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Nerdist Book Club: THE SILMARILLION, Part 7

We did it, everyone! We’re more than halfway through our discussion of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. To those of you have survived the journey, you rock. You have been a wonderful Fellowship, and there is no way I would have got this far in the book without all of you. I think our patience has paid off because this week’s chapters take an even more dramatic turn as Morgoth comes back into the picture.

What happened

Chapter 17 – Of the Coming of Men Into the West
Look out Elves, the Men are coming! They wandered into Beleriand, and when Felagund encountered them for the first time, he couldn’t help but love them… and sing for them. I admire that he stepped in and essentially acted towards the humans as the Valar acted towards the Elves in the beginning. He helped them, taught them, and stole their leader Bëor. Okay, he didn’t kidnap him, but Bëor left when Felagund did.

The groups of the Edain (I prefer that word to Men) who traveled into Beleriand made homes across the land. They were friendly with Elves, and many of the Edain served the Elves. But grumpy old King Thingol wouldn’t have any of it. He was as unwelcoming as ever. Maybe his home was really dirty and he was embarrassed about having new guests? I like that explanation more than him being so protective and distrusting.

As the Edain settled in their new home, Morgoth stirred. He wanted to turn the Edain against the Eldar because he still hasn’t and never will get over his hatred of them. He also sent out his Orcs, and some of the first Edain to feel his wrath were the Haladin. Here we meet a woman who is my new favorite character: Haleth.

Her father and twin brother were slain by Orcs, and she rose to fight and to hold the Haladin together. She became their chief and took them farther West, eventually living in the Forest of Brethil. She never wed, and she defended their home against Orcs and sounds completely awesome.

lady_haleth_by_shyangell-d393w2i

Lady Haleth by shyangell

One other item of note occurred: the Elves saw Bëor perish of old age. It was the first time they saw death happen in this fashion, and it seemed to make an impression.

Chapter 18 – Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin
You have to love how the spoilers are in the chapter titles. Until we hit Fingolfin’s death, I spent most of the time worrying about how it would happen. It was at the hands of Morgoth, as he decided he was over waiting and that it was time for serious offensive actions. Beginning with the Battle of Sudden Flame, war gripped the lands near Angband. Fingolfin died in a courageous but also stupid single combat against Morgoth. Sauron took Minas Tirith by assault, and Beleriand seems to be a dimmer place.

The layout of Beleriand means some areas were left untouched. Gondolin was clearly tucked away and hidden from the battle, but Thorondor (one of the eagles) sort of ruined that by taking Huor and Húrin there. I’m confused as why Thorondor took them to Gondolin as opposed to anywhere else that is not a secret location in Beleriand, but the action ultimately led to others becoming aware of a hidden city – including Morgoth. Oops.

Among the battles between the Edain and Eldar against Morgoth, one character in particular jumped out at me: another female warrior. Emeldir the Manhearted armed the women and children among Barahir’s people and led them to safety. It reminds me of Eowyn of Rohan and reading about both her and Haleth makes me wonder why Tolkien seemed to feature less women in his other Middle-earth stories.

fingolfin_and_morgoth_by_juliedillon-d7ti5jc

Fingolfin and Morgoth by juliedillon

Relevance to The Hobbit and/or Lord of the Rings
I only picked up a couple of references to the Lord of the Rings in the latest chapter. We learn about Morgoth wielding a giant mace called Grond in his fight against Fingolfin. When the Orcs attacked the gates of Minas Tirith in The Return of the King, their battering ram was also named Grond.

The text touched briefly on the ancestors of Númenor and the origin of their common tongue.

Favorite quotes
“’A darkness lies behind us,’ Bëor said; ‘and we have turned our backs upon it, and we do not desire to return thither even in thought. Westwards our hearts have been turned, and we believe that there we shall find Light.’”

“Fingolfin gleamed beneath it as a star; for his mail was overlaid with silver, and his blue shield was set with crystals, and he drew his sword Ringil that glittered like ice.”

“’We took long roads, desiring to escape the people of Middle-earth and the dark things that dwell there; for we heard that there was Light in the West. But now we learn that the Light is beyond the Sea. Thither we cannot come where the Gods dwell in bliss. Save one; for the Lord of the Dark is here before us, and the Eldar, wise but fell, who make endless war upon him. In the North he dwells, they say; and there is the pain and death from which we fled. We will not go that way.’”

“To corrupt of destroy whatsoever arose new and fair was ever the chief desire of Morgoth; and doubtless he had this purpose also in his errand: by fear and lies to make Men the foes of the Eldar, and bring hem up out of the east against Beleriand.”

turgon_by_matsumotosensei-d6w3kp0

Turgon by MatsumotoSensei

Discussion questions
– Bëor left his people to go with Felagund. Was it selfish of him?
– We see another instance of Melian keeping information from Thingol. Why do you think she hid her vision about one of the Men coming through the Girdle?
– Was Amlach lying about being present at the meeting, or was it a trick of Morgoth’s?
– Witnessing the death of Men hit the Elves pretty hard. Do you think avoiding witnessing the decline of old age had anything to do with why they pulled away?
– After the way Thingol has refused to assist others (except for giving the Haladin the forest of Brethil), do you think any would be willing to help him if Doriath fell under attack?

Bonus material
The Royal Line of Numenor by enanoakd
Stunning Tolkien fan art by Jian Guo

Have answers for the discussion questions, more questions, or favorite quotes? Whatever you’re feeling about Chapters 17-18 of The Silmarillion, share it with us in the comments! You can hit me up on on Twitter as well. If you do tweet or make any other social media posts about the book, be sure to add the #NerdistBookClub hashtag so everyone can find your thoughts.

One more thing: what would a book club be without prizes? If you’re still with me, come over to Twitter and let me know, and I’ll send you a virtual sticker.

Come back for Part 8 next Tuesday, August 26, at 10:30am PST. It’s all about Chapter 19 and Beren and Lúthien.

Top image: Huor and Hurin Approaching Gondolin by DonatoArts

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31 comments

  • To address some of your initial points first:

     

    – I don’t know if it’s fair to judge Thingol too harshly for his overprotective behavior. When you consider everything that has happened around him and Doriath, even before the Noldor returned, it’s more understandable that he’d want to defend Doriath from Morgoth’s power. And then clearly, looking at Turgon and Gondolin, you know, Thingol’s not alone in his thinking.

     

    – It’s too bad Haleth couldn’t figure more significantly into the broader events of the book, cause she is awesome. But she is a human, and this part of the Silmarillion alone covers the lifespans of several human generations.

    – C18. You have to consider that “spoilers” don’t really apply to Tolkien’s tales in the way we try to avoid them today. Because in-universe, the Sil is a collection of Arda’s histories and legends in Bilbo’s house, that he collected from other sources. And as Greeks would have known the general story of Achilles even before hearing a new singing of the Iliad–so deeply were those stories part of their culture and embedded in their collective consciousness–so too with the inhabitants of Middle-Earth being familiar with these stories. That’s why “spoilers” shouldn’t be a main concern for us; sure, I’m not gonna spoil anyone cause that would be rude, but when the book does it, you have to realize it’s because it’s reflecting that style, that cultural and historical familiarity with its “primary audience,” who are obviously fictional readers but whom we are also being treated as.

     

    – I don’t think I’d call Fingolfin’s charge stupid. For one thing, it was one of the most badass moments in all of Middle-Earth’s history, and that passage is one of the few I really remember clearly from reading as a kid, it was that spectacular. Also, you have to remember he had no news of any other goings on of the battle. He thought everything and everyone was already lost, so why not go challenging the enemy head on?

    – Beleriand is definitely a dimmer place now, and as Sinatra says, the best is yet to come. 

    – If you’re wondering about the general female absence, it’s unfortunate, but I don’t think it’s too surprising. I think the answer is just simply “1930s fantasy.” I mean, doesn’t that say it all? That’s why PJ and crew decided to add Tauriel to the Hobbit movies.

    • Excellent points!  Thank you for posting. I’ve also enjoyed your comments on the other threads as I slowly caught up. :-)
      I think there’s more to Tolkien’s not having as many women – some is the era, but I do think he also really did value women in his stories.  Tolkien leaves a LOT of important stuff kind of behind the scenes – we can feel that it’s there, but we don’t see it (even A&A’s love story just ends up in the Appendices).  
      Eowyn is a great example of how it’s not just 1930s attitudes towards women.  She is trusted with great responsibility without question from the start. She proves herself an able soldier (not to mention having one of the most kick-ass scenes in literature, “I am no man!”).  And she learns not that “war is no place for a woman” but that war is no place for anyone (something I think Tolkien took away from WWI), and certainly not a way to run away from her troubles. Like Sam, another great and unexpected hero, she devotes herself to creating, not destroying, and not dominating. That’s awesome and well-rounded, and a smaller role that hits a lot of big Tolkien themes. :-) 

      • I think the issue of notable women should be approached carefully. From our standpint we have particular bench marks about what makes a woman’s precense felt. Tolkien didnt exist in that time, so he wasnt going to write them to our standards. But to be fair, look at how women in other books and cultures were written and seen as during that time, and he could definiely be described as more feminist than his contempories, even if not feminist enough for us

      • Accidentally deleted in post re-arrange- imagine LotR without the women, and it becomes clear how important they were to the story, even though they got less “screen time.”  :-) 

  • LotR relevance: Aragorn wears the Ring of Barahir!
    2) I think Melian hid what she saw because she saw farther than Thingol and knew him well.  As a maia and one with the gift of such sight, she understands better than he that there are larger purposes being carried out. If she told him, his actions would be predictable: reinforce his borders, deny entrance, etc. Melian seems to believe that the entrance of the man is necessary for some reason and won’t interfere.
    3) I think it was a trick of Morgoth’s. It’s exactly the sort of thing he’s been doing this whole time, sowing dissent and wearing false faces. I don’t see why Amlach would disavow his own words so shortly afterwards without explaining that he had changed his mind.  Another possibility would be possession of some sort I guess, but more likely some servant of Morgoth imitated Amlach’s appearance. They do seem able to change their appearances (as Sauron does a few times). 
    Other thoughts: Tolkien wrote great women; even in a few lines I feel like Haleth is a better-rounded character than some of the Disney princesses who are the stars of their own movies. What Tolkien didn’t do was make there only be one way to be powerful or great. Tolkien sees value in all sorts of ways of living, not just holding power or wielding a sword, so even as a woman who likes to see female characters kick butt, I think it’s great to see a variety and love that female characters are fully realized and heroic, honorable, unique, or even bad for the baddies, without having to fit a particular mold. Women can be just as cool as men – just as brave, just as good leaders, just as fearsome fighters – without being “unwomanly.” 

    • I didn’t know that about the ring! Thanks for pointing that out.

      You’re right – variety in female characters is great and strong doesn’t just mean physical strength. I agree that Tolkien gives Haleth incredible depth given her brief appearance.

  • Ok, so one: Beor decisions to leave with Finrod wasn’t selfish. It was during a time of peace and his clan wasn’t in any trouble with the elves or orcs.  I think of it as his retirement plan lol.
    Two; I dont think Melian hid anything from thingol, she simply didn’t know who it was who going to break the girdle. And in any case, Thingol didn’t care. At this point he strikes me as similar to Eol and Feanor in that he’s a control freak and doesnt like it being messed with.  it already was with the first war with the Orcs and the arrival of the Noldor.  really Melian is the only thing he has going for the SIndar at this point which is kind of sad. 
    Three: Amlach wasnt lying. The chapter establishes that it was actually morgoth who first found men, just like he was the first to find the elves, and that he immediately started to turn or destroy them. Having a shape shifter talk about the ‘virtues’ of the orcs and that the elves are trouble makers and the valar non existent seems to fall into the pretty well.
    Four: seeing old age for the first time was a definite culture shock for elves, who seem to stop aging at a certain point. I dont think it was why they pulled away though as the differences in their cultures.  To avoid trouble they thought it better to be friendly but segregated from humans.Makes since as that not all the elves liked them. feanor if he had lived may have just killed them off as a threat because he was mad at that point.
    and five; I think the everyone’s opinion of Doriath is ‘fuck them’. Its funny as that all the elves except for Finrod and Galadriel look at each other’s clans as stuck up for similar reasons.  they seem more human than elves which is the most interesting aspect of the book.
    btw; theres almost no point to a spoiler alert with this book lol

  • - Bëor left his people to go with Felagund. Was it selfish of him?
    I would say so. I mean Elves are amazing, but these are your people. what if world leaders would just go “I like you guys, still, but I’m going over here, to hang out with Jesus, ttyl” Worst example ever, but still.
     – We see another instance of Melian keeping information from Thingol. Why do you think she hid her vision about one of the Men coming through the Girdle?
    I would think not to piss him off too much, I mean he doesn’t seem to like people very much. 
    – Was Amlach lying about being present at the meeting, or was it a trick of Morgoth’s?
    My bet is on Morgot’s shenanigans again. That would make things more interesting, after all.
     – Witnessing the death of Men hit the Elves pretty hard. Do you think avoiding witnessing the decline of old age had anything to do with why they pulled away?
    Yes, they saw mortality, something they don’t usually see. They wanted to disconnect form that, to avoid more grief if they made friends with more of the Men. There’s a huge gap between them, and it would make more sense if it was so. 
    – After the way Thingol has refused to assist others (except for giving the Haladin the forest of Brethil), do you think any would be willing to help him if Doriath fell under attack?
    I doubt it. But maybe if he asked nicely with a cherry on top? Maybe if he’d promise to be nicer? I don’t see why not. I believe in forgiving people. 

  • I like that there were a few strong female characters, or at least snippets of them. It’s very important in any novel to have at least one. I think in this particular book it’s handled very carefully and with caution. It’s a good start.

    Morgoth is powerful, but it’s clear he has weaknesses. Which is also great.

  • - Witnessing the death of Men hit the Elves pretty hard. Do you think avoiding witnessing the decline of old age had anything to do with why they pulled away?
     
    I think it may have.  Witnessing death reminded them just how different they were from humans.  It may have also freaked them out some, even thinking that not being immortal was abnormal.

    – After the way Thingol has refused to assist others (except for giving the Haladin the forest of Brethil), do you think any would be willing to help him if Doriath fell under attack?

    I think some would be willing to help in exchange for for something.  Against an enemy like Morgoth, they need all the allies they can get, so they would likely help for that too.

  • I do not see Bëor leaving his people necessarily selfish; they found some safety (for a time) in Beleriand and a representative of a culture that valued them and could teach them great knowledge. When men journeyed into Beleriand they seemed to only have a loose clan-like organizational structure. Once they had established Estolad during Finrod Felagund’s *year* with Bëor’s people, a change of leadership would not be detrimental to his people. In addition, one is left with the impression that any who wished to journey with them would have been welcome since we learn that the Elves did take men into their service to the profit of both peoples. Finrod’s(and later the Noldor in general) relationship with Men was very similar to the relationship the Noldor had with the Valar. In fact, it was similar enough that Morgoth used a very similar tactic to start distrust between Men and Elves. 
    Noticing that, I don’t think Amlach lied about the speech, for if he did, he would not have entered the service of Maedhros who was positioned on the front lines. Was it Morgoth himself? Doubtful, but I’m sure there are many tricks Morgoth could have used to pull that off. 
    Thingol is a king, and after he made his pronouncement there was no discussion. Melian clearly has at least some knowledge about the fact that after the coming of men, the landscape of Middle-earth would be irrevocably changed and Doriath will not be able to hide. However, a king will take counsel when he pleases and Thingol is not without pride. While I am on Thingol and Doriath, I do think that other Elves, particularly those of his kin, would come to aid Doriath should it be under attack from a common foe. Of course, the assistance would be tempered by the risk involved and those who Thingol had spurned might find the venture too great a risk. 
    Bëor’s death gave the Elves plenty to consider and put an exclamation mark on the mortality of Men. Since they knew nothing of what happened to Men after they died, I am sure it was a puzzle to them. At this stage in the Elves’ existence, the short life span of Men must have seemed strange and perhaps a bit cruel. Only in later days, would the Elves know the weariness that must come from being immortal. 
    The fall of Fingolfin is a fantastically epic one-on-one battle. I love that Fingolfin calls out the reluctant Morgoth from his hiding, shaming him into revealing himself or lose the respect of his minions. Although I was grieved at the High King’s fall, Fingolfin had a shot despite being physically outmatched and gave Morgoth permanent reminders of their duel.

  • *One thing I like to imagine is the day-to-day relations in Felagund’s court between Beor and the Elves.  “Let’s have lunch.  How does 80 years from Tuesday sound?”  They would have no conception of a limited span.  Eventually Elves learn this but at the very start it would be unthinkable.

    *My favourite Tolkien art is a painting by John Howe of Fingolfin facing off against Morgoth.

  • - Bëor left his people to go with Felagund. Was it selfish of him?
       I don’t think it was selfish. From a political perspective he was the Beor clan ambassador to the Noldor. More importantly, Finrod and Beor came to be good friends. Friendship and the strength that results from the bond is a repeated theme in Tolkien. This relationship is the first of several pairings of the elder and younger children of Eru that will shape the things to come. Those who out of curiosity and or kindness are willing to step out and embrace other kindreds of the Free Peoples come out better for it even if the ending is bittersweet.   

    – We see another instance of Melian keeping information from Thingol. Why do you think she hid her vision about one of the Men coming through the Girdle?
       Melian is a Maia. She has a much better bead on destiny and fate than her husband…stay tuned.

    – Was Amlach lying about being present at the meeting, or was it a trick of Morgoth’s?
      It’s pretty clear Amlach was not at the council. Who then could it have been? Morgoth? Not in person. How about a minion? Okay, but not an orc, not a Balrog…what about a double dealing, lying, shapeshifting, traitorous former servant of Aule? Would He do? Stay tuned…
     
    – Witnessing the death of Men hit the Elves pretty hard. Do you think avoiding witnessing the decline of old age had anything to do with why they pulled away?
       Elves had witnessed death before either from wounds inflicted by battle or the environment never had an elf just died out of the blue for no apparent reason. Half a year into their lives and they are already old and grey. There are at this point no one yen (144 solar years) old Men (Atani). On the other hand the elves were impressed by the ability of Men to learn quickly and adapt to their environment. Two elven reactions come immediately to mind when dealing with the Secondborn: The more empathetic response to men was expressed by Finrod. Though men and elves are different both have their strengths and both benefit from the other. Through the elves, men gain the knowledge and wisdom of the ages. From men, elves gain a sense of urgency. Humans are a living reminder to elves of “carpe diem”. On the dark side, Curufin and other less scrupulous elves,  might admire their tenacity but wow, you blink and they’re gone. Much better to use their brief lives to serve a larger (read MY) purpose. Besides, how can lives so short be of any real significance (especially compared to ME)?
       
    – After the way Thingol has refused to assist others (except for giving the Haladin the forest of Brethil), do you think any would be willing to help him if Doriath fell under attack?
       Congratulations Amy, on your powers of observation. In the spirit of Tolkien chapter headings, you are 4 for 5 on discussion questions that contain massive spoilers if answered directly.
    So instead allow me to note that Elwe is a big fish in what was a small pond that got a lot larger when the princes of the Noldor arrived in Beleriand. Anybody else around here see the light of the Two Trees but me and my wife? Not until recently…Anyone else sleeping with an angel tonight? I didn’t think so. I’m sure he feels that if anything major occurs in Beleriand he should be consulted (and obeyed. His realm. His rules.). It so happens that this theme is repeated in the character of Thranduil. If you were watching the Desolation of Smaug and wondering what minion of Morgoth crawled up the butt of Legolas’ dad and died, now you know. You can almost hear Peter Jackson say, ” No, no, Lee that was good. You played that like you had a cork up your butt. Now I want you to try it with your forefather Elwe’s fist so far up your butt he can correct your posture just by flipping off your spine.”

    Other Notes:
       1. Ch. 18 is my favorite in the Silmarillion. Fingolfin is the Elven Captain America. He is among the finest Elves in strength of arms and strength of character. His last charge was not an act of stupidity. It was an act of despair. He has followed his fiery brother in an act of faith and and suffered the Ban of the Valar out of loyalty to his kin only to be betrayed by Feanor on the shores of Aman. After a perilous ice/land bridge crossing, he finds out his insane brother has burned all of their misbegotten ships and run off and gotten himself killed by Balrogs. Now as he looks out from his kingdom all he sees is a world Morgoth has set on fire. When he looks to the fiefdom of his remaining (much kinder and more noble) brother, Fingolfin sees nothing but a sea of orcs. The Doom of the Noldor is upon him and now its time to pay the piper. What else is there to do? So, he saddles up his horse and calls out Morgoth. Morgoth comes because of that sting in the back of the neck that Marcellus Wallace has warned about not because he was spoiling for a fight. After the battle and its inevitable outcome his fears were made manifest in seven wounds on his body and the fact that he entered the duel with two feet and left with only one. This only fueled something Morgoth has known all along but refuses to admit. He is flawed.
       Consider that Morgoth has now spent a bit of time with three Silmarils in close proximity to his head. He need only look at his blackened hand to understand that the Light of Creation was anathema to him and that he could never create anything as lasting or as beautiful as even an elf could create. If one elf could create something he could not, what might another elf do beyond his accounting? I think that realization changed Morgoth in such a way that he no longer wanted to control Arda, instead he wanted to watch it burn.  

    2. Since we are highlighting females in Tolkien this week, first let me say you are a week early. The ultimate Tolkien Lady is in the on deck circle. Second, is a shout out to our host Amy. I’ve tried to get several of my female friends who have read LotR to give the Silmarillion a try and none have made it through more than 50 pages into the book. So, thanks for lending your insight and filling the female perspective gap where my friends failed me. On a related note, I’ve always thought that Tolkien’s quantity of women may be low, but his quality of women is high. My favorite passage in all of Tolkien is the death of Theoden and Eowyn and Merry’s  confrontation with the Witch King. It puts a lump in my throat every time I read it.

    3. On a final note let me point out the way in which Finrod introduces himself (and elvenkind) to Men. He sings and makes Music. Tolkien’s world begins and ends in Song. The reader should take note when it is used.        

    • The difference between Thranduil and Thingol chiefly being, the former had not ever seen Valinor or the light of the Trees. Thus the designation Dark Elf (Moriquendi). Basically the difference between Galadriel and Legolas, in terms of that otherworldly, enchanted aura she and Thingol would possess.

      It’s interesting you consider Luthien the ultimate Tolkien Lady. I don’t really know who I’d pick. Eowyn would definitely be up there. You’re right that the quality of the female characters is generally high…I’d be curious if Tolkien ever gave a glimpse into his view on female characters, their roles, etc, even obliquely, like in one of his Letters or something.

    • Thanks for not spilling any spoilers! I appreciate it and I’m glad there are interesting things ahead.

      You make a good point about the quality of women being high. That moment when Eowyn takes on the Witch King is one of my favorite female character moments in all of the books I’ve read, and what Haleth did in this chapter will stick with me for a while.

      And you’re right about noting when Tolkien mentions music. I’ll be sure to give it extra note in the future.

      And thanks for the shout out. :)

  • It’s amusing because sometimes when I read it feels like I’m just reading the word and not taking information in. As such, I couldn’t recall the details of Chapter 17 before coming on here! XD I did read it, though! Honestly honest!

    On the other hand I remembered Chapter 18 and blimey that was impactful! The intensity and action built up so much momentum that the actual fall of Fingolfin was such a hard-hitter! In fact, was there not a sentence or two that tells of him falling, but you’re not sure who was befell until Fingolfin was actually named?! I needed a cuppa after that!

    On another note; it did seem that Chapter 18 could have easily been split into two seperate chapters, with a break after Fingolfin’s fall…However, that was before I realised how long Chapters 19 and 29 would be…! O.O

    – AM