuries more wisdom to rely on.
Speaking of Aragorn, there is the scene where they are fighting with the Wargs on the way to Helm’s Deep, where Aragorn falls over the cliff into the river and is thought dead. This scene was the biggest “ah ha” moment because while watching this in the Theater (and in subsequent viewings), I always thought it was a bit too convenient that Aragorn washes to shore, revived. What I didn’t notice (and now that I think about it, it might only be in the extended edition) was Arwen praying in the background (half in scene and half in voice over). Then, she calls the Valar and asks for them to help Aragorn. The Valar who has Men and Eldar’s greatest love is Ulmo, the Valar of water. There is no coincidence that Aragorn was injured and revived from the river. Ulmo healed him or brought him back from the dead because of his importance in the Battle against Morgoth’s Maiar General Sauron.
Speaking of Maiar, we have Gandalf and Sarumon and their dichotomous leanings. Gandalf was raised from the gray level to the white level (I’m still not sure what that truly means) because he was above the corruption of Sauron and the Palantir, which sullies Sarumon’s mind. The White Wizard of Orthanc turned to the ultimate evil…industry. He tears down the forest of Fangorn to fuel his war machine, which Tolkien believed was the ultimate evil. Tolkien believed in his mythology, whose genesis takes place in The Silmarillion. He believed that nature and music were tied together in their beauty and power and that those two things together were what made the world pure.
This concept directly corresponds to the Ents, created by the Valar Yavanna, whose music created the beauty of nature. The battle of the Ents against Orthanc is Tolkien’s way of showing that heart will always win over the industry. We can see this in real life (which was his inspiration) of destroyed battlegrounds, which recover and become lush green lands with little remnants of the horror that had once taken place there.
I’m sure there was much more I missed, but if I had any recommendation, it’s to read the Silmarillion (or at least read this blog!) because the movies have far more depth with the foreknowledge of what had already transpired.
Join me next week as we dive back into the Silmarillion and see the consequences of the Fourth Major Battle of Beleriand!
“‘Into Doriath shall no Man come while my realm lasts, not even those of the house of Bëor who serve Finrod the beloved.’ Melian said nothing to him at that time, but afterwards she said to Galadriel: ‘Now the world runs on swiftly to great tidings. And one of Men, even of Bëor’s house, shall indeed come, and the Girdle of Melian shall not restrain him; and the songs that shall spring from that coming shall endure when all Middle-earth is changed.'”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week feels more like the 6th book in a seven-book series, where everything is building to support the next book and conclude the series. There is not much substance in this chapter, but Tolkien introduces some interesting characters that will have a much more prominent place in the future of Beleriand.
At the beginning of The Silmarillion, Tolkien flat out tells us that it’s the story of the Eldar and the Silmarils. There are mentions and tales of other races, but their place is on the back burner. This chapter must happen because there is no precedent for Beren (whom I had only a fleeting memory was human. This chapter solidifies that fact.) without it.
We learn that “three hundred years and more were gone since the Noldor came to Beleriand.” It wasn’t until now that Bëor made his way across the Blue Mountains to the west, where the Eldar had made its home. Bëor, whose name in the human tongue was Balan, was considered by the Noldor the “First Man” because he was the first one to make contact. They named him Bëor because “Bëor signified ‘Vassal’ in the tongue of his people.” He was the first Vassel to the Noldor, bowing to Finrod Felagund.
These men settled in Estolad, the land just below Nan Elmoth of Eöl fame (if you remember from the previous chapter, Eöl was the Dark Elf, Father of Maeglin). They stayed there for many years until we got the quote from the beginning of this essay. The “man” they are talking about is Beren, for he falls in love with the elvish maiden Lùthien (their tale is coming soon), and this seems to indicate some of the downfall of Beleriand.
The Elves have a large amount of Hubris, and they see themselves as the perpetual rulers of Beleriand. This Hubris is what eventually leads to their downfall. This chapter holds the second instance of Thingol being obstinate in believing that the Girdle his wife holds over Doriath will protect them from all tragedies happening in the world, and it’s the second time Melian prophesizes that he’s wrong. This is where the quote to open this essay comes in, and I’m pretty sure the “One of Man” to enter Doriath is actually Beren, a great hero of the first age, and the man Aragorn looks up to the most.
We also get Tolkien’s version of the first Ruling Queen of the land with Haleth, who was able to bring her people through Nan Dungortheb, the horrid land of Ungoliant:
“That land was even not yet so evil as it became, but it was no road for mortal Men to take without aid, and Haleth only brought her people through it with hardship and loss, constraining them to go forward by the strength of her will.“
We bring this history of Men to a close by going through some genealogy. First, we learn that Boromir (namesake of the famous Lord of the Rings character) was the Great-Grandson of Bëor and the FatherFather of Beren:
“The sons of Hador were Galdor and Gundor; and the sons of Galdor were Húrin and Huor; and the son of Húrin was Túrin the Bane of Glaurung (the FatherFather of the Dragons of Morgoth); and the son of Huor was Tuor, FatherFather of Eärendil the Blessed. The son of Boromir was Bregor, whose sons were Bregolas and Barahir; and the sons of Bregolas were Baragund and Belegund. The daughter of Baragund was Morwen, the mother of Túrin, and the daughter of Belegund was Rían, the mother of Tuor. But the son of Barahir was Beren One-hand, who won the love of Lúthien Thingol’s daughter, and returned from the Dead; from them came Elwing the wife of Eärendil, and all the Kings of Númenor after.”
Follow all that? That’s alright, and it’s ok to get discouraged sometimes while reading this dense work. The important thing is to stay with it because the more you read, the more it makes sense, and then The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit begin to have that full back story that makes sense and enriches those worlds. And that’s just based upon memory. So I intend to get through a few of these history books and then re-read those books to catch the world-building Tolkien infused within the world.
These events framed his mind when he sat down to write The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Those Third Age works are informed by the history of this work, and that history keeps getting darker. The stage is set. We now have the Noldor in Beleriand, the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains, and Men have finally come to the west. Join me next week as we see the subsumed treachery of Morgoth take hold of the denizens of Beleriand in “Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin!”
“‘This is the land of the Teleri, to which you bring war and all unquiet, dealing ever proudly and unjustly. I care nothing for your secrets, and I came not to spy upon you, but to claim my own wife and son. Yet if in Aredhel your sister you have some claim, then let her remain; let the bird go back to the cage, where soon she will sicken again, as she sickened before. But not so Maeglin. My son you shall not withhold from me. Come, Maeglin son of Eöl! You father commands you. Leave the house of his enemies and the slayers of his kin, or be accursed!’ But Maeglin answered nothing.‘”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we finally get to see the dark turning point of Beleriand and begin to understand the total damage that will be coming to Aman.
We begin the chapter in Gondolin, the city we saw Turgon build last week in the previous chapter. Here we meet Aredhel Ar-Feiniel, Turgon’s sister and daughter of Fingolfin.
The chapter begins with a sibling spat because Aredhel wants to see the world, and Turgon doesn’t want her to leave. He’s torn between his tight bond and the fear of having the “Hidden Kingdom” of Gondolin exposed.
Eventually, “Turgon appointed three lords of his household to ride with Aredhel, and he bade them lead her to Fingon in Hithlim” and wary of Morgoth and his minions. This escort was the only way he would let her out of Gondolin to go and see kin.
However, when the group left Gondolin, Aredhel convinced the riders to take her off to see other parts of the world. They first tried to go south, “But the march-wardens denied them; for Thingol would suffer none of the Noldor to pass the Girdle.”
Undeterred, they decided to go to the Hill of Himring because, “There dwell, as we believe, Celegorm and Curufin,” Sons of Fëanor.
So the group turned “and sought the dangerous road between the haunted valleys of Ered Gorgoroth and the north fences of Doriath.” We know to be the home of the horrible spider creature Ungoliant and her offspring. In “Nan Dungortheb, the riders became enmeshed in shadows, and Aredhed strayed from her companions and was lost.”
Aredhel continued bravely on her own and eventually made it through the dark and shady land and made her way across the ford of the River Aros known as Arossiach to Himlad, the region just underneath Himring and between the River Aros and the River Celon.
She eventually became restless and rode south to explore, when came across a dark wooded forest called Nan Elmoth, where the trees were “the tallest and darkest in all Beleriand.” In these woods dwelled Eöl, “who was named the Dark Elf.“
“There he lived in deep shadow, loving the night and the twilight under the stars.” and was a friend, more of the Dwarves than the Elves of the land, and it was from these Dwarves that he learned to Smith.
Aredhel was taken with Eöl and became his wife in those dark woods of the east, and they eventually had a child, whom Aredhel named “Lómin, that signifies Child of the Twilight,” but whom they called Maeglin.
As Maeglin grew, Eöl taught him everything he knew, and Aredhel told great stories of Turgon and their kin in Gondolin. Over time, those stories made Aredhel homesick and Maeglin anxious to see the world. So when Maeglin went to Eöl to ask him to see Gondolin, Eöl told his son, “You are of the house of Eöl, Maeglin, my son… and not of the Golodhrim. All this land is the land of the Teleri, and I will not deal nor have my son deal with the slayers of our kin, the invaders and usurpers of our homes. In this, you shall obey me, or I will set you in bonds.“
Well, of course, the teenager responded how most teenagers would respond. He waited until Eöl went out to do business with the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains, and he talked his mother into leaving to seek Gondolin.
They left on horseback and hugged the forests of Doriath, making their way to Gondolin, but Eöl came back sooner than they expected and when they weren’t home he gave chase to them.
He stopped in Himlad and spoke to Celegorm and Curufin, who had no love for Eöl but still told him they saw his wife and son making their way West. So he rode hard and finally saw them in the distance at the Outer Gate of Gondolin.
The Noldor and Turgon rejoiced upon the returning of Aredhel and brought Maeglin in as a son: “And Maeglin shall have the highest honour in my realm.“
Maeglin begins a courtship with Idril, the Kings daughter, and all seems peaceful and kind. Then Eöl was brought forth by the guards and presented to Turgon, who accepted him graciously, but let him know that, now that Eöl knew where Gondolin was, he would not be able to leave by the laws of his land.
“I acknowledge not your law,” Turgon responds, and we get the quote that opens this essay. The two Elves verbally spar and eventually impasse with Turgon telling Eöl he must stay or die. Suddenly Eöl, “swift as a serpent, (he) seized a javelin that he held hid beneath his cloak and cast it at Maeglin, crying: ‘The second choice I take and for my son also! You shall not hold what is mine!'”
Aredhel, anticipating his movement, dove in front and took the spear, eventually dying that evening from the wound it caused.
Turgon took up Eöl in grief and “cast him over the Caragdûr,” killing him.
Remember at the beginning of this essay; I mentioned that we began to see the rift forming? Idril, Turgon’s daughter, gained a considerable mistrust of her kinsmen for this act. She grew and eventually married, despite Maeglin’s ever-deepening love of her. This love “turned to darkness in his heart” that the “dark seed of evil was sown.”
Maeglin became a great warrior and prince of the land and brought the technology of the Dwarves to Gondolin, which made the weapons and armor so advanced as they ended up being, which was essential during Nirnaeth Arnoediad, or the Fifth battle in the Wars of Beleriand. Otherwise known as “Tears Unnumbered.”
These rifts in the kin who are growing to take power are the corrupted seeds of doubt that will cause the destruction coming. Essentially we have a number of Noldor (Turgon, Celegorm, and Curufin) who have come in contact with this Teleri. Eöl may have been looking for his wife and son, but the disrespect he showed created even deeper bad feelings between the Noldor and the remaining Elvish clans.
Then beyond that the progress the Noldor are making in technology. Remember that industry is a four-letter word to Tolkien, and whereas the development of weapons and armor aren’t necessarily industry per se, the Noldor are the only elves seeking to be industrious in the ways of war, whereas the rest are looking to enjoy their solitude.
There have been hints of the Noldor assaulting Thingol in Doriath, and there are hints of the absolute destruction of Beleriand. Where will we see the traces of this destruction?
I have a suspicion we’ll find new information next week in “Of the coming of the Men into the West.”
“And on a time Melian said: ‘There is some woe that lies upon you and your kin. That I can see in you, but all else is hidden from me; for by no vision or thought can I perceive anything that passed or passes in the West: a shadow lies over all the land of Aman, and reaches far out over the sea. Why will you not tell me more?‘”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! We do not quite jump back into the story this week but instead dive deeper into the politics of the Eldar in Beleriand and learn just how tenuous relations are.
Tolkien starts the chapter with a non sequitur. He tells how Turgon, the second son of Fingolfin, under the guidance of Ulmo, finds a location to build a city in the upper Sirion:
“Then Turgon knew that he had found the place of his desire, and he resolved to build there a fair city, a memorial of Tirion upon Túna.“
If you remember, Túna was a great green hill at the edge of Valinor, and Tirion was the great watchtower built there. If we remember from last week which great city was built upon the upper Sirion, we know that Turgon will build Gondolin “after two and fifty years of secret toil.”
Over the years, Turgon brought his people there from Nevrast (The north-western coast) in secret. As a result, they flourished in Gondolin; “their skill in labour unceasing, so that Gondolin upon Amon Gwareth became fair indeed and fit to compare even with the Elven Tirion beyond the sea.“
Tolkien gives us a page break and switches gears on us. We go south to Doriath, through the Girdle of Melian into Menegroth, “The Thousand Caves.”
We immediately get the quote that opens this essay and know that Tolkien is showing us the rift, which will give Morgoth enough space to wiggle in.
The conversation is between Galadriel and Melian, where Melian asks for the story of how the Noldor came to Beleriand. Unfortunately, Galadriel is cagey, and where she tells Melian the truth of what happened, Galadriel lies by omission. Melian sees through the deception:
“I believe not that the Noldor came forth as messengers of the Valar, as was said at first: not though they came in the very hour of need.“
Galadriel decides that she must give more information, but does not want to betray her kin, so she “spoke to Melian of the Silmarils, and the slaying of King Finwë at Formenos; but still, she said no word of the Oath, nor the Kinslaying, nor the burning of the ships at Losgar.”
Melian takes it in but is not fooled. “Now much you tell me, and yet more I perceive. A darkness you would cast over the long road from Tirion, but I see evil there, which Thingol should learn for his guidance.”
It must be challenging to fool a Maiar.
She foretells “the Light of Aman and the fate of Arda lie locked now in these things (the Silmarils), the work of Fëanor, who is gone. They shall not be recovered, I foretell, by any power of the Eldar; and the world shall be broken in battles that are to come, ere they are wrestled from Morgoth.“
Thingol replies that he is not worried about it because Morgoth is their shared enemy, and Thingol believes that he is safe as long as Morgoth is around. Then, Melian gives one final chilling phrase: “Their swords and their councils will have two edges.”
We get another page break, indicating Tolkien is taking us to a different locale, thrusting us into a council of the Eldar of Beleriand. It is here that the truth comes out:
“‘I marvel at you, son of Eärwen,’ said Thingol, ‘that you would come to the board of your kinsman thus red-handed from the slaying of your mother’s kin, and yet say naught in defence, nor seek any pardon!’“
They argue, these sons of Finwë, but once all comes clear, Finarfin and Fingolfin, descendants from a Sindarin mother, are given amnesty from Thingol. It is the sons of Fëanor, the pureblood Noldor, who accept the wrath of Thingol:
“‘Go now!’ he said. ‘For my heart is hot within me. Later you may return if you will; for I will not shut my doors forever against you, my kindred, that were ensnared in an evil you did not aid. With Fingolfin and his people also I will keep friendship, for they have bitterly atoned for such ill as they did. And in our hatred of the Power that wrought all this woe our griefs shall be lost. But hear my words! Never again in my ears shall be heard the tongue of those who slew my kin in Alqualondë! Nor in all my realm shall it be openly spoken, while my Power endures. All the Sindar shall hear my command that they shall neither speak with the tongue of the Noldor nor answer it.“
The sons of Fëanor left, knowing that the words of Mandos, uttered so many years before, were coming true. The language of Noldor was not spoken outside of the clan. The Noldor learned and spoke the Sindarin tongue.
Here the rift created by Fëanor’s hot-blooded anger for Morgoth takes hold. The Noldor lived without consequence for hundreds of years, and now their lives have darkened.
While reading this history, I have been wondering how the Noldor would take the consequences spoken by Mandos, and I have been thinking that they will just become isolationists and not participate in future conflicts with Morgoth. However, now I wonder if there are insurgent feelings within the Noldor. Could they possibly bring the war to their kin?
Next week, let us find out in chapter sixteen, “Of Maeglin.”
“Thus the sons of Fëanor under Maedhros were the lords of East Beleriand, but thier people were in that time mostly in the north of the land, and southward they rode only to hunt in the greenwoods. But there Amrod and Amras had their abode, and they came seldom northward while the Siege lasted; and there also other of the Elf-lords would ride at times, even from afar, for the land was wild but very fair. Of these Finrod Felagund came most often, for he had great love of wandering, and he came even into Ossiriand, and won the friendship of the Green-elves. But none of the Noldor went ever over Ered Lindon, while their realm lasted; and little news and late came into Beleriand of what passed int he regions of the East.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we finish covering the holdings of the denizens of Beleriand and try to take a deeper look into how that will shape the world.
We began last week by covering Morgoth’s home, so this week I wanted to start by revisiting another old nemesis, Ungoliant.
If you remember, she left Angband and went south through Dorthonian. On “the sheer precipices of Ered Gorgoroth, Mountains of Terror,” it was there that Ungoliant, the giant spider dwelt. It was also there in the Mountains of Terror that her “foul offspring lurked and wove their evil nets, and the thin waters that spilled from Ered Gorgoroth were defiled, and perilous to drink, for the hearts of those that tasted them were filled with shadows of madness and despair.“
It’s worthy to note that Shelob, the giant spider creature from Return of the King, was one of those offspring of Ungoliant. Mordor must have spawned in Dorthonian because the children of Ungoliant made their home on the side of those mountains which bordered Dorthonian (The area known as Nan Dungortheb), and that was the pass Frodo and Sam took, through the den of Shelob, to get to Mordor.
But back to the First Age. Directly south of Ungoliant’s hovel is “the guarded woods of Doriath, abode of Thingol, the Hidden King, into whose realm none passed save by his will.” Thingol’s realm takes up the majority of the very center of Beleriand guarded by the Girdle of Melian. Everything in Doriath, from the caves of Menegroth in the east to the south where the River Aros met the River Sirion is within Thingol’s rule and protection.
To the west of this confluence, there is a region named Aelin-uial, or The Twilight Meres; “the land rose into great wooded highlands of Taur-en-Faroth.” These highlands are the region where Finrod established Nargothrond.
Nargothrand was set in a part of a range of hills that spread from Taur-en-Faroth to East Beleriand and ended in a single stand-alone hill called Amon Ereb. It was there, on Amon Ereb, where Denethor I (again this is the Elf and not the Steward of Gondor from Return of the King) had his last stand against the minions of Morgoth to assist Thingol.
Tolkien takes us to the east of Beleriand and spends a page describing the River Gelion. “he rose in two sources and had at first two branches; Little Gelion that came from the Hill of Himring, and Greater Gelion that came from Mount Rerir.“
Gelion breaks up East Beleriand and creates two separate regions. Thargelion and Ossiriand, otherwise known as The Land of the Seven Rivers. In Ossiriand, a tributary of the southmost river, Tol Adurant, created Tol Galen, which made an island, “There Beren and Lúthien dwelt after their return.” We’ll get to it in a later chapter (I’m assuming, but there is a chapter called “Of Beren and Lúthien,” so that’s gotta be it, right?).
But we must understand that this is The Land of Seven Rivers, so there has to be some presence from Ulmo, the Valar of water. But, beyond that, this is also the land of the Green-Elves, who had some incredible talents:
“The woodcraft of the Elves of Ossiriand was such that a stranger might pass through their land from end to end and see none of them. They were clad in green in spring and summer, and the sound of their singing could be heard even across the waters of Gelion; wherefore the Noldor names that country Lindon, the land of music.”
The mountains from which all seven rivers come are a mountain range named Ered Lindon (or Ered Luin). Because of the nature of the Green-Elves, I believe these Eldar are the most faithful to the Valar of any of the Elves remaining in Beleriand.
If you recall from the Ainulindalë (otherwise known as the Music of the Ainur), the Valar musical themes are what formed the world. It is still, even to this point in the First Age, music of the Valar that can augment the world or inspire change in minds. These Green-Elves are still signing and using music as part of their lives and religion. In contrast, no other Eldar, the Sindar in Doriath nor the Noldor in Mithrim, uses music anymore. One believes in isolationism (Thingol and Melian, ruling from their girdle), and the other believes in nationalism (putting down and only trusting those who are Noldor). The Green-Elves are the only ones who never lost their way… and they never even got to Valinor. I have to wonder if this is why Beren and Lúthien went there to recuperate.
Before I get too far into speculation, let’s take a step back because this chapter merely describes locations, not histories. So we jump from Ossiriand and go north to the March of Maedhros, which we touched on briefly last week.
Himring lies on the Western edge of the March of Maedhros, but if we follow this range east, it goes all the way to Mount Rerir where the River Gelion starts, and there in the shadows of Ered Lindon “was Lake Helevorn, deep and dark, and beside it, Caranthir had his abode.”
Caranthir was the fourth son of Fëanor and the most like his father: Quick to judgment and anger. He ruled “all the great land between Gelion and the mountains, and between Rerir and the River Ascar.” Below this was Ossiriand and above it was Lothlann. To the west was Beleriand and to the right beyond Ered Lindon was the Blue Mountains; the land of the dwarves. “it was here (in Thargelion) that the Noldor first met the Dwarves.“
The stage is now set. We know where the Eldar have taken their stake in Beleriand and its surroundings. I can only imagine that Tolkien wanted to clarify where everything was because he wanted to move forward with some action, some history, without forever having to explain where things were.
As we move forward, I’ll do my best to harken back to this chapter for clarity so everyone knows where in the land these events are happening. Not only for clarity but hopefully also for foreshadowing on events that we know occur in the future.
So join me next week as we continue on this incredible journey in “Of the Noldor in Beleriand.”
“Thus the realm of Finrod was the greatest by far, though he was the youngest of the great lords of the Noldor, Fingolfin, Fingon, and Maedhros, and Finrod Felagund. But Fingolfin was held overlord of all the Noldor, and Fingon after him, though their own realm was but the northern land of Hithlum; yet their people were the most hardy and valiant, most feared be the Orcs and most hated by Morgoth.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we delve into the realm of Beleriand and gain a greater understanding of where each faction of the Eldar takes as their home.
The book has gone beyond being very dry to transitioning to some fascinating tales. So, unfortunately, this chapter takes a step backward, but for an important reason:
“This is the fashion of the lands into which the Noldor came, in the north of the western regions of Middle-earth, in the ancient days; and here also is told of the manner in which the chieftains of the Eldar held their lands and the leaguer upon Morgoth after the Dagor Aglared, the third battle in the Wars of Beleriand.”
We finally get some reference to the locations and people described.
Tolkien was known to love nature and hate what industry did to the purity of the world. We can see this in The Lord of the Rings movies on full display with the destruction of Fangorn Forest through the industry of Isengard. Here, in the First Age, Morgoth does much the same. First, he makes his fortress in the wastes of the north and calls it Angband, otherwise known as “The Hells of Iron.” He then built a great tunnel leading out of Ered Elgin (Ered is the Elvish name for Mountain. Thus, Ered Elgin is called the Iron Mountains) for his minions to spread throughout Beleriand. At the end of this tunnel, he built a mighty gate, “But above this gate, and behind it even to the mountains, he piled the thunderous towers of Thangorodrim, that were made of the ash and slag of his subterranean furnaces, and the vast refuse of his tunnelings.”
This passage shows the Evil (with a capital E) in Tolkien’s eyes. The destruction of the world in the (false) name of progress.
But since this chapter glosses over events, for want of explaining locals, we switch to the other residents of Beleriand who managed to live with and in the world, just as Yavanna’s song of creation would have them.
“To the West of Thangorodrim lay Hísilómë, the Land of Mist…Hithlum it became in the tongue of the Sindar who dwelt in those regions.“
From my meager knowledge, I believe that the lands of Beleriand make up much of what we know of the landscape of Middle-earth in the Third Age, and based upon the name of the region, could this be what will become the Misty Mountains? There is no direct correlation except through the wording. However, Tolkien was always so specific with his world and language that I will go out on a limb and say it’s so.
Then we come across another little gem hidden in the text. Within Hithlum to the south is a region known as Dor-Lómin:
“But their cheif fortress was at Eithel Sirion in the east of Ered Wethrin, whence they kept watch upon Ard-galen; and their cavalry rode upon that plain even to the shadow of Thangorodrim, for from few their horses had increased swiftly…Of those horses many of the sires came from Valinor,”
I have to wonder if these are the glorious beginnings of the wonderous horses of the Rohirrim, which we see in “The Two Towers” as the riders of Rohan, whose duty it was to guard the fields of that land. Again there is no definitive statement, but it makes quite a bit of sense.
Moving west still, we go to Nevrast, where “for many years was the realm of Turgon the wise, son of Fingolfin.” Nevrast was a marshy land settled between the sea and the mountains where most of the Grey-elves lived.
Directly east of Dor-Lómin, across Ered Wethrin and Tol (Elvish for River) Sirion, lay Dorthonion where “Angrond and Agnor, sons of Finarfin, looked out over the fields of Ard-galen.” and in the west of Dorthonion was the Tol Sirion, where Finrod ruled. It was there, “in the midst of the river he built a mighty watch-tower, Minas Tirith; but after Nargothrond was made he committed that fortress mostly to the keeping of Orodreth, his brother.“
Minas Tirith! I had no idea Minas Tirith was built in the first age! No wonder it is so massive and beautiful! It was created in the “Pass of Sirion,” the largest and most prominent passage to Beleriand from Ard-galen and where Morgoth would most likely take a straight shot to attack that land. Minas Tirith, and Gondolin, which were built on the opposite side of the river, are the two most significant guardians of the land created by the Eldar.
The last region we’ll talk about this week is the March of Maedhros, which was east of Dorthonian. It was here “dwelt the sons of Fëanor with many people, and their riders often passed over the vast northern plain, Lothlann the wide and empty, east of Ard-galen, lest Morgoth should attempt any sortie against East Beleriand.”
This region was known as Himring, the Ever-cold, “and that was wide-shouldered, bare of trees, and flat upon its summit, surrounded by many lesser hills.” I thought about this area quite a bit, and I wonder if this might be Weathertop, where Frodo took the poison of the blade of the nine. The description of the geography seems appropriate, but I’m unsure of the region.
What is so fascinating is that the Gray Elves, or Sindar, had never gone to Valinor. Instead, Thingol married a Maiar named Melian, and they took up residence in Beleriand (look back at the Girdle of Melian here). Still, it was Fëanor and Fingolfin who came after during the departure of the Noldor from Valinor. These two relations took a protective stance against the rest of the realm.
All locations described in this part of the chapter are lookouts or guards surrounding Ard-Galen so that they might protect against Morgoth and his minions. The opening quote of this essay describes their purpose nicely because it’s curious that Thingol, the Elf who had been there the longest, with a Wife who is more powerful than any Eldar, would hide within their girdle. At the same time, the Noldor would be the protectors. But it is because of that hatred Fëanor had for Morgoth that this came to being.
When he died, his sons took up his mantle, and where they didn’t have the fire, he had to go after Morgoth actively; they took it as their duty to guard the land and stop The fallen Valar from further destruction.
Join me next week as we cover the remainder of Beleriand and complete this chapter!
“In many parts of the land the Noldor and the Sindar became welded into one people, and spoke the same tongue; though this difference remained between them, that the Noldor had the greater power of mind and body, and were mightier warriors and sages, and they built with stone, and loved the hill-slopes and open lands.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we conclude “Of the Return of the Noldor.” and have a deeper discussion about how the world progresses.
We completed the last chapter with Fëanor dying, Maedhros (Fëanor’s son) kidnapped by Morgoth, and Fingon, son of the rival clan of Fingolfin, saving him.
This second portion of the chapter is about the Eldar taking a stake in the land. In contrast, the first half of the chapter was about the fury of Fëanor and the repercussions of that drive to destroy Morgoth (which ultimately failed. Morgoth is still in power at Angband in the north, and he still has the Silmarils). Finally, after “twenty years of the Sun had passed,” this chapter takes place when Fingolfin held a great feast known as the “Feast of Reuniting.”
This gathering brought together Eldar of all kinds together in the woods of Beleriand. They began to learn each other’s languages and healing began to happen, but still, Morgoth brooded in the north.
Tolkien then takes us another thirty years further into the future, past the time of ease and Elves coming together. During this time, Finrod took precedence ahead of all other Elves. Ulmo, the Valar of the Seas, gives both Finrod and Fingolfin a vision that shows trouble caused by Morgoth streaming out from Angband. Both relatives internalize this message and design not to address it with each other, thus preparing for the coming war separately instead of on a conjoined front.
Finrod then brings his sister Galadriel to Doriath, the region which houses Menegroth, the underground mansion of Thingol. “Then Finrod was filled with wonder at the strength and majesty of Menegroth, its treasures and armouries and its many-pillared halls of stone; and it came into his heart that he would build wide halls behind ever-guarded gates in some deep and secret place in the hills.” This “secret place in the hills” soon became known as Nargothrond, which was based on Menegroth and aided in construction by the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains. This secret mansion was the beginning of Finrod’s plans to protect his people against the might of Morgoth when he decided to attack.
But what of Galadriel? She “went with him not to Nargothrand, for in Doriath dwelt Celeborn, kinsman of Thingol, and there was great love between them. Therefore she remained in the Hidden Kingdom, and abode with Melian, and of her learned great lore and wisdom concerning Middle-earth.“
Celeborn is still with her in the Third Age when the Fellowship goes to greet them. He is King to her Queen and stands beside her when they meet the nine wanderers. Here, she came to great power because she learned from Melian, a Maiar, second in power only to the Valar themselves (Gandalf himself is Maiar), which is why I believe she knows so much is so powerful by the time the Third Age comes around.
Concurrently, while Finrod is building his home, while Thingol is hiding in his girdle, while Fingolfin is making his lands in Mithrim, Morgoth stirred. “Believing the report of his spies that the lords of the Noldor were wandering abroad with little thought of war,” he decided to make his move. So his army of Orcs poured south through the fields of Ard-galen, “But Fingolfin and Maedhros were not sleeping,” and they led a host of warriors and utterly wiped out Morgoth’s brood.
“That was the third great battle of the Wars of Beleriand, and it was named Dagor Aglareb, the Glorious Battle.”
The Noldor pushed Morgoth back to Angband and laid siege to the fortress, “Yet the Noldor could not capture Angband, nor could they regain the Silmarils; and war never wholly ceased in all that time of the Siege, for Morgoth devised new evils, and ever and anon he would make trial of his enemies.”
Through hundreds of years following this, there were many skirmishes where Orcs would make their way out of Angband but got consistently pushed back. Even Morgoth’s “new evils” such as “Glaurung, the first of the Urulóki, the Fire Drakes,” could not forge a wedge into the foothold the Noldor had in Beleriand. In fact, after Glaurung’s defeat and retreat to Angband, “…there was the Long Peace of well-nigh two hundred years” where the Noldor and the Sindar built lives and homes in Beleriand.
We are beginning to see how its residents separate Beleriand. The Dwarves are in the Mountains of the East, concerned only with mining and producing their minerals. Many mention their isolationist stance. They don’t care what’s going on above ground in Beleriand and only work with the Noldor and Sindar because they trade.
The Sindar take up residence right smack dab in the middle of the land. Still, the Noldor take the western coast and the northwest with Mithrim (which I also find interesting because of the notorious mineral the Dwarves make into some of the most fantastic armor in the world – Mithril is very close in name to this Noldor held land).
Then there is Morgoth, who is held in his citadel in Angband in the north, too far north, in fact, for any map I’ve seen to show where Angband is.
So what happens next? Do we get any more information about the land and its peoples? Next week, let us find out in “Of Beleriand and it’s Realms.”
“The hearts of the Noldor were high and full of hope, and to many among them it seemed that the words of Fëanor had been justified, bidding them seek freedom and fair kingdoms in Middle-earth; and indeed there followed after long years of peace, while their swords fenced Beleriand from the ruin of Morgoth, and his power was shut behind his gates. In those days there was joy beneath the new Sun and Moon, and all the land was glad; but still the Shadow brooded in the north.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we delve into the lore of the Noldor Elves and begin to see that despite the chapter name’s promise, Valinor is now beyond the reach of our supposed protagonists.
I began this chapter assuming that the title “Of the Return of the Noldor” would have to do with them returning to Valinor; however, as the chapter progressed, I realized that the name intended to show that the name’s meaning was the Noldor had returned to Beleriand to stay.
This chapter shows many great struggles over the land of Beleriand between the Eldar (the elves) and Morgoth, including two different “wars for Beleriand.“
We begin by rehashing previous chapters, the landing of Fëanor and his sons “on the outer shores of the Firth of Dengrist.” They “made their encampment” in Mithrim, in the northwest of Beleriand. Morgoth, seeing the flames of the ships they burned to stop Fingolfin from following them, anticipated their arrival and brought a host of foes to attack them. The skirmish is “the Second battle in the Wars of Beleriand,” and in Elvish, Dagor-nuin-Giliath, or “The Battle Under the Stars.”
We have jumped around in time in telling these histories because this battle took place before the creation of the Sun and Moon that we saw a few chapters ago. The altercation is known as “The Battle Under the Stars” because neither the Sun nor Moon had risen. Any light in Beleriand came from the stars of Valinor.
But Morgoth made an error in judgment because he didn’t truly comprehend the fury of Fëanor and his vast hatred for Morgoth:
“The Noldor, outnumbered and taken unawares, were yet swiftly victorious, for the light of Aman was not yet dimmed in their eyes.”
The starlight is the same light you see in Galadriel’s eyes in the movie, as she is the last of the Noldor who had lived to see the stars of Valinor.
Fëanor pushed Morgoth’s forces back to Ard-galen (above the mountains at the very north of Beleriand) and his stronghold at Angband. The Noldor had won, but Morgoth struck a victory because “Fëanor, in his wrath against the Enemy, would not halt, but pressed on behind the remnant of the Orcs, thinking so to come at Morgoth himself.“
Fëanor became surrounded by Balrogs, and “at the last he was smitten to the ground by Gothmog, Lord of the Balrogs.“
Fëanor’s sons rescued him from Gothmog and the Balrogs, but the blow was fatal and knew, just before “his body fell to ash, and was borne away like smoke” that “no power of the Noldor would ever overthrow” Angband.
Maedhros, Fëanor’s eldest son, took control of the Noldor and accepted terms from Morgoth, “acknowledgeing defeat, and offering terms, even the surrender of a Silmaril.” Still, it was a trap, and Maedhros was captured, his host slaughtered.
Maedhros’ brother’s retreated to regroup, and at this time, Fingolfin made his way across the icy torrential pass between Valinor and Beleriand. At this time, the Sun rose in the sky, and the dark loving host of Morgoth retreated to the darkness of Angband and its surrounding mountains.
Fingon, the son of Fingolfin, saw more similarities between the Eldar than differences and made a daring plan to save Maedhros and try to bring the Elves together. First, he went to Angband. “Then in defiance of the Orcs, who cowered still in the dark vaults beneath the earth, he took his harp and sang a song of Valinor that the Noldor made of old, before strife was born among the sons of Finwë; and his voice rang in the mournful hollows that had never heard before aught save cries of fear and woe.“
Maedhros hears this song and cries out for him to end him and his torment, but Manwë (the Valar) also hears this song of hope and sends help. “There flew down from the high airs Thorondor, King of Eagles, mightiest of all birds that have ever been, whose outstretched wings spanned thirty fathoms; and stayed Fingon’s hand he took him up, and bore him to the face of the rock where Maedhros hung.“
Strife and distrust continued for many years, but there was gradual acceptance between the different tribes of Elves in Beleriand. The Dwarves, also distrusting, agreed to assist in light of the terror of Morgoth’s influence over the land.
The one hold out was King Thingol, who was safely interred in his “girdle of enchantment.” However, Thingol gave leave for the Noldor and the Naugrim (Dwarves) to stay in the surrounding lands:
“In Hithlum the Noldor have leave to dwell, and in the highlands of Dorthonion, and in the lands east of Doriath that are empty and wild; but elsewhere there are many of my people, and I would not have them restrained of their freedom, still less ousted from thier homes.“
I get the feeling that Thingol will play a much more significant role in things to come, but thus far, he has decided to hole up and take an isolationist stance against Morgoth. We see this echoed in The Lord of the Rings, as initially, the elves want nothing to do with the war against Sauron. Will Thingol change his mind?
Next week, let’s find out as we cover the second half of the chapter “Of the Return of the Noldor.”
“To Hildórien there came no Vala to guide Men, or to summon them to dwell in Valinor; and Men have feared the Valar, rather than loved them, and have not understood the purposes of the Powers, being at variance with them, and at strife with the world.“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we learn of a new species born into Beleriand, Men, and how they came to inherit the world.
This chapter is unique because it gives us a basic overview of how Men (Tolkien uses Men as a stand-in to mean Human-kind) came into being, but Tolkien does not expound upon the History of Middle-earth. Instead, this feels more like his effort to understand the motivations (and potential weaknesses) of Men as unknowing Children of Ilùvatar.
Tolkien tells us: “At the first rising of the Sun the Younger Children of Ilùvatar awoke in the land of Hildóren in the eastward regions of Middle-earth; but the first Sun arose in the West, and the opening eyes of Men were turned towards it, and their feet as they wandered over the Earth for the most part strayed that way.”
Men were called Hildor, otherwise known as the followers, not because they were sheep, but because they were born after Elves and Dwarves. They also had many other names, “the Usurpers, the Strangers, and the Inscrutable, the Self-cursed, the Heavy-handed, the Night-fearers, the Children of the Sun.“
Men were born after the glory of Valinor, and they knew only the cold, complex beauty of Beleriand. They awoke without the knowledge of the Valar or Ilùvatar, which was the Quendi birthright. They were born without knowledge of the light of the Trees of Valinor. All they had was the Sun.
Tolkien fought in World War I, and where he contends that he doesn’t use or like allegory, much of his work is informed by the experiences of his life. In addition, he was a religious man, even co-sponsoring a writing group called the Inklings with C.S. Lewis. The concept of religion and God in The Great War led to his description of Men in The Silmarillion. A few chapters ago, I mentioned that Tolkien’s primary idea with these histories was to eventually tie it back to our Earth (which we caught glimpses of in the chapter last week (Of the Sun and the Moon and the Hiding Valinor). In this chapter, Tolkien tells us how humans were born into a world of ignorance and darkness, yet they strove for the light. As we saw in the quote earlier, Men went west following the Sun, despite their ignorance of its origin.
On top of that, Ulmo tried to get them messages without actually coming back to Middle-earth to inform Men: “and his messages came often to them by stream and flood. But they have not skill in such matters, and still less had they in those days before they had mingled with the Elves. Therefore they loved the waters, and their hearts were stirred, but they understood not the messages.“
I have never met a person who could stand before the Ocean and turn away. The waters bring life to us, and they stir our souls to peace. This connection to the water is what Tolkien was looking for to glue our world with Aman.
Beyond that, Tolkien tells us, “Men were more frail (than the Eldar), more easily slain by weapons or mischance, and less easily healed; subject to sickness and many ills; and they grew old and died.“
We also catch a glimpse of a story yet told; “None have ever come back from the mansions of the dead, save only Beren son of Barahir, whose hand had touched a Silmaril; but he never spoke afterward to mortal Men. The fate of Men after death, maybe is not in the hands of the Valar.”
This paragraph shows Tolkien’s framing of an afterlife, with a Persephone-like callback. Beren dies and then comes back because he has more profound knowledge of the world because of his connection with the Silmaril, which garners its power from The light of the Trees of Valinor. Beren is brought back from the dead through the power of Heaven.
We end the chapter by Tolkien telling us, “those of the Elven-race that lived still in Middle-earth waned and faded, and Men usurped the sunlight.“
Men, the ignorant, had now taken over the world. The magic of the world (the Music of Ainur) began to fade, and a feeling of hard-and-fast reality began to occur.
This chapter is fascinating and tragically beautiful. It is very short (which is why I wanted to discuss various theories rattling around in my brain), but there is perhaps more weight in this chapter than in any previous one.
And where do we go from here? Join us next week as we progress in the story in the next chapter: “Of the Return of the Noldor.”
“Isil the Sheen the Vanyar of Old named the Moon, flower of Telperion in Valinor; and Anar the Fire-golden, fruit of Laurelin, they named the Sun. But the Noldor named them also Rána, the Wayward, and Vása, the Heart of Fire, that awakens and consumes; for the Sun was set as a sign for the awakening of Men and the waning of the Elves, but the Moon cherishes their memory.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! Instead of continuing on the tale of the Wars of Beleriand, Tolkien takes a step back this week and gives us some worldbuilding. We are prepping for the coming of Man, and this chapter paves the way for that to happen.
The chapter opens by returning us to Valinor and the council of Valar as they try to discern a course of action in the wake of the death of Telperion and Laurelin (the Trees of Valinor).
Yavanna goes to the trees, mourning their passing until she realizes that “Telperion bore at last upon a leafless bough one great flower of silver, and Laurelin a single fruit of gold.“
Manwë then hallowed them, and Aulë made a vessel to hold and protect them and their light. These vessels were to “become lamps of heaven,” so the Valar “gave them power to traverse the lower regions of Ilmen.” Ilmen is their word for the sky or the heavens (specifically, Tolkien called it “The region above the air where the stars are” in the name index).
The Valar did so to bring light back to Middle-earth, but also because “Manwë knew also that the hour of the coming of Men was neigh.” Since the Valar went to war with Melkor over the Quendi, they decided that they must then do something for the subsequent children of Ilùvatar. Men were to be mortal, whereas the Elves were not, so as a gift to them, these “lamps of heaven” were to become the Sun and the Moon, which we see in the opening quote of this essay.
We get two understandings from creating these two celestial bodies—the knowledge of mortality and the future sign of the Elves.
We know that Men are mortal, though, in Middle-earth, they had very long lives. But why would men be mortal when all other creatures are immortal (in Aman, beings can be killed at any time, Men are the only ones who have a definitive end to their life span)?
It’s the coming of time.
Before creating the Sun and the Moon, there was no absolute distinction of the passing of time. These started a day and an evening before Men even existed, thus establishing time benchmarks.
Men came into being knowing that there were absolutes, and where Tolkien doesn’t come out and say so (at least not yet), there is little coincidence here because Tolkien chose his wording very carefully.
It is also the first time we see “Earth” in the text instead of using Aman or Eà. I had heard somewhere that Tolkien’s main goal was to tie the history of Middle-earth into our own, so it would make sense that this is an origin story of mythological levels.
The second understanding we get here is the sign of the Elves. The Leaf of Telperion becomes the sign for the Moon or of Twilight. The Elves in Middle-earth prefer to live in Twilight, and we even see this in “The Lord of the Rings” with Arwen, also called Arwen Evenstar. Remember that Tolkien was a linguist, so knowing how we think about language, the phrase “Evening Star” could become the contraction of Evenstar.
The Evenstar is quintessentially recognizable because it’s the trinket that holds her essence, which she gives to Aragorn.
Peter Jackson took some liberties with the movie because here in the text of The Silmarillion; it’s told that the Evenstar, the sign of the Elves, is a “Flower of Silver.“
There is a certain melancholy associated with the Elves because “Evening, the time of the descent and resting of the Sun, was the hour of greatest light and joy in Aman.”
The Elves didn’t like the light; they preferred the Twilight, which could be why they called the land in Valinor “The Grey Havens.” It was not to indicate depression, but of a final blessing, the last light to be with the Valar in Valinor where they are meant to be. The Grey Havens are almost a moniker for Heaven. The phrasing is so close that it’s hard to refute.
But it was also during this time that Heaven became challenging to attain. The Valar became concerned for Valinor because of Morgoth’s wrath. He settled into his rage, and the Valar finally came to realize that Morgoth was intractable; thus, they created a barrier around Aman:
“But in the Calacirya they set strong towers and many sentinels, and at its issue upon the plains of Valmar a host was encamped, so that neither bird nor beast nor elf nor man, nor any creature beside that dwelt in Middle-earth, could pass that leaguer.“
Thus the creed of Mandos we saw two chapters ago became true:
“Thus it was that as Mandos foretold to them in Araman the Blessed Realm was shut against the Noldor; and many messengers that in after days sailed into the West none came ever to Valinor – save one only: the mightiest mariner of song.“
So how does Fëanor take this? Does he get along with the new children of Ilùvatar, Men?
Find out next week in “Of Men.”
“And when the building of Menegroth was achieved, and there was peace in the realm of Thingol and Melian, the Naugrim yet came ever and anon over the mountains and went in traffic about the lands; but they went seldom to the Falas, for they hated the sound of the sea and feared to look upon it. To Beleriand there came no other rumour or tidings of the world without.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we take a step back from the Noldor and look at their Kin, the Sindar, who remained in Beleriand and forsook the light of Valinor. We also get a look at a brand new race, only glanced over in previous chapters.
This chapter looks to fill in the blanks from what transpired on Beleriand during the ages of Melkor on Valinor. In the first few sentences, Tolkien informs us of another famous legend of Middle-earth; a child of Eldar and Maiar. Next, we find that “at the end of the first age of Melkor… there came into the world Lùthien, the only child of Thingol and Melian.”
I don’t know much about Lùthien, but I know that she loved Beren and had such a well-known story; it’s even told during “The Lord of the Rings.” The good news is we won’t have to wait long because their tale is Chapter 19 in The Silmarillion.
This chapter goes back to the more complex language, as it’s more exposition than storytelling; however, I find it fascinating how many little details Tolkien inserts throughout the text. They are barely mentioned, but they give flavor to the world and take higher importance in “The Lord of the Rings.” For example:
“and there in the forest of Neldoreth Lùthien was born, and the white flowers of niphredil came forth to greet her as stars from the earth.”
The niphredil is a white flower that bloomed only in the moonlight with Lùthien’s birth, but they were also in Lothlorien during “The Fellowship of the Ring.”
These are the connections I was hoping to find in this project. They may be small and seemingly insignificant, but they bring together the world in such a way that makes it a cohesive history rather than just a series of tales. I’ll continue to point these little nuggets out as best as I can from my current understanding of the history of Middle-earth and its environs.
Back to the story:
“It came to pass during the second age of the captivity of Melkor that Dwarves came over the Blue Mountains of Ered Luin into Beleriand. Themselves they named Khazâd, but the Sindar called them Naugrim, the Stunted People, and Gonnhirrim, Masters of Stone.”
The Dwarves earned that name because they delved into the mountains, more specifically Ered Luin on the eastern side of Beleriand. There they built (or instead dug) their massive cities, Gabilgathol and Tumnunzahar, but the “Greatest of all the mansions of the Dwarves was Khazad-dûm, the Darrowdelf, Hadhodrond in the Elvish tongue, that was afterwards in the days of its darkness called Moria.”
If you are reading this essay, you know what Moria is and will be, as it’s central to The Fellowship of the Ring, but what’s noticeably absent is the animosity the Dwarves and Elves feel for each other. There is even a passage where Tolkien tells us: “but at that time those griefs that lay between them had not yet come to pass…”
The Dwarves were eager to learn the Elvish tongue, and even though the Naugrim (Dwarven) tongue was “cumbrous and unlovely.” the Elves learned it back as well.
They trafficked goods with each other and praised one another. Then, after years of this communion, Melian “councelled Thingol that the Peace of Arda would not last for ever.”
So Thingol sought council with the Dwarves, and they agreed to dig him out of a dwelling for protection against a possible incursion from Morgoth and his minions. They called this underground mansion Menegroth or the Thousand Caves.
They did it at the right time because “…ere long the evil creatures came even to Beleriand, over passes in the mountains, or up from the south through the dark forests.”
Of course, there are Orcs, but we also see new creatures, Wolves and Werewolves. Seeing these new and horrid creatures, the Dwarves made for the Elves armor, which”surpassed the craftsmen of Nogrod, of whom Telchar the smith was greatest in renown.”
The Sindar drove off the creatures of darkness with the help of the “war-like” Dwarves. For a time, there was peace. Then, Denethor gathered the Elves who did not make the journey into Beleriand (no, not that Denethor. This is an Elf, Son of Lenwë, and a chieftain of nomadic/hunter-gather elves.) and brought to Menegroth.
During this gathering and goodwill, Morgoth and Ungoliant were busy fleeting Valinor and soon headed east to clash with King Thingol and the Thousand Caves. Orcs descended upon Menegroth in ferocity, and there was “fought the first battle in the Wars of Beleriand.“
The Elves were victorious, but so brutal and quickly spawning the Orcs were, that Melian had to use some of her Maiar powers and formed “the Girdle of Melian, that none thereafter could pass against her will or the will of King Thingol.” They were thus protected, but unfortunately, outside of the field, the creatures of Morgoth roamed free.
But across the seas, things were stirring. It was just after the Girdle of Melian was created that Fëanor and his host made their way to Beleriand.
Now we have three forces coming together, and thinking back on the “Questionable decisions” Fëanor made that forced his wife from him, I have to wonder if this firey elf caused the Wars of Beleriand. Could he be the reason the Dwarves and Elves dislike each other? Could he be the cause of the Wars of Beleriand altogether?
Next week, let’s find out in “Of the Sun and Moon and the Hiding of Valinor.”
I had some difficulty with this chapter because my time frame kept getting confused. That’s because Tolkien uses “ages” as a time sobriquet. This chapter had the “first age of Melkor’s chaining.” which is different from the “first age of the Valar” and even more different from “the first age of man” or the “First age of Èa.”
It takes a minute to dig down into what’s happening, but this is Tolkien’s definition of time. The way he wrote these histories they were short stories he framed (or rather his son, Christopher, did) into a larger spectrum. So for his brain to formulate the times, they were ages, and the events could happen within those ages. We haven’t gotten to the language or time of Tolkien, but both of those will need individual essays.
“Fëanor was a master of words, and his tongue had great power over hearts when he would use it; and that night he made a speech before the Noldor which they ever remembered. Fierce and fell were his words, and filled with anger and price; and hearing them the Noldor were stirred to madness. His wrath and his hate were given most to Morgoth, and yet well nigh all that he said came from the very lies of Morgoth himself; but he was distraught with grief for the slaying of his father, and with anguish for the rape of the Silmarils.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we delve into the mindset of the Noldor as they divest themselves from the rest of the Eldar. We’ll also catch a glimpse of a very well-known Noldor, and we’ll get a greater understanding of Fëanor’s motivations.
We begin this chapter right where the last one left off. Melkor and Ungoliant killed the Trees of Valinor and fled Aman. Yavanna, the Valar who created the Trees, mourns them but comes to realize, “The Light of the Trees has passed away and lives now only in the Silmarils of Fëanor. Foresighted was he!”
Yavanna asks him to give up his Silmarils because “had I but a little of that light I could recall life to the Trees.”
He was excited at this prospect, but many Valar pressured Fëanor to relinquish his prized creations. Still, Fëanor ponders this option until the deception of Melkor, which we learned of in chapter 7, comes back into Fëanor’s mind; it was all a trick. Wasn’t Melkor, now Morgoth, Valar as well? Was this just an elaborate scheme to get Fëanor to give up his creation?
But it was not a trick, and in the darkness, Morgoth returned and “slew Finwë King of the Noldor before his doors, and spilled the first blood in the Blessed Realm.” This single act solidified Morgoth’s transition to evil as he broke into the stronghold of Formenos and stole the Silmarils.
He then fled with Ungoliant across the frozen strait of Helcaraxë, which separated Aman (Valinor) from Middle-earth. Ungoliant demanded that Morgoth feed her the gems he stole, but he held back the Silmarils, and as punishment to him, “she enmeshed him in a web of clinging thongs to strangle him.” He was stuck there in a land which would be called Lammoth, “for the echoes of his voice dwelt there ever after, so that any who cried aloud in that land awoke them, and all the waste between the hills and the sea was filled with a clamour as voices in anguish.”
These cries woke the Balrogs who rested beneath Angband (Morgoth’s domain) and came with their flame whips to “smote the webs of Ungoliant asunder” and frightening her enough to flee.
She took shelter in Nan Dungortheb in the north of Middle-earth (then Beleriand) and mated with the giant spider creatures which lived there. After that, it is unknown what happened to Ungoliant, though “some have said that she ended long ago, when in her uttermost famine she devoured herself at last.“
On the other hand, Morgoth fled to Angband and grew his army of Orcs (made from corrupting Elves) and demons and beasts and made himself a crown of iron which he inlaid the Silmarils.
“His hands were burned black by the touch of those hallowed jewels, and black they remained ever after; nor was he ever free from the pain of the burning, and the anger of the pain.“
This pain fueled his hatred and made him an even more significant threat to the tenants of Ea.
Here we catch a page break and switch gears. Here, the quote that begins this essay appears, and we spend the rest of the chapter discovering why the Noldor left Valinor and the strife that arose amongst them.
What is interesting about this chapter is that Fëanor, who hates Morgoth more than anything else in the world, falls right into his trappings. All the lies Morgoth whispered to the Noldor somehow seep into his mind, and he stands before his kin and starts a revolution. He does from anger because of the loss of his father and the loss of his creations, the Silmarils. Remember in the chapter that describes the design of the Silmarils. These gems have much the same hold over people as the One Ring does in the Third Age. We have not yet seen the power that they can produce, but could it be that the loss of these gems has clouded Fëanor’s mind? Could this be their power represented without Tolkien coming right out and telling us?
In any case, Fëanor rallies his kin to take “…an oath which none shall break, and none shall take, by the name even of Ilùvatar, calling the Everlasting Dark upon them if they kept it not; and Manwë they named witness, and Varda, and the hallowed mountain of Taniquetil, vowing to pursue with vengeance and hatred to the ends of the World Vala, Demon Elf or Man as yet unborn, or any creature, great or small, good or evil, that time should bring forth unto the end of days, whoso should hold or take or keep a Silmaril from their possession.”
But there was friction amongst their ranks. The sons of Fëanor were staunchly in his corner. Still, Fëanor’s brothers, Finarfin and Fingolfin, disagreed with his harsh sentiments, but they stayed true to their course since they had already joined him in their departure. So they left Valinor, but they and their host left the company of Fëanor and his followers.
This chapter is much more accessible than previous chapters because the dialogue reveals Noldor’s desires. First, they bicker and argue about the best way to do things, and eventually, they split; though the endgame of their intentions is to destroy Morgoth, they go about it differently.
Fëanor uses some of his firey drive and uses the questionable decisions his wife left him for and stole the only ships which can make their way to Beleriand. In the process, they murder some of the Teleri who created the ships, only to flee the land.
His kin is left with no other option but to take the same path as Morgoth and Ungoliant and travel across the frozen pass, Helcaraxë. Unfortunately, many of them die from the passage through the icy straits, which deepened their disdain for Fëanor.
The Noldor became outcasts because of this sundering. They left the land they struggled so hard to get to because of misunderstanding, fear, and desire, and we are left wondering what is to come of the Noldor afterward because of a passage delivered by Mandos, a herald of Manwë:
“Tears unnumbered ye shall shed; and the Valar will fence Valinor against you, and shut you out, so that not even the echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains. On the house of Fëanor the wrath of the Valar lieth from the West unto the uttermost East, and upon all that will follow them it shall be laid also. Their Oath shall drive them, and yet betray them, and ever snatch away the very treasures that they have sworn to pursue. To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well; and by treason of kin unto kin, and the fear of treason, shall this come to pass. The Dispossessed shall they be forever.”
Some tales delve deeper into every transgression the Noldor did during this time. They are collected in a “lament which is named Noldolantë, the Fall of the Noldor.” Still, I’m beginning to wonder if these little offshoots are actually written down in other books like “The Book of Lost Tales” or if this is just a little flavor of history that Tolkien wanted to tell but never got around to completing. In any case, I’m very excited to see where the story goes next because we’ve transcended the Biblical style voice the beginning of this book held and have transitioned into a more storyteller fashion.
Will we finally get to see the fate of Fëanor and the Noldor next week? Join me as we review “Of the Sindar.”
I promised that we’d see a familiar face, and I was shocked at the character-building Tolkien was able to instill in a single paragraph:
“Galadriel, the only woman of the Noldor to stand that day tall and valiant among the contending princes, was eager to be gone. No oaths she swore, but the words of Fëanor concerning Middle-earth had kindled in her heart, for she yearned to see the wide unguarded lands and to rule there a realm at her own will.“
Galadriel held a wonder of the wider world to see, experience, and travel. Her curiosity about what life truly means drives her to leave Valinor to go to Beleriand.
It’s more than that, however. Galadriel wanted to be a queen in her own right. She had grown up and seen how the Noldor clung to history and tradition, even to their detriment. This was Galadriel’s time to make a mark. Unfortunately, I’ve not seen her past outside of the books and movies, and it’s been so long since I’ve read the books that I’m sure I’m missing something there, but even so, I hope she is a feature in the remaining story.
“The ring passed to Isildur, who had this one chance to destroy Evil forever. But the hearts of men are easily corrupted. And the ring of power has a will of its own. It betrayed Isildur to his death. And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend, legend became myth and for two and a half thousand years, the ring passed out of all knowledge until, when chance came, it ensnared a new bearer. The ring came to the creature Gollum who took it deep into the tunnels of the misty mountains and there it consumed him. The ring brought to Gollum unnatural long life. For five hundred years, it poisoned his mind. And in the gloom of Gollum’s cave, it waited.“
Welcome back! This week is not exactly a Blind Read, but more of an integration of other media so that we can gain a much more full and expansive understanding of what Tolkien was striving to create.
Tolkien was first and foremost a professor and linguist, and because of this, he spent much of his time in his head creating and developing languages and histories. The writing was his escapism. A young Tolkien went to war during World War I and fought along the Western Front. He fought in many battles, including the formative Battle of the Somme, which would eventually influence his writing style along with his staunch Catholicism.
During his time in the war, the mythology of Middle-earth was born. Tolkien decided to create a mythology for his homeland, England, during convalescence. He put pen to paper and began what is now known as “The Fall of Gondolin,” part of “The Book of Lost Tales.”
From there, things blossomed into other fragments and poems that would eventually become “The Silmarillion” (we will be getting to the histories eventually, even though there are supposedly contradictions and reiterations between the stories).
The Silmarillion is the basis of everything that came after, beginning with “The Hobbit.” and eventually “The Lord of the Rings.” What makes Tolkien more lasting and more entrenched in the ethos of public consciousness is the depth of his world and, thus, his histories.
Tolkien was always going to write The Lord of the Rings. However, at the behest of Tolkien’s publisher for “The Hobbit,” it became the novel that we know and not some dry history that’s as inaccessible as “The Silmarillion,” but the brilliant story that’s an extension of the history he had already created. The Lord of the Rings is the Third Age of Arda, whereas the “Silmarillion” is Arda from the beginning of time (The First Age).
The Fellowship of the Ring begins with the backstory of The Second Age, the first battle between the Maiar acolyte of Morgoth, Sauron, and his creation of the Rings of Power, or more specifically, The One Ring.
The opening quote of this essay is the passage that has stayed with me since watching it for the first time. “Some things that should not have been forgotten were lost.” Upon rewatching The Fellowship of the Ring, I was trying to watch it through the lens of the histories. How well did Jackson adhere to the story while at the same time honoring the history behind the tale? The answer is obvious because of the popularity of the movies. Peter Jackson’s team gave little hints about the history in the “Introductions” to the movies (I.E., the quote above). You would miss small moments if you were not paying attention and would not notice if you knew anything about the histories.
The first significant connection is with the Silmarils. The jewels of power that Fëanor created had a call to power, much like the One ring does in The Fellowship. However, the Silmarils do not show up, so what is the connection? It is not the back story with Ilsildur either, because he was a man of the Second Age. However, it is with the Elves of both Rivendell and Lothlórien. They are all ready to accept their destinies and head to the “Gray Havens,” otherwise known as Valinor. The tale of Middle-earth (or, even better, the larger world of Arda) begins with the Silmarillion, with Ilùvatar creating the Valar, and then later the Elves and Men. From what I have seen thus far in the Silmarillion, the Elves have an overwhelming draw to Valinor. Despite the rifts created by jealousy, Valinor is the Elvenhome.
There is much-maligned of the Elves’ decision not to take part in the battle for Middle-earth. However, by looking at things through Elven eyes (Elrond has an excellent little speech when asked to take part that lightly touches on this point), you can see that Middle-earth is not, and never indeed has been, their home. There is a slight threat that Sauron could conquer all of Middle-earth and encroach upon Valinor, but Morgoth could not even succeed in this aspect, so the thought is that his successor does not stand a chance of it. So why should the elves bother putting their lives at risk?
In the extended version, there is a scene that shows Frodo and Sam watching from the forest as wood elves sing during their exodus to Valinor. It is a shame this scene was cut from the regular version because it shows the reasoning behind the elves’ decision not to fight (to which they later decide to help). They know that the world has moved beyond their time. They are no longer the lords and ladies of Middle-earth; it has now truly become the time of men.
There is only one thing that stands out to me about the history of Middle-earth as they pass through the generations. Galadriel discusses the Rings of Power in the opening monologue and mentions that three are given (or made by?) to the Elves. I have to wonder how this correlates to the Silmarils since there were three of those crystals. Are the rings supposed to be consequent to the Silmarils? Are they supposed to hold similar power? I feel we will find the answer to that as we delve deeper into the history of Middle-earth.
Join me next week as we cover the next chapter in the Silmarillion: “Of The Flight of the Noldor.”
“Then the Unlight of Ungoliant rose up even to the roots of the Trees, and Melkor sprang upon the mound; and with his black spear he smote each Tree to its core, wounded them deep, and their sap poured forth as it were their blood, and was spilled upon the ground. But Ungoliant sucked it up, and going then from Tree to Tree she set her black beak to their wounds, till they were drained; and the poison of Death that was in her went into their tissues and withered them, root, branch, and leaf; and they died.“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we transcend mythology and enter into the true darkness of Middle-earth history.
With Melkor’s rise and an introduction of a surprising and terrible new antagonist, we get a return of Christianity in this chapter and with it, comes the darkest twist of Middle-earth’s history.
We begin this chapter centering upon Melkor, who has become even more adept at fooling the denizens of Valinor:
“Thereafter the watch was redoubled along the northern fences of Aman; but to no purpose, for ere ever the pursuit set out Melkor had turned back, and in secrecy passed away far to the south.“
Melkor finds his way to Avathar, “that narrow land lay south of the Bay of Eldamar,” where he approaches Ungoliant, a giant spiderlike creature who is the ancestor of Shelob of “Return of the King” fame.
Coming across this creature, I wondered where she originated. The Valar created the world with their song, so how could something like a giant evil spider come into being? It turns out that Melkor had a hand in this as well. Suppose you remember that Melkor created the Balrog through his corruption of the Maiar (the assistants of the Valar). It seems that Ungoliant “was one of those that he corrupted to his service.” So just like the Balrog, Ungoliant was not a Giant Spider but transitioned to become a demon much like the Balrog. Still, because she lived amongst the creatures of the forests and mountains, she took the visage of a giant spider instead of the beasts of fire the Balrog became.
These two evil creatures teamed up and created what was known as the Darkening of Valinor, both in metaphor and reality. The quote to begin this essay shows the two killing the Trees of Valinor, blanketing out their light, and blanketing the hope of the Valar.
The most exciting aspect of this chapter is the depiction of the two of them, which is the correlation to Satan (Ironically called the Lightbringer). Melkor, ruled by jealousy, is not outright evil, but because he felt slighted his anger and jealousy grow and eventually devolve him into the demon he is destined to be. Beyond that, we’ve only seen from him as a trickster, much like the demons of other religions and mythologies. This chapter has a few choice quotes to indicate his nature, such as “Thus did the great thief set his lure for the lesser.” (meaning Ungoliant) and another which describes Ungoliant, but has an indication that it duplicates for Melkor: “she hungered for the light and hated it.”
This duplicity perfectly encapsulates the transition from good to evil, but with that sliver of hope, that sliver of light, means that one is not truly evil. Just as Satan was born an Angel and fell because of his jealousies, Melkor was born a Valar of the light of Ilùvatar, but fell to darkness because he believed he deserved more. It was here that Melkor decided that he had indeed chosen his path. The path of darkness instead of light. The Valar could take on any avatar they wished and it was at this point, just before the darkening of Valinor, that Melkor “…put on again the form that he had worn as the tyrant of Utumno: a dark Lord, tall and terrible. In that form he remained ever after.“
But even as darkness comes, and sometimes because darkness comes, the most light shines through. During this time of Darkening, Fëanor made up with his brother Fingolfin to bring the world back together. It was when “The Light failed, but the Darkness that followed was more than loss of light.” It was a time when “all song ceased.” Seeing this, the death of the Trees of Valinor is what spurred on the fellowship of the light.
This light, at a time when Melkor’s “vengeance was achieved.”
Join me next week as we take a look at the Extended Edition of “The Fellowship of the Rings” and tie it to these histories!
There is a mention of another history I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for; The Aldudénië. It is not present in this book, and I hesitate to look forward to other books of the Histories because I don’t want to spoil the nature of the Blind Read, but this is supposedly the tale of the time of the Darkening of Valinor: “So the great darkness fell upon Valinor. Of the deeds of that day, much is told in the Aldudénië, that Elemmírë of the Vanyar made and is known to all the Eldar.” Look out for it in the future!
“Thus with lies and evil whisperings and false council Melkor kindled the hearts of the Noldor to strife; and of their quarrels came at length the end of the high days of Valinor and the evening of its ancient glory. For Fëanor now began openly to speak words of rebellion against the Valar, crying aloud that he would depart from Valinor back to the world without, and would deliver the Noldor from thraldom, if they would follow him.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we inch forward through the history of the elves and get a deeper glimpse into the transgressions of Fëanor.
Last week we learned a bit about the Fëanor’s lineage and how much he progressed beyond his fellow elves. We dig down deeper into Fëanor this week and understand why his wife, Nerdanel, finally ended their relationship.
It’s important to know that Fëanor, the “heart of fire,” emerged as one of the most brilliant of the Noldor, not only in intelligence but in construction, learning much and creating even more. It’s at the beginning of this chapter that we discover a new and exciting revelation:
“In that time were made those things that afterwards were most renowned of all the works of the Elves. For Fëanor, being come to his full might, was filled with a new thought, or it may be that some shadow of foreknowledge came to him of the doom that drew near; and he pondered how the light of the Trees, the glory of the Blessed Realm, might be preserved imperishable. Then he began a long and secret labor, and he summoned all his lore, and his power, and his subtle skill; and at the end of all, he made the Silmarils.”
Ah, here it is! I’ve been waiting to see what the Silmarils are and what they have to do. But unfortunately, we don’t get much information, even in this chapter of their creation. Still, it’s good to know that Fëanor created them, using all the guile he developed from the Valar, and harnessing the light of the two trees of Valinor:
“And the inner fire of the Silmarils Fëanor made of the blended light of the Trees of Valinor, which lives in them yet, though the Trees have long withered and shine no more.”
The Valar were so taken with the “wonder and delight at the work of Fëanor” that “Varda hallowed the Silmarils, so that thereafter no mortal flesh, nor hands of unclean, nor anything of evil will might touch them” and also that “the fates of Arda, earth, sea, and air, lay locked within them.“
So we know immediately that something of that magnitude must have others who crave its power. “Then Melkor lusted for the Silmarils, and that very memory of their radiance was a gnawing fire in his heart.”
Melkor had been released on “good behavior” from his imprisonment but still held that anger in his heart (which we saw last week), but he doesn’t come right out and wage war to get the stones. Instead, he uses a much more subsumed tactic and begins spreading rumors amongst the Noldor:
“Visions he would conjure in their hearts of the mighty realms that they could have ruled at their own will, in power and freedom in the East.“
These visions were the first wedge in the rift between the Eldar and the Valar. Rumors abounded that the Valar were jealous of the Eldar ruling themselves, and that’s why they were brought to Valinor so that they might be subjects instead of free people.
In addition to that, the Eldar (elves) didn’t know about the coming of Men, so Melkor used this lack of knowledge and put thoughts within the Eldar’s heads that the Valar would call Men to the world to supplant them.
This Melkor did to the Elves in general because of his hatred for them, but Fëanor was the focus of his ardor because of the Silmarils, which Fëanor would flaunt and wear; he kept them to himself. In fact, “Fëanor began to love the Silmarils with a greedy love and grudged the sight of them to all save to his father and his seven sons; he seldom remembered now that the light within them was not his own.“
This passage reminds me of something else we’ll see later in the Second and Third Ages. The One Ring. Something with such power and wonder makes people subject to its will.
The influence of the Simarils and the whisperings of Melkor caused the quote at the beginning of this essay. Fëanor created incredible weapons and armor at his secret forge and spoke out against his half-brother Filgolfin and drove him from the house.
Strife billowed out from the house of Finwë (Fëanor’s father), and finally, the Valar understood the unrest brewing within the Noldor. The problem was “since Fëanor first spoke openly against them, they judged that he was the mover of discontent.“
They held a council and found that Melkor was indeed who began the conflict. However, Fëanor still had to answer for the strife he caused, so he was moved to the north of Valinor into the mountains where he had a vault any Dwarf would be proud of, complete with an iron vault that held the Silmarils. This incident was the beginning of the rift between the sons of Fingolfin (Elrond’s ancestor) and Fëanor, which lasted for generations.
Melkor, trying to extend his deception and get a hold of the Silmarils, went to Fëanor and tried to continue his illusion. Still, if you remember from the last chapter, Fëanor held only hatred for shifty Valar, and he banished Melkor (whom Fëanor named Morgoth) from his home. Not having much choice, Melkor fled Valinor back to Araman, giving false hope to all those who dwelt in Valinor, for the shadow moved beyond their vision and grew. To what end?
Next week, let’s find out while we review the chapter “Of the Darkening of Valinor.”
“Then he looked upon their glory and their bliss, and envy was in his heart; he looked upon the Children of Ilùvatar that sat at the feet of the Mighty, and hatred filled him; he looked upon the wealth of bright gems, and he lusted for them; but he hid his thoughts, and postponed his vengeance.“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we focus on an individual and witness the beginning of the rift, which brought the first age to a close.
The chapter begins right where the previous one left off. The Elves were all brought together in Valinor, seemingly happy and together for the first time since the sundering. “This was the Noontide of the Blessed Realm, the fullness of its glory and its bliss, long in tale of years, but in memory too brief.”
This quote seems very appropriate for Elvenkind because they live forever (unless killed), but time does the same thing to everyone. Life passes by quickly, unbeknownst until the time is already gone. I wonder if there is a bit of autobiography here with Tolkien and if his feelings about life and time commingle with the complexity of Middle-earth and Elves.
We soon dive into the reasoning behind this feeling of how long and beautiful and how fleeting life can be.
“In that time was born in Eldamar, in the house of the King in Tirion upon the crown of Tùna, the eldest of the sons of Finwë, and the most beloved. Curufinwë was his name, but by his mother he was called Fëanor, Spirit of Fire; and thus he is remembered in all the tales of the Noldor.”
Thus began days of bliss, but “bearing of her son Míriel was consumed in spirit and body,” and she soon realized that, “Never again shall I bear child; for strength that would have nourished the life of many has gone forth into Fëanor.” She left for the gardens of Lórien to rest but instead passed from the world of Aman.
There is considerable foreshadowing in this sequence. The first is Finwë’s name, Fëanor, because it means Spirit of Fire. The other being that we know of so far in the whole book who has a connection with fire is Melkor; and even created servants for himself through the Maiar made from the deepest of flames – the Balrog.
We also have a trope that Tolkien is introducing. Fëanor has lost his mother and has to deal with the knowledge that his birth pulled the life force from his mother. His internal guilt fuels that Spirit of Fire within him, but beyond that, Finwë then finds another wife not of the Noldor but the Vanyar. Fëanor then has two siblings from a different sect of elves and has a new stepmother.
Finwë did try hard; in fact, we are told, “All his love he gave thereafter to his son.” Fëanor soon “became of all the Noldor, then or after, the most subtle in mind and the most skilled in hand.” Fëanor even “discovered how gems greater and brighter than those of the Earth might be made with skill.”
This essay is a Blind Read, so the only knowledge I have of the world is from the public ethos and reading The Lord of the Rings (which I read before the movies came out). Nevertheless, I remember hearing that the Silmarils (which is what this book is based upon…The Silmaril-lion) were gems the Elves held dear. Could this be the first time we see them?
There is also a connection with the avian creatures which pop up. However, again, “The first gems that Fëanor made were white and colourless, but being set under starlight they would blaze with blue and silver fires brighter than Helium; and other crystals he made also, wherein things far away could be seen small but clear, as with the eyes of the eagles of Manwë.” So there must be some connection between the sentience of the eagles and the gems produced by the Noldor.
Getting back to the story, Fëanor eventually marries Nerdanel, “daughter of the great smith named Mahtan.” “Nerdanel also was firm of will…and at first she restrained him when the fire of his heart grew too hot; but later his deeds grieved her, and they became estranged.” Fëanor and Nerdanel had seven children together, but even that connection was not enough for Fëanor, and his temperament burned too intensely.
Fëanor hotly disliked his two new siblings, Fingolfin and Finarfin, who sired Elrond and Galadriel, as we saw last week. As we move deeper in the story, we can assume this might be where the rifts came from between Fëanor and Nardanel and Fëanor and the rest of the Noldor.
We soon came to the end of the Noontide of Valinor, as Melkor came up for parole (or rather, the Valar gave him a definite “term for his bondage“). However, still, “hatred filled him” and “envy was in his heart.”
How could the Valar possibly do such a thing, you might ask? Nevertheless, Manwë was the one who gave Melkor his release because he believed “that the evil of Melkor was cured.“
How could he possibly believe that imprisonment had cured Melkor? “For Manwë was free from evil and could not comprehend it, and he knew that in the beginning, in the thought of Ilúvatar, Melkor had been even as he; and he saw not the depths of Melkor’s heart and did not perceive that all love had departed from him forever.”
So now Melkor was free. He knew that some of the Valar, like Ulmo, did not believe his repentance, but he hid his vengeance well. He hated the Eldar with everything he had, so he started corrupting them. The Vanyar, however, “held him in suspicion,” but the “Noldor took delight in the hidden knowledge that he could reveal to them; and some hearkened the words that it would have been better for them never to have heard.”
Uh oh. Now we have Melkor released and Fëanor with his soul filled with fire. Would these two spar together and become a new power rising? No.
“Melkor indeed declared afterwards that Fëanor had learned much art from him in secret, and had been instructed by him in the greatest of all his works; but he lied in his lust and his envy, for none of the Eldalië ever hated Melkor more than Fëanor son of Finwë, who first named him Morgoth.“
Apparently, “Fëanor was driven by the fire of his own heart only, working ever swiftly and alone.”
This is where the chapter ends, but we have the beginnings of a wonderfully epic confrontation between the Noldor and Morgoth. From what I understand, Morgoth was the antagonist of the First Age, and it seems as though I may have been wrong. Maybe the power of the fire of Fëanor’s soul is the only thing that saved the Eldar from the matching fire of Morgoth.
Next week, let us find out how the fight began in “Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor.”
“In after days, he became a king renowned, and his people were all the Eldar of Beleriand; the Sindar they were named, the Grey-elves, the Elves of Twilight, and King Greymantle was he, Elu Thingol in the tongue of that land.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we have a concise chapter, so I thought it would be the perfect time to review and dig into theories about what we’ve read so far in The Silmarillion.
This chapter follows Melian, a Maiar (the servants of the Valar), and Elwë, the Lord of the Teleri, whom we saw in the last chapter.
Melian “dwelt in the gardens of Lórien, and among all his people there were none more beautiful than Melian, nor wiser, nor more skilled in songs of enchantment.” She came to middle-earth at the same time as Yavanna, “and there she filled the silence of Middle-earth before the dawn with her voice and the voices of her birds.”
The Teleri who “tarried on the road.” across Middle-earth to Valinor were led by Elwë and Olwë, two brothers. Elwë Singollo, which surname we found in the previous chapter signifies Greymantle, heard the song of the lómelindi (the Nightingales), and in that song he heard the beautiful voice of Melian.
He set out to follow that song, and in doing so, “He forgot then utterly all his people and all the purposes of his mind,” and he was lost in the forest. He met Melian there, lost under the twilight stars, “and straightaway, a spell was laid on him.” He had fallen deeply in love with her and stayed with her in eastern Beleriand, starting their own faction of Eldar, which is what we see in the opening quote of this essay. He became Elu Thingol, King Greymantle of the Sindar, where Olwë, his brother, assumed kingship of the Teleri in his absence and took them to Valinor.
“And of the love of Thingol and Melian there came into the world the fairest of all the Children of Ilùvatar that was or shall ever be.” Namely the Sindar, or Grey-elves.
That is the chapter; not a lot to it, but there are some key points here to latch onto and I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on them. First, we are currently discovering the creation of the peoples of Middle-earth at this point known as Beleriand (from my basic knowledge, Beleriand was sundered in the wars of the first age, which I’m sure will be covered in the remaining text of the Silmarillion.)
The first point I’d like to discuss is song. There was much made of music and song in Peter Jackson’s seminal trilogy and even more in the text of the books. There were characters like Tom Bombadil who basically spoke in music (and I’m inquisitive to see if we get a glimpse of where he came from), poems, and songs sung throughout the books, culminating in Pippin’s song near the end of Return fo the King.
Song and music are rampant throughout Tolkien’s world, and it wasn’t until I began this journey into The Silmarillion that I began to notice that there is a reason behind this. Music is the cornerstone of life; it’s what brings the people of Middle-earth life and happiness and sorrow. Indeed the entire world was built by song…The song of the Valar and Ilùvatar. The music that we’ve all experienced while traversing this incredible creation is an offspring of this idea. The old themes are sung to elicit feeling and emotion and give a glimpse of the past and the future. There is a theory that all music is derivative; all music comes from just a few early and core songs. This shows more gloriously here than anything else because all music portrayed echoes past, an echo of the songs sung by the Valar as the world was being created. One must assume that they all have their own tone and theme incorporated into their song, as varied as a love of nature to the agony of war. The pieces of this music are what create the world and the destination of those within it. I’m so excited to see what other music or song is incorporated moving forward.
The second point I wanted to touch on was language. Tolkien famously created this world based on language, and everything else came from that. This is what makes The Silmarillion so hard to read because there are multiple names for each character and sobriquets based upon whom they interact with. However, the more I dig into the history, the more I’m beginning to understand the language (with the help of the index, of course). Once you come across a name (like Beleriand, the land beyond the bay of Balar), if you’ve paid attention to the core of the word, there’s a good chance you’ll understand where the story is going to go surrounding that character.
The best example of this I can imagine is the introduction of Elwë Singollo. Immediately we are told that Singollo indicates the Greymantle, then everything that follows points towards the creation of the Grey Elves. The Nightingales sing at Twilight, the grey mist when Thingol and Melian meet, right down to their children and followers tribe name…Sindar, which is a derivative of Singollo. They are the Grey Elves, not because of their skin color, but because they were not of the light, meaning that they never went to Valinor, nor are the Sindar from the Dark; they are Elves of Twilight, both of time and location. It is these nuggets I’ll work to uncover as we continue on throughout this blind read.
What will we uncover next?
Join me next week as we move into “Of Eldamar and the Princes of the Eldalië!”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor
“Yet be sure of this: the hour approaches, and within this age our hope shall be revealed, and the Children shall awake. Shall we then leave the lands of their dwelling desolate and full of evil? Shall they walk in darkness while we have light? Shall they call Melkor lord while Manwë sits upon Taniquetil?“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week the First of Ilùvatar’s Children (Elves) awaken, Melkor is thwarted, and we get some in-depth understanding of the creation of Middle-Earth, its peoples, and its antagonists.
We begin this chapter of the history of Middle-earth by finding that the Valar grew comfortable with their creations. Melkor was defeated, and they put him out of their minds, staying away from his lands and “the evil things that he had perverted.” Melkor created a stronghold, commanded by his lieutenant, Sauron (sound familiar?), named Angband. It was here we find the perverted things including the Maiar who followed him: “those spirits who first adhered to him in the days of his splendour, and became most like him in his corruption: their hearts were of fire, but they were cloaked in darkness, and terror went before them; they had whips of flame. Balrogs they were named in Middle-earth in later days.”
This is where we get the opening quote of this essay. The Valar, on their seats in Valinor, had a great debate on what to do with Middle-earth and the impending Awakening of the first Children of Ilùvatar, the Elves.
Varda, Manwë’s spouse, decided that the Elves should not be born into the darkness that blanketed Middle-earth, so she created the stars (which is why the Elves then called her Elentári in their tongue means ‘Queen of Stars’). I’ll leave the passage for this in the postscript because several names aren’t pertinent to this portion, but I have a sneaking suspicion they will be later!
Anyway, the Elves woke next to Cuiviénen (a lake in Middle-earth, otherwise known as “The Water of Awakening“), and the first thing they saw were the beautiful stars and “Long they dwelt in their first home by the water under the stars...” They even developed their own speech, then naming themselves the Quendi, “signifying those that speak with voices” as the Valar had no need for voice.
These Children of Ilùvatar were “stronger and greater than they have since become;” and the Valar decided that they needed to get these children to join them in Valinor, so Oromë had them follow him back, and those that did he named the Eldar, or the people of the stars.
But why didn’t they all follow Oromë, you ask? Melkor put stories into their heads to scare them off from the great hunter. Reports of “a dark Rider upon his wild horse that pursued those that wandered to take and devour them.” Melkor was able to ensnare some of these unfortunate Elves by this deception, and “those of the Quendi who came into the hands of Melkor, ere Utumno was broken, were put there in prison, and by slow arts of cruelty were corrupted and enslaved; and thus Melkor breed the hideous race of the Orcs in envy and mockery of the Elves, of whom they were afterwards the bitterest foes.“
So Melkor created Orcs from the Elves, but not just from the Elves… from the Quendi, who were stronger and greater than what the Elves later became. So it makes sense why the Orcs are thought of as so terrifying.
Understanding that Melkor was gaining in power the Valar decided that they must do something about it, so they decided to ride out against Melkor and capture him; to save the Quendi from the spread of his darkness. Apparently little is known of this battle because it didn’t take place in the view of the Quendi, except that “the Earth shook and groaned beneath them, and the water moved, and in the north there were lights as of mighty fires.”
The battle was so savage that the shape of the land itself was altered permanently, but eventually Melkor “was bound with the chain Angainor that Aulë had wrought, and led captive; and the world had peace for a long age.” The Valar discovered and defeated many of the ranks of Melkor, but they never did find his lieutenant, Sauron.
The world was at peace, and after long years of discussion, the Valar decided that the Quendi should join the Valar in Valinor far to the west. They sent for Ingwë, Finwë, and Elwë, who were ambassadors of the Elves and later became their kings, but free will got in the way.
“Then befell the first sundering of the Elves.”
The kindreds of these ambassadors followed Oromë to the west and became known as the Eldar. The ones who stayed behind loved their home of Middle-earth, the seas, the trees, and the stars and they refused the summons. These Elves became known as the Avari, or the Unwilling.
But beyond this first sundering, even the Eldar split as well. The three different ambassadors had their own followers, each with their own predilections. The followers of Ingwë were known as the Vanyar, or the Fair Elves, who are closest to the Valar and few men have ever seen.
Then there are the Noldor, the people of Finwë, otherwise known as the Deep Elves, who were known as great fighters and laborers.
Lastly there were the followers of Elwë Singollo (Singollo signifies Greymantle. I have a feeling we’ll find more out about that next week!), who were named the Teleri, who “tarried” on the roads and were the last to appear in Valinor. They are known as the Sea Elves, or Falmari, because of their love for the sea and making music beside the breaking waves.
These three kindreds of Elves who made it to Valinor are called the Calaquendi, or Elves of the Light (or a very literal translation, “Those who speak of the light“)
These Elves do not take much part in the story of the Silmarillion, but rather those they left behind, those that the “Calaquendi call the Umanyar, since they came never to the land of Aman and the Blessed Realm.” These Umanyar and the Moriquendi (or the Elves of Darkness who came later and “never beheld the Light that was before the Sun and Moon.” are who the remaining history of Middle-earth pertains to.
The Nandor, who were led by Lenwë and “forsook the westward march, and led away numerous people, southwards down the great river, and they passed out of the knowledge of their kin for long years were past.” until years later Denethor (not to be confused with Denethor II the steward of Gondor from the Third Age. Aka, father to Boromir and Faramir), son of Lenwë, decided to lead his people west over the mountains and into Beleriand (the westernmost land of Middle-earth).
We have finally gotten past the rich history of gods and angels and are getting into the creation of Middle-earth as we know it. I’m most curious to see where the coming of men, the second of the Children of Ilùvatar, come into play as the Elves begin to build their roots in the land. Do you have an idea of where we’re headed?
Let’s find out next week as we discover “Of Thingol and Melian.“
As promised, here is your passage…
“Then Varda went forth from the council, and she looked out from the height of Taniquetil, and beheld the darkness of Middle-earth beneath the innumerable stars, faint and far. Then she began a great labor, greatest of all the works of the Valar since their coming into Arda. She took the silver dews from the vats of Telperion, and there-with she made new stars and brighter against the coming of the First-born; wherefore she whose name out of the Deeps of Time and the labours of Eä was Tintallë, the Kindler, was called after by the Elves Elentári, Queen of the Stars. Carnil and Luinil, Nénar and Lumbar, Alcarinquë and Elemmírë she wrought in that time, and many other of the ancient stars she gathered together and set as signs in the heavens of Arda: Wilwarin, Telumendil, Soronúmë, and Anarríma; and Menelmacar with his shining belt, that forbodes the Last Battle that shall be at the end of days. And high in the North as a challenge to Melkor she set the crown of seven mighty stars to swing, Valacirca, the Sickle of the Valar and sign of doom.”
“But I will not suffer this: that these should come before the Firstborn of my design, nor that thy impatience should be rewarded. They shall sleep now in the darkness under stone, and shall not come forth until the Firstborn have awakened upon Earth; and until that time thou and they shall wait, though long it seem. But when the time comes I will awaken them, and they shall be to thee as children; and often strife shall arise between thine and mine, the children of my adoption and the children of my choice.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we continue on the journey through the Quenta Silmarillion, learn about a few new races of beings, and discover the evolution of life in Middle-earth!
This second chapter is short and answers a question I’d been wondering since we started the journey through this history: Where did Dwarves come from?
Through the first few chapters as we got to know the beginning of Middle-earth we came to understand that Ilùvatar created his own children, the Elves and Men. There were so many other races not represented here which had me questioning their origins, none more than Dwarves. The Dwarves of Middle-earth are a prideful and powerful bunch and knowing just a bit about their history with Elves, I wondered where and how they came into the story.
Well this chapter starts us off in the first sentence: “It is told that in their beginning the Dwarves were made by Aulë in the darkness of Middle-earth; for so greatly did Aulë desire the coming of the Children, to have learners to whom he could teach his lore and his crafts, that he was unwilling to await the fulfillment of the designs of Ilùvatar.“
So Aulë created the dwarves at the same time Elves and Man were being created, and “because the power of Melkor was yet upon the Earth” he made the Dwarves “stone-hard, stubborn, fast in friendship and in enmity.” He also made their lives long, longer than Men, but not eternal like the Elves.
When he created them (in the true fashion of Prometheus disobeying Zeus and giving humans fire), Ilùvatar was angered, because he had yet to finish creating his own children; but when Aulë showed that he was willing to smite them with his hammer, Ilùvatar took pity on them and we get the opening quote of this essay.
Aulë had promised the Dwarves they would sit at the End of the World with the Children of Ilùvatar, led by the Seven Father’s of Dwarves, “of whom Durin was the most renowned in after ages, father of that kindred most friendly to the Elves, whose mansions were at Khazad-dûm.” In case you don’t recognize this name from either the books or the movies, the better known name for Khazad-dûm is The Mines of Moria.
So now we know the Dwarves were created by Aulë as the “Second Born.” and were sequestered in Moria to await the coming of the First Born, aka the Children of Ilùvatar, aka Elves and Men.
But what of Yavanna? We’ve only spoken of Aulë and the chapter head has both of their names! Well, because Aulë kept his creations a secret even from Yavanna, the Dwarves ended up not caring much about her creations, instead, “they will love first the things made by their own hands, as doth their father. They will delve in the earth, and the things that grow and live upon the earth they will not heed.“
Yavanna was afraid for her great creation…nature. The bountiful trees and the beautiful forests were potentially in danger, because of the nature of Aulë, the smith, he instilled in his children that they should be desirous of making their own creations through industry. If Melkor got his desires into these industrial Dwarves, what was to stop them from cutting down Yavanna’s beautiful forests to use in their production?
Yavanna went to Manwë, the Valar of Wind and Sky and spoke her fears:
“Because my heart in anxious, thinking of the days to come. All my works are dear to me. Is it not enough that Melkor should have marred so many? Shall nothing that I have devised be free from the dominion of others?” They discussed it for a while until Manwë finally responded, “When the Children awake (the Dwarves), then the thought of Yavanna will awake also, and it will summon spirits from afar, and they will go among the kelvar (the fauna of Middle-earth) and the olvar (the flora of Middle-earth), and some will dwell therein, and be held in reverence, and their just anger shall be feared.”
This breath of spirits and life created two powerful and fascinating beings, The Great Eagles and the Ents. Yavanna was able to work with Manwë to build a defense system into her creations, thus bringing sentience to the Great Eagles (which you’ll remember from the end of The Lord of the Rings, when Gandalf speaks with them and gets them to assist in gathering up the Hobbits) and the Ents (Yay Treebeard!) as guardians, so that even if Melkor’s influence encroaches upon the Children (both first-born, Elves and Man, and Second Born, Dwarves) and they foster a desire to mar the land further than even Melkor was able to, these sentient beings would be there for protection.
We are finally getting a broader understanding of how the world came into being, but what transpired to bring the Children to wake into the world? Let’s find out next week as we unfurl “Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor.”
“Behind the walls of the Pelóri the Valar established their domain in that region which is called Valinor; and there were their houses, their gardens, and their towers. In that guarded land the Valar gathered great store of light and all the fairest things that were saved from the ruin; and many others yet fairer they made anew, and Valinor became more beautiful even than Middle-earth in the Spring of Arda; and it was blessed, for the Deathless dwelt there, and there naught faded nor withered, neither was there any stain upon flower or leaf in that land, nor any corruption or sickness in anything that lived; for the very stones and waters were hallowed.“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we begin our pathway into the Quenta Silmarillion and learn of the beginning of the First Age, while getting some very useful backstory into the elves and man.
In the past few weeks we were introduced to the Valar and their predilections and abilities, which is imperative back story as we jump into the Silmarillion.
The story starts with mention of the First War, and if you remember, we don’t really know anything about it, because we’re getting everything from the Eldar, and the First War was before they came into their own in Arda. What we do know is that Melkor fought the Valar for control of the land, until Tulkas the Strong came down and “Melkor fled before his wrath and his laughter.“
With Melkor gone, at least temporarily, the Valar began to build Arda bringing “order to the seas and the lands and the mountains.” Once Yavanna planted seeds, the Valar realized they needed light to help life flourish, so Aulë “wrought two mighty lamps for the lighting of Middle-earth… One lamp they raised near the north of Middle-earth, and it was named Illuin; and the other was raised in the south, and it was named Ormal.”
The land flourished with the Valar and the light of the lamps, but Melkor had spies among the Maiar, “and because of the light of Illuin they did not perceive the shadow in the north that was cast from afar by Melkor.”
Because they didn’t notice Melkor, he came south and “began the delving and building of a vast fortress, deep under the Earth, beneath dark mountains… That stronghold was named Utumno.” His corruption spread from Utumno “and the Spring of Arda was marred.”
Another war broke out and Melkor “assailed the lights of Illuin and Ormal, and cast down their pillars and broke their lamps.” causing “destroying flame (which was) poured out over Earth,” scarring the land. The Valar were able to stop Melkor after this, but it was too late and “Thus ended the Spring of Arda.“
The Valar decided that there was no appropriate place to live, “Therefore they departed from Middle-earth and went to the land of Aman,” and to protect this land “they raised the Pelóri, the Mountains of Aman, highest upon Earth.” Upon the highest mountain Manwë (the Lord of Air and Winds) build his throne. “Taniquetil the Elves name that holy mountain.” Then we get the quote which opens this essay, and we understand that this land of Aman, had now become Valinor.
It was then, once they made their home in Valinor that Yavanna helped grow (through her song) the “Two Trees of Valinor;” Telperion and Laurelin. Telperion bloomed for six hours then stopped, then Laurelin bloomed for another six hours: “And each day of the Valar in Aman contained twelve hours, and ended with the second mingling of the lights, in which Laurelin was waning and Telperion was waxing.” It was a time of great joy for the Valar, to be free of Melkor and to continue to develop Valninor:
“Thus began the Days of the Bliss of Valinor; and thus began also the count of time.”
What significant about this is the aspect of time. The age of the Children of Ilùvatar was coming and the instance of time was it’s catalyst. The Elves are immortal, they “die not till the world dies, unless they are slain or waste in grief.” But men are mortal and they need to have a concept of time to understand what their life capability is. We’ll see more of this later in the essay.
But in this coming of the Children of Ilùvatar, Melkor still dwelt in Middle-earth, which is where the Children took up their home.
The Valar rarely came across Pelóri, but when they did they taught the Elves “the lore of all craftsmen: the weaver, the shaper of wood, and the worker in metals; and the tiller and husbandman also.” But it was the Noldor, the “most skilled of the Elves” whom were “the first to achieve the making of gems; and the fairest of all gems were the Silmarils, and they are lost.” I’m trying to take this one step at a time, but seeing as this history is called “The Silmarillion,” I’m sure they will come into play soon.
The Vanyar Elves were gifted the art of “song and poetry” by Manwë whom was named the “vicegerent of Ilùvatar, King of the world of Valar and Elves and Men, and the chief defense against the evil of Melkor.” he even wields a “scepter of sapphire, which the Noldor wrought for him.”
Then there was also Ulmo of the Oceans and seas. I’m going to give you a long passage and break it down, because to me, this is the most important passage in this chapter:
“In the deep places he gives thought to music great and terrible; and the echo of that music runs through all the veins of the world in sorrow and in joy; for if joyful is the fountain that rises in the sun, its springs are in the wells of sorrow unfathomed at the foundations of the Earth… And thus it was by the power of Ulmo that even under the darkness of Melkor life coursed still through many secret lodes, and the Earth did not die; and to all who were lost in that darkness or wandered far from the light of the Valar the ear of Ulmo was ever open; nor has he forsaken Middle-earth, and whatsoever may since have befallen of ruin or of change he has not ceased to take thought for it, and will not until the end of days.”
Not only is this passage poetic and beautiful, but it also gives form to the philosophy of Middle-earth as the personalities of the Valar form the very fabric of reality. There is and always will be a subset of people whom believe that the ideal of The Lord of the Rings is a power struggle between good and evil. Between happiness and sorrow. Between love and loss.
The end of the books and movies (as Frodo heads to Valinor) there is a certain forlorn sorrow, but infused within that thread is hope, and that’s what strikes me the most in this passage above. There is joyfulness, but that joyfulness is countered by “sorrow unfathomed.” The point is if there were only goodness, there would be no joyfulness. Men and Elves are the Children of Ilùvatar and thus are more open to emotion and feeling. The Valar only have a little bit. So if everything were always joyful, the point of joyfulness disappears because there is no counterpoint. It is only upon feeling sorrow that we understand what Joy truly is.
This sorrow does not mean the terror that Melkor had wrought, or even Sauron in The Lord of the Rings. This is speaking of the normal every day sorrow, and that comes along with the concept of time which the Valar created with the two great trees of Valinor. To burrow this down to brass tacks, it is the sorrow that Men have a finite time on Middle-earth that creates the joyfulness that they flourish off of. What Ulmo does is put the sorrow in “the foundations of earth” meaning both that it was around at earth’s inception, but it’s also deep in a well; deep in the earth; physically and metaphorically tying the song of the sorrow to Middle-earth as a place. Michael Ende used this concept to full effect in his Swamps of Sorrow of The Neverending Story.
But what is the point of having Men and Elves live on Middle-earth? The Elves “shall be fairest of all earthly creatures, and they shall have and shall conceive and bring forth more beauty that all my Children.” So the Elves are there to make Middle-earth a wonderous and beautiful place. But what of Men?
“Therefore he willed the hearts of Men should seek beyond the world and should find no rest therein; but they should have a virtue to shape their life, amid the powers and chances of the world, beyond the Music of the Ainur, which is as fate to all things else; and of their operation everything should be, in form and deed, completed, and the world fulfilled unto the last and smallest.“
For this the Elves fear Men, “for it seems to the Elves that Men resemble Melkor most of all the Ainur, although he has ever feared and hated them, even those that serve him.” The Elves are there for much the same reason the Valar were… to continue to make the world beautiful. Man was there to give direction and purpose. This is a powerful responsibility and it’s why many are corrupted during their journey, but it also gives rise to the joyful sorrow that one feels as they look out across the crashing waves and into the depths of the beautiful Ocean and it’s terrible wine dark composure.
Join me next week as we move onto chapter two and learn more of the Valar Aulë and Yavanna!
“Among those of his servants that have names the greatest was that spirit whom the Eldar called Sauron, or Gothaur the Cruel. In his beginning he was of the Maiar of Aulë, and he remained mighty in the lore of that people. In all the deeds of Melkor the Morgoth upon Arda, in his vast works and in the deceits of his cunning, Sauron had a part, and was only less evil than his master in that for long he served another and not himself. But in after years he rose like a shadow of Morgoth and a ghost of his malice, and walked behind him on the same ruinous path down into the Void.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we dive deeper into the world of the Valar to get a better understanding of who those angels are, all the while understanding more and more about Tolkien’s process.
We jump right into the thick of things. Tolkien as I’m sure anyone who is reading this right now knows, was first and foremost a linguist, and famously created the Elvish language on it’s own. Once he had it he wanted to use it so he created a story around it, and thus arose The Lord of the Rings. Knowing this I figured that The Valaquenta was the story of the Valar, because quenta seems to be Tolkien’s etymology for story or history, and so to tell the story of the Valar would be the Valaquenta. Much like the first history in the book The Silmarillion, Ainulindalë, is about the land (dalë) that the Ainur created.
There is quite a bit of re-hashing of Ainulindalë in the Valaquenta as the Ainulindalë was almost a biblical genesis story, the Valaquenta is the story of the Valar; the Ainur who went down to Ëa (the Earth) and lived invisibly amongst the Children of Ilùvatar (namely the Elves and Men). This is much more of a introduction to these Valar whom I’m sure will be more important later. In fact this history even begins with the title “Account of the Valar and Maiar according to the lore of the Eldar.”
The first two paragraphs paraphrase the events in Ainulindalë, but then we get into more of a diversity of the Valar and who they are. We find that “The Lords of the Valar are seven; and the Valier, the Queens of the Valar, are seven also.” We also find that “Melkor is counted no longer among the Valar, and his name is not spoken upon Earth,” despite the fact that Melkor was the strongest of the Ainur. His fall from grace has surrendered his name from the ranks of the Valar. Because of this, Manwë is the next in line.
“Manwë is the dearest to Ilùvatar and understands most clearly his purposes. He was appointed to be, in the fullness of time, the first of all Kings; and with Manwë (The Lord of the Breath of Arda) dwells Varda, Lady of the Stars.” The two of them reside in Valinor (the great resting place of the elves, and in general the home of the immortal Valar. Also known as Aman). “Of all the Great Ones who dwell in this world the Elves hold Varda most in reverence and love.”
Next we are introduced to Ulmo who we already know is the Lord of the Seas, but what we find is that “He is alone.” There is no Valier which resides with him, and though “the arising of the King of the sea was terrible,” “Ulmo loves both Elves and Men, and never abandoned them.“
Then there is Aulë who has “lordship… over all the substances of which Arda is made.” Aulë is “a smith and a master of all crafts.” The elves (The Noldor, the second clan of Elves) “learned most of him” which created a larger rift with Melkor, because Aulë was a friend of the Children of Ilùvatar and Melkor wasn’t. Aulë’s spouse is Yavanna who is also known as the Queen of the Earth, or Kementári in the Eldarin tongue.
There is Námo and Irmo, who are bretheren, and known as the masters of spirits; whom are better known by the names of their homes, which are Mandos and Lórien. The two brothers are known as the Fëanturi, which on a quick glace looks to me a lot like Fae, or the magical creatures from a different realm. Kind of makes sense, especially when we get more information about them. Mandos is “the keeper of the Houses of the Dead, and the summoner of the spirits of the slain.” while Lórien is “the master of visions and dreams.” This falls right in line with the style of magic the classic Fae utilize.
Both brothers have spouses who are also involved in these Fae type works. Vairë is Mandos’ wife who “weaves all things that have ever been in Time into her storied webs.” Estë is Lórien’s wife and she is the “healer of hurts and weariness.” But beyond these two, in Lórien there is a mightier Valier than Estë… Nienna. “She is acquainted with grief, and mourns for every wound that Arda has suffered in the marring of Melkor. So great was her sorrow, as the music unfolded, that her song turned to lamentation long before its end, and the sound of mourning was woven into the themes of the world before it began.” I can almost hear “shadows of the past” conducted by Howard Shore as I contemplate what this means. Melkor not only caused strife, but on top of that, grief and sorrow were not known emotions in the Children of Ilùvatar until Nienna felt them and sang them into existence. All because of Melkor’s revolts.
Next we have the great hunter Oromë, who is “a hunter of monsters and fell beasts, and he delights in horses and hounds; and all trees he loves, for which reason he is called Aldaron, and by the Sindar Tauron, the Lord of Forests.” And of course a great hunter must have a great horn, which he calls The Valaróma. Vána, “The Ever-young” is his spouse, and is the Lady of spring.
Then the last of the Valar is Tulkas, the “Greatest in strength and deeds of prowess.” He came to Arda to aid in the battles against Melkor and his spouse is Nessa; fleet of foot and lover of dance.
Next we spend some time covering the the Maiar, whom came with the Valar to Arda, and were servants to the Valar. They were: Ilmarë a handmaiden of Varda, Eönwë whom is the banner-bearer of Manwë, Ossë whom is a vassel of Ulmo and protected the Númenóreans, Uinen who has a delight in violence, Melian who served Vána and Estë, and finally Olórin who learned pity and patience.
But there were other Maiar. Maiar who were drawn to the horrible splendour that was Melkor, and they were corrupted “to his service with lies and treacherous gifts.” These were known as the Valaraukar (a verbal amalgam of Melkor and Valar), “the scourges of fire that in Middle-earth were called Balrogs, demons of terror.”
The last among these Maiar, is obviously the most infamous and we see that in the opening quote of this essay: Sauron, or Gorthaur the Cruel. The Maiar that would later become the scourge of the Third Age and little Hobbits everywhere.
These two histories were obviously notes of a larger narrative in which Tolkien was building. They overlap and expound upon the previous one to show more and more of what the world of Arda really is, but they don’t have a through line or story to grab a hold of. I do, however, get the feeling that all of these names and places are going to be extremely important moving forward as we delve deeper into the lost tales.
So join me next week as we begin our journey into the Quenta Silmarillion!
“For the Children of Ilúvatar were conceived by him alone; and they came with the third theme, and were not in the theme which Ilúvatar propounded at the beginning, and none of the Ainur had part in their making. Therefore when they beheld them, the more did they love him, being things other than themselves, strange and free, wherein they saw the mind of Ilúvatar reflected anew, and learned yet a little more of his wisdom, which otherwise had been hidden even from the Ainur.”
Welcome back to another Blind read! It’s been a while, but we’ve now completed all of H.P. Lovecraft and here is the first J.R.R. Tolkien! This week we dive into the origins of Middle-Earth as we begin our journey through “The Silmarillion.”
What I didn’t realize getting into this was that “The Silmarillion” is actually only a portion of the whole book. Theres’ this entrance, Ainulindalë, then the Valaquenta, and then it gets into the Quenta Silmarillion which is the bulk of the book. All told this story is, “an account of the Elder Days, or the First Age of the World.” Where The Lord of the Rings takes place at the end of the Third Age, this is the genesis story of how that land came to be.
We begin with “Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilùvatar.” I’m sure more will come clear as we move forward, but Arda is what the Elves call Earth, not Middle-Earth, so at some point in the future there must have been a rift which caused a separate world or just continent to come about. That may be because of the first Dark Lord, Melkor, who’s introduced in this history.
So Ilùvatar created the first beings to inhabit the world and the stars, and these beings were called Ainur, The Holy Ones. They “were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made.”
Ilùvatar “spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad.” If that sounds like a bible verse, it’s intentional. Ilùvatar teaches them three themes of music. Bear in mind that he doesn’t teach them songs, but themes. The important distinction is that Ilùvatar is looking to create more than just the Ainur, he wants to see life expand, so the Ainur in turn use these themes to create Arda. The three themes, sung into verse, created different aspects of the world, and began to shape the history of what was to come. The Ainur were content to build this world, and revel in is splendor… except for one exception… Melkor.
“But as the theme progressed, it came into the heart of Melkor to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilùvatar; for he sought therin to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself.”
To do so, Melkor “Had gone often alone into the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame; for desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own.”
Melkor began to sing discordantly and outside of the themes Ilùvatar laid our for the Ainur, “until many of the Ainur were dismayed and sang no longer.” Ilùvatar then rose, “and he lifted up his right hand, and behold! a third theme grew amid the confusion, and it was unlike the others.” This third theme was the creation of Ilùvatar’s children… The Elves and the Men.
The music was discordant, with many battling melodies led from Melkor’s tones, until Ilùvatar stood, “and his face was terrible to behold.” This nearly reminds me of the influence of the one ring on Galadriel, to the point that I had to put the book down and contemplate where the power of that One Ring came from… could Ilùvatar be the source?
Ilùvatar shuts the Ainur down and shames Melkor: “And thou, Melkor, shall see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite.”
This is a very Old Testament thing to do. Ilùvatar created the Ainur from his thought and then gave them the themes to create the world. In text this seems to indicate that Ilùvatar wanted them to run with the themes and create the world (Arda) with the essence of the themes, but to create through their own lens. Melkor takes this a step too far, but Ilùvatar seems surprised that Melkor “The mightiest among them (Ainur)” might be able to actually take that step further. Then Ilùvatar tells them that they need to calm down; that they have no free will, because anything that they create with their music, was already foreseen by him. That everything they create is of him. That they cant in fact create anything that isn’t of his mind.
This seems to me the first big lie of Arda. If, indeed, Ilùvatar felt that this was true (the Ainur only being able to create what he could conceive) then why did he stop them? Why did his anger grow so much that he was “terrible to behold?” It’s because he had a specific vision and Melkor was leading a charge to alter that vision.
This strange reaction embarrasses Melkor and shames him, which only builds to bring out the darker side of desire.
Once Ilùvatar creates his Children (the elves and men), he decides he needs a place to house them, so “he chose a place for their habitation in the Depths of Time and in the midst of innumerable stars.” Which he names Ëa and it houses Arda.
The Ainur, once seeing the creation of Ëa, “…bent all their thought and their desire towards that place.” and this is where Melkor really begins his Satanesque fall. The Ainur are basically Angels (we’ll get into that a bit more in a minute) of which Melkor is one, but because of Hubris and desire, he creates a rift in the Ainur. He, much like many of the other Aniur who went to Ëa to assist in creation of that world, went “to go thither and order all things for the good of the Children of Ilùvatar…” but soon realizes that his jealousy and desire for power brought him there instead to “subdue to his will both Elves and Men,” because of “envying the gifts with which Ilùvatar promised to endow them.” A story which echoes the fall of the Lightbringer very closly.
The other Ainur who went to Ëa, were soon to become known as the Valar. There was Ulmo whom turned his thought to water and who “of all most deeply was he instructed by Ilùvatar in music.” It is because of this teaching that “it is said by the Eldar that in the water there lives yet the echo of the music of the Ainur more than in any substance else that is in this Earth.” (also another interesting aside. This is the only time in this history that Tolkien calls Ëa “this” Earth. Meaning that this was meant to be a history of our own world, which could also account for the very Christian backstory). There is Manwë, “the noblest of the Ainur” who was of the airs and the winds. Aulë who “Ilùvatar had given skill and knowledge scarce less than Melkor” took to the “fabric of Earth.”
These Valar were named “The powers of the world” and shaped Ëa in Ilùvatar’s ultimate vision, “but Melkor too was there from the first.”
Melkor finally had his fall. He claimed Ëa for his own, “This shall be my own kingdom; and I name it unto myself!” but again he was foiled because Manwë “called unto himself many spirits both greater and less, and they came down into the fields of Arda and aided Manwë.” to drive Melkor away.
There was peace for a time and the Valar, whom were imperceptible to the Eldar (the first of Ilùvatar’s children, the Elves) decided they wanted to walk among them, so they clothed themselves to look like Men and Women, but when Melkor perceived this and “His envy grew then the greater within him; and he also took visible form, but because of his mood and the malice that burned in him that form was dark and terrible.“
Again this follows the idea that these Valar are angels and Melkor is the fallen. They are invisible, except for when they wish to walk amongst the mortals and they can clothe themselves in our skin. They are beholden to Ilùvatar (God) and follow his instructions on creating a world for the Children of God, who are given more than they. But it is the Jealousy of Melkor which is the primary forge to create what the world could be. What’s fascinating in this respect is that Ilùvatar gave Melkor more intelligence and ability than any of the other Ainur, but if what he says is true and nothing can be created without his influence, then Melkor’s fall was known and, “Thus began the first battle of the Valar with Melkor for the dominion of Arda.” Of this battle little is known because the Valar struggled to keep the machinations of the Ainur from the Eldar, but Melkor fought against the Valar, and extended the creation of the world.
The only reason we know the outcome of that battle is because we know the world was created so we know Melkor failed in taking over the land, though the next history in the book is the Valaquenta, which is the account of the Valar from the perception of the Eldar, so I anticipate finding more out about these godlike beings and what they have done on Ëa!
Join me next week as we dive deeper into the history of Middle-Earth as we read through Valaquenta!