Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of the Coming of Men into the West
“‘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!”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of Maeglin
“‘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.”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of The Noldor in Beleriand
“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.”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of Beleriand and its Realms, Pt 2.
“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.”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of Beleriand and its Realms, pt. 1
“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!
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of the Return of the Noldor, Conclusion
“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.”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of the Return of the Noldor pt. 1
“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.”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of Men
“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.”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of the Sun and Moon and the Hiding of Valinor
“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.”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of the Sindar
“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.
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion; Of the Flight of the Noldor
“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 Lord of the Rings; The Fellowship of the Ring, The Extended Edition
“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.”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of the Darkening of Valinor
“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!
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion; Of The Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor
“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.”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion; Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor
“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.”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of Eldamar and the Princes of the Eldalië
“The Noldor afterwards came back to Middle-earth, and this tale tells mostly of their deeds; therefore the names and kinship of their princes may here be told, in that form which these names later bore in the tongue of the Elves of Beleriand.“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we delve into an even more thorough history of the Elves and I come to an understanding that a regular Blind Read may not be enough to fully grasp everything going on.
Tolkien is so intricate in adding details pertaining to the history of the land, that we get extemporaneous facts built in for flavor, but they don’t necessarily pertain to the core of what we’re looking for. A great example of this is in the first paragraph of this chapter as Vanyar and Noldor (the Elves whom sailed to Valinor) come to the western shores – the shores looking out at Valinor: “In the north these shores, in the ancient days after the Battle of the Powers, bent ever westward, until in the northernmost parts of Arda only a narrow sea divided Aman, upon which Valinor was built, from the Hither Lands; but this narrow sea was filled with grinding ice, because of the violence of the frosts of Melkor.”
Ulmo, the Valar who ruled the seas, came to the Vanyar and Noldor and convinced them that they could make the trip and thus they left and went to Valinor. The point is we spend nearly a paragraph describing the fear of the icy sea, only to have that overturned in a sentence or two. This does two things. It establishes yet another effect of the power of Melkor, and it gives a snippet of history for the land (for flavor), but that’s the extent of it.
These chapters have been filled with these types of details, and it can be difficult to differentiate which are going to be important in the future of the land, and what is to give flair to Aman.
We hear very little of the Vanyar and Noldor for a while because the histories focus on the Teleri, who “dwelt in East Beleriand far from the sea, and they heard not the summons of Ulmo until too late;” so they ended up staying in Middle-Earth and made “Olwë, Elwë’s brother,” their king. They settled by the sea and had a great love for the waters, but eventually, Finwë, who was the king of the Noldor, requested Ulmo to bring his brethren to Valinor. Many of the Teleri went, but those that stayed on the shores of Beleriand were known as “the Falathrim, the Eleves of the Falas, who in after days had dwellings at the havens of Brithombar and Eglarest, the first mariners in Middle-earth and the first makers of ships.” I have a sneaking suspicion that those Falathrim will be of importance later.
But instead of following them, we stay on Beleriand and find that “friends of Elwë were left behind; and they called themselves Eglath, the Forsaken People. They dwelt in the woods and hills of Beleriand, rather than by the sea.”
Among these Terelri whom remained behind on Beleriand (Middle-earth), there were still a contingent whom wanted to see the light of the trees of Valinor, but because of the sundering of the elves, (between the Noldor, Vanyar and Teleri) they stayed on the edges of the Isle at the Bay of Eldamar, called Elvenhome, also known as the Lonely Isle. Despite being so close and “among the radiant flowers of the Tree-lit gardens of Valinor they longed at times to see the stars; and therefore a gap was made in the great walls of Pelóri (The Mountains separating Valinor), and there in a deep valley that ran down to the sea the Eldar raised a high green hill: Túna it was called.” and “There bloomed the first flowers that ever were east of the Mountains of Aman.”
There, on Túna, the city of Elves was built: Tirion. Also upon that land Yavanna made a lesser tree in the image of Telperion, named Galathilion. This is mentioned because Galathilion had seedlings, and the most notorious of these was Nimloth, the White Tree of Númenor.
So we know of the three main tribes of Eleves we’ve seen so far. The Vanyar whom reside in Valinor, the Teleri whom stayed in Beleriand, and the Noldor. Aparently the Valar named, Aulë, loved the Noldor, so much that he came amongst them often. The Noldor were first and foremost students: “Great became their knowledge and their skill; yet even greater was their thirst for more knowledge, and in many things they soon surpassed their teachers.” Reading this, I couldn’t help but think that Tolkien was describing himself as a Noldor. They had a love for knowledge, and an even greater love for language; “and sought ever to find names more to fit for all things that they knew or imagined.” We even get the opening quote of this essay indicating that the Noldor are the focus of the tales.
We n learnof Finwë, whom was the king of the Noldor. He had multiple children; two from a Noldor and one from a Vanyar. Seeing this trope we immedialty know that the Vanyar child, named Fëanor is going to be more a black sheep. He was the mightiest son, “in skill of word and of hand, more learned than his brothers; his spirit burned as a flame.” Whereas his brothers, Fingolfin (the ancestor of Elrond), the strongest, most steadfast, and the most valient; and Fingolfin (the ancestor of Galadriel) was “the fairest, and most wise of heart.” We spend a few paragraphs learning about their progeny in a very biblical sense (he begat they, and they begat she….etc.), but the picture is coming into place as to why the Elves are as they are when we move into other ages of the world. Much like humans, Elves are the result of their ancestor’s predelictions and concepts of the meaning of life.
We find that the Vanyar love Valinor and they eventually move into the land proper, but the Teleri whom some eventually made their way to Valinor lived in Tirion. Ironically some of the first Elves to head back to Beleriand, The Noldor, are what the majority of the remaining histories are about
So join us next week as we delve deeper into the lineage of those Noldor with “Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor.”
I find it extremely interesting that a few chapters ago we saw birds gain sentience from the music of the Valar, and part of the reason the Teleri were trapped on Beleriand, away from their kin, was that the ocean winds had stopped. What is the solution the Valar come up with? They got swans to tow the Teleri ships from Beleriand to Aman. I have yet to begin my rewatch and re-read of the The Lord of the Rings (I don’t know if I can muster up the strength to watch the Hobbit movies), but I’m pretty sure there were some swan like details on the boats at the end of Return of the King when Frodo was going off to Valinor. I wonder how much the sentient creature/ bird theme will run in these histories. Only one way to find out!
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.”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; Valaquenta
“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!
H.P. Lovecraft Final Thoughts
“It is absolutely necessary, for the peace and safety of mankind, that some of earth’s dark, dead corners and unplumbed depths be let alone; lest sleeping abnormalities wake to resurgent life, and blasphemously surviving nightmares squirm and splash out of their black lairs to newer and wider conquests.” – H.P. Lovecraft
Welcome back to another Blind Read! Well we’ve officially done it. We’ve read through every H.P. Lovecraft story I could find as well as all the August Derleth stories attributed to Lovecraft. I’ve already covered my final thoughts on August Derleth (which you can find here), so I wont be mentioning his work here, but I intend on covering Lovecraft’s writing style, touching on some of the work and making recommendations.
First and foremost, Lovecraft is a hard nut to crack. If you’re a casual reader his catalogue can be quite daunting. His language is archaic and complex, and his exposition is dense and verbose. I had no idea where to start when I began reading Lovecraft, and I dont think I started in the right place, but I intend on shining a light here in the dark places of Howard Phillips’ mind for the neophyte.
To me, the absolute best place to start to get into Lovecraft is the story “The Festival.” “Some fear had been gathering in me, perhaps because of the strangeness of my heritage, and the bleakness of the evening, and the queerness of the silence in that aged town of curious customs.”
The Festival holds all the elements you want in an introduction to Lovecraft. Ancestral ties, intense and submersed atmosphere, A classic Lovecraftian township, witchcraft, cosmic horror… you name it and this story has it. It follows our classic unreliable narrator as he heads to Kingsport for Yuletide whose, “fathers had called me to the old town...” There he finds himself involved in a nefarious ritual which includes the Necronomicon.
This wasn’t the first story I read of Lovecraft, but it was the turning point for me. Before reading this story I was on the fence, I really wasn’t sure if I liked the writing or not. I was upset because I thought there was going to be far more monsters and aliens and things like that interspersed within the text. What this story made me realize is that Lovecraft is all about the feel. His text is sneaky because as you read it it kind of just glazes over you, but the longer you read, and the longer you sit with the text, the more it sinks in and that familiar anxiety attributed to good horror is subsumed in your conscious. Lovecraft is at his best when he delivers atmosphere, and this story is dripping with it. Not only that, but this is also the most accessible story in terms of readability, which makes it one of the best jumping off points for all things Lovecraft.
If you’re not into the short stories and are looking for a novel, jump right into “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.” “He bore the name of Charles Dexter Ward, and was placed under restraint most reluctantly by the grieving father who had watched his aberration grow from a mere eccentricity to a dark mania involving both a possibility of murderous tendencies and a profound and peculiar change in the apparent contents of his mind.” Not only is this novel cleaner and an easier plot line to follow, but it has some spectacular imagery and characterization… something which Lovecraft wasn’t known for.
Told in altering perspective form, this novel gets to the core of Lovecraftian horror without being overt, nor necessarily Cosmic, but with a grand backstory which brings historical witchcraft from Salem into Lovecraft’s own mythology. In case you hadn’t realized, witchcraft is at the core of Lovecraft’s fiction. Derleth made his fiction famous for the mythos, but even with those Cosmic deities, witchcraft was the unifying base. Characters over and over again utilize witchcraft as a means to an end, which more often than not ends up reversing course on them, just like you saw in the quote above. Many of these characters, including the titular Ward, use witchcraft in the guise of what they like to call “antiquarianism” where they study old books and genealogies, but it all comes down to a few books which ends up overpowering the narrator.
“The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” follows in this tradition, but there are enough pages for Lovecraft to build some really incredible atmosphere. We go through two chapters of introductions and then Lovecraft takes his time building tension and dread until we get to the ultimate conclusion. It’s a wonderful novel and a very good introduction to longform Lovecraft.
Don’t expect campfire tales when you read these stories. Don’t expect to be scared out of your gourd. There’s not much in these tales that will scare you while you’re reading them. Lovecraft’s genius is his precision. Every word chosen means something. Every reference is purposeful. Even the length of a story has meaning. These are the types of stories which dig into your subconscious and stick with you far longer than you’d anticipate. These are the types of stories which so surreptitiously describe a surface that all the sudden I developed trypophobia. These are the types of stories that make you second guess the glance that stranger gave you. They aren’t going to jump off the page and yelp with fright, but like all great horror does, they settle down into your mind like a parasite and feed on deep rooted fears you didn’t even know you had…but somehow Howard Phillips Lovecraft did.
There are many other tales I cut from this list, but some amazing notables are, “Dreams in the Witch House,” “The Dunwich Horror,” “The Music of Erich Zann,” “Pickman’s Model,” and the ultimate horror short story which delivers the most visceral and terrifying text… “The Rats in the Walls.”
Pick up these stories and take them slow. Analyze the text and let the master take you for a ride!
Join me next week as we take a brand new journey, and begin with The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien!
I would like to thank everyone who has joined the conversation and read along with me over these past few years. I used this convention as an excuse to read through H.P. Lovecraft’s tales, and as most times you take on a long project, it changes you through the process. This series of essays has made me a better writer and reader (you can tell by reading the first few of this series), but it has also tempered my angst over other’s opinions. I never experienced any kind of negativity I would expect through a Social Media (though there were absolutely differing opinions!) endeavor like this. That’s the main reason I want to keep going and move onto another Author whom people have trouble getting into past a few of his stories. Let’s continue the conversation and continue the positivity, and continue the opposing views.
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft / August Derleth; The Lurker at the Threshold, Conclusion
“After a long enough time to allow for the assimilating of this rapidly narrated series of curious facts, I asked, ‘Conceding that the data in these rare books does offer the solution of the events which have taken place in this corner of the State during the past two hundred years and more, what then, in your opinion, is it – which particular manifestation, that is – that lurks at the threshold, which is presumably the opening in the roof of that stone tower?”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we not only conclude this novel, but bring our August Derleth journey to an end as well. Derleth has brought clarity to the mystery of Lovecraft, but whether that’s a good thing or not I’ll leave that up to you to decide!
We jump into the final section of the novel leaving the mystery open as to what happened to Stephen Bates. Instead there is a jump in narrative to the perspective of Winfield Phillips who was the understudy of Dr. Seneca Lapham of Miskatonic University. We find that at the urging of Dr. Harper, apparently “late of the library staff,” Stephen Bates delivered a manuscript to Dr. Lapham and “urged Dr. Lapham to read it at once.”
The stupidity which runs rampant in this story apparently effected the previously forward thinking Bates as well, because in an effort to ameliorate his cousin he decides to perform a task asked of him by Dewart and the ersatz companion Misquamicus. They ask him to move the strange stone with the strange markings, of which Dewart previously removed from the peak of the tower, only because “…it seemed that neither he nor the Indian nor the two of them together could manage that marked stone which my cousin had dislodged from the roof of the tower.” So, naturally, Stephen does it and removes the very last vestige of protection from the area by removing the Elder Sign.
They speak for a while, and Dr. Lapham shows him a Bas-relief with a cephalopod looking creature with long tentacles, to which Bates replies “‘It looks like the things that flew about near the tower – that might have made the clawprints – but it’s also like the thing to which my cousin was talking.“
Dr. Lapham nods and shakes his hand and Bates takes his leave. The majority of the remainder of the book is a rumination on the mythos and clarification of what the mythos is. It seems obvious to me at this point (without reading the correspondence between Lovecraft and Derleth) that this novel has a direct point, beyond just being a fun horror story. This last chapter, alongside events which happened earlier in the tale, feel like Derleth sat around and decided that Lovecraft’s Yog-Sothothery was just too complicated. It was too vague for the modern reader. Derleth took it upon himself to clarify the mythos and put the various gods into specific categories because, in general, that’s how humans work…we need to put things in buckets. Lovecraft’s insidious horror was so pervasive because of how vague it was. Lovecraft relied on the brief description and let your mind do the rest of the work. This tactic ends up making for more difficult reading, but then your mind takes over and rather than letting the imagery go, it builds upon it and seethes into your unconscious. It’s like watching the original “The Haunting” movie from the sixties and then watching the 1999 remake. It’s what you don’t see that scares you. The moment you put a face to something you are suddenly able to identify it and the point of Lovecraftian horror is removed. Derleth, in trying to make the mythos more accessible, has ostensibly removed the fear from the god like characters and made them anthropomorphic. They are no longer apathetic, but now nefarious.
What Derleth does in this last portion which I did find fascinating was tying together our history through anthropology with these Elder Gods. He speaks of mysterious things like “The strange sculptures and carvings of Easter Island and Peru.” and mythological creatures such as Wendigo. We even get one of the first “almost” scientific references to ghost hunting…a precursor to books and movies such as “Hell House;” “I…will propound a theory of psychic residue, but I think it is far more than that – far, far more…” except Lapham is saying that this residue is from the outsiders, not ghosts.
To work out what their next steps are the two men then spend pages and pages of text clarifying and demystifying the mythology. We find that the Great Old Ones, “had some correspondence to the elements – as of earth, water, air, fire-” and had followers who effected certain ‘openings’ through which the Great Old Ones and their extra-terrestrial minions might enter.” who are these Great Old Ones? To Derleth, they are:
“The first among them is Cthulhu, who lies supposedly “dead but dreaming” in the unknown sunken city of R’lyeh, which some writers have thought to be in Atlantis, some in Mu, and some few in the sea not far off the coast of Massachusetts. Second among them is Hastur, sometimes called Him Who Is Not To Be Named and Hastur the Unspeakable, who supposedly resides in Hali in the Hyades. Third is Shub-Niggurath, a horrible travesty on a god or goddess of fertility. Next comes one who is described as the ‘Messenger of the Gods”-Nyarlathotep – and particularly of the most powerful extension of the Great Old Ones, the noxious Yog-Sothoth, who shares the dominion of Azathoth, the blind and idiot chaos at the centre of infinity.”
The two men then tell us, “...that without Alijah Billington was engaged in some kind of nefarious practice which may or may not have been akin to sorcery.” as they correlate what the Necronomicon says and tie it together with the history. So apparently I was wrong about Alijah not being involved, but what’s interesting is that he was the one who sealed everything up. One has to wonder if this were not just another case of an ancestor possessing his offspring for a longer life, like we’ve seen so many times before in both Lovecraft and Derleth, and when Alijah realized what was happening, he sealed off the tower with the help of the Elder sign and fled the country.
Winfield and Lapham speak of the “rules” and how they’ve all been broken.
- “The water ceased to flow of itself“
- “Dewart molested this (the stone block with the elder sign) in precisely the way Alijah hoped it would not be disturbed.
- “Finally, the entreaty to which reference is made in order to effect the primary stage of contact with the forces beyond the threshold.”
Each and every one, with the help of Stephen Bates being stupid, has been effected and Richard, in the body of Dewart, is ready to bring forth his outsider.
In an effort to tie everything together they speak about the window: “I suggest the window is not a window at all, but a lens or prism or mirror reflecting vision from another dimension or dimensions – in short, from time or space.” and it was only when looking through this window and getting a strange vision that Dewart “felt the compulsion to dislodge the block set into the roof.”
They even get into what these outsiders are. If I’m being honest this was the story I was looking for the entire time I read Lovecraft and I’m only getting it now, here at the end of all things. We get the history of the war between the Elder Gods and the Great Old Ones and the distinction between them (I’ll put this passage in the post script), but now that I’m reading it in this context I’m a little let down, which I find curious.
I love playing board and role playing games, and have played Call of Cthulhu many times. Every time there’s a scene almost exactly like this last chapter, where the atmosphere is stuffy but cozy, as your characters uncover eldritch truths in hidden rooms or libraries. Obviously Chaosium, the company who created the games, took quite a bit of narrative out of Derleth. But there’s something missing. The depth and visceral emotional realness that is Lovecraft is missing, and that makes this feel like watching “The Librarian” instead of watching “Indiana Jones,” both you have to suspend disbelief, but somehow through character and setting and plot, Indiana just feels that much more realistic and relatable. But I digress…
Dr. Lapham tells us the way the Elder Gods were able to defeat and lock away the Great Old Ones was by the use of the Elder Sign (See? Elder Gods used their sign, which was powerful enough to lock up these alien Titans) which turns out to be “‘Armor against witches and daemons, against the Deep Ones, the Dholes, the Voormis, the Tcho-Tcho, the Abominable Mi-Go, the Shoggoths, the Ghasts, the Valusians and all such peoples and beings who serve the Great Old Ones and their spawn…carven out of grey stone from ancient Mnar…‘”
Armed with this knowledge they decide to go out and confront Richard Billington and his assistant Quamicus. They get out to the stone tower and find Billington in Dewarts body up on the tower doing the incantation to bring forth the Lurker at the Threshold:
“Iä! Iä!N’ghaa, n’n’ghai-ghai! Iä! Iä! N’ghai, n-yah, n-yah, shoggog, phthaghn! Iä! Iä! N’ghai, y-nyah, y-nyah! N’ghaa, n’n’ghai, waf’l pthaghn – Yog-Sothoth! Yog-Sothoth...”
Finally we have our Big Bad! Yog-Sothoth! The creature so pervasive on our world in Lovecraft’s opinion that he called his mythos Yog -Sothothery! This is a pretty brilliant move by Derleth to have the Lurker at the Threshold be Yog-Sothoth because that’s the diety who is closest to our world. Not floating through the ether like Azathoth, not dead and dreaming under the sea like Cthulhu, or Dagon. Not lost to space and time like Nyarlathotep (though I really want to see something with him in it! I have “Khai of Khem” by Brian Lumley another Lovecraftian antecedent, in hopes that it’s about Nyarlathotep!). This whole novel, less so the short stories I read first, seem to be a nod towards Lovecraft and a hope to bring his strange and wonderful mind to the masses, and he proves it here by bringing forward Yog-Sothoth. Or does he?
Dewart trails off at the end of the incantation because Dr. Lapham brings out a firearm, and in the most anti-climactic ending, merely shoots the man. But then! Quamicus gets up onto the tower and continues the spell! We might finally see a Great Old One…nope Lapham shoots Quamicus too, and thus ends our tale.
At least that’s how I thought it was going to end. Derleth slaps on one final paragraph right there at the end…it’s a vision of what Winfield, our narrator, thinks he sees:
“great globes of light massing towards the opening, and not alone among these, but the breaking apart of the nearest globes, and the protoplasmic flesh that flowed blackly outward to join together and form that eldritch, hideous horror from outer space, that spawn of the blankness of primal time, that tentacled amorphous monster which was the lurker at the threshold, whose mask was a congeries of iridescent globes, the noxious Yog-Sothoth, who froths as primal slime in nuclear chaos forever beyond the nethermost outposts of space and time!“
So we may not have gotten a good look at any of the Great old Ones, but we got some great insight into what they and who they are. The story itself as a total for the novel isn’t very complete, but it was interesting to see things from different characters perspectives.
The novel itself is a bit bland, and difficult to get through, not for the same reasons that Lovecraft is hard to get through, but because Derleth has a penchant for meandering. It does feel like this was the appropriate send off to this/these author/authors, because, like I said earlier, we finally got what we were initially intending on getting when I started this project those four plus years ago. A understanding about the difference between The Great Old Ones and the Elder Gods.
Is this something that’s interested you? Do you want to read Lovecraft, but are daunted by his complexity? Join me next week as we review favorite stories and final thoughts on H.P. Lovecraft!
As promised, here is the passage about the conflict between the Elder Gods and the Great Old Ones…
“Ubbo-Sathla is that unforgotten source whence came those daring to oppose the Elder Gods who ruled from Betelgueze; the Great Old Ones who fought against the Elder Gods; and these Old Ones were instructed by Azathoth, who is the blind, idiot god, and by Yog-Sothoth, who is the All-in-One and One-in-All, and upon whom are no strictures of time and space, and whose aspects on earth are ‘Umr At-Tawil and the Ancient Ones. The Great Old Ones dream forever of that coming time when they shall once more rule Earth and all the Universe of which it is part…Great Cthulhu shall rise from R’lyeh; Hastur, who is Him Who Is Not To Be Named, shall come again from the dark star near Aldebaran in the Hyades; Nyarlathotep shall howl forever in darkness where he abideth; Shub-Niggurath, who is the Black Goat With a Thousand Young, shall spawn and spawn again, and shall have dominion over all wood nymphs, satyrs, leprechauns, and the Little People; Lloigor, Zhar, and Ithaqua shall ride the spaces among the stars and shall ennoble those who are their followers, who are the Tcho-Tcho; Cthugha shall encompass his dominion from Fomalhaut; Tsathoggua shall come from N’kai…They wait forever at the Gates, for the time draws near, the hour is soon at hand, while the Elder Gods sleep, dreaming, unknowing there are those who know the spells put upon the Great Old Ones by the Elder Gods, and shall learn how to break them, as already they can command the followers waiting beyond the doors from Outside.”
I anticipated releasing the conclusion of Lurker at the Threshold today, but due to a WordPress blip, half of the essay was gone when I logged on this morning. So that essay will be coming to you next week while I re-write it, followed by an essay on some final thoughts of H.P. Lovecraft. What I want to spend the rest of this update doing is letting you know what’s coming after that!
Blind Read Series:
I’m going to transition directly from H.P. Lovecraft to J.R.R. Tolkien (I didn’t think there were enough initials in my titles!). I read The Hobbit as a child and loved it, but when I started to read The Lord of the Rings, I was stuck at Tom Bombadil. I eventually read that massive tome in three sections, but I’ve always been interested in Tolkien’s lost tales and histories. I know many people are, but the text itself is daunting, so I intent on continuing the Blind Read series and reading, analyzing, demystifying, and connecting all of Tolkien’s side tales and histories of Middle Earth. In three weeks from today I’ll release the first section of the Silmarillion!
The weather is cooling and the spooky season is coming. I intend to write a number of short shorts (somewhere in the ballpark of 1000 words) to release periodically in the fall months. These are going to be similar to the Universal Monster shorts I did last year, but Halloween will be the connecting factor this year. This is a call back to all those terribly awesome 80’s horror/schlock films such as The Monster Squad, Fright Night, and Hocus Pocus (I know, I know, that one is the 90’s). So come join me for some kinda, maybe not so scary fun!
Elsie Jones Adventures:
Get ready for a new look of Elsie Jones! I’ve been passively looking for a new Illustrator to take over the series, but this fall I’ll continue in earnest. Get ready for a new authors edition of Elsie Jones and the Book Pirates, and a cleaner Elsie Jones and the Captain’s Guard. Twelve of the 15 books are written, so I anticipate a good release schedule! If you’re curious you can purchase any of the first three books here!
Currently in it’s fourth edit. This is my adventure novel I finished last October. Think if Dan Brown partnered with Indiana Jones this is what you’d get! I’ve always loved the intrigue and the adventure of following the clues to discover and uncover a mystery! Inspired by the incredible Oak Island (research it if you don’t know about it). I’m hoping to have this published in some fashion in 2022.
The Monster in the Woods:
This is the first book in my Revolution Cycle. I’ve been stewing on this series for 20 years or so, and I’m finally getting it to where I want it. I’ve already written two novels that’s I’ve been unhappy with and consider exploratory novels into the world, but I’ve been spending quite a bit of time outlining everything that will go into this 10 book series. The first book is very heavily inspired by The Goonies (I’m catching a 80’s inspiration thread here), but the larger story is told with the backdrop of impending war, and how the group from the first book will deal with it. The Monster in the Woods is a Heist/Gooniesesque adventure, with a few twists along the way.
That’s all for now, with much more on the way!
August Derleth, Final thoughts
“There was something about him where he stood all by himself under the trees and the stars, on the edge of the streetlight’s glow in the darkness, that was symbolic of many men and women, not alone in this Sac Prairie, but in all the Sac Prairies of the world, something which spoke, out of that pathetic, ludicrous figure, of the spiritual isolation of so many people, something which made the thoughtful onlooker to wonder what thin line divided him from that other, knowing perhaps that the distance of chance or Providence was less great than the few steps separating one from the other in that darkness.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we’re switching gears with only one more week left in the Lovecraft series, I reflect back on the time we’ve spent talking about and analyzing August Derleth, the self imposed protégé of Howard Phillips Lovecraft.
To be brutally honest, I’ve not been a huge fan of August Derleth’s work. On the surface it seems like he hits all the bullet points, however his writing style is not conducive to the style of horror in which Lovecraft wrote. I’d actually be much more interested in reading some of his other works…in fact the quote from the introduction to this essay comes from a different story he wrote entitled, “Walden West.”
Derleth is one of the earlier instances of what I would consider calling the “story smith,” or campfire story teller. What I mean by that, is a few things… the text is very general and basic. The plot is straightforward and direct. The story is a direct line. Think about authors such as Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, and Stephen King. These are not authors who spend time worrying about their word selection. These are not authors you would consider to be necessarily literary. This is not a bad thing, it’s just a different style of writing.
Lovecraft was something all together different. He was incredibly perfidious, and every word was placed in just the right place. Looking back on his stories they were difficult and complicated and, sometimes, hard to process. But that’s what made him so perfect for this kind of horror. Lovecraft’s description is written in a such a way that at first glace (or first read as it were) it doesn’t seem particularly scary, but the more it sits with you, those little turns of phrase bloom like fungus in your brain and you begin to think about the stories when you least expect them.
Derleth isn’t like that. He tries to alter his writing style to match Lovecraft’s, but instead of being insidious, it just becomes more drawn out. He uses run-on sentences and labyrinthine verbiage, but instead of feeling more like Lovecraft he ends up just sounding pretentious.
It’s a bit unfortunate that Derleth decided to publish these stories as H.P. Lovecraft instead of himself, because, quite frankly, the stories would have been far greater had he just not tried to copy Howard’s style. A very specific story I can reference is “Witches Hollow” which was an utterly unique tale; told in an entirely different voice from the rest of his Lovecraft knock offs. In my opinion this was his best story because it wasn’t trying to clarify what Lovecraft had done before. It wasn’t trying to prove that it was a part of the Lovecraft ethos, it was just a great story that used elements created by Howard Phillips and moved out onto it’s own. This is what Lovecraft wanted his created world to be anyway. Other authors like Clark Ashton Smith and Robert Bloch, and later like Brian Lumley and Thomas Ligotti utilized the mythos as a unique genre rather than an homage to Lovecraft himself. Stories like this always turn out better because you can be yourself without being beholden to what the previous author wanted.
The other downfall with Derleth is his preference for quantity. He was known to have said that he could sit down and write a “quality story” every day. The issue is that he never checked his facts, nor did he care overly much about grammar and spelling errors (this is an assumption on my part because of all the syntax, grammar, and Lovecraft facts which were incorrect. He may be very happy with the outcomes here). You could say the same about Carroll and Graf (the publisher of the books I read by Derleth…which I probably wouldn’t recommend if you could find another version), and it’s possible that it’s their oversight here and not his. But the larger issue is Derleth changing facts of Lovecraft to fit his story.
Let me clarify here. If Derleth were writing these stories as he should have been, using his own name, then I’d have zero problem with him changing facts or bending the narrative, but the moment he uses the name Lovecraft and doesn’t use his own name, that sullys the name of Lovecraft. You’ll see people online saying they hate Derleth for what he did. They hate him for using Lovecraft’s name and producing the stories he did, and there is some validity to thier argument.
I’m a little torn, because I truly believe that Lovecraft would not be in the public consciousness like he is now had it not been for Derleth creating Arkham House Publishing and continuing to produce stories in Lovecraft’s name all the way into the 70’s. Even companies such as Chaosium who produced multiple board games and the role playing game Call of Cthulhu, utilized more elements of gameplay from Derleth (The Investigator trope, and the Elder Sign) than they did from Lovecraft. Derleth is forever entrenched into this sub-culture, whether you like it or not.
Which proves that his stories had something to show off. Derleth is basically Lovecraft lite. I’d highly recommend starting with Derleth if you’ve been having difficulty breaking through the language barrier Lovecraft presents. Derleth’s stories are simpler and considerably less nuanced, which makes them easier to digest. One can get a feel for the world Lovecraft created without taking a deep dive – then once you feel the hook, you can jump into Lovecraft proper and get the real experience.
We’ve come a long way in the past four years. I started out not really knowing where to go with this project and it’s been so rewarding and fun to get the full experience of two different authors in one. I’ve also come to a brand new group of people and have met some great folks discussing the nuances of these authors. I really wasn’t sure if I was going to keep going, but the experience has been so great that I’m going to move onto a new author whom I’ve always wanted to dig deeper into but have been too scared to.
When I was a kid I read “The Hobbit” and I loved it. I tried to read “The Lord of the Rings,” but I had difficulty getting past the language. It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that I finally read those stories, but there were so many loose threads in that book that left me wanting more. There’s an entire history beyond the novels of those worlds and that’s what I intend on jumping into next. We have the last installment of “The Lurker at the Threshold” next week, then one final “last thoughts” on Lovecraft himself, before we switch genres and head straight into “The Silmarillion” by J.R.R. Tolkien. Join me and let me know your thoughts!
Blind Read Through: H.P. Lovecraft / August Derleth; The Lurker at the Threshold, pt. 4
“I saw my cousin far more clearly, as I later realized, than I should have seen him by all the laws of perspective and sight applied to the distance, the time, and the setting, but at the moment this did not occur to me as forcefully as it might otherwise have done for a very vivid reason – because I saw far more than these fundamentals of the setting, which seemed, as it were, little more than a frame for the utterly horrible and frightful visions which presented themselves to my view from the study window.
“For my cousin Ambrose was not alone.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we progress into a crescendo of information, solidify Derleth’s legacy in Cosmic horror, and bring Stephen Bates’ manuscript to a close.
We start this section with Stephen and Ambrose returning “‘home,’ where he (Ambrose) ‘belonged.‘” But we find that while the two men were in Boston there were two mysterious deaths which sound remarkable familiar. The “bodies of two victims…both appeared to have been dropped from a height, varying between them, both were badly mangled and torn, however recognizable...”
This strikes me as reminiscent to either “The Haunter in the Dark” or the flying Mi-Go from far reaching space (These may actually be the same creatures. The descriptions for both are vague enough that I truly think one of the Mi-Go was called out and was the titular Haunter.), called out of space and time by Ambrose’s calls and killed the two people as sacrifices necessary to complete the ritual and bring forth, whichever deity Ambrose (or Richard Billington taking over his body) is working to summon.
As soon as they get there, Ambrose “began to act in a manner completely antipodal to his conduct as my (Stephen’s) winter-guest in the city.” But one other thing went terribly wrong as soon as they arrived.
“The frogs – do you hear them? Listen to them sing!” Ambrose cries out to Stephen. It’s remarkable that Stephen doesn’t get it even after reading all the documents of correspondence, because the batrachian crying is the last line of defense…and we find out a few pages later, the Whippoorwills are crying out in song.
Derleth works on building the tension by reiterating the rules and even going so far as recalling a portion from the Necronomicon: “…that writer described only as the ‘mad Arab,’ because the amphibia were of the same primal relationship as the sect of followers of the Sea-Being known as the ‘Deep-Ones.'”
Derleth describes the noises for a few pages, ramping the unease, until he steps up his game by stating that “there was an old woman in Dunwich who had several times been awakened in the night by the voice of Jason Osborn…and decided finally that it came from somewhere ‘beside her, or out of the space or the sky overhead.“
Don’t know who Jason Osborn is? He’s one of those victims who “appeared to ‘have been dropped from a height.'”
Stephen thinks about this for a while and decides that he needs to go speak with Mrs. Bishop based upon the notes from his cousin.
Immediately she invites him inside because of his car. “‘Tis the same car the Master come in – yew come from the master!” It’s an odd reply because she thinks of Ambrose as her “Master” or rather she knows that Richard has taken back over Ambrose’s body, specifically because of the music of the frogs, “I been a-hearin’ ’em a-callin’ steady, an’ I know they’re a-callin’ fer Them from Outside.”
Stephen asks her what actually happened before. Why did Alijah leave? What is actually going down here?
“It never got Alijah. Alijah shut It up an’ got away. Alijah shut It up – an’ he shut up the Master, too, out there, Outside, when the Master was ready tew come back again after thet long a time. Ain’t many as knows it, but Misquamicus fer one.” But who is the Master? “He wore a Whateley face an’ he wore a Doten face an’ he wore a Giles face an’ he wore a Corey face...”
She never gives a clear understanding of who the Master really is, although obviously he’s either a priest of one of the Great Old Ones, or he’s one of the Great Race of Yith (In Lovecraft they were observers, in Derleth they are interferers with a nefarious bent). The Master is not one of these individual humans she speaks about, but rather some sort of Outsider who has the ability to jump into others bodies and control them. So when she calls Ambrose “Master” she ain’t speaking about Ambrose, she’s speaking about this Outsider who has invaded and taken over his personality and body.
As Mrs. Bishop and Stephen are speaking, he remembers the correspondence between Alijah and someone named Jonathan Bishop, who in those letters speaks of Alijah as Master as well. We find out that he was Mrs. Bishop’s grandfather who “come on tew some uv the secrets an’ he thought he knew it all.” He brought his own unfortunate end by trying to call “It” down.
She tells Stephen he should have a “sign uv perteckshun” which will stop them from being able to hear what’s happening on this side of the multiverse. We also know from previous Derleth that this sign of protection, otherwise known as the Elder Sign, can also be used to imprison outsiders. In fact that’s what Ambrose carved out of the stone tower at the beginning of this novel which was holding a Outer God in prison, but it’s also what keep Cthulhu imprisoned and sleeping in R’lyeh.
Mrs. Bishop continues to speak of the sign and how it will protect him and what the outsiders can do, using Jason Osborn as an example, and ends with this: “An’ the wust uv it is, yew doan’t see Them a-tall – but yew can tell when They’re near by the smell, the wust smell ever – like suthin’ straight aout uv Hell!”
I bring this up, not only because it’s notable that you can tell the Outsiders by their smell, but also because of what the smell means for each author. In Lovecraft the smell was a fruiting fungous smell. Earthy and putrid and nauseating. It was supposed to indicate something odd, something not of this world all the while eliciting disgust about what the fungus of space would do. Fugus it self can grow on anything, and generally overruns it’s host body which is the feeling Lovecraft wanted his readers to feel as they read his works. That slow insidious crawl.
Derleth took all that Lovecraft did and layered on his religious tendency over top of it. Thus the smell was out of Hell, it became a sulfurous smell rather than a fungoid smell, still eliciting innate fears, but, to me, Lovecraft’s is far more powerful, because a sulfur smell just brings about images of demons, which are in the image of man, whereas the outsiders are something we cant even fathom. Something that can break your mind just by looking at them. Something beyond comprehension.
Eventually Stephen goes back to the house and he finds that he’s alone. He passes the strange leaden window and decides to take a look through it, only to find that it’s become a sort of magnifying glass which shows the tower and circle of stones in perfect clarity. We get the opening quote of this essay, and find out whom is with Ambrose:
“On the roof, as it were one on each side of him, were two toad-like creatures which seemed constantly to be changing shape and appearance…And in the air about him were great viperine creatures, which had curiously distorted heads, and grotesquely great clawed appendages, supporting themselves with ease by the aid of black rubbery wings of singularly monsterous dimensions…the things I saw had an existence quite apart from my imagination.”
The space around Ambrose becomes “In Flux” popping into existence and vanishing, as if another dimension were trying to enter into our world and something even more insane happens:
“…the Thing, which first appeared before me as an angular extension into space, with its focal point before my cousin Ambrose at the tower, became in succession a great amorphous mass of changing flesh, squamous as certain snakes, and putting forth and drawing back constantly and without cessation innumerable tentacular appendages of all lengths and shapes; a horrible, blackly furred thing with great red eyes that opened from all portions of its body; a hellish monstrosity which was octopoid in seeming to have become a small, shrivelled mass of torso with tentacles hundreds of times its size and weight which whipped backward in a fanning motion into space, and the ends of which were literally sloughed or melted away into distance, while the empurpled body opened a great eye to look upon my cousin, and disclosed beneath it a great pit of mouth from which issued a terrible, if muted, screaming...”
This visage only lasts a few moments before suddenly Ambrose is alone on the tower, but it’s a significant moment in literature. This is truly the first time one of the Great Old Ones is described in such detail. This is undoubtedly Yog-Sothoth, whom I believe Derleth has decided to make his big bad for this novel (Poor Nyarlathotep…maybe next time). Lovecraft has previously given short descriptions, but nothing definitive, this is the first time we get such detail and it’s this description, I believe, which fuels the fire for all the future art to come out which visualize the Great Old Ones.
Stephen says he doesn’t sleep that night, but promises himself the next morning he’ll leave. So when he wakes he sees Ambrose who “seemed very cheerful” and he mentions that he has acquired help. “In fact, he is an Indian…his name is Quamis.”
I think I was previously incorrect about who and what Quamis really was. If you remember in part 2, I spoke of him being innocent and fighting against the evils. I think that maybe our shaman just might have something to do with the whole craziness to begin with!
What do you think? Let’s find out next week in the conclusion as we begin the last chapter entitled “Narrative of Winfield Phillips.”
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