Grace Under Pressure: The Rise of Númenor

Wherein the Dúnedain Are Made Better, Stronger, Faster…Are Gifted With Huge Tracts o’ Land…and It Just Might Not Be Enough

In The Silmarillion, we don’t spend quite enough time in the Second Age to really get to know it—a chapter and a half, at best. And rather than walk through what does follow the First Age chronologically, Christopher Tolkien—who curated all of this for us after his father’s death—presents the next two ages of the history of Middle-earth in two basic pieces. Each overlaps the other but centers on its own events.

The first of these is the Akallabêth, a word that means “the Downfallen,” and specifically refers to the figurative and literal sinking of Númenor. You can always count on J.R.R. Tolkien to tell you something falls before he tells you it’s even a thing. Well, Númenor was a thing, and even casual readers of ...

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth (the Man, the Myth, the Coffee Table Book!)

Many fans of J.R.R. Tolkien already know that there is, right now, a free and rare exhibit of the professor’s many works at Oxford University’s Bodleian Libraries running through the rest of October. It’s a dragon’s hoard of hand-drawn maps, illustrations, and book drafts—many of which have never been presented publicly before—all on display, along with an assortment of wonderfully nerdy and decidedly hobbitish accoutrements like Tolkien’s writing desk, pencils, chair, and smoking pipes. And some of us are also giddily excited about that same exhibit coming to the Morgan Library & Museum in New York next year. It’s a veritable Elf-studded, high fantasy equivalent of the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage in the Bronx or the Mark Twain House in Connecticut.

The exhibit is called Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth and from what I’m hearing, it’s any Middle-earth geek’s delight. But it’s also finite. By mid-May next year, ...

Morgoth Is Rendered Null and Void In An All-Out War (of Wrath)

In Which Morgoth Gets His Ass Handed To Him, the Last Sons of Fëanor Find Time To Make One More Bad Decision, and Beleriand Starts Taking On Water

Well, we’re down to it at last. The final showdown of the First Age, which gets less page space than any of the Wars of Beleriand—and yet it’s the greatest conflict of them all. We’ve not seen this sort of mayhem since the Valar mopped the floor with Morgoth back when his library card still read “Melkor.” And that was arguably a more discrete event, since the Valar were then trying to shelter the newly awakened Elves!

The second half of Chapter 24 is a bit like the rushed ending of a really great novel—something even the best authors can be guilty of. But it’s not the ending of The Silmarillion, just the Quenta Silmarillion, the history of the ...

‘Not the first,’ Mandos said, but they did not understand his word...

Eärendil the Mariner and the Last Crusade (Against Morgoth)

In Which Eärendil Boldly Goes Where No Man Has Gone Before, Ulmo Gives Him the Bird, the Sons of Fëanor Go Too Far, and the Valar Have a Group Huddle

The final chapter of the Quenta Silmarillion is upon us, whether we would wish it or not: “Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath” wraps up the First Age with far more drama, conflict, and beauty than the text itself can really contain. Still, after watching Morgoth push the peoples of Middle-earth around for so long, it’s gratifying to see the Valar take action as a team again. That said, although this chapter isn’t especially long, so much important stuff happens that I’ll be discussing it in two installments.

Now, we know from The Lord of the Rings that the son of Idril and Tuor—Eärendil the Blessed, Eärendil the Wanderer—is a mariner. We know because one day ...

When Tuor Met Ulmo, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let Gondolin Fall

In Which Tuor Takes a Littoral Walking Tour, Ulmo Tells All, Gondolin Is Given An Eviction Notice, and Turgon Loves Too Well the Work of His Hands

Chapter 23 of The Silmarillion, “Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin,” introduces us to a young man every bit as heroic as fellow mortals Beren One-hand and Túrin Turambar, but he’s given far less page time. Yet Tuor’s role is vital; his descendants will include famous names like Elrond, lore-master of Rivendell, and Elrond’s brother, who also happens to be the founder of Númenor and the ancestor of Aragorn.

The story of the fall of Gondolin is the first of the three great tales that Tolkien dreamed up before the rest of Middle-earth—the other two being the Tale of Tinúviel (Beren and Lúthien) and the Tale of the Children of Húrin (Túrin Turambar, et al.). And geez, given that he ...

Tragical Misery Tour (of Húrin) and the Return of the Sons (and Jewel) of Fëanor

In Which Morgoth Plays His Last Húrin Card, A Silmaril Raises the Stakes, Dwarves Play Too Close to the Chest, Thingol Folds, Ents Are Wild, and Menegroth Collapses like a House of Cards

In Chapter 22, “Of the Ruin of Doriath,” it’s finally time to say goodbye to Beleriand’s first kingdom of the Eldar, one whose roots began in Chapter 4 when a Teleri Elf-lord named Elwë met a goddess in the woods, changed his name, and decided to tarry indefinitely in Middle-earth. But if there’s one lesson to be learned in Tolkien’s legendarium, it’s that nothing lasts forever…even the most beautiful and majestic of works—maybe especially those. Appreciate it while you can.

Sadly, it’s the aftermath of the Tale of the Children of Húrin (especially the short, if storied, life of Túrin Turambar) that triggers the end of Doriath, as Morgoth manipulates his most famous “guest” in order ...

Old Man Shakes Fist At Cloud

A Series of Unfortunate Choices (Made By the Children of Húrin)

In Which the Son of Húrin… Well… It’s Hard to… Oh, It’s All Just the Worst

As Túrin confronts the dreaded father of all dragons on the doorstep of Nargothrond, it’s time for us to confront the second half of the Tale of the Children of Húrin as summarized in Chapter 21 of The Silmarillion. Here the tale widens, as we are reminded through new tragedies that Túrin isn’t the only doomed child of Húrin—nor the only one yoked by the curse of Morgoth.

We left off with Túrin operating under the name of Mormegil, the Black Sword, where his coming to Nargothrond had unfortunately spelled out its own ruin after some crummy choices. If you haven’t read part one of this tale, consider doing so before reading on…

Dramatis personæ of note:

  • Túrin – Man of constant sorrow, cursed hero
  • Glaurung – Dragon, provocateur extraordinaire
  • Morwen – ...

The Six Degrees of Túrin Turambar

In Which the Son of Húrin Is Raised Among Elves, Goes Out to Seek His (Mis)fortune, and Becomes a Host of Household Names While At Least Trying to Not Wreck All of Beleriand

The fantastical yet tragic story that became Chapter 21, “Of Túrin Turambar,” is one that J.R.R. Tolkien had worked on in the earliest days of his created world, before there was a legendarium. I mean, the story’s outline spawned The Silmarillion itself. And because it’s such an important one and, well,  a long one, I’m going to tackle it in two parts, as I did with Beren and Lúthien. I’ll mostly discuss the abridged version of the tale as it’s told in The Silmarillion (itself being an abridged account of what appears elsewhere).

And, look, it’s a grim one. This is not a fairy story with a happy ending featuring dive-bombing, eucatastrophic Eagles. It’s a ...

Angband Strikes Back; or, The Battle of Unnumbered Tears

In Which the Noldor Regroup (Mostly), War is Renewed, Dwarves Join the Fray, Dragons Are Unleashed, Men Prove to Be Faithful and/or Faithless, and Húrin Wears a Very Special Coat of Arms

Well, we’re way past the middle of The Silmarillion. If there was a line chart that showed the fortunes of the Elves in the First Age, we’ve been seeing the data points starting to tank. The first big drop was the Battle of Sudden Flame, but now we’ve come to Chapter 20, “Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad,” and this is when things really go south.

Literally, as well as figuratively: As the Noldor try to rally and regroup and gather what allies they can for a retaliation against Morgoth, the Dark Lord proves that he’s been thinking about war a lot more than they have and still has untold strength. And in this chapter, his arm grows ...

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.