By Special Holiday Request: the History of Tolkien’s Elves (part XII)
Morgoth unleashed his very first dragon, a wingless wyrm named Glaurung, upon the Noldor with the intention of Glaurung laying waste to the whole of the Northlands. Either this was Morgoth’s idea or else it was Glaurung acting independently, I’m not sure. Regardless, Glaurung sprang forth and burned a whole nation’s worth of Noldor, lickety-fast! Unfortunately for Morgoth, though, Glaurung was still basically an infant in dragon terms, and hadn’t grown to the full size and strength and majesty he would eventually attain. One of Fëanor’s nephews led Calaquendi archers against the dragon, and drove him back into the mountains. The Noldor recorded this as total victory for their side and let Glaurung go, little realizing just how big and terrible he would eventually become.
But that would take centuries! In the meantime there was the Long Peace.
Hundreds of years passed with minimal incident. The most significant events in this period were the founding of Gondolin and Nargothrond. These were a couple of partly- or mostly-underground elven cities, the precise locations of which were close-held secrets and unknown to Men or orcs.
See, during the centuries he was the only Calaquendi in Middle Earth, Thingol and the Sindar constructed a massive underground citadel, the capital of Doriath. This was called Menegroth, and it became the model for all the other elven cities in Middle Earth. The halls of the Elfking, in Mirkwood, were built in direct imitation of Menegroth, for example. This is why elves live in caves; Thingol found some nice caves back in the day.
Not to be outdone, Fingolfin’s son Turgon and Finarfin’s son Finrod founded their own cave-based elf cities. Finrod’s fastness was called Nargothrond, and it was your typical cave-city, but hidden along the banks of a river (do not question this). Turgon’s fastness, Gondolin, is the one better remembered and referenced in Lord of the Rings; more than once it’s mentioned that Sting, Glamdring, and Orcrist were all three constructed there. Gondolin was mostly above-ground, but it was located in a hidden valley deep within mountains near Doriath, and the way there was kept secret by Turgon and his people from all save the Eagles. Because Eagles can fly, and they could just look and see Gondolin.
Fun Fact #1: Gondolin was modeled partly on Menegroth but also partly on Tirion, the capital of the Noldor forsaken by Fëanor back in Valinor, which was located in a deep valley. Also located in a deep valley and built in memory of Gondolin and Tirion before it: Imladris, better known as Rivendell.
During this period the Noldor encountered dwarves, whom the Sindar had already met, and also humanity, who were new. The dwarves they got along with okay, provided the dwarves recognized that the Calaquendi were straight-up better than all other races and peoples; the Noldor weren’t above bribing dwarves with jewels and other treasures taken from Valinor. Dwarven labor contributed greatly to the construction of Nargothrond and Menegroth (Gondolin was too secret to entrust to dwarves).
Fun Fact #2: one night in Nargothrond Finrod got drunk with dwarves and told them about the silmarils, the light of the Trees caught in
jewels. Impressed by the tale (as who wouldn’t be?) the dwarves created the greatest work of art ever produced by their people, the Nauglamir. This was a necklace designed to hold a silmaril (they didn’t have a silmaril at the time but they were optimistic), and it was ineffably wondrous. In the Hobbit, at one point in Bilbo’s house the dwarves sing about the mighty works of their forbearers, and one of the lines is
In twisted wire they meshed the light of Moon and Sun
Which is a direct reference to the Nauglamir, inasmuch as the silmarils literally contained the light of the moon and sun.
But we aren’t talking about the history of the dwarves or the history of humanity, we’re focused strictly on the elves. Suffice to say, then, that elves and humans more or less got along in this era. Humanity recognized the general greatness of the elves, and swore fealty to them, and mostly existed in a strained lord-vassal relationship with the elves.
When I say humanity, I am of course referring only to a single specific ethnic group, the Edain, who were the ancestors of the people of Gondor in particular and all the rest of humanity on the non-Sauron side in Lord of the Rings in general. That is, the Rohirrim, the rangers of the North, etc, were all a mix of Edain and other ethnicities in greater or lesser degree. Heck, the same could be said for most of Gondor; the only pureblooded Edain in Lord of the Rings are Aragorn, Denethor, Faramir, and Boromir.
But again, I digress. We’re only interested in elves. Suffice to say that by the time Glaurung had increased a few size categories, humanity had spread out into Beleriand and built homes throughout, in service to Fingolfin and other elven overlords. The elves congratulated one another on how both the Battle Under the Stars and the Glorious Battle had resulted in major victories over Morgoth, assuming you counted “Fëanor dies while Morgoth watches” as a victory. And Morgoth plotted, and waited, and bided his time, until one cold night he set the entire Northlands on fire.
NEXT: THE BATTLE OF SUDDEN FLAME!
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