Last week I made a comparison to Romeo and Juliet, and now I’m beginning to wonder if The Silmarillion is going to end like a Shakespearean tragedy. I have a hunch it’s headed that way since I don’t believe Beleriand survives, but I hope the remaining deaths aren’t as brutal as the ones we saw in this chapter. Yipes. On that note, onto the discussion!
Chapter 20: Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad
Though this chapter was less than 15 pages, it managed to be full of enough deaths to make George R.R. Martin proud. The chapter begins with a bit of an epilogue to the story of Beren and Lúthien and how their deeds inspired Maedhros to step up to Morgoth. That’s impressive not just because it’s smart (finally, someone is taking the battle to Morgoth’s door) but also because it meant he overcame the oath of Fëanor to assemble a league and council.
Not all of Fëanor’s sons were so inclined, and Celegorm and Curufin were especially vicious. They threatened not just Thingol but all of his people because they wanted the Silmaril in Thingol’s possession. Melian, as wise as always, told Thingol to surrender it, but he, as always, didn’t listen to her and becomes consumed by the jewel. I fully expect him to start calling it “my precious” any second.
Maedhros did successfully gather forces including the Dwarves, Men, Fingon, and even Turgon all the way in Gondolin. Though if the city was hidden, I’m not sure how Turgon heard about it. He no doubt has ways to gather information about the rest of the world, maybe from the Eagles, but I’m surprised he would risk Gondolin by leaving it. The action made me revise my unfavorable opinion of him.
The Death of Fingon by Jian Guo
As valiantly as all parties fought, Morgoth was prepared and fought back with precision. It was sad to read, and I wanted to jump into the book and warn the Noldor of their mistake. The cruel murder of Gelmir seemed to mark a point where the deaths became graphic and more harsh. The Orcs seem especially violent, and I’m not recalling killings being described so thoroughly in previous chapters. That could be my failing memory or Tolkien showing we’re in a different time now where things are getting serious.
And the Battle of Nirnaeth Arnoediad or the Battle of Unnumbered Tears is definitely serious. Haldir dies, Azaghâl bites it, Huor is slain, Húrin is captured (after killing 70 Orcs), and Fingon is killed. Fingon’s death is described in such vivid detail that I had to put down the book for a moment. Also? Morgoth won because Men betrayed both the Elves and the Dwarves. Then there’s the part where the Orcs made a hill of dead bodies.
Evil is winning. It’s a miserable place to be and though I’ve poked fun at the Noldor for their arrogance and missteps, I feel bad for wanting them to face off against Morgoth. Part of the reason Beren and Lúthien accomplished what they did is because there were only two of them. They were able to surprise Morgoth. He’s too wound into the dark nooks and crannies of Beleriand to not know when armies move against him. I don’t feel optimistic for the survivors.
Relevance to The Hobbit and/or Lord of the Rings
This week’s connections to later Middle-earth stories were mostly about the themes. When Turgon and his legions arrived from Gondolin, I couldn’t help but think of a couple of points in the Lord of the Rings: when Gandalf arrived with the remaining Rohirrim at the Battle of the Hornburg in The Two Towers and when King Théoden and his army came to the Battle of the Pelennor Fields in The Return of the King. Both entrances helped turn the tides of the battles.
Also, the betrayal of Men at Nirnaeth Arnoediad means the Elves don’t trust them as much, and that seems to last into the Third Age. We get hints of it when Elrond talks about how he watched the strength of Men fail. Part of the discord in later stories is also fueled by the fact that Men were greedy when it came to the Rings of Power and all of that fed into Sauron taking dominion over Middle-earth.
Battle of Unnumbered Tears by Ivan
“Those that saw them were both glad and fearful; and Lúthien went to Menegroth and healed the winter of Thingol with the touch of her hand.”
“Last of all Húrin stood alone. Then he cast aside his shield, and wielded an axe two-handed; and it is sung that the axe smoked in the black blood of the troll-guard of Gothmog until it withered, and each time that he slew Húrin cried: ‘Aurë entuluva! Day shall come again!’ Seventy times he uttered that cry; but they took him at last alive, by the command of Morgoth, for the Orcs grappled him with their hands, which clung to him still though he hewed off their arms; and ever their numbers were renewed, until at last he fell buried beneath them.”
“Yet neither by wolf, nor by Balrog, nor by Dragon, would Morgoth have achieved his end, but for the treachery of Men.”
– Why does Melian turn away from Lúthien? She sees her doom, but wouldn’t it be better to get as much time in with her daughter as possible before the end?
– Why did Turgon leave Gondolin to come and help fight in the battle?
– Do you think the prejudices of Elves against Men can be traced back to this battle and the betrayal of Men?
– Are the descriptions of this battle more graphic than others in the book? If so, why do you think that is?
Head to the comments and let me know your feelings about the chapter, favorite quotes, answers to the discussion question, feedback – anything! I’ll be catching up on comments from this time and last week’s discussion in the next few days. You can also tweet me. Please be sure to use the #NerdistBookClub hashtag if you post any thoughts about The Silmarillion on social media.
Come back for Part 10 next Tuesday, September 9, at 10:30am PST. We’ll be going over Chapter 21.
Top image: Húrin’s Last Stand by Heraldo