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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.

Shelob and Samwise Gamgee

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.”

Morgoth and Ungoliant killing the Trees of Valinor

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!

Post Script:
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

Fëanor and his Silmarils

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.”

Two Trees of Valinor; Telperion and Laurelin

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.

The Silmarils

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 One Ring

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.

Fëanor’s forge

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 Thingol and Melian

Thingol and Melian

In after days, he became a king renowned, and his people were all the Eldar of Beleriand; the Sindar they were named, the Grey-elves, the Elves of Twilight, and King Greymantle was he, Elu Thingol in the tongue of that land.”

Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we have a concise chapter, so I thought it would be the perfect time to review and dig into theories about what we’ve read so far in The Silmarillion.

This chapter follows Melian, a Maiar (the servants of the Valar), and Elwë, the Lord of the Teleri, whom we saw in the last chapter.

Melian “dwelt in the gardens of Lórien, and among all his people there were none more beautiful than Melian, nor wiser, nor more skilled in songs of enchantment.” She came to middle-earth at the same time as Yavanna, “and there she filled the silence of Middle-earth before the dawn with her voice and the voices of her birds.”

The Teleri who “tarried on the road.” across Middle-earth to Valinor were led by Elwë and Olwë, two brothers. Elwë Singollo, which surname we found in the previous chapter signifies Greymantle, heard the song of the lómelindi (the Nightingales), and in that song he heard the beautiful voice of Melian.

He set out to follow that song, and in doing so, “He forgot then utterly all his people and all the purposes of his mind,” and he was lost in the forest. He met Melian there, lost under the twilight stars, “and straightaway, a spell was laid on him.” He had fallen deeply in love with her and stayed with her in eastern Beleriand, starting their own faction of Eldar, which is what we see in the opening quote of this essay. He became Elu Thingol, King Greymantle of the Sindar, where Olwë, his brother, assumed kingship of the Teleri in his absence and took them to Valinor.

And of the love of Thingol and Melian there came into the world the fairest of all the Children of Ilùvatar that was or shall ever be.” Namely the Sindar, or Grey-elves.

That is the chapter; not a lot to it, but there are some key points here to latch onto and I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on them. First, we are currently discovering the creation of the peoples of Middle-earth at this point known as Beleriand (from my basic knowledge, Beleriand was sundered in the wars of the first age, which I’m sure will be covered in the remaining text of the Silmarillion.)

Tom Bombadil

The first point I’d like to discuss is song. There was much made of music and song in Peter Jackson’s seminal trilogy and even more in the text of the books. There were characters like Tom Bombadil who basically spoke in music (and I’m inquisitive to see if we get a glimpse of where he came from), poems, and songs sung throughout the books, culminating in Pippin’s song near the end of Return fo the King.

Song and music are rampant throughout Tolkien’s world, and it wasn’t until I began this journey into The Silmarillion that I began to notice that there is a reason behind this. Music is the cornerstone of life; it’s what brings the people of Middle-earth life and happiness and sorrow. Indeed the entire world was built by song…The song of the Valar and Ilùvatar. The music that we’ve all experienced while traversing this incredible creation is an offspring of this idea. The old themes are sung to elicit feeling and emotion and give a glimpse of the past and the future. There is a theory that all music is derivative; all music comes from just a few early and core songs. This shows more gloriously here than anything else because all music portrayed echoes past, an echo of the songs sung by the Valar as the world was being created. One must assume that they all have their own tone and theme incorporated into their song, as varied as a love of nature to the agony of war. The pieces of this music are what create the world and the destination of those within it. I’m so excited to see what other music or song is incorporated moving forward.

The second point I wanted to touch on was language. Tolkien famously created this world based on language, and everything else came from that. This is what makes The Silmarillion so hard to read because there are multiple names for each character and sobriquets based upon whom they interact with. However, the more I dig into the history, the more I’m beginning to understand the language (with the help of the index, of course). Once you come across a name (like Beleriand, the land beyond the bay of Balar), if you’ve paid attention to the core of the word, there’s a good chance you’ll understand where the story is going to go surrounding that character.

The best example of this I can imagine is the introduction of Elwë Singollo. Immediately we are told that Singollo indicates the Greymantle, then everything that follows points towards the creation of the Grey Elves. The Nightingales sing at Twilight, the grey mist when Thingol and Melian meet, right down to their children and followers tribe name…Sindar, which is a derivative of Singollo. They are the Grey Elves, not because of their skin color, but because they were not of the light, meaning that they never went to Valinor, nor are the Sindar from the Dark; they are Elves of Twilight, both of time and location. It is these nuggets I’ll work to uncover as we continue on throughout this blind read.

What will we uncover next?

Join me next week as we move into “Of Eldamar and the Princes of the Eldalië!”


Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor

Cuiviénen

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

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.

An Orc, created from a corrupted Elf

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.

depiction of deep elves

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.

Post Script:

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.”