A Dog’s Purpose Full-Wrought: The Trifold Dooms of Huan, Beren, and Lúthien

In Which Sauron Gets His Ass Handed to Him, Beren and Lúthien Cosplay As Bad Guys Then Infiltrate Angband, A Big Wolf Goes Ballistic, and Huan Is Such A Good Boy

We return now to the second half “Of Beren and Lúthien,” Chapter 19 of The Silmarillion. The first half of the story included the first meeting of the titular lovers, the pride and folly of King Thingol, the curse of Mandos falling upon Doriath, and more oaths than you can shake wrathful fist at. Beren accepted the quest to recover a Silmaril from the crown of Morgoth, then got himself and his new friends locked up in Sauron-jail. Which, in turn, led to the sad death of Finrod Felagund. Middle-earth is a slightly darker place now.

Now as previously mentioned, I’ve written about this story twice before, with some shifting emphasis in discussion, but for continued Primer treatment, ...

An Affair To Long Remember: Beren the Mortal and Lúthien the Elfmaid

In Which the Son of Barahir Meets a Girl, Accepts An Impossible Quest To Marry Her, Gets Himself Thrown In the Slammer (of Sauron), and Witnesses the Demise of the Greatest Elf In Arda

Chapter 19, “Of Beren and Lúthien,” is the most famous love story of the First Age, even of Tolkien’s entire legendarium. It is the original adventure romance between a mortal Man and an immortal Elf-maid, the legend of which Aragorn and Arwen’s own tale is an echo in The Lord of the Rings.

I’ve written about this extraordinary yarn twice on Tor.com before, first as a study of Lúthien herself (Lúthien: Tolkien’s Original Badass Elf Princess) and then again when Christopher Tolkien released the stand-alone book in 2017 (Beren and Lúthien and Their Not-So-Little Dog, Too). For a deeper walk-through of that tale, I would encourage you to check those out. ...

What Stories Could An Aragorn-Driven Amazon Series Tell?

what stories could an Aragorn-centric Amazon LOTR Lord of the Rings series tell

The Tolkien fan site TheOneRing.net recently reported on Twitter that the eventual Amazon-acquired Lord of the Rings-based television series “will open its first season centered on a young Aragorn.” It cites this information as coming “from many sources” but offers none of them, which to me means this isn’t exactly absolute. But nothing has popped up to contradict and any chance to discuss the matter is fun, so…

Let’s roll with this. I’ve speculated on a few possibilities before, but with young Aragorn as the protagonist of at least the first season, we can sharpen our focus, take a look at what we know about Aragorn’s upbringing, and hone in on some prospective plotlines.

Now I won’t even talk about what actor(s) should play the legendary ranger and future returning king, because I’m in the seemingly smallish camp of those who prefer a nigh-unknown actor to ...

Morgoth’s Revenge; or, the Battle of Sudden But Inevitable Flame (#FirstAgeProblems)

In Which Morgoth Pulls Out All the Stops, Fingolfin Goes Fey, Orcs Go Hither and Thither, More Men Show Up, and Húrin Comes Into His Own

This is it, folks. Morgoth has had enough of being quarantined. Sure, he prefers lurking in his basement, what with that blasted Sun soaring across the sky each day. But he’ll be damned if he has to stay cooped up with all his Orcs down there while all those Elves frolic through his forests unmolested. That’s right, his. Remember, Morgoth crowned himself King of the World once. As far as he’s considered, the Children of Ilúvatar are all just squatters.

This chapter also includes many names that might be familiar to The Lord of the Rings fans. Gil-galad, Grond, Easterlings, Sauron, and even that ring that Aragorn wears all play a part here. But fair warning: the body count is about to rise.

Dramatis ...

The White Lady, the Dark Elf, and the Staff of Doom

In Which the King’s Sister Flies the Coop and Meets a Tall, Dark, and Handsome Stranger, Inadvertently Sowing the Seeds of Gondolin’s Destruction

The Hidden City of Gondolin is doing great. Peace has prevailed for years; the future looks bright. What can possibly go wrong? Was Ulmo full of baloney or was there something to his warnings about treachery? For once, we’ll stop discussing the doings of whole kindreds of Elves and zoom in on just one family in “Of Maeglin,” the sixteenth chapter of the Quenta Silmarillion. I’m pretty sure the titular character is the quietest and most understated Elf we’ve met thus far, but that’s all right. This is just his origin story.

Yet this chapter has more drama than you can shake a staff of doom at! It bears all the hallmarks of a classic soap opera: betrayals, bad relationships, unrequited love, baby daddies, giant spiders, and ...

Tales from Topographic Beleriand: Gondolin, Galadriel, and the Gates of Sirion

In Which the Noldor Plant Flags and Raise Towers, Ulmo Plays Favorites, Turgon Goes Isolationist, and Galadriel Gets People Talking

If you’ve made it this far into The Silmarillion, dear reader, this is where J.R.R. Tolkien gives you the chance to show your quality. “Of Beleriand and Its Realms,” Chapter 14 of the Quenta Silmarillion, is a literary map, and it’s the one where the professor really nerds out on names, places, and earth science, going nomenclative and topographic to the max. This is his jam. There’s no dialogue, action, or conflict, yet it’s fairly important stage-setting for what’s to come. It even features a not-so-fleeting Lord of the Rings crossover. But I sure hope you like maps!

Fortunately, in Chapter 15, “Of the Noldor In Beleriand,” drama and intrigue are not so scarce. Turgon keeps on keeping on for Gondolin—you know, the Elf city that’s so ...

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Fey and Fury: When Noldor Attack!

In Which Fëanor Goes All Fey, Balrogs Open A Can of Whoop-Ass, and the Oath Gets Well and Truly Underway As the Noldor Reintroduce Themselves to Middle-earth

With the Sindar kingdom of Doriath now established in Beleriand and fenced by the power of Queen Melian, and with Morgoth having stuck himself where the Sun don’t shine, we hit Rewind once again. In this, the thirteenth chapter of the Quenta Silmarillion, “Of the Return of the Noldor,” we go back to the last days just before the first rising of the Moon and the Sun. We also return to Fëanor, who’s got Noldorin boots on the ground in Middle-earth. With him are his sons, his troop of loyalists, and his burning quest of vengeance to achieve. What could possibly go wrong?

This is another very rich chapter and there is a lot of ground to cover. We’ve got Balrog bullies, ...

Advanced Dungeons & Dwarves (and Grey-elves)

In Which the Sindar Put Down Roots, Dwarves Emerge and Get Right To Work, and Melian Puts Up An Orc-Proof Fence

As we should know from The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien likes to tell stories in a sort of zigzag chronology. This tenth chapter, “Of the Sindar,” rewinds the timeline back to when Olwë and his Teleri first “sailed” off to Valinor on Ulmo’s island-boat, filling us in on what’s been happening in Middle-earth ever since. It’s much darker here, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We see what the Teleri have been up to, discover which hardy and hirsute people have finally showed up, then witness the first battle against Morgoth and his Orcs! This all stage-setting for the Noldor’s return. One takeway from this chapter might be: Everything’s not about you, Fëanor, and your people aren’t the only ones we have to care about.

...

The Legacies and Dark Elves of R. A. Salvatore

R. A. Salvatore is an author I can’t quite shake. Let me explain.

I was part of TSR’s target demographic—I think—back when his illustrious Dark Elf Trilogy came out 25+ years ago. I saw the covers of Exile and Sojourn first, with their fiery cave walls, strange cloaks, some grim-faced elf-dude with long white hair…and an awesome black panther! This was a long time ago when a whole lot of novel and D&D game book covers were painted by fantasy art luminary Jeff Easley (among others). I was immediately drawn to the central figure. I had questions. Who was this guy? Hey, has he got a scimitar?! What’s with the crazy pirate earrings? Why the skullcap? Is that panther his friend? Where is this?!

Fast forward some fifteen years later: I published a novel for Wizards of the Coast, penned a second, wrote for both Dragon and Dungeon magazines, and ...

Fëanor Rage-quits Valinor

In Which the Noldor Begin Another (and This Time Regrettable) Game of Follow the Leader and then…WTF Fëanor?!!

When last we left the intrepid Noldor in the first half of the ninth chapter, “Of the Flight of the Noldor,” they were listening to the moody but charismatic Fëanor: first trying to convince them to leave Valinor and pursue Morgoth to Middle-earth, then swearing vengeance against “whoso should hold or take or keep a Silmaril” up to and including anyone there in the audience. Since there is still much exposition to cover in this chapter, it is again easier to summarize what doesn’t happen: The Noldor don’t have a lovely picnic with the Teleri and swap sea shanties. Manwë and Mandos do not keep mum and mind their own business. And Fëanor certainly does not adopt a No Elf Left Behind policy and stand by it.

All these non-events aside, this ...

One thing Tolkien doesn't tell us here—sometimes we're on a need-to-know basis, I guess—but one of the sons of Fëanor, Celegorm, has with him on this trip a big and very valiant wolfhound. This pooch is a Very Good Boy and will one day do some incredible things, unpstaging all the sons of Fëanor (if you ask me). But unfortunately that tale is still ten chapters away!

Melkor Is Rebranded (And Fëanor Goes Under Oath)

In Which Melkor Drops the Other Shoe, Fëanor Rouses a Rabble, and A Promise Is Gravely Made

The dense-but-rich ninth chapter, “Of the Flight of the Noldor,” is like Exposition Central in The Silmarillion. Frankly, it might be easier to summarize what doesn’t happen in this one: Melkor doesn’t stay put. Ungoliant isn’t satisfied. Finwë isn’t long for this world. Fëanor doesn’t let bygones be bygones, nor does he call for solidarity among the Eldar and the Valar. As the Lords of the West sigh wistfully, the Children of the Stars look to eastern shores. And frankly, it’s too much to take in all at once, so this installment will only tackle the first half of this famous chapter.

But let’s get started! That oath of Fëanor’s isn’t going to take itself.

Dramatis personæ of note:

  • Yavanna – Vala, grieving arborist
  • Manwë – King of the Valar, management
  • Fëanor ...
[FYI, if anyone ever tells you Balrogs have wings, fair enough; they’re more likely to be metaphoric, but hey, whatever. In any case, Balrogs cannot fly. Which is not to say they can’t be shown as having wings in artwork. I would argue, at best, that Balrogs can glide.]
The Oath of Feanor, a flowchart by Jeff LaSala for Tor.com, based on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion.

Valinor Darkens (and Ungoliant Sucks)

In Which the Valar Throw a Party, Melkor Takes a Friend, Then Tells the Residents of Valinor Where They Can Stick It (Hint: It’s Where the Light Don’t Shine)

In “Of the Darkening of Valinor,” things are about to get real gloomy in the Blessed Realm. But since its residents don’t know it yet, why not throw a big party? There’s been too much tension in the air; this could be an opportunity to come together in peace and solidarity. Meanwhile, there’s an APB out for Melkor. He knows he can’t stick around, but before he skedaddles for good, he’s got one last trick for his old buddies. To pull it off, he recruits a particularly unsavory and many-legged ally. Remember old Shelob? In The Two Towers, we were told that she was “the last child of Ungoliant to trouble the unhappy world.” But who, exactly, is that?

...

Enter the Silmarils! (U Can’t Touch Them)

In Which the Prize Jewels of the Noldor Are Made, Everyone Gawks, and Melkor Is—Surprise!—Outed As A Big, Big Jerk

In “Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor,” we see, at last, the pièce de résistance of all Elvendom. The Silmarils are the reason for the treason and the best excuse for this book’s kick-ass title. How and why they come to be made is a bit mysterious, but then we move right along to see the reactions they elicit in all who behold them—their maker, other Elves, the Valar. Not to mention Melkor. We’ll also learn how everyone’s favorite ex-Vala pisses in the well of paradise, inspires weaponsmithing, and pits brother versus brother.

Dramatis personæ of note:

  • Fëanor – Noldo, prodigal prince
  • Finwë – Noldo, disappointing dad
  • Fingolfin – Noldo, righteous prince
  • Melkor – Ex-Vala, general asshole

Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the ...

In Defense of Tolkien’s Deus Ex Machina

Much has been said—over and over again and usually with well-intentioned sciolism—about those blasted Eagles in The Lord of the Rings.

There is actually precious little written about Tolkien’s imperious birds of prey, and I suppose that’s why it’s easy to armchair criticize the good professor for his use of them as eleventh-hour saviors. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some important distinctions to make. And what’s not to love about giant raptors? Since the rocs of Eastern legends and Marco Polo’s apocryphal adventures, everyone is fascinated by the idea of big birds, right?

So to sum up everyone’s problem: why didn’t one of the Eagles just fly the One Ring straight to Mt. Doom, or at least carry Frodo there, and just be done with it? Or heck, why not a whole convocation of them? Some readers and nitpicky moviegoers regard this as some kind of plot hole… ...

Eagles to the Carrock
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Everything’s Coming Up Fëanor

In Which Arda’s Greatest Overachiever Steps Up and Melkor Is Released On Good Behavior

In the sixth chapter of The Silmarillion, “Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor,” we’re given a short but impressive intro on the guy whose actions will upset the geopolitical foundations of Elvendom in the near future. We met him in the previous chapter and even got as far as the names of his kids, but now we’re taking a step back to look at his early life: the intensity of his birth, the tragedy of his mother, and the dilemmas of his father. Fëanor has so much to offer, and some of it will be to the betterment of all, and some…not so much. There is a bit of a call-back in his nature to the Ainulindalë, to the secret fire and to another who went often alone seeking greater power.

Speaking of ...

The first written alphabet used by the Eldar was invented by a Noldor loremaster named Rumil. But now Feanor comes along and improves upon that one, officially establishing the writing system known as Tengwar. You've likely seen it in different forms, or modes, elsewhere in the legendarium, such as in the "fiery letters" form.
Melkor's Hate List: (pretty much everything, but especially...) Iluvatar; Varda; the Sea; Tulkas; beauty of the Earth in its Spring; Men (when they show up); the riding of Orome; the Eldar

Here, There, and Everywhere: Sundered Elves and the Valar Who Love Them

In Which An Elf Lord Sees About a Girl While His Westward-Venturing Friends Take an Unexpected Cruise

“Of Thingol and Melian” is a super short chapter that introduces us to two major characters of the First Age even as it brings them together. “Of Eldamar and the Princes of the Edalië,” meanwhile, tells us how all those Oromë-following Elves make it across the Great Sea to join the Valar on the continent of Aman. And just who the heck are these Elves anyway? Well, Tolkien introduces us to them in floodgate fashion, so I’ll focus on discussing the most important ones. One particularly interesting thing about these two chapters is that they’re entirely Melkor-free! That’s right: he’s locked up for “three ages,” however long that is. Now that doesn’t mean there’s no evil in the world—this is Arda Marred, after all—but at least its primary dealer has been contained.

Oh, ...

Elves, Balrogs, and Nazgûl: 16 Possible Plots for the Lord of the Rings TV Series

The Witch-king of Angmar Peter Xavier Price Lord of the Rings

Queen Berúthiel’s cat is out of the bag! Amazon made its bewildering announcement last week that it has acquired the rights to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings novels” into a multi-season television show of some kind. Which means it’s obviously time for wild speculation and baseless, unrequited yearning.

What I won’t do right now is overthink this. We just don’t know too much. And now the news is out that Christopher Tolkien himself is no longer part of the Tolkien Estate, which does explain a little bit about what’s going on. As a Tolkien nut, I’m only a little anxious because I’m not particularly fond of where the fantasy genre is at, in relation to television (and I realize I may be alone in that), and I’d hate to see his world sullied by greedy hands in similar fashion. But there is always ...

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Much Ado About Eldar (And Much To Do About Melkor)

In Which the Firstborn Come To, Melkor Gets His Comeuppance (For Now), and Elves Play Follow the Leader

“Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor” finally puts the Firstborn of the Children of Ilúvatar on the board. And there is, of course, much fuss and bother about these Elves, but there’s also some real trouble as Orcs are conceived in their image. We will also see the last of the land-smashing, Valar-based battles for thousands of years and the start of the great Elven trek. You know all that talk of sailing into the West in The Lord of the Rings? This is where that all begins.

Dramatis personæ of note:

  • Melkor – ex-Vala, maker of misery
  • Yavanna – Vala, militant flower child
  • Varda – Vala, stargazer, starmaker
  • Tulkas – Vala, bruiser
  • Mandos – Vala, total doomster
  • Oromë – Vala, Elf-searching hunter
  • Ingwë, Finwë, and ...
Doom! A fun and dramatic word—either noun or verb—and it gets used nearly a hundred times in The Silmarillion! While it can mean "ruin and death, in the context of Tolkien's world it usually just means "judgment or destiny." When Mandos says that the Elves are doomed to awaken in starlight, he only means that's what was meant to me, what was fated. So it doesn't always have to mean catastrophe. If say, Mandos tells you that it is your doom to eat a ham sandwich, well then I hope you like ham.
When the text says "stars," it doesn't necessarily mean great spheres of plasma light years away from the Earth. Think more of the word's first definition in the Oxford English Dictionary (which a young Tolkien totally wrote some entries for!): "A fixed luminous point in the night sky which is a large, remote incandescent body like the sun." In these mythic chapters, the definition is deliberately vague—though some constellations correspond to real-world ones (the Valacirca is Ursa Major, or the Big Dipper).
Melkor's Hate List: (Pretty much everything, but especially...) Iluvatar, Varda, the Sea, Tulkas, beauty of the Earth in its Spring, Men (when they show up), the riding of Orome

Dwarves, Interrupted and the Promise of Ents

In Which An Old Married Couple Squabble, Dwarves Are Stopped Short, and Ents Are Recollected.

In “Of Aulë and Yavanna,” two of the most industrious members of the Valar—who just happen to be married—get antsy over their work… with unexpected results. This chapter is a sort of in-world spoiler that Dwarves are going to show up later in the book, and so will Ents (to a lesser degree). Since both races are known well to readers of The Lord of the Rings, this chapter almost feels like fan service on Tolkien’s part. But of course it’s much more, since we’re also witnessing Ilúvatar’s policy, in real time, concerning what he does and does not allow in his creation. This is a short chapter but there’s still much to learn from it. In the case of Aulë, the master of all earthworks, Ilúvatar is both stern and obliging. In the ...

Revisiting Gene Wilder’s Classic Horror-Comedy Haunted Honeymoon

Have you got a favorite movie that was either a total bomb at the box office or no one else seems to have ever seen? I’ve got a few, but given the fact that Halloween is nigh, I’d like to talk briefly about one item high on my list right now: the woefully unsung Haunted Honeymoon, which seldom gets mentioned whenever Gene Wilder himself does. This is my Young Frankenstein, my Willy Wonka. And by that I mean a movie starring Gene Wilder that’s close to my heart. I assume we all have one.

Let’s start with a few selling points about Haunted Honeymoon.

  • It came out in 1986—you know, the same year some of you may have seen either Top Gun or Troll in theaters (but probably not both)—but the story takes place during the golden age of radio dramas in the late ’30s.
  • It’s one of ...
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