Greetings, Lightbringers! I present to you part nine of my “Reader’s Guide” series. This week, we’re reviewing chapters 20-21 of The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien. We will learn of Nirnaeth Arnoediad, the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, and a bit about the unfortunate Túrin Turambar, whose story is one of the most tragic in the entire book.
The Fifth Battle, the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, is a terrible time in the history of the elves. It began with noble intentions, though; Maedhros, son of Fëanor, being emboldened by the heroic story of Beren and Lúthien, who had taken a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown, sought to unify the Elves for an attack on their bitterest foe. Many joined him, but Orodreth, brother of Finrod Felagund, would not because of the deeds of Celegorm and Curufin and the treachery they had wrought against King Felagund. King Thingol of Doriath refused aid also because Maedhros and his brothers had “sent to Thingol and reminded him with haughty words of their claim, summoning him to yield the Silmaril, or become their enemy.” King Thingol refused their demand and instead “fortified the marches of his realm.”
Maedhros went to war alongside his allies, including Fingon, who had become the High King of the Noldor. As they approached Morgoth’s lair, a shout of joy went up, for King Turgon had “opened the leaguer of Gondolin, and was come with an army ten thousand strong, with bright mail and long swords and spears like a forest.” The sight kindled hope in the hearts of the Elves, and Fingon shouted, “Utúlie’n aurë! Aiya Eldalië ar Atanatári, utúlie’n aurë! The day has come! Behold, people of the Eldar and Fathers of Men, the day has come!” All the Elves sent forth an answering cry, “Auta i lómë! The night is passing!”
When the Elves charged into battle, “the light of the drawing of the swords of the Noldor was like a fire in a field of reeds; and so fell and swift was their onset that almost the designs of Morgoth went astray.” But all was not right with the world on that fateful day. Morgoth had been deceptive of his force’s true numbers, and he had put traitors within the ranks of the Men who were allied with the Elves. Many of the Eldar, including Fingon, were slaughtered, and their enemy arose victorious from the carnage. It was said that “the Eldar might have won the day, had all their hosts proved faithful; for the Orcs wavered, and their onslaught was stayed, and already some were turning to flight.” Húrin and Huor, valiant Men who were loyal to the Elves, were the rear guard for King Turgon to escape. Huor fell, but Húrin kept on fighting: “…and each time that he slew, Húrin cried: ‘Aurë entuluva! Day shall come again!’ Seventy times he uttered that cry; but they took him at last alive, by the command of Morgoth.” Húrin stood firm and gave no answer to Morgoth’s questions about the secret city of Gondolin, and Morgoth set a curse upon him and his children. Chapter 21 tells of how this curse came to pass through the lives of his daughter Niënor and his son, Túrin Turambar, who accidentally killed his best friend and unintentionally caused the fall of Nargothrond. Though he did defeat the foul dragon Glaurung, his steps were always dogged with woes of the worst kind due to the curse of Morgoth.
One of the most compelling lines in this section is the shout of the Elves and Men before and during their defeat in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. Before, they joyfully proclaimed: “The day has come! The night is passing!” But even as all fell to ruins and Morgoth’s deadly schemes unfolded before their eyes, the shout became, “Aurë entuluva! Day shall come again!”
This symbolism of light and dark is not new, having been introduced at the very beginning of the book through the discord of Melkor, the strife between the Valar and Morgoth, the forging of the Silmarils, the devouring of the pure Trees of Valinor by great darkness, the contrast in temperament between the Dark Elf and Aredhel the White Lady of the Noldor, and the tale of Beren and Lúthien when they fought Morgoth and his dark servants.
The Silmarils contained the purest light in Arda and burned the hands of all unworthy beings. Ironically, these pure gems were the cause of nearly all the evil in the book. Because they were made out of light, they revealed the darkness in the hearts of Men, Elves, Dwarves, and Valar. For the sake of the Silmarils, Morgoth wrought great evils against the Valar and all the peoples of Arda. For the sake of the Silmarils, Elves swore rash oaths, betrayed and slayed their own kin, and rushed into battles they hoped to win but were slaughtered instead. This is not the fault of the Silmarils themselves, though. When Morgoth took the Silmarils, he twisted a good thing to be used for darkness, but the light itself exposed evil and did not aid it. By using the Silmarils to highlight this truth, Tolkien powerfully demonstrated the heart’s propensity to do evil and not good.
In the next and final section of The Silmarillion, we will see the conclusion of these themes. It is a bittersweet feeling to be nearing the end of this book and my blog series. I hope you all have enjoyed this little project of mine, and I thank you for the support on it so far. 🙂
Until next time, friends!
P.S. I will be gone next weekend, so there won’t be another blog post for a while. In the meantime, why don’t you comment down below what kind of articles you’d like to see? More book reviews, “reader’s guides,” Storywell posts, author interviews, project updates, or something entirely different? I’d love to hear from you!