The whole of the Quenta Silmarillion comes down to this. What has passed is prologue. The hero comes who will stand before the throne of the Valar and redeem both Elves and Men, ending the Doom of Mandos and the Oath of Fëanor.
My understanding is that Tolkien discovered the name of Eärendil in one of his old Saxon texts at a young age and was asked by a friend what the story was behind that name. Tolkien replied that he did not know, but that he would find out. This is presumably the seed that germinated into the saga of Middle-Earth as we know it today, which also explains why the first tales of Arda come to us from the end of The Silmarillion. He built those first and worked backwards, as every good prophecy builder should. It gives me a chill of awe to consider all of this in context now that I’ve made it this far. Eärendil would ultimately stand as the astronomical explanation for the Morning Star (Venus) and as a Christ-like redeemer of all and avenger against evil in Professor Tolkien’s “not 1:1 allegory” of his Catholic faith. On a personal note, there’s a passage near the very end of Revelation that reads as Christ calling himself “the bright and Morning Star.” While I’m not Christian, I like stories to make some kind of sense. That’s really the point of any mythology through the ages, to make allegorical sense of things. This one reference that used to bug the crap out of me because the Morning Star is typically a reference to Lucifer (himself originally a borrowed lesser Roman sun god). This is, of course, problematic to the mythos of Christianity, especially as a surface reading for the masses, most of whom being blissfully unaware of this line… funny, that. Then again, there is very little about the writings of John of Patmos that are straightforward on the surface due to the nature of prophecy and attempting to subvert a Roman authority who might read it. While I’m sure there are theological treatises out there that the learned and devout can point to and argue, I have yet to see one that actually holds up in this regard to my satisfaction (and believe me, I’ve done the homework back in the years when such details mattered to me). It doesn’t matter right now. I have no axe to grind, and I won’t debate it here, so please spare me any proselytizing. Those of faith can answer it for themselves in some other forum. For me, this is about Tolkien.
So back on point, it stands to reason that Tolkien, as a man of both faith and superior scholarship, would also be more than aware of this troubling bit of wordplay, and as a man of faith he would certainly not accuse his Savior of identifying himself as Lucifer, nor would he allow for such an interpretation to stand unanswered. For Tolkien, that simply would not do. One huge takeaway from this story for me is that this is perhaps Tolkien offering his own explanations in an effort to force that reference into some kind of metaphorical sense. It gives me a grin to think of how he may have wrestled with this concept with his well-known, steadfast determination and pieced this story together based on all that he understood from a variety of sources. So from here, Eärendil stands as a beacon of hope against the darkness well into the Third Age, which now better informs my own reading of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as much as anything else I’ve read in The Silmarillion thus far. So without further adieu, let’s discuss this chapter.
Eärendil, son of Idril and Tuor and lord of Sirion, married Elwing, daughter of Dior. She bore him two sons, Elrond and Elros. Propelled by the need to find his parents and plea for the help of the Valar, he built a ship, called Vingilot, with the aid of Cirdan. Elwing stayed behind while. Eärendil confronted the enchantments around Valinor but could not pass. With his heart turned to Elwing, he returned to Beleriand.
Maedhros repented of his Oath and left Elwing in peace for a time, though she still bore the Silmaril. That Oath menaced the remaining sons of Fëanor. They sent letters of friendship laced with demands for the return of the Silmaril. When refusal came, the sons and their armies marched upon Sirion, resulting in the third of the Elven kinslaysings. Sirion was laid waste, with with the only surviving sons being Maedhros and Maglor. The survivors of Sirion fled to be with Cirdan and Gil-galad, relating the tale of the capture of Elrond and Elros, and that Elwing had cast herself into the sea with the Silmaril.
Ulmo bore Elwing out of the sea, giving her the form of a bird with the Silmaril upon her breast. She flew to Eärendil’s ship, and though he did not know her, he cared for her, discovering her true form come morning. In a surprise move, Maglor, in pity, fostered Elrond and Elros as his own.
Eärendil bound the Silmaril to his brow, and with Elwing and his three loyal mariners, they sailed into the west, beyond the enchantments of Valinor, and became the first of mortal Men to set foot upon those shores. He bade his companions to stay behind, set to bear the wrath of the Valar alone. Elwing refused and accompanied him anyway. A the pass of Calcirya, he went alone for that was his fate. For Valinor, it was a day of festival. Note that at every point in The Silmarillion thus far, a festival has been a turning point (usually negative) for the entirety of the story. There were few Elves in Tirion, and those who kept watch on the walls spied the Silmaril and sped forth to Valimar. Seeing Tirion deserted, Eärendil feared the worst in the Blessed Realm and turned back for the sea. He was stopped by Eonwë, the herald of Manwë, who bade him to come before the Valar. There Eärendil pled forgiveness for the Noldor, and for the Men and Elves, pity and aid. The Valar discussed in counsel, and it was Manwë who decided to grant the plea on condition. Eärendil and Elwing should never again walk in Middle-Earth, and being half-Elven, they would be forced to choose to be counted among either Men or Elves. The same choice would befall their sons, Elrond and Elros. Because of Lúthien, Elwing chose the Elves, and Eärendil chose likewise not wishing to be parted from Elwing, though his heart lay more in kindred with Men. The mariners were given a boat and sent back to the east. Vingilot was hallowed and passed through the Door of Night into the heavens. Alone upon Vingilot, Eärendil journeyed with the Silmaril upon his brow, appearing as a star in the heavens. Elwing was given a tower. Learning the language of seabirds, they taught her to fly, and when Eärendil returned to Valinor every so often, she rose to meet him.
The new star was seen by all in the east, giving hope to the Elves. They named the star Gil-Estel, the Star of High Hope. Morgoth was filled instead with doubt, but in his pride, he believed none would come against him again in open battle. He believed the Noldor forever sundered from the Valar, who in turn would sit and do nothing. The Valar came with the Vanyarin Elves and the Noldor who had stayed in Valinor. The Teleri would not go, but listened to Elwing (who was of their blood through Dior). They sent mariners into the east, but none would step from the ships onto the land.
The armies of the west and north met upon Anfauglith. No Elves of Middle-Earth marched in that battle, but those remaining of the three Houses of the Edain did so and avenged their ancestors upon Morgoth. Some Men of the east sided with Morgoth, and the Elves would not forget it.
Most of the Balrogs were destroyed, though some escaped into the deep recesses of the world along with most of the Orcs (I’m thinking of Moria and Durin’s Bane here). Wonder why we didn’t see dragons at Gondolin? Morgoth was saving them for an emergency. Here, he unleashes the winged dragons, including the largest of his kind, Ancalagon the black. Eärendil drops out of the sky upon Vingilot with the birds, captained by Thorondor of the Great Eagles. The battle would last until morning, wherein Eärendil slew Ancalagon, the dragon’s body crushing the last of the towers of Thangorodrim. Little was left of the realm of Morgoth save for the Dark Lord himself, cowering the depths of Angband. He sued for pardon but was instead captured. The Silmarils were taken by Eonwë, the iron crown beaten into a collar for his neck, whereby he was again bound with the great chain Angainor. The captives of Angband were freed. The force of the battle unleashed the sea. Some areas were flooded, the courses of rivers were changed, hills crushed, valleys raised.
Eonwë summoned the Elves of Beleriand to leave Middle-Earth. Maedhros and Maglor would not answer for Eonwë held the Silmarils. Eonwë claimed their deeds had nulled their claim; the Silmarils must go into the west. Maglor, wearied, wished to answer the summons and stand judgment, but Maedhros persuaded him otherwise. They crept, disguised, into Eonwë’s camps, slew the guards, and prepared to die in battle against the whole of the camps. Eonwë let them escape, each with a Silmaril. Maedhros’ hand burned with unbearable pain, and he understood his right to it truly ended. He cast himself and the Silmaril into a fiery chasm. Maglor cast his Silmaril into the sea, and he wandered the shores in lament.
The Elves of Beleriand were pardoned by both the Valar and the Teleri, and the Doom of Mandos was ended. Some dwelt upon the island Tol Eresseä. Cirdan, Galadriel and Celeborn, Gil-galad and Elrond (who chose to be counted among the Elves) remained in Middle-Earth. Elros chose to be counted among Men.
Morgoth was chucked into the Timeless Void beyond the Doors of Night with a guard around him, including the watchful protectorship of Eärendil. His realm destroyed, the hatred that he had sown in the hearts of Elves and Men had taken root. This is the fate of Arda marred, and it was a hatred that would persist into the Third Age as a challenge to be overcome.
If I might, I want to reference another mythological mentor of mine, George Lucas, as his work directly refers to Morgoth and later to Sauron. In Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Master Yoda warns young Anakin Skywalker, the future Darth Vader:
“Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you.”
Is fear not the primary seed that motivated both of our Dark Lords in Tolkien’s Legendarium? Is suffering not the end result for both their reigns and their personal beings? Bringing this back to Lucifer, both Biblical and within the pages of Milton’s Paradise Lost, is this not the motivation for Lucifer, the fear that humanity would supplant himself in the eyes of God, and the hate from which was born the arrogance to believe he could do better than God Himself? Vader would end in a hell of his own making, burned, dismembered, and trapped inside a mechanical suit clinging to life through hatred while kneeling in the same fear he is meant to personify to an unforgiving master, while Lucifer would be cast down, claiming in his spite that it was better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven. So we see it with Morgoth, defeated and once more chained, and with Sauron, ultimately a disembodied Eye, deaf to the music of Middle-Earth, and constantly searching for the One Ring that embodied his will and held his power. Truly timeless stuff, drawn from somewhere deep within our own collective subconscious where such themes resonate and echo into eternity. It’s that same echo, casting its equal and opposite resonance that makes Eärendil the hope of hopes for the peoples of Middle-Earth as the counterpoint that rises as a star in the darkness.
Here endeth the Quenta Silmarillion.
There are two more large sections / chapters remaining in The Silmarillion proper. As there are no breaks in them, we’ll be taking two weeks each for these to give them their proper due.