By Special Holiday Request: the History of Tolkien’s Elves (part XIV)
The Battle of Unnumbered Tears went exactly as poorly as you might expect, given its name. Half of the human warriors on the elf side were secretly in league with Morgoth, who offered them the land they took from the elves, free and clear and without any elven overlords. The Union of Maedhros fought their way to the gates of Angband, the same place Fëanor fell to Gothmog and Fingolfin fell to Morgoth.
The commander of the part of the Union that reached Angband first was an elf named Gwindor. Morgoth tormented him, by throwing the broken body of his brother out of Angband. Gwindor’s brother had commanded one of those Noldor outposts Morgoth had besieged and captured.
Gwindor, in a rage, threw everything he had at the gates, acting prematurely inasmuch as the rest of the army was held up dealing with some treacherous men. His forces broke the gates down and made it a whole hundred yards or so into Angband before they were slaughtered. This was basically the first thing that happened in the battle, and it really set the tone.
Gothmog, King of the Balrogs, again led Morgoth’s host, and again he fought the high king of the Noldor: this time it was Fingon who he slew.
Glaurung slew hundreds of dwarves, trampling them beneath his feet (they proved to be resistant to his fiery breath because they’d planned ahead and wore flameproof armor).
Their king wounded Glaurung, and drove the dragon away, but died himself in the process; the dwarves carried his body away and quit the field, abandoning the battle, when he fell. Stupid quitter dwarves.
Turgon, the lord of Gondolin, came out of nowhere at one point, rescuing Fingon. This was before Gothmog killed Fingon, obviously. Turgon and Maedhros escaped, once it became clear that the battle couldn’t be won.
End result: Turgon was now arguably the most powerful elf in Middle Earth, because the more powerful elves kept dying. Thingol, Turgon’s elder and a Calaquen, ruled the protected realm of Doriath, but Turgon was the master of the secret city of Gondolin. Morgoth knew Gondolin existed, but didn’t know where it was.
So, to recap: in the 454th year of the sun and moon, elves and men and dwarves lived in more or less harmony in Middle Earth. There were multiple mighty Noldor nations, plus the Havens of the Falathrim and the Sindar kingdom of Doriath. Dwarves inhabited various mountain ranges, and Morgoth was penned up in Angband. The Edain were fruitful and multiplied and bent knee to Thingol, to Fingolfin, to Cirdan.
By the 473rd year of the sun and moon, all that was over. Thingol, fearing the sons of Fëanor and their oath, closed Doriath to the outside world and guarded his silmaril jealously. Gondolin and Nargothrond were the only surviving Noldor nation-states, and they only still existed because their locations were carefully guarded secrets. Dwarves still inhabited various mountain ranges, but after the scalding they received at the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, losing their king and not even getting much in the way of gratitude from the men and elves, they shut themselves off. The so-called Easterlings, the human tribes that had allied with Morgoth, were given portions of the former Noldor lands to rule, but not nearly as much as Morgoth had promised them. The Edain, the humans who were Noldor vassals, went into hiding or else bowed to Easterling rulers.
Middle Earth fell apart, is what basically happened. And things were going to get worse before they got better.
The main figure in that worse-getting: Turin Turambar. Turin’s story could literally be a whole book by itself (Children of Hurin) and like the story of Beren and Luthien, it could easily be a half-dozen entries in this series. Instead I’m going to go super fast and review it from the elvish perspective.
Turin was the scion of one of the noble Edain families that swore fealty to Fingon as high king of the Noldor. His father Hurin was unusual inasmuch as he’d once visited Gondolin; he was injured fighting orcs and a passing Eagle saw him and scooped him up and carried him off to Gondolin, where he recuperated. Years later he was captured by Morgoth in the aftermath of the Battle of Unnumbered Tears; Morgoth divined that Hurin knew the secret location of Gondolin and tortured the man in an attempt to force him to give it up. Unfortunately for Morgoth, Hurin frankly couldn’t have been more specific as to Gondolin’s location than “it’s up in the mountains somewhere,” but he refused to give Morgoth the satisfaction of admitting that.
Anyway, Turin’s father was a war hero, and he grew up in the aftermath of the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. Turin’s mother sent him away when the Easterlings moved in and started oppressing the Edain. He ended up in Thingol’s court, in Menegroth, where he made friends and enemies. He grew up, left Doriath, and became a kind of freebooting orc-hunter, which got him into trouble. Eventually one of his friends brought him to Nargothrond, where he became a trusted advisor of the regent (Finrod had died by this point, and as a result of some finagling on the part of several sons of Fëanor there was a sort of power vacuum in Nargothrond).
Also one of Finrod’s elf-maid nieces was sweet on him, in part because she’d heard the tale of Beren and Luthien and assumed that all human-elf relations were probably awesome. Her name was Findulias and unfortunately she doesn’t get to do anything cool.
Turin advised the elves of Nargothrond to abandon the whole “secret city” deal. His was a two-part plan: a) build a big bridge leading into their hidden fortress, and b) send the army of Nargothrond out to attack orcs a ways away from the city. The elves, for whatever reason, went along with both of these ideas.
Shockingly, this did not work out. The orcs turned out to be led by Glaurung, the great wyrm; after smashing the elf army to pieces and killing the regent Turin had been advising, Glaurung outflanked the survivors and beat them to Nargothrond. By the time Turin and the remnants of his forces returned, they found the city sacked and its noncombatant inhabitants dead or worse. Casualties included Findulias. Told you she didn’t get to do anything cool.
Overwhelmed by guilt, Turin relocated to Brethil, an area near Nargothrond and inhabited by humans. He changed his name to Turambar (Quenyan for it wasn’t my fault) and tried to start over, but then some human stuff happened, and ultimately Glaurung attacked again. Turin and Glaurung fought, and Turin slew the first of the dragons. This was his main claim to fame; thousands of years later in Lord of the Rings he would be remembered as elf-friend and dragonslayer and the whole “disastrous plan that caused the fall of Nargothrond” part was downplayed. I remember when the Hobbit movies were being filmed, there was a rumor that at one point we’d see a flashback to the last time a mortal slew a dragon, and see Turin vs. Glaurung played against Bard vs. Smaug.
Turin died shortly afterwards, and then things got interesting, from the elf-history perspective. Hurin, Turin’s father, got away from Angband, and traveled down to Brethil and the ruins of Nargothrond. There he claimed to have inherited his son’s possessions, including Glaurung’s treasure hoard, located in Nargothrond. He killed some people, and among the looted treasures of Nargothrond he discovered the Nauglamir.
You may have forgotten the Nauglamir. It was the greatest work of art ever produced by the dwarves: a necklace with a setting for a silmaril in it. In twisted wire they meshed the light of moon and sun?
Hurin recognized it as a great treasure, and brought it to Menegroth, where he presented it to Thingol as part of this whole thing I’m not going into. Then Hurin died; it’s not important, because it’s a human story. I skipped over all the elf-irrelevant stuff. The important thing is that Thingol had both the Nauglamir and a silmaril.
He knew it was foolish, but he just couldn’t resist combining the two and showing off that he had the greatest treasure that ever existed in Middle Earth.
“Hey, everybody! Check out my silmaril!” he might have shouted across the landscape. “I have a silmaril and it’s set in the Nauglamir!”
Hey, wasn’t there some kind of oath that the sons of Fëanor swore, about the silmarils and how they couldn’t suffer anyone else having one?
NEXT: THE DEATH OF THINGOL
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