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Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of The Noldor in Beleriand

Gondolin

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.

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:

Galadriel and Melian

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.”