Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Happy Canada Day!

We're happy to be back at the blogging game and have a number of feature articles to post in the next little while. In the meanwhile, we wish all of our Canadian readers a very happy Canada Day. Thank you for reading.

Image from Marvel's Uncanny X-Men #120 (April 1979).

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Hiatus Over!

Just like Magneto, Whatever Gods There Be always bounces back! We'll start posting again shortly, but in the meanwhile, please enjoy this image of Magneto from X-Men #2 (November 1991). You may recall, this is the follow-up issue of the first adjective-less X-title that sold over seven million copies.

Image from Marvel's X-Men #2 (November 1991) co-created by Chris Claremont & Jim Lee, inking by Scott Williams, colours by Joe Rosa and Letters by Tom Orzechowski. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

On Hiatus...Sort of...

I know it has been almost three months since my last blog post. Well, the reason for this is some important professional responsibilities have taken up a considerable amount of my time and will likely to do so in the future. So while some draft posts may be placed, and if something important relating to comics, sci-fi and pop culture comes up, I will certainly post those items. But until such a time, this blog will largely remain on hiatus for an indefinite period of time.

Here's some Silver Age Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D to THANK YOU for clicking and reading over the past four years. I've thoroughly enjoyed blogging as a hobby, and hopefully will continue to do so once things have settled down. 

Image from Marvel's Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D  (November 1968) written by Archie Goodwin and illustrated by Frank Springer.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy 1931-2015

I don't normally become sad when a Hollywood figure passes, but today is very different. While I grew up watching and loving the original Star Trek series, my first personal encounter with Leonard Nimoy was at a Toronto Star Trek convention in the early 1990s. I went solo so as to not be tied-down by others, and after getting a drive to the airport hotel from my dad; proceeded to explore the various organizations, displays and merchant tables who happily took my hard-earned allowance in exchange for books, badges and other Star Trek-related knick-knacks. 

Special thanks for Comic Book Resources for this image.
All told, I would go to three other conventions of this kind and many more comic and fan-cons over my years, but seeing Leonard Nimoy in that crowded convention hall and hearing him speak about his time as the First Officer of the original starship Enterprise, was one of the best times I've ever had at a convention and something I'll remember to the end of my days. Indeed, since 1991, my good luck charm has been a Commander Spock trading card in a plastic case. This little memento has gone with me through exams, graduations, jobs interviews and almost every other cerebral challenge I've ever faced. And while it hasn't always worked (it's only a photo of Spock and not Spock's Brain after all!) I never-the-less will not go into any brain-focussed challenge without it again. To this day, not only does this little card remind me of the greatness of Mr. Spock's intellect, but also those fun times as a nerdy teenager decades ago. 
Spock from Star Trek. He has long been my favourite character in science-fiction and an inspiration. Today is a difficult day.
I know Leonard Nimoy was an actor, writer, director, photographer, philanthropist and musician. (A very good friend of mine, who I met in 1993 after sharing our mutual love of Star Trek emailed this partial Twilight Zone episode featuring Nimoy today – here it is.) I also know his first biography, I Am Not Spock sought to put some distance between him and the character that made him one of my heroes. But as I recall him, Leonard Nimoy will always be, not only a gifted actor who helped create one of science-fiction's most memorable and inspiring characters, but a funny, warm, erudite and welcoming man who loved every fan he met and subsequently brought a smile to their face. As I hinted, the news of his passing has turned an otherwise sunny Friday into a much more difficult one than I had anticipated this morning. Of course, the stars above will continue to burn and call to us – even if only in science-fiction stories – but knowing Mr. Spock is no longer with us, diminishes them just a little. LLAP, Mr. Nimoy – you will be missed.

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Précis of the J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth to the End of the First Age - Part III: From the Three Houses of the Edain to the Battle of Unnumbered Tears


Below is the third installment of the history of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth in the First Age. This is the third of four blog entries on this topic, and because it does take some time to write, please forgive the month between installments 2 and 3. I'll probably read The Children of Húrin for the fourth and final installment, so it may be another month until the next one arrives. In the meanwhile please enjoy this précis and yes the story of Beren and Lúthien is featured. Also this book features passages taken directly from The Silmarillion itself and they are from the Unwin Paperback (1991) edition.  

The Three Houses of the Edain

The Edain eventually divided into three houses. The first house was the House of Bëor, who became friends with Finrod and entered into Beleriand about 300 years after the sun first rose. The second house was led by Haldad and later by his daughter Haleth and settled in the Forest of Brethil, which lies on the other side of the River Sirion from Doriath. This house is unique as it is named after a matriarch and was known as the House of Haleth. The third house of the Edain: and the one which became the most renown, entered Beleriand marching in rank and column and first was led by Marach, who brought them over the mountains. Eventually, however, the house became known as the House of Hador, named after Marach's great-great grandson. Hador’s line would include Tuor, who married Idril of Gondolin and is therefore related to Eärendil the Mariner, who himself is father to Elrond of Rivendell (who chose to be an elf) and the mortal, Elros, the first king of Númenor, the great island kingdom of the Second Age. Because of this, the Kings of Gondor and Arnor, including Aragorn is also descended from Hador.

The poster from the film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King which was released in December 2003. Aragorn, who is the King of Gondor and Arnor is a descendant of the Edain of the First Age.
Morgoth Strikes Back!

Fingolfin followed his half-brother Fëanor to Middle-earth, in order to not abandon the Noldor to his temperamental elder half-brother. When Fëanor arrived in Middle-earth, he did not waste any time and the host he had immediately went north where they quickly routed an orc army in the northern area of Ard-galen. From there Fëanor marched further north, but was met with a defence of Balrogs and was killed in battle against Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs. In a later counter-attack, led by Glaurung, Father of Dragons, the host of Fëanor was taken by surprise and the new High-King of the Noldor, Maedhros, the son of Fëanor was captured by the enemy.  

When this occurred, Fingolfin’s son Fingon -- who was close with his cousin -- went to rescue Maedhros and when he was successful, brought both his cousin and peace back to the Noldor. Recognizing both the valiance of Fingon's deeds, as well as the sins of the past, Maedhros then relinquished his line's claim to the kingship of the Noldor in Middle-earth, and the crown passed to his uncle, Fingolfin. Fingolfin is generally considered amongst the wisest and ablest of the Noldor and while he was part of the Kinslaying, this was only because he arrived late and did not understand how the event had started. Fingolfin would eventually die at the hands of Morgoth himself, after the Dagor Bragollach, a battle which saw Morgoth break a siege on Angband and meet the High-King of the Noldor in one-on-one combat. Before this happened, however, Fingolfin crippled him permanently. 

Morgoth and the High-King of the Noldor by Ted Nasmith. From the 1991 Tolkien Calendar.
The Story of Beren and Lúthien 

Of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, the story of Beren and Lúthien is perhaps the most important both to the larger legend, as well as Professor Tolkien himself. I say this because it is the names "Beren" and "Lúthien" the are inscribed onto the mutual gravestone of Tolkien and his wife, Edith Mary, in their final resting place at Oxford. The story is also recounted by Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings as he and the hobbits are fleeing the Nazgûl and on their way to Rivendell. 

The grave of Edith Mary Tolkien (Lúthien) and John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (Beren) in Oxford, England.
Beren was a mortal man. His father, Barahir, was a friend and ally of the elves and Beren was one of the last survivors of the Dagor Bragollach, the battle that saw Morgoth reach down into the northern portions of Middle-earth, as well as kill Fingolfin. In the defeat, he escaped south and was driving into the northern reaches of Doriath, home of Thingol and Melian. Amazingly, despite the power of the Girdle of Melian, Beren "passed through the mazes that Melian wove about the kingdom of Thingol, even as she had foretold; for a great doom lay upon him" (The Silmarillion pg. 197). When he arrived in Doriath he came across Lúthien, the daughter of the monarchs and the most beautiful of all the Children of Ilúvatar. As he watched her dance, he immediately fell in love and gave her the nickname Tinúviel which was elvish for "Nightingale".

But Lúthien was loved by another, a minstrel named Daeron, and Daeron betrayed Beren to King Thingol, who immediately disliked him. When the two met, it was an exchange for the ages, probably one of the most enjoyable in the entire book:

Then Beren looking up beheld the eyes of Lúthien, and his glance went also to the face of Melian and it seemed to him that words were put into his mouth. Fear left him, and the pride of the greatest house of Men returned to him; and he said; "My fate, O King, let me hither through the perils such as few even of the Elves would dare. And here I have found what I sought not indeed, but finding I would possess for ever. For it is above all gold and silver, and beyond all jewels. Neither rock, nor steel, nor the fires of Morgoth, nor all the powers of the Elven-kingdoms, shall keep from me the treasure that I desire. For Lúthien your daughter is the fairest of all the children of the world. 

Then silence feel upon the hall, for those who stood there were astounded and afraid, and they thought that Beren would be slaim. But Thingol spoke slowly saying: "Death you have earned with these words and death you should find suddenly, had I not sworn an oath in haste of which I repent, baseborn mortal, who in the realm of Morgoth has learnt to creep in secret as his spies and thralls."

Then Beren answered: "Death you can give me earned or unearned, but the names I will not take from you are baseborn, nor spy nor thrall. By the ring of Felagund, that he gave to Barahir my father on the battlefield of the North, my house has not earned such names from any Elf, be he king or no. (The Silmarillion pg. 200)

When Beren showed that he indeed was great among the mortals of Middle-earth and that he wore Finrod’s ring, Melian, sensed that something greater was afoot, and warned her husband: "For not by you," she said "shall Beren be slain; and far and free does his fate lead him in the end, yet it is bound with yours. Take heed!"

But the king did not listen. And in his pride ordered that the price for his daughter's hand, was a Silmaril from the crown of Morgoth. In making such a brash request, he therefore tied himself to the fate of those accursed jewels, and also came under the Oath of Fëanor.  

The Quest of Beren

Beren left Doriath and set out on his quest to retrieve a Silmaril from Morgoth. Before heading north to Angband, he went east to Nargothrond, the home of Finrod, who had sworn an oath of friendship with Beren’s father. In his quest he was joined by ten warriors, and was led by the king, who was also warned by Celegorm and Curufin of the Oath of Fëanor. They went north under the guise of orcs, but while doing so where captured by Sauron, who discovered them in a battle of wills with the Noldorian king. When Sauron emerged victorious, the party was imprisoned in Tol-in-Guarhoth, a watch tower that was originally named Minas Tirith but had been captured by the forces of Morgoth. Sauron, had werewolves under his command and one by one the compatriots of Beren will killed until there was only him and Finrod left. When it came time for a werewolf to kill Beren, as it attacked, Finrod broke his chains and countered, killing the beast. It was written: "He died, then in the dark, in Tol-in-Gaurhoth, whose great tower he himself had built. Thus King Finrod Felagund, fairest and the most beloved of the house of Finwë, redeemed his oath, but Beren mourned beside him in despair." (The Silmarillion pg. 209 )

Just then Lúthien arrived. She had been following Beren and had been held in Nargothrond by Celegorm and Curufin. Aided by a massive dog named, Huan, she fled the palace and headed north. Huan then battled the werewolves, including Sauron himself in werewolf form, and defeated them. From there Lúthien claimed the island and demanded mastery over it. With this, Sauron fled in the form of a vampire bat, to a region of Taur-nu-Fuin, a forested area north of Doriath.

Beren and Lúthien approach Angband by Ted Nasmith.
Now free, Beren wanted to continue his task of retrieving a Silmaril, but this time Lúthien insisted on accompanying him. When she made this demand, Beren understood that they "could not be divided from the doom that lay upon them both, and he sought no longer to dissuade her". Through magic, they took the shapes of a bat and a wolf and went north to Angband, eventually finding their way into the throne-room of Morgoth. Once there, Lúthien sang a magical song that made the Dark Lord and his court fall asleep. Then:

All his court were case down in slumber, and all the fires faded and were quenched; but the Silmarils in the crown on Morgoth's head blazed forth suddenly with a radiance of white flame and the burden of that crown and of the jewels bowed down his head, as though the world were set upon it, laden with a weight of care, of fear, and of desire, that even the will of Morgoth could not support. Then Lúthien catching up her winged robe sprang into the air, and her voice came dropping down like rain into pools, profound and dark. She cast her cloak before his eyes, and set upon him a dream, dark as the Outer Void where once he walked alone. Suddenly he fell, as a hill sliding in avalanche, and hurled like thunder from his throne lay prone upon the floors of hell. The iron crown rolled echoing from his head. All things were still. (The Silmarillion p. 217)

Beren then cut a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown. However, he could only get one as when he tried to cut the others, his knife broke and a shard of it fell into Morgoth's face, rousing him from his sleep. From there, Beren and Lúthien attempted an escape, but their path was blocked by a massive werewolf named Carcharoth, who was also the sworn enemy of Huan the Hound. In the subsequent mêlée, the werewolf attacked and bit-off off the hand of Beren which carried the Silmaril. The creature then swallowed the jewel and ran off in a madness as it burned him from within. As is often the case in Tolkien’s work, Eagles then came and carried Beren and Lúthien away to safety.

Beren and Lúthien few back to the kingdom of Doriath, where they spent some time in peace together. As word of their quest became known, Thingol's heart softened towards his would-be son-in-law and eventually they came before the king, who asked where his Silmaril was:

But Beren said: "It is fulfilled. Even now a Silmarils is in my hand." Then Thingol said: "Show it to me!" And Beren put forth his left hand, slowly opening his fingers but it was empty. Then he held up his right arm; and from that hour he named himself Camlost, the Empty-handed. (The Silmarillion Pg. 221)

But the task was still unfulfilled and from there Beren and Huan helped hunt for the werewolf with the jewel in his belly. In the beast's madness, he drove into Doriath and in the hunt both Beren and Huan were slain. But as Beren lay dying, Malblung, an elven warrior cut open the body of the dead beast and put the Silmaril into Beren’s hand before he handed it to the king, thereby completing his quest. He then died.

Grieving for Beren, Lúthien also died, and as immortals do, went to the Halls of Mandos. As she sang a lament for her lost love, Mandos was moved with pity and restored them both to life. (How he did this to a mortal man, who had left the bounds of the world, is unknown.) Lúthien then left Doriath and went east where she and Beren lived the rest of their days, both eventually dying as mortals.

The Battle of Unnumbered Tears

The Battle of Unnumbered Tears or the Nirnaeth Arnoediad was a major battle in the history of Middle-earth. The battle was prompted by Maedhros, who wanted to end the reign of Morgoth, and forged an alliance with the Edain, dwarves, and other mortals to combine and defeat the forces of Morgoth. Unfortunately, the sons of Feanor, having alienated many in the kingdoms of Beleriand meant that the army from Nargothrond was only a token of what it could have been, and from Doriath only two captains joined of a force of some 45,000. Turgon did some forces from Gondolin, but without the Kingdom of Doriath and Thingol on side, the attacking force was considerably limited.

Never-the-less, the army arrived in the north. Maedhros' plan was to attack from the centre, so as to draw out Morgoth’s forces and have Fingon’s army attack from the west, thereby taking out the flank of the enemy's forces. Unfortunately, Morgoth learned of the plan through his agents, specifically, Uldor, a man who had sworn fealty to Carathir, but was also secretly working for Morgoth. Uldor caused considerable trouble with the attacking force and disrupted the coordination between the various forces, in one instance preventing the lighting of a signal beacon. Having come to know the plan of the allied forces, Morgoth also sent a force of orcs to the west, whereby they outflanked the forces of Fingon and left him harried and alone.  

When one of Morgoth’s orc-captains, not above brutal psychological warfare, captured one of the elves from Nargothrond, he tortured and beheaded him in front of Fingon’s forces who were concealed above in the mountains. As this happened, a group of elves, in a fit of rage, attacked the orcs and betrayed their position. Fortunately, Fingon’s forces were successful in breaking the ranks of Morgoth’s forces and from there Gwindor of Nargothrond, whose brother was the one who had been executed by the orcs, made a chage for Angband itself:

Now his rage was kindled to madness, and he leapt forth on horseback and many riders with him; and they purposed the heralds and slew them, and drove on deep into the main host. And seeing this all of the host of the Noldor was set on fire, and Fingon put on his white helm and sounded his trumpets and all the host of Hithlum leapt forth from the hills in sudden onslaught. The light of the drawing of the swords of the Noldor was like fire in a field of reeds and so fell and swift was their onset that almost the designs of Morgoth went astray. Before the army that he sent westward could be strengthened it was swept away, and the banners of Fingon passed over Anfaughlith and were raised before the walls of Angband. (The Silmarillion pg. 230-231)

As soon after this elven host banged on the doors of Angband, they were surrounded and killed, except for Gwindor himself who was taken captive. Fingon, while charging to the aid of the attacking force, did not arrive in time and Morgoth’s forces were able to respond out of the secret passages of the Thangorodrim (the mountains that protected Angband) and engaged with the king's forces. Soon Fingon’s host was in full retreat back to Hithlim, with many of the Men of Brethil in the rearguard killed in the process. Indeed, of all the Men of Brethil only three returned from the battle.

Next into the breach were the Gondolindrum. Emerging from his self-imposed exile in the heart of Middle-earth, Turgon, had held back his forces from the beginning of the battle. However, upon seeing the slaughter before him, he sent his army into the battle and they quickly broke the enemy's lines. When this happened, he met with his brother Fingon, as well as Húrin, a captain of men, and there was "renewed hope for the elves". Soon afterwards, Maedhros joined the fight from the east and the forces of Morgoth looked like they were (again) about to collapse. 

But Morgoth was not finished and just as it appeared the elves, mortals and dwarves were to achieve victory, the entire effort fell apart. At that point, Angband emptied and Glaurung attacked, preventing the two hosts of the allied forces from uniting in the middle. Then, Uldor and a large contingent of his men, betrayed the effort and, turning-coat, attacked the eastern army from within, almost killing Maedhros before they were finally put down. As the seven Sons of Fëanor gathered what was left of their forces, the dwarves from the eastern Blue Mountains, attacked the dragon in a rearguard action, using their fire resistant armour to cause considerable damage to the monster. Indeed, it was the King of Belegost himself, Azaghâl, whose fatal stab in the dragon's belly, killed it before it collapsed upon him, killing him in-turn. The dwarves then raised the body of their lord and carried it away.

Fingon, High-King of the Noldor fights Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs, in a depiction by Ted Nasmith.
With the eastern army destroyed, the forces of Fingon and Turgon soon found themselves surrounded. Then Gothmog, the Balrong, and the high-captain of the forces of Morgoth, attacked and made a path between him and the Noldorian brothers. Gothmog pushed the forces of the elves back to the marshlands called the Fen of Serech, north of the River Sirion. Then, after killing the host protecting Fingon, he turned his attention to the king:

That was a grim meeting. At last Fingon stood alone with his guard dead about him; and he fought with Gothmog, until another Blarog came behind and cast a thong of fire about him. Then Gotmog hewed him with his black axe, and a white flame sprang up from the helm of Fingon as it was cloven. Thus fell the High-King of the Noldor; and they beat him into the dust with their maces, and his baner, blue and silver, they trod into the mire of his blood. (The Silmarillion pg. 233)

It was now over and Turgon, counselled by mortals Húrin and Huor, called for a retreat to Gondolin, at which time Huor prophesied that it was from Gondolin and the House of Turgon that "shall come the hope of Elves and Men" although Turgon knew that this defeat also meant Gondolin would not remain hidden for much longer. When Maeglin, Turgon’s nephew heard Huor make his prophecy, he took note, yet remained silent. 

By the end the battle became a rout. The Men of Dor-lómin indeed fought to the very death and won renown, not just for themselves but their entire race. Huor was killed by a poisoned arrow through the eye, and Húrin, friend and counsellor to elves, was the only one left standing. Upon being taken prisoner, he was brought before Morgoth after being bound by Gothmog himself, and was tormented by the Dark One himself for twenty-eight years. The curse that Morgoth placed upon him and his children will feature in the next installmeant of this feature and has been written about extensively in the 2007 book The Children of Húrin

The Battle of Unnumbered Tears is a watershed moment in the First Age. Morgoth emerged from the battle controlling most of Middle-earth except for the kingdoms of Nargothrond, Doriath and Gondolin, whose elves and mortals could only now hide. Moreover, while the mortals who helped the elves would never be forgotten, the treason of Uldor would also not be forgotten and the races of mortals and elves were now estranged. Also in a foreshadowing of future events, upon returning to Gondolin, Turgon asked Cirdan the Shipwright, to build seven swift ships to go to the Undying Lands to seek help. Of the seven, only one returned and spoke of a massive storm that prevented them from getting through. 

In Part IV: The Children of Húrin and the end of the First Age

Sunday, February 8, 2015

King-Size Kirby!

Make sure you check the Diamond Marvel Previews this month. There's a lot coming over the horizon for both the Big Two and the Others, but one of the most notable for students of the history of comics is that a King-Size Kirby hardcover is slated to be available this July. It's going to be a massive 816 pages and $200.00, but it looks like this will be the book to have for fans of Jack "The King" Kirby. I'll start saving the pennies for a review this summer! 

Captain America as drawn by the legendary Jack Kirby. Found the Marvel Previews (February 2015). 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

WGTB Reviews Star Wars #1

There is a lot for Star Wars fans to be excited about these days: The Force Awakens trailer went up on the Internet in December, and was a fun taste of what will undoubtedly be the hit film of 2015-2016. Also, just a few weeks ago, Disney which now owns both Lucasfilm and Marvel comics, brought the Star Wars licence back to the publisher who had it from 1977 until 1989 when it was taken over by Dark Horse Comics. Of course, Dark Horse's work with the property from 1994 to 2014 proved they were worthy custodians of the Star Wars universe, but this only means that Marvel Comics' first issue in decades would have to be strong and lasting impression.

Marvel's Star Wars Vol.2 #1 (March 2015) Written by Jason Aaron, art by John Cassaday, colors by Laura Martin and letters by Chris Eliopoulos.
So how did Marvel do? All in all, I would say Marvel didn't do too badly. All the main characters were present -- including Darth Vader -- who is always cool to see. John Cassady's art has a photo-realism that works well, especially given that it's a franchise readers cannot help but bring their old awe-struck memories to the reading experience. The ships and technology was also great, and the fact that Star Wars has always had the best naval architecture of any science-fiction/space opera franchise, was not lost on Cassday and the Marvel crew. Have a look for yourself:
An AT-AT in Star Wars #1

And it's not just the technology: the gang's all here in Star Wars #1...
It's almost a truism to say Jason Aaron is as skilled a writer as comics can get. His work with the various Thor titles since the Marvel NOW! re-branding has lent itself to space-opera and stories of epic proportions, as did Wolverine and the X-Men which was never afraid to go to outer space when needed. So while it's probably too early to tell whether these stories are going to great, I think Aaron is both the right person for the job and at this point is off to a good start. The book is at a $4.99 price point, which seems to be where Marvel is heading these days (Avengers!) which was slightly unpleasant, but this particular edition included sample pages from the upcoming Marvel releases: Darth Vader and Princess Leia, both of which looked like good beginnings to a fresh look at the Star Wars universe. 
... as is Darth Vader!
So while it's probably too early to tell whether these stories are going to great, I think Aaron is both the right person for the job and is off to a good start. In either case, while the Dark Horse material is no longer canon, (Will it become an Ultimate Star Wars universe?) it will be interesting to see how Marvel does with this line of Star Wars comics, especially given the new films are just over the horizon. However, from a first impression, things look to be in good shape. 4/5 STARS 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Précis of the J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth to the End of the First Age - Part II: From the Arrival of the Noldor in Middle-earth to Awakening of Mortals


Today marks what would have been the 121st birthday of the South African-born English author, J.R.R. Tolkien. To mark the occasion, here is the second installment of the précis of the early history of Tolkien's fictional universe. If you're looking what has come before, please scroll down and read Part I. The forward to that blog entry also has a few conditions I've set for reading. Don't worry -- they mostly involve being civilized, which I'm sure all of you are. I hope your 2015 is going well.
The symbol of J.R.R. Tolkien. Professor Tolkien was born on January 3, 1892 and passed away on September 2, 1973. The Hobbit was published in 1937, The Lord of the Rings in 1954-55 and posthumously The Silmarillion in 1977.  
Map of Beleriand by Christopher Tolkien and featured in various editions of The Silmarillion
The Noldor’s Arrival in Middle-earth

The arrival of the Noldor into western Middle-earth (Beleriand) was not entirely a happy occasion. A curse called the Doom of Mandos existed upon them because of their actions in the Undying Lands; remember the Kinslaying in Alqualondë. It is worth quoting in its entirely here: 

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 for ever.

But it wasn't just the Doom that caused consternation when the Noldor arrived: like has happened in (subsequent) human history, the people who lived in Middle-earth were weary of the newcomers as well. Turgon, the son of Fingolfin was guided by Ulmo, who, while not being able to lift the curse from his friends, guided Turgon to a secret place in the middle of the mountains of northern Beleriand which was surrounded and safe, and could only be seen by the Eagles. There, Turgon built the city of Gondolin, which sat upon an island-hill in the middle of that protected space. Initially, Turgon had settled in a coastal area of Nevrast and had built a city called Vinyamar, but he was encouraged by Ulmo to find a more protected place. Gondolin would become a central place in the history of the First Age and, until it fell, Morgoth was driven to find it and use any means necessary to destroy it. However, for much of its history it lay secluded and secret from almost everyone and in it great treasures were made, including the swords found by Gandalf and Bilbo in the troll cave in The Hobbit.

Finrod Felagund, the son of Finarfin and brother of Galadriel, set up a kingdom called Nargothrond, a deep cavernous location along the River Nargog in West Beleriand. There, his sister stayed for a short time before she went to live in Doriath, the forested realm in the middle of Beleriand. You might recall, Doriath was ruled by Thingol, who was also known as Elwë, one of the earliest elven ambassadors to the Valar. Thingol was strong willed and had married the Maiar, Melian. When they received Galadriel, Melian was especially inquisitive and deemed something was wrong: the Noldor were first thought to be emissaries of the Valar but it soon became apparent this was not the case. Melian inquired, asking Galadriel about what happened in the West, noting "woe that lies upon you and your king" and asked what they were hiding as there were no messages from Manwë, Ulmo or even Thingol's brother, Olwë (who was also Galadriel’s grandfather). It was at this time that Galadriel revealed the story of Fëanor and the Silmarils and all that had happened. Then, Thingol announced that while the Noldor (and specifically Fëanor’s kin) would be helpful in the battle against Morgoth, there would be much trouble in their coming to Middle-earth and when he later hosted Finrod in Doriath, Thingol confronted his guest about the slaying of his fellow Teleri and what had happened in the Aman.

The Story of Aredhel, Eöl and Maeglin

Fingolfin's daughter Aredhel, first lived in Vinyamar with her brother Turgon, before settling in the hidden kingdom of Gondolin. At first she was happy in that place, but soon became constricted and wanted to travel in the wide spaces of Beleriand. She eventually got her wish (much to Turgon’s dismay) and left to visit her friends of old, the sons of Fëanor. After finding some of them, she came to the forest of Nan Elmoth, where she encountered a dark elf named Eöl. While elves are generally considered good and wise, Eöl was angry and had a malevolence to him. That was in great part to his resentment of the Noldor for their invasion of Beleriand, but also because he was always more at home with the dwarves, who had made their kingdoms in the Blue Mountains to the east. He was a great smith and craftsman and forged two great swords out of a meteorite that were named Anglachel and Anguirel and will feature later in the story. When Eöl saw Aredhel in his forest, he feel in love with her and used magic to entice her deeper into his realm. Eventually they were wed, and while it cannot be said that Aredhel loved him, she did not hate him either, and their marriage bore the fruit of a son named Maeglin. Maeglin grew into a powerful elf, with the dark hair of the Noldor and the skill of his father with whom he would often travel to visit the dwarves. But above all he loved listening to the stories of his kindred Noldor as told by his mother and came to know of Turgon (and his lack of a male heir) and mighty Gondolin. Despite his wife and son’s heritage however, Eöl came to hate the Noldor and when his wife expressed an interest to return to her home he forbade it.

One day, when Eöl was away, Maeglin took one of his father’s swords and escaped with his mother. At first, they went north to meet the sons of Fëanor and upon returning Eöl was furious and followed them. When Eöl tracked them to Celegorm and Curufin, it became clear that their ultimate destination was not Himlad, but Gondolin and Eöl set off on their trail. Turgon, meanwhile, was very happy to see his lost sister, and was impressed by his nephew. Maeglin, in turn, was in awe of this magnificent fortress, but above all it was his cousin, Idril, whom he came to admire the most.

Tuor reaches Gondolin by Ted Nasmith. Tuor will be discussed in future editions of the feature. 
Eöl eventually found his way to the city and when he declared himself husband to Aredhel and was allowed entry, much to the consternation of those within. When he was informed of the laws of Gondolin and that he would never be allowed to depart, he refused them and ordered Maeglin to leave with him. When it was clear that Eöl would be leaving empty-handed, he grabbed a javelin and threw it at his son, in hope of killing him. With this, Aredhel threw herself in front of the flying missile and was hit in the shoulder. Turgon became furious even as Aredhel and Idril plead for the life of the Dark Elf. Later that night, Aredhel’s wound festered and she died. In the subsequent trial, Eöl was judged guilty by the king and thrown off a black rock on the north side of the city. But before he did this, he cursed his son saying he wished the same ill fate upon him. With both his parents gone, Maeglin, became close to the king, but always kept secret about his true desire for the kingdom and his unhealthy (and unrequited) feelings towards his cousin.

The Mortals Arrive!

In Tolkien’s world, the last of the major races to awaken are the mortals (Men). These men and women also awoke in the East, with many marching west to escape the troubles experienced there. But in other respects, they are very peculiar. Of the two Children of Ilúvatar, their mortality has long led to a certain level of estrangement between their elder siblings, who largely saw them as weak and frail, and did not understand what happened to them after they passed on. In Tolkien’s legendarium this is called the Gift of Men, which, very much in keeping with the author's orthodox Catholic beliefs, said that when mortals die, they left the confines of the world to go dwell with Ilúvatar (God). Of course, over the course of larger story, this gift loses its lustre and with the encouragement of the evil powers, soon becomes a mystery and then a curse to be avoided.

When the mortals arrived in Beleriand, they were met by Finrod Felegund. They had come a long way, and had learned to speak like elves as they met others on their journey. Morgoth had also heard about the new race, and left his northern fortress of Angband under the control of Sauron to investigate. The first chieftain of the mortals mentioned in The Silmarillion was named Bëor and it was Bëor who gathered the mortals and lead them across the Blue Mountains into Beleriand, where they eventually found a home in the area called Estolad south of Nan Elmoth, the forest in which Eöl had lived. However, When Finrod wanted to return to Nargothrond, Bëor sought to follow him and remain in his service, as would many others.   

While mortals became plentiful and reproduced at a rate that the elves found astonishing, it was the group that became known as the Edain or the “Elf-friends” that would play a role in both The Silmarillion as would their descendants ages later in The Lord of the Rings. But many elves were weary of the newcomers too, as was especially the case for King Thingol. Indeed, Thingol dreamt about their coming and both forbad men from entering Doriath, decreeing that they live in the north and that any elf who had a mortal in his service, would have to answer for his mistakes. Melian, perhaps understanding what her husband considered would later say to Galadriel about a certain mortal:  

Now the world runs on swiftly to great tidings. And one of Men, even of Beor’s house, shall indeed come and the Girdle of Melian shall not restrain him, for a doom greater than my power shall send him; and the songs that shall spring from that coming shall endure when all Middle-earth is changed.   

We'll learn about that mortal, a man named Beren, in the next installment.

In Part III: The Houses of the Edain, the Tale of Beren And Lúthien Tinúviel and the great battle known as the Nirnaeth Arnoediad.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Précis of the J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth to the End of the First Age - Part #1: From the Earliest Times to the Crossing of the Noldor


In a conversation after we both watched Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies my brother asked me about the First Age of the world created by J.R.R. Tolkien for his High Fantasy epics centred around Middle-earth. Wanting both to oblige my brother and to do a quick review of The Silmarillion (1977), the posthumously published account of the earliest stories of of Tokien's world, I wrote him the below précis. Later I got the idea: as we approach what would be Tolkien's 121st birthday on January 3rd, it might be a neat idea for followers of this blog to read my little account of the First Age as well. That said, there are a few caveats: firstly, it's not intended to come anywhere close to the detail and beauty of The Silmarillion. If you want to know the real story, please pick up that magnificent book, as well as others such as the The Children of Húrin, Unfinished Tales and (if you're really ambitious) the 12-volume series The History of Middle-earth, all of which were edited by Christopher Tolkien. This measly blog post is not a substitute for reading the stories themselves and only hopes to pass as a helpful synopsis. Secondly, rude nerd rage will not be tolerated. I'm not a Tolkien scholar, and if I've missed anything you believe is important, please politely remind me in the comment section. I have also omitted some items and have not included dates or years so as to not clog the entry with numbers. Thirdly, the presentation will be made in parts and currently I have about 2.5 ready for posting. So while the first two should appear in short-order, I'm not entirely sure when I'll get the whole thing finished; sometime in January 2015 for sure. Oh, and have a very happy new year!
The Silmarillion (1977) by J.R.R. Tolkien and edited by Christopher Tolkien (Unwin Paperbacks). Most of the information taken from this blog post is from this book. It was the first posthumous work by Tolkien, who passed away in 1973. The cover is from the 1990 edition and features Alqualondë, the port city of the Teleri.

Map of Arda -- for as Tolkien himself once said: "I wisely started with a map." It was taken from the website and while it's off in some places, it's nevertheless gives a good "big picture" representation of the world as Tolkien created it.

Who are the Valar?

When Arda (Earth) was created, Ilúvatar (God) created the Valar, the greatest of the Ainur who were angelic beings that entered the world and helped shaped it. The world composed of three principle continents, Aman in the West, Middle-earth in the middle and a distant continent in the East. The most powerful of the Ainur was named Melkor, who after being created sought to compete with Ilúvatar during the creation and make themes of his own. But as all creation can only come from God, Melkor’s creations were actually distortions and flawed. However, because he was mighty, he was able to corrupt other Ainur spirits to his side, which included Balrogs and the greatest of his servants, Sauron. The Valar followed Melkor in this music of creation, and remained (mostly) loyal. The Valar were:

Manwë: King of the Valar and lord of air and skies. 

Varda: Queen of the Stars and spouse of Manwë. She rejected Melkor from the very beginning and was hated by him the most. The elves revere here especially. 

Ulmo: The Lord of Waters, he is unmarried and kept to the oceans rather than live in Valinor with the majority of the Valar. As water is his element, he is aware of what happens in Middle-earth and was active there.

Aulë: The Master of Smiths, he created the dwarves before Ilúvatar's first children, the elves, awoke. But the dwarves were not intended to come first, and were put back to sleep by Ilúvatar before this happened. The dwarves were to be destroyed, but because there was no malice in Aulë’s heart, they were allowed to live; but because of this, they are estranged from the elves. 

Yavanna: The spouse of Aulë, Yavanna is the Queen of the Earth and is most happy in nature. She created the Two Trees, which were the light of Valinor in the early days and she loves all beasts and plants. 

Oromë: He is the huntsman of the Valar and a great warrior and rider. He remained in Middle-earth when the Valar retreated to Valinor and discovered the Elves. He hates Melkor and is both quick to anger and fierce in battle. 

Vána: The Queen of Blossoming Flowers, she is the younger sister of Yavanna and the spouse of Oromë. She is perpetually young and beautiful and loves flowers and gardens. 

Mandos: The Judge of the Dead and the Master of Doom. He lives in the Halls of Mandos in the far west, where the souls of elves go when they pass from their bodies. He is an advisor of Manwë and never forgets. He spoke of the Noldor before they committed their crimes and advised that they never be allowed to return. He never speaks unless commanded by Manwë. 

Vairë: The wife of Mandos, she is the Weaver and weaves the stories of Arda in her tapestries, which decorate the Halls of Mandos. 

Nienna: Lady of Mercy, she was the tutor Olórin who would later travel to Middle-earth in the Third Age and become known as the wizard Gandalf. She weeps constantly, but her tears are full of pitty and endurance and will heal those affected by Melkor. 

Lórien: The Master of Visions and Dreams, he works closely with Mandos and has gardens in the land of the Valar, where those who visit them are given rest and refreshment. 

Estë: is the spouse of Lórien and is the healer of hurts and weariness. She lives with her husband in the Gardens of Lórien. 

Tulkas, the Strong is the Champion of the Valar. He is big, brave and the strongest of them all. He only fights with his hands and has laughed in the face of Melkor. He does not get angry, but once he is moved to fight, is almost unstoppable. 

Nessa: is the Dancer and is swift and agile. She is married to Tulkas and loves to dance and run.

Along with Melkor and the Valar, the Ainur also included the Maiar. These are lesser than the Valar, but alike in spirit and origin and still quite powerful. They generally work closely with the Valar in all things, and can alter their appearance to look like an elf, or in the famous example mentioned above, a wise old man. Other Maiar include the Balrogs, Sauron, Saruman, Radagast the Brown, Melian and possibly Tom Bambadil. Those who are not Maiar include: dragons, eagles, ents, elves or Shelob, the spider. It is also noteworthy that, while there is superficial resemblance between the Greco-Roman pantheon or other non-Abrahamic faiths, the Ainur (both Valar and Maiar) are more accurately discribed as angels or arch-angels rather than gods.      

The Awakening of the Elves and their Clans

The elves awoke in distant east and were Ilúvatar’s first born children. The first to awake of the elves were three named Ingwë, Finwë and Elwë and as they wondered under the stars in the East they invented language and music. The elves soon began to multiply and were met by the Vala, Oromë, who brought them tidings from the Valar in Aman. The elves were given the name Eldar meaning "People of the Stars" by Oromë.

Elves awake! This work was painted by Ted Nasmith.
The Valar summoned the elves to come and join them in the light of the Two Trees (more on them later) but not being sure, sent their leader-emissaries, Ingwë, Finwë and Elwë to investigate. When these great elves returned, they convinced the others to return with them. In this there was not unanimity however, and the first to travel were those who became known as the Vanyar with their leader, Ingwë. They were (are) considered the fairest of the elves and once they left Middle-earth to live with the Valar were rarely seen again.

The next clan became known as the Noldor. They were equally beautiful, but especially talented in the crafts of knowledge, warfare and especially in creating things. Much of the story of the elves in Middle-earth from the First to the Fourth Age involves their kin, including the problems, and both the Silmarils of the First Age and Rings of Power Second and Third Age have their literal and figurative fingerprints all over them. The leader of the Noldor was named Finwë.

Finwë’s first wife was named Míriel who gave birth to a son named Fëanor. However, after Fëanor was born his mother wanted to die because she gave all her strength to him. But because death was not permitted for elves (they cannot leave the bounds of Arda) her soul departed to the Halls of Mandos in a quasi-suicide which was unprecedented. Fëanor was ill-tempered, strong-willed but immensely talented, and would go on to create both the Silmarils and the Palantíri, the magical stones used to communicate that were featured in both Lord of the Rings and the Peter Jackson feature films. Fëanor married Nerdanel who gave birth to seven sons: Maedhros the Tall, Maglor the Singer, Celegorm the Fair, Caranthir the Dark, Curufin the Crafty and twins Amrod and Amras, both of whom were hunters. Curufin the Crafty’s son, Celebrimbor, would in the Second Age, settle in the Elvish region of Eregion near Moria and south of Rivendell, and would encounter Sauron who, disguised as Annatar, Lord of Gifts and claiming to have been sent by the Valar, duped him into forging the Rings of Power.

Finwë would remarry and have two more sons, Fingolfin and Finarfin, and two daughters, Findlis and Irime. The second wife of this High King of the Noldor was Indis, a Vanyar and these younger sons were of a much different temperament than their half-brother.  Fingolfin would marry Anaire and give birth to Fingon, Turgon, Aredhel the White Lady and Argon. Finarfin, the youngest of the sons of Finwë, was a pacifist and never returned to Middle-earth. He would marry Eärwen, the daughter of Olwë, the younger brother of Elwë of the Teleri and had four children: Finrod Felagund, Angrod, Aegnor and Galadriel, the latter whom features prominently in the Third Age.

The third and largest clan of the elves to travel to(wards) the Aman were named the Teleri. They were subdivided into many groups, with a large group of them staying in Middle-earth and becoming the Avari, those who refused to travel. The Avari were lesser than their Valar-encountering kin and had became fearful when they arrived at the Misty Mountains. However, when Elwë returned, he convinced many Teleri to join him in the West and many did. But they always moved slower, having lived in Middle-earth and having grown to love it. Many also arrived at the sea and became skilled as ship-building and eventually, Ulmo, the Lord of Waters, pushed an island back to Middle-earth called Tol Eressëa and many of the Teleri would travel on this island-ferry, which was eventually planted off the coast of the Undying Lands. The Teleri would build a city on the northern part of Aman called Alqualondë, and it would become a major ship-building haven.  

By this time, the eastern portion of Middle-earth become known as Beleriand and – when Elwë returned to gather more Teleri – he met Melian, a Maiar, and fell in love. He would eventually court and marry her and they would become King and Queen of a large realm of Beleriand called Doriath. He would eventually become known as Elu Thingol, with his younger brother taking up the kingship of the Teleri in the Undying lands in Alqualondë. The daughter of Thingol and Melian was named Lúthien Tinúviel and was said to be the most beautiful of all the children of Arda. Her name is on gravesite of Edith Mary Tolkien (née Bratt), the wife of the author.

The Creation of the Silmarils

After Arda was created, the Valar lived in Middle-earth and Aulë made two giant Lamps, on top of two giant pillar-like mountains which were named Helcar in the north and Ringill in the south. These Lamps of Arda illuminated the world and this period was known as the Spring of Arda. During this time birds, beasts and plants started to grow in the world, but Melkor seeing this light, hated it all and came back from the Walls of Night (outside Arda, in the void [space?]) and broke the lamps down, making Arda dark. The Valar and their host then moved west to the continent of Aman.

Then, at the behest of Aulë, Yavanna, made the Two Trees which were named Telperion, the silver tree and Laurelin, the golden tree. These were intended to replace the Pillars and illumined Aman, but left Middle-earth in darkness. The first ten ages of the Years of the Trees were known as the Years of Bliss and it was at this time eagles, ents and the dwarves awoke (and were subsequently put back to sleep until the elves awoke). When this age past, the Years of Bliss became the Noontide of the Blessed and it was then that Varda rekindled the stars and Middle-earth once more had light. Then the Elves awoke and this marked the beginning of the First Age, which could more accurately be rendered as the First Age of the Children of Ilúvatar. Interestingly, the Ages in Tolkien’s work are marked by the beginning of the lives of the Children of Ilúvatar and is not Lamp, Tree or the Sun. 

Back to the elves: when they awoke, Melkor wanted to rule them and approached and kidnapped many possibly turning them into Orcs, although this is still debated. Seeing this, the Valar sought to stop Melkor and made war against him, eventually capturing him and bringing him back to Aman to answer for his crimes. This was called the War of the Powers, and it was after this that the elves began their journey westward.

Soon Melkor appeared to be repentant, although there were some amongst the Valar who never trusted him. But he was eventually freed after a sentence of three ages (not those mentioned above) in the Halls of Mandos and immediately set about causing strife between the Noldor, especially the king’s sons, Fëanor, Fingolfin and Finarfin. At this time Fëanor created the Silmarils, three magnificent jewels that he used to capture the light of Two Trees. These jewels would become unique, and not even Aulë was able to create something that matched their power and beauty. They also could not be copied and even the Valar understood their superlative nature with Varda making them so: “no mortal flesh, nor hands unclean, nor anything of evil will might touch them, for they would be scorched and withered.”  

During this time Melkor had the Noldor in his sights. First he told Fëanor that his younger, half-brother was planning to take the throne from their father, Finwë. However, when it became clear that Melkor was never actually an ally, the Noldor started to forge weapons, while at the same time, Fëanor threatened his younger brother’s life. When the Valar heard of this, they summoned him to their home at the top of Mount Taniquetil to answer for his actions. With his father at his side, Fëanor did this, but soon started to believe that the Valar also coveted his Silmarils, which supported what Melkor had told him. When he returned to the Noldor, his half-brother Fingolfin had taken up the leadership of the Noldor, which also went along with Melkor’s lies. Shortly afterwards, the Valar exiled Fëanor to Formenos, a city in the north of Aman and this became Fëanor’s stronghold and treasury, and many of the Noldor (including his father, the king) went with him. 

Melkor and Ungoliant attack the Two Trees. Painting by John Howe. 
When the Valar finally understood what Melkor was doing, they sent Tulkas to capture him, but he had fled south to find an ally. While there, he enlisted the support of Ungoliant, a giant spider of unknown origin and profound evil. The two of them then attacked the Two Trees, and Ungoliant sucked the life and light out of them, gorging herself to the extent where even Melkor feared her. Thus, the light in the Silmarils were the only remaining source of the light of the Two Trees, although saplings where saved which would feature later in Tolkien’s stories. 

With the Two Trees destroyed, the Valar asked Fëanor for the jewels so they could use the bejewelled light to rekindle them. But Fëanor refused and the trees were not healed. As Fëanor was refusing the Valar, Melkor went north to Formenos and killed Finwë and stole the Silmarils, escaping to his fortress in far north of Middle-earth. When Fëanor realised what was done, he rallied his people against the Valar and sought to go after Melkor and recover the Silmarils. He also named Melkor "Morgoth" or "the Black Enemy" and swore, along with his sons, the Oath of Fëanor, which said they would pursue anyone – Valar, Maiar, Elf or Mortal – who stood between them and the jewels. This would bring a long-lasting doom on all of those who swore it, and would feature prominently in the latter stories of the First Age.   

The host of the Noldor soon left the north of Valinor and came upon the shores of Aman at the Teleri city of Alqualondë. There they asked for ships to go to Middle-earth and when the Teleri resisted (not wanting to displease the Valar), the Noldor attacked and the result was the First Kinslaying, where elf killed elf for the very first time. The Valar eventually causes the seas to swallow many of the stolen ships in punishment of the Noldor, and Finarfin (the youngest of the sons of Finwë) and a small group (although not all of his children) returned to Valinor where they were welcomed by the Valar and he ruled as High King of the Noldor in Valinor. Fëanor, however, and many of his close kin were able to make the long crossing to Middle-earth, and when they arrived they burnt the Teleri ships. Still wanting to remain with the main host of the Noldor, the host of Fingolfin who had not arrived in time to board the ships, had no choice but to go north and cross the grinding pack ice which was called the Helcaraxë (which had also been crossed by Morgoth and Ungoliant). There, many of the Noldor perished, including Elenwë, the wife of Turgon and daughter-in-law of Fingolfin.

Next in Part II: From the Noldor in Middle-earth to Awakening of the Mortals.