By Special Holiday Request: the History of Tolkien’s Elves (part X)

The Noldor, led by Fëanor, marched into Middle Earth. While I’d love to say that they learned of the Coast Elves’ besiegement, and then Fëanor teamed up with Thingol and they rescued Cirdan and then the three of them led a mixed Noldor-Sindar force to assault Morgoth’s stronghold… that is not what happened.

This is the sort of thing that we could unpack and unpack and unpack, and there’s an awful lot of ground to cover yet, so I’m going to just hit the high points.

Image: Fëanor and his followers camping on the northern shore of Lake Mithrim, well to the north of all the Sindar and Falathrim settlements. Orcish scouts from Morgoth’s host spot the fires from Fëanor burning the swanboats, and peel off from the main group besieging the Falathrim to investigate.

Image: a legion of orcs, outnumbering the Noldor like ten to one, descending on their camp in a midnight raid. Actually all raids were midnight raids; this was before the sun and the moon were fully operational.

Image: Calaquendi demonstrating that an Elf who has seen the light of the Trees really is better than anyone else. Just straight up better.  Especially they are better than orcs. Galadriel, Fëanor, and Fëanor’s sons disperse the orcish legion with minimal casualties.

Image: the battered remnants of Morgoth’s legion retreating across the great prairies of Middle Earth, towards Morgoth’s new fortress Angband. The Noldor chase them.

Image: the bulk of the orcish forces still besieging the Coastal Elves abandoning their invasion and marching north, in hopes of flanking the Noldor and pinning them up against Morgoth’s Iron Mountains.

Image: one of Fëanor’s sons and a small rearguard of Noldor ambushing the orcish host and cutting them to splinters.

Image: Fëanor and the Noldor regrouping, outside Angband. Fëanor, burning with an inner fire, shouts that they have effortlessly cut through Morgoth’s forces to reach his stronghold, and that soon they will tear down Angband!

Image: the Valar, back in Valinor, conferring at their Ring of Doom. Manwë observes that greater than the tragic loss of the Trees was the tragic fall of Fëanor. Mandos observes that soon Fëanor’s body will be slain, and he shall come to the Halls of Mandos. Mandos was all the time making pronouncements like that.

Image: Morgoth himself, standing on the battlements of Angband. He glares down at Fëanor, who glares up at him while cutting down orcs with exactly the kind of fearsome prowess that you would expect. Morgoth wears an iron crown with the silmarils mounted on his brow.

Image: Fëanor declaring to all and sundry that he will soon do what the Valar feared to do, and defeat Morgoth well and truly, once and for all!

Image: hundreds and hundreds of balrogs boiling up out of the caves around Angband.

Image: Galadriel, the sons of Fëanor, and most of the Noldor doing the math and realizing that while they are the single most fearsome fighting force in the history of Middle Earth, they’re vastly outnumbered without Fingolfin and all his followers.  Fëanor’s vanguard can handle at most a dozen balrogs, not hundreds.

Image: Gothmog, King of the Balrogs, and his vanguard cutting off Fëanor himself from the main force of Noldor.

Image: Fëanor and Gothmog fighting for days as Galadriel tries to cut through the balrogs and reach him.

Image: Gothmog getting the upper hand. Fëanor eventually goes down.

Image: With mocking laughter Morgoth commands the balrogs to quit the field. The sons of Fëanor surging forward as Gothmog retreats.

Image: the sons of Fëanor carrying their father away from Angband as he lies in a litter, dying.

Image: Fëanor cursing Morgoth three times.

Image: Fëanor commanding his sons to remember the Oath of Fëanor they swore.

Image: Fëanor exploding in a ball of fire, because that’s how he rolls. Not even ashes remain!

Fëanor out!

(Postscript: Fëanor sulking in the Halls of Mandos, alongside Finwë and a whole pile of Teleri he killed back at Alqalondë.)

The battle later became known as the Battle Under the Stars, because the sun rose for the first time just as Fëanor immolated. The Sindar were pretty well freaked out by the sun, incidentally. I’m sure you can imagine. They were also pretty well freaked out by the Noldor. In the aftermath of the battle, some of Thingol’s people and Cirdan’s people found Galadriel and the other Noldor. Cue a whole comic interlude of the two groups of elves not being able to understand one another, because the Sindar have drifted away from the language of their forebearers. Plus there’s the whole thing about Calaquendi being straight-up better than the Moriquendi.

True fact: the Calaquendi were straight up better than the Moriquendi, because they’d seen the light of the Trees. In surprisingly little time “Moriquendi” became an insulting racist epithet. The Sindar preferred to be called Umanyar, meaning Elves Who had Never Lived in Valinor. Thingol, despite being the king of the Sindar and Calaquendi, considered himself Umanyar. And the children of the Noldor born in Middle Earth, who never saw the Trees (and who soon vastly outnumbered the previous generation), considered themselves not Umanyar. This has been a true fact.

With Fëanor dead, the crown of the king of the Noldor fell to his eldest son, Maedhros. Under his leadership the Noldor settled their new nation, Mithrim, taking little notice of the Sindarin already living there. In the new-founded capital of that land, Maedhros received a messenger from Morgoth.

Morgoth’s message ran as follows:

• Many had fallen on both sides. Sorry about your dad.
• Why not a cease-fire?
• There are three silmarils; we can split them.
• I’ll pick one, and then you pick one, and then I’ll take the other one. That’s fair, right?
• If you’re interested in picking out your silmaril, please come alone and unarmed to Ered Engrin.

“I think it’s a trap,” said one of the other sons of Fëanor.

“Well obviously it’s a trap,” snapped Maedhros. “But there’s a chance Morgoth will be there, and he might even bring a silmaril as bait. We’ve got to ambush him with all our forces!”

Long story short: this did not go well for the sons of Fëanor. Morgoth had anticipated their ambush and laid a counter-ambush of his own. Maedhros was captured, and Morgoth stapled him by the wrist to a high cliff at Thangorodrim (a set of three enchanted mountains that Morgoth raised up over Angband).

And then Fingolfin arrived. On the one hand, the sons of Fëanor really needed reinforcements. On the other hand, Fingolfin had watched Fëanor burn the swanboats. And then he and the rest of his followers had marched across the dreadful ice-death that was the Helcaraxë, and not all of them survived. Fingolfin’s wife, for instance.


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By Special Holiday Request: the History of Tolkien’s Elves (part IX)

To explain what Fëanor and Fingolfin and Galadriel and all the other Noldor found, when they arrived in Middle Earth, we have to roll back the clock a ways, and tell the story of the Sindar. In the Years of the Trees, centuries earlier, Ingwë, Finwë, and Elwë, the three elven patriarchs and the first Calaquendi returned to Middle Earth from their initial scouting of Valinor.

“You guys are not going to believe how great these Trees are!” was the gist of their report.

Soon Ingwë’s people — the Vanyar — packed up and migrated westward. They rode a magic island, courtesy the Valar, and were the first elven nation to reach the Undying Lands. Right behind them were Finwë’s people, the Noldor; they took the magic island over on its second trip. Elwë led his people, the Teleri, westward too, but along the way he was distracted by the Valley of Stardusk, an especially magical forest located on the route to the west coast. While the rest of the Teleri camped outside and waited for stragglers to catch up, Elwë explored the forest.

There he met one of the Maiar, the demigod servants of the Valar. Her name was Melian, and while she wasn’t technically a servant of Yavanna (the gardening, plant-loving Vala responsible for Ents and also Radagast the Brown) they had a lot in common. During the Valar’s expedition to capture Morgoth back in part I of this history, she’d encountered the Valley of Stardusk and become enchanted by its old-growth beauty.

Long story short, Elwë was instantly smitten with Melian when he saw her and Melian, having never actually seen an elf before as far as I know, was flattered by the attention. Their mutual attraction blossomed into love, and they held one another for a timeless age, deep in the enchanted forest of stars and dusk and star-dusk.

This was great for Elwë and somewhat less great for all the other Teleri, because they didn’t know what the heck had happened to him. They searched high and low for their patriarch, but couldn’t find him, what with the forest being a magic forest and him being enmeshed in sexytimes. Olwë, Elwë’s brother, and their friend Cirdan led the searches, but their scouring of the land was in vain. When the magic island showed up to ferry the Teleri over to Valinor, as had been done for the Vanyar and the Noldor, Elwë was still in the forest. They weren’t about to leave without him, so, they missed the island.

Afterwards Elwë finally appeared, with Melian on his arm. They announced that they were married, which was great for them, and that they were going to be staying in Middle Earth after all. Any of the Teleri who wanted to stick around could, otherwise they could go on to Valinor, whatever. Elwë was fine with whatever they wanted to do.

Olwë and Cirdan exchanged nervous glances, because Elwë was one of the Calaquendi; he’d seen the light of the Trees. Therefore he was better than all the other elves, and was literally the boss of them. They were making this migration on his say-so; should they abandon it now, as he had? And if they didn’t abandon the trip, how were they going to reach Valinor? They’d missed the magic island, and it wasn’t coming back.

Fortunately Cirdan had a revelation. He was sitting on the shore, staring at swans, and it struck him: he could build giant artificial swans made of wood that the elves could ride to Valinor! And so he became Cirdan the Shipwright, and built the very first ship. (Ulmo, the Poseidon-type Vala, might have helped him.) Cirdan’s initial plan was to be on board the first ship west, but then he had a vision (perhaps courtesy Mandos, the oracular Vala) that whatever ship bore him westward from Middle Earth would be the very last ship ever to reach the Undying Lands. So instead he settled down on the west coast of Middle Earth, and spent the next several thousand years building ships and putting elves on them and sending them west. He was aboard the last ship, the one that took Frodo and Gandalf and Elrond and Galadriel all westward at the end of Return of the King. (Continuity error: decades later a very old Sam Gamgee took the very last ship West, so maybe Cirdan was on that ship and not the one with Gandalf? It’s unclear and not worth worrying about. Probably I’m misunderstanding something.)

So Cirdan settled down and built a shipyard and lots and lots of ships. Eventually he realized that he could make ships that didn’t look just like swans. Olwë led the Teleri westward aboard these ships, and Elwë stayed behind with a significant fraction of his people. Elwë and his remnant became known as the Sindar, the Gray Elves. As the centuries went on, the Sindar started drifting linguistically away from the Quenyan spoken by the Vanyar and Noldor and Teleri; Sindarin and Quenyan are closely related but distinct languages. Elwë found his name growing heavy on the tongue, and so changed it from the Quenyan-sounding Elwë to the more modern Elu Thingol.

Thingol called the nation he settled Doriath. For centuries, he was the only Calaquen outside the Undying Lands. Also he was married to a literal angel. Basically he was the king of all of Middle Earth. Everyone respected him greatly, including the dwarves, who popped up around this time and who aren’t important to the history of the elves so we’re moving on quickly. The Laiquendi elves, aka the Green Elves, also showed up around this time; they were descended from the Avari, the elves who said “no thank you” back when the three elven patriarchs evangelized about the light of the Trees. The Laiquendi founded Lindon, a nation neighboring Doriath, and for a while everything was cool.

This whole big region was called Beleriand, which probably means “country of seafoam” or something like that, on account of its most important feature was the fact that bordered the great sea separating Valinor from Middle Earth. Cirdan ruled a loose confederation of coastal settlements, called the Falathrim or Coastal Elves. Thingol ruled the Sindar in Doriath (just inland from the coast), and Denethor ruled Lindon further inland still. Denethor should not be confused with his millennia-later namesake Denethor the Steward of Gondor; this Denethor was just J. Random Green-Elf.  He’s not important.

Things were good. Unfortunately it didn’t last forever. Back in Valinor, Morgoth stole the silmarils and fled to Middle Earth; there he riled up all the balrogs and orcs and so forth. When Morgoth found out there were elven nations in Middle Earth now, he wasted no time in launching an invasion. In his first strike Morgoth’s army of orcs penetrated deep into Lindon, conquering a big swathe of Beleriand and killing many Green Elves, including Denethor. I told you he wasn’t important. Frankly I’m pretty sure this nation of Lindon only existed so that Thingol would have something to avenge.

And avenge he did! Thingol led the Sindar and surviving Laiqunedi elves against Morgoth in a counter-invasion, which went pretty well all things considered. Meanwhile another force of orcs came down from the north and attacked Cirdan’s coastal settlements, looping around Doriath.

The Falathrim fought off the orcs as best they could, but they were mere Moriquendi; they hadn’t ever seen the light of the Trees! Their cities were soon besieged. Cirdan and the other Falathrim circled the wagons and mourned that there was only one Calaquendi in all of Middle Earth, and he was busy in the east rescuing Lindon. Who could rescue Cirdan and the Coastal Elves from the orc invaders?

If only there was a force of Calaquendi warriors led by the inventor of the alphabet and his 6’4″ niece with impossibly gorgeous hair!  Perhaps they could have just sailed over on stolen swanboats constructed by Cirdan himself?


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By Special Holiday Request: the History of Tolkien’s Elves (part VIII)

Even with boats, traveling from Valinor to Middle Earth was fraught with peril.  This was not an era of regular transoceanic crossings; the Teleri made the trip exactly once.  It’s not 100% clear why they even kept the boats, although given that each swanboat was an art object, maybe it was just on account of prettiness.

So while Fëanor would have liked to have just sailed due east, the reverse course of the magic island his parents had ridden to Valinor centuries earlier, that wasn’t an option.  Instead, the Noldor hugged the coast, sailing northward on a sea route that paralleled the way Morgoth and Ungoliant had gone on foot.

There were Teleri in Valinor besides the population of Alqualondë; the Noldor skirted their coastal settlements as they proceeded.  While the kings of the Vanyar and the Noldor were Ingwë and Finwë, respectively, that is, two of the three eleven patriarchs who were the first Calaquendi, the king of the Teleri was Olwë.  Olwë was not the third patriarch; that was Olwë’s brother Elwë.  Why Olwë and not Elwë was king in Valinor is a story for another time.  At the moment, just be aware that Olwë and Finarfin were related by marriage, and that Olwë was super bitter about the whole massacre-of-the-elves and theft-of-swan-boats thing.  He petitioned his good buddy Ossë to smash the ships, but Ossë refused to intervene, on account of the Valar had decided to just left Fëanor do whatever and not try to stop him by force.

Ossë was not, as you might have assumed, the Poseidon-analog Vala, but rather an Aquaman-like Maia whom Olwë happened to be friends with.  The Poseidon analog among the Valar was named Ulmo. Incidentally, the list of elves now includes not only Finwë, Fëanor, Fingolfin, Finarfin, and Fingon, but also Elwë and Olwë.  I’m not even mentioning Elwë and Olwë’s third brother, whose name (not making this up) is Elmo.  It’s a lot to keep track of, I realize.  We’re moving quickly here.

Despite Ossë’s refusal to miraculously destroy the Noldor flotilla, a whole series of storms rose from nowhere and nearly destroyed the Noldor flotilla.  As near as I can tell, this happened because the ocean itself was angry with Fëanor and the Noldor who followed him.  Many of the swan-boats were lost, and many of the Noldor had to march up the coast on foot.  This was precisely what Fëanor had wanted to avoid in the first place, you remember, because he was worried about desertion if the trip took too long.

And sure enough, desertion happened.  As the Noldor reached the mountainous terrain in the far north of Valinor, Mandos (the oracular prophet-type Vala) appeared before them.  Mandos uttered a massive prophecy, warning that the House of Fëanor was on the road to ruin, that the terrible Oath of Fëanor would destroy them, that the kinslaying at Alqualondë was but a sign of the awful things to come if the Noldor kept down this path.  Turn back, suggested Mandos, and be forgiven, and dwell in peace in Tirion once more.  Those who insisted on this irrational course, the Dispossessed, would be doomed to epochs of tragedy and grim memory in Middle Earth, in this Age and in the Ages to come.

Some, like Fëanor and Galadriel, sneered at Mandos’s warning.  But Finarfin and significant percentage of the Noldor took the deal.  They apologized to the Teleri, returned to Tirion, and lived happily ever after.  Fingolfin would have liked to have gone back, too, but he saw his sons and followers were still all fired up by Fëanor’s charisma.  Fingolfin wasn’t willing to abandon his people to Fëanor’s mad whims, so he stayed, too.

The Noldor host pushed on, until they reached the glacier that connected the Undying Lands to Middle Earth.  And there they stopped.  I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a glacier.  I walked around on one, when I was in New Zealand on my honeymoon.  It was a tiny, tame glacier, and we were part of a big tour group, and it nevertheless felt quite powerful; the bigness of nature against just me and some shoes with spikes on them and a bunch of other tourists mostly from Australia.  I can’t imagine what the Helcaraxë (that was the name of this glacier) must have been like, but I can tell you that when Fëanor, Fingolfin, and Galadriel saw it, they immediately abandoned their plan of walking across it.  Morgoth had walked across it, but he was literally Satan.  Ungoliant likewise, but she was literally Shub-Nigurath.

On the one hand, they were so close to Middle Earth that they could literally see it!  Elves had crazy-good telescopic vision, you may recall from the Two Towers.  Fingolfin could peer hundreds of miles across the sea and eye the rocky shore of Middle Earth.  Don’t complain about this; there was no curvature of the Earth to deal with, because the planet was flat at the time.  But on the other hand, in terms of marching there, they were further from Middle Earth than ever.

Instead, they decided, they would take the boats across.  Unfortunately after the last of the storms, only a handful of swanboats remained; not enough to transport the entire Noldor host, even after all the desertion.  So they planned multiple trips, ferrying the elves across.

Fëanor and Galadriel and all Fëanor’s most fervent followers were in the first group.

“This is stupidly frustrating,” Galadriel complained to Fëanor as they sailed east.  “I want to be a queen!  I want it so bad I can taste it.  I want to get to Middle Earth and make my own gardens, with no Valar to answer to. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!”

“I totally feel you!” Fëanor shouted back. “Although morning and sun are both anachronistic concepts!”


The day that Fëanor, his sons, Galadriel, and all their followers arrived in Middle Earth was a momentous one.  Several things happened, which I’m going to relate with a series of slides, as is my wont. Bear in mind this was not a literal twenty-four hour day, on account of the sun and moon still hadn’t been finished.

Image: Fëanor counting noses as the Noldor sailors ask him who they should bring over next — Fingolfin, his followers, who?

Image: Fëanor tapping his foot impatiently, then declaring that Fingolfin was a useless fool and his followers were total loads.

Image: Fëanor ordering the swan boats brought out of the water, and ashore.  Confused Noldor forming teams and hauling with ropes.

Image: Fëanor literally cackling with insane glee as he burns the swanboats, declaring that none of his people should ever return to Valinor, not even to pick up Fingolfin.

Image: Galadriel eyeing Fëanor as he rants in the light of the burning ships, realizing that maybe, just maybe, she’s backed the wrong horse.

Image: Fingolfin, back in Valinor, peering with elf-eyes and seeing this happen.  He isn’t even surprised; this is classic Fëanor.

Image: Fingolfin’s followers debating whether to try the Helcaraxë Alpine Crossing, or to turn around and slink back to the Valar and apologize, or just to march into the sea and drown.  Each option seems to have a roughly equal chance of ending well.

Image: Fingolfin leading his people across the incredibly difficult Helcaraxë glacier into Middle Earth. They don’t all make it.

Image: the first human men and women, who had been sleeping on riverbanks in Middle Earth since the creation of the world, awake at last.

Image: the sun finally rising for the first time.  The Years of the Trees are well and truly over; this is the dawning of the First Age of Beleriand.


(Interpolation watch: there are several extant versions of Galadriel’s crossing from Valinor into Middle Earth in the huge mass of scribbled notebook pages that are JRR Tolkien’s unfinished works.  The story I just related corresponds to precisely none of them.  Maybe that’s a strike against it, but on the other hand, this version of the story underlines what exactly Galadriel was talking about when she told Frodo she had passed the test and would be allowed back into Valinor, in Fellowship.)

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By Special Holiday Request: the History of Tolkien’s Elves (part VII)

What happens next is pretty involved and complex, so I’m going to simplify and summarize. Fëanor had just given a rousing speech, spurring the Noldor of Tirion to march forth and invade Middle Earth. Everyone was pretty excited about it, which frankly was a little surprising. Most of the Noldor a) had been perfectly happy in Valinor and didn’t give two hoots about Men ruling Middle Earth, and b) thought that Fëanor was kind of crazy. If they had to pick a son of Finwë to rule them, they’d go with Fingolfin or Finarfin.

So Fëanor was super eager to get everyone moving, before people calmed down and cooler heads prevailed and the whole “march to Middle Earth” plan was examined in the cold light of day.

Also, he was worried that Manwë or Varda or the other Valar would be miffed about his bawling them out. It might’ve led to a scene, he figured. And sure enough, as he and Galadriel and his seven sons and two brothers and an unknown number of nieces and nephews marched east from Tirion, leading ninety percent of the city’s population, a messenger of the Valar appeared.

Tolkien is extremely unspecific as to the nature of this messenger, but I think it’s reasonable to suppose it was one of the Maiar, the lesser demigods/angels who served the Valar (the greater demigods/archangels). The collective term for Valar and Maiar both, by the way, is Ainur. Just in case anyone asks. It’s not important. Anyway, a Maia appeared and delivered Manwë’s rebuttal to all the invective Fëanor was throwing around in the last couple of entries.

She lay out the following assertions:

  • Fëanor’s refusal to offer up the silmarils was a real dick move.
  • Fëanor’s world-bending Oath was even worse.
  • Also Fëanor was being a real jerk about that and a lot of other things.
  • So with that in mind, Fëanor had so offended his hosts that he was no longer welcome in Valinor.
  • He was to vacate the continent of Aman forthwith.
  • The rest of the Noldor were advised against accompanying him.
  • The Valar would not assist the Noldor in their mad ‘invade Middle Earth,’ ‘defeat Morgoth by force of arms,’ ‘recover the silmarils’ plan.
  • They would not actively work against Fëanor and his efforts, but they didn’t need to.
  • Morgoth was one of the Valar, though a rebel and arguably no longer a member of the Ainur proper; Fëanor trying to fight him was like an infant boxing Muhammed Ali.
  • Everybody really ought to just simmer down and go back to Tirion and let the Valar get to work building the sun and the moon.

There was some rumbling among the Noldor, as the Maia laid out her arguments on Manwë’s behalf. Fëanor, however, was unmoved, and rebutted the rebuttal with arguments of his own:

  • He’d already explained how the Valar didn’t have the best interests of the Noldor at heart; he didn’t need to repeat that.
  • Surely the Noldor wouldn’t send the prince and eldest surviving member of the House of Finwë off to fight Morgoth all by himself!
  • Valinor had become unwelcoming to him, and therefore by extension to all the Noldor. Things might have been good just then, but they were clearly poised to collapse. In Middle Earth, by contrast, things were presumably terrible already and the Noldor could only make it all better.
  • And maybe it was an insane plan, and maybe Fëanor was doomed to fail miserably, but at least he would be making an effort to improve things, unlike certain do-nothing Valar who liked to sit around in their Ring of Doom and bicker.

He spoke remarkably persuasively, such that all the Noldor were convinced of the rightness of his claim. Even the Maia messenger bended knee and not-quite-apologized to him for bothering him with such lame arguments.


Fëanor’s initial plan was to follow Morgoth’s route to Middle Earth exactly, heading north along the coast of Aman until reaching the great ice/glacier bridge connecting it to Endor. However as he and his small army of followers and his brother Fingolfin’s rather larger army of followers (not that Fëanor was jealous) marched, he realized that he could only keep the fires stoked for so long. His rhetoric had worked the Noldor up to a fever pitch, but sooner or later they’d calm down and most of them would probably want to just go back home to Tirion.

So marching to Middle Earth was out. The Valar definitely weren’t going to power up the magic island to ferry them there. That left just one option: boats.

Fëanor didn’t want to spend a lot of time building a navy for the same reasons that he didn’t want to try to march across the ice. However there was a group of people who’d come to the Undying Lands from Middle Earth via ships, and they still had the ships just sitting there: the Teleri!

And so Fëanor marched his makeshift army to the Teleri city of Alqualondë, on the eastern coast. He spurred his people to move quickly, and so arrived several days ahead of Fingolfin’s greater host.

The elves of Alqualondë and Fëanor’s followers had a tense series of exchanges that can be summed up with the following short play.

“The Kinslaying” or “The First Kinslaying” or “The Kinslaying at Alqualonde”

SCENE: the docks of Alqualondë. Gulls circle overhead in the starlight (the sun and the moon have not yet been launched). TELERI OF ALQUALONDË busy themselves with fishing, ship maintenance, that kind of thing. A mighty flotilla of beautiful swan-shaped ships dominates the view.

FËANOR and GALADRIEL enter, with the SONS OF FËANOR and the FËANOREAN HOST following.

FËANOR: Awesome armada of swan-shaped ships you have, cousins!

FIRST TELERI: Thank you. Please leave.


SECOND TELERI: We’ve heard about how you’ve chosen to defy the Valar.

FËANOR: The Valar can suck eggs!

The SONS OF FËANOR loudly agree.

FIRST TELERI: We won’t stop you from going, as you’re quite insistent.

SECOND TELERI: But we are loyal to the Valar and will not aid your travel in any way.

FËANOR: But we need your swan boats!

GALADRIEL: We need them badly!

FIRST TELERI: Maybe you should have thought of that before committing treason against the Valar.

GALADRIEL: We could just take them.

The SONS OF FËANOR draw their swords.

FIRST TELERI: What the hell are those things?

FËANOR: They’re swords! I invented them!

SECOND TELERI: What do they do?

GALADRIEL: They murder Teleri.


The FËANOREAN HOST seizes several of the swan boats, as the TELERI watch in stunned amazement. Finally, one rouses from the reverie.

THIRD TELERI: Hey, wait! You can’t do that! Those are our boats!

FOURTH TELERI: Block the harbor!

MORE TELERI emerge from the interior of one of the swan boats seized by the FËANOREAN HOST. They throw the Noldor on their boat into the harbor.

FIRST TELERI: That’s what you get!


GALADRIEL: You shouldn’t have done that.

GALADRIEL starts murdering TELERI with her sword.

FEANOR starts murdering TELERI with his sword.

The SONS OF FËANOR start murdering TELERI with their swords.

The TELERI have no weapons, yet are not unarmed. They wield bows (for hunting), knives (for butchering meat), clubs (for belaying and other nautical club-uses).

The FËANOREAN HOST and the TELERI are roughly evenly matched.


FINGOLFIN: The hell is all this?

FINGON: The Teleri must have attacked Feanor on the Valar’s orders! I knew we couldn’t trust them not to interfere! Attack!

FINGOLFIN’S HOST descends upon the TELERI OF ALQUALONDË, butchering them.

Finally, the massacre is over.  

FËANOR: Good for us!

GALADRIEL: I feel great about how this has gone so far.

FINARFIN: I don’t.

FËANOR: Shut up.

(Curtain, as the Noldor begin to board the swan-ships en masse. )


Incidentally, if you think I’m making any of this up, just google image search “kinslaying at alqualonde” for a variety of amateur and professional paintings and pictures of elves murdering elves while standing in front of giant swans.  It’s totally a thing!

Also, we’re maybe halfway through the portions of the Silmarillion that this series of posts will cover.  Maybe. )


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By Special Holiday Request: the History of Tolkien’s Elves (part VI)

As seen in the previous installment, Fëanor, prince of the Noldor and arguably the main character of elven history, had just gotten into a shouting match with the Valar. Morgoth and Ungoliant had stolen the silmarils. Unable to restore the Trees without Fëanor’s help, the Valar were forced to construct the sun and the moon, aka the shitty golden non-Tree replacement light and the slightly less objectionable silver non-Tree replacement light, to paraphrase their Quenyan names. Sun- and moon-making took the Valar about five years.

First, a quick update on Morgoth and Ungoliant, as they aren’t elves and are therefore incidental to this history of the elves. Hidden in the unlight, the rebel Valar and the Great Old One fled northward, and traveled on foot from Valinor to Middle Earth via the glacier-covered distant north. Maybe they went over the north pole, but for that to work the planet would have to be round, and the world wasn’t “indeed made round” until the end of the First Age and beginning of the Second Age, about six centuries later. So that’s a little confusing.

Less confusing: up in the icy north, Ungoliant started complaining about how they’d agreed to quench all the light of the Trees. And Morgoth was carrying around a box full of silmarils, which shone with the last vestiges of the raw Tree-radiance. Morgoth was a being of almost ineffable power, but Ungoliant was a being of literally ineffable power, and also Morgoth was tired and Ungoliant invigorated on account of she’d just drunk the wells of Varda dry. So long story short, Ungoliant soon had Morgoth bound up in webs of unlight. She was about to consume the silmarils, completing the destruction of the Trees, but then Morgoth pulled one last rabbit from his hat. He called out for his various followers (orcs, trolls, and balrogs) whom he’d abandoned back in part I of this story.  Sauron, his lieutenant, and the orcs had all spent a few hundred years just sort of sitting around the icy wasteland waiting for him. Morgoth’s host came running, and they drove off Ungoliant.

Morgoth, now with the silmarils and an army of orcs and balrogs and trolls, elected to remain in the icy wastes of the north. He rebuilt his fortress, calling it Angband this time, and announced to no one in particular that he was the rightful king of the world and the other Valar were just jealous of his might.

Ungoliant fled southwards, to the nascent land of Men, and birthed a vast host of spiders (Shelob, the spiders of Mirkwood, et cetera) before her thirst for light became too great and she consumed the spark of light which was her own self.

Meanwhile Fëanor stomped back to Tirion, the city of the Noldor, and gave a rousing speech denouncing the Valar, on the following grounds:
1) They stood idly by while Morgoth killed his father.
2) They claimed to offer the Noldor their protection, but couldn’t even protect their own Trees from Morgoth.
3) In fact, weren’t they and Morgoth basically the same class of entity? Were they even really against Morgoth? The elves couldn’t trust them!
4) The Valar invited the elves to come across the sea to Valinor, but really all of Valinor that the elves inhabited was just a narrow stretch of coastline, one river valley, and the formerly-magic island.
5) Meanwhile Middle Earth was just sitting there, perfectly fine. Once it was inferior to Valinor, sure, because Valinor had the Trees, but the Trees were gone. What were the Valar hiding? Why did they pull the elves away from Cuiviénen, where they had been perfectly happy?
6) Because the Valar wanted to clear out Middle Earth to make room for Men!
This was the first most of the Noldor had heard about Men, who were even then in the process of awakening in Middle Earth. They weren’t too pleased to hear about it, needless to say. But Fëanor told them all about Men, and then he reached the real purpose of his speech, which was not to denounce the Valar.  It was to recruit the Noldor to join him in invading Middle Earth and seizing the silmarils back by force of arms.

This was a tough sell, partly because Fëanor had just then invented the twin concepts of “invading” and “seizing by force of arms.” However, he was a great speaker, and a prince of the city. His seven sons (whom I know I haven’t mentioned up to this point, sorry) rallied around him, along with some of his nephews.  The city as a whole, the host of the Noldor, were uncertain, however.

Everyone turned to Galadriel, looking to see what her position was. Why she was held in such high esteem is unclear, but there it is nonetheless. Possibly it was because her father was a Noldor prince, her mother was a Vanyar princess, and her grandfather was the king of the Teleri, making her a princess three times over.  She outlined her view thusly:
1) Being queen is great.
2) But you can’t be queen for serious when there’s a bunch of stupid Valar looking over your shoulder all the time.
3) The Gardens of Lorien are great.
4) But screw Lorien himself! Always lording over me about how they’re his gardens! I’m going to go make my own Gardens of Lorien, with blackjack and hookers!
5) To Middle-Earth, and glory, and conquest!
(It may be worth pointing out that by the time of the War of the Ring, Galadriel is about seven thousand years old. When Fëanor proposed the Flight of the Noldor, she was a mere pup of a hundred and thirty or so. Also, now you know why Galadriel named her forest-kingdom Lorien.)

“You see, everyone? Galadriel agrees with me!” cried Fëanor. “Whose plan is insane now, huh? Now everyone stand back, I’m going to swear!”

And then Fëanor swore the worstest promise, the Oath of Fëanor. This was yet another new thing Fëanor invented: oaths and the swearing thereof. Fëanor’s Oath was not a mild thing, not a Sunday School prayer-meeting promise to love thy neighbor, oh no. When Fëanor swore his Oath, he cracked the world. This was not a promise that could be broken; this oath could never be retracted. This was a commitment. Every oath sworn in the history of Middle Earth after this was an echo, an aftershock, a parasite on the central spine of Oath that Fëanor created. He decompiled the cosmos and inserted a few lines of new code. He spoke, and the ground shook. The clouds parted, and there was fire in the sky. Everyone wept. Everyone everywhere wept.

Once they’d all regained consciousness, Fëanor’s seven sons joined in the Oath. Fingolfin, Fëanor’s estranged brother, and his son Turgon thought the Oath was a bad idea. Finarfin, Fëanor’s other brother, and his son Finrod (Galadriel’s brother) agreed with them. But by then it was too late. The Oath of Fëanor had been sworn.

“They swore an oath that none shall break, and none should take, by the name of Iluvatar, calling the Everlasting Dark upon them if they kept it not; and Manwë they named in witness, and Varda… vowing to pursue with vengeance and hatred to the ends of the World Vala, Demon, Elf or Man as yet unborn, any creature, great or small, good or evil, that time should bring forth to the end of days whoso should hold or take or keep a Silmaril from their possession.”
(Important words to remember here: ‘Vala, Demon, Elf or Man,’ and ‘Good or Evil.’ Varda herself could retrieve the silmarils and Fëanor would be Oath-bound to pursue her ‘with vengeance and hatred.’)


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By Special Holiday Request: the History of Tolkien’s Elves (part V)

(As per usual, I feel I should point out once again that IANATS (I Am Not A Tolkien Scholar) and I’m extrapolating based on my understanding of the Silmarillion, the Book of Lost Tales, Corey Olsen’s podcast, and a whole pile of entries off three or four different wikis. Just in case someone is thinking that they must have missed something in the Quenta Silmarillion: you probably know better than I do, whoever you are.)

When last we left off, Ungoliant had cast all of Valinor into unlight, which was like darkness except more so. The Valar were understandably freaked out by this, and especially by the loss of the Trees and the light they shed. Varda, the Vala who was most closely associated with the Trees, examined the husks Ungoliant left behind, and diagnosed them as beyond recovery.

She laid out two options for how the Valar could restore the light and the day-night cycle, as follows:

  1. If a fragment of the original light could be recovered (maybe from three ineffably precious gemstones a certain alphabet-inventor might have secreted away) then she could restore the Trees like new. Better than new, because the Valar would know to make the new Trees unlight-resistant.
  2. Otherwise she and Aule (the Vulcan-type Valar who created dwarves) could gather up the last dregs of the Trees’ light, and fashion them into a couple of new, relatively shitty lamps. These new lamps would be relatively fragile, so to keep them away from Ungoliant and anyone else who’d want to destroy them, the Valar would have to fix them in the sky, which is to say, we’re talking about the sun and the moon.

“What, so, would the sun shine half the time and the moon shine the other half, like the Trees?” asked one of the Valar.

“Not so much; we wouldn’t be able to install dimmer switches without the silmarils.” Varda shrugged helplessly. “We could mount them on tracks and have only one be above the horizon at a time. I guess. We’d have to assign some Maiar the full-time jobs of piloting them.”

The Valar all made disgusted faces.

“I know, I know,” said Varda, off their response. “I know! It’s bull hockey. It’s a bad solution and –”

“What about starlight?” one of the other Valar interrupted. “Right now we’ve got all this great starlight that harmonizes with the light of the Trees, and casts all of distant Middle Earth into a lovely perpetual twilight.  Well, not right now, because of this lousy unlight we’re still cleaning up, but you know what I mean.”

“Starlight would have to share time with the sliver one, the moon.”


“I know! So we’re all agreed, then: we’ll get the silmarils and use them. I’m sure Fëanor would happily donate them, for such a worthy project!”

In a flash, Fëanor was teleported in and stood before the assembled Valar (fun fact: the assembly of the Valar was known as the Ring of Doom, because they were arranged in a circle and made weighty pronouncements aka dooms in archaic Saxon, and because Tolkien was writing primarily to amuse himself).

Naturally, Fëanor assumed the Valar had summoned him to apologize for favoring Men (who still hadn’t even awoken) and tacitly endorsing his exile from Tirion and so on. He was not thrilled to hear that they just wanted the silmarils.

Fëanor scowled. “No.”



“You mean, no, we can use the silmarils?  Or no, you don’t need any kind of reward because the honor of contributing to the restoration of the sacred Trees is reward enough?  It’s that one, isn’t it?  The no reward one?”

“Let me be clear.”  Fëanor leaned forward, and all the assembled Valar did the same. “No, you can’t have the silmarils.  They’re mine.”

The Valar were stunned when Fëanor told them exactly where they could stuff their silmaril-request. Manwë(the Zeus/Odin analogue Vala) pointed out that with the silmarils, Varda could restore the Trees to their original brilliance. “You saw the Trees, right? You remember how incredible they are. Were. Surely this is a worthy project to expend your baubles upon!”

“No. They’re mine.”

“Would you deny all your fellow elves the light of the Trees, from now until eternity? Think of your poor Teleri brethren, still on distant Middle Earth! They would be cursed to remain Moriquendi forever!”

“Don’t care.” Fëanor folded his arms. “Everybody’s always asking Fëanor for things. Live in Valinor instead of ruling a whole continent called Middle Earth, so that Men can have it. Step aside and let Fingolfin rule in Tirion. Assign the copyright for the alphabet, which I invented (!), to the public domain so that other people can write things down without paying me a royalty. And when Fëanor asks for things, what does he get? He gets kicked out of Tirion and has to go live in a house he built himself. He gets refused three lousy strands of Galadriel’s hair. He gets to watch Men and Fingolfin get all the stuff that’s rightfully his!”

“Are you referring to yourself in the third person for a reason?”

“It’s for dramatic effect! Because Fëanor has had enough! No one gets the silmarils! Not to wear as a necklace, not to reignite the light of the Trees, never, no, no one!”

The Valar considered. One, probably Tulkas the Thor-analogue, spoke up. “You know we could just take them. It wouldn’t even require effort on our part. You’re just an elf, and we’re the assembled Valar. I could just reach out and flip your off switch, right now.”

Fëanor was, however, not intimidated. “You won’t, though, because then you’d be no better than Morgoth. You won’t force anyone to do anything, ever; that’s what you’ve said over and over. If you’re willing to betray that highest principle and reveals yourselves to be a pack of Morgoths, then fine, go ahead and kill me! Because that’s the only way you’re getting the silmarils!”

Just then a messenger burst in on the Ring of Doom. Terrible news from Formenos, Fëanor’s citadel! Let’s flashback over there and see it!


Morgoth, swathed in unlight, descended upon Formenos. He pounded on the door (don’t ask me why he didn’t just knock it down, maybe Fëanor made the doors un-knock-down-able) until the citadel’s highest-ranking elf showed up.

“If you’re looking for Fëanor he’s not home,” said Finwë, Fëanor’s father as he opened the door. “The Valar summoned him for some kind of meeting, probably to deal with all this eerie magical darkness that’s fallen across the land.”

Morgoth responded by stabbing Finwë in the chest. The High King of the Noldor collapsed onto the flagstones of Formenos, dead.

Finwë was the first elf to die by violence in Valinor. Elves had died back in Middle Earth, mostly due to Morgoth abducting them, terrorizing them, turning them into orcs. Those elves, once they’d died, had found themselves in the Halls of Mandos, alongside those elves (such as Fëanor’s mother) who had faded away and died of grief. Mandos was, by the by, one of the Valar, specifically the oracular, prophetic one.

Anyway, dead as he was, Finwë relocated swiftly to the Halls of Mandos where he took up residence next to Fëanor’s mother.  As such, he was helpless to do anything as Morgoth descended upon Formenos.  The corrupted Vala slew all in his path until he reached Fëanor’s treasury. Morgoth looted the treasury quickly, scooping up several random handfuls of treasure, but he was careful with his main prize: the strongbox holding the silmarils.

Morgoth popped the lock on the strongbox – he was the mightiest of the Valar, after all – and gazed with hunger upon the silmarils. He picked one up, intending to keep them all close to his skin, but shrieked in pain as the gem scorched and burned his hand. The silmarils were filled with the light of the Trees, and only the worthy could bear them without being burned.

“No problem,” he said. “I’ll just wear gloves.”


“I see how this is,” said Fëanor, once the messenger had relayed the gist of the above scene. “You distract me with your pretty words and polite requests while Morgoth does your dirty work.”

“That’s not how it is at all…” began Varda, who incidentally was sort of the Mary-Mother-of-God, Isis, Athena type Vala.

“I don’t want to hear it! Good day!”

“But –”

I SAID GOOD DAY!” roared Fëanor.


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By Special Holiday Request: the History of Tolkien’s Elves (part IV)

When I left off, Morgoth’s plan was just getting into motion.  It’s probably worth it to look at Morgoth for a second, and explain who he was (beyond ‘Tolkien for Satan,’ which is a great capsule but leaves some unanswered questions).  Melkor was the most powerful of the Valar, the beings that Eru Iluvatar sang into existence at the beginning of time.  They joined Eru’s chorus, and thus assisted in the creation of Middle Earth, et cetera.  Melkor was prideful, and rebelled against Eru’s song in a variety of ways prior to the awakening of the elves.  This is why he had been more-or-less exiled to Middle Earth, and was there back in part I of this series.  However Melkor was one of the Valar, and they didn’t really understand evil as a concept; his actions were mostly baffling to them.  It may seem that he got off light, with the million hours of community service (not his literal sentence), but it really didn’t occur to the Valar that he might have been lying when he claimed to repent.  Also, everyone at this time called him Melkor; he was renamed Morgoth in a scene that hasn’t happened yet.  I’ve just been calling him Morgoth to minimize confusion.

Everything was going great for a while, there. The Noldor basked in the light of the Trees. Fëanor, prince and master artisan, hosted parties wherein all the guests were permitted to stare longingly at the silmarils for minutes at a time. Teleri gradually drifted across the sea from Middle Earth to the Undying Lands.

Rob, in the comments, wanted me to point out that in the First Age, the continent of Aman was located physically on the same planet as Middle Earth, which meant that sailing to it was not a big deal, conceptually. This is true. It’s also the case that in the First Age, the world was flat, so ‘planet’ is maybe a deceptive term. And there’s a further truth: in a big dust-up that we haven’t gotten to yet, Aman breaks off of the planet completely while the world is reshaped from flat to round. The upside is that it becomes impossible to sail west from Middle Earth by conventional means and reach the Undying Lands. However the elves of the later ages who made the trip did so in magic boats capable of sailing across the stars, so, no big.

The easiest way to convey what happens next is with a series of slides, as follows.

  • Morgoth at Fëanor’s parties, confiding in him that his younger brother Fingolfin lusted after the silmarils.
  • Fëanor accusing Fingolfin of seeking usurp Fëanor’s place as eldest brother and silmaril-possessor.
  • Fëanor inventing something new: swords.  Like knives, but bigger and just for murdering with.
  • Finwë, father of Fëanor and Fingolfin both, decrying this new “weapons” concept.
    Fëanor denouncing Fingolfin and locking the silmarils away in a strongbox (strongbox = yet another Fëanorean invention).
  • Morgoth, Fëanor, and lots of Fëanor’s second-generation Noldor buddies agreeing with one another that this whole “Men are coming so the Elves have to leave Middle Earth” thing was total bull hockey and their fathers never should have gone along with it.
  • Fëanor almost coming to blows with Fingolfin, and rushing out of their father’s house in a rage.
  • The Valar convening a meeting to figure out what to do about Fëanor.
  • Fëanor angrily shouting down the Valinor, declaring that they might have fooled his parents with their secret plan to rob the Noldor of rulership of Middle Earth, but Fëanor knows Men are coming!
  • Baffled Valar scratching their heads and trying to figure out what the heck is up with these Noldor, and why they’re all unhappy and angry with one another.
  • Tulkas, the Thor-type Vala, realizing that it must all be Morgoth’s fault.
  • Fëanor forcibly relocated from Tirion, the city the Vanyar built and the Noldor made their capital, to the citadel of Formenos (designed and built by Fëanor, duh, of course he was an architect as well as a jeweler and a weaponsmith and a crafter of strongboxes and a linguistic theorist).
  • Finwë, in a show of support for poor Fëanor, moving from his own capital of Tirion, to Formenos.
  • Fingolfin becoming acting king of Tirion in Finwë’s absence; Fëanor pointing at this and declaring himself vindicated.
  • Tulkas scouring Valinor, seeking Morgoth for questioning.
  • Morgoth, in his Sunday best, knocking on the door of Formenos and asking Fëanor for asylum.
  • Fëanor realizing that Morgoth just wanted the silmarils, and slamming the door in Morgoth’s face.

Morgoth fled to the far southern reaches of Aman, well away from Valinor. There, fleeing Tulkas’s wrath, Morgoth encountered Ungoliant, the Gloomweaver.

I haven’t mentioned Ungoliant up to this point. Ungoliant came from the darkness beyond the stars, and was not part of Eru Iluvatar’s creation; she had no natural place in Middle-Earth or elsewhere. She was a being of night, the original creature of darkness. She looked like a spider, but she wasn’t a spider. Ungoliant was a monster, an evil spirit in the shape of a spider; she was more  Shub-Nigurath than Charlotte. In Ages to come she traveled to Middle Earth and spawned a thousand thousand young.  Shelob, whom you’ll remember from the Two Towers (or the Return of the King if we’re talking the movies) was merely the greatest of her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  The spiders of Mirkwood, too, were part of Ungoliant’s brood.  She actually gets namechecked, as such, by Radagast in one of the Hobbit movies.

Morgoth and Ungoliant had cooperated before, to tear down the Lamps; Morgoth because he was jealous and Ungoliant because she was a creature of darkness and hated the light.  Now Morgoth wanted the silmarils, and Ungoliant wanted to destroy all light forever. Naturally, they teamed up again, to take out the Trees.

Ungoliant spun webs of unlight, which was like darkness except more so, and shrouded both herself and Morgoth in cloaks of night. They stole into Valinor together, and Morgoth led Ungoliant to the two Trees. There Ungoliant spun more unlight, choking the Trees and throwing all of Valinor into darkness. In the confusion, Morgoth cut the Trees open with his spear (don’t try to visualize this). Ungoliant drank deep at the wound.  She sucked dry the wells of Varda, swallowing the light of the Trees.  As they grew dark all the artifacts in Valinor that shone with or reflected their light were extinguished, too, even Galadriel’s hair (her hair was still very lovely, it just no longer literally shone). Ungoliant’s unlight spread out and covered all Valinor, seeking out and exterminating every trace of the light of the Trees.

Only Fëanor’s silmarils, safe in Fëanor’s extremely secure strongbox, remained.

Morgoth rushed to Formenos, while all of Valinor trembled in the unlight.


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By Special Holiday Request: the History of Tolkien’s Elves (part III)

We were talking about the first elven migrations across the sea to Valinor.  The Vanyar and the Noldor rode on the magic island from Middle Earth to the Undying Lands, from Endor to Aman. The Teleri trailed along behind, and missed the islands.

Unlike their Avari kin, in theory the Teleri were headed to Valinor.  Lots of them eventually made the trip, but they dawdled and built nations in the western regions of Middle Earth.  Their migration, done via boats instead of by magic islands, was so drawn-out and attenuated that, arguably, it was still going on as of the War of the Ring.  The Teleri who really dragged their feet, to the extent that they formed nation-states, became known as the Sindar; these were the elves who met the dwarves.  It was around this time that Durin the Deathless, First King of the Dwarves, founded Khazad-dûm aka Moria. But we’re not talking about dwarves; we’re talking elves.

Ships set forth from the Sindar’s nations, sailing westward to the Undying Lands.  This wasn’t as holy a means of travel as the other elves got to use, but still, they reached Aman.  No reason to complain.  The Vanyar settled on the magic island (once it stopped moving, just off the coast of Aman), but migrated inland, leaving the Noldor on the coast.  Then the Vanyar migrated even further inland, and the Noldor followed them, leaving the Teleri on the coast.  One can picture three distinct bands of elf settlement across Aman, not unlike a developed thin-layer chromatography plate.

So Morgoth was on probation in Valinor, and he saw the elves coming in. The Vanyar were too holy, having been the first to awaken and the first to come over and they all got extra Tree-looking-at time in, compared to the others. The Teleri were a disorganized bunch of drips. But the Noldor? The Noldor were just right.

To convey this next portion of the story, I’m going to rely on that well-loved literary technique, the imagined expository conversation.

One day Morgoth was chatting with one of the Noldor, specifically the firstborn son of Finwë, the king of the Noldor.

“So Curufinwe…” he began.

“Call me Fëanor,” said Fëanor. “It’s an affectionate nickname my mother gave me.”

“How is your mother?”

“Still dead. I visited her in the Halls of Mandos the other day. She’s happier this way.”

“Death, feh.” Morgoth sighed. “That’s just weird. I can’t imagine wanting to stop existing. Like it’s even possible to stop existing! She isn’t gone, she just relocated from the Gardens of Lorien to the Halls of Mandos!”

Fëanor shrugged. “Maybe eventually she’ll decide to be alive again.”

Morgoth scoffed. “Well, you know she’s just being fashionable. She’s always been a fashion-plate, you know that; she invented embroidery. Certainly she’d want to get…”

“???” (It was not easy to make a noise like ??? but Fëanor invented the question mark, so he could do it.)

“Oh, didn’t you know?” Morgoth feigned surprise. “I would have thought the other Valar would have mentioned it, you elves being their special guests and all. I mean, you guys did clear out of Middle Earth for the Men…”

“?!?” (Fëanor also invented the exclamation point.)

“Oh, didn’t you know?” Morgoth asked again. “Soon the race of Men will awaken in Middle Earth. They’re sort of elves 2.0, you know? Specially beloved by Eru Iluvatar, granted the gift of death…”

“The ‘gift of death?'”

“When a man or woman dies, then they don’t go into the Halls of Mandos, they just… go.” Morgoth went fssst and made a gesture like a leaky balloon jetting off. “It’s a big mystery.”


“So clearly they’re the big new special thing coming down the pipe, and that’s why the Valar moved you guys off Middle Earth and here to Valinor.”


“Well I can see you’ve got a lot on your mind,” Morgoth said cheerily. “I should be moseying along. Say hi to Galadriel for me, will you?”


Fëanor did indeed visit his niece Galadriel, in the Gardens of Lorien. Lorien himself wasn’t home, but his gardens were open to all.

“Oh, it’s you,” she said when she saw him. These two were not exactly friends. “What do you want? I was just enjoying these silver gardens and imagining one day being a queen with gardens of my own.”

“That’s nice.”

“All will love me and despair!”

“I’m sure. Listen, you remember how I wanted a few strands of your hair, right?”

“I remember.” Galadriel’s eyes narrowed. “You’ve asked me for strands of my hair twice before.”

“And twice you’ve refused me, because you don’t like me, but whatever. I need three strands of your hair. Well?” He tapped his foot. “I need them for a special jewelry-crafting project. Hand them over.”

Now, just so we’re clear, Galadriel’s hair was special. She was six foot four, did you know that? And her hair went down to her ankles. Most of the Noldor had dark hair, but Galadriel was a blonde, because of her part-Vanyar ancestry. Not only was she blonde, but her hair had caught the light of the Trees, somehow, and it shone silver and gold, just as the Trees did.

“How many strands did you want, again?”

“Three. I just said. Three.”

“How about none? None is what I said before. Is none okay?”

Fëanor groused, because this was just more bad news. In Galadriel’s defense, the hair was hers to give or not, and maybe she didn’t like the idea of having her hair made into jewelry, and she didn’t like Fëanor. But Fëanor had to come up with another plan. He’d already invented the question mark and the exclamation point, plus a whole alphabet, and the palantiri and even Fëanorean lamps, which, you know the phial of Galadriel? Little bottle of starlight that Galadriel gives Frodo, and Sam uses it to drive back Shelob?  It was basically a Fëanorean lamp. He made a tremendous number of cool things, but his crowning achievement was the silmarils.

The short explanation is that the silmarils were three gemstones in which Fëanor caught the light of the Trees, because Galadriel wouldn’t let him use her hair. The long explanation is called the Silmarillion.

The silmarils were awesome, oh, you can’t imagine. They were so, so pretty. Take every art object that’s ever existed, and put them in a big pile, and light that pile on fire, and the resulting fire still isn’t going to be nearly as pretty as the silmarils. Just hearing about them, you want them. You know you do. You’ve seen the Hobbit movies, you know the Arkenstone? The Arkenstone of Thrain simultaneously is and is not a silmaril, which is a funny story in itself. We don’t need to go into it, though.


(Addendum: one more quick comment regarding Legolas and his father Thranduil the Elfking: while they claim royal status, it’s because of a Sindar title; they aren’t part of the House of Finwë that we’re about to hear so much about.  Rather, they’re descended from Calaquendi (Vanyar and Noldor) who later intermarried with Sindar, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  They themselves are Moriquendi.  I’m mentioning this now in case a legit Tolkien scholar comes along someday to correct me.)

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By Special Holiday Request: the History of Tolkien’s Elves (part II)

When last we left, the Vala Oromë was inviting the elves to migrate, en masse, to his homeland in the uttermost West.

“It’s not that we don’t want to. I mean, you’re great, with your superpowers and your crazy stories about having defeated Morgoth and rescued our kidnapped siblings and children…”

“Well, not rescued so much as scourged from the world. They were turned into orcs.”

“…but we have this whole nice garden-realm, and all…”

Oromë was pretty insistent, so eventually, to shut him up, three of the elves agree to visit Valinor with him, and then report back to the rest of the elves about it. These three were Ingwë, Finwë, and Elwë, founders or co-founders of the three tribes the elves self-selected into.

So, Valinor. One of the specific questions I was asked is “what’s the West?” and the answer is Valinor. The planet Arda had two continents on it (more, actually, but only two that count): Endor and Aman. Endor was the place we call Middle Earth; Aman was the Undying Lands to the distant west over the sea.

When the three elven patriarchs visited Aman, Valinor was basically all that was there; Valinor was the land of the Valar. It was occupied by the Valar themselves, and also their servants the Maiar. Maia, singular of Maiar, is basically Tolkien for demigod or lesser angel. Gandalf is a Maia, ditto Sauron himself, ditto the balrog that Gandalf fought in Moria at the climax of Fellowship of the Ring. But all those splendors were as nothing next to the light of the Trees.

See, back before the elves woke up there was the thing with lamps, but by the time the patriarchs had arrived, Valinor was lit by two huge magical trees created by the Valar. One was golden and one was silver, and they emitted sunlight and moonlight on a regular day-night cycle. At this time Cuiviénen, like the rest of Middle Earth, was lit only by starlight, so the light of the Trees blew the elves’ minds. Ingwë, Finwë, and Elwë were besides themselves.

“Those Trees are incredible! They’re the greatest thing! When I close my eyes and try to picture my wife’s face, all I see is Tree! Ormoë wasn’t kidding when he said we’d like the Trees!”

“I propose we divide all elves into two categories: elves who have seen the Trees and elves who haven’t. Seconded?”

“Seconded! All in favor?”

“Motion carries! We’ll be the Calaquendi and those poor benighted elves who haven’t seen the light can be the Moriquendi.”

“We’ve got to get back to Cuiviénen and convince all the Moriquendi to come here!”

Long story short, the elven patriarchs returned to Middle Earth and told the other elves about Valinor and the Trees. The elves split up into four main groups that related to (but were not exactly the same as) the three tribes that the elves self-selected into when they first woke.

The first group were the Fair Elves, aka the Vanyar aka the Minyar. These elves were all blondes, unlike all the other elves who were dark-haired. Their founder was the patriarch Ingwë, and they were the first group of elves to travel from Middle Earth to Valinor. They made the trip not with boats, but on a magic island provided by the Valar. Once they arrived in Valinor they basically disappeared from the history of Middle Earth.

The second group were the Deep Elves, aka the Noldor. They were a subset of the second of the three ancient elven tribes, and they were led by Finwë. They also traveled to Valinor via magic island. We’ll be hearing a lot about them in a bit.

The third group were the Teleri, aka the Sindar. These were elves who were a mix of the second and third elven tribes, not Vanyar, who started out from Cuiviénen towards the coast but got distracted along the way and missed both of the magic islands. They ended up building a whole series of nations in ancient Middle Earth.

The fourth group were the Avari. The Avari were the elves who, when the three patriarchs returned to tell them about the light of the Trees, declared that they were perfectly happy in the perpetual twilight of Middle Earth, thank you very much. They didn’t head west with the Teleri, and instead just kind of hung out in and around Cuiviénen until everyone stopped paying attention to them.

The bulk of the rest of the story revolves around the Noldor and the Sindar. The Noldor are Calaquendi, which means they’re better, and the Sindar are Moriquendi, which means they’re not. This is a major, major thing down the line.

You know how, in the second Hobbit movie, the Elfking complains about how Legolas and What’s-her-name the noncanonical elf are a couple? Because What’s-her-name just isn’t good enough for Legolas? It’s because Legolas is part Noldor (part-Vanyar, actually, I think; that’s why he’s blond) and What’s-her-name is full Sindar. Elrond and Galadriel are both Noldor, too, incidentally.

For the moment, though, our focus shifts to Valinor. For a long time, Valinor had been inhabited just by the Valar. Then came Morgoth, their chained prisoner, there to do a million hours of community service, and who couldn’t possibly work any evil ever again. And then came the Noldor.


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By Special Holiday Request: the History of Tolkien’s Elves

To start with I need to define the problem, or else I’m going to end up recounting the whole of not only the Silmarillion but also Unfinished Tales and the Book of Lost Tales and probably Leaf by Niggle while I’m at it. Also, I can’t stress this enough, I am not a Tolkien scholar. Legit Tolkien scholars exist; I’ve listened to their podcasts. I’m just a guy who likes to retell other people’s stories in what I like to think of as an entertaining way.

Brant asked about the Elves: who they are, what their deal is, and “what the hell is the West?” Cutting that down into something that can be addressed in a few thousand words, we’re looking at the Elves as seen in, specifically, the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, Jackson’s Elves, and examining their history.

The story of the elves starts at the very beginning of time, more or less. Eru Iluvatar, which is Tolkien for the Abrahamic big-G God, sang a whole universe into being. Eru created the first elves alongside the Valar (singular Vala, which is Tolkien for Classical little-G gods, or maybe archangels is a more apt comparison), but those first elves spent about a thousand years asleep while all kinds of crazy prehistory god/demon/angel stuff happened. Lamps were built and destroyed, one Vala wrestled another one; it was a whole thing and we don’t need to get into it.

One hundred and forty-four elves woke up in a garden-realm called Cuiviénen. Visualize the map of Middle Earth in your mind, with the Misty Mountains in the middle and Mordor down in the lower right; Cuiviénen was located off the map a ways to the east. Eventually it was destroyed, but while it lasted, it was pretty sweet.

The hundred and forty-four original elves self-selected into three tribes, whose names aren’t important, and dwelled peaceably in the garden-realm for several years. This was before Middle Earth had a proper day-night cycle, so mostly they walked in starlight; it was very idyllic. At least until Melkor aka Morgoth aka Tolkien for Satan showed up. Morgoth was one of the Valar, the little-g gods, but he was prideful and spiteful and all the usual Satanic qualities, so the Valar kicked him out of their territory in the super-distant west and he went sulking across the sea to Middle Earth, where he found the elves.

“Sweet!” Morgoth said to himself. “Little people made of meat and starlight that walk around and sing songs and crap! I want some!” He abducted some of the elves and dragged them off to Utumno, which was his evil castle version 1.0 in the far north of Middle Earth. There he did wicked magic on them until they stopped being Elves and started being Orcs who feared and worshipped him.

So naturally the elves were pretty peeved about this, and whenever Morgoth came by Cuiviénen they’d hide. One day – thirty-five years after the first elves woke up – one of the other Valar happened to wander into Cuiviénen. At first the elves hid, but Valar are clever and Oromë (that was this Vala’s name) pretty quickly sussed them out. He spent a few years studying them, making friends, etc., before returning to Valar territory in the uttermost west.

“Guys,” he said to the other Valar. “Remember how Morgoth came in and tore down the lamps? And then he fled off to the big empty continent on the other side of the sea? And then we were all, whatever? Because the big empty continent on the other side of the sea is empty? So let him have it? Like, what harm could he do?”

“Where’re you going with this?” asked Manwë, the Zeus/Odin sort of figure among the Valar.

“Turns out the big empty continent isn’t totally empty! There are these little people there made partially of meat, and they sing, and Morgoth has been getting up in their grills and turning some of them into orcs!”

“Orcs? Shit!” exclaimed Tulkas, who was the Thor-type Valar. “I’ve never heard of them before now, and already I hate them! Let’s go rescue these little meat-people from Morgoth!”

All the Valar agreed! They quickly departed Valinor (that was the name of their homeland) and Aman (that was the name of their continent) and crossed the sea to Endor (that was the name of Middle Earth, the continent where all the action was). There they invaded Morgoth’s citadel Utumno and killed a bunch of orcs and drove Sauron (Morgoth’s sidekick) into hiding, Led by Tulkas, the Valar captured Morgoth and carried him back to Valinor. There he pled guilty, copped a plea, and got off with a few million hours of community service.

As far as the elves knew, what happened was that Oromë left, and then he came back to hang out some more. And then there were earthquakes and weird lights in the northern sky for about twenty years, and then Oromë announced that evil had been vanquished.

“There was evil?” asked the elves.

“Yeah, don’t worry about it. It’s been defeated forever I’m pretty sure.” Oromë snapped his fingers, thinking of something. “Dudes! I just had an awesome idea. You guys should totally visit Valinor, my more-or-less homeland!”

The elves exchanged nervous glances.

“It’s great! We’ve got trees there like you wouldn’t believe! You’ll love ‘em! Also we have a day-night cycle!”


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