Beren & Luthien: Kindergarten

Aiya, nildonyar…you are not abandoned! I have recently acquired a new job, and that has kept me rather busy and without a standard time frame to write these. I am working on rectifying that, I promise. In the meantime, today we will cover a whopping one (1) chapter in the Silmarillion, but it’s a Big and Important one. Some would argue that it is the defining story in the book, and certainly I think it’s probably the most readable in its original form, if you’re going to ever actually pick up the book and read it.

(pictureless for now, but I shall add them in later)

This story starts back in the last chapter with the Pinky-Swear of Eternal Friendship between the Elven king Finrod, and his Man-buddy Barahir. Finrod was cut off and surrounded when Morgoth unleashed the Volcano of Death, and Barahir saved him, at which point Finrod gave him his ring in recognition of his service.

Barahir returned home only to find that the orcs had been busy killing, looting, and otherwise making things unpleasant to be around, so he took eleven trusted friends into the wilderness and started a band of outlaws who killed orcs whenever they could. What laws Morgoth had actually set up for them to break and become outlaws…your guess is as good as mine. Eventually Sauron catches one of them, tortures him for information, finds their base, and kills them all. But Barahir’s son Beren was out hunting, so he escapes. He comes back, hunts down the party of orcs who killed his buddies, and reclaims his father’s ring from the bad men.

So Beren’s got nowhere to go now, and he wanders around lost and alone for awhile. Eventually he wanders into the enchanted forest of Doriath, where King Thingol (he who got lost in the woods on the way to Valinor) lives with his angel-wife Melian and super-cool daughter Luthien. Beren sees Luthien dancing in the forest at night, and is struck dumb by her beauty. They get along swimmingly, and continue to meet in secret, until an elf named Daeron sees them. Daeron used to be best friends with Luthien, only now he sees her running off to meet up with this strange Beren character, and he’s mad jealous. So he tattles on her to her dad, and Thingol has his guards trap Beren and drag him in for questioning.

Beren doesn’t so much handle the situation well, basically admits that he’s head over heels for Luthien, and that he’d do anything to get her back. Oh and also, see this ring I’ve got? It’s from my dad saving your favorite nephew, so you should treat me with some respect. Thingol’s not a happy elf — he’s one of those guys who thinks his daughter should stay home and be pretty and never ever get married. Ever. And also he decides that Beren didn’t treat him with Proper Respect or something, so he comes up with a clever (he thinks) plan : Beren can marry Luthien, if he brings Thingol a Silmaril. It’s not like that would be a hard task or anything, all he’s got to do is break into Morgoth’s fortress, go right up to Morgoth, take the crown off Morgoth’s head, and pry a Silmaril out — because Morgoth is so super possessive of his shinies that he always has them on his person and never lets them out of his sight. And being a god, also, he never sleeps. So that’s pretty much a death trap. Which is exactly what Thingol wants — he looks like he’s offering a “fair” deal, while really getting Beren killed, and then Luthien can stay home forever like he wants. Beren does not lack in the Awesome Recklessness category, so he’s all like, “Sure, no big, next time you see me I’ll have it in hand.” Melian is not thrilled, and warns her husband that the Silmarils are bad juju, and reminds him that they got a bunch of his close kin treacherously murdered by Feanor and his buddies back in Valinor, and that he’s dooming himself by getting involved with them. Thingol is too full of his Clever Plan to pay any attention, however.

Beren realizes that maybe he’s bitten off more than he can chew by himself, so he goes to his dad’s buddy Finrod and asks for help. Finrod is like, your dad saved my life, of course I come help. Problem : some of Feanor’s ilk are lurking about and they’re like, SILMARILS ARE OURS RAWR, and nobody else is allowed to touch them. That of course, does not mean that they’re actually going to get off their lazy bums and try to get them. Just to yell at anyone else trying to get them. Because we needed an illustration of just how worthless Feanor’s crew is, you know. Finrod uses some magic and makes himself and Beren look like orcs, and they try to fake like they’re bad guys. But Morgoth’s henchman Sauron catches them and tosses them in prison, where he has his werewolves come and eat their loyal companions one by one. And eventually they haul Finrod in front of Sauron, and they have a magic fight, which Sauron wins, because he’s Sauron. Alas, exit another king of the Elves. Not a safe career choice these days.

Meanwhile Luthien gets put under house arrest, because Thingol thinks she might try to go save Beren, and that’s not part of the Clever Plan. But she manages to escape anyway, and tracks Beren over to Finrod’s court. Feanor’s sons are all, Beren’s trying to get a Silmaril and we don’t approve, and you’re trying to save him, which we also don’t like, so we’re going to lock you up too. But their dog Huan doesn’t care for that, so he eventually helps Luthien escape AGAIN, and the two of them go off hunting for Beren.

They arrive at Sauron’s tower, and Huan kills all of the wolves guarding it, because it was foretold in Valinor that only the Mightiest Wolf Evar would kill him. Sauron figures, hey, I’m great, I’ll take the shape of a wolf and kill Huan. So he does, and they fight, and Huan beats the crap out of Sauron for his pride, because it turns out Sauron was not the Mightiest Wolf Evar. Luthien has a showdown with Sauron and says, gimme the gate key or my dog here’s gonna rip your throat out and kill you. So Sauron hands it over, Luthien frees Beren, and they go on their merry way. Huan goes back (temporarily) to his masters.

(There’s some other episodes in here which I am glossing over for simplicity. Look for more in the more detailed version!)

They eventually reach Morgoth’s lair, and Luthien sings a song that puts everyone to sleep…even Morgoth. And he falls off his throne to the ground, his crown rolls off and stops right in front of Beren, and he’s like, hey, that was easier than I thought. So he cuts a Silmaril out of the crown and they’re about to book it out of there when up comes : The Mightiest Wolf Evar. Beren shoves his hand in the wolf’s face, waving the Silmaril at him, because hey, evil things don’t like shinies, right? The wolf is not amused, and bites off Beren’s hand with the Silmaril still inside it. Oops.

So they run like crazy, make it back to Thingol, and Beren’s like, haha, I’m holding a Silmaril in my hand right now. Thingol’s like, yeah…whatev, I don’t see it. And Beren goes TADA and brings his stump around from behind his back. Thingol is not amused, but Melian rules that the bargain was fulfilled so he’s gotta let them get married.

It turns out that Beren wasn’t totally off the mark, and the Silmaril’s burning away inside the Mightiest Wolf Evar’s guts, and the burning drives him crazy, and he goes on a rampage of death and destruction. Thingol gets word of this, they go on a big hunt to get him, and Huan comes along. They corner the wolf, there’s a big fight, and Huan kills the wolf. The wolf kills Huan, like the prophecy said. They cut open the wolf, find the Silmaril still clutched in Beren’s remarkably preserved hand, and Thingol takes it to make a pretty necklace. Hint : flaunting your possession of a Silmaril when the sons of Feanor still don’t have any of them, not so much a great idea.

But in the meantime, Beren dies of wounds received in the big fight, and Luthien goes down to the halls of death to reclaim his spirit. She tries her old tactic, singing a song, but that doesn’t so much work. So she barters away her immortality to Mandos, the god of death, to bring him back, and they live happy lives together before eventually both dying of old age several years hence.

Why is this important? The most obvious is that it’s a foretelling of that later Elf/Man match, Arwen and Aragorn. It’s also a story that was near and dear to Tolkien’s heart — he had their joint tombstone engraved with Beren & Luthien’s names. On a sentimental note, then, I leave you with a quote from a letter Tolkien wrote to his son shortly after his wife died :

“I never called Edith Luthien – but she was the source of the story that in time became the chief part of the Silmarillion It was first conceived in a small woodland glade filled with hemlocks at Roos in Yorkshire (where I was for a brief time in command of an outpost of the Humber Garrison in 1917, and she was able to live with me for a while). In those days her hair was raven, her skin clear, her eyes brighter than you have seen them, and she could sing – and dance. But the story has gone crooked, & I am left, and I cannot plead before the inexorable Mandos.”

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Feanor & Fingolfin : Contrasting Death Scenes

Taking a kindergarten break here to hit what I suppose I would classify as my first “grad school” post. Wait, come back! Be ye not afeared!

I was musing on this subject after listening to the Tolkien Professor‘s weekly silmarillion seminar podcast, which happened to coincide with the same chapter I had just posted about. There was some discussion on that podcast about the similarities and differences between the deaths of Feanor and Fingolfin, successive high kings of the Noldor, and I thought I would throw in my two cents on the subject.

There are, on the surface, striking similarities between the two — they both charge in a suicidal, headlong rush at the front gates of Thangorodrim, and are promptly killed by Morgoth or his lieutenants for their presumption. But the superficial similarity is underscored by deep differences, and Tolkien obviously recognised this in his handling of the two events and the language he uses to describe them.

First, Feanor’s death-ride — he is described as “in his wrath”, laughingly ecstatic that he will “see the hour of his vengeance”. One of the Seminar presenters also noted Tolkien’s use of the word “fey” to describe Feanor, observing that it was also used to describe Theoden just prior to his death-charge on the Pelennor Fields. So arguably, Feanor’s lost his head at this point — they’ve just won a great battle, he’s got the adrenaline pumping in his veins, and he’s actually convinced that he’s going to win. When the Valar warned him it was impossible, and that Morgoth would only be defeated through the strength of the Valar themselves, it was clearly a crock. Feanor thus gives a big middle finger to the Valar, believing that godlike creatures actually erred, or that they lied to him to keep him in thrall to them (either perspective fits with his character). And this is not a subconscious feeling — Tolkien specifically comments on Feanor’s thought process that he had “dared the wrath of the Valar” — Feanor is well aware of the Valar’s position on the subject, and believes he has beaten them. The overwhelming impression one pulls out of this is pride — and even if there is no bible in Middle Earth, there certainly was in Tolkien’s very Catholic mind, and pride always goeth before a fall. Believing oneself able to set at nought the expressed dictates/purposes of God (or his designates, the Valar), also not so much a good thing.

But what of Fingolfin, Feanor’s half-brother? Every indication is that contrary to Feanor, Fingolfin knew the jig was up, and that he was riding to his death. Unlike Feanor, Fingolfin was not expecting to ride up, challenge Morgoth to single combat over the Silmarils, and win. Evidence is slight that Fingolfin himself cared one whit for the Silmarils — he followed his brother out of Valinor on the back of dutiful family loyalty, and it is worth noting also that he swore no deadly oaths to reclaim them. Every evidence points to two things : one, that Fingolfin was a follower, not a leader, constantly overshadowed by Feanor; and two, that he knew trying to defeat Morgoth on their own was a futile gesture. And yet, considering that, he went with Feanor anyway, which speaks volumes to his loyal character, I think. That being said, while Fingolfin recognizes that ultimate defeat is out of the question, he does seem to believe that the fencing in of Morgoth might still be a valid strategy — they cannot defeat him, but perhaps they can hold him at bay until the Valar get off their fancy thrones and come help. The strategy does work, for four hundred years…but then Morgoth blows his volcano top and the whole thing goes to hell. Fingolfin at that point is faced with the utter ruin of his plans — he always knew that Feanor’s plan was doomed, but the Siege of Angband was Fingolfin’s brainchild, and he had high hopes that it would work. So to see that all blow up in his face was a bad emotional blow.

Fingolfin rides forth to commit suicide — and the actions of the eagles I think reinforces that impression. Throughout the Silmarillion and LOTR, and even The Hobbit, the eagles display impeccable, down-to-the-second timing; divinely directed, one might argue. Their absence as Fingolfin engages in his sacrificial duel with Morgoth is telling, I think. Had Fingolfin WANTED to be saved, the eagles probably could have arranged it. But as someone on that podcast observed, they do not interfere with free will…and Fingolfin’s free will was bent towards suicide.

“But he could not now deny the challenge before the face of his captains; for the rocks rang with the shrill music of Fingolfin’s horn and his voice came keen and clear down into the depths of Angband; and Fingolfin named Morgoth craven, and lord of slaves. Therefore Morgoth came…”

The interesting parallel here I think is actually that Fingolfin challenges Morgoth to single combat, and Morgoth accepts the challenge. Not, emphatically, because he wants to (even though he knows he can beat him), but out of fear at losing face with his lieutenants. It’s that nasty pride making a resurgent appearance. It caused the downfall of Feanor, and it causes serious difficulties here for Morgoth in the surprising damage Fingolfin is able to inflict before being killed. He goes ever after lame in one foot from Fingolfin’s last sword hit. One might also observe that Sauron’s eventual defeat was also caused through pride — Aragorn riding to the Black Gate and challenging Sauron to come forth and show himself or be named a coward has eerie resemblances to Fingolfin’s similar actions many centuries earlier. Alas for Fingolfin, there is no secret hobbit sneaking into Thangorodrim to destroy the source of Morgoth’s power ;-).

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Silmarillion 14-18: Kindergarten

Aiya, nildor, today we get to cover a grandiose FIVE chapters. Why? Well because normally this would be split into 14-16 / 17-18…but at the kindergarten level, chapters 14-16 aren’t really relevant to the major overall plot. Chapters 14 and 15 describe the locations of the major kingdoms of the elves, and also the discovery by Thingol (the king who stayed behind) that the Noldor murdered a bunch of his Teleri kin when they stole the white ships to sail to Middle Earth. Cue massive displeasure, to where Thingol refuses admittance to his kingdom to any of the Noldor, and bans their language (Quenya) from his hearing. Which is why most elves in Middle Earth (and in Peter Jackson’s movies) speak Sindarin instead. Chapter 16 describes the fact that Turgon’s sister was abducted and basically raped by another elf while she was wandering in the woods, and had a kid named Maeglin. Eventually Maeglin and his mother escaped their abductor, made their way back to Gondolin, Turgon’s hidden city in the hills, and Turgon was very happy to see them again. Maeglin saw his cousin and thought she was super cool and wanted to marry her, but she didn’t really like him all that much, and besides which, he was…well, her cousin. So that was kind of squicky.

Chapter 17 describes the coming of Men into Beleriand. Some were good and helped the Elves, some were bad and helped Morgoth, and some just thought they could be left alone while Morgoth and the Noldor fought over the fate of the entire world. Finrod of the cave-by-the-river was best buds with some of the Men, particularly a fella called Barahir, who pinky-swore eternal friendship.

Chapter 18 is the real meat of this section of the book. The Elves have had Morgoth locked up in his volcanic mountain for several hundred years. He tries and tries but can’t break free — it’s like when you’re playing tag, and It is lurking right outside the base and won’t leave, and every time you try to run off the base they’re RIGHT THERE and you have to just run back home. Very frustrating.

And then, suddenly, Morgoth wakes up and realizes something : “I’m hiding…IN A VOLCANO”…the most destructive weapon nature has at its disposal, and I’ve got one. So he pushes the big red button, his volcano erupts, and lava asplodes everywhere, killing a whole bunch of elves. Morgoth takes advantage of the ensuing confusion to empty his base and massive legions of orcs, balrogs, and dragons wreak mighty destruction. It’s not a good day for the elves : there are more Heroic Last Stands On Hilltops in this chapter than I can count on one hand. Notably, Finrod gets cut off and it looks like he’s about to go down, when his Man-buddy Barahir takes a squad of pikemen, cuts his way through to Finrod, and helps him escape. Finrod is super-grateful that that pinky-swear actually amounted to anything, and gives Barahir his ring to signify that eternal friendship is not a one-way street. Finrod’s ring becomes a key heirloom of Barahir’s family, passes through all sorts of crazy happenings, and eventually winds up…on Aragorn’s finger, in LOTR. If you have the extended version of The Two Towers, Wormtongue describes this ring to Saruman upon his arrival at Isengard, who refers to it as “the ring of Barahir” — and thus identifies Aragorn’s true identity.

The Battle of Sudden Flame goes poorly.

I think we can safely say that their daddy had some messed-up genes.

Several leading elves are killed here, but the most dramatic ends up being Fingolfin, Feanor’s half-brother and High King of the Noldor. When he sees that Morgoth’s people are running rampant all over the place, and that he has no hope of catching them all, he decides he doesn’t so much want to play tag anymore, and charges up to the doors of Morgoth’s still-smoking volcano and challenges Morgoth to single combat. Suicidal recklessness runs in the family, I guess. At any event, Morgoth accepts because he doesn’t want to look like a wimp in front of his men, especially after Fingolfin specifically labels him, in everyone’s hearing, a coward. Them’s fightin’ words, you know? So Morgoth comes out, they have a fight, and as you might expect from a mere mortal fighting a godlike entity, Morgoth totally wins, and crushes Fingolfin’s head with his foot when they’re done. Fingolfin does manage to get a few good hits in, sufficiently so that Morgoth never comes out of his mountain again for the rest of the story. But as he’s about to throw Fingolfin’s body to the wolves, the eagles come, pick up his body, and carry it away to his second son Turgon. So Fingolfin’s first son, Fingon, becomes High King now in his place. And the sons of Feanor are still really PO’ed that their spokesman Maedhros passed their claims of high king-ship over to Fingolfin’s people, because now it’s like they’ve been passed over TWICE. And where’s the justice in that? Grumble.

It’s worth noting in the postscript here that the Elves did manage to recover a fair amount of the land that they lost in the initial onslaught in the following years. Not all of it, but enough to make it obvious that Fingolfin’s despair and suicide-run were a mite hasty. Them’s the breaks.

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Silmarillion 12-13: Kindergarten

Aiya, nildor, today we talk about Chapter 13 : Of the Return of the Noldor. Also, a one-sentence summary of Chapter 12: Of Men. Actually, that’s a pretty good summary just by itself. Chapter 12: Oh yeah, also, Men showed up, but since this is a story about Elves, we don’t really pay much attention to what they’re doing.

Chapter 13 covers the establishment of various little Elf-kingdoms in Beleriand, the major setting of the story. If you started in the Shire, walked west until you hit the sea, and then looked out over the water, that’s Beleriand. Or at least it used to be, until it got sunk under the sea. But that is neither here nor there.

Important plot points from previous chapters : The Valar/angels did eventually manage to squeeze one last little bit of life out of each of the dead trees, and used them to create the Sun and Moon we all know and love at around the same time that Feanor was nabbing the ships out from under his half-brother Fingolfin and leaving him and his following to try and cross a sea of icebergs on foot. While this was going on, the Elves that never made it to heaven were regrouping under their no-longer-lost-in-the-woods king, Thingol.  Thingol married a sort of lesser-angel named Melian — the same rank as our more familiar Sauron, Gandalf, and Saruman — and she used her angel-power to put a magic fence around Thingol’s kingdom that nobody could pass without his permission. Which came in quite handy on a number of occasions!

On to the chapter itself — Feanor shows up in Middle-Earth with his elves, and Morgoth sends an army to go beat up on him. Feanor’s people are still “bright with the light of [heaven]” and so they proceed to pretty much smash that army to pieces. Feanor’s arrogant snobbery gets the better of him, as it usually does, and he proceeds to chase the fleeing orcs all the way back to Angband (Morgoth’s fortress and Barad-Dur equivalent). And so filled with Righteous Anger is he that he doesn’t notice he’s gotten maybe a little too far out in front, and maybe that might not be such a good idea since a guy as all-powerfully evil as Morgoth might have other things than orcs he can throw at you. Like Balrogs. Yes, plural, that ‘s’ is not a typo. Exit Feanor, stage right.

Feanor fails his Operational Modelling for Evil Enterprises class.

Fingolfin’s people finally make it across the ice and meet up with Feanor’s people. And there’s some unpleasantness, as you might expect, but surprisingly they do not come to blows; instead, they just camp at opposite ends of a lake and glare at each other.

Morgoth says, hey, maybe we should sign a peace treaty. I’ll even give you a Silmaril back, maybe. And we should meet to discuss this peace treaty around the back of the school where there aren’t any teachers to watch. Morgoth and Feanor’s eldest son Maedhros show up to negotiate. Surprise, Morgoth was evil and therefore lying, he brought lots more bad guys than he was allowed. Surprise, Maedhros was smart enough to pick up on that, and also brought more than he was allowed. So there’s a big fight, which Morgoth wins because he brought the big musclebound bullies to the fight, and Maedhros’ idea of good backup was to bring the chess club. Morgoth takes Maedhros and pins him way high up on the outside of his tower, hanging by a hand and exposed to the elements. Which basically means a lot of smog, since Morgoth blocked out everything else with evil black clouds. Sauron learned his technique from the best, you know.

Maedhros and Morgoth "negotiate"...but everyone lies.

Fingolfin’s son Fingon says to himself, this is bad how we’re kind of fighting each other instead of Morgoth. I know how to fix this! So he goes all by himself over to Angband to go rescue his favorite cousin Maedhros, and succeeds with the help of an eagle…though not without having to chop off Maedhros’ hand to get it out of the pin. Kind of like an animal chewing its leg off to get out of a trap. So that’s a bummer. Maedhros is so grateful that he passes his right of Noldor High King-ness (being as Feanor’s dead, he technically had the job) to his uncle Fingolfin in recognition of the fact that his dad pretty majorly screwed him making him cross the icebergs like that. And that’s great and everyone gets pretty much back together, though Maedhros’ brothers are a little unhappy with him that he renounced all of their rights as a package deal without consulting them.

The Elves set a watch all around Angband and kill the bad things whenever Morgoth tries to break out; this happens every so often for the next several hundred years, but whatever Morgoth tries, and this includes dragons which he invented, he’s still locked behind a wall of Elven awesomeness. Most of the Elves think they’re pretty hot stuff for keeping the bad guy on lockdown like this, but two of them are not so sure — Finrod makes friends with dwarves and builds himself a little cave complex near a river called Nargothrond, and Turgon finds a secluded valley, walls it off, kills the masons so that nobody knows where he disappeared to, and builds a pretty city called Gondolin. And at some point in history, some weaponsmith out of Gondolin crafts a sword called Sting, which will eventually pass to a pair of hobbits of your acquaintance.

So we have a tale of four cousins here basically :

Maedhros – gets himself captured by Morgoth

Fingon – rescues Maedhros and gets all the Elves back together

Turgon – (Fingon’s brother) founds a secret city, Gondolin

Finrod – makes nicenice with the dwarves and builds a cave city called Nargothrond.

In terms of the kingship, Feanor’s dead, and the crown has passed to his half-brother Fingolfin…which would no doubt have Feanor turning in his grave.

 

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Silmarillion 9-11: Kindergarten version

Aiya, nildor, for this week’s post we’re covering chapters 9 – 11 of the Silmarillion, subtitled in Kindergartenese as “Feanor can’t hit a bully, so he hits his friends instead.” This is classic pass-the-buck behavior : Bully hits you, you’re too small to hit him back, so you find someone smaller than you, who hasn’t done anything, and you hit them instead. And that makes you feel better, in a sad sort of way.

So the trees that provide light and happiness have been totally wiped out by Morgoth’s giant spider pal, and all the elves and Valar-angels are pretty sad about that. Then someone has a great idea : Feanor used the proto-sunlight to make his shiny Silmaril toys, so why don’t they just take those, break ‘em open, and use the proto-sun to bring the trees back to life. Unsurprisingly, Feanor’s not buying that argument. Others (justly) point out that without the trees, there would have been no Silmarils in the first place, so it’s kind of a jerk move to not give them back. Still no dice.

Right about then, people come in to tell Feanor that, oh, by the way, Morgoth broke into your house on his way out, killed your dad, and took your Silmarils, so it’s kind of a moot point anyway whether or not he should allow the Valar to break them since he no longer possesses them. So Feanor’s suddenly elevated to the kingship, giving him a lot of authority, and since he’s pretty upset about losing the Silmarils, he does not wield that power in the way that one might hope.

He and all his sons swear a pretty vicious oath which amounts to : We’re going to get the Silmarils back, and we’ll kill whoever gets their hands on them and doesn’t give them back to us. Men, Dwarves, Elves, Valar, demons, God himself…doesn’t matter. If you can’t foresee that that’s going to lead to bad places, even as a kindergartener, well…

So Feanor and the host of Noldor, who are all swayed by his golden tongue, go charging off to follow Morgoth and get the Silmarils back. Then they run into the sea. Oops, they need ships. Remember from last time how the Teleri (the outsiders group from school) were the only Elves with ships? So Feanor says, hey, lemme borrow your ships. And the Teleri are like, you’re making a huge mistake, and we’re not going to be complicit in it. So no. So Feanor does his usual hotheaded thing, tries to grab the ships by force, the Teleri fight back, and a lot of Elves get killed. This is a Majorly Bad Deal, and goes down historically as the Kinslaying of Alqualonde (the king of the Teleri was Feanor’s uncle by marriage).

Once they’ve seized the boats and gone up the coast a bit, they run into a bunch of icebergs, dangerous water, etc. They realize that they can’t keep moving like this (some on the boats, the rest following on shore), and that they’re going to have to actually cross the sea to get to Morgoth, and there aren’t enough boats to get everyone across in one trip. But nobody trusts anybody else anymore, because if you’re going to kill your own kin, anything’s possible. Feanor takes a few trusted close family and their followers, jump on the ships, and sail across to Middle Earth, leaving the majority of the Noldor still stranded back on the other side with Feanor’s half-brother, Fingolfin (F names abound). Which would be bad enough, except when Feanor’s son kind of naively says, “Great! Now let’s send rowers back with the ships to get the rest of our guys!”, Feanor rudely disabuses him of the notion that they’re all a happy family and orders the ships burnt at anchor so that nobody can chicken out and go back.

Fingolfin and his stranded kinsmen can see the smoke from across the water, and they know exactly what’s up : they’ve been betrayed by Feanor and his crew. So they can either go back to Heaven and look like complete tools for following him, or they can make a go at it across the icebergs, which is reckless and suicidal. They choose the latter course. Surprisingly, most of them make it (including, incidentally, Galadriel, of LOTR fame). But it’s a brutal trip and some of them die.

Fingolfin and Feanor are capital N Not Friends anymore, after this.

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Silmarillion 4-8: Kindergarten Version

Aiya, nildor, we meet again at long last. Elves have a poor grasp of time, you know, and the many months since my initial post have seemed like mere seconds to me. Or possibly like decades, it’s hard to tell. This post will cover, in kindergarten format, the next five chapters in the Silmarillion. This includes the introduction of our first major protagonist, the first dozen or so out of approximately 5000 people whose names begin with the letter F, and the answer to the age-old question : what happens when you bring a shiny new toy to the playground, and don’t let anyone else play with it?

Picking up from before : the elves followed their three kings west to heaven. There were a lot of elves, and pretty much every time they ran into something difficult, some of them would peel off and refuse to go any further. Range of mountains? Some refuse to go over. Big river? Some refuse to cross. Lose one of your kings in the woods? Refuse to continue until you find him (which will take a long time). Papa Tolkien came up with a bunch of different ways of categorizing these, but eventually settled into a fairly simple system, as demonstrated in the chart below :

Categories of the Elves

Conveniently, all the ones who strayed off came from the one biggest group. So when they eventually got to heaven, the groups were more or less like they are in school : a small group of popular kids lording it over the great mass of generally creative, normal people, with an equally small group of outcasts who get kind of looked down on by everyone else. In the Teleri’s case, that was mostly a case of “Seriously guys, it’s HEAVEN. And you can’t be bothered to stop suntanning on the beach, get on the boat that the angels provided for you, and be carried here?” *cough*. But largely because they were slow-moving like that, the Teleri ended up being the only ones who had boats — since they missed the departure of the angel-boat, they had to make their own once they eventually realized their stupidity. It’s not important now. But it will be later.

So the chief boss of the Noldor was a guy named Feanor. And he was soooo cool that his momma realized she’d never make anything as cool again, and semi-killed herself in sadness. This engendered some bitterness between Feanor and his half-brothers once his dad remarried. It didn’t help that Feanor was kind of an arrogant kid, who was smart, incredibly skilled with his hands, and liked to rub everyone else’s faces in how awesome he was. Feanor was such hot stuff that he actually managed to capture some of the proto-sunlight from the two trees, and stick it into some fancy shiny gems called the Silmarils. No, that’s not a coincidence; that’s where the name of the story comes from ;-).

Meanwhile, Morgoth was going through one of his periodic “pretend to be a nice guy” phases, and the Valar let him wander around Heaven. He saw the Silmarils, and of course, he wanted them. Remember that question we asked at the beginning? That’s what’s going on here. Feanor had a shiny toy, he liked to show it off, show everyone how much fun he was having playing with it, and then when someone said “Hey, can I play with that for a little bit?”, he’d get all huffy and stomp off. I mean seriously. How DARE you want to play with a toy that he’d been rubbing in your face?

Most of the elves went along with that kind of behavior, because his dad was the king, so you kinda had to. But Morgoth don’t answer to no nancy-pants elf king, yo. So he went back to his old stomping grounds, hooked up with a giant spider who went around in a cloud of darkness and evil, and snuck back into Heaven to do some bad things. And let’s face it : if you want Bad Things to go down, teaming up with a gigantic, hungry spider is pretty much the way to go.

So Morgoth and Ungoliant (the spider) showed up while everyone was at a party, the cloud of evil darkness made everyone hide in their houses afraid, and Ungoliant pretty much ate everything in sight. And on their way out, they killed Feanor’s dad, broke into his house, and stole his toys, the Silmarils. Major bummer. But then, what do you expect when you go around acting like that?

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Silmarillion 1-3: Kindergarten Version

Aiya, nildor, away we go to Kindergarten. As a refresh, what will be here is:

* The creation of the Earth

* The awakening of the Elves

* The Elves travelling to Valinor (= Heaven)

What will NOT be here : Most of chapters 1 & 2. While interesting in their own right, touching on the origins of Ents & Dwarves as well as some other tangential issues, they do not in my mind form an integral part of the overarching plot thread of the Silmarillion, particularly for the target audience of this post :-). Onward and Upward!

* * *

When the world was first created, it was super dark. God put a number of angels called Valar in charge of the world. They made some plants and pretty mountains and even tried to set up some lights, but it didn’t work very well because one of the Valar was a big meanie named Morgoth who got his kicks out of messing up what other people did. Kind of like the bully who wanders around the schoolyard stealing your ball so you can’t play with it anymore. It’s not that he’s actually going to do anything fun with the ball himself…he just wants to make sure YOU’RE not having any fun.

So that was a big downer and the Valar had to start over. This time they hid themselves away on an island across the sea and set up two trees to give the world light. One tree lit up half the day, and the other tree lit up the other half, so it was pretty much always light out…just different kinds — like sunlight and moonlight.

Meanwhile God had told the Valar that he was going to eventually put the Elves in the world, and the Valar were waiting pretty impatiently for this. I guess since there were only 12 of them, it got kind of boring talking to each other and they were seriously jonesing for new kids to play with. Morgoth was also waiting impatiently, but for less altruistic reasons and more for the fact, again, that Morgoth liked messing with other people’s things and he’d more or less run out of pretty things to destroy by this point.

Eventually, just like God promised, the Elves “woke up” next to a lake called Cuiviénen. They started talking to each other and naming things. They named EVERYTHING, just because they were so excited to be able to talk. They went out exploring, just to find new things that they could put names to.

Since the Valar were all hidey-holed up on their island with their pretty christmas-tree-lights, they didn’t notice the Elves’ arrival. But Morgoth certainly did, wandering around the rest of Middle Earth with his zest for destruction. And so sometimes Elves that went wandering off looking for things to put a name to didn’t come back. Morgoth took them away around that one corner of the school where the recess teachers don’t keep an eye on, and beat them up something good. And it was around that time that suddenly Morgoth started getting tons of twisted, evil servants that looked sorta like they might have been elf-like at one time, called orcs. (Smarter elves put two and two together and came up with unpleasant theories about the origins of orcs, but that’s for a more complicated post).

The Valar sent out their explorer, a fella named Oromë, and he eventually found the Elves. It didn’t go well initially, the Elves having an understandable fear of strange things approaching them suddenly in the night since a lot of their friends had disappeared that way, but once he got closer they decided it would be ok to trust him. The bright shiny angelic glow probably helped. But they still weren’t entirely convinced, so Oromë agreed to take their three leaders back to Valinor first to prove that it really was All That. The leaders came back (which given prior disappearing history was probably proof enough of itself…), told happy stories about the sunshine and rainbows in store, and all the Elves packed up and started off for heaven.

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