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Nerdist Book Club: THE SILMARILLION, Part 5

The hits keep on coming in The Silmarillion. While this week’s chapters may not be as heartrending as last time, they’re still filled with sadness. From what I’ve heard, it doesn’t exactly go uphill so I’m glad we’re all in this together. Besides some losses, Chapters 11-13 covered the entrance of men to the scene, the creation of the Sun and the Moon, and war.

What happened
Chapter 11 – Of the Sun and Moon and the Hiding of Valinor
The Valar waited until the Noldor left Valinor before healing the land. Did they wait in order to protect them? Though I don’t care for all of the Valar, I don’t find them to be malicious. But I don’t understand why they didn’t try to set things right while the Noldor were present.

As it stands, Nienna and Yavanna could not heal the trees. However, they were able to get a silver flower and a single gold fruit from them. They used these to create the Sun and the Moon, and it’s a beautiful story – just as lovely as the creation story at the beginning of the book. I found myself getting wrapped up and feeling soothed after the tragedy of Fëanor’s recent actions. Knowing that the Sun and Moon negatively affected Melkor was icing on the cake.

Given Melkor/Morgoth’s previous actions, the Valinor finally did something proactively and fortified Valinor. They raised mountain walls, set a watch, and hid their home forever. It’s drastic, but can you blame them?

Chapter 12 – Of Men
The Valar gave Middle-earth light with the Sun and Moon, and then pretty much left it to Morgoth. Their methods of thinking often confuse me. Regardless of their actions and inaction, the Men arrived. They weren’t welcomed quite as openly as the Elves and were afraid of the Valar. The Valar did provide for them – especially Ulmo – but I get the impression the Valar were underwhelmed by the intelligence of Men. Or maybe they were just weary.

Men spread across Middle-earth and eventually encountered Elves. Since The Silmarillion is mostly about Elves, the details of the Mens’ exploration and experiences in Middle-earth isn’t covered in depth. It’s too bad because I’d be interested in reading the history from another perspective.

Anyway, I found the most interesting part of this chapter to be the discussion of mortality. The Elves didn’t know what happened to the spirits Men after death and seem fascinated by it. They don’t seem willing to simply let go of things they don’t understand.

621px-Ted_Nasmith_-_The_Nauglamir

The Nauglamir by Ted Nasmith

Chapter 13 – Of the Return of the Noldor
Welcome to Middle-earth, Fëanor and the Noldor! Have some Orcs and fighting and battles. Fëanor’s host survived the Orc Attack (can I copyright that phrase?), but then Fëanor foolishly decided he would head straight for Morgoth. Gothmog the Balrog (yes, same name as the Orc in Lord of the Rings) took him down though, and Fëanor perished. I wasn’t surprised and, since my heart had already broken when he set the ships on fire, I didn’t really mourn for him. Especially since the oath he created led his first son Maedhros to captivity at the hands of Morgoth.

In the most moving section of the chapter, the eldest son of Fingolfin did all he could to rescue his friend and heal the rift in the Noldor. Fingon and the Eagles set Maedhros free from his brutal prison (he had to cut off his hand – it’s the most popular appendage to lose in sci-fi and fantasy stories). Fingon’s actions reunited the Noldor and helped make up for what Fëanor did. The singing between Maedhros and Fingon as the latter searched for the former was a nice call back to the importance of music.

The Noldor tried to enter into the realm of Thingol, but he wouldn’t have it. Several of Fëanor’s sons were angry, so to prevent further problems, Maedhros took them away. They were still consumed by the oath and acting unpredictably. Essentially, Maedhros took one for the team. His brother Caranthir lived furthest east and encountered the Dwarves, and they more or less used each other to learn.

Peace followed for a while, but Morgoth couldn’t remain dormant for long. The third battle of the Wars of Beleriand was fought, and the Elves only barely won. They started the Siege of Angband, and it lasted for 400 freaking years! It’s been a challenge to wrap my head around the fact that hundreds of years is barely the blink of an eye for an immortal.

Morgoth didn’t give up on trying to catch Fingolfin and other Elves by surprise, and he even sent forth the first dragon, Glaurung. After Fingon sent the young fire-drake running back to Angband, Morgoth withdrew for a while and the Noldor and Sindar began to merge into one group.

Relevance to The Hobbit and/or Lord of the Rings
These chapters dropped a couple of names you’ve heard before: Elrond and Celeborn. Elrond was mentioned briefly at the end of Chapter 12 as being the offspring of an elf and a mortal, Eärendil and Elwing. And Celeborn, we encountered him when Galadriel first fell in love with him. The Galadriel we know from later books seems so measured and cool that I like the idea of her becoming so enchanted with someone that she splits from her brother in order to stay with him. The knowledge she gained from Melian undoubtedly contributed to the wise leader she eventually became.

Feanor_and_Gothmog_colored_by_guisadong_gulay

Fëanor and Gothmog by guisadong_gulay

Favorite quotes
“Thus they held vigil in the night of Valinor, and their thought passed back beyond Eä and forth to the End; yet neither power nor wisdom assuaged their grief, and the knowing of evil in the hour of its being.”

“… the first dawn of the Sun was like a great fire upon the towers of Pelóri: the clouds of Middle-earth were kindled, and there was heard the sound of many waterfalls.”

“In that time the air of Middle-earth became heavy with the breath of growth and mortality, and the changing and aging of all things was hastened exceedingly.”

“Then he died; but he had neither burial nor tomb, for so fiery was his spirit that as it sped his body fell to ash, and was borne away like smoke.”

Discussion questions
– Was it right for the Valar to stay out of Middle-earth and not go after Melkor for the sake of Men?
– Why is the relationship between the Valar and Men different than the one between Valar and the Elves?
– What did the Elves learn, if anything, from the mortality of Men?
– Would the Elves of Middle-earth been able to stand against the Orcs without the Noldor returning?
– Was Thingol being cruel by not welcoming all the Elves into his protection?
– How is Galadriel different than when we meet her in Lord of the Rings?

Bonus material
Middle-earth illustrations by Ted Nasmith

How to Read The Silmarillion – I’d say we’re doing a pretty good job, but additional perspectives are always good!

Head to the comments below to reply to the discussion questions, tell me your favorite quotes, and share your thoughts about Chapters 11-13 of The Silmarillion. Also, I’m curious: how are you all feeling about the book? Are you finding it more interesting than you imagined you would? I am. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter as well. If you tweet or Instagram about the book, be sure to add the #NerdistBookClub hashtag so everyone can track down your thoughts.

Come back for Part 6 next Tuesday, August 12, at 10:30am PST. We’ll be going over Chapters 14-16.

Top image by rinthcog

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25 comments

  • Catching up still! Almost there! Also, testing some basic HTML in hopes of a clearer read.<br><br>
    General comment: the Maedhros story is wonderful… I can’t believe how much of it I’d forgotten. I guess the oath of Feanor could not destroy all things. <br><br>
    1) Was it right for the Valar to stay out of Middle-earth and not go after Melkor for the sake of Men?<br><br>
    Tough call.  From my perspective, I wish they had been more proactive from the get-go.  But while I think it would have been right to go after Morgoth sooner, I don’t know that I’d say it’s wrong not to go after him, if that makes any sense.  The Valar are closer to Iluvatar than any on Middle Earth, and yet they are not always certain of his will (maybe he doesn’t always answer). I think they may have a sense that Eru would command them or that he has plans that the elves and/or men will take a more active role. They never seek to dominate, so it’s not surprising that they would not assume their power is the answer, even though strategically it makes the most sense. <br><br>4) Would the Elves of Middle-earth been able to stand against the Orcs without the Noldor returning? <br><br>I think Doriath, protected by Melian’s girdle (and Thingol’s caution) could have withstood the orcs without issue. Those outside, not so much. But they would probably not have been able to push them back as they did, and eventually Morgoth would have smashed their defenses. <br><br>5) Was Thingol being cruel by not welcoming all the Elves into his protection?<br><br>Yes and no. On the one hand, they are kin, and he should welcome them. On the other hand, it’s been centuries, and he’s responsible for those within his kingdom. Also, the bands were not leaderless – they had in fact a number of people who had some claim to rule. I wish he had protected them more, but I can understand the decision.

  • Chapter 11’s result of the trees was a tad disheartening, but I really enjoyed the fact that the sun and moon were born from it! ^^ My favourite point was that it gave some explanations as to why the moon and the sun can be seen at the same time and also why occasional eclipses happen! Call me crazy, but that sounds like the writing of someone influenced by religious texts! ;)

    Chapter 12 – Every time the sugject(s) of im/mortality is brought up, I can’t help but be intrigued! (And neither can the Elves, so it seems!) Going back to the religious context again, just wondering if there’s a distinct parallel between Elves’ fascination of spirits after death and the age-old reason it’s believed we have souls…Like; ‘this can’t just be it’ sort of thing…

    That artwork of Feanor and Gothmog, whilst amazing, does strike me as very Sith-like…! (Is it his red blade? I think it’s the red blade! XD)

    – AM

  • - Was it right for the Valar to stay out of Middle-earth and not go after Melkor for the sake of Men?
     
    Again, they are like gods, and do gods interfere with men when they are in danger? No for the most part, it isn’t right, but that’s how they work, i suppose.

    – Why is the relationship between the Valar and Men different than the one between Valar and the Elves?
     
    Men are afraid of everything that is different. They fear them, they are right to do so, but at the same time, The Valar may be a bit silly in their actions sometimes, but they mean well, for the most part. 
    – What did the Elves learn, if anything, from the mortality of Men?
     
    That things don’t last? I mean they already should know this, by Melkor’s shenanigans, and destruction of trees multiple time and other such deeds.

    – Would the Elves of Middle-earth been able to stand against the Orcs without the Noldor returning?
     
    Probably not, they are strong, but I prefer not to overestimate or underestimate them, they just needed more help, and it arrived, for that I am thankful. 
    – Was Thingol being cruel by not welcoming all the Elves into his protection?
     

    Maybe, Or maybe he was afraid. Hmm. 
    – How is Galadriel different than when we meet her in Lord of the Rings?
    I wouldn’t know I haven’t read the LOTR trilogy yet, I know I know, I will do that, I won all of the books, but I’m currently reading a lot of other things, and classes will resume soon so I’ll see how that goes. 

  • I think the Valar are more prudent than fearful or mean in not dealing with men and shutting themselves off. I agree that it may also be due to their immortality and the fragility and differences between them and men. I also liked the sentiment that the Valar are slower in action because of their immortality. That makes a lot of sense.
    Also, I think immortality can be a curse of sorts because of how much strife and loss one can encounter in life. Sometimes it is a relief to die to be with other loved ones who have already died or to escape the war and strife on Arda. The longer you live, the more of your friends and family die and the more pain you endure. Death is a release from all of that and therefore considered a blessing.

  • I don’t think it’s quite fair to say that the Valar simply waited for the Noldor to leave Valinor to heal the land. They made the decision not to stop the Noldor by force. They needed to take council with each other. Basically, they didn’t know *what* to do in response to the marring of Valinor.
    As others have said before me, I think the Valar have a harder time understanding Men. I think there’s a level of humility in the Valar’s decision not to attempt to contact Men. They acknowledged that the situation with the Elves didn’t go that well. They didn’t want to risk repeating a similar situation. Think about it–it probably would have been worse with Men, since the Valar can’t really relate to them. How could the presence of the Valar–the Powers that shaped the world–do anything but terrify Men into submission?
    I love seeing the dynamics between the Princes of the Noldor. When you stop to think about it, it’s pretty amazing that Maedhros gave up the kingship to Fingolfin. Fingon was right to save Maedhros. Out of all the sons of Fëanor, Maedhros was probably the most likely to be more reasonable. Being rescued by Fingon was what Maedhros needed to make the extra effort. And let’s not downplay what Fingon had to put aside in order to save Maedhros. Not only was it a risky endeavor, but Fëanor had left *all* of the other Noldor to die. Fingon would have been painfully aware of this. But he chose not to let that come between his friendship with Maedhros when Maedhros needed him most. It’s a touching story!

    • I see your point about the Valar waiting to heal the land. It just took them a while to figure out what to do.

      The Fingon and Maedhros story is one of my favorites of the book so far. Fingon acted incredibly bravely.

  • The Valar cite the destruction to Arda during their previous battle with Melkor and the fact that they did not know where “the beginning of Men should be” as their reasons for not engaging Morgoth for the sake of Men. The judgment of the Valar is undercut by the narrator of the text who repeatedly rebukes the Valar who “in their haste to overthrow him (Melkor) in his great stronghold of Utumno, did not wholly destroy Angband nor search out its deep places.” If the Valar had rooted out all the evils of Melkor’s corruption-Orc, Balrogs, and their like-the story that might have unfolded may have been, at least initially, quite different. Even after Morgoth’s return to his stronghold, one must think that the Valar could have engaged and thinned the Orc population considerably without engaging Morgoth directly.
     

    The Valar took a very hands-off approach with Mem, perhaps since their hands-on approach with the Elves went so well. ;-) The main difference between the relationship between the Valar and Men in comparison to the Elves is that the Valar only rarely communicated with Men and those attempts resulted in confusion since Men “understood not the messages.” Men also feared the Valar and were “at variance with them” perhaps because of their fragility and lifespan.
     

    I don’t know if the Elves learned much from the mortality of Men, but they did find it a curiosity and speculated about what happened to them after death. I have always enjoyed fantasy that really embraces and examines the unique issues that would face an immortal creature. At this stage in the Elves’ history though, we only know of one Elf, Míriel, who grew weary with life.
     
    The only places that would have withstood the Orcs without the Noldor’s return is Doriath and probably some of the Dwarven strongholds. Thus for the inhabitants of Middle-earth, fortuitous indeed was Fëanor’s self-exile, even if his rationale was different than the outcome. Was Thingol cruel? I don’t think that was his motive. He was rightly concerned with “so many princes […] eager for new realms,” and a ruler must think of how many people his realm can sustain without hunger or dissension.
     

    We catch only a glimpse of the young Galadriel, I am looking forward to seeing more of her in the upcoming and much later chapters. We see an apt comparison between the woman of wisdom we meet in the Lord of the Rings and we are told that she learned “great lore and wisdom” from Melian.
     

    One thing that I want to point out is that Thorondor’s wing span at thirty fathoms is 180 feet, now that’s an impressive bird. However, can he carry a coconut?

    • Ahh, I could see why the Valar would want to go more hands-off with Men. That makes sense.

      I’m looking forward to seeing more of Galadriel as well.

      Thanks for pointing out the wing span of the Eagle and that Glaurung went out on his own.

  • 1. This question is a repeated theme in Tolkien. By the time Men arise in Middle Earth, Arda is on its third set of celestial lighting, due to the unchecked spite of Morgoth. When the Valar have opposed and subdued him their battle reshaped Northwestern Middle-Earth and for widened the ocean between Aman and Middle-Earth. Manwe has to consider the destruction caused by Valar intervention weighed against the destruction wrought by Morgoth. Restraint is a hallmark of those Valar/Maiar who are faithful to Iluvatar’s Balance of Things. This issue arises in LotR with Gandalf. Why is he not scorching the orc-host of Moria? Surely the bearer of Narya, Ring of Fire can lob a few fireballs during the siege of Minas Tirith? But he doesn’t, instead he uses that Fire to rekindle the hears of the men around him and relies on the Foe Hammer to deal with the orcs.

    2. How could you develop a “true relationship” with a being that will not even last for a year (the elven yen is 144 human years)? In the blink of an elven eye, the passions you share in common fade and the human suddenly withers away into old age, which is inconceivable for an elf. The difference in the perception of time alone creates obstacles in understanding and conflict over agendas. This difference in the perception of time results in questions like the first.

    3. It’s good to be and elf!

    4. The orc-host would have overrun northern Beleriand until they got to the Girdle of Melian. Elwe could repel the orcs, but I doubt he could defeat them decisively.

    5. While no man or elf can compete with Feanor in sheer arrogance and overweening pride (He may have more hubris than Sauron), Elwe could make a solid claim on second. Hooking up with an angel has led Elwe to believe that he has a pretty good bead on things and that he craps Mithril (how do you think that cloak became Silver?). On the other hand the Sons of Feanor do not fall far from the tree and they are heirs to the Throne of Elven Hubris and the Noldor in general falter again and again due to their pride. This is not lost on Melian who has a hunch that some doom hangs on these newcomers from the west. So, it does not surprise me that when one arrogant party wants to keep the other arrogant party at arms length.

    6. Galadriel is no more immune to pride than any of the Noldor. She is the flower of the house of Finwe. She has every reason to be arrogant. Her insufficient experience of the malice of Morgoth (and his heir Sauron) also differentiate the elder Galadriel, who can resist the temptation of the One Ring from her younger counterpart.

  • - Was it right for the Valar to stay out of Middle-earth and not go after Melkor for the sake of Men?
    At this point, I’m not too fond of the Valar.  When it comes to Melkor, they really dropped the ball.  Men have to deal with him and the elves have to deal with him as well.  They even went so far as to lay siege for a few hundred years in the effort to take him down.  Had the Valar just dealt with him centuries earlier, all this nonsense never would’ve happened.  It’s like the Valar just don’t care enough.  Ulmo seems to be a bit of an exception but still, he doesn’t try to stop Melkor.  At at least Manwe helps Maedhros, so that’s something.  But still, the Valar know that Melkor is wreaking all kinds of havoc and they do nothing. Seriously?

    -Was Thingol being cruel by not welcoming all the elves into his protection?
    I don’t think he was cruel; I think he had trust issues and was afraid.  He may have also seen them as a possible threat to his hold on his land.  Since elves are stronger, faster, etc., than men, it’s understandable.

  • My thoughts;1. The Valar not going into middle earth at that time seems either a bit stuck up to me becuase they wanted the curse to come to its end, or scared because they were afraid of trashing the landscape for a 3rd time.
    2. How the valar and valinor relate to humans is where theres some contradiction on tolkien’s part as I see it. If the earth was originally made for all three species to co-exist, why now the sudden disassociation.  Also, with the exception of ulmo of course, the valar find humans just as strange but they may not have even been aware of them as at least when the elves were discovered they were by accident because orome was riding at that time. Ulmo is the only one out in middle earth and he tries.3. what did the elves learn from mortality? 3 letters; wtf.  Seriously that would be a modern spin on that.4. no thoughts.5. Thingol is called wise and all but he’s also a bit of dueche.  He’s right to not trust at least clan feanor and if he had lived, feanor may have tried to go to war with thingol as well. But he doesnt come off as teh trusting type either. and it was his wife doing the protecting anyway, so maybe we should as her lol6. I see Galadriel at this point starting to become who she is in LOTR. The movies I think give a pretty good indication of what she was like before hand when the temptation of the ring causes her to lose her shit.  She was one of the rebellion leaders after all so she had just as much ego, but getting married, the wars beginning, and being tutored by Melian is starting to mellow her out
    Lastly i would like to say that Maedroes starts to come out as the sane one in feanor’s family and clearly got that from his mother.

    • I agree that Thingol is a bit of a tool. I can see where he’s coming from – a desire to protect his people – but it reads as selfish.

      And I love your point that we see a past Galadriel when she’s tempted by the ring. I didn’t think of that, but it rings true.

      Word on Maedhros.

  • The difference between how the Valar treated the Elves and the Men is intriguing. With the Elves, the Valar introduced themselves right away, and considering what followed—some of the Elves were scared off at first, and when they were invited to Valinor they split into several groups, and even after entering it some grew distrustful and restless, and Melkor’s corrupting influence was strong, and then the whole Fëanor business took place—maybe they felt a new approach was in order, and decided to be (even) more passive.Another possibility is that maybe they grew tired, and after all the tragedy they’d been through, they decided to just raise the mountains, hide away, and keep a watchful eye, but nothing more. In other words, maybe it’s not that they cared less about Men, just that their stamina and enthusiasm was dampened by this point, and they didn’t want to go through the same process again.Another important thing to consider, though, is that while the Valar and the Elves were similar in nature (in a previous chapter it was mentioned that the Valar were the Elves’ kindred rather than their masters), the Men are relatively different. Maybe it’s just me, but throughout this book I got the sense that Men were this universe’s biggest question mark. Why are they so different, in both thought and behavior? Why are they mortal when the Elves and the Valar were immortal—why would Ilúvatar even create these more flawed beings? Why is their mortality considered a gift? Where do they fit in Ilúvatar’s grand plan? For the most part, the Elves and the Valar were very similar, and understood each other well, but I get the sense that neither of them really understood Men as well, so maybe that’s part of the reason the Valar were less keen on approaching them. I don’t know, I’m just speculating.Other than that, though, I’m really enjoying this book. I thought the creation of the Sun and Moon would probably be the highlight of these three chapters, but chapter 13 alone was so packed with information and events (several great battles, a major character death, the incredibly heartwarming story of Maedhros’s rescue, the creation of the first dragon—all in all, a few hundred years of events), I had a blast reading it. So yeah, I too am definitely finding it more interesting than I thought I would, especially considering how difficult I had previously found it, compared to how fun it turned out to be. Perhaps it’s this weekly discussion that’s propelling me forward and making sure I don’t fall behind, so thanks again for this!

    • I definitely agree that a lot of that disconnect of the Valar and the elves with men is because of the mortal/immortal issue. It makes a little more sense when you realize that the history is meant to be taken from the elvish perspective. Whereas we look at the Valar and the elves and are completely confused as to why they do some of the things they do, we can relate a lot more to men. But taken from an elvish perspective, from their viewpoint the Men are the ones who are mysterious and thought-provoking.

  • The Maedhros Fingon scene was so poignant. I’d only vaguely remembered it. 

    Anyway, about #1, keep in mind an explanation is given, and that they refrain for the sake of humans. The last time they went to outright war with Melkor in Middle Earth, the lands were violently disturbed. The Valar know that Men are weaker than Elves, and don’t want to run the risk of wiping them all out through a war meant to protect them.

     

    Also, don’t worry, more of Men’s history will be told eventually.

    I don’t think Thingol was being cruel, just very security-conscious. Which makes sense, with what he had to deal with before the Noldor returned, and even after, with Morgoth’s power.

     

    Galadriel is young, and much more ambitious and headstrong. Melian and time will temper her out by the time of the Third Age, not to mention, by that time she’s known loss and become the ruler of her own land as she wanted, and discovered all that came with that. But in the meantime, we still have those alternate accounts of her in The Silmarillion vs the Unfinished Tales, which is also true to myths and legends in real life.

  • - Why is the relationship between the Valar and Men different than the one between Valar and the Elves?I would say a large part of this is the difference in the type of beings that the Valar and Men are.  Elves are more like the Valar, likely due to their immortal nature.  Men, being mortal, are more apt to be quick and rushed in their dealings, and don’t have the thirst (or time) for the slow and gradual accumulation of knowledge like the Elves do.  I believe many of the odd characteristics of the Valar can be see in light of their immortal nature.  If you will be around forever, why rush to do anything or take action that you do not feel is completely justified?  From this standpoint, it is easy to see why they adopt such a “it will all work itself out” mentality.One of the large themes in the SIlmarillion is the view of Death.  I love the viewpoint that Death is a blessing and immortality is a type of curse.  You can see the distance the Valar put between themselves and Men because of that voracious spirit they see in men due to their short mortal life span.  I may be grasping at straws but I have always felt that the reason Ulmo relates to them more is because of his dominion in water, the most voracious and changing aspect of nature.
    – How is Galadriel different than when we meet her in Lord of the Rings?In LOTR she seems a lot more calm and composed.  Whereas in the Silmarillion its intriguing to see her in her “young” days, when she was more fiery of spirit and more spontaneous.  We also see more of her selfishness and her will for power and her own dominion.  This has always made such a huge difference for me when I read her temptation of the One Ring by Frodo in LOTR.  She had refused the pardon of the Valar, and so could not sail into the West like the other Elves.  And once the One Ring was destroyed her ring would lose its power and her dominion, the reason she had refused the Valar, would be lost.  She would be the sole elf wandering Middle-Earth; ironically the most powerful and yet the most helpless and alone.  Makes me marvel at her incredible willpower to resist the temptation to just take the ring and keep it hidden.

    • You’re right. Elves seem to be a mirror of the Valar whereas Men are more of their own thing – and their mortality widens that gap.

      Seeing this young Galadriel compared to the one we later see in Lothlorien is a lot of fun and adds so much context to her character.