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.

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