Welcome back, friends! This week, I’m continuing my “Reader’s Guide” series with chapters 16-18 of The Silmarillion. In this section we will be introduced to Maeglin, son of Eöl and Aredhel, and learn about “The Battle of Sudden Flame” which brought about the ruin of Beleriand and downfall of Fingolfin, the High King of the Noldor.
In chapter 16, we meet Aredhel, the daughter of Fingolfin and the only sister of Turgon, the Elf who established the secret city of Gondolin. Because she always wore white, she was known as the White Lady of the Noldor. She resided in Gondolin with her brother, but having a free spirit, she grew weary of the confines of the city and sought permission to leave.
Turgon was understandably hesitant to let her go and insisted that she only visit their brother Fingon. Aredhel had other plans. She secretly desired to visit the sons of Fëanor who were her “friends of old.” To Turgon she declared, “I am your sister and not your servant, and beyond your bounds I will go as seems good to me. And if you begrudge me an escort, then I will go alone.” Though Turgon worried for her safety, he trusted her to keep the secret of Gondolin and allowed her departure with a heavy heart. His concern was warranted, though, for Aredhel’s story does not have a happy ending.
Along the way to visit the sons of Fëanor, Aredhel “strayed from her companions and was lost.” Being very “fearless and hardy of heart,” she found her way through the wilderness and came at last to her destination, but no one among her kin knew what had happened to her. Turgon mourned her greatly. Becoming restless again, Aredhel wandered the borders of that region, “seeking for new paths and untrodden glades,” and came to the land of Nan Elmoth, where Eöl the Dark Elf dwelt. Eöl was a recluse, hating the Noldor and blaming them for the return of Melkor. When he spotted Aredhel wandering in the forest, he welcomed her to his home and persuaded her to be his wife (which is just a tiny bit creepy, if you ask me).
Eöl hated light, living in a thick forest where “the sun never came.” As Eöl’s wife, Aredhel had to “shun the sunlight,” and she grew weary of the shadows, longing instead for the light of Gondolin. This conflict between light and dark, embodied in the temperaments of Aredhel and Eöl, is highly symbolic, for light and dark (good and evil) cannot coexist. When their son Maeglin was born, he was the manifestation of that conflict. Throughout his life, both light and dark war for his loyalty.
Eventually, Aredhel wanted to return to Gondolin and departed with Maeglin. Eöl, who had forbidden them to leave, became angry and pursued them to the very throne of Turgon, demanding that he be returned his wife and son. When Turgon refused, saying that he would allow none to leave the city lest they reveal its location, Eöl drew a spear and sought to slay his own son with it (for he said that if he could not have his son, no one could). Aredhel stood before it and was killed in place of Maeglin. Eöl was executed to right this wrong, and Maeglin grew in the favor of King Turgon. Yet as an outsider, he brought a “dark seed of evil” into Gondolin, which foreshadows its downfall and the part Maeglin will play in it.
Of the Coming of Men Into the West
As an interlude within the narrative about the Elves, chapter 17 tells of the different houses and clans of Men and their notable leaders. One of them was a woman called Haleth, who took the leadership of her people after her father and brother were killed by Orcs.
Finrod Felagund made friends with another significant clan of men, the house of Bëor. When he first saw the lights of their campfires and heard their singing, “love for them stirred in his heart” and they loved him in return, becoming “ever after loyal to the house of Finarfin.” King Thingol of Doriath was troubled by the coming of Men into the region, and vowed, “Into Doriath shall no Man come while my realm lasts, not even those of the house of Bëor who serve Finrod the beloved.” He would not be able to keep that vow, however, for as Melian the Maia told Galadriel, “Now the world runs on swiftly to great tidings. And one of Men, even of Bëor’s house, shall indeed come, and the Girdle of Melian shall not restrain him, for 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.” This saying of hers foretold the coming of a important character called Beren.
Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin
Following in chapter 18 is an account of the ruin of Beleriand. Morgoth had been gathering his strength for many long years, and his hatred for the Noldor grew so strong that he could not wait any longer to attack. His haste was actually fortunate for the Elves, for “if he had but endured to wait longer, until his designs were full, then the Noldor would have perished utterly.”
Morgoth “sent forth great rivers of flame” that burned the land of Ard-galen, beginning what is called the Battle of Sudden Flame. His army of Orcs and Balrogs then invaded Beleriand. Many Elves fell, but the Nolder did not perish entirely. In addition, Morgoth could not breach the magic girdle of protection held in place around Doriath by Melian; neither did Morgoth find the secret strongholds of Nargothrond and Gondolin.
In the midst of the battle, Fingolfin, brother of Fëanor and High King of the Noldor, believed that his people were doomed and rode in haste to Angbard to challenge Morgoth himself in single combat. Morgoth did not go willingly, “for though his might was greatest of all things in this world, alone of the Valar he knew fear.” Though Fingolfin wounded Morgoth with seven wounds, the brave Elven king was struck down and killed. Fingolfin’s last desperate strike maimed the enemy’s foot, and Morgoth never fully recovered. Thorondor, King of Eagles, rescued Fingolfin’s body and Turgon his son buried him atop a mountain near Gondolin.
These tales present a dark time in the history of Middle-earth—yet the greater the darkness, the more brilliant the light appears when it finally prevails over the shadows. I believe that if stories did not present the heroes struggling against the forces of evil, victory would not taste so sweet. A hard-fought happy ending is the most satisfying of them all. While The Silmarillion does not exactly fit into the category of a book with a “happily ever after” ending, it does contain strong themes of light vs. darkness, truth vs. deception, honor vs. disgrace, and (especially when dealing with Morgoth) justice vs. corruption.
The next part of The Silmarillion is arguably one of the greatest adventures in the entire book: the story of Beren and Luthien. If you enjoyed this part of my “Reader’s Guide” series and are looking forward to the next one, please consider subscribing to my blog to get notified when I publish a new post. 🙂
Thanks for reading! Farewell, my fellow Lightbringers!