By Special Holiday Request: the History of Tolkien’s Elves (part XI)
This is where we have to step back and remember that Tolkien was writing a history, rather than a novel. If Fëanor’s death comes across as an anticlimax, then remember that Alexander the Great drank himself to death, Stalin died of a blood hemorrhage, and Napoleon fell to stomach cancer. Just kidding! They were all three of them poisoned! But they were definitely undramatic poisonings compared to the various terrible deeds they’d committed over their lives.
Am I suggesting that a conspiracy of Noldor poisoned Fëanor, that he fell to wounds which, as one of the Calaquendi, he should have been able to effortlessly shrug off? Actually I’m not. Maybe that would make for a better story — Galadriel, convinced that Mandos hadn’t been blowing smoke, and that Fëanor means to doom all the Noldor, enlisting Maedhros or one of Fëanor’s other sons to slip him some iocane powder? But no. Fëanor died of wounds inflicted by Gothmog, King of the Balrogs and Morgoth’s right-hand demon-prince.
The two camps of Noldor were bitterly divided. Fingolfin’s people resented Fëanor’s people for abandoning them and forcing them to march across Helcaraxë; Fëanor’s people resenting Fingolfin’s people for not having been there to help their first, disastrous assault on Angband. One of these complaints has, prima facie, a lot more merit than the other, but try telling the Fëanoreans that.
Fingon, Fingolfin’s son, realized that with the Noldor at one another’s throats, the Sindar would quickly realize that they outnumbered the Noldor by hundreds to one, and that they didn’t need to bend knee to them just because they were Calaquendi. He decided that the only way to reunite the two feuding camps of Noldor was via a grand and dramatic gesture. Operation RESCUE MAEDHROS was born!
It’s a thrilling tale. Maedhros was stapled to the cliffside over Angband; he hung by one wrist that Morgoth had attached to the stone with a heavy metal band. Fingon cut Maedhros down, which involved cutting Maedhros’s hand off, and bore his cousin back to the new Noldor nation of Mithrim.
Long story short, Maedhros and Fingon beaome the best of friends, Maedhros abdicated the throne of the Noldor, and Fingolfin ascended. King Fingolfin announced that the Noldor would colonize all of Dor-lomin, Lammoth, Ard-galen, Dorthonion, and Hithlum in addition to Mithrim. Nobody lived there besides orcs and dwarves and a handful of Avari, so basically the lands were uninhabited.
This would be a great time to do a Google Image Search for “beleriand” or “first age map.” Or heck, just follow this link and click on the map. The land that Fingolfin claimed was essentially the northernmost 30% or so of the area, the Northlands. Further south, you’ll note Doriath, Thingol’s realm, and Falas, home of Cirdan the Shipwright and his followers the Falathrim. (The elves of Doriath and the elves of Falas were both, technically, Sindar, but for whatever reason the Falathrim became known by that name; when one spoke of the Sindar, one meant the elves of Doriath.)
Not pictured on that map: the Iron Mountains, aka the Ered Engrim, which ran east-west the length of the continent, just off the map to the north. Angband, Morgoth’s stronghold, was located within these mountains. Angband may have been a whole series of tunnels and secret ways and orc breeding pits that honeycombed the entire mountain range, or it may have been limited to a single geographic region, Thangorodrim, marked by three high volcanic peaks and located due north of Lammoth. If Angband did extend thousands of miles eastward, then Thangorodrim was basically Morgoth’s front porch; it was there that Fëanor fell.
So to sum up, Fingolfin claimed for the Noldor a pretty vast swathe of land, but also a mostly depopulated one located too close to Morgoth’s fastness for the Sindar to be especially interested in it. Thingol, the de facto ruler of Middle Earth, was completely fine with the Noldor colonizing the north, and welcomed the Noldor. Elves spread out and built cities, while keeping their forces alert for Morgoth. Things went smoothly, so much so that when Fingolfin decided to throw the sun a twentieth birthday party, Sindar and Avari and Laiquendi all sent presents and representatives. This was called the Feast of Reuniting, and it was a smashing success.
One thing you might have noticed didn’t seem to be on Fingolfin’s to-do list was the conquest of Thangorodrim. Fëanor and his followers had cut right through Morgoth’s host, and reached the very gates of Angband before Morgoth’s house-guard of balrogs managed to stop their advance. While Fëanor and other elves fell in that battle, that was before Fingolfin’s much larger faction of Noldor joined them in Mithrim. The Calaquendi Noldor were basically the single most fearsome military unit in the history of Middle Earth, eclipsing all armies before or since. If Fingolfin had immediately thrown everything the Noldor had at Morgoth, the history of Middle Earth might have gone differently.
Alas, Fingolfin was more into nation-building than conquest; instead of units of swordsmen and archers he constructed granaries and libraries. A few decades passed, while Morgoth replenished his orc horde and bred more balrogs. Eventually he felt bold enough to start sending orc raiders to harass Noldor settlements, and strike at the Sindar as well.
This did not go well for Morgoth; the Noldor had been waiting for just such an assault. Maedhros, Fingon, and various other Noldor mobilized quickly. They drove off the raiders and chased them all the way back to Angband. The Noldor, with help from the Sindar and Falathrim, successfully eradicated all of Morgoth’s forces except those within Thangorodrim and the Iron Mountains themselves. This became known as “the Glorious Battle,” because the Noldor stomped Morgoth so very very well.
Rather than fight their way into Angband, which was essentially an enormous deathtrap, the elves besieged the citadel and established a picket of watchposts all along the edges of the mountains. Decades passed like this, with Morgoth holed up in his spider hole, and the elves gradually expanding their territory across the empty Northlands.
But Morgoth wasn’t letting grass grow under his feet! He’d been the mightiest of the Valar, the shaper of much of the world. He’d created orcs, and trolls, and balrogs, and he wasn’t done yet. With the silmarils on his brow he wielded the light of the Trees, and he turned it to dark purpose. Two hundred and sixty years after Fëanor’s death, Morgoth unleashed something new on Middle Earth. Stronger than the balrogs, tougher than the trolls, smarter than the orcs, and capable of breathing fire, this new invention changed the balance of power permanently.
NEXT: THE GREATEST AND CHIEFEST OF CALAMITIES?
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