The Silmarillion – Quenta Silmarillion: XX. Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad

This chapter is book-ended by things that should belong to the chapters on either side of it.  Or is it just me?  At the beginning, we’re told that Beren and Lúthien returned to Middle-Earth to live out their days as mortals until their second death.  Lúthien healed Thingol, but Melian was saddened by whatever she gleaned from her daughter’s fate.  When the lovers left Doriath, they dwelt on an island in Ossiriand, where their son Dior was born.  They were never seen again.

The tale of Beren and Lúthien eventually reached Maedhros in Himring.  Working under the assumption that Morgoth was sufficiently weakened, Maedhros formed a Union with the Elves from all realms, Men, and Dwarves.

Say it with me: The Battle of Unnumbered Tears.  Far easier to say than  “Nirnaeth Arnoediad.”  Far more meaningful for us who don’t speak Tolkienese.  Perhaps Maedhros should have worked under the assumption that after all that back there, the Dark Lord was more than a little pissed off.

The Oath of Fëanor, combined with the misdeeds of Celegorm and Curufin, meant that Orodreth would not march at the world of any son of Fëanor.  Likewise, Thingol refused to join.  The Union of Maedhros formed anyway, under the banners of Fingon, the High King.  They cleared the northern lands of Orcs, but spies from Morgoth were sent in among the Men, undermining the alliance from within.  The plan was to march upon Anfauglith and draw out Morgoth’s armies with a flank from Fingon’s army.  Maedhros’ forces were waylaid by treachery, however, and Fingon received support from his brother Turgon and the army of Gondolin.

The lighting of the beacon that would signal the forces of Maedhros did not come.  A camouflaged host from Angband was on its way, and the Noldorins looked to attack the Orcs, but Húrin stressed they should wait.  Even when the Captain of Morgoth tried to draw out Fingon’s army, they would not attack until the beacon was lit.  The Orcs send forth Gelmir, a lord of Nargothrond who was captured during the Bragollach, cutting off his limbs and his head and threatening to do the same to the other captives.  Gwindor, Gelmir’s brother, was enraged, and he rode forth with several riders until Fingon’s army gave in to the taunt.  They got as far as the stairs of Angband before the entire host of Nargothrond was wiped out, save for Gwindor, who was taken.  Fingon’s host was forced to retreat, and most of the Men of Brethil were killed.  The host of Gondolin, previously restrained, came to their aid where Turgon and Fingon were reunited.  When the host of Maedhros arrived, Morgoth unleashed hell, quite literally.  Uldor turned on the sons of Fëanor in the midst of battle, surrounding them on three sides.

The Dwarves of Belegost wounded the dragon Glaurung and forced his retreat, but their lord Azaghâl was slain in the attack, his body borne away accompanied by a funeral dirge.

The forces of Fingon and Turgon found themselves surrounded by a host three times that of their own armies.  Fingon faced off against Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs.  Fingon was killed, and Húrin urged Turgon to return to Gondolin.  As long as that citadel stood, Morgoth would have reason to fear, so you know Gondolin’s days are officially numbered.  Tuor predicted that of his and Turgon’s line, a new star would rise.  As I understand it, this prophecy is pretty much the point of the entire Silmarillion.  Maeglin overhears it (and says nothing, like always), and the Elves retreat.  The Men of Dor-lómin remain, not wishing to lose their homes and they continued to fight until they hit the stream of Rivil, where they could go no farther.  Huor and his men are slaughtered.  Húrin is captured, though not before chopping off many, many arms from the enemy.  I have to admit, the imagery as Tolkien presents it is pretty freakin’ incredible here.

Morgoth wins through treachery, creating fear between Elves and Men, save for the Three Houses of the Edain.  Fingon and his realm are gone.  The sons of Fëanor are scattered.  The Easterlings are shut off into Hithlum, Morgoth denying them their prize of plunder for their treachery.  All I can say there is, that’s what you get for serving the Dark Lord.  Treachery begets treachery.  The remaining of the Eldar are taken as thralls, forced to work in the mines.  Those who elude capture flee to the wilds.

With Fingon fallen, the Elven reign passes to his son, Gil-Galad (whose name we heard praised in song in The Lord of the Rings).  He had been sent by Fingon to the Havens, where many Elves now fled only to find them in ruin.  Those who escaped were either enslaved or have taken refuge on the Isle of Balar.  Orcs and wolves roam freely across Beleriand.

Turgon seeks Cirdan’s aid, and they send seven ships with messengers from Gondolin to the west to plead for help from the Valar.  Only one, Voronwë, returned, saved by Ulmo from the wrath of Ossë.  He arrives safely at Nevrast.

Fearing and hating Turgon as he does, Morgoth has Húrin brought before him.  Húrin mocks his captor and refuses to give up the location of Gondolin.  Morgoth curses him, his wife Morwen, and all of their children.  Húrin is bound to a chair high upon Thangorodrim where Morgoth could watch the curse unfold.  Húrin never asks for death nor mercy, not for himself, not for his family.

Morgoth orders the dead to be gathered and piled into a hill at Anfauglith.  Only there did grass grow upon that hill, and the servants of Morgoth never again dared to come upon it.

Cheerful stuff, and there’s even darker things to come as Húrin’s heir deals with the fallout, and the Elven strongholds fall one by one.  Hell of a chapter to end out the year.  Hell of a thing to look forward to in the new year too.  Anyone remember the part where all of this started out as a children’s adventure story in The Hobbit?  That idea seems so long ago and vague now…

As a reminder, the next chapter is extra long, so we’re taking two weeks to cover it.  That entry will be posted on 1/14.

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