Loading...
Menu

Biblical Parallels in The Silmarillion

BIBLICAL PARALLELS IN THE SILMARILLION

 

Alfred D. Byrd

 

Copyright © 2016 Alfred D. Byrd

Shakespir Edition

 

Shakespir Edition, License Notes

 

Thank you for downloading this ebook. You are welcome to share it with your friends.This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes,provided the book remains in its complete original form. If you enjoyed this book, please return to your favorite ebook retailer to discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.

 

Photo and cover design by Alfred D. Byrd

 

 

 

 

Table of Contents

 

THE SONG OF THE HOLY ONES

THE GODS OF MIDDLE-EARTH

THE SPRINGTIME OF ARDA

THE COMING OF THE ELVES

THE FALL OF THE NOLDOR

THE COMING OF MEN

THE TALE OF BEREN AND LÚTHIEN

THE TRAGEDY OF TÚRIN TURAMBAR

THE NECKLACE OF THE DWARVES

THE TALE OF GONDOLIN’S FALL

EÄRENDIL’S VOYAGE

THE RISE AND FALL OF NÚMENOR

SECRETS OF THE RINGS

 

 

 

 

THE SONG OF THE HOLY ONES

 

 

(SPOILER ALERT! This chapter summarizes the chapter “Ainulindalë” from The Silmarillion.)

 

The Story

 

Eru Ilúvatar, the One, the All-Father, lived at first alone in the Timeless Halls amid the Void. Out of his thought, he bore the Ainur, the Holy Ones, whom he kindled with the Flame Imperishable. Teaching them to sing, he gave them a theme on which all of them were to sing together.

One of the Ainur, Melkor, to whom Ilúvatar had given the greatest gifts of power and knowledge, went often into the Void in quest of the Flame Imperishable. This, he wanted to use to make things of his own. He did not find it there; it lives only with Ilúvatar. Melkor, however, grew different from the other Ainur as he wandered in the Void.

When the Ainur sang together, Melkor did not sing Ilúvatar’s theme, but put his own themes into the great music. Discord arose. Most of the Ainur stayed with Ilúvatar’s theme, but some of them grew downcast at the discord and lost track of the music; others even followed Melkor’s lead. Twice, Ilúvatar put new themes into the music. Twice, Melkor kept the discord going until Ilúvatar ended the music with a mighty crash.

Ilúvatar, showing the Ainur a vision of what they had been singing, told them that Melkor’s discord but added to the music’s final beauty. In the vision, they saw amid the Void the beautiful world of Arda. Into this there came, as Ilúvatar’s second theme, a company of Ainur to fight Melkor’s discord. Into Arda came, as Ilúvatar’s third theme, the Children of Ilúvatar, Elves and Men. The Children of Ilúvatar got caught up in a terrible conflict that came from Melkor’s themes. Of this conflict, the Ainur did not see the end. This, only Ilúvatar knows.

Ilúvatar showed the Ainur then that he meant to make the vision real. Saying, “Let it be,” he brought into being the universe of That Which Is. The Ainur saw, amid numberless stars, Arda’s disk, formless and empty. The Ainur had to finish Arda by playing in reality the roles in its creation that they had played in song.

Melkor went to Arda along with his followers to chase his own dream of being Arda’s king. Many of the Ainur who had been faithful to Ilúvatar went to Arda, too, from love of what that world would become. There, they became the Valar, the Powers who finish and guard Ilúvatar’s vision. Out of love for the Children of Ilúvatar, the Valar took forms like those of Elves and Men, though, to the Valar, these forms are like suits of clothes that they can put on and take off.

Melkor, too, took a human form, dark and terrible. As the time for the coming of Ilúvatar’s children neared, Melkor and the Valar fought great wars for control of Arda. When the Elves met Melkor, he would become to them Morgoth, the Dark Enemy, of whom all other evil powers were but servants.

 

The Parallels

 

The story of creation as known to Tolkien’s Elves shares much with the Biblical account of it. God, like Ilúvatar, was at first alone in creation’s work. It is written, “Before Me there was no god formed,” and “Yes, before the day was, I am He” (Isaiah 43:10-13; see also Job 38:4-7).

The Ainur in the Elvish tale are like the Biblical account’s angels, whom God made as fiery spirits. It is written, “Who maketh His angels spirits, His ministers a flaming fire” (Psalm 104:1-5). Sages have debated whether God created the angels before the rest of creation, or as part of it on the fourth day, when stars were made (Genesis 1:14-19). Calling stars “angels” comes from the verses in Job, which equates stars with sons of God and speaks of their singing at the creation of all things.

Tolkien’s equivalents of angels are created before anything else is. When Tolkien speaks of the Valar as finishing Ilúvatar’s creation, he parallels an ancient interpretation of Genesis 1 that makes God’s “We” and “Us” include angels as His partners in creation. The concept of angels as partners goes along with Rabbinical Jewish and Mediaeval Catholic lore that speaks of hierarchies of angels, each with an assigned field of duty. (In the next chapter, I shall tell you more of “hierarchies of angels” and of the Valar’s duties.) Many Christian scholars, however, take the “We” and “Us” of Genesis 1 to mean the Trinity, not God and angels.

Melkor, or Morgoth as he will come to be called, is like Lucifer, the fallen angel now known as Satan, the Adversary (Isaiah 14:12-15). The concept of Satan’s having been the highest of angels with the greatest of gifts comes from an ancient interpretation of Ezekiel 28:11-19. Although, in this passage of Scripture, the prophet speaks to the King of Tyre, many see Ezekiel as speaking through the king of a supernatural being that had been in the mountain of God and the Garden of Eden. The word “cherub” elsewhere means a kind of angel (Ezekiel 10:1-22) that was carved onto the lid, or “mercy seat,” of the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:17-22).

In Tolkien’s tale, Melkor is not actually cast out of heaven, but grows estranged from Ilúvatar through fighting the Valar for Arda’s mastery. The concept of an angelic war appears in Scripture in Revelation 12:7-9, which tells of the archangel Michael’s casting the great dragon and his angels to the earth. Michael, as we shall see in the next chapter, may be like the king of the Valar, Manwë.

The dragon is identified with Satan in verse 9 and is said to have drawn a third of the stars of heaven to the earth in Revelation 12:4. Many see the war of Michael and the dragon as yet to come, but an ancient tradition teaches that it took place before, and in view of, humanity’s creation. The English poet John Milton, whose work Tolkien certainly knew, followed this tradition in Paradise Lost. In the Elvish tale, however, the war of Manwë and Morgoth occurs on Arda, not in the Timeless Halls.

Throughout Scripture, angels appear to humans in human form, and “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (II Corinthians 11:14). Tolkien’s Valar wear the human form just as a suit of clothes. Tolkien does, however, parallel an ancient tradition of angels’ (“Sons of God”) marrying and having children with the earth’s peoples (Genesis 6:1-4). As you will see in later chapters, such important characters from The Lord of the Rings as the Elvish Elrond and Arwen and the Mannish Aragorn are all descendants of an Ainu named Melian.

Last, the great crash that ends the Ainur’s music is like the Battle of Armageddon that ends the struggle between Christ and Satan for the earth’s rule (Revelation 16:16; 19:11-20:3). In his writings on Middle-Earth, Tolkien hints at such a struggle at Arda’s end. From his words, we can gather that a fallen hero named Túrin Turambar, of whose tragic life I shall tell you later, will return from death to deal Morgoth a last blow. Afterwards, the Children of Ilúvatar, Elves and Men together, will sing along with the Ainur a new music freed of evil forever.

 

Disclaimer

 

This work holds my own observations based on long reading of Jewish and Christian Scriptures and of Tolkien’s works. Some of my Scriptural parallels are supported by Tolkien’s own letters and commentary on his mythology; others seem to me to be implied by Tolkien’s texts. My observations reflect what I suspect Tolkien felt when he published The Lord of the Rings, but may not reflect what he felt either before or afterwards. The grand mythology encompassing The Silmarillion, The Children of Húrin, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings was always changing while Tolkien was alive. The Lord of the Rings that Tolkien published was not the book that he would have written ten years later.

 

 

 

 

THE GODS OF MIDDLE EARTH

 

 

(SPOILER ALERT! This chapter summarizes the chapter “Valaquenta” from The Silmarillion.)

 

The Story

 

When Eru Ilúvatar made the Song of the Holy Ones real, he gave the Ainur, the Holy Ones, the task of turning chaos into finished work. The Ainur who came to Arda, the earth, where the Children of Ilúvatar, Elves and Men, would live, comprised both greater spirits and lesser spirits. The Elves would call the greater spirits Valar, the Powers of the world; the lesser spirits, Maiar. Men, as far as they even knew of the Ainur, called them ‘gods.’ From ignorance, Men often worshiped them instead of Eru Ilúvatar, their creator.

The Valar consisted of seven great male spirits and seven great female spirits. The ones who will matter in Middle-Earth’s story are as follows:

 

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Manwë, the power of sky and air, the king of Arda. His servants are eagles.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Varda, Manwë’s consort, maker of stars. Her, the Elves revere as Elbereth, Star-Kindler.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Ulmo, the power of the ocean.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Aulë, the power of metal and gems, the great craftsman and the Dwarves’ maker.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Yavanna, Aulë’s consort, the power of vegetation. She made the Ents.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Oromë, the power of the hunt. He will find the Elves at the Water of Awakening.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Mandos, the power of judgment. He keeps in his dim halls the dead of Elves and Men.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Lórien, the power of dreams.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Tulkas, the power of combat. He is Morgoth’s deadliest foe.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Nienna, the power of mourning. Her tears can revive the dead.

 

In Valinor, the Blessed Realm in the West, Manwë and Varda Elbereth live atop the tallest of the earth’s mountains. Thence, they can survey all of Arda at once. To their snow-white mansion, the Elves send prayers to Elbereth, who gave them what they love most, the stars.

Most of the other Valar have mansions in the city of the gods amid Valinor’s plains. There, Manwë calls the other Valar to council. Mandos lives in gloomy halls in the North. Lórien lives in twilit gardens in Valinor’s West. Ulmo lives in a mansion in the waters at the world’s roots. All of the gods can wear human forms, male or female as the Vala’s nature determines, but need no body for life or for use of their gifts.

The Maiar sang with the Valar in the Great Music and came with them to Arda. The Maiar, too, can wear human forms and live in Valinor’s bliss. Just a few of the Maiar enter Middle-Earth’s tales by name. Of the Maiar, the most important are as follows:

 

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Melian, a power of song, the companion of nightingales. She left her service in Lórien’s dream-gardens to sing with her companions in a darkened world; and

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Olórin, another of Lórien’s servants and Nienna’s pupil. He walked among the Elves as one of them and gave them strength. Someday, he would come to Middle-Earth as an elderly wizard dressed in gray and leaning on a staff.

 

Such are the good Ainur. Now, we come to the evil Ainur:

 

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Melkor, known to the Elves as Morgoth, the Dark Enemy, was the greatest Ainu. He shared the gifts of all of the Valar, but was not counted among them. From arrogance, he learned contempt of all but himself. From knowledge without wisdom, he learned to control others with lies. From rage over his inability to control Ilúvatar’s Fire and Light, Melkor turned to darkness. First in the Timeless Halls and then in Arda, he seduced many Maiar to his service. Of these, the most important were as follows:

 

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Sauron, one of Aulë’s servants. Him, Morgoth deceived with promises of power.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. the Valaraukar, the God-Killers, powers of whip and flame. Later times would call them Balrogs.

 

Sauron, maybe the greatest Maia, was at first less evil than his master in that Sauron was evil’s servant, not evil’s cause. When the Valar cast Morgoth into outer darkness at the end of Middle-Earth’s First Age, Sauron refused to beg their forgiveness for his rebellion against them. He hid in Middle-Earth’s East, where he tried to become a master of evil in Morgoth’s image. There, Sauron would make rings…

 

The Parallels

 

The Ainur are to Ilúvatar what the angels are to God. Still, the Ainur are different in many ways from the Bible’s angels.

Tolkien took the Ainur at first from gods of the mythologies — Celtic, Finnish, Greek, and Norse — that he knew and loved. The Ainur’s origin in pagan mythologies accounts for some of their features that contradict the nature of angels in Jewish and Christian Scriptures. For one thing, Scripture never speaks of angels as male and female. Angels get the pronoun “he,” but most theologians teach that angels are sexless. Jesus Himself seems to say so: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25; Luke 20:34-36).

Moreover, the Ainur live in earthly mansions, not, like the Bible’s angels, in heaven with God. The Ainur’s mansions share much with Olympus of the Greek gods, or Asgard of the Norse gods. The Halls of Mandos share much with the Greek Hades and the Norse Valhalla.

Some of the Valar are clear analogs of Greek and Roman gods:

 

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Manwë fills the role of Zeus or Jupiter, though Varda Elbereth, his spouse, is not Hera or Juno.

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Ulmo is like Poseidon or Neptune;

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Aulë, like Hephaistos or Vulcan;

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Yavanna, like Demeter or Ceres. (Demeter, however, was never married to Hephaistos, and there is no analog to Persephone in Yavanna’s life).

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Mandos is like Hades or Pluto; and

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Tulkas, like Ares or Mars.

 

Still, two of Tolkien’s Valar share much with two of the Bible’s angels:

 

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Manwë, as leader of the forces at war with Morgoth, fills the role of the archangel Michael in fighting Satan for the salvation of God’s children (Daniel 10:13,21; 12:1; Jude 1:9; Revelation 12:7-8).

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Mandos, when, as we shall see, he speaks a prophecy of doom upon the rebel Elves of Valinor, fills the role of the archangel Gabriel as the announcer of God’s will (Daniel 8:16-26; 9:20-27; Luke 1:11-20, 26-38).

 

The division of Ainur into Valar and Maiar reflects a Catholic teaching, shared by some Jews and non-Catholic Christians, that God created angels in a hierarchy of orders: cherubim, seraphim, thrones, dominions, principalities, powers, archangels, and angels. The concept of a hierarchy of angels comes mainly from Romans 8:38-39 and Colossians 1:16-17. Others see finding and arranging a hierarchy of angels in these verses as reading into them more than the Spirit and the apostle put there.

To Tolkien, a devout Roman Catholic, Varda Elbereth, as the Queen of Heaven, was one of several of his female characters who draw on the Catholic concept of Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin Mother of God. As Mary’s analog, Varda, from a Catholic viewpoint, is an appropriate person to hear prayers. Twice, in The Lord of the Rings, Elves or Elf-Friends pray to her as the Starmaker. The first time is in Rivendell, just after Frodo reaches it, when Elvish singers sing the hymn A Elbereth Gilthoniel. (The song is absent from the movie except for a line or so in the background.) The second time is in Cirith Ungol, the Spider’s Pass, when Frodo calls on Elbereth as he uses the Phial of Galadriel against Shelob.

The Maia Olórin, as one who walked among the Children of Ilúvatar as one of them to comfort and rescue them, goes along with Biblical angels’ walking among humans in human guise. (See Hebrews 13:2 and the account to which this verse refers, Genesis 18:1-15.) Angels as comforters and rescuers appear in Genesis 16:7-13; Judges 6:11-24; 13:2-21; Matthew 4:11; Luke 22:43; and Acts 5:19-20; 12:7-10. Olórin, in The Lord of the Rings, fills the role of comforter and rescuer as he walks among Elves and Men as the Wizard Gandalf.

Tolkien’s scholars are unsure of which of his characters from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Ring are Maiar. Sauron and the Balrog certainly are, as are Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast, and the other two Wizards who appear at the Grey Havens in Middle Earth early in the Third Age. Many see Tom Bombadil of The Fellowship of the Ring as a free Maia like Melian. Goldberry, Tom’s wife, is, however, almost surely a Dark Elf. (I shall talk of Dark Elves in a later chapter.)

Tolkien pictures the Valar and Maiar as finishing the work of creation that Ilúvatar starts. The concept of lesser gods finishing the work of the One True God is extra-Biblical, as the Scriptural account of creation shows God alone starting and finishing creation with ten Words in seven Days (Genesis 1:1-2:3). Although some Jewish and Christian writings ascribe a role in creation to angels, and speak of creation as an ongoing process, the role of the Valar and Maiar in creation in the present edition of The Silmarillion goes back to an original, clearly pagan account of creation.

Still, Tolkien says in The Silmarillion that an Ainu, even one as great as Melkor or Manwë, can’t truly create anything, and especially can’t give a body sentience. These limitations on Morgoth’s power have important implications for the origins of the evil “speaking peoples” of Middle-Earth. Morgoth could not have created intelligent species on his own. Statements in The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings make it clear that Morgoth made Orcs by perverting the species of Elves, and Trolls by perverting the species of Ents.

I discussed the analogy between Morgoth and Satan in the first chapter. Tolkien divides Satan’s roles between two masters of evil, Morgoth and Sauron. Morgoth fills the role of the Arch-Rebel against God — the rebel whose lies caused the Fall. Morgoth, through his lies, causes the fall of Maiar, Elves, and Men (though, again, as Tolkien carefully points out, the fall of Man never occurs onstage in his mythology).

Sauron, in the First Age, is just Morgoth’s aide in his plans for dominion of Middle-Earth. In the Second and Third Ages, when Sauron is on his own, he becomes a tempter like Satan in his New Testament appearances. Only when Sauron’s lies have borne fruit, yielding him power, does he show himself in his true colors as one who wants absolute dominion over all others. I shall say more of Sauron’s role as it develops in later chapters.

 

Dark Matter

 

Tolkien at first saw the Valar as the Maiar’s parents. He kept Melian’s marriage to the Elf Thingol and bearing of the half-Maia, half-Elven Lúthien Tinúviel, to the very end of his writings.

Gods bearing gods and mating with lesser intelligences is a pagan, not a Judeo-Christian, concept. Some, as I said in the last chapter, believe that angels are the sons of God who mated with the daughters of men to father the men of renown, as told in Genesis 6:1-2, 4. Those who believe so, I ask, “Why would angels, who are deathless ministering spirits of flaming fire (Psalm 104:1-5), be able to reproduce, or do so with man, whom God formed from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7)?” Oddly enough, however, the account of creation in Genesis 1-2 says nothing of man’s bringing forth seed after his own kind.

Genesis 18:1-5 tells of Abraham’s hospitality to three men who tell him of his son Isaac’s coming birth. The traditional Jewish teaching on this account is that the three men whom Abraham entertained were the LORD and the two angels who went on to Sodom (Genesis 18:16-22; 19:1-3). Many Christians see the LORD in this account as the pre-incarnate Christ in a theophany, or divine appearance. Some, however, try to make the three persons in this account the three persons of the Trinity, though there are clear problems with making them so.

In an article called “The Istari” (Istari is an Elvish term for Wizards) in Unfinished Tales, Tolkien reveals the names that the five Wizards had as Maiar in Valinor. Gandalf, of course, was Olórin; Saruman, Curumo; Radagast, Aiwendil; and the two unnamed Wizards, Alatar and Pallando. Alatar and Pallando never show up in The Hobbit or in The Lord of the Rings. When they first came to Middle-Earth, Saruman, who would later fall under Sauron’s sway, took them on a trip to the East from which they never returned.

The Dragons formed by Morgoth present a problem. As their behavior in The Silmarillion and The Hobbit makes clear, Dragons are speaking, independently acting intelligences. The simplest explanation of their origin is that a Dragon is a fallen Maia’s spirit in a magically empowered body. If so, Smaug, the Dragon of The Hobbit, is also a Maia.

In The Book of Lost Tales, Tolkien spoke of the Maiar as the Valar’s children. The published Silmarillion, however, has no place for Children of the Valar. The Maiar are assumed to be spirits created by Ilúvatar before the Great Music. Thus, we must assume that the following characters from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings sang in the Great Music: Gandalf, Smaug, Sauron, Tom Bombadil, Radagast, Saruman, and the Balrog. From the Great Music, these characters took divergent paths through life.

(In later chapters, I shall deal with the problems of the spider Ungoliant and of Manwë’s race of talking Eagles.)

 

 

 

 

THE SPRINGTIME OF ARDA

 

 

(SPOILER ALERT! This chapter summarizes the chapters “Of the Beginning of Days” and “Of Aulë and Yavanna” of The Silmarillion.)

 

The Story

 

When the Ainur came to Arda, Melkor fought them. Long kept he the world in chaos. This ended when Tulkas, the Vala of war, came from the Timeless Halls. Laughing from battle’s joy, he drove Melkor into the void.

The Ainur began to shape Arda into Ilúvatar’s vision. Amid the sea, they formed a perfectly symmetrical land, Middle-Earth. To light it, Varda and Manwë raised two great lights on mountainous pillars. The lights awoke life in seeds that Yavanna had planted. Middle-Earth, in Arda’s springtime, became a place of greenery and peace.

Spies told Melkor of the Ainur’s deeds. While the Ainur feasted, he slipped back onto Arda in the north’s darkness, where he built a fortress whence evil flowed, marring Middle-Earth’s peace and greenery.

By the evil, the Ainur knew that Melkor had returned to Arda. They were seeking him when he struck first, casting down the lights. Their pillars’ fall split the land; fire scorched it. Middle-Earth’s pristine symmetry was broken.

Melkor, Tulkas hot on his heels, fled to his fortress, where the Ainur left him while they tried to heal Middle-Earth’s hurts. The Ainur feared to pursue a war that might destroy the homes of the Children of Ilúvatar to come.

Crossing the sea to the west, the Ainur raised there as a shield against Melkor a range of lofty mountains, on the highest of which Manwë and Varda built a hall from which they could look into the farthest east. Behind the mountains, the Ainur built Valinor, the Land of the Gods, with its holy city, Valmar. On a mound near this, Yavanna planted seeds and sang over them a song of power, and Nienna watered them with her tears. From the mound sprang two trees, a silver tree called Telperion and a golden tree called Laurelin, which were Valinor’s lights. From each tree flowed light of its own color for seven hours. Every seven hours, while one tree waxed, and the other waned, Valinor knew twilight of mingled silver and gold.

Middle-Earth, however, lay in darkness under the Elder Days’ few dim stars before moon and sun were made. The plants of Yavanna slept under the power of a song of preservation that she had sung over them. The animal creatures of Middle-Earth were unprotected. Melkor turned them into beasts of horn and ivory for shedding blood.

Knowing that Ilúvatar’s Firstborn, the Elves, would soon appear in Middle-Earth, the Ainur did not forsake it. Manwë sent spirits in the form of eagles to spy on the land from the air. Ulmo brought Valinor news that he gathered from Middle-Earth’s streams that flowed into his sea. Oromë, the Vala of the hunt, fought and slew Melkor’s beasts in Middle-Earth’s dark forests.

During the wars of the beginning, Arda’s springtime, and Valinor’s building, Ilúvatar sat in the Timeless Halls and meditated on His Children to be. To the Elves, He gave unequalled beauty and bliss in lives bound to Arda while the world lasted. An Elf who died in Arda would stay an age in the Halls of Mandos and then be reborn among his kin.

To Men, Ilúvatar gave a strange gift, a short life in Arda and a hidden destiny beyond it. A Man who died in Arda would go beyond the Halls of Mandos to a place unknown to Elves or Ainur. Because of Ilúvatar’s gift to Men, which the Elves and Ainur could not grasp, they called Men Guests and Strangers.

While Middle-Earth lay in darkness, and the Two Trees shone in Valinor, Aulë, the Vala of the forge, came to Middle-Earth to fulfill a dream. He longed to imitate Ilúvatar by making speaking creatures of his own. Because Aulë could but dimly recall the shapes of the Children of Ilúvatar from the Great Music, and because he knew that any creatures of Middle-Earth must be strong to resist Melkor, Aulë made his creatures, the Dwarves, short and hardy. He put into them some of his own fire so that they could move and speak.

Ilúvatar, coming to where Aulë had made the Dwarves, told him that he could not give his creatures their own wills. The most that the Dwarves could become through Aulë’s power would be slaves to his will. Aulë, grieved by Ilúvatar’s words, was ready to slay the Dwarves when Ilúvatar took pity on them. He gave them a fire of His own that let them beg Aulë for mercy. Ilúvatar made the Dwarves His Children by adoption, but judged that they must sleep in the earth’s depths until the Elves, Ilúvatar’s firstborn, had awoken.

Yavanna, learning of her consort’s making the Dwarves, was discontented, foreseeing that the Dwarves’ axes would ever be her trees’ foes. Going to Manwë, she asked him to guard her living creatures. In the talk between Yavanna and Manwe, it came out that the Great Music had held protectors of the living creatures. The spirits of Eagles would watch over animal creatures. Shepherds of the Trees, later to be known as Ents, would watch over plant creatures.

In Middle-Earth, Melkor’s power grew. He built in its northwest a second fortress, Angband, the Hells of Iron, to resist the Ainur if they came there. The Ainur debated going to war with him again, but still feared inadvertently destroying the homes of Elves and Men to come. Varda, however, decided to oppose Melkor’s darkness with light. From dew shed by the silver tree, Telperion, she made the bright stars of the northern sky and of the winter sky as signs of Melkor’s doom and of the future bliss of Elves and Men.

When the stars rose, the Elves awoke at Cuiviénen, the Waters of Awakening, in Middle-Earth’s east. Ever afterwards, the Elves loved the stars over all other things, for stars were the first things that Elves had seen. In memory of their first awakening, the Elves called themselves Eldar, Star-People.

 

The Parallels

 

Some see Tolkien’s story of Arda’s creation as a combination of the account of Edenic innocence and perfection (Genesis 2:4-25) and the bliss of the nations in the thousand years while Satan is bound in the bottomless pit (Revelation 20:1-3). Tolkien made this combination by setting a cosmic war of powers both at the start and at the end of Arda’s present existence.

In doing so, he may have been influenced by a teaching, popular in his time, that the creation account of Genesis 1:2-2:3 is actually an account of the recreation of the heavens and the earth from the chaos to which an original creation (Genesis 1:1) had been reduced. This teaching, designed to reconcile the ages of evolutionary theory with a seven-day creation, has few defenders now.

Several times in The Silmarillion, Tolkien uses the concept that bliss can exist only when his Satan-figure — Morgoth or Sauron — is bound. As in the Biblical account of Revelation, no binding of a Satan-figure yields Arda final bliss. Whenever Morgoth returns or Sauron takes shape, the world falls again into evil, from which it can be freed for a time only by an apocalyptic struggle.

In the struggles against Morgoth, Tulkas is like the angel who comes “down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand” to bind Satan (Revelation 20:1). In a later struggle with Morgoth, Tulkas, as we shall see, will bind him with a chain in the Halls of Mandos.

In Tolkien’s mythology, Arda has at first no sun or moon. The world is lighted first by two lanterns atop lofty pillars and then by two trees. Although the origin of light in Tolkien’s mythology owes more to pagan mythology than to the Bible, The Silmarillion, like the Bible, sets light’s creation (Genesis 1:3-5) before the sun’s and the moon’s (Genesis 1:14-19).

Although Tolkien never exactly reproduces Eden in his writings, he uses elements of it in several places. In the account of Arda’s springtime, he uses the land of greenery and peace, and the loss of this land through a Satan-figure’s malice.

In the Bible, God cuts Eden off from the world with guardian angels called cherubim, and a flaming sword (Genesis 3:24). In The Silmarillion, the Ainur withdraw from Middle-Earth and set up a new Eden in the uttermost west behind unscalable mountains. As God keeps watching over a fallen world (Genesis 6:5), so did Manwë and Varda keep watching Middle-Earth. In neither account were the fallen world’s inhabitants forgotten.

Can one make the Two Trees, Telperion and Laurelin, into the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Eden (Genesis 2:9)? One might do so by equating the Two Trees’ light with the divine gifts of life and knowledge. It is easy to push the equation too far. Although Tolkien knew well, and was influenced by, the Biblical account of Eden, the Two Trees are his own inventions, owing much to magical trees of Celtic, Finnish, and Norse mythologies.

Tolkien’s Elves were reincarnated. Some Christian readers of Tolkien’s works protested his including in them a core doctrine of Eastern religion. To these readers, he said that an artist, as a sub-creator in God’s image, was free to explore courses of action that God could have taken, but chose not to take.

In the Bible, death comes upon humanity as a curse for Adam and Eve’s having broken God’s ban on eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:2-3). What would have become of humans had they not fallen? None can say, though some speculate that they would have been taken alive by God into heaven as Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (II Kings 2:11) were, or transfigured into beings of light as Jesus once was (Matthew 17:1-2; Mark 9:2-3).

In The Silmarillion, death is not Ilúvatar’s curse to Men, but His strange gift to them. He did not mean it to be fearsome; it became so through lies with which Morgoth filled Men’s minds when he first met them. (Again, please note that Tolkien never directly tells the tale of Men’s fall.)

What Men’s destiny truly is, only Ilúvatar knows, but the Valar have told the Elves that Men will sing with them in the second Great Music after Morgoth’s last defeat.

The Bible speaks of no intelligences other than God, the angels, and humans. The Bible, therefore, can hold nothing like Aulë’s creation of the Dwarves. These, of course, are creatures, usually wicked, from Norse mythology. They owe most to ancient Norse and German tales, The Volsunga Saga and The Nibelungenlied, the sources of Wagner’s magnificent cycle of operas, The Ring of the Nibelungs. Tolkien borrowed heavily from these sources for later tales in The Silmarillion.

In creating the Dwarves, Tolkien made them both like and unlike the Children of Ilúvatar. The Dwarves were unlike in that their bodies came from a Vala’s work, not the One’s. The Dwarves were like in that their inner fire came, as all inner fire comes, from Ilúvatar. Tolkien was consistent with Scripture, in which only God can breathe into a body the breath of life (Genesis 2:7).

Ilúvatar’s making the Dwarves sleep in caves until the Elves had awoken is like God’s treatment of Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael, Abraham’s firstborn son, who was conceived by a means disapproved by God (Genesis 16:1-3), got an inheritance from God, but had to yield the firstborn’s place and blessing to Abraham’s legitimate son, Isaac (Genesis 17:15-21).

Are Manwë’s talking eagles an intelligent species created by Ilúvatar, or spirits of Maiar in eagles’ bodies? The eagles were always present in Tolkien’s work, but never explored in depth.

If the eagles’ nature is unclear, it is the noon sun beside darkness around the Ents’ nature. Still, the Ents must be, like the eagles, either an intelligent species created by Ilúvatar or Maiar living in trees. Treebeard’s words to Merry and Pippin in The Two Towers on the origin of his species, with its Entwives and Entings, go best with the Ents’ being an intelligent species. According to Treebeard, the Ents awoke when the Elves sang to them before the moon or the sun rose. Thus, the Ents, like the Dwarves, had to yield the Elves the honor of being Firstborn.

The Elves awoke at the stars’ rising; Men will awake at the Sun’s. Thus, in the cosmic day of the creation of the Children of Ilúvatar, evening precedes morning, and darkness precedes light, as in the Bible’s creation account (Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31). As Tolkien’s vast story goes on, we shall start to see the Elves as God’s first Chosen People, Israel, and Men as His second Chosen People, the Church.

 

 

 

 

THE COMING OF THE ELVES

 

 

(SPOILER ALERT! This chapter summarizes the chapters “Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor,” “Of Thingol and Melian,” “Of Eldamar and the Princes of the Eldalië,” and “Of the Sindar” in The Silmarillion.)

 

The Story

 

In the darkness under the stars, the Elves lived by the Waters of Awakening. Learning to speak there, they gave non-speaking creatures names. Learning that speech set them apart from other creatures, the Elves named themselves Quendi, ‘speaking-people.’

In the darkness lived the Hunter, a dark rider on a dark horse. Meeting Elves alone or in small groups, he took them away, never to return. The Hunter was Melkor, who would twist the captive Elves into the evil breed of Orcs.

The Elves feared the Hunter. When Oromë, the Valar’s huntsman, rode into the Elves’ midst, they feared him at first, too. Oromë knew that Melkor had taken Oromë’s form to make the Elves fear him when they met him. Some would always fear him. Others, seeing the Valar’s beauty in his face, wished to follow him. Oromë told the Elves of the land of Valinor, beyond the sea, where the Two Trees’ light made an endless day of beauty. He rode to Valinor to tell Manwë of the Elves’ awakening and then returned to the Elves to guard them from the Hunter.

When Manwë called the Valar into council on the Elves’ fate, the Valar decided at last to make war on Melkor so that Elves could be free. Coming to Middle-Earth, the Valar assaulted Melkor’s great fortress in the north, beyond high mountains from the Elves’ land.

The Elves saw none of the battle but flashes of light in the north, and felt the earth shake below them as Middle-Earth’s shape changed anew. Melkor was taken in chains to Valinor, where the Valar judged him to spend three ages of the world in prison. Sauron, the Balrogs, and the Orcs escaped.

After the battle, the Valar held a second council on the Elves’ fate. Although some of the Valar thought that the Elves should stay free under the stars, the council decided that the Elves, for their own safety, should come to Valinor.

When the Valar sent the Elves a summons to come there, many of them, fearing the Valar’s power that they had seen and felt from afar, feared to follow them. Oromë persuaded the Elves’ leaders, the heads of their three tribes, to go with him to Valinor. Returning from there, the leaders praised the beauty of the Land of the Two Trees and urged their people to go there.

Some of the Elves refused to go. These were the Unwilling, the first of the groups that the Elves would call the Moriquendi, the Dark Elves, who never went to Valinor. Most of the three tribes of the Elves set out for the west. The Vanyar, the Fair Elves, led by their king, Inwë, led the way there. The Noldor, the Deep Elves, led by their king, Finwë, came second. Last came the Teleri, the Latecomers, led at first by their king, Elwë, who himself would never return to Valinor.

The journey in the dark across Middle-Earth’s vastness daunted the Elves. When they reached the great river Anduin and the Misty Mountains, still far from the sea, many of the Elves turned aside into great forests. These Elves became the Woodland Elves, who formed a second branch of the Dark Elves. Unlike the Unwilling, the Woodland Elves always longed for the West.

In those days, a wide land called Beleriand lay west of the Blue Mountains beyond what would be the Shire. Beleriand would be the site of great stories before it fell into the sea in the War of Wrath. Crossing Beleriand, the Vanyar and the Noldor reached the Great Sea. There, Ulmo, the sea’s Power, had made a large island into a ship to take the Elves to Valinor. Ulmo waited long for the Teleri. When they did not come, he took the two tribes ahead.

Elwë had led his people into Beleriand. One day, while he was hunting, he had heard the song of nightingales. Following the song into a forest, he found Melian, the most beautiful of the Maiar, who had left her home in Valinor to roam Middle-Earth’s darkness. Falling in love with her, he took her hand. A spell of forgetfulness fell upon him. Gazing into Melian’s eyes, he stood unmoving for an age of the world. The Teleri sought their king, but found him not.

The Vanyar and the Noldor, reaching Valinor, became the first of the Calaquendi, the Light-Elves. The Valar gave them as their home a wide plain under the Two Trees’ light. Because the Light-Elves still loved the stars, the Valar made a pass in Valinor’s mountains so that the Elves could look into the night. In this pass, the Elves built their most beautiful city, Tirion.

There, Yavanna, the Power of vegetation, made a white tree in the image of the silver Tree, Telperion. The tree of Tirion would be the ancestor of the White Tree of Minas Tirith, which returned to life when Aragorn became king. From the Valar, the Vanyar learned the art of poetry; the Noldor, the art of shaping gems.

Ulmo, returning to Middle-Earth, found many Teleri wandering by the sea. Them, he set aboard his island-ship. Wanting to keep them for himself, he grounded the island amid the sea just where the Two Trees’ light first shone across the waves. The island became Tol Eressëa, the Lonely Island, the easternmost of the Undying Lands.

The rest of the Valar wished to meet the Teleri. Ulmo taught them to build ships in the shape of swans. When the ships reached Valinor, the Teleri built as homes on its eastern shore towers adorned with pearls.

In Middle-Earth, Elwë awoke from his enchanted sleep. Found by wandering Teleri and by Dark Elves who had crossed the Blue Mountains into Beleriand, he became their king. They called him Thingol for his gray cloak. Melian, as his queen, helped him build an enchanted kingdom called Doriath. This became the most beautiful of Elvish lands east of the Sea. Lothlórien, as Frodo would see it, would be but a shadow that Galadriel had made of Doriath, where she had once lived.

In time, Dwarves came to Doriath. Having awoken in Middle-Earth’s east, they built there mansions, the greatest of which was Khazad-Dum, later to be called Moria. The Dwarves had met Dark Elves and learned from them to speak Elvish. The Elves never bothered to learn Dwarvish, for the Elves thought Dwarves ugly and uncouth. Still, the Elves valued Dwarvish skill in shaping stone and metal. For Thingol, the Dwarves built a glorious underground palace, the fairest of all Elven dwellings.

The Dwarves brought word that the Dark Elves of the east had been fighting a strange people, the Orcs. In time, these entered Beleriand. Although they were leaderless and few, they killed many Elves and Dwarves before these drove the Orcs into the north. The Orcs formed a sign that the peace after Melkor’s binding was ending.

 

The Parallels

 

Again, we see in Tolkien’s work the Biblical account of Eden. The Children of Ilúvatar, like Adam in the garden, are set apart from the other creatures by speech and give names to those creatures (Genesis 2:19-20).

Again, too, a Satan-figure ruins a Tolkien Eden’s perfection. Note that the Elves, wiser and nobler than Men, cannot be tempted as Eve was. Instead, to make the Elves fall, Melkor must abduct them and torture them to turn them into their fallen forms, the Orcs.

(In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien has the Ent Treebeard tell Merry and Pippin of the Orcs’ origin. In the movie, Peter Jackson gives Treebeard’s speech to Saruman as he gloats over his creation of the ultimate Orc, the Uruk-Hai.)

In terms of the Elves as Jews, we see the Elves delivered from bondage by divine providence. They just wait while the Valar fight Melkor for them, as the Children of Israel just waited while the LORD fought Pharaoh for them (Exodus 4:29-12:30). As some of the Children of Israel were afraid of God’s power and reluctant to leave Egypt, so are some of the Elves afraid of the Valar and reluctant to leave the Waters of Awakening. As many of the Children of Israel murmured and turned aside in Sinai’s Wilderness, so many of the Elves grow fearful of the hardships ahead of them and leave the quest for Valinor. Only those faithful to the Valar’s guidance cross the sea into the promised land of Light (Exodus 12:31-Joshua 3:17).

You might draw a parallel between Tolkien’s four categories of Elves — the Unwilling, those who turn aside, those who delay, and those who are faithful — with the four categories of hearers of the Word of whom Jesus speaks in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23). Please do not try to push too far the parallels between the Elves’ journey to Valinor and the Jews’ journey to Canaan. Although the Elves do cross a great sea to reach their promised land, that sea differs from the Red Sea that the Children of Israel cross to theirs. Ulmo, with his island-ship, is certainly not Moses with his staff (Exodus 14-15).

The story of Elwë Thingol and Melian is not Biblical in origin. This story comes from a number of Celtic tales of a mortal man who goes into a wood and gets entangled there with a beautiful Elfmaid. Tolkien changes Celtic tradition by getting an Elflord entangled with an angel. The tale of Thingol and Melian may hold no Sunday-school lessons beyond that their love is fruitless as long as they are wholly absorbed in each other. Only when they rejoin society as husband and wife does their love bear fruit in a family and a kingdom.

The tale is important for the rest of Tolkien’s mythology. Thingol and Melian become the parents of Lúthien Tinúviel, the most beautiful of Elfmaids, with whom the mortal warrior Beren falls in love. He wins her hand only after a terrible trial and begets with her the ancestor of Elrond, Arwen, and Aragorn.

Aragorn’s love for Arwen echos Beren’s love for Lúthien. In both loves, the mortal Man must achieve a seemingly hopeless quest to win the immortal maiden’s hand, and the immortal maiden must give up her Elvish nature to wed the mortal Man. To make the echo stronger, Aragorn, escorting four Hobbits to Rivendell, sings them a song of Beren and Lúthien. If you have seen the movie of The Lord of the Rings, but not read the book, please get the book so that you can read “The Tale of Tinúviel” done properly. The movie does not do this scene justice. As we shall see, the two love stories have numerous Biblical parallels.

Tolkien describes the Elves as learning professions from the Valar. Some of these professions parallel the professions developed by the descendents of Adam before the Flood (Genesis 4:19-22). The Vanyar, as poets, are like Jubal, “the father of all those who handle the harp and flute.” The Noldor, as makers of gems and golden jewelry, are like Tubal-Cain, “an instructor of every worker in copper and iron.” As for Jabal, “the father of those who live in tents, and have cattle,” his nomadic lifestyle characterizes the Teleri during their wanderings.

Although Melkor is bound, evil is left in the world. Evil shows up in Melkor’s creatures, the fallen Maiar and the tortured Elves. Evil also shows up in the Dark Elves as pride in their superiority over the stunted Dwarves. In their attitude towards Dwarvish speech, the Elves act like the ancient Greeks, to whom all foreign languages sounded like “bar-bar,” so that the Greeks called their speakers “barbarians.”

The Elves needed to hear the words of a John the Baptist, who, when the Jews boasted to him of having Abraham as their father, said to them, “God can raise up out of these stones children to Abraham!” (Luke 3:7-8). Truly did Solomon write, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall”! (Proverbs 16:18). When Morgoth gets out of prison, he will learn of the Elves’ pride and use it to cause suffering that none of them could have imagined.

 

 

 

 

THE FALL OF THE NOLDOR

 

 

(SPOILER ALERT! This chapter summarizes the chapters “Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor,” “Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor,” “Of the Darkening of Valinor,” and “Of the Flight of the Noldor,” and the opening section of “Of the Return of the Noldor” in The Silmarillion.)

 

The Story

 

In Valinor, Finwë, the Noldor’s king, had a son, whose mother called him Fëanor, ‘Spirit of Fire,’ for he consumed her life in his birth. She was the first Elf to die in the so-called Undying Lands. Fëanor grew quickly, inventing Elvish letters later used by Sauron on the One Ring, and becoming expert in the cutting and setting of gems.

After a time, Finwë, against Fëanor’s will, remarried, taking a golden-haired Fair-Elf as wife. She became the mother of two sons, Fingolfin and Finarfin. Finarfin would be Galadriel’s father. Fëanor loved his younger half-brothers little.

Thus, seeds of death and dissension had already been planted among the Elves of Valinor when Melkor’s imprisonment ended. Melkor hated the Elves for their great beauty, which owed nothing to his part in the Great Song. He also hated the Elves because, for their sake, the Valar had imprisoned him. Nonetheless, Melkor pretended to be the Elves’ friend, speaking to them of deep things before the world’s creation and teaching them craftsmanship of stone, metal, and jewelry.

Still, Melkor played no part in the Elves’ greatest work. Fëanor captured the light of the Two Trees in three imperishable gems, the Silmarils. Even in darkness, these shone like stars. In daylight, they gave back the Two Trees’ light in hues for which not even the Elves had names.

The Silmarils amazed the Valar. Manwë put on them a spell of protection so that no evil creature could touch them without feeling the pain of fire. Mandos said that the world’s fate was bound up with the Silmarils’. As for Fëanor, the Silmarils filled his heart with a love greater than his love for his wife, his sons, or even his father.

Melkor, lusting for the Silmarils, schemed to take them from the Elves. To win the Silmarils, he chose the path of lies. He told the Elves that they could grow mighty in Middle-Earth if they returned there. He told the Elves that the Valar had brought them to Valinor to keep them from founding great kingdoms that were their birthrights. He told the Elves that the Valar had decided to give Middle-Earth to the Aftercomers, mortal Men, whose weakness would let the Valar control them more easily than the Valar could control the godlike Elves.

The Elves began to murmur against the Valar and to speak of leaving Valinor. The Elf who most lusted for a realm in Middle-Earth was Fëanor. Although he had accepted Melkor’s lies, Fëanor did not trust Melkor and would not let him see the Silmarils, which Fëanor showed only to his father and to Fëanor’s seven sons. Fëanor would not show them even to his younger half-brothers.

Melkor now spread lies in Finwë’s family. To Fëanor, Melkor said that his half-brothers meant to overthrow Finwë and Fëanor. To Fingolfin and Finarfin, Melkor said that Fëanor meant to drive them out of Valinor. To both parts of the family, Melkor taught the making of weapons, shields and swords. Shields, the Elves carried openly and decorated with heraldic symbols. Swords, they hid, for each side in the conflict thought that Melkor had told the secret of swords just to it.

When Finwë called a council to heal his family’s rift, Fëanor drew a sword on Fingolfin and threatened to kill him. The Valar punished Fëanor by exiling him for twelve years. Fëanor went into exile in belief that Melkor had spoken truly of his half-brothers and the Valar. Finwë, honoring his firstborn son over his younger sons, joined him in exile.

The Valar, learning from the Elves of Melkor’s lies, sought to seize him. He had fled, however, first north, where he found Fëanor’s dwelling and asked his aid. When Fëanor slammed his front door in Melkor’s face, Melkor fled through the gap in Valinor’s mountains into the south.

There, he met Ungoliant. What she had first been — a fallen Maia, perhaps — only Ilúvatar knows. When Melkor met her, she was a giant spider that ate light and spun it out in webs of impenetrable unlight. Melkor saw her as his instrument of revenge on the Valar and the Elves. He promised her that, if she helped him, he would help her drink the Two Trees’ light and would give her a treasure of jewels.

The Valar were holding a festival. Manwë, hoping to heal the rift among Elves and between them and the Valar, invited even Finwë and Fëanor to the feast. Fëanor came with his seven sons, but left his father and the Silmarils in the north. Reluctantly, Fëanor was reconciled with Fingolfin, who promised to follow him as Finwë’s heir.

Even as the half-brothers made up, darkness fell. Melkor and Ungoliant had crossed the mountains and reached the Two Trees under cover of her webs of unlight. Melkor stabbed the Two Trees to their hearts; Ungoliant drank their sap and filled their veins with her poison. As the Two Trees died, Melkor and Ungoliant raced to Fëanor’s dwelling in the north. There, they slew Finwë and stole Fëanor’s treasury of jewels, the Silmarils among them.

The Valar, reaching the Two Trees, knew that only the light imprisoned in the Silmarils could give them life. The Valar begged Fëanor to sacrifice the jewels to restore the Two Trees. He, loving his handiwork more than he loved the works of the Valar, refused them. Just then, messengers brought news of Finwë’s death and the Simarils’ theft. Fëanor cursed Melkor as Morgoth, the Dark Enemy, the name that he has borne ever since, and then Fëanor ran from the Valar into darkness.

Morgoth and Ungoliant fled ever northwards until they reached a bridge of grinding ice that joined Valinor to Middle-Earth. The bridge, they crossed, and stood on Middle-Earth. There, Ungoliant demanded her payment in jewels. Morgoth fed her Fëanor’s lesser jewels, but refused to hand over the Silmarils, though they burned him for his evil. When Ungoliant attacked him, Morgoth cried out for help. As he had planned, he was near his ancient western fortress of Angband. Balrogs drove Ungoliant off. Morgoth entered Angband and set the Silmarils into an iron crown, which he never took from his head.

Ungoliant fled into the east and south of Middle-Earth, which she filled with her spidery offspring. Some of these, Bilbo Baggins would fight in the Forest of Mirkwood on the Quest of the Lonely Mountain. The last of Ungoliant’s offspring, Shelob, Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee would fight on Mordor’s borders in the War of the Ring.

In Valinor, Fëanor and his seven sons took the Oath of the Silmarils, which bound those who swore it, in the names of Manwë, Mandos, and Ilúvatar, to go into outer darkness rather than let anyone keep from Fëanor’s house even one of the Silmarils. He then led his sons, his half-brothers, and their children from Valinor.

Knowing that the road to Middle-Earth was long, and that the way there by sea might be safest, he thought of the ships of the Teleri, the Shoreland Elves. When he went to them to demand their ships for himself, they refused him, as he had refused the Valar the Silmarils. When swords came out, the Kinslaying, the first killing of Elves by Elves, ensued. Fëanor and his Noldor, prevailing over the Teleri, stole their ships.

The Noldor headed north by land and sea. On the seashore, a messenger of Mandos passed judgment on them. They must pay for blood with blood in Middle-Earth, where they would die of wounds and of grief, and would in time fade before the race of Man. Fëanor defied the judgment, for he said that, at least, the Valar had not doomed the Noldor to cowardice. He went on, along with Fingolfin and his sons. Finarfin turned back to ask the Valar for pardon, but his sons went with Fëanor.

With Finarfin’s sons went his daughter, Galadriel. Although she had taken no part in the Kinslaying and had tried to stop it, her heart burned for power in Middle-Earth, so she went with Fëanor. Thus, she came under the Doom of Mandos. She could never return to Valinor until she had lost her heart’s desire.

When the Noldor reached the Grinding Ice, they debated who would cross to Middle-Earth in the ships first. Fëanor took the ships, along with his sons and most faithful followers, but promised to send the ships back for the people with Fingolfin. When he reached Middle-Earth, however, Fëanor, filled with Morgoth’s lies about his half-brother, burned the ships. Fingolfin, seeing the light of their burning afar, knew that he was betrayed. He and Galadriel began to lead their peoples on the terrible passage of the Grinding Ice.

In Middle-Earth, Morgoth, aware of the Noldor’s landing, sent Orcs against them. In the Battle under the Stars, the Noldor, with Valinor’s light still within them, easily defeated the Orcs. Fëanor led a party of Elves against Angband’s gates, but was overwhelmed by Balrogs and killed. His sons and other kinsmen carried on his war against Morgoth. Centuries of suffering awaited Middle-Earth for what Morgoth and Fëanor had begun.

 

The Parallels

 

This section of Tolkien’s mythology is central to the rest of his mythology. Everything else in The Silmarillion, The Children of Húrin, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings flows from Fëanor’s making the Silmarils, Morgoth’s stealing them, the Oath of the Silmarils, and the Doom of Mandos.

In the terrible pass of Cirith Ungol where Shelob was waiting, Sam Gamgee would see that his own quest was linked with that of the Silmarils when he said to Frodo, “But that’s a long tale, of course, and goes on past the happiness and into grief and beyond it — and the Silmaril went on and came to Eärendil. And why, sir, I never thought of that before! We’ve got — you’ve got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady [Galadriel] gave you! Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales ever end?”

(Sam had been speaking of the mortal warrior Beren’s quest of a Silmaril to win the hand of the Elven princess Lúthien, a quest like Aragorn’s to win Arwen’s hand. In the movie, Peter Jackson uses lines from Sam’s magnificent speech to good effect in at least two places. To get the whole speech, you must read “The Stairs of Cirith Ungol” in The Two Towers.)

The Fall of the Noldor is another of Tolkien’s retellings of Adam and Eve’s fall in Eden. In this retelling, Tolkien shows Morgoth/Satan’s motives as the Tempter — vengeance on the Valar and the Elves, and greed for the Silmarils — and the psychological basis of his temptation. After studying his intended victims, Morgoth guesses that they have the same core motivation that he has, a will to power that works itself out in lust to possess things.

Tragically for the Elves, Morgoth guessed aright. Thus, just as Satan guessed that Eve, though of a different order of creation from his, was still subject to the desire to “be as gods” (Genesis 3:4-5), Morgoth guessed that the Elves were subject to the desire to possess, and the fear of being possessed. We need fear the devil, not because he is different from us, but because he is enough like us to understand us.

The Fall of the Noldor also has ties to the Biblical accounts of God’s curse on the serpent, the woman, and the man (Genesis 3:14-19), Adam and Eve’s exile from Eden (Genesis 3:22-24), and Cain’s murder of Abel (Genesis 4:1-15). Note that, in the Fall of the Noldor, the judgment of exile and suffering does not fall on them until they have committed the sin of Cain. Thus, the Doom of Mandos parallels most directly God’s curse on Cain (Genesis 4:10-12). It is the Kinslaying, the slaying of brothers by those who should be their brothers’ keepers, that estranges the Elves from the Valar. The Noldor will be, like Cain, fugitives and vagabonds in Middle-Earth, and will lose the strength of the land that they want to possess.

In keeping with the theme of the Elves as Jews, the flight of the Noldor into exile is a reverse Exodus, a Diaspora like that of the Jews after Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem (II Kings 25:8-17). I call the Diaspora a reverse Exodus on the basis of a prophetic passage in Deuteronomy 28:68. Morgoth’s destruction of the Two Trees and theft of the Silmarils had the same devastating effects on the Elves that Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of the Temple of the Lord and looting of its treasures had on the Jews.

The Two Trees filled the place of a temple in being a place of holy light where the Valar and the Elves communed. In the only place where Tolkien described an actual temple to Iluvatar — on the isle of Númenor, whence Aragorn’s ancestors came — it is a temple open to the sky.

As Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of the Temple has affected Jewish faith and practice down to today, Morgoth’s destruction of the Two Trees affects the Elves down to the time of The Lord of the Rings. As the wise, though uneducated, Sam perceives, he comes face to face with the destruction of the Two Trees in Galadriel, who witnessed their destruction and is under the Doom of Mandos. From this, she is freed only by her rejection of Sauron’s One Ring and its destruction through, in no small part, Sam’s efforts. (Peter Jackson, alas, left Sam’s wonderful talk with Galadriel out of The Fellowship of the Rings.)

The Ring, as we shall see, is in many ways Sauron’s embodiment of Morgoth’s will to power. Those who take the Ring, as Sauron took it, accept the words of Milton’s Lucifer in Paradise Lost, “It’s better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.” Those who reject the Ring, as Galadriel rejected it, accept the words of the Psalmist, “I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, Than to dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psalm 84:10). Galadriel, who had been a queen in Middle-Earth, would be just a servant of the Valar in Valinor, but she would be free to, as she said, “remain Galadriel.”

Galadriel, as Tolkien said, was suggested to him by his veneration as a Roman Catholic of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but differed from Mary in being a penitent. (Galadriel also differs from Mary, in the Roman Catholic view, by having a child by a man of her own kind. Galadriel is Arwen’s grandmother and Elrond’s mother-in-law.) More than like Mary the mother of Jesus, Galadriel is like Mary’s namesake, Miriam, the sister of Moses (Exodus 2:1-10; 15:20-21). If Miriam were alive today, she would be to the Jews what Galadriel is to the Elves, one who carries down through time memories of great events of her people’s beginnings. When Frodo and Sam meet Galadriel, they talk with one who has seen the Two Trees in bloom, spoken both with Valar and with Melkor, and witnessed her people’s fall and exile.

In the destruction of the Two Trees, we meet a theme that the Dead Sea Scrolls call “The War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness.” As Morgoth had been fascinated with darkness from his beginning, he was always ready to oppose the light with darkness. As he had once destroyed the two pillars of light in Middle-Earth, he destroys now the Two Trees of Valinor. As we shall see, when the sun first rises, Morgoth will try to blot out sunlight with smoke from the volcano Thangorodrim, just as, in The Return of the King, Morgoth’s servant Sauron will try to blot out sunlight with smoke from the volcano Mount Doom.

The war of light against darkness in Tolkien’s mythology reflects a like war in Scripture. This war is dramatized by the Apostle John in such verses as “The light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5) and “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not do the truth; But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:5-7).

To understand the theme of light and darkness better, you could read the whole letter of I John, which tells of a universal struggle of darkness against the light played out in the hearts of individual believers and in the Church. You could also get hold of a good concordance and look up all of the Bible’s verses on “light” and “darkness,” as many of these will touch Tolkien’s work as we go on through it.

 

 

 

 

THE COMING OF MEN

 

 

(SPOILER ALERT! This chapter summarizes the chapters “Of the Sun and Moon and the Hiding of Valinor,” “Of Men,” “Of the Return of the Noldor,” “Of Beleriand and its Realms,” “Of the Noldor in Beleriand,” “Of the Coming of Men into the West,” and “Of the Ruin of Beleriand” in The Silmarillion.)

 

The Story

 

As the Noldor came to Middle-Earth, the Valar thought of them and of the Dark Elves who had never come to Valinor. To aid them in their wars against Morgoth, the Valar planned to give light again to the world at large. Yavanna, the Power of vegetation, and Nienna, the Power of mourning, again used their powers on the dead Trees. Telperion yielded a single silver blossom; Laurelin, a single golden fruit. The silver blossom rose into the sky as the moon; the golden fruit, as the sun.

From fear of unwittingly destroying Men’s birthplace, the Valar forbore to attack Morgoth. The moon and the sun dismayed him, however. Morgoth’s servants could not stand sunlight. (Neither, because of Ulmo, the Power of water, could they easily cross streams, as Frodo and his companions would learn when Black Riders chased them.) From slag of his forges, Morgoth built the volcano Thangorodrim to blot out sunlight with ash. Morgoth’s effort to blot out the sun worked no better than Sauron’s would work two ages of the world later.

As a guard against Morgoth’s or the Noldor’s returning to Valinor, the Valar set the Enchanted Isles in the Shadowy Seas east of the Undying Lands. All who sailed through the seas would be lost; all who set foot upon the isles would sleep until the world’s change. Not until the half-Elven mariner Eärendil made his desperate voyage would the enchantment be overcome.

At the sun’s rising, the first Men awoke in Middle-Earth’s east. Because the sun rose first in the west, Men’s eyes turned there. There would Men’s feet lead them. Nonetheless, no Vala came from Valinor to guide men, as Oromë had guided the Elves. Men learned of the Valar from the Dark Elves, whom they met in the east. From the Dark Elves, Men learned to fear the Valar. Of all of the Valar, the Men of the East would meet only Morgoth. Just a handful of Men, with light in their hearts, would seek the Valar of Valinor.

After his first battle with the Noldor and Fëanor’s death, Morgoth sent the Elves a false offer of peace. Maedhros, Fëanor’s oldest son, agreed to meet Morgoth. Like Morgoth, he planned to attack under a flag of truce. Morgoth, more treacherous than the Elf, took Maedrhos prisoner and chained him to Thangorodrim. Fingon, a son of Fingolfin, Fëanor’s younger brother whom Fëanor had betrayed by burning the ships, daringly rescued his cousin Maedhros. Out of gratitude for his rescue, Maedhros abdicated the Noldor’s kingship to Fingolfin. Still, the Doom of Mandos would always lie between Fëanor’s sons and the rest of the Noldor.

The Noldor built strongholds in Beleriand’s north to guard it from Morgoth while they built up strength to overthrow him. Thingol, king of the enchanted land of Doriath, only reluctantly welcomed the Noldor back to Middle-Earth. Deceptively, they told him that they had come from the Valar to free Middle-Earth from Morgoth. They carefully never mentioned around Thingol the Kinslaying, for it had been Thingol’s kinsmen that the Noldor had killed to steal their ships.

For many years, the Noldor and the Sindar, the Grey Elves ruled by Thingol, kept Morgoth at bay. Beleriand became a land of peace and beauty greater than any that would ever again be outside Valinor. During this time of peace, Galadriel stayed in Doriath with the Maia Melian. There, Galadriel met and fell in love with one of Thingol’s kinsmen, Celeborn. In time, he would marry Galadriel and join her in Lothlórien as its lord.

Two of Galadriel’s brothers built strongholds against a day when Morgoth would overwhelm the Elves. Turgon, led by a vision from Ulmo, the Power of the sea, built a hidden stronghold called Gondolin, the City of Stone, in a circle of mountains known but to the eagles. Finrod Felagund, visiting Galadriel in Thingol’s cave-city, was moved to build his own cave-city, Nargothrond. Nargothrond and Gondolin would both be scenes of great tales of the Elves in their wars against Morgoth.

From time to time, Morgoth tested the Elves’ strength. The Elves, knowing that his power was growing, felt a sense of doom. From the hidden city of Gondolin, Turgon sent messengers into the West. Getting lost in the Shadowy Seas and amid the Enchanted Isles, they never brought their pleas for help to the Valar.

Meanwhile, tension between the Noldor and the Sindar grew. Melian the Maia and her husband, King Thingol, had always suspected that the Noldor had not come to Middle-Earth for its people’s sake. Melian wormed out of Galadriel that the Noldor had come to Middle-Earth as refugees from the destruction of the Two Trees. Galadriel, however, kept from Melian the Kinslaying and the Oath of Mandos. When Galadriel’s brothers came to Doriath to visit her, Thingol, suspecting that worse lay behind Galadriel’s tale than she had told to Melian, forced them to tell him the whole story of their disgrace.

They blamed all of it on Fëanor and his sons. Indeed, neither the Sindar nor most of the Noldor fully trusted Fëanor’s sons. Thingol, however, believed that, because of their hatred for Morgoth, they would be faithful allies. As things turned out, he would be wrong.

In a setting of war and mistrust, Men arrived. A shadow lay upon them, for Morgoth had touched them in the East. Still, the Men who came into Beleriand had but vague, confused memories of their fall. The Elves would never learn its story.

The first men whom the Elves met became Elf-friends, ancestors of the men of Gondor in Frodo’s time. The Elf-friends were led by Bëor, Aragorn’s first known Human ancestor. Bëor, out of love for Felagund, King of Nargothrond, swore himself to his service. Bëor’s family and Felagund’s would share a bond until Aragorn’s day — a bond sealed by a ring that Felagund gave Bëor’s son, Barahir. The Ring of Barahir would come through three ages of the world to Aragorn and give him a claim on the hospitality of Felagund’s distant kinsman, Elrond, and Felagund’s sister, Galadriel.

The Men of the West received lands from the Elves and joined them in wars against Morgoth. The Dark Enemy, ever mindful of a lie’s power, spread a new lie among Men. Learning that they had come into the West to meet the Valar and were dismayed at learning that they lived beyond an impassable sea, Morgoth sent messengers among Men to spread the message that there were no Valar; neither was there a Dark Enemy in the North. Both were lies that the Elves had told to Men to keep them in subjection. Most Men rejected Morgoth’s lies, but some believed them.

In time, Bëor grew old and died. The Elves, who had never seen natural death, mourned their friend, but could not understand his fate. Not even the Valar knew the meaning of the Gift of Ilúvatar or the destiny of Men after they left the world.

The High King, Fingolfin, seeing Men as reinforcements that might tip the balance against Morgoth, wished to assault Angband. The Elves of Nargothrond and Gondolin, however, were content to stay in their hidden cities; the sons of Fëanor refused to follow Fingolfin. Thus, the Elves were unready when Morgoth struck first.

After a terrible eruption of Thangorodrim, the Dragon Glaurung led a host of Balrogs and Orcs through Angband’s gates. One by one, with fire, whip, and sword, Glaurung’s host destroyed the Elves’ fortresses until just the hidden realms of Doriath, Gondolin, and Nargothrond remained. Two ages of the world later, the Wizard Gandalf, recalling tales of Glaurung, would send Bilbo Baggins and thirteen Dwarves on a quest to kill the Dragon Smaug lest he repeat Glaurung’s terror.

Fingolfin, in despair at the ruin of his realm and of his plans, rode off to challenge Morgoth to single combat. Fearful of losing face before Sauron and the Balrogs, Morgoth came to battle with the hammer Grond, with which Sauron’s army would much later smash Minas Tirith’s gates. With Grond, Morgoth slew Fingolfin, but not before the Elven King had given the Dark Enemy seven wounds that would maim him until time’s end. The kingship of the Dark Elves passed to Fingolfin’s son, Fingon.

All of the men of war of Bëor’s house went to the Battle of Sudden Flame. Of this house, just a handful, led by Barahir’s son, Beren, lived on as outlaws in the wild. Beren’s immortal adventures will be told next in “The Tale of Beren and Lúthien.”

 

The Parallels

 

In the story of the Elves and Men at war with Morgoth, we see at work one of Tolkien’s favorite Biblical themes — providence, God’s unseen hand at work in history to lead it towards His ends for His children’s ultimate benefit. Although we’ll see providence at work most clearly in the lives of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, it shows up also in the Elves’ lives. Providence is best shown in the Book of Esther (a book in which, in its Hebrew text, the name of God never appears), when Mordecai tells Esther, “If you hold your peace just now, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place … and who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14).

Providence appears in The Silmarillion in works that the Valar, who will not fight openly for the Noldor, do for them indirectly. The most spectacular display of providence is the making of the moon and of the sun. Although the account of their creation owes nothing to the Bible (as far as I know, the concept of the moon as a flower and the sun as a fruit is original to Tolkien), their being set in the sky as a check on Morgoth’s power is purely providential. So is Ulmo’s leading Turgon to build the hidden city of Gondolin, from which the Elves’ deliverance, as we shall see, will come beyond hope in the end.

Tolkien borrows yet another theme from the Garden of Eden when he has the Valar shut Valinor against the exiled Noldor. In the Bible, God sets cherubim (guardian angels) and a flaming sword as barriers against Adam and Eve’s return to the garden (Genesis 3:24). In The Silmarillion, the Valar set the Shadowy Seas and the Enchanted Isles as barriers against the Noldor’s return to Valinor. In both cases, as we shall see, it will take an intercessor’s sacrificial work to open the way for a return to Paradise.

Tolkien’s theme of treachery, and the treacherous betrayed, is universal. Persons of any culture in any time could understand the game of deception and counter-deception that Morgoth and Maedhros played with each other. We speak of what happened to Maedhros as “the biter bit.” The Bible speaks of this theme in the verse, “All those who take the sword shall perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52). In general, as we watch the consequences of the Kinslaying and the Doom of Mandos unfold, we can see a Biblical principle at work: “When desire has conceived, it brings forth sin, and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death” (James 1:13-15).

The prophetic dreams that guide Turgon and others of the Free Peoples (Elves and Humans) throughout Tolkien’s works are also universal, occurring in all of the mythologies that Tolkien knew. Such dreams do have parallels in Scripture. The most famous of such dreams occur to Joseph, the son of Jacob (Genesis 37:5-11) and to his namesake, Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather (Matthew 2:13, 19-20).

Again, it is a universal human experience that wrongdoers hope to hide knowledge of their wrongs. Nonetheless, it comes out. Thus, the Noldor cannot hide knowledge of the Kinslaying and gain through it a reputation for deception as well as violence. Jesus said, “Nothing is concealed, that will not be revealed, nor hid, that will not be known. Therefore, whatever you have spoken in darkness will be heard in light, and what you have spoken in the ear in the inner chamber will be proclaimed on the housetops” (Luke 12:2-3).

Throughout the false peace, Morgoth is consistent with what he has been from the start. Thus, he persists in a course of lies, false promises, and murder to gain dominion over all of Middle-Earth. In his consistency, he is like his Biblical original, of whom Jesus said, “You are from your father, the devil, and you will to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and did not stand in the truth, for the truth is not in him. When he speaks the lie, he speaks from his own, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).

Last, you may find it strange that the Valar know nothing of Men’s destiny after they receive the Gift of Ilúvatar, death. The Valar’s ignorance leads the Elves to pity Men for their short lives in the world. In contrast with compassion, a “feeling-together” with another’s suffering, pity is something that only someone better off can feel for someone worse off. The one who pities feels superior to the one who is pitied. The one who is pitied often picks up on the feeling of superiority in the one who pities, and becomes estranged from the pitier. Thus, the Elves’ pity of Men, based on the Elves’ ignorance of Men’s true destiny, leads to mistrust and misunderstanding between Elves and Men. The Elves cannot know that Men have a destiny as high as, if not higher than, their own.

In showing the Valar as ignorant of Men’s final destiny, Tolkien is being faithful to the Bible’s teaching on angels. These, like the Valar, live in the presence of the One and see the One’s will more clearly in many ways than humans can. Still, the angels, deathless creatures who cannot fall and be saved, are puzzled by the salvation open to humans. The Apostle Peter wrote, “[This salvation] the angels desire to look into” (I Peter 1:10-12).

 

 

 

 

THE TALE OF BEREN AND LÚTHIEN

 

 

(SPOILER ALERT! This chapter summarizes the chapter “Of Beren and Lúthien” from The Silmarillion.)

 

The Story

 

After the Battle of Sudden Flame, Barahir and his son, Beren, stayed in the north to fight Morgoth. Sauron sent one of Barahir’s men a false vision leading him to betray Barahir’s hidden camp. While Beren was scouting, Sauron’s Orcs attacked the camp and killed all there. Returning there, Beren buried his father and then pursued the Orcs. Daringly, he recovered from them the ring that the Elvish King Felagund of Nargothrond had given Barahir in payment for saving Felagund’s life.

Pursued by Morgoth, Beren fled southward into Doriath, the enchanted realm of the Elvish King Thingol and his wife, the Maia Melian. There, at moonrise on a summer’s eve, Beren saw Lúthien, Thingol and Melian’s daughter, dancing in the woods. She was the most beautiful of all of Ilúvatar’s Children. Beren fell in love with her. As he ran to her, she vanished.

Wandering the woods in quest of her, he saw her on an autumn evening and on a winter night, but could never approach her. At last, as spring began, he heard her sing a song more beautiful than any other that had been sung since the Great Music. When he called out to her, “Tinúviel,” Elvish for nightingale, she responded to the name as her own and fell in love with Beren.

When Thingol learned what his daughter had done, he took Beren captive and brought him to the throne for judgment. There, Beren found courage to claim Lúthien as his own. Thingol would have slain Beren but for Barahir’s ring. Thingol did set Beren a task that, if attempted, would surely cause his death: Thingol told Beren that he could have Lúthien as his wife if he brought him as her bride price one of the Silmarils from Morgoth’s crown. Melian, hearing her husband’s challenge, grieved: by involving himself with the Silmarils, Thingol had brought upon himself the Doom of Mandos.

Beren, saying that Thingol had sold his daughter cheaply, set off for Nargothrond to seek Felagund’s help. Felagund, recalling the debt that he owed Beren’s father, volunteered to help Beren win the Silmaril. Two of Fëanor’s sons, Celegorm and Curufin, who were living in Nargothrond, warned Thingol that Fëanor’s Oath made them foes of whoever kept from them a Silmaril. Ignoring their warning, Felagund left Nargothrond with Beren and a small party of Elves to enter Angband, Morgoth’s supposedly impenetrable fortress.

On the way there, Beren and Felagund slew Orcs and took their gear as disguises. When Beren’s party passed an outlying watchtower, Sauron, its master, called the party of “Orcs” before him to tell him their business. Felagund fought with a Sauron a magical duel that Sauron won, exposing the party as Elves and a Man. Unable, however, to learn their names or their business, he put them into a dungeon where, night after night, he sent a wolf to slay one of the party until just Beren and Felagund remained.

Meanwhile, Lúthien had been trying to find Beren. After being held prisoner by her father, Lúthien had escaped from Doriath, only to be captured by Celegorm and Curufin, who took her to Nargothrond, where they meant to force her to marry Celegorm. With the aid of Celegorm’s hunting dog, Huan, one of the hounds of Valinor, Lúthien escaped from Nargothrond and reached the watchtower.

There, Sauron’s wolf had just killed Felagund. Lúthien sang a song that awoke a response from Beren. The song also awoke a response from Sauron, who sent a wolf after her. When Huan slew it, Sauron recalled a prophecy that Huan could never die until he met the world’s mightiest wolf. Sauron himself, taking a wolf’s form, fought Huan. Huan’s power and Lúthien’s song prevailed. Sauron was forced to release Beren and flee in disgrace to Morgoth.

Beren and Lúthien wandered long until he found resolve to send her home and go for the Silmaril alone. Before he could, Celegorm and Curufin attacked him and Lúthien. Huan fought against his old master. Beren defeated Celegorm and stripped him of his weapons, but Curufin, riding off with his brother, shot Beren with a poisoned arrow. Beren was saved from death only by a magical leaf that Huan brought him, and by Lúthien’s song.

As Beren got better, he agreed to Lúthien’s demand to share his path wherever it might run. With her aid, he disguised himself as a wolf. With her as a bat beside him, he set off for Angband. At its gate, Beren and Lúthien met Carcharoth, the world’s mightiest wolf, whom Morgoth had bred in view of Huan’s prophecy. With her song, Lúthien put Carcharoth asleep.

Beren and Lúthien went on to Morgoth’s throne room. There, Beren, still disguised as a wolf, slunk under Morgoth’s throne. Lúthien, dropping her disguise, offered to serve Morgoth as a minstrel. While Morgoth conceived an abominable lust for her, she sang the second mightiest song ever sung by a Child of Ilúvatar. One by one, Morgoth’s minions fell asleep. At length, he, too, fell senseless from his throne. His iron crown rolled from his head.

Lúthien awoke Beren, who cut a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown. When he tried to cut the other two Silmarils from it, his knife snapped. As Morgoth and his minions began to stir, Beren and Lúthien fled the throne room in terror. At Angband’s gates, they met Carcharoth, again awake. Lúthien, spent from her song before Morgoth, could do nothing against him. Beren tried to raise against him the Silmaril’s light, as Frodo and Sam would raise that light, caught in the Phial of Galadriel, against Shelob. Carcharoth, however, bit off Beren’s hand. Driven mad by the Silmaril’s holy light in his evil body, Carcharoth ran howling off.

Lúthien barely had time to stanch Beren’s wound before Huan came to bear her and Beren away from Morgoth’s pursuit. With the aid of Huan and the eagles of Manwë, Beren and Lúthien returned to Doriath. There, Beren claimed Lúthien on the basis of his having a Silmaril in his hand. When Thingol challenged him to produce the jewel, he showed Thingol his handless arm and said that the hand was in Carcharoth. Thingol, at last seeing Beren as a Man of truth and courage, granted him Lúthien’s love.

This, Beren did not long enjoy. Carcharoth, with the Silmaril’s power within him, burst into Doriath and began to ravage the land. Beren, Thingol, and Huan hunted him. In a terrible battle with Carcharoth, Huan slew the wolf, but not before both Huan and Beren were mortally wounded. Beren had just enough time to place the Silmaril in Thingol’s hands before he died.

At Lúthien’s prayer, Beren was detained in the Halls of Mandos and did not pass beyond them to whatever destiny awaited Men. Lúthien herself soon sickened and died. Coming in spirit before Mandos, she sang to him the mightiest song of Ilúvatar’s Chidren, a song of all of the suffering and sorrow of Elves and of Men in Middle-Earth. The pitiless Mandos, moved to tears for the sole time, granted Lúthien her wish.

She chose to return with Beren to Middle-Earth and live with him there the rest of a mortal life and then share with him Men’s destiny beyond the world. In Middle-Earth, in a hidden land of peace, Beren and Lúthien had a son, Dior. From him, the heritage of Elves and Maiar would reach Men of the present day through his descendants Aragorn and Arwen.

 

The Parallels

 

“The Tale of Beren and Lúthien,” to many the greatest of Tolkien’s tales, is his most personal — the story of him and his wife. As an orphaned teenager under a Catholic priest’s guardianship, Tolkien met and fell in love with a fellow orphan, Edith. Once, when she danced for him in a grove of trees, he conceived a story in which she was an Elven princess; he, an outcast warrior forbidden to marry her. The forbidding reflected Tolkien’s and Edith’s different faiths: he was Catholic; she, Anglican. Indeed, when the priest learned of Tolkien and Edith’s relationship, he forbade Tolkien to see her again. Only when he came of age, and Edith turned to Catholicism, could he marry her. On the Tolkiens’ grave, the word “Beren” stands below his name; the word “Lúthien,” below hers.

Still, Tolkien must have seen parallels between the story of Beren and Lúthien and two Biblical accounts of a man who had to undergo an ordeal to gain the woman whom he loved. The first account is that of Jacob, who had to labor seven years to win Laban’s daughter Rachel (Genesis 29:15-29). The second account is that of David, who had to kill a hundred Philistine warriors to win King Saul’s daughter Michal (I Samuel 18:14-29). King Thingol of Doriath, in “The Tale of Beren and Lúthien,” shows both Laban’s greed and King Saul’s suspicion and pride.

In keeping with Tolkien’s statement that, though he detested allegory, he accepted applicability, this tale has much of the latter. King Felagund of Nargothrond represents the godly man, who, having sworn an oath to his hurt, yet keeps it (Psalm 15:1-5). Lúthien shows Ruth’s determination to share the fate of one whom she loves (Ruth 1:16-17). Beren, Felagund, Huan, and Lúthien all illustrate the theme of sacrifice that runs through Tolkien’s work. Tolkien again plays the “Adam and Eve” theme when he restores Beren and Lúthien to a peaceful garden and makes them parents of a son who, like Seth, is the ancestor of the Deliverer, to be embodied at the end of the First Age as Eärendil, at the end of the Second Age as Isildur, and at the end of the Third Age as Aragorn (Genesis 4:25-26; 5:3-5; Luke 3:23-38).

Mostly, as “The Tale of Beren and Lúthien is one of Tolkien’s earliest stories, it is also one of his least Biblical. It borrows its themes of the hunt, shape shifting, magical animals, and a dark quest of the underworld from the Celtic mythology that fascinated Tolkien in his youth. His tale most directly parallels stories of Annwn from the Welsh classic, The Mabinogion.

Tolkien’s tale ends with a magnificent role-reversed retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus. To this, Tolkien gives a bittersweet ending in contrast with the Greek myth’s stark tragedy. In the myth of Orpheus, Orpheus wins his true love, Eurydice, from Hades, but loses her on the way back to the earth. In “The Tale of Beren and Lúthien,” Lúthien wins her true love, Beren, from Mandos and returns with Beren to Middle-Earth, but must sacrifice her immortality for the sake of her love. In The Lord of the Rings, Lúthien’s descendent, Arwen, will make Lúthien’s bittersweet choice out of love of Aragorn.

In the end, “The Tale of Beren and Lúthien” is a beautiful story. We do no wrong in appreciating it just as that.

 

 

 

 

THE TRAGEDY OF TÚRIN TURAMBAR

 

 

(SPOILER ALERT! This chapter summarizes the chapters “Of the Fifth Battle” and “Of Túrin Turambar” from The Silmarillion.)

 

The Story

 

After Beren and Lúthien had stolen the Silmaril from Morgoth, King Fingon of the Noldor and Fëanor’s sons felt that they might take Angband. They formed an alliance of Elves, Dwarves, and Men to attack Morgoth. The Elves of Nargothrond and Doriath, however, angry with Fëanor’s sons for their ill-treatment of Beren and Lúthien, stayed home.

In the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, the alliance was betrayed by the men of the East, who would later fight for Sauron in the War of the Rings. The faithful Elves, Dwarves, and Men fell to an army of Balrogs, Orcs, and wolves, led by the Dragon Glaurung.

The leader of the faithful men in the battle was Húrin, of the House of Bëor, to which Beren belonged. Húrin had once gone to the hidden city of Gondolin. Capturing Húrin, Morgoth tried to make him betray the hidden city. When Húrin refused to, Morgoth chained him to Thangorodrim and cursed him to watch through a Vala’s eyes the grief that would befall his family.

Húrin had left at home his wife, Morwen, pregnant at the time, and a young son, Túrin. Morgoth gave the Easterlings the lands that had once belonged to the House of Bëor. The Easterlings feared Morwen, whom they suspected of being an Elvish witch. She gave birth to a daughter, Nienor. The life of Morwen, Túrin, and Nienor was miserable, both from the loss of Húrin and from the Easterlings’ vile behavior.

After a while, Morwen sent Túrin for fostering by King Thingol of Doriath. Túrin begged his mother to come with him. She refused, hoping that Húrin would still return to her. In Doriath, Thingol became a mighty warrior against the Orcs. He wore a dragon-helmet, an heirloom of the House of Bëor.

One of Thingol’s Elves envied Túrin his honor from the king. When Túrin came home unkempt from the woods one day, the Elf asked him whether his mother was as wild as he was. Túrin, responding to the Elf’s insult, inadvertently caused his death and, fearing the King’s vengeance, fled from Doriath.

In the wild, Túrin became an outlaw, leading a band of Men and Elves against all around them. In Doriath, Thingol, learning the truth of the Elf’s death, pardoned Túrin and sent an Elvish warrior named Beleg to find him. Túrin, from pride, refused Thingol’s pardon and convinced Beleg to join the band. Thereafter, it fought only Orcs.

When Beleg returned to Doriath to give Thingol news of Túrin, Túrin sought a new stronghold. After meeting a Dwarf named Mîm and killing Mîm’s son, Túrin agreed to spare Mîm’s life in exchange for shelter in the Dwarf’s caves. There, Túrin became a terror to Morgoth’s Orcs. There, in time, Beleg returned, bearing from Doriath the Dragon-Helm and Anglachel, a black sword of meteoric iron.

One day, while Beleg was scouting, Mîm went into the woods to gather herbs and was seized by Orcs. To save his life, he offered to lead them to Túrin’s lair. Túrin’s men were killed; he himself was captured. The Orcs, fearing no pursuit, took him slowly on to Angband.

Beleg, returning to the caves, learned of Mîm’s betrayal and set out in pursuit of the Orcs. On the road, he met a bent and broken Elf, Gwindor of Nargothrond, an escaped prisoner of war, who led Beleg to the Orcs’ camp. There, in a terrible thunderstorm, Beleg, with skilled and stealthy archery, killed the Orcs. When Beleg freed Túrin of his bonds, however, he cut Túrin in the darkness. Túrin, thinking that an Orc was assaulting him, seized Anglachel from Beleg and slew him with it. When a flash of lightning revealed to Túrin that he had killed his friend, Túrin fell senseless with grief.

With great difficulty, Gwindor got Túrin to Nargothrond. There, the Elves treated Gwindor with distrust as one who had been in Morgoth’s power and might still be under his influence. Túrin, however, became a hero to the Elves and was honored by the king. Finduilas, the king’s daughter, who had once loved Gwindor, found her heart turned against her will to Túrin.

Until then, the Elves of Nargothrond had been hiding from Morgoth’s forces and fighting them from ambush. Túrin convinced the king to turn to open war and to bridge the river before Nargothrond’s gates so that his army could easily leave it.

For a while, Túrin’s policy brought safety to the Elves and Men of the North. During the time of safety, Morwen and Nienor fled from the Easterlings to Doriath. Because Túrin insisted on keeping his name secret and being known only as Dragon-Helm, his mother and sister could not learn where he was.

Morgoth, on the other hand, knew well who Dragon-Helm was and sent against Nargothrond an army of Orcs and wolves led by Glaurung. The Elves, caught in the open, all died. Túrin, protected by the Dragon-Helm’s power, barely got off with his life. The Orcs and Glaurung sacked Nargothrond and took its women and children as prisoners to Angband.

Túrin, reaching Nargothrond, tried to attack Glaurung, but the Dragon, with the power of the evil spirit in his eyes, held Túrin immobile and taunted him for leaving his mother and sister as slaves of the Easterlings while he was a lord of Nargothrond. Glaurung forced Túrin to listen to Finduilas’s pleas for help as the Orcs led her off to slavery. Glaurung then gave Turin a terrible choice, to pursue Finduilas or to try to rescue his mother and sister.

Túrin chose to go to the Easterlings’ land to save his mother and sister. Learning there that Glaurung had lied to him, and that his mother and sister were safe in Doriath, Túrin slew the Easterlings’ king in his own hall and then sought Finduilas. In the forest of Brethil, he found her grave. To prevent her escape during an attack by the Men of Brethil, the Orcs had slain her; the Men of Brethil, finding her, had buried her in a high mound in regard of her nobility. Túrin wept on Finduilas’s grave and then accepted the call of the Men of Brethil to lead them. Among them, he took the name Turambar, Master of Fate.

Meanwhile, word had reached Doriath that the Dragon-Helm was Túrin and that Nargothrond was in the Dragon’s power. Morwen and Nienor, with a party of Elves, went to Nargothrond to learn Túrin’s fate. There, Glaurung, now the Dragon-King of Nargothrond, attacked the party and killed or scattered it, but for Nienor. Glaurung, reading in her mind that she was Húrin’s daughter and Túrin’s sister, stripped her of her memory and power of speech and sent her off into the wild.

Nienor wandered to Finduilas’s grave, where she fell senseless from hunger. There, Turambar found Nienor, a beautiful maiden in a beautiful maiden’s place. When he spoke kindly to Nienor, she was drawn to him, but wept for frustration at being unable to speak. Moved by her tears, he named her Niniel, Tear-Maiden. Not having seen her since her early childhood, he did not know her as his sister.

In time, Turambar and Niniel wed, and Niniel became with child. Glaurung, hearing news of the Black Sword that guarded Brethil, set out for there. Turambar, to guard his people, went out against Glaurung alone and sought to slay him from ambush. Catching the Dragon crossing a ravine near a waterfall, Turambar stabbed him in the belly with the blade Anglachel to its hilts. As Turambar tried to pull out the blade, the Dragon’s venomous blood spurted onto him. He fell to the ground as if he were dead.

There, beside the dying Dragon, Niniel found Turambar. She bound his wound and called on him to awake, but awoke only the Dragon. Glaurung, with his last breath, told her that she was really Nienor, daughter of Húrin, and that her husband, Turambar, was really her brother, Túrin. As the Dragon died, Nienor’s memory returned, and she recognized her brother. In despair at being guilty of incest, she flung herself over the waterfall.

When Túrin awoke, he learned what the Dragon had said and how Nienor had died. Túrin flung himself onto the point of his sword. The Elves of Doriath, learning of his fate, called his torment the worst of all of Morgoth’s deeds. It was whispered that Túrin did not pass beyond the world, but waits in the Halls of Mandos for the Great End, when he will deal Morgoth his death stroke.

 

The Parallels

 

Dark fantasy is nothing new. Tolkien wrote a fine example of it over eighty years ago.

“The Tale of Túrin Turamabar,” another of Tolkien’s oldest works (now also available as the novel The Children of Húrin), is again mainly pagan in origin. It owes most to the story of Kullervo in the Finnish epic The Kalevala. Kullervo, like Túrin, unwittingly mated with his sister and suffered a terrible doom for the sin of incest. Túrin’s story also has overtones, in terms of unwitting incest, of the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex and, in terms of tragic lovers committing suicide, of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The Dwarf, Mîm, and the Dragon, Glaurung, owe much to characters of the Norse saga of the Volsungs and the German epic The Nibelungenlied. The deeds of Mîm and Glaurung will play a major role in the next of Tolkien’s Tales, “The Necklace of the Dwarves.”

Túrin Turambar does have parallels to two of the Bible’s tragic figures, Samson (Judges 13-16) and King Saul of Israel (I Samuel 9-31). Like both men, Túrin has gifts of physical prowess and courage beyond those of ordinary men and is his people’s deliverer. Like both men, Túrin is also proud, impulsive, and vengeful. Like both men, too, Túrin is destroyed by a fatal flaw in his character — the essence of tragedy. As Samson is destroyed by his lust for Delilah, and Saul is destroyed by his fear of David and his superstitious trust in the witch of Endor, Túrin is destroyed by his blind trust in his own destiny as a peerless warrior.

Finally, like both Samson and Saul, Túrin dies by his own hand. For Tolkien as a devout Roman Catholic, Nienor’s and Túrin’s suicides would have been terrible deeds. He would have known that, in the Bible, just four men, all outside God’s will — Saul (I Samuel 31:4-6), Ahithophel (II Samuel 17:23), Zimri (I Kings 16:18), and Judas Iscariot (Matthew 27:3-5) — had killed themselves. Samson’s death at his own hands (Judges 16:25-30), in which he slew a multitude of Israel’s enemies, the Philistines, falls into a gray area between suicide and honorable death in battle and is worthy of discussion in itself in light of modern instances of one’s killing oneself to kill one’s enemies.

Roman Catholicism has taught that suicide is a mortal sin for two reasons. First, it is murder, the unjustified taking of life in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27; 9:5-6). One cannot rightly say that one is taking one’s own life, for the life is God’s in origin and God’s in destiny. Second, suicide is despair, hope’s final rejection. As the mortal sin of suicide leaves no chance for the Church to grant absolution in this world, it must lead to final separation from God in the world to come.

Other Christian traditions, by no means encouraging suicide, recognize that a person covered by God’s grace might, through special circumstances in one’s life that overwhelm one’s ability to go on, take one’s own life, yet be received into God’s presence in the world to come. Such traditions believe that God’s grace can forgive every sin except that of blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31-32).

In Nienor and Túrin’s case, the special circumstance that drives them to suicide is guilty knowledge of their having committed incest. Brother-sister matings horrified the pagan Finns (The Kalevala) just as much as mother-son matings horrified the pagan Greeks . In neither society would Nienor and Túrin’s ignorance of their incest have freed them of guilt of it, as neither Kullervo nor Oedipus knew of his guilt of incest when he committed it, yet suffered for the sin. The Law of Moses, too, condemned mother-son and brother-sister matings (Leviticus 18:6-18). Incest appears in Scripture in the account of King David’s children, Amnon and Tamar (II Samuel 13:1-29). Tamar’s rape by her brother Amnon, and Amnon’s death at the hands of his and Tamar’s brother Absalom, set in motion a cycle of suffering for David’s family with devastating consequences for it.

The tale of Nienor and Túrin, then, reflects both a pagan and a pre-Christian view of justice. Under the Christian Law of Love (Romans 13:8-10; I John 4:7-12), one who is guilty of incest can, like any other sinner, turn from his sin to serve Christ and be received into the Church’s fellowship (I Corinthians 6:9-11; 5:1-5; II Corinthians 2:3-11).

Finally, Glaurung is yet another of Tolkien’s Satan-figures. Although he comes from Fafnir, the Dragon of The Volsunga Saga and The Nibelungenlied, Glaurung, in his role as destroyer, deceiver, and tormentor, is a type of Satan as the Great Dragon (Revelation 20:2-3). In one respect, Glaurung is the worst of Tolkien’s Satan-figures. Whereas Morgoth’s and Sauron’s cruelty is often impersonal, a matter of policy, Glaurung inflicts his cruelty on his victims face to face out of a clear desire to make them suffer for his pleasure. Glaurung is thus like Satan as “a roaring lion … seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8-9).

 

 

 

 

THE NECKLACE OF THE DWARVES

 

 

(SPOILER ALERT! This chapter summarizes the chapter “The Ruin of Doriath” from The Silmarillion.)

 

The Story

 

After the deaths of Túrin Turambar and Nienor, Morgoth freed their father, Húrin, from bondage, not from compassion, but from malice. He had filled Húrin with tales of how the Elves, especially King Thingol of Doriath, had mistreated Húrin’s children.

Húrin sought sanctuary in the hidden Elvish kingdom of Gondolin, where he had once been. When he came to its hidden entrance, he called out to King Turgon, but the king, fearful of taking in a released prisoner of Morgoth’s, refused to heed Húrin’s cries for help. Morgoth’s spies, having followed Húrin, now knew where Gondolin was. Morgoth began laying plans that would mature in The Tale of Gondolin’s Fall.

In his sleep, Húrin heard the voice of his wife, Morwen. Following the voice, he came to the Forest of Brethil, where Morwen was mourning at her children’s grave. There she, too, died. Húrin buried her.

Filled with grief and wrath at his wife’s and his children’s fate, Húrin went on to Nargothrond, where his children had fallen under Glaurung’s spell. There, Húrin found the Dwarf Mîm seated on the pile of gold where the Dragon had once lain. Mîm had claimed the gold as compensation for Túrin’s killing his son, but Húrin claimed the treasure for his son’s having killed Glaurung. When Mîm tried to buy Húrin off, he slew the Dwarf.

Húrin took from the Dragon’s hoard a fabulous necklace that the Dwarves had made for King Felagund, who had died in Beren’s quest of the Silmaril. Húrin took the necklace to Doriath, where he threw it at King Thingol’s feet and called it payment for the king’s fine treatment of Morwen, Túrin, and Nienor. When Húrin learned the truth from Thingol and his wife, the Maia Melian, Húrin was ashamed of having believed Morgoth’s lies. Leaving the necklace with Thingol, he wandered on to the western sea and flung himself into its waves.

Thingol, seeing that the necklace would make a fitting setting for the Silmaril that Beren and Lúthien had won from Morgoth, summoned Dwarvish goldsmiths to set the jewel in the necklace. The Dwarves grew filled with greed for their ancient necklace and the incomparable Elvish jewel. When the Dwarves’ work was done, they demanded Thingol’s necklace as their own. When he refused to give it to them, they slew him.

Most of the Dwarves fleeing from Doriath were killed by Elves. The Necklace of the Dwarves, now the Silmaril’s setting, was recaptured. A few of the Dwarves, reaching their underground cities in the Blue Mountains, fired their kindred to vengeance on the Elves.

In Menegroth, the cavern-city of Doriath’s Elves, Melian found no joy in the Silmaril’s recovery; the husband with whom she had lived for ages of the world was dead. Sending Beren and Lúthien in their hidden land word that she was leaving Middle-Earth, Melian went into the West. Her magic, which for ages had kept Doriath from all invaders, was gone.

The Dwarves, coming in force against Menegroth, slew its defenders and sacked the city. They took a hoard of gold and the Necklace of the Dwarves. As the Dwarves were crossing a river on the way home, a host of Dark Elves, led by Beren, fell upon them. The Dwarves died, but not before their king had cursed the gold.

Beren took the necklace home to Lúthien, who, wearing the Silmaril in the necklace’s setting, was the loveliest sight ever seen in Middle-Earth. Beren and Lúthien’s son, Dior, as Thingol’s heir, led a force of Dark Elves to reclaim Doriath. There, Dior reigned as king, and his daughter Elwing grew up.

After a time, a messenger bearing the Necklace arrived in Menegroth. From the Necklace’s presence, Dior knew that his parents had passed beyond the world to whatever fate awaited Men. When he began to wear the Silmaril, Fëanor’s sons demanded that he return it to them. When he refused, they led an army of Elves against Menegroth in the second Kinslaying of Elf by Elf. Fëanor’s sons killed Dior and his men, but his daughter, Elwing, fled with the Silmaril into the south.

 

The Parallels

 

The killings of the Necklace of the Dwarves produce the bad blood between Dwarves and Elves that shows up in The Hobbit and in the Council of Elrond in The Lord of the Rings.

The Necklace of the Dwarves is a transitional story setting up the events of The Fall of Gondolin and The Voyage of Eärendil. The theme of the necklace is cursed gold of a dragon’s hoard, which comes from The Volsunga Saga and The Nibelungenlied. Anyone who has read these works knows to have nothing to do with Dwarf-cursed gold!

Even though the story is part of Tolkien’s earliest, most pagan-influenced work, he would have been well aware of its Biblical applicability. In general, the story holds the outworking of the Deceiver’s lies in the lives of those whom he has misled. In particular, the story shows this outworking in two deadly sins, wrath and greed. All who yield to either of these fall under the Curse of Mandos. Even the innocent Melian, who had tried to dissuade Thingol from his actions, suffers from them.

What one could teach from this story is each person’s need to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for human wrath does not produce God’s righteousness” (James 1:19-20). Put another way, “Do not avenge yourselves, but give way to God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine; I will repay,’ the Lord says” (Romans 12:17-21). The pride and greed of the Dwarves and Elves sets in motion a wheel of hatred that is still turning in the time of Gimli and Legolas, thousands of years later. Only the two companions’ courage and wisdom in seeing each other as a friend, not a hereditary foe, breaks the cycle.

The wrath in the story is tied up with possession of material goods, Nargothrond’s gold and Fëanor’s Silmaril. “The love of money is a root of all evils.” (I Timothy 6:10). Even artists as great as the Dwarves can grow obsessed with their handiwork; even a king as noble and wise as Thingol can fall to gold’s lure.

Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith!” (Proverbs 15:16) One could contrast the attitudes of Thingol and the Dwarves with that of Pippin, Frodo’s companion, who cast away a jewel of Lothlórien, a gift of Galadriel, to give his companions a clue to his still being alive after he had been captured by Orcs. When he later told his companions that it was a wrench to let the jewel go, Aragorn, Thingol’s descendant, replied to him, “One who cannot cast away a treasure at need is in fetters.”

 

 

 

 

THE TALE OF GONDOLIN’S FALL

 

 

(SPOILER ALERT! This chapter summarizes the chapters “Of Maeglin” and “Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin” from The Silmarillion.)

 

The Story

 

After Huor, Húrin’s brother, died in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, Huor’s wife bore a son, Tuor. Although he was a Man, he was reared by fugitive Elves. He became an outlaw fighting against Morgoth.

In time, Ulmo, the Power of the sea, called Tuor by secret ways to the old halls where King Turgon of Gondolin had lived before he built the Hidden City. In the old halls, Tuor found a suit of armor that Ulmo had bidden Turgon hide there. The armor was a sign that whoever wore it was Ulmo’s messenger.

Ulmo, appearing to Tuor in a storm by the sea, bade him find Gondolin. When the storm ended, Tuor found on the shore an Elf, sole survivor of a ship that Turgon had sent as an embassy to the Valar in Valinor. The Elf, learning of Tuor’s mission, led him to the Hidden City.

Taken prisoner by its guards, Tuor was led before King Turgon. Before his throne, Tuor was recognized as Ulmo’s messenger. Tuor told Turgon that the Curse of Mandos would destroy him and his people if they stayed in Gondolin, and bade Turgon lead all of his people to the sea.

Turgon, proud of his city’s strength and beauty, spurned Ulmo’s warning. Still, Turgon, from respect for Ulmo and admiration of Tuor’s courage and fair appearance, welcomed the Man to his city. In time, the king’s daughter, Idril, fell in love with Tuor.

Her love for the Man awoke the jealousy of Maeglin, the king’s heir. Maeglin was the son of the king’s sister. She, wandering once from the Hidden City, had been taken prisoner by the Dark Elf Eöl and made his wife. Escaping with her son to Gondolin, the king’s sister had been tracked down and killed by Eöl, whom Turgon had killed in turn. Still, Turgon had accepted Maeglin for his mother’s sake. Maeglin had much of his father’s dark nature and longed to marry his cousin, Idril, though the Elves banned marriages of relatives of near degree.

Tuor and Idril married and had a son, Eärendil. Tuor and Idril, amid their happiness, recalled Ulmo’s warning. On Idril’s advice, Tuor’s followers built a secret way of escape from Gondolin.

Morgoth, having learned from Hurin Gondolin’s general location, had been seeking the city with spies. One day, these captured Maeglin and took him to Angband for questioning. There, Morgoth bought Maeglin’s treason against the Hidden City with the promise of Gondolin’s rule and Idril’s hand. Maeglin told Morgoth all of Gondolin’s secrets and then returned to the Hidden City to open its gates to Morgoth’s armies.

On a night of festival, as the Gondolindrim were watching the east for sunrise, a red dawn rose in the north as Dragons led a host of Balrogs, Orcs, and wolves against the Hidden City. In Morgoth’s assault, Maeglin seized Idril, but Tuor fought Maeglin and slew him. Tuor wanted to stay to protect the city, but Idril convinced him of its being lost and of his need to guide her, her son, and their followers to safety.

Thus, as Turgon and his warriors died nobly, but terribly, in the fire of Dragons and Balrogs, Tuor led his family and followers along Idril’s way of escape. In the hills around Gondolin, a company of Orcs led by a Balrog caught Tuor’s party. Only the heroism of an Elf named Glorfindel, who died killing the Balrog, let the party escape.

With much suffering, it reached Middle-Earth’s shores. There, Tuor’s party of survivors of Gondolin mingled with survivors of Doriath, led by Elwing, the daughter of Dior, the son of Lúthien and Beren. There, too, came the Sea-Elves led by Círdan the Shipwright, and other Elves that had fled from the North.

The refugees awaited Morgoth’s attacking them anew. Tuor and Idril, sad at all that they had lost in Middle-Earth, set sail in a ship for the West. Whether they reached Valinor, no tale tells.

 

The Parallels

 

“The Fall of Gondolin” was Tolkien’s first story, written during World War One in the trenches of France. The story holds many motifs familiar to readers of Greek mythology and Tolkien.

The armor by which Turgon recognizes Tuor recalls the armor that Aegeus, King of Athens, left under a stone for his son, Theseus. The armor is equivalent to the sword Excalibur, which revealed Arthur as England’s rightful king by his ability to pull it from a stone.

Tolkien recycled three elements of “The Fall of Gondolin” in The Lord of the Rings. Morgoth’s seduction of Maeglin to treason with Gondolin’s throne and Idril’s hand turns into Saruman’s seduction of Wormtongue to treason with Rohan’s throne and Eowyn’s hand. Glorfindel’s saving of Tuor’s party from a Balrog at the cost of Glorfindel’s life becomes Gandalf’s saving of Frodo’s party from a Balrog at the apparent cost of Gandalf’s life. (Still, Glorfindel, given the Elvish ability of reincarnation, would be reborn, too.) The siege of Gondolin becomes the siege of Minas Tirith.

(In the book version of The Lord of the Rings, an Elf named Glorfindel, not Arwen, carries Frodo on horseback to Rivendell. The Glorfindel who saved Frodo may well have been the reincarnation of the Glorfindel who saved Eärendil. Tolkien never clearly answered the question what relation the second Glorfindel had to the first.)

Little, if anything, in The Tale of Gondolin’s Fall is specifically Biblical in origin. Still, as both the tale and the Bible address universal themes, there are parallels between the two works. The general story of a doomed holy city recalls the destruction of Jerusalem in a siege by the Babylonians (II Kings 25:1-12). Maeglin, as a traitor, can stand for the Iscariot in the betrayal of Christ (Matthew 26:14-16, 21-25, 46-50; 27:3-10). (Note that Maeglin receives judgment at the hands of the man whom he has betrayed, whereas the Iscariot judges himself.) Finally, Maeglin’s motive for treason, forbidden desire for a female relative, parallels Amnon’s lust for his sister Tamar (II Samuel 13:1-29).

In the next story, The Voyage of Eärendil, Biblical themes will again come to the fore.

 

 

 

 

EÄRENDIL’S VOYAGE

 

 

(SPOILER ALERT! This chapter summarizes the chapter “Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath” from The Silmarillion.)

 

The Story

 

After Tuor and Idril had sailed off, their son, Eärendil, wed Elwing, Beren and Lúthien’s granddaughter. She bore twin sons, Elros and Elrond. Eärendil could not rest at home. In the incomparable ship Vingilot, he sailed the seas west of Middle-Earth in hope of finding his parents and of bringing the Valar a plea for help from Elves and Men. At length, though he had finished neither mission, longing to see Elwing again led him homewards.

While Eärendil was asea, Fëanor’s remaining sons learned that Elwing had the Silmaril that Beren had cut from Morgoth’s crown. Bound by their father’s oath to recover his handiwork, they sent her an embassy demanding that she return them the jewel. When she refused to return it, Fëanor’s sons led their forces against her followers in the third and most evil of the Kinslayings of Elf by Elf. In the battle, all of Fëanor’s sons but Maedhros and Maglor died. They captured Elros and Elrond, but Elwing, bearing the Silmaril, flung herself into the sea.

Ulmo, the sea’s Power, pitying her, gave her the gift to transform herself into a bird. In this form, bearing the Silmaril, she reached her husband’s ship and fell upon its deck. When he tended her, she turned back into his wife. When he learned of his sons’ capture, he feared for their death at the hands of Fëanor’s sons. Maglor, feeling guilt over the Kinslaying, spared the boys.

Eärendil, seeing no hope left in Middle-Earth, turned his ship again in quest of Valinor, which none of the Noldor had reached since their exile from it. Wearing the Silmaril on his brow, he passed the Enchanted Isles and the Shadowy Seas to the Sea Elves’ havens, where the first Kinslaying had occurred.

Eärendil and Elwing went ashore. Eärendil sought the Valar until Eönwë, Manwë’s herald, led him to them. Eärendil, telling them of the suffering of Middle-Earth’s Free Peoples, begged the Valar’s pardon for the Noldor and pity on the Dark Elves and Men, oppressed by Morgoth.

The Valar dealt first with whether Eärendil, Elwing, and their sons were Elves or Men. The Valar gave each member of the family the right to choose to which people he or she belonged. Elwing chose to be an Elf; Eärendil, to be with his wife. Neither could return to the lands of Elves and Men. The Valar raised Vingilot to the heavens and set Eärendil, wearing the Silmaril, at its prow. In the heavens, he shines before dawn or after dusk as a sign of hope. Elwing stayed in a tower by the sea, but, when her husband neared the earth, she could fly to him as a bird.

The star filled Middle-Earth’s Elves with hope, and Morgoth with doubt, as an army of Valar, Maiar, and Elves sailed from Valinor to Middle-Earth to answer Eärendil’s prayer. The War of Wrath between the Valar and Morgoth was terrible, sinking into the sea most of the ancient Elven lands west of the Blue Mountains. In the end, when all of Morgoth’s Balrogs and Orcs had fled or been killed, he loosed his last defense, winged dragons. Against these, the Valar themselves fell back. Only the timely arrival of Eärendil, fighting from Vingilot’s deck, and the Eagles of Manwë saved the day for the Free Peoples.

Only a few of Morgoth’s minions survived, fleeing into the east. The Valar pursued Morgoth into Angband’s deepest pits. There, they bound him with a chain and cut the two remaining Silmarils from his crown. These, they gave into Eönwë’s safekeeping. Fëanor’s sons, fearing that the Silmarils were about to be lost to them forever, bade Eönwë return them the jewels, but he said that Fëanor’s sons’ evil deeds had voided their claim to the jewels. In desperation driven by their father’s oath, Maedhros and Maglor stole them.

The jewels, recognizing Fëanor’s sons as evil, burned their hands. In despair at being rejected by what he must possess, Maedhros hurled himself and his Silmaril into a fiery chasm. Maglor flung his jewel into the sea and has ever after wandered Middle-Earth’s shores and sung laments for all that he lost.

Most of the Elves of Middle-Earth chose to return to the West. Círdan the Shipwright, however, stayed at the Gray Havens. Galadriel went with her husband Celeborn into the east. Elros chose to be human, but his brother, Elrond, chose to be an Elf and served in Middle-Earth as herald of Gil-Galad, the High King of the Elves who stayed there. Elros and Elrond were parted, but their descendents, Aragorn and Arwen, would reunite their lineages two ages of the world later.

Morgoth, the Valar cast into the Timeless Void beyond the Walls of the World. There, Eärendil keeps watch on him. Nonetheless, Morgoth’s lies still bear fruit among Elves and Men.

 

The Parallels

 

Tolkien’s tale of Eärendil has a Christian origin in an Old-English poem, “Crist,” in which appear the lines, “Eala Earendel engla beorhtast/ ofer middangeard monnum sended.” These may be translated into Modern English as, “Hail, Earendel, the brightest angel sent to the world of men!” The word for world in this line, middangeard, literally means Middle-Earth. From this one line, Tolkien developed, not only his tale of the angelic messenger Eärendil, but also the whole rich mythology of The Silmarillion, The Children of Húrin, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings.

Eärendil fills the Biblical role of an intercessor, one who “goes between” fallen humans and a righteous God to plead for their forgiveness. The concept of an intercessor first appears in the Book of Job, where the suffering innocent wants someone to plead his case with God (Job 9:32-35). In Hebrew Scriptures, the most dramatic example of an intercessor was the High Priest, who, on the Day of Atonement, carried a sacrificial animal’s blood into the Holy of Holies of the temple to cover Israel’s sins (Leviticus 16:1-34). The New Testament sees Jesus, who died for the sins of all of humanity, as the fulfillment of the high priestly role of intercessor (Hebrews 4:14-5:10).

Eärendil, bearing Beren’s Silmaril into the heavens, becomes the morning star, foreshadowing the deliverance of Elves and Men from Morgoth. In the role of Morning Star, Eärendil is a Christ-figure, for Christ is called the “bright and morning star” (Revelation 22:16). He is also the day-star that rises in our hearts (II Peter 1:16-20). In both roles, He appears as the promise of our final deliverance from darkness. Those who overcome temptation and keep doing righteous deeds to the end will receive the morning star’s fulfillment (Revelation 2:26-28). A star was associated with Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:1-12). Many early Christian writers saw Jesus as the fulfillment of a promised “Star out of Jacob” (Numbers 24:15-17).

The answer to Eärendil’s prayer for Elves and Men is an apocalyptic war in which the archangelic Valar overthrow the Satan-figure, Morgoth. From this war, Sauron, a Balrog, and the Dragon Smaug escape to bedevil Elves and Men in the world’s Second and Third Ages. Morgoth himself is chained again, but will break his chains at time’s end to start the Final War. After his defeat in this, Elves and Men (and possibly Dwarves and Ents) will join the Valar and the Maiar in the Second Great Music, the creation of a world untouched by Morgoth’s evil.

The parallels of the War of Wrath and the Final War to the Book of Revelation have already been discussed. The drowning of much of Beleriand has parallels to the flood of Noah, the Cataclysm. This will appear much more clearly in Tolkien’s tale of his Atlantis, Númenor, the Fallen Land to which Elros went and from which Aragorn’s ancestors came.

 

 

 

 

THE RISE AND FALL OF NÚMENOR

 

 

(SPOILER ALERT! This chapter summarizes the chapter “The Akallabeth” from The Silmarillion.)

 

The Story

 

When the Valar overthrew Morgoth in the War of Wrath at the First Age’s end, they rewarded the Men who fought on their side with a new homeland, the island of Númenor, raised in the sea between Middle-Earth and the Undying Lands. To the intercessor Eärendil’s half-Elven, half-human children, the Valar gave a choice of the race to which each child would belong. Elrond chose to be an Elf and stay in Middle-Earth with the new Elven high king, Gil-Galad.

Elrond’s brother, Elros, chose to be a Man. He sailed with the other faithful Men to Númenor and became the first king of the Dúnedain, the Men of the West. To them, the Valar gave a lifespan many times that of lesser men. The Valar put on the Númenóreans just one restriction: that they must never sail to the Undying Lands, reserved to the immortals. The Númenóreans built fair cities and swift ships. In the heart of Númenor, on the land’s highest peak, Meneltarma, the Númenóreans built a holy place, an open-roofed temple to Ilúvatar, the All-Father.

In Númenor’s early days, the Dúnedain were Elf-friends: they sailed to the Elven lands of Middle-Earth, and the Elves of the Undying Lands sailed to Númenor. The Elves of the West brought gifts, the mightiest of which was a white tree, the image of the tree Telperion, whose silver light had once lit Valinor for half of the day, and was now preserved only in the moon. The kings of Númenor planted the White Tree in their palace’s heart.

For many lifetimes, the Númenóreans blessed the world. While much of Middle-Earth suffered under Morgoth’s servant, Sauron, the Númenóreans brought its coastlands order and prosperity in mighty cities that the Númenóreans built as colonies. In time, however, the Númenóreans grew jealous of the immortal lives of the Elves and the Valar and began to resent the ban on sailing into the West. The Elves tried to explain to the Dúnedain that death was Ilúvatar’s gift to Men. It could not be taken from them just by sailing to the Undying Lands. These, which enhanced the lives of the immortals who lived there, would shorten the lives of Men if they came there. To the Elves belonged a blessing in life in the world; to Men, a blessing in death beyond the world.

The Men of Númenor mistrusted a blessing hidden from them, but, fearing the Valar’s might, still obeyed the ban. Númenor’s kings tried to cling to life by medicine and magic, but died at last and left only mummies filling ever-growing tombs. A party called the King’s Men grew estranged from the Elves, but a party called the Faithful kept the ancient friendship, even as the King’s Men’s hostility to the Elves and Elf-Friends grew. The Faithful were headed by a house that descended from Elros, but did not hold the throne.

While dissension arose in Númenor, Sauron had deceived Middle-Earth’s Elves into making rings of power. He enslaved the rings with the One Ring that he himself cast in Mount Doom in the land of Mordor. War broke out between Sauron and the Elves, who hid three rings that Sauron had never touched. The Elves could resist Sauron in part because of aid from the Númenóreans on Middle-Earth’s coasts. Sauron conceived a terrible hatred of Númenor. With some of the nine rings that he gave Men, Sauron enslaved Númenórean lords who sought power and immortal life. In time, the enslaved Men became the Nazgûl, the Ringwraiths, undead sorcerors who lived half in this world and half in the unseen realm. With the Nazgûl’s aid, Sauron began to assault the Númenórean cities in Middle-Earth.

In Númenor itself, the kings, burning with resentment of their mortality, turned further against all things Elvish. They neglected the White Tree, banned the use of Elvish languages and Elven visits to Númenor, and banished the Faithful to Númenor’s east coast, farthest from the Undying Lands. A last faithful king came to the throne, but could not reverse his kingdom’s slide into unbelief. At his death, the throne should have passed to his only child, a daughter, but her cousin, Ar-Pharazôn, forced her to marry him and then took her throne. Although he had no love for Elves, he grew angry at Sauron, who, in defiance of the Númenóreans, had taken the title King of Men. This title, Ar-Pharazôn saw as his own.

Although Númenor had declined in wisdom and faith, it had grown in material wealth and military might. Ar-Pharazôn assembled the greatest fleet that the world had seen, and filled it with an army worthy of the fleet. When this reached Middle-Earth’s shores, Sauron’s servants fled in fear. Ar-Pharazôn marched at the head of an army to Mordor. There, filled with confidence, he sent heralds to summon Sauron to him. Sauron, seeing that he could not win a military victory, decided to rely on his and Morgoth’s greatest weapon: deception. Thus, Sauron took off the One Ring and came to Ar-Pharazôn in surrender. In triumph, Númenor’s king took Sauron home.

There, things went as Sauron wished. Appearing as a figure of light, he told the King’s Men in honeyed words that it was their destiny to rule the world, but that the Valar and the Elves stood in the way of their receiving the True God’s blessings. This was not Ilúvatar, whom the Valar had made up to justify their unjust rule of Men, but Morgoth, the Lord of the Darkness, out of which all things arose. If the Men of Númenor served Morgoth, they would get the power and immortal life that they desired. Ar-Pharazôn and the King’s Men listened ever more to Sauron. They closed the shrine to Ilúvatar on Meneltarma and agreed to cut down the White Tree.

This would have been lost to the world but for the Faithful. In Ar-Pharazôn’s day, they were led by Amandil, his son Elendil, and his sons Isildur and Anárion. They had stayed in secret contact with the Elves of the West through the Palantíri, seven seeing-stones that the Elves had brought from Valinor as gifts to the Faithful. Learning of the plan to destroy the White Tree, Isildur traveled alone through great dangers to the palace and fought his way out of it with a single fruit of the tree. Isildur delivered the fruit to his father and then lay near death until the fruit yielded a sapling whose first leaf restored Isildur to health.

Ar-Pharazôn cut down the White Tree and built a temple to Morgoth where Sauron presided over human sacrifices. These, he said, would give the Númenóreans life and power. The first sacrifices were burned with the wood of the White Tree itself. Death, however, did not leave the land, but grew, for, through dissension that Sauron awoke, Men killed each other for scant cause. They did grow ever richer, both from the plunder of their sacrificial victims and from the wealth that Sauron himself, gold’s master, could make. Still, Men were never satisfied with what they had. Ar-Pharazôn, though king of all the mortal lands by now, felt old age and fear of death stealing all that he had won.

At last, Sauron spoke his greatest deception. He said that the Valar had lied in saying that the Undying Lands could not grant mortals immortal life. The Valar had lied, he said, out of fear and jealously of Númenor’s Kings. It was the greatest injustice that immortal life was withheld from Ar-Pharazôn, King of Kings. “Great kings,” Sauron said, “take what is their due.” Ar-Pharazôn accepted Sauron’s words. In secret at first, but ever more openly with time, he began to prepare a fleet even greater that the one with which he had defeated Sauron.

Amandil, the Faithful’s head, learning of Ar-Pharazôn’s plan, feared for Númenor. He told Elendil and his sons to take their families, their followers, and their goods, including the White Tree and the Seven Stones, aboard ships and wait off Númenor’s east coast. Amandil himself sailed into the West to intercede with the Valar as his ancestor Eärendil had done long before, but Amandil never reached Valinor. What became of him, none knows.

At length, Ar-Pharazôn’s armada was ready; he sailed into the West. He reached the shores of the Undying Lands and stood by the walls of the greatest of Elven cities, but achieved neither power nor life. In the hour of Ar-Pharazôn’s invasion, the Valar called on Ilúvatar to judge the Númenóreans. He caused Valinor’s mountains to fall on the invaders and opened a chasm in the sea between Númenor and the Undying Lands. Into this chasm, Númenor’s fleet fell; out of this chasm climbed a great, green, curving wave, crowned with foam, that swept over Númenor. Out of all the land there remained amid the sea just the peak of Meneltarma, a holy place that mortal Men’s feet could never again tread.

A wind that arose from the abyss carried the Faithful’s fleet to Middle-Earth. There, Elendil and Anárion founded the kingdom of Gondor in the south; Isildur, the kingdom of Arnor in the north. The White Tree was planted in Gondor; the Seven Stones were divided between the two kingdoms. As for Sauron, his body was drowned in the abyss. Never again could he seem fair to Men. His spirit, however, rose from the abyss and returned to Mordor, where he took a new body, one reflecting the darkness and evil within him. He put on the One Ring again and began a war against Elendil and his sons. In this war, Sauron would again fall. Isildur would cut the One Ring from Sauron’s hand.

In times of peace after Sauron’s second fall, the Dúnedain sailed into the West in quest of Númenor and Valinor. They found neither and came at last to Middle-Earth’s western shores. The world had been bent; the Undying Lands had been taken into the heavens and hidden from mortal eyes. To the Elves, however, and to a few faithful among mortals, there remained the Straight Road. Sailing this into the West, one would rise above the mortal world and reach a land untouched by evil.

 

The Parallels

 

Númenor’s tale, as Tolkien said, was the tale of Atlantis. Tolkien’s tale of this grew from a challenge that he took with his friend C. S. Lewis to make original stories of science-fiction for the Inklings, a writer’s club to which both men belonged. Lewis, taking the theme of space travel, wrote Out of the Silent Planet, the first novel in his space trilogy including Perelandra and That Hideous Strength. Tolkien, taking the theme of time travel, began a novel in which men of the present traveled in vision to the lost continent, which Tolkien, using one of his Elvish languages, called Númenor, Land of the West.

Over time, it grew clear to Tolkien that his Atlanteans were Men of Middle-Earth who had survived the War of Wrath at the end of The Silmarillion. After abandoning two starts of the novel, Tolkien got caught up in a new project, The Lord of the Rings. To tie this to Middle-Earth’s First Age, the time of The Silmarillion, Tolkien made Númenor the center of a Second Age, the bridge to the tales of the Third Age, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien’s tale of Atlantis shares all of the key points of the Egyptian tale that Plato retold in his philosophical dialogues Timeus and Critias. In both tales, the gods create a land amid the sea as a homeland for a race of heroes. These, virtuous at first, prosper, not only in material wealth, but also in what pleased the gods most, justice and compassion. In time, greed for material wealth overcame the Atlanteans’ sense of justice. They neglected the worship of the gods and became oppressors, attacking their neighbors just for dominion’s sake. In the end, the gods destroyed the land amid the sea with earthquake and wave in a single night.

To Plato’s tale, Tolkien added details from Celtic mythology, which has Atlantis-like tales of its own of Ys, Lyonesse, and Hy Brasil. He added, too, details from the Biblical parallel to the fall of Atlantis, the Cataclysm, the great flood in which God destroyed all of humanity but Noah and his family (Genesis 6:1-9:17). Much of the tale, however, is original to Tolkien himself and flows forward from The Silmarillion and backward from The Lord of the Rings.

Besides the obvious Biblical parallels to a world destroyed by water for its wickedness (Genesis 6:1-7:24) and a faithful remnant taken by ship to a new world where they can prosper (Genesis 8:1-19), Númenor’s rise and fall has elements from several other Biblical accounts. The gift of Númenor to the Men who had opposed Morgoth in Middle-Earth goes along with God’s gift of the Holy Land to Israel after Egyptian bondage (Joshua 1:1-9) and of the Millennial Kingdom to those who endure Great Tribulation (Revelation 19:20-20:6). In both cases, the people receiving the gift falls into sin and loses the land (II Kings 24:17-25:21; Revelation 20:7-10) just as the Dúnedain lose Númenor.

The tale of Númenor’s fall most clearly reflects the account of Revelation 20, in which Satan deceives the nations and leads them in war against the Holy Land. The nations are destroyed in judgment, and Satan is cast into the abyss. In Tolkien’s tale, Sauron must ascend from the abyss to fulfill his role in The Lord of the Rings.

Sauron, Númenor’s Satan-figure, embodies not only the tempter of Gog and Magog, but the tempter of Eve and the tempter of Jesus. That with which Sauron tempts the Númenóreans is a mirror-image of that with which Satan tempted Eve (Genesis 3:1-6): whereas Satan tempted Eve, who had eternal life, with knowledge of good and evil, Sauron tempted the Númenóreans, who had great knowledge, with eternal life. Sauron also tempted the Númenóreans with everything with which Satan tempted Jesus: material goods, security, and world dominion (Matthew 4:1-11).

Ar-Pharazôn, sadly for his kingdom, was more like Eve than he was like Jesus. In his role as the one who destroyed his people’s faith in, and service to, Ilúvatar, and comprised his land’s destruction, Ar-Pharazôn recalls Manasseh, the evil king of Judah, who fell away from the service of the Lord to offer human sacrifices to idols (II Kings 21:1-9). Manasseh’s apostasy comprised Jerusalem’s destruction just as Ar-Pharazôn’s comprised Númenor’s (II Kings 21:10-15).

What would have happened had Ar-Pharazôn conquered the Undying Lands? The Elves of the West had warned his ancestors that, if they entered Valinor’s light, they would wither in it like moths in a flame. Tolkien is expressing a theme, common to legend throughout the world, that, if a mortal without virtue obtains immortal life, it will be a curse to him. Usually this curse takes the form of a life-in-death, like that of vampires or werewolves. In the account of humanity’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:22-24), God fears that, if Adam and Eve stayed there, they would eat the fruit of life and live forever. Some theologians interpret this account to mean that, if our first parents had obtained eternal life after the fall, they would have lived in their sin forever and gone from bad to worse as they kept decaying with old age and sickness without dying. In a sense, such decay is the curse of those in hell (Mark 9:47-48).

The concept of the Faithful, a remnant that clings to the true faith despite persecution, goes back to the “seven thousand who have not bent the knee to Baal” when Queen Jezebel tried to suppress the worship of the Lord God of Israel (I Kings 19:18; see I Kings 16:29-II Kings 10:28). The faithful remnant would have been linked in Tolkien’s mind to the Church that persisted in the days of the Roman Empire under pagan persecution, and, in the Great Britain of his day, to those like him and C. S. Lewis who kept the Christian faith and practice in a world of ever more secular institutions.

The Faithful of Númenor, however, most clearly reflect the Maccabeans of the Children of Israel who returned to the land after Jerusalem’s destruction described in II Kings 25. In the time of the Maccabeans, the evil Greek king Antiochus Epiphanes tried to wipe out the Jews’ faith and practice, including their language, their Scriptures, their rite of circumcision, and their temple sacrifices. Overcoming the Greeks against incredible odds, the Maccabees restored their faith and practice in a land free from Greek oppression and ensured the Jews’ survival until today, just as Elendil and his sons restored a Númenórean way of life that persisted to the time of Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings.

The loss of the Undying Lands to mortal men is, of course, the barring of fallen humans from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:22-24). The detail of the Straight Road on which a faithful few may reach the undying lands in the west comes from the Celtic legend of the holy Irish voyager, St. Brendan, who may have reached North America centuries before the Norse reached it. Brendan, like Tolkien, was a Christian. Both men would have compared the Straight Road with the narrow gate that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14).

In the tale of Númenor’s fall appear many elements that will be important in The Lord of the Rings. The rings of power, the Nazgûl, Elendil, Isildur, the White Tree, the Palantíri, and the realm of Gondor are mentioned in passing here. They will be explored further in the last section of The Silmarillion, which follows the rings of power from their forging to their final disappearance at the end of the War of the Rings.

 

 

 

 

SECRETS OF THE RINGS

 

 

(SPOILER ALERT! This chapter summarizes the chapter “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age” from The Silmarillion.)

 

The Story

 

When Morgoth was cast into the outer darkness, Sauron came before Manwë’s herald and asked him for pardon. He told Sauron that, to get pardon, he must come to Valinor and stand before Manwë in judgment. Although Sauron might have wished to return to the light, he was unwilling to do so at the cost of a possible imprisonment and servitude like that which his master had endured. Thus, Sauron left the Valar’s presence and hid himself in Middle-Earth.

There, he came to hate the Elves who had stayed east of the sea and the men of Númenor who were returning to Middle-Earth’s shores. Hungering for power over both peoples, he sought it through deception. Men, Sauron, still beautiful and fair spoken, could readily deceive. The Elves were a challenge to him.

To deceive them, Sauron took a disguise as a wandering wise man calling himself Annatar, “Lord of Gifts.” In this disguise, he came to Middle-Earth’s western shores, where Gil-Galad, King of the Elves, and his herald, Elrond, ruled a still mighty people. Sauron taught them deep things and promised to make Middle-Earth as fair as Valinor, but they mistrusted him, for they could not tell what he was.

Sauron, in his disguise as Annatar, had at first success with the Deep Elves who’d moved to the Misty Mountains and the forests east of them. Celebrimbor, Fëanor’s grandson, and Galadriel, Fëanor’s niece, helped Sauron make rings of power. With these, the Elves hoped to gain power over nature to make their realms of exile beautiful and glorious.

Sauron guided the Elves in making the rings, but, in secret, in the magma chamber of Mount Doom in Mordor, he forged a secret ring. Into this, he put most of his own power so that, with this One Ring, he could rule all of the other rings. While he wore the One Ring, he could see all that anyone else wearing a ring of power could see, and he could warp the wearers of other rings to his will.

As soon as Sauron put on the One Ring, Celebrimbor and Galadriel knew of his deception. While Sauron had been making the One Ring, Celebrimbor had been making three last rings, which Sauron had never touched. These three Elven Rings — red Narya, white Nenya, and blue Vilya — had power to keep all things unchanged. These rings, Celebrimbor hid among the Elves. The white ring came to Galadriel, who kept it in Lothlórien until Frodo’s day.

With the One Ring’s power, Sauron learned of Celebrimbor’s hiding his rings. Sauron came against the Elves in war to recover them. He destroyed the fair Elven kingdom that once stood by Moria’s gates, and, though he failed to get hold of the three Elven Rings, he recovered many of the other rings of power. Celebrimbor was killed, but his ring, blue Vilya, and many of his people came to the hidden valley of Rivendell, where they took Elrond as lord.

With the rings that he had recovered, Sauron tried to enslave Middle-Earth’s other peoples. Seven rings, he gave to the lords of the seven houses of the Dwarves. They took the rings and used them to found hoards of cursed gold, but the Dwarves never willingly obeyed Sauron. In the end, he sent Orcs and Dragons against them, and they lost all of their rings.

With Men, Sauron had his greatest success. He gave nine rings to nine powerful kings, whom he seduced with the promise of immortality and sorcerous might. These, the kings got, at the price of becoming Sauron’s slaves. While they wore the rings, the kings could walk about, invisible to all eyes except those that could see the Unseen World. In time, the kings faded, becoming wholly creatures of that world. As such, they became shapes of great terror known as the Nazgûl, the Ringwraiths.

With the One and the Nine, Sauron gained dominion over Middle-Earth. Most of it, he cast into Shadow, where he ruled as a god of darkness. Against him held out only a few free realms: the Kingdom of the Woodland Elves, Lothlórien, Rivendell, the Grey Havens, the Dwarvish kingdoms, and the coastal cities of the Númenóreans. All of these were realms under siege.

Sauron might have ruled Middle-Earth forever were it not for the Númenóreans. Their greatest king, Ar-Pharazôn, came to Middle-Earth with a mighty fleet to challenge Sauron’s power. Seeing that he could not win by war, Sauron set aside the One Ring and came to Númenor as Ar-Pharazôn’s prisoner. There, as it has been told, Sauron deceived the Númenóreans into making war on the Valar. Númenor was destroyed, and Sauron fell into the abyss at the sea’s floor.

Out of the sea from Númenor came Elendil, the Elf-friend, and his sons, Isildur and Anárion. Elendil and Anárion settled in the south and founded a realm in exile called Gondor. Isildur settled in the north and founded a realm called Arnor. With them from Númenor, the exiles had brought a white tree, a scion of one that bloomed in Valinor, and seven Seeing Stones, the Palantíri, which the Elves of Valinor had given them as gifts.

In time, Sauron rose from the abyss and returned to Mordor, where he resumed the One Ring. Now, he could no longer appear to Men and Elves as a figure of light, but only as one of terror. He awoke Mount Doom and prepared to go to war again against Elves and Men. He destroyed Minas Ithil, the Tower of the Moon, built in the Mountains of Shadow west of Mordor, and destroyed the White Tree. Isildur, however, escaped with a seedling of it; and his father and brother sought help to save their realm.

They forged the Last Alliance, in which Gil-Galad’s Elves from the Gray Havens, Elrond’s from Rivendell, Galadriel’s from Lothlórien, and the Dwarves of Moria fought side by side with Men. There was a terrible battle on a plain outside Mordor. Such was the force of evil wielded there that the plain was turned into a cursed marsh where bodies would not decay, but would stay intact, sending out ghostly flames.

The Elves and Men, victorious, entered Mordor, where they besieged the Dark Tower for seven years. In the end, Sauron came out to fight Gil-Galad and Elendil. They were killed, along with Elendil’s son Anárion; but Sauron was cast down, and Isildur, Elendil’s surviving son, cut the One Ring from Sauron’s hand with the shards of Elendil’s sword. Bereft of the One Ring, Sauron became a disembodied spirit and fled from Mordor.

Elrond and the other Elvish rulers counseled Isildur to destroy the One Ring in Mount Doom’s fires, but Isildur insisted on taking the ring as compensation (weregild) for his father’s death. Isildur stopped briefly in Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun in the White Mountains west of the Great River. There, he wrote a history of his taking the One Ring and set his brother’s son on Gondor’s throne.

Isildur set out then for his own kingdom. On the way there, by the Great River at the foot of the Misty Mountains, he was ambushed by Orcs. Putting on the One Ring to become invisible, he tried to swim to safety, but the Ring slipped off of his finger and was lost in the river’s depths. Isildur was killed by Orcs’ arrows, but his steward brought the shards of Elendil’s sword to Rivendell, where it was an heirloom for Isildur’s heirs.

Isildur’s son ruled Arnor, but it did not long survive. Part of its fall was due to dissension among royal heirs, but much of its fall was due to the Witch-King of Angmar, who assaulted Arnor from an icy kingdom in the north. Only much later was it learned that the Witch-King was the Lord of the Nazgûl. Isildur’s heirs became a wandering folk called Rangers, whose proud ancestry was recalled only in Rivendell.

In the south, Gondor fared better than its northern sister. Gondor’s kings ruled from the city of Osgiliath, which straddled the Great River, and kept palaces in Minas Ithil in the east and Minas Anor in the west. Over time, the kings lost control of Mordor, and the Ringwraiths returned there. The Lord of the Nazgûl seized the Tower of the Moon, which he turned into the Tower of Terror, Minas Morgul. He challenged Gondor’s last king to single combat, slew him, and desecrated Osgiliath.

Gondor lived on under a line of stewards who ruled a shrunken realm from the Tower of the Sun, which they renamed Minas Tirith, the Tower of Guard. Besieged by enemies called from the east by the Ringwraiths, Minas Tirith would have fallen were it not for the timely arrival from the north of the Rohirrim, the Horse Masters. These, the stewards of Gondor granted lands that had once been Gondor’s, and the Rohirrim founded the Kingdom of Rohan.

Things went badly for the Dwarves of Moria. As they dug too deeply there for Starsilver, they awoke a Balrog, a demon of Morgoth’s who had fled there for refuge from the Valar. The Balrog destroyed Moria, but refugees from it set up a kingdom in exile in the Lonely Mountain, far to the north. The Lonely Mountain prospered until it drew the eye of another of Morgoth’s old servants, Smaug, the last Dragon. Smaug destroyed the Dwarvish kingdom of the Lonely Mountain, and refugees from it fled to the mountains on the western border of a land called the Shire, where lived mysterious, peaceful creatures who called themselves Hobbits.

So things lay when a new Shadow began to rise in the great woods east of the Misty Mountains. What this Shadow was, Men and Elves did not know, but they gave it the name Necromancer. Only later did they learn that it was Sauron taking shape again. He was seeking the One Ring, which he had learned had traveled north with Isildur and been lost. He turned the great woods into a place of terror called Mirkwood.

Unknown to all, the One Ring had been found again, by a fisher named Déagol. When he showed it to his best friend, Sméagol, the power of the Ring seduced Sméagol into killing his friend. He used the ring to do mischief against his community, which drove him out. Growing ever more twisted by the Ring, he hid in caverns in the Misty Mountains, where he lived by eating fish and Orcs. In time, he forgot his own name and called himself by a sound that he made in his throat, Gollum.

As Sauron began to rise again, the Valar took compassion on Middle-Earth and sent it aid in the form of five Maiar, lesser immortal spirits who manifested themselves as old men. These five men appeared one day in a white ship at the Grey Havens. Most of the Elves were uncertain of who the men were, but Círdan, an ancient shipwright who had lived by the sea since before the sun first rose, knew them as they truly were. Círdan especially respected one old man dressed all in gray and gave him the gift of an Elven Ring, red Narya.

The five old men never revealed their own names, but used names that Elves and Men gave them. One of the men, who always wore white, received the name Saruman. The old man dressed in gray received the names Mithrandir and Gandalf. Because no one knew what the five old men were, Men called them Wizards, and Elves and Dwarves borrowed the name.

The Wizards went throughout Middle-Earth to move its peoples to resist the Shadow. Gandalf was ever a wanderer, but Saruman desired a place and a rule of his own. Going to Gondor, he won from its steward the right to live in an ancient Númenórean fortress called Isengard, north and west of Rohan.

Gandalf spent much time in studying the Shadow growing in Mirkwood. He became convinced of the Shadow’s being Sauron, looking for the ring. When Gandalf came to Saruman with his concerns, Saruman said that he had learned that the One Ring had rolled down the Great River to the Sea and been irretrievably lost. Gandalf reluctantly believed Saruman, for he could not yet know that Saruman was lying, already having fallen to temptatation to seek the Ring for himself.

As the Shadow in Mirkwood kept growing, the heads of the Elves, Círdan, Elrond, and Galadriel, formed with the Wizards the White Council to resist the Shadow. Galadriel, mistrusting Saruman, wanted Gandalf to be the Council’s head, but Saruman won the post and used it to delay action against the Shadow. He, knowing this to be Sauron, wanted Sauron to keep searching for the Ring so that, when he found it, Saruman could intercept it before it reached Sauron.

Gandalf took action on his own, sneaking into the Shadow’s stronghold in Mirkwood. There, Gandalf found imprisoned a mad Dwarf, the head of the Dwarves who’d once lived in the Lonely Mountain. The Dwarf, armed with the last of the Dwarvish rings and with a map of the Lonely Mountain, had been going there to slay Smaug when the Necromancer caught him. The Necromancer, whom Gandalf at last proved to be Sauron, had taken the Ring, but had overlooked the map, which the Dwarf gave Gandalf.

Gandalf now dedicated himself to two tasks, fighting Sauron and killing the Dragon, which would be a mighty weapon in Sauron’s hands. He turned first to the Dragon. Going to the mountains west of the Shire, Gandalf enlisted thirteen Dwarves in a quest to kill Smaug. Going east through the Shire towards the Lonely Mountain, Gandalf added to the party an unlikely adventurer, a Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins.

In the Misty Mountains, Gandalf’s party was ambushed by Orcs, and all of it but Bilbo was captured. Taking refuge in caverns, Bilbo came across a gold ring that, he learned to his amazement, made him invisible. With the ring, he escaped from a mad creature named Gollum, who tried to kill him, and then helped free his companions from the Orcs.

Having gotten the Dwarves and Bilbo through the Misty Mountains, Gandalf left them to go on to the Lonely Mountain, while he himself joined the White Council in attacking the Necromancer. The Council drove Sauron from Mirkwood, while the Dwarves, with the aid of Bilbo and his mysterious ring, slew Smaug. All seemed to be well in Middle-Earth.

Sauron, however, just retreated to Mordor, where he rejoined the Ringwraiths and awoke Mount Doom. He made war on Gondor, where the last steward, Denethor, and his sons, Boromir and Faramir, led a desperate defense. In this, they got aid from a mysterious stranger from the north — a friend of Gandalf’s who went by the name of Strider. Only Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel knew that he was really Aragorn, Isildur’s heir.

Gandalf was ever concerned with Bilbo’s ring. In the end, Gandalf called Aragorn from Gondor to track down Gollum to learn what he could tell of the Ring. Nothing was certain, and Gandalf still thought that the Ring might be only one of the lost Dwarvish rings. Thus matters stood when, on his one hundred and eleventh birthday, Bilbo had a party…

 

The Parallels

 

This chapter of Tolkien’s work is a bridge uniting his three main stories, the Tale of the Silmarils, the Fall of Númenor, and the Quest of the Ring. (Structurally, the events of The Hobbit, which I summarized above, form a lead-in to The Lord of the Rings.) This bridge introduces no new themes, but recapitulates old ones. I’ll use the bridge as a chance for a last review of Tolkien’s work.

We’ve seen in this book the fall of perfect angelic beings (Morgoth and Sauron) because of pride that can’t submit to a superior’s rule, but seeks to express itself in rule of inferiors. In Sauron’s heart, in the balance between wanting to be restored to holy fellowship and being unwilling to accept the price to do so, pride weighs him down in favor of continuing his rebellion. He has, like Milton’s Lucifer, decided that it’s “better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”

Pride, too, leads Celebrimbor and Galadriel, still under the Doom of Mandos, to accept Sauron’s aid in trying to make Middle-Earth Valinor’s equal. Galadriel lives under this doom until, offered the One Ring by Frodo, she finds strength of character to refuse it. She, unlike Sauron, can choose to serve in heaven. As a servant in Valinor, she’ll know bliss, whereas Morgoth, Sauron, and their servants have doomed themselves to wander in darkness forever, without even power as consolation for their sufferings.

The One Ring embodies the will to power that motivated Morgoth and Sauron throughout their career as rebels. The One Ring is shaped by the will of its maker into something like what he chose to be, one that rejects good’s creativity good for evil’s destructiveness. As the embodiment of Sauron’s will, the One Ring ensnares the will of everyone who wears it. Even Bilbo, the Ringbearer least affected by its evil, starts his ownership of it with a lie. As readers of The Hobbit recall, he told Gandalf that he had got the Ring, not by finding it on a cavern’s floor, but by winning it from Gollum in a game of riddles.

Still, Bilbo is the sole Ringbearer with strength of character to give up the Ring. His strength of character, a small thing confounding the wise (I Corinthians 1:25-29), is part of divine providence allowing Middle-Earth’s Free Peoples victory over the Shadow.

This providence is best embodied in the Wizards, “angels” that the good in Middle-Earth entertain “unawares” (Hebrews 13:2). Their true nature is discerned only by those with spiritual insight (I Corinthians 2:14-15). It is Gandalf who sees that, not the mighty Aragorn, but the lowly Frodo, Bilbo’s heir, must carry the Ring to Mount Doom. Frodo embodies the Biblical principle that God has chosen the small things of the world to confound the wise. (Gandalf, in The Lord of the Rings, quotes this principle almost verbatim.)

Not even the innocent Frodo can resist the Ring’s temptation. At his quest’s end, he falls to the Ring. All would have been lost but for the Ring’s evil working against itself, as the Ring’s temptation of both Frodo and Gollum leads to a fight in which the Ring is inadvertently destroyed.

Again, all seems well with Middle-Earth. Tolkien, however, began a novel called The Return of the Shadow, in which the evil of Morgoth and Sauron again would return to trouble Middle-Earth. Tolkien’s insight that not even the One Ring’s destruction would end evil forever matters to us today. We have fought more than one “War to End All Wars,” only to find evil arising again in new forms, even within ourselves.

In Tolkien’s mythology, only a last battle in which the Valar and Morgoth fought directly would finally purge the world of evil’s presence so that a new Song, in which both Elves and Men would sing, would make a lasting world of bliss. This is also the Biblical view, in which only God’s coming in power to purge the earth with fire will yield a new heaven and a new earth in which there will be no more tears (Revelation 21:1-4).


Biblical Parallels in The Silmarillion

Tolkien's magnificent mythology that began in The Silmarillion and culminated in The Lord of the Rings had its origin in Celtic, Finnish, Greek, and Norse myths that he loved, but also in accounts of the Bible, which he, as a practicing Christian, knew well. Tolkien's tales illustrate, and are illuminated by, themes such as creation, the fall, providence, sacrifice, redemption, and judgment that he drew from Jewish and Christian scriptures. Understanding these themes will help you follow the flow of Tolkien's grand tale of the world of Middle Earth from its birth in the Great Music in the Timeless Halls before the world began to its end and rebirth in the Second Great Music after the Great Enemy's overthrow. Understanding these themes might also help you grow spiritually through the applicability -- never the allegory! -- of Tolkien's work. It was Tolkien's grasp of timeless themes that gives his writings their timeless appeal to us.

  • ISBN: 9781311010100
  • Author: Alfred D. Byrd
  • Published: 2016-05-23 16:20:07
  • Words: 27096
Biblical Parallels in The Silmarillion Biblical Parallels in The Silmarillion