Welcome back, friends! This week, I’m continuing my “Reader’s Guide” series by reviewing chapters 10-15 of Tolkien’s masterful work, The Silmarillion. Instead of focusing entirely on the western lands as in the previous chapters, we return to Middle-earth and the Elves, Dwarves, and Men residing there.
The Elves of Beleriand
The region of Beleriand will be important in these chapters, for it is the primary abode of the Elves who never came to Valinor, the Sindar. Their leaders were Elwë and Melian. Do you recall the story of how an Elf met a Maia in the woods and fell in love with her? That Elf and Maia are Elwë and Melian. Elwë is more commonly known as Elu Thingol, or King Greymantle. Under the leadership of Melian and Thingol, the Elves of Beleriand “became the fairest and the most wise and skillful of all the Elves of Middle-earth.”
The Dwarves of Ered Luin
Ered Luin is translated as “Blue Mountains.” Some Dwarves departed from their ancient habitations and built cities in the Blue Mountains east of Beleriand. From Ered Luin, they ventured into Beleriand and encountered the Elves there. The Elves were astonished, “for they had believed themselves to be the only living things in Middle-earth that spoke with words or wrought with hands, and that all others were but birds and beasts.”
The Kingdom of Doriath
In the region of Beleriand, Melian the Maia counseled her husband that “the Peace of Arda would not last for ever.” Heeding Melian’s advice, Thingol asked the Dwarves for assistance in building a stronghold, which they called Menegroth, the Thousand Caves. This city was beautiful, with “pillars…hewn in the likeness of the beeches of Oromë…lanterns of gold…fountains of silver…basins of marble, and floors of many-coloured stones.”
In addition to the building of this haven, King Thingol began to forge weapons to defend his people against the evil creatures of Morgoth that lurked in the wild lands. These actions proved to be very wise, for “it came to pass at last that the end of bliss was at hand, and the noontide of Valinor was drawing to its twilight.” When Melkor and Ungoliant killed the shining trees and stole the Silmarils, they fled into Middle-earth. Ungoliant was kept from entering Beleriand by Melian’s power and abode instead within the mountains to the north. Melkor, however, rebuilt his stronghold of Angbard and began amassing his armies once more.
Once he grew strong enough, Melkor sent his Orcs to invade Thingol’s kingdom, but the Elves achieved a hard-fought victory. This attack prompted Thingol to gather his people close together so that they could better defend themselves. Melian used her power to encircle the kingdom with “an unseen wall of shadow and bewilderment.” This was called the Girdle of Melian, and it protected those within by barring strangers from entering. For this reason, the land was called Doriath, the guarded kingdom.
The Sun and Moon and the Coming of Men
Back in Valinor, the Valar mourned Fëanor’s rebellion and the darkness wrought by Melkor and Ungoliant. Manwë asked Yavanna and Nienna to “put forth all their powers of growth and healing” in an attempt to revive the Trees of Valinor. Neither Nienna’s tears nor Yavanna’s songs could bring them back to life. Each of the trees, however, bear a last silver flower and golden fruit.
Using these, the Valar created two vessels to be the Sun and the Moon, the lamps of heaven to give light to Arda. With these lights, they hoped to “hinder the deeds of Melkor.” The Sun was “a sign for the awakening of Men and the waning of the Elves,” for on the day that the Sun first rose, Men walked Middle-earth. They were different from the Elves, “more frail, more easily slain by weapon or mischance, and less easily healed.”
The Journey of the Noldor
When Fëanor burned the Teleri’s ships, the smoke not only signaled treachery to those left behind, but it also attracted the attention of Morgoth and his armies. The Orcs ambushed Fëanor’s camp, expecting to defeat the Noldor easily, but they were surprised by the Elves’ strength and skill. Fëanor and his people pursued the fleeing enemies to the very door of Morgoth’s lair. The tides quickly turned, however. Even as Morgoth initially disdained the Noldor’s strength, so the Elves misjudged the power he had amassed within the halls of Angbard: “Nothing did [Fëanor] know of Angbard or the great strength of defence that Morgoth had so swiftly prepared; but even had he known it would not have deterred him, for he was fey, consumed by the flame of his own wrath.”
When the Noldor assailed Morgoth’s stronghold, they could not overcome his forces. Though Fëanor fought long and valiantly, he was wounded mortally. Before he died, he charged his sons to fulfill their oath to recapture the Silmarils and also to avenge their father. After their defeat, the Noldor spread throughout Middle-earth, keeping careful watch on Morgoth’s lair. Those left behind on the western shore, led by Fingolfin, eventually entered Middle-earth as well.
The chapter “Of Beleriand and its Realms” gives the entire layout of the land and its rulers. The sons of Fëanor took up residence in the northeast while the rest of the Noldor governed the lands in the northwest. King Thingol of Doriath would not allow the Noldor to reside in his kingdom. Though he was not informed of the terrible deeds that had brought the Noldor to Middle-earth, he was still wary of strangers.
When it comes to deciphering this chapter, I would recommend flipping back and forth between the map and Tolkien’s description, since it’s very detailed. In fact, it’s worth bookmarking the map page for future reference, since there will be references to many of these locations throughout the rest of the book.
The Secret Citadels
A final important point in these chapters occurs when Ulmo, one of the Valar, saw fit to intervene in the affairs of Middle-earth by giving two Elves a dream that they should establish hidden strongholds as a last defense against Morgoth if all others fell. With the aid of the Dwarves, the Elf Finrod built the city of Nargothrond within a series of deep caverns. The Dwarves called him “Felagund,” which means “Hewer of Caves.” Turgon, son of Fingolfin, established a secret citadel called Gondolin deep in a valley ringed by tall mountains. He brought all his people to dwell there. None outside knew the way in, and none inside were allowed to depart lest they compromise the secrecy of the settlement.
Whew! That was a lot to cover! Hopefully, I was able to shed a little light on the complicated lore contained within the pages of The Silmarillion. If you enjoyed, please leave a like and consider subscribing to my blog. I try to post every week. 🙂
Until next time!