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Nerdist Book Club: THE SILMARILLION, Part 6

Who’s ready for a tour of Beleriand? If you got past that uh, interesting chapter, you got to experience some high stakes drama in chapters about the Noldor vs. Thingol and Maeglin. While there are certainly some dry paragraphs and pages, I’m surprised by how much of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion reads like a soap opera. Betrayals, forbidden love, rash behavior – it’s like an episode of Days of Our Lives but with Elves!

What happened

Chapter 14 – Of Beleriand and Its Realms
I was warned about this chapter and now I understand why. This grand journey all around Beleriand had some helpful notes about who lived where and was more engaging if you accessed an interactive map and followed along, but mostly? I was bored. This entire chapter could be summed up in an infographic. It was difficult to digest since it was name after name, and it made my eyes blurry.

On the upside, when I began The Silmarillion with all of you, I thought the whole book would be like this chapter. It thankfully has not.

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Gondolin by breathing2004

Chapter 15 – Of the Noldor in Beleriand
Remember the city of Tirion upon Túna? So do the Noldor! Turgon found the perfect real estate to make a city like their old home and named it Gondolin. He kept the city a secret from most of Beleriand’s citizens and only his people went to the secret city. And finally, we see one of the Valar interacting with the Elves again. Ulmo still seems the most kind of them all. He offers counsel to Turgon and drops a callback to the Doom of Mandos.

Elsewhere in Beleriand, Galadriel gives up some information to Melian about Fëanor and what happened when they left Valinor. She’s reluctant, and I feel like Melian was being a little nosy and pushy here. That said, she was probably acting in the way that she thought was best in order to protect Doriath. The more they know, the better they can stand against any threats (real or only perceived). I’m relieved that they noticed how weird Fëanor’s sons were acting.

When Thingol learned the whole truth about the Kinslaying, he banned his people from speaking the language of the Noldor. Shunning Quenya was an effective and somewhat cruel way to isolate the Noldor who had come to Beleriand. Not all of them had a hand in the tragic events, and I feel like it’s overkill for Thingol to take such action. Then again, he’s never struck me as the most rational of Elves.

aredhel_in_the_forest_of_nan_elmoth_by_sieskja-d6tpk9t

Aredhel in Nan Elmoth by Sieskja

Chapter 16 – Of Maeglin
Caged birds aren’t always happy birds (is that a saying? Let’s go with it.) and Turgon’s sister Aredhel grew weary of Gondolin. She left to explore Beleriand but instead got waylaid by a Dark Elf. Eöl saw her on the borders of the forest where he lived. Nan Elmoth was enchanted and dark, and Eöl didn’t care for daylight. I can understand why he moved in but not the rest of his actions. He essentially trapped Aredhel in the forest and then wedded her and had a kid with her.

This portion has the ring of a familiar fairy tale. Eventually the captive bride and son, named Maeglin, grew weary of their cage and escaped Eöl. In typical stalker-emotionally abusive husband form, he followed them and ended up finding the hidden city of Gondolin (PS: do Elves get sunburnt?). His actions led to him murdering Aredhel and receiving the punishment of getting tossed over a cliff. I don’t blame Turgon for the extreme reaction, and I’m curious as to whether any part of it was caused by him feeling guilty about allowing Aredhel to leave Gondolin. He shouldn’t, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that weighed on his mind.

Maeglin remained in Gondolin but not all was well. He fell for Turgon’s daughter Idril. She was his cousin, but that didn’t stop his feelings and they grew into ugliness because he could not have her. “Thus it was in Gondolin; and amid all the bliss of that realm, while its glory lasted, a dark seed of evil was sown.” Evil, man, it’s everywhere.

Relevance to The Hobbit and/or Lord of the Rings
Though as far as I can tell the Minas Tirith mentioned here isn’t the same place we see in Lord of the Rings, but it is mentioned. Finrod, son of Finarfin, build the tower on the isle of Tol Sirion. He did so to keep an eye on Morgoth.

We also traveled to Nan Elmoth. While the enchanted and creepy sounding forest isn’t a place tied to later tomes, it does have similarities with other forests in Middle-earth. Reading about its tangled pathways reminded me of Fangorn and Mirkwood.

Favorite quotes
“…I would take what joy is here left, untroubled by memory. And maybe there is woe yet to come, though still hope may seem bright.”

“Beware of the sons of Fëanor! The shadow of the wrath of the Valar lies upon them; and they have done evil, I perceive, both in Aman and to their own kin. A grief but lulled to sleep lies between the princes of the Noldor.”

“I am your sister and not your servant, and beyond yours bounds I will go as seems good to me.” (You tell him, sister!)

“…she marveled she that she had grown weary of the light of Gondolin, and the fountains in the sun, and the green sward of Tumladen under the windy skies of spring; moreover she was often alone in the shadows when both her son and her husband were away.”

eol

Eöl by kimberly80

Discussion questions
- Why does Galadriel tell Melian about the Silmarils but not the rest of Fëanor’s actions? Is she afraid of Thingol’s reaction?
- Do you see any similarities between Eöl and Melkor?
- Do you think Aredhel ever loved Eöl or was their relationship based on abuse?
- How do you interpret Thingol’s ban on using Quenya? Why do you think he chose that punishment for the Noldor?
- Do you think any Elves in Gondolin came to resent going there since they could not leave?
- Share a discussion question of your own in the comments!

Bonus material
Silmarillion fan art by gerwell
Trees of Valinor hand painted shoes by Footprints of Color

Head to the comments to reply to the discussion questions, post your questions, tell us your favorite quotes, and share your thoughts about Chapters 14-16 of The Silmarillion. Feel free to send me your thoughts on Twitter as well. If you tweet or Instagram about the book, be sure to add the #NerdistBookClub hashtag so everyone can find your thoughts.

Come back for Part 7 next Tuesday, August 19, at 10:30am PST. We’ll be going over Chapters 17-18. Yes, we’re nearly halfway through!

Top image of Aredhel in Nan Elmoth by Leevah

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47 comments

  • I quite like the chapter Of Beleriand and Its Realms.  For one thing, one of the best parts of any Tolkien work is the grand beauty of the setting in which the story takes place; the vast and varied world of Middle Earth.  Hearing the description of the various lands of Beleriand really helped set the scene in my mind.  I built careful mental pictures of the various places where the stories would pass through. 
    For those who were bored by the chapter, I suggest you reread it and listen to the narration in your mind as though it were an IMAX film about the Alps or a nature series narrated by David Attenborough.  Perhaps put some sweeping, contemplative classical music on in the background. 

  • Finally finished this reading AND this weeks!  So I’m back full swing now.  Geez! Lots of cool thoughts. Thanks to the poster who pointed out the weapons were forged in Gondolin – super cool!
    1) I think Galadriel is protecting herself and her kin to a certain extent. I do agree with the poster who said that her side could have been implicated in the kinslaying to a certain extent. I also think she may like that there is more peace among the various families and so it’s not worth upsetting the apple cart.
    2) So, I used to work with domestic violence victims, and I bring it up because it’s possible to love someone who is abusive.  It’s not necessarily an either/or proposition, which is part of why it’s so hard for people to leave abusive relationships.  The very person who is mean, controlling, and/or violent might also be considerate, funny, etc., other times.  The only thing I can conclude from their relationship is that he was a controlling personality. She might have seen some pluses to marrying him, but clearly didn’t like how it worked out (and may not have known that he effectively trapped her).
    3) Cultures and languages are so intertwined.  That’s why oppressed groups in our era fight hard to keep their languages alive in younger generations.  Although nothing stopped the Noldor from using Quenya among themselves, Thingol pushed the “high elves” lower by forcing disuse of their language in any of his realms. 

    • Oops, missed the Is Eol like Melchor? Yes, in a sense.  The biggest “sin” in Tolkien’s world is grasping at things that are not one’s own to grasp. Melchor tried to seize Iluvatar’s melody for his own ends. Feanor’s silmarils are beautiful but when he goes beyond creativity to possessiveness and excluding people, he is himself twisted.  And Eol tries to possess Aredhrel, who is her own person, and not to be controlled. This is not to say that Tolkien is against ownership, but he clearly differentiates between stewardly ownership (such as a wise and just king) and possessive, greedy, and domineering ownership. To the extent that both try to possess and dominate that which is not theirs, Eol and Melchor are similar.

  • Sorry for not posting last discussion, I had things to do, and laptops to fix, I’ll go back when I can. So far the chapter with Eöl was the most interesting,I enjoyed reading about a character who wasn’t all good and all bad, he was sort of middling evil, but again this chapter dealt with predestination, and characters ‘destined” to be evil, so I kind of felt sorry for Maeglin.

    I also wish i could follow the map easier, I need to work on that.

  • - Why does Galadriel tell Melian about the Silmarils but not the rest of Fëanor’s actions? Is she afraid of Thingol’s reaction? 
    I suppose she was afraid, and perhaps, if we’re in the habit of using sayings “The less you know, the better you sleep” eh eh?? 
    - Do you see any similarities between Eöl and Melkor?Not especially, Eöl is like a vampire that’s afraid of sunlight, and hisses at it form his little dark corner. He feels like he’s a feral creature, afraid of the sun, but he’ll be able to become tamed by the right approach, more or less. 
     and Melkor is your friendly neighborhood bad guy.  
    - Do you think Aredhel ever loved Eöl or was their relationship based on abuse?
    Maybe she did love him, slightly, a long time ago, but seeing as he literally forced her to marry him, and have his child, it might not be so. There are chances but they are very slim.
     - How do you interpret Thingol’s ban on using Quenya? Why do you think he chose that punishment for the Noldor?
    I think it was dumb, simple as that, limiting languages is dumb to begin with, especially people , or elves in this case, who use it daily.
     - Do you think any Elves in Gondolin came to resent going there since they could not leave?
    Probably, I mean, as much as a place can be nice, it’ll be nicer if you had your own free will, and roam the world and beyond it. 

  • I just read BruceMatsunaga’s experience of Chapter 14 and I imagine that it would’ve been allover more enjoyable for us all! I found it the most difficult chapter to read by far (and that’s saying something! XD) and was sort-of annoyed that as soon as you’ve gotten through it, there was a map supplied, which basically tells you everything! I suppose when it was written, that was the only way you could have it, but imagine if it was done these days; the map would be there and you’d have some ‘bonus content’ for the book, by listening to an optional ‘audio tour’…

    Chapter 16 was a different story entirely! I was really loving the introduction of Aredhel; she knew her own mind and went after what she wanted, no matter what she was told! Brilliant! Though as Eol was introduced, I knew he’d be a slimey character…And they way he entraped her I thought was completely despicable (I can think of another fantasy character of that ilk; Prince Xizor of the Star Wars EU). As I read I thought ‘she must be biding her time to subdue him to escape…Even slay him.’ Alas not. It was a bit disappointing actually, because even though he used enchantments to get her, I thought that, with her being so strong-willed (especially in her introduction), she wouldn’t be ensnared that easily…

    You can see Eol’s point of view for his hatred, but it seems he was written to be despised. At least he eventually got what was coming to him.

  • I “read” Chapter 14 by listening to the audiobook while looking at a map and found the experience enjoyable. I found myself visualizing the descriptions and finding echoes or rather foreshadowing of various traits of the groups in the Lord of the Rings. Foreshadowing is present throughout Tolkien’s writing, but it is particularly palpable in The Silmarillion since it continually hints at the future as in “Of Maeglin” where “a dark seed of evil was sown.” If this were a friend telling you a story, you would be saying “spoiler alert” at least a couple times a chapter.
      I think Galadriel told Melian only what she thought she could without going into the darker actions because by revealing all would implicate all of those who left Valinor with Fëanor even though she sworn no oath nor took part in the Kinslaying at Alqualondë. For Galadriel and those who continued to follow Fëanor’s course did not turn back like Finarfin and his people to face the Valar and sue for pardon.
     
    Ironically, I think Eöl has more in common with Fëanor than with Morgoth because of a tendency towards isolation and love of knowledge. However, I do not think Fëanor would have attempted to kill his own son with a poisoned javelin, characteristic-destroy that which you cannot possess-he has in common with Morgoth. I think Aredhel, although initially spellbound, probably ended up having a type of love for Eöl-the Stockholm syndrome kind of love. Seriously though, I’m not sure we have enough to go on in this chapter since Aredhel also grew weary of living within the walls of Gondolin. I mean really, if you are immortal, to never leave the city could be forever. I do find it interesting that she went from being in a captive city to a parallel captive relationship.
     
    Those of you who are reading The Silmarillion for the first time, doesn’t the ending of “Of Maeglin” make you want to skip ahead and find out what happens?
     
    The ban on Quenya was strict, but I can see why Thingol selected that as a way of distancing his people from and punishing the Noldor. Even though they have a common root, by banning the language of those who went to Valinor it rejects the identity of those who created and used it. We also know that the Sindar “were slow to master the tongue of Valinor” while the Noldor learned Sindarin quickly. Thingol also establishes the Sindar’s language as the common language in Beleriand, which further establishes his authority.

    • I think you chose the smartest way to read Chapter 14. Maybe after we’re done, I’ll go back and listen to it that way.

      And yes, “Of Maeglin” makes me want to skip ahead!

      I felt bad for Aredhel that she left to explore and be free only to get entangled by Eol. Poor lady.

  • A hidden realm or world definitely has a fairytale ring to it. But I guess a cage is still a cage no matter how it is dressed up. I understand why Turgon thought that was a good plan, but I don’t think you can realistically keep a whole city hidden forever. I think there is an element of abuse and cruelty in that too. May be another reason why Aredhel puts up with Eol for as long as she does. Even though she’s a prisoner, maybe it reminds her of home in some twisted way?

  • I think maybe Aredhel had a bit of a rebellious side (i.e. running away from home) and so maybe part of that is liking the “bad boy” elf. At first maybe it’s exhilirating because she knows Turgon wouldn’t approve and maybe Eol plays nice, but it eventually wears off. Just one possible explanation.

  • The Aredhel and Eöl story is definitely thought-provoking. Upon reflection is does feel much darker than when I read it, possibly because the narration in this book feels mostly neutral, like a history book.
    It’s clear that their marriage was all sorts of wrong. When Eöl first saw Aredhel, he spied on her like a creep and used magic to make it impossible for her to leave the forest. He essentially made her walk in circles until she was exhausted and vulnerable, both physically and mentally, and only then did he present himself as a friendly and welcoming face. He essentially fabricated the situation in such a way that he was her only refuge when she was in her weakest state. That alone is manipulative and utterly reprehensible.
    Insert strangely omitted events that led to them getting married. I personally don’t think Eöl used any sort of magic to fabricate emotion towards him within Aredhel; it doesn’t come off that way, and plus, I don’t think she’d've been able to leave if that were the case. So what happened? Did he somehow deceive her and pretend to be a good person in order to genuinely win her love, until he showed his true colours after Maeglin was born? Or was it a Stockholm syndrome sort of thing? Or, worst of all, did he force her into it?
    Whatever the case may be, after they were married, she was pretty much his prisoner. I mean, Aredhel of all people, the one for whom even the beauty of Gondolin ended up feeling like a cage, was stuck in a perpetually dark forest and forbidden from leaving. As if that doesn’t speak to Eöl’s possessiveness enough, he even followed her after she escaped him, to the point where he preferred to kill his son rather than letting him go.
    So yeah, I think it was definitely based on abuse. The question is, did she genuinely fall in love with him at the time of their marriage? The text is rather vague, but the wording is very suspicious. First, “And there she remained; for Eöl took her to wife, and it was long ere any of her kin heard of her again.” I don’t know if it’s just me, but that has a rather ominous tone to it. The sentence that comes right after, though, is even more alarming: “It is not said that Aredhel was wholly unwilling”. That, to me, sounds ridiculously hesitant, especially compared to the more romantic descriptions throughout the rest of the book’s stories, and reads less like her falling in love with him and way more like, “Eh, I guess she didn’t really mind? Maybe?” If we’re to take The Silmarillion as a history book written by Elves, this comes off as an Elvish historian trying to retroactively justify a bad situation and a horrible deed by a fellow Elf.
    It’s interesting to note that Maeglin’s feelings towards Idril remind me a bit of his father’s feelings towards Aredhel, especially with Tolkien mentioning that “a dark seed of evil was sown”.
    Despite how vile Eöl is, one thing I’m liking about the Silmarillion is that dark deeds don’t only come from Morgoth and his allies. Even the Elves, like Fëanor and Eöl, are capable of making mistakes, or committing terrible crimes, and many of the conflicts in this book come from within or in-between the different Elvish societies, and not just from outside forces of evil. It makes the world far less black and white, and when you add in stories that talk about issues we face in our very real and modern world, like abusive relationships, it makes this fantasy world feel even more tangible and grounded.
    One last thing: in regards to these chapters’ relevance to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, it’s worth noting that Sting, Glamdring, and Orcrist were forged in Gondolin.

  • So I’m Surprised no one noticed this yet,
    “Relevance to The Hobbit and/or Lord of the Rings
    Though as far as I can tell the Minas Tirith mentioned here isn’t the same place we see in Lord of the Rings, but it is mentioned. Finrod, son of Finarfin, build the tower on the isle of Tol Sirion. He did so to keep an eye on Morgoth.”
    Minas Tirith in LOTR was originally named Minas Anor. When they renamed it they named it after the original one due to it being there to keep an eye on Mordor.

  • - Do you think Aredhel ever loved Eöl or was their relationship based on abuse?
    I think she eventually grew to love him and at first, she probably just tolerated him.  I don’t think he ever told her that he used magic to get her to eventually end up on her doorstep.  After a while, I think she started to suspect that he did something to get her there.  I also think it’s kinda hard to say if there was abuse involved.  He was obviously controlling and secretive.  I’m thinking that after a while, she became tired of that behavior and decided to leave with her son.

    -How do you interpret Thingol’s ban on using Quenya?  Why do you think he chose that punishment for the Noldor?
    To me, I think he was trying to wipe away the memory of the Noldor and their deeds from the minds of the people by banning the use of Quenya.  It kinda reminds of when the ancient Egyptians wiped out the name of Akhenaten, after his death, where ever it was written so that he would be forgotten by history.

    -Do you think any elves in Gondolin came to resent going there since they could not leave?
    I would imagine so.  It probably would be rough to stay knowing that there is an entire world out there to explore.
    Besides that, chapter 16 was painful!  My mind kept wandering and a few times, I almost stopped reading!  Hopefully the rest of the book won’t be so boring.

  • As far as the description of the land, doesnt tolkien do the same in the Hobbit?
    Galadriel is starting to mellow out, in part to Melian’s influence and her getting married probably.  She doesnt rat clan feanor out because of clan loyalty; their family even if they dont like each other. debate the morals if you like.
    Thingol is more like Feanor but slightly more controlled thanks to his wife. His decree about banning the langauage doesnt strike me as a big deal as the noldor knew sindarin anyway and if they were still egotistical wouldve shrugged it off anyway as a kind ‘ok fuck you lower class elf”.
    Aredel strikes as a 21 year old girl who doesnt like being told what to do and will do it anyway. I think its in large part to her closeness to clan feanor which is rare since only fingon and maybe fingolfin seem to share any relationship with them.
    Eol creeps me out, strikes as kind of goth emo elf, not the goths are stalkers.  But this guy almost strikes me as manipulative and maybe borderline rape. For the record though, he was trying to kill his son and his wife took the shot.  
    With the exception of aredhel, none of the elves under of turgon seem to mind isolating themselves since they were home sick. 

  • C.14 – Yeah, this is really a chapter you’ll only enjoy if you’re a diehard (which I am haha). And it’s where having maps really comes in handy. 

    C.15 Galadriel being all coy with Melian. 

    So, Galadriel, what brought you guys back to Middle Earth? 
    Oh, you know. Morgoth, Silmarils, just stuff like that. 
    I see. But…I sense you’re not telling me everything? 
    Uhhhhh….no? :)
    Gal, what’d you guys do? What are you hiding? >_> 

    …nnnooooothing :3 
    -_-

    I think she was just ashamed, and that’s why she didn’t want to share that information. 

    C16 – In case anyone isn’t sure how to pronounce Eol, it sounds like a-hole. Appropriately. I suppose he’s a bit like Melkor, insofar as they’re both selfish, abusive pricks who want to lord over everyone they supposedly “rule.” And it’s hard to know if Aredhel ever loved him. Maybe she didn’t, but even if she did, who’s to say it wasn’t some sort of enchantment? Not that there was much evidence of that, but still. 
    Also Gondolin is one of the main reasons I would love to see PJ’s take on the Sil, just to see how it would look on the big screen. If it was anything like Ted Nasmith’s art, it would be amazing.

    • I think if I had a gigantic map I could follow along with for Chapter 14 and make  notes on that I would have liked it better.

      And the pronunciation of Eol’s name is AMAZING.

      At the rate Jackson is going, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him tackle The Silmarillion. I don’t know if there are any issues with the rights though…

      • Oh, there are rights issues alright, that can be summed up as “over Christopher Tolkien’s dead body.” :p

        But even so, you can see how it would hard to decide which parts of the Sil to adapt as films, if the Tolkien estate ever gave someone the rights. Actually, I’ve been keeping an eye towards that as we go along, trying to imagine how I would parse the book into films. Based on what we’ve read so far, and going off my own memories which will be confirmed or not soon enough, I have a rough idea that 4-5 films in the First Age would be optimal. I tried to keep it at 3, but how do you pick whether to exclude Feanor, or Beren and Luthien, or Turin? It’s impossible.

        Also, after watching the first Outlander episodes, I think that actress is perfect for a recast First Age Galadriel, assuming by the time any of this is remotely possible Cate Blanchett will be nearing 60 and unable to play a younger Galadriel. I think the Outlander actress resembles her well in that regard.

        • That’s true, it probably would work better as a show, although the effects would be noticeably less in that case…a problem when it comes to the battles. Game of Thrones can barely keep baby dragons on screen for 5 minutes a season, I can’t imagine how they’d do a horde of Balrogs and Glaurung.

        • I actually think Silmarillion has potential as a TV series – maybe shorter seasons, more like UK series or “series events” like Fox is trying out. 

  • Why does Galadriel tell Melian about the Silmarils Eöl but not the rest of Fëanor’s actions? Is she afraid of Thingol’s reaction?

    Galadriel and Melian have spent a fair amount of time together by now. Galadriel perhaps grew tired of holding back secrets along with maybe wanting Melian to give it a rest. Part of the truth seems like a good way to appease her.

    As far as hiding the Kinslaying… I think she’s ashamed of what other members of the Noldor did and it’s painful to talk about it.

    Do you see any similarities between Eöl and Melkor?

    The greed and possession notes ring the same to me. Eöl only captured Aredhel based on her appearance (and given his dislike of light, I’m surprised it appealed to him) and that made it sound like he wanted to own her. He definitely has a dark side.

    Do you think Aredhel ever loved Eöl or was their relationship based on abuse?

    When she leaves with Maeglin, there’s a line about how she doesn’t love him anymore. So perhaps she grew to have some feelings for him but the question is – did he compel her the entire time or otherwise enchant her? After the way he trapped her in the forest and basically forced him to her doorstep, I can’t rationalize their relationship.

    How do you interpret Thingol’s ban on using Quenya? Why do you think he chose that punishment for the Noldor?

    Thingol’s one heck of a judge. He knows how to hit where it hurts, and I think he probably saw his decision as mild. I’m sure he felt like driving all the Noldor out of Beleriand. Still, the punishment is cruel because it forced isolation and stigma upon the Noldor. It marked them as different and all of them had to atone for the sins even though they may have not had a part in committing them.

    Do you think any Elves in Gondolin came to resent going there since they could not leave?

    I imagine some of them did. I’m sure Aredhel wasn’t the only one who wished to explore and wander the world. I also wonder if any of the others hold resentment towards her and feel she got special treatment for being Turgon’s sister.