Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin, Conclusion
“But at length, after the fall of Fingolfin, Sauron, greatest and most terrible of the servants of Morgoth, who in the Sindarin tongue was named Tol Sirion. Sauron was become now a sorcerer of dreadful power, master of shadows and of phantoms, foul in wisdom, cruel in strength, misshaping what he touched, twisting what he ruled, lord of werewolves; his dominion was torment.“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we shift perspective from the Eldar battle against Morgoth to the war between Men and the Dark Lord, while we also get a taste of the Sauron, the Dark Lord of the future.
This portion of the chapter begins with a page break. It immediately switches to speaking about Barahir and his last stand against Morgoth with his minions in the woods of Dorthonian (the land to the north, just beneath the wastes of Ard-Galen). One of the objectives I’m looking for while reading through this book is to find the connectors with the Third Age and see how Beleriand became the Middle-earth we all know. This chapter speaks of Minas Tirith being near Tol Sirion, the river that flows by the mountains of Dorthonian and Mithrim. Dorthonian was a land once rife with greenery and trees, but with the Dagor Bragollach, or the Battle of Sudden Flame, Dorthonian turned into a place of ash. Tolkien tells us in this second half of the chapter that Sauron “took Minas Tirith by assault.” If we remember the map of Middle-earth in the Third Age, Minas Tirith was in Gondor, on the border of Mordor, land protected by mountains on all sides. Could it be that the once Elven stronghold of Dorthonian became Mordor?
It seems so as the Noldor and Men of Beleriand were forced out of their lands to the south, and “Many of the Noldor and the Sindar they (orcs) took captive and led to Angband, and made them thralls, forcing them to use their skill and their knowledge in the service of Morgoth.“
Much of Morgoth’s success in this late battle came from the work he seeded early on. His lies sowed misinformation and strife, making them distrustful of their kin. Hereafter Dagor Bragollach, Morgoth used these Elves and Men “…for his evil purposes, and feigning to give them liberty sent them abroad, but he chained their will to him, and they strayed only to come back to him again.“
These thralls proved his earlier lies that the Noldor couldn’t trust one another, so they stayed locked behind their doors. Doriath and Gondolin remained strong as the other kingdoms weakened. But through all of this, “To Men Morgoth feigned pity.” Many men went to Morgoth because they believed his sincerity, even while the world around them burned.
Some men stood and fought through all this deceit while the Noldor retreated; the Haladin, human friends of Thingol, sent word to him. As a result, the Elvish marchwarderns from Gondolin, led by Beleg Strongbow, and the Haladin (also known as the People of Haleth) destroyed the Orc-legion in the northwest.
But where the Eldar were a peaceful, non-violent people (with the exception of the Noldor), the Men of Beleriand were born without the light of the Valar and knew that they had to fight for what they needed to survive.
The disparity of existence led to strife between some bands of elves and men because the elves believed that they needed to be reserved. So it shows in the tale of Húrin and Huor (there is a book that we will eventually get to, which is a narrative tale of the Children of Húrin) as they went to a battle to save a company of men who were “cut off from the rest” at the Ford of Brithiach. They fought hard and valiantly but “would have been taken or slain, but for the power of Ulmo, that was still strong in the Sirion.“
Remember in “The Fellowship of the Ring” when Arwen takes Frodo after being stabbed by the Morgul blade on Weathertop? She says a prayer to Ulmo, and the waters rise (in the form of Horses) and wipe out the Nine Black riders as they pursue. This scene frames my concept of how Ulmo saved Húrin and Huor (who was merely 13 in this battle).
But Ulmo, though he loved the residents of Beleriand the most, was not the only Valar who would help. Thorondor, the King of the Eagles, created at the hand of Manwë, came down and brought the two men to Turgon, who housed them in Gondolin.
Thorondor will be familiar to everyone because he was the Great Eagle who came to Frodo and Sam’s rescue in “The Return of the King” and saved them from the cliffs of Mount Doom after they threw the ring into the fire.
The battle raged on, and many Men and Elves died at the hands of Morgoth as Turgon kept Gondolin’s gates shut tight. Turgon had “received his guests well,” (Húrin and Huor) but because these Men grew without consciously knowing of the love and assistance of the Valar, they were angry and anxious to get back out and help their kin in the fight. So when they approached Turgon and his attendants, the King gave them surprising grace:
“The King’s grace is greater than you know, and the law is become less stern than aforetime; or else no choice would be given you but to abide to your life’s end.“
Turgon never let anyone leave for fear that they would reveal the secret location of Gondolin, but the Men held to their word, not even telling their family where they had been for the past months, thus strengthening the bond between Elf and Man.
But Turgon saw the writing on the wall and sent secret messengers to Valinor to ask for the succor of the Valar. Still, Valinor remained hidden from the exiled Noldor, holding to their word that the Noldor would never step foot on the shores of the Grey Havens. “Therefore none of the messengers of Turgon came into the West, and many were lost and few returned, but the doom of Gondolin drew nearer.”
“Rumour came to Morgoth of these things, and he was unquiet amid his victories, and he desired greatly to learn tidings of Felagund and Turgon.” So he sent out spies to learn where Nargothrond was hidden and understand where Turgon hid. But unfortunately, the secret of Gondolin still had not been released, so Morgoth didn’t even know of the great city’s existence.
His desire to eradicate the Noldor led him to send another wave of Orcs to wipe them out completely. “He sent a great force against Hithlum. The attack on the passes of the Shadowy Mountains was bitter, and in the siege of Eithel Sirion Galdor the tall, Lorn of Dor-Lómin, was slain by an arrow.“
The battle was pitch, and it looked grim for Hithlum until “the ships of Círdan sailed in great strength up the firth of Dengrist, and in the hour of need the Elves of the Falas came upon the host of Morgoth from the west.“
They pushed the host back to Angband, and in the absence of a ruler in Dor-Lómin, Húrin, son of Galdor the tall, took over and ruled while serving Fingon.
“His wife was Morwen Eledhwen, daughter of Baragund of the house of Bëor, she who fled from Dorthonian with Rían daughter of Belegund and Emeldir the mother of Beren.“
These “outlaws of Dorthonian” were accompanied by Beren, and Tolkien tells us that tale in the next chapter. Tolkien called the story of Beren and Lúthien “The Heart of The Silmarillion,” which makes me very excited to reach that chapter finally!
Join me next week as we start the journey “Of Beren and Lúthien.”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin
“Thus Ard-Galen perished, and fire devoured its grasses; and it became a burned and desolate waste, full of choking dust, barren and lifeless. Thereafter its name was changed, and it was called Anfauglith, the Gasping Dust. Many charred bones had there their roofless grave; for many of the Noldor perished in that burning, who were caught by the running flame and could not fly to the hills. The heights of Dorthonian and Ered Wethrin held back the fiery torrents, but their woods upon the slopes that looked towards Angband were all kindled, and the smoke wrought confusion among the defenders. Thus began the fourth of the great battles, Dagor Bragollach, the Battle of Sudden Flame.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we tell a tale of Hubris and horror; as the table is set, the players are in their places, and there is nothing left to do but act.
We begin by learning that Fingolfin, “the King of the North, and High King of the Noldor,” wanted to assault Angband and eliminate Morgoth. So he brought a council of Elves and Men together but could not get enough support to act against the horrid Valar in the mountains of Thangorodrim to the north.
But while this council was in session, during the sixth generation of men, Morgoth had similar hopes; “For Morgoth had long prepared his force in secret, while ever the malice of his heart grew greater, and his hatred of the Noldor more bitter; and he desired not only to end his foes but to destroy also and defile the lands that they had taken and made fair.“
Recall that Morgoth was an aspect of Ilúvatar, and his intentions started pure. His story is that of Lucifer the Lightbringer. He was an angel (Valar) who followed their own way, their own vision, and it led to their downfall. They both fell so far that nothing remained but a burning hatred for those they were supposed to love.
Tolkien also uses the imagery of fire, which Satan was known for, from the scene in Revelations where he was cast into the fire. Here, Tolkien takes that concept and gives the power of flame to Morgoth: “Then suddenly Morgoth sent forth great rivers of flame that ran down swifter than Balrogs from Thangorodrim, and poured over all the plain; and the Mountains of Iron belched forth fires of many poisonous hues, and the fume of them stank upon the air and was deadly.”
That quote leads directly into the passage which opens this essay, and we see that the horror of Morgoth’s wrath is spreading down to Dorthonian, where the seat of Turgon, Gondolin, resides.
And forgive the excessive quotes, but Tolkien describes the effects of the Battle of Sudden Flame better than I ever could:
“In the front of that fire came Glaurung the golden, father of dragons, in his full might; and in his train were Balrogs, and behind them came the black armies of the Orcs in multitudes such as the Noldor had never before seen or imagined. And they assaulted the fortresses of the Noldor, and broke the leaguer about Angband, and slew whereever they found them the Noldor and their allies, Grey-elves and Men. Many of the stoutest of the foes of Morgoth were destroyed in the first days of the war, bewildered and dispersed and unable to muster their strength. War ceased not wholly ever again in Beleriand; but the Battle of Sudden Flame is held to have ended with the coming of spring, when the onslaught of Morgoth grew less.”
The Elves were in a bad state. The sons of Finarfin took the heaviest losses, particularly at the Pass of Sirion, so much so that King Finrod Felagund was cut off and would have died if Barahir, a man, brother of Bregolas of the house of Bëor, didn’t bring a company of men to come and save him and take him back to Nargothrond.
In the east, Fingolfin and Fingon retreated to Hithlum “because of the strength and height of the Shadowy Mountains, which withstood the torrent of fire, and by the valour of the Elves and the Men of the North, which neither Orc nor Balrog could yet overcome, Hithlum remained unconquered.”
But further east on the other side of Dorthonian, Celegorm and Curufin were getting slaughtered and lost the pass of Aglon to Morgoth. So those elves fled south to Nargothrond and the strength of Finrod Felgund.
It was only Maedros who stood up Morgoth’s armies, as he held the Hill of Himring just to the east of the Pass of Aglon. It was Maedros who had been captured and tortured by Morgoth, only to later be saved by his kin and the Eagles. Maedros called upon that anger and held fast against the horrible armies.
But he became the sole outpost as Glaurung appeared at Maglor’s gap to the east, and Morgoth’s armies took all the lands down into eastern Beleriand down to Mount Dolmed, burning and pillaging the land.
Concurrently, “…news came to Hithlum that Dorthonian was lost and the sons of Finarfin overthrown, and that the sons of Fëanor were driven from their lands.“
Fingolfin saw these kingdoms falling, and his kin dying. Anger over took his body and he rode out with mighty speed over the barred and burned lands, all the way to Angband, and when he got there he challenged Morgoth to single combat. Morgoth begrudingly accepted and they fought like no other fight written in Tolkien (I’ll have it down below for you to enjoy!).
Eventually Morgoth overtook Fingolfin and slay him in the shadow of Angband, thus ending the reign of one of the mighty Noldor kings. And there he would have stayed, as Morgoth threw his body to the wolves, but Thorondor, King of Eagles came down, scratched Morgoth’s face and took up the body of Fingolfin to bring back to the Grey Havens.
We are only halfway through this epic chapter through all of these battles. So I’m going to go a bit slower and give a few more quotes so we can enjoy the events of the end of the First Age.
Join me next week as we conclude “Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin.”
Post Script: The Battle between Morgoth and Fingolfin.
“Therefore Morgoth came, climbing slowly from his subterranean throne, and the rumour of his feet was like thunder underground. And he issued forth clad in black armour; and he stood before the King like a tower, iron-crowned, and his vast shield, sable unblazoned, cast a shadow over him like a stormcloud. But Fingolfin gleamed beneath it as a star; for his mail was overlaid with silver, and his blue shield was set with crystals, and he drew his sword Ringil, that glittered like ice.
Then Morgoth hurled aloft Grond, the Hammer of the Underworld, and swung it down like a bolt of thunder. But Fingolfin sprang aside, and Grond rent a mighty pit in the earth, whence smoke and fire darted. Many times Morgoth essayed to smite him, and each time Fingolfin leaped away, as a lightning shoots from under a dark cloud; and he wounded Morgoth with seven wounds, and seven times Morgoth gave a cry of anguish, whereat the hosts of Angband fell upon their faces in dismay, and the cries echoed in the Northlands.
But at last the King grew weary, and Morgoth bore down his shield upon him. Thrice he was crushed to his knees, and thrice arose again and bore up his broken sheild and stricken helm. But the earth was all rent and pitted about him, and he stumbled and fell backward before the feet of Morgoth; and Morgoth set his left foot upon his neck, and the weight of it was like a fallen hill. Yet with his last and desperate stroke Fingolfin hewed the foot with Ringil, and the blood gushed forth black and smoking and filled the pits of Grond.
Thus died Fingolfin, High King of the Noldor, most proud and valient of the Elven-kings of old.”
You can also listen to the battle below! Please give him a like and a follow!
“Fëanor was a master of words, and his tongue had great power over hearts when he would use it; and that night he made a speech before the Noldor which they ever remembered. Fierce and fell were his words, and filled with anger and price; and hearing them the Noldor were stirred to madness. His wrath and his hate were given most to Morgoth, and yet well nigh all that he said came from the very lies of Morgoth himself; but he was distraught with grief for the slaying of his father, and with anguish for the rape of the Silmarils.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we delve into the mindset of the Noldor as they divest themselves from the rest of the Eldar. We’ll also catch a glimpse of a very well-known Noldor, and we’ll get a greater understanding of Fëanor’s motivations.
We begin this chapter right where the last one left off. Melkor and Ungoliant killed the Trees of Valinor and fled Aman. Yavanna, the Valar who created the Trees, mourns them but comes to realize, “The Light of the Trees has passed away and lives now only in the Silmarils of Fëanor. Foresighted was he!”
Yavanna asks him to give up his Silmarils because “had I but a little of that light I could recall life to the Trees.”
He was excited at this prospect, but many Valar pressured Fëanor to relinquish his prized creations. Still, Fëanor ponders this option until the deception of Melkor, which we learned of in chapter 7, comes back into Fëanor’s mind; it was all a trick. Wasn’t Melkor, now Morgoth, Valar as well? Was this just an elaborate scheme to get Fëanor to give up his creation?
But it was not a trick, and in the darkness, Morgoth returned and “slew Finwë King of the Noldor before his doors, and spilled the first blood in the Blessed Realm.” This single act solidified Morgoth’s transition to evil as he broke into the stronghold of Formenos and stole the Silmarils.
He then fled with Ungoliant across the frozen strait of Helcaraxë, which separated Aman (Valinor) from Middle-earth. Ungoliant demanded that Morgoth feed her the gems he stole, but he held back the Silmarils, and as punishment to him, “she enmeshed him in a web of clinging thongs to strangle him.” He was stuck there in a land which would be called Lammoth, “for the echoes of his voice dwelt there ever after, so that any who cried aloud in that land awoke them, and all the waste between the hills and the sea was filled with a clamour as voices in anguish.”
These cries woke the Balrogs who rested beneath Angband (Morgoth’s domain) and came with their flame whips to “smote the webs of Ungoliant asunder” and frightening her enough to flee.
She took shelter in Nan Dungortheb in the north of Middle-earth (then Beleriand) and mated with the giant spider creatures which lived there. After that, it is unknown what happened to Ungoliant, though “some have said that she ended long ago, when in her uttermost famine she devoured herself at last.“
On the other hand, Morgoth fled to Angband and grew his army of Orcs (made from corrupting Elves) and demons and beasts and made himself a crown of iron which he inlaid the Silmarils.
“His hands were burned black by the touch of those hallowed jewels, and black they remained ever after; nor was he ever free from the pain of the burning, and the anger of the pain.“
This pain fueled his hatred and made him an even more significant threat to the tenants of Ea.
Here we catch a page break and switch gears. Here, the quote that begins this essay appears, and we spend the rest of the chapter discovering why the Noldor left Valinor and the strife that arose amongst them.
What is interesting about this chapter is that Fëanor, who hates Morgoth more than anything else in the world, falls right into his trappings. All the lies Morgoth whispered to the Noldor somehow seep into his mind, and he stands before his kin and starts a revolution. He does from anger because of the loss of his father and the loss of his creations, the Silmarils. Remember in the chapter that describes the design of the Silmarils. These gems have much the same hold over people as the One Ring does in the Third Age. We have not yet seen the power that they can produce, but could it be that the loss of these gems has clouded Fëanor’s mind? Could this be their power represented without Tolkien coming right out and telling us?
In any case, Fëanor rallies his kin to take “…an oath which none shall break, and none shall take, by the name even of Ilùvatar, calling the Everlasting Dark upon them if they kept it not; and Manwë they named witness, and Varda, and the hallowed mountain of Taniquetil, vowing to pursue with vengeance and hatred to the ends of the World Vala, Demon Elf or Man as yet unborn, or any creature, great or small, good or evil, that time should bring forth unto the end of days, whoso should hold or take or keep a Silmaril from their possession.”
But there was friction amongst their ranks. The sons of Fëanor were staunchly in his corner. Still, Fëanor’s brothers, Finarfin and Fingolfin, disagreed with his harsh sentiments, but they stayed true to their course since they had already joined him in their departure. So they left Valinor, but they and their host left the company of Fëanor and his followers.
This chapter is much more accessible than previous chapters because the dialogue reveals Noldor’s desires. First, they bicker and argue about the best way to do things, and eventually, they split; though the endgame of their intentions is to destroy Morgoth, they go about it differently.
Fëanor uses some of his firey drive and uses the questionable decisions his wife left him for and stole the only ships which can make their way to Beleriand. In the process, they murder some of the Teleri who created the ships, only to flee the land.
His kin is left with no other option but to take the same path as Morgoth and Ungoliant and travel across the frozen pass, Helcaraxë. Unfortunately, many of them die from the passage through the icy straits, which deepened their disdain for Fëanor.
The Noldor became outcasts because of this sundering. They left the land they struggled so hard to get to because of misunderstanding, fear, and desire, and we are left wondering what is to come of the Noldor afterward because of a passage delivered by Mandos, a herald of Manwë:
“Tears unnumbered ye shall shed; and the Valar will fence Valinor against you, and shut you out, so that not even the echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains. On the house of Fëanor the wrath of the Valar lieth from the West unto the uttermost East, and upon all that will follow them it shall be laid also. Their Oath shall drive them, and yet betray them, and ever snatch away the very treasures that they have sworn to pursue. To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well; and by treason of kin unto kin, and the fear of treason, shall this come to pass. The Dispossessed shall they be forever.”
Some tales delve deeper into every transgression the Noldor did during this time. They are collected in a “lament which is named Noldolantë, the Fall of the Noldor.” Still, I’m beginning to wonder if these little offshoots are actually written down in other books like “The Book of Lost Tales” or if this is just a little flavor of history that Tolkien wanted to tell but never got around to completing. In any case, I’m very excited to see where the story goes next because we’ve transcended the Biblical style voice the beginning of this book held and have transitioned into a more storyteller fashion.
Will we finally get to see the fate of Fëanor and the Noldor next week? Join me as we review “Of the Sindar.”
I promised that we’d see a familiar face, and I was shocked at the character-building Tolkien was able to instill in a single paragraph:
“Galadriel, the only woman of the Noldor to stand that day tall and valiant among the contending princes, was eager to be gone. No oaths she swore, but the words of Fëanor concerning Middle-earth had kindled in her heart, for she yearned to see the wide unguarded lands and to rule there a realm at her own will.“
Galadriel held a wonder of the wider world to see, experience, and travel. Her curiosity about what life truly means drives her to leave Valinor to go to Beleriand.
It’s more than that, however. Galadriel wanted to be a queen in her own right. She had grown up and seen how the Noldor clung to history and tradition, even to their detriment. This was Galadriel’s time to make a mark. Unfortunately, I’ve not seen her past outside of the books and movies, and it’s been so long since I’ve read the books that I’m sure I’m missing something there, but even so, I hope she is a feature in the remaining story.
“The ring passed to Isildur, who had this one chance to destroy Evil forever. But the hearts of men are easily corrupted. And the ring of power has a will of its own. It betrayed Isildur to his death. And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend, legend became myth and for two and a half thousand years, the ring passed out of all knowledge until, when chance came, it ensnared a new bearer. The ring came to the creature Gollum who took it deep into the tunnels of the misty mountains and there it consumed him. The ring brought to Gollum unnatural long life. For five hundred years, it poisoned his mind. And in the gloom of Gollum’s cave, it waited.“
Welcome back! This week is not exactly a Blind Read, but more of an integration of other media so that we can gain a much more full and expansive understanding of what Tolkien was striving to create.
Tolkien was first and foremost a professor and linguist, and because of this, he spent much of his time in his head creating and developing languages and histories. The writing was his escapism. A young Tolkien went to war during World War I and fought along the Western Front. He fought in many battles, including the formative Battle of the Somme, which would eventually influence his writing style along with his staunch Catholicism.
During his time in the war, the mythology of Middle-earth was born. Tolkien decided to create a mythology for his homeland, England, during convalescence. He put pen to paper and began what is now known as “The Fall of Gondolin,” part of “The Book of Lost Tales.”
From there, things blossomed into other fragments and poems that would eventually become “The Silmarillion” (we will be getting to the histories eventually, even though there are supposedly contradictions and reiterations between the stories).
The Silmarillion is the basis of everything that came after, beginning with “The Hobbit.” and eventually “The Lord of the Rings.” What makes Tolkien more lasting and more entrenched in the ethos of public consciousness is the depth of his world and, thus, his histories.
Tolkien was always going to write The Lord of the Rings. However, at the behest of Tolkien’s publisher for “The Hobbit,” it became the novel that we know and not some dry history that’s as inaccessible as “The Silmarillion,” but the brilliant story that’s an extension of the history he had already created. The Lord of the Rings is the Third Age of Arda, whereas the “Silmarillion” is Arda from the beginning of time (The First Age).
The Fellowship of the Ring begins with the backstory of The Second Age, the first battle between the Maiar acolyte of Morgoth, Sauron, and his creation of the Rings of Power, or more specifically, The One Ring.
The opening quote of this essay is the passage that has stayed with me since watching it for the first time. “Some things that should not have been forgotten were lost.” Upon rewatching The Fellowship of the Ring, I was trying to watch it through the lens of the histories. How well did Jackson adhere to the story while at the same time honoring the history behind the tale? The answer is obvious because of the popularity of the movies. Peter Jackson’s team gave little hints about the history in the “Introductions” to the movies (I.E., the quote above). You would miss small moments if you were not paying attention and would not notice if you knew anything about the histories.
The first significant connection is with the Silmarils. The jewels of power that Fëanor created had a call to power, much like the One ring does in The Fellowship. However, the Silmarils do not show up, so what is the connection? It is not the back story with Ilsildur either, because he was a man of the Second Age. However, it is with the Elves of both Rivendell and Lothlórien. They are all ready to accept their destinies and head to the “Gray Havens,” otherwise known as Valinor. The tale of Middle-earth (or, even better, the larger world of Arda) begins with the Silmarillion, with Ilùvatar creating the Valar, and then later the Elves and Men. From what I have seen thus far in the Silmarillion, the Elves have an overwhelming draw to Valinor. Despite the rifts created by jealousy, Valinor is the Elvenhome.
There is much-maligned of the Elves’ decision not to take part in the battle for Middle-earth. However, by looking at things through Elven eyes (Elrond has an excellent little speech when asked to take part that lightly touches on this point), you can see that Middle-earth is not, and never indeed has been, their home. There is a slight threat that Sauron could conquer all of Middle-earth and encroach upon Valinor, but Morgoth could not even succeed in this aspect, so the thought is that his successor does not stand a chance of it. So why should the elves bother putting their lives at risk?
In the extended version, there is a scene that shows Frodo and Sam watching from the forest as wood elves sing during their exodus to Valinor. It is a shame this scene was cut from the regular version because it shows the reasoning behind the elves’ decision not to fight (to which they later decide to help). They know that the world has moved beyond their time. They are no longer the lords and ladies of Middle-earth; it has now truly become the time of men.
There is only one thing that stands out to me about the history of Middle-earth as they pass through the generations. Galadriel discusses the Rings of Power in the opening monologue and mentions that three are given (or made by?) to the Elves. I have to wonder how this correlates to the Silmarils since there were three of those crystals. Are the rings supposed to be consequent to the Silmarils? Are they supposed to hold similar power? I feel we will find the answer to that as we delve deeper into the history of Middle-earth.
Join me next week as we cover the next chapter in the Silmarillion: “Of The Flight of the Noldor.”
Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor
“Yet be sure of this: the hour approaches, and within this age our hope shall be revealed, and the Children shall awake. Shall we then leave the lands of their dwelling desolate and full of evil? Shall they walk in darkness while we have light? Shall they call Melkor lord while Manwë sits upon Taniquetil?“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week the First of Ilùvatar’s Children (Elves) awaken, Melkor is thwarted, and we get some in-depth understanding of the creation of Middle-Earth, its peoples, and its antagonists.
We begin this chapter of the history of Middle-earth by finding that the Valar grew comfortable with their creations. Melkor was defeated, and they put him out of their minds, staying away from his lands and “the evil things that he had perverted.” Melkor created a stronghold, commanded by his lieutenant, Sauron (sound familiar?), named Angband. It was here we find the perverted things including the Maiar who followed him: “those spirits who first adhered to him in the days of his splendour, and became most like him in his corruption: their hearts were of fire, but they were cloaked in darkness, and terror went before them; they had whips of flame. Balrogs they were named in Middle-earth in later days.”
This is where we get the opening quote of this essay. The Valar, on their seats in Valinor, had a great debate on what to do with Middle-earth and the impending Awakening of the first Children of Ilùvatar, the Elves.
Varda, Manwë’s spouse, decided that the Elves should not be born into the darkness that blanketed Middle-earth, so she created the stars (which is why the Elves then called her Elentári in their tongue means ‘Queen of Stars’). I’ll leave the passage for this in the postscript because several names aren’t pertinent to this portion, but I have a sneaking suspicion they will be later!
Anyway, the Elves woke next to Cuiviénen (a lake in Middle-earth, otherwise known as “The Water of Awakening“), and the first thing they saw were the beautiful stars and “Long they dwelt in their first home by the water under the stars...” They even developed their own speech, then naming themselves the Quendi, “signifying those that speak with voices” as the Valar had no need for voice.
These Children of Ilùvatar were “stronger and greater than they have since become;” and the Valar decided that they needed to get these children to join them in Valinor, so Oromë had them follow him back, and those that did he named the Eldar, or the people of the stars.
But why didn’t they all follow Oromë, you ask? Melkor put stories into their heads to scare them off from the great hunter. Reports of “a dark Rider upon his wild horse that pursued those that wandered to take and devour them.” Melkor was able to ensnare some of these unfortunate Elves by this deception, and “those of the Quendi who came into the hands of Melkor, ere Utumno was broken, were put there in prison, and by slow arts of cruelty were corrupted and enslaved; and thus Melkor breed the hideous race of the Orcs in envy and mockery of the Elves, of whom they were afterwards the bitterest foes.“
So Melkor created Orcs from the Elves, but not just from the Elves… from the Quendi, who were stronger and greater than what the Elves later became. So it makes sense why the Orcs are thought of as so terrifying.
Understanding that Melkor was gaining in power the Valar decided that they must do something about it, so they decided to ride out against Melkor and capture him; to save the Quendi from the spread of his darkness. Apparently little is known of this battle because it didn’t take place in the view of the Quendi, except that “the Earth shook and groaned beneath them, and the water moved, and in the north there were lights as of mighty fires.”
The battle was so savage that the shape of the land itself was altered permanently, but eventually Melkor “was bound with the chain Angainor that Aulë had wrought, and led captive; and the world had peace for a long age.” The Valar discovered and defeated many of the ranks of Melkor, but they never did find his lieutenant, Sauron.
The world was at peace, and after long years of discussion, the Valar decided that the Quendi should join the Valar in Valinor far to the west. They sent for Ingwë, Finwë, and Elwë, who were ambassadors of the Elves and later became their kings, but free will got in the way.
“Then befell the first sundering of the Elves.”
The kindreds of these ambassadors followed Oromë to the west and became known as the Eldar. The ones who stayed behind loved their home of Middle-earth, the seas, the trees, and the stars and they refused the summons. These Elves became known as the Avari, or the Unwilling.
But beyond this first sundering, even the Eldar split as well. The three different ambassadors had their own followers, each with their own predilections. The followers of Ingwë were known as the Vanyar, or the Fair Elves, who are closest to the Valar and few men have ever seen.
Then there are the Noldor, the people of Finwë, otherwise known as the Deep Elves, who were known as great fighters and laborers.
Lastly there were the followers of Elwë Singollo (Singollo signifies Greymantle. I have a feeling we’ll find more out about that next week!), who were named the Teleri, who “tarried” on the roads and were the last to appear in Valinor. They are known as the Sea Elves, or Falmari, because of their love for the sea and making music beside the breaking waves.
These three kindreds of Elves who made it to Valinor are called the Calaquendi, or Elves of the Light (or a very literal translation, “Those who speak of the light“)
These Elves do not take much part in the story of the Silmarillion, but rather those they left behind, those that the “Calaquendi call the Umanyar, since they came never to the land of Aman and the Blessed Realm.” These Umanyar and the Moriquendi (or the Elves of Darkness who came later and “never beheld the Light that was before the Sun and Moon.” are who the remaining history of Middle-earth pertains to.
The Nandor, who were led by Lenwë and “forsook the westward march, and led away numerous people, southwards down the great river, and they passed out of the knowledge of their kin for long years were past.” until years later Denethor (not to be confused with Denethor II the steward of Gondor from the Third Age. Aka, father to Boromir and Faramir), son of Lenwë, decided to lead his people west over the mountains and into Beleriand (the westernmost land of Middle-earth).
We have finally gotten past the rich history of gods and angels and are getting into the creation of Middle-earth as we know it. I’m most curious to see where the coming of men, the second of the Children of Ilùvatar, come into play as the Elves begin to build their roots in the land. Do you have an idea of where we’re headed?
Let’s find out next week as we discover “Of Thingol and Melian.“
As promised, here is your passage…
“Then Varda went forth from the council, and she looked out from the height of Taniquetil, and beheld the darkness of Middle-earth beneath the innumerable stars, faint and far. Then she began a great labor, greatest of all the works of the Valar since their coming into Arda. She took the silver dews from the vats of Telperion, and there-with she made new stars and brighter against the coming of the First-born; wherefore she whose name out of the Deeps of Time and the labours of Eä was Tintallë, the Kindler, was called after by the Elves Elentári, Queen of the Stars. Carnil and Luinil, Nénar and Lumbar, Alcarinquë and Elemmírë she wrought in that time, and many other of the ancient stars she gathered together and set as signs in the heavens of Arda: Wilwarin, Telumendil, Soronúmë, and Anarríma; and Menelmacar with his shining belt, that forbodes the Last Battle that shall be at the end of days. And high in the North as a challenge to Melkor she set the crown of seven mighty stars to swing, Valacirca, the Sickle of the Valar and sign of doom.”
“But I will not suffer this: that these should come before the Firstborn of my design, nor that thy impatience should be rewarded. They shall sleep now in the darkness under stone, and shall not come forth until the Firstborn have awakened upon Earth; and until that time thou and they shall wait, though long it seem. But when the time comes I will awaken them, and they shall be to thee as children; and often strife shall arise between thine and mine, the children of my adoption and the children of my choice.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we continue on the journey through the Quenta Silmarillion, learn about a few new races of beings, and discover the evolution of life in Middle-earth!
This second chapter is short and answers a question I’d been wondering since we started the journey through this history: Where did Dwarves come from?
Through the first few chapters as we got to know the beginning of Middle-earth we came to understand that Ilùvatar created his own children, the Elves and Men. There were so many other races not represented here which had me questioning their origins, none more than Dwarves. The Dwarves of Middle-earth are a prideful and powerful bunch and knowing just a bit about their history with Elves, I wondered where and how they came into the story.
Well this chapter starts us off in the first sentence: “It is told that in their beginning the Dwarves were made by Aulë in the darkness of Middle-earth; for so greatly did Aulë desire the coming of the Children, to have learners to whom he could teach his lore and his crafts, that he was unwilling to await the fulfillment of the designs of Ilùvatar.“
So Aulë created the dwarves at the same time Elves and Man were being created, and “because the power of Melkor was yet upon the Earth” he made the Dwarves “stone-hard, stubborn, fast in friendship and in enmity.” He also made their lives long, longer than Men, but not eternal like the Elves.
When he created them (in the true fashion of Prometheus disobeying Zeus and giving humans fire), Ilùvatar was angered, because he had yet to finish creating his own children; but when Aulë showed that he was willing to smite them with his hammer, Ilùvatar took pity on them and we get the opening quote of this essay.
Aulë had promised the Dwarves they would sit at the End of the World with the Children of Ilùvatar, led by the Seven Father’s of Dwarves, “of whom Durin was the most renowned in after ages, father of that kindred most friendly to the Elves, whose mansions were at Khazad-dûm.” In case you don’t recognize this name from either the books or the movies, the better known name for Khazad-dûm is The Mines of Moria.
So now we know the Dwarves were created by Aulë as the “Second Born.” and were sequestered in Moria to await the coming of the First Born, aka the Children of Ilùvatar, aka Elves and Men.
But what of Yavanna? We’ve only spoken of Aulë and the chapter head has both of their names! Well, because Aulë kept his creations a secret even from Yavanna, the Dwarves ended up not caring much about her creations, instead, “they will love first the things made by their own hands, as doth their father. They will delve in the earth, and the things that grow and live upon the earth they will not heed.“
Yavanna was afraid for her great creation…nature. The bountiful trees and the beautiful forests were potentially in danger, because of the nature of Aulë, the smith, he instilled in his children that they should be desirous of making their own creations through industry. If Melkor got his desires into these industrial Dwarves, what was to stop them from cutting down Yavanna’s beautiful forests to use in their production?
Yavanna went to Manwë, the Valar of Wind and Sky and spoke her fears:
“Because my heart in anxious, thinking of the days to come. All my works are dear to me. Is it not enough that Melkor should have marred so many? Shall nothing that I have devised be free from the dominion of others?” They discussed it for a while until Manwë finally responded, “When the Children awake (the Dwarves), then the thought of Yavanna will awake also, and it will summon spirits from afar, and they will go among the kelvar (the fauna of Middle-earth) and the olvar (the flora of Middle-earth), and some will dwell therein, and be held in reverence, and their just anger shall be feared.”
This breath of spirits and life created two powerful and fascinating beings, The Great Eagles and the Ents. Yavanna was able to work with Manwë to build a defense system into her creations, thus bringing sentience to the Great Eagles (which you’ll remember from the end of The Lord of the Rings, when Gandalf speaks with them and gets them to assist in gathering up the Hobbits) and the Ents (Yay Treebeard!) as guardians, so that even if Melkor’s influence encroaches upon the Children (both first-born, Elves and Man, and Second Born, Dwarves) and they foster a desire to mar the land further than even Melkor was able to, these sentient beings would be there for protection.
We are finally getting a broader understanding of how the world came into being, but what transpired to bring the Children to wake into the world? Let’s find out next week as we unfurl “Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor.”
“Behind the walls of the Pelóri the Valar established their domain in that region which is called Valinor; and there were their houses, their gardens, and their towers. In that guarded land the Valar gathered great store of light and all the fairest things that were saved from the ruin; and many others yet fairer they made anew, and Valinor became more beautiful even than Middle-earth in the Spring of Arda; and it was blessed, for the Deathless dwelt there, and there naught faded nor withered, neither was there any stain upon flower or leaf in that land, nor any corruption or sickness in anything that lived; for the very stones and waters were hallowed.“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we begin our pathway into the Quenta Silmarillion and learn of the beginning of the First Age, while getting some very useful backstory into the elves and man.
In the past few weeks we were introduced to the Valar and their predilections and abilities, which is imperative back story as we jump into the Silmarillion.
The story starts with mention of the First War, and if you remember, we don’t really know anything about it, because we’re getting everything from the Eldar, and the First War was before they came into their own in Arda. What we do know is that Melkor fought the Valar for control of the land, until Tulkas the Strong came down and “Melkor fled before his wrath and his laughter.“
With Melkor gone, at least temporarily, the Valar began to build Arda bringing “order to the seas and the lands and the mountains.” Once Yavanna planted seeds, the Valar realized they needed light to help life flourish, so Aulë “wrought two mighty lamps for the lighting of Middle-earth… One lamp they raised near the north of Middle-earth, and it was named Illuin; and the other was raised in the south, and it was named Ormal.”
The land flourished with the Valar and the light of the lamps, but Melkor had spies among the Maiar, “and because of the light of Illuin they did not perceive the shadow in the north that was cast from afar by Melkor.”
Because they didn’t notice Melkor, he came south and “began the delving and building of a vast fortress, deep under the Earth, beneath dark mountains… That stronghold was named Utumno.” His corruption spread from Utumno “and the Spring of Arda was marred.”
Another war broke out and Melkor “assailed the lights of Illuin and Ormal, and cast down their pillars and broke their lamps.” causing “destroying flame (which was) poured out over Earth,” scarring the land. The Valar were able to stop Melkor after this, but it was too late and “Thus ended the Spring of Arda.“
The Valar decided that there was no appropriate place to live, “Therefore they departed from Middle-earth and went to the land of Aman,” and to protect this land “they raised the Pelóri, the Mountains of Aman, highest upon Earth.” Upon the highest mountain Manwë (the Lord of Air and Winds) build his throne. “Taniquetil the Elves name that holy mountain.” Then we get the quote which opens this essay, and we understand that this land of Aman, had now become Valinor.
It was then, once they made their home in Valinor that Yavanna helped grow (through her song) the “Two Trees of Valinor;” Telperion and Laurelin. Telperion bloomed for six hours then stopped, then Laurelin bloomed for another six hours: “And each day of the Valar in Aman contained twelve hours, and ended with the second mingling of the lights, in which Laurelin was waning and Telperion was waxing.” It was a time of great joy for the Valar, to be free of Melkor and to continue to develop Valninor:
“Thus began the Days of the Bliss of Valinor; and thus began also the count of time.”
What significant about this is the aspect of time. The age of the Children of Ilùvatar was coming and the instance of time was it’s catalyst. The Elves are immortal, they “die not till the world dies, unless they are slain or waste in grief.” But men are mortal and they need to have a concept of time to understand what their life capability is. We’ll see more of this later in the essay.
But in this coming of the Children of Ilùvatar, Melkor still dwelt in Middle-earth, which is where the Children took up their home.
The Valar rarely came across Pelóri, but when they did they taught the Elves “the lore of all craftsmen: the weaver, the shaper of wood, and the worker in metals; and the tiller and husbandman also.” But it was the Noldor, the “most skilled of the Elves” whom were “the first to achieve the making of gems; and the fairest of all gems were the Silmarils, and they are lost.” I’m trying to take this one step at a time, but seeing as this history is called “The Silmarillion,” I’m sure they will come into play soon.
The Vanyar Elves were gifted the art of “song and poetry” by Manwë whom was named the “vicegerent of Ilùvatar, King of the world of Valar and Elves and Men, and the chief defense against the evil of Melkor.” he even wields a “scepter of sapphire, which the Noldor wrought for him.”
Then there was also Ulmo of the Oceans and seas. I’m going to give you a long passage and break it down, because to me, this is the most important passage in this chapter:
“In the deep places he gives thought to music great and terrible; and the echo of that music runs through all the veins of the world in sorrow and in joy; for if joyful is the fountain that rises in the sun, its springs are in the wells of sorrow unfathomed at the foundations of the Earth… And thus it was by the power of Ulmo that even under the darkness of Melkor life coursed still through many secret lodes, and the Earth did not die; and to all who were lost in that darkness or wandered far from the light of the Valar the ear of Ulmo was ever open; nor has he forsaken Middle-earth, and whatsoever may since have befallen of ruin or of change he has not ceased to take thought for it, and will not until the end of days.”
Not only is this passage poetic and beautiful, but it also gives form to the philosophy of Middle-earth as the personalities of the Valar form the very fabric of reality. There is and always will be a subset of people whom believe that the ideal of The Lord of the Rings is a power struggle between good and evil. Between happiness and sorrow. Between love and loss.
The end of the books and movies (as Frodo heads to Valinor) there is a certain forlorn sorrow, but infused within that thread is hope, and that’s what strikes me the most in this passage above. There is joyfulness, but that joyfulness is countered by “sorrow unfathomed.” The point is if there were only goodness, there would be no joyfulness. Men and Elves are the Children of Ilùvatar and thus are more open to emotion and feeling. The Valar only have a little bit. So if everything were always joyful, the point of joyfulness disappears because there is no counterpoint. It is only upon feeling sorrow that we understand what Joy truly is.
This sorrow does not mean the terror that Melkor had wrought, or even Sauron in The Lord of the Rings. This is speaking of the normal every day sorrow, and that comes along with the concept of time which the Valar created with the two great trees of Valinor. To burrow this down to brass tacks, it is the sorrow that Men have a finite time on Middle-earth that creates the joyfulness that they flourish off of. What Ulmo does is put the sorrow in “the foundations of earth” meaning both that it was around at earth’s inception, but it’s also deep in a well; deep in the earth; physically and metaphorically tying the song of the sorrow to Middle-earth as a place. Michael Ende used this concept to full effect in his Swamps of Sorrow of The Neverending Story.
But what is the point of having Men and Elves live on Middle-earth? The Elves “shall be fairest of all earthly creatures, and they shall have and shall conceive and bring forth more beauty that all my Children.” So the Elves are there to make Middle-earth a wonderous and beautiful place. But what of Men?
“Therefore he willed the hearts of Men should seek beyond the world and should find no rest therein; but they should have a virtue to shape their life, amid the powers and chances of the world, beyond the Music of the Ainur, which is as fate to all things else; and of their operation everything should be, in form and deed, completed, and the world fulfilled unto the last and smallest.“
For this the Elves fear Men, “for it seems to the Elves that Men resemble Melkor most of all the Ainur, although he has ever feared and hated them, even those that serve him.” The Elves are there for much the same reason the Valar were… to continue to make the world beautiful. Man was there to give direction and purpose. This is a powerful responsibility and it’s why many are corrupted during their journey, but it also gives rise to the joyful sorrow that one feels as they look out across the crashing waves and into the depths of the beautiful Ocean and it’s terrible wine dark composure.
Join me next week as we move onto chapter two and learn more of the Valar Aulë and Yavanna!