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!
(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.
NEXT: BELIEVE IT OR NOT THINGS ACTUALLY GET A LITTLE BETTER!
Again, you are misplacing Galadriel here. She wasn’t with Fëanor’s host in Beleriand, either in the Silmarillion, or in the version in Unfinished Tales.