Thursday, February 4, 2010

Blogging The Silmarillion: The breaking of the siege of Angband and other (myth) busting

Part five of Blogging the Silmarillion continues with chapters 16-20 of the Quenta Silmarillion.

By the command of Morgoth the Orcs with great labour gathered all the bodies of those who had fallen in the great battle, and all their harness and weapons, and piled them in a great mound in the midst of Anfauglith; and it was like a hill that could be seen from afar. Haudh-en-Ndengin the Elves named it, the Hill of Slain, and Haudh-en-Nirnaeth, the Hill of Tears.

—J.R.R. Tolkien,
The Silmarillion, “Of the Fifth Battle”

If you had but four words to describe the action of Chapters 16-20 of The Silmarillion, you could do worse than all hell’s breaking loose. It’s a section I equate to a great turning of the tide against the forces of good.

In fact, Hell breaking loose is almost a literal interpretation of what happens in the fourth great Battle of Beleriand, the Dagor Bragollach (Battle of Sudden Flame). From the deep pits and mines of hellish Angband issue great streams of fire, followed by hosts of orcs, Balrogs, and the dragon Glaurung. It’s very much as if Gehenna, on the orders of Satan, were to empty its bowels of fell spirits and demons. The Noldorin guarding Angband are destroyed or driven back as Morgoth, pent up in his fortress for nearly 400 years, breaks out with a fury and a vengeance.

Seventeen years after this eruption, the forces of good marshal for another great cast at overthrowing Morgoth and ending his reign of terror. The result is the Nirnaeth Arnoediad (Battle of Unnumbered Tears), whose enduring image is a great hill of corpses of Elves, Men, and Dwarves, captured magnificently in the above piece of art by the incomparable Ted Nasmith. The Doom of the Noldor comes home fully to roost as the grieving wives and children of the slain indeed shed “tears unnumbered.” With the defeat, Elven might in Beleriand, save in a defensive capacity only, is smashed. It’s one of the greatest and at the same time most heartbreaking scenes of battlefield ruin I’ve read.

To read the rest of this post, visit The Cimmerian Web site.


Gabriele C. said...

Hurin's last stand always gets me.

It must even have subconsciously crept into a scene from my novel-in-progress where Roderic fights an overwhelming force of Avodrite warriors. When I returned to that scene some days later, I needed to edit it for a too heroic tone that didn't fit with the rest of my writing. Though I regretted the need.

David J. West said...

Such a great piece Brian, these dark yet heroic moments are what makes me love the epic grandeur of Tolkien.

As I mentioned before such power in simply "And Morgoth came." Love John Howes painting of that fatal fight between Morgoth and Fingolfin.

I just have to shake my head at the likes of Moorcock and Morgan and their shallow view. But you can't teach nails to love a hammer.

Taranaich said...

I've never seen that Nasmith Hill of the Slain painting, but it's powerful stuff.

It's hard to choose between Fingolfin vs Morgoth and Hurin going berserk, so I'm glad to see them represented. Not that I doubted you or anything! I actually think you could've done two separate blogs on the Dagor Bragollach and Nirnaeth Arnoediad.

Good pick for Terrific Tolkien, but you missed a trick by adding "while his beautiful female companion distracts the dark lord". Come to think of it, a synopsis of Beren & Luthien could almost be a read as a mix of "Red Nails" & "Beyond the Black River!"

I'm a bit disappointed you didn't mention Thorondor's big moment, where he dive-bombs Morgoth in order to take Fingolfin's corpse home. Still, just goes to show how full of such awesome moments The Silmarillion is.

Can't wait 'till next week: it's Turin time! And maybe Gondolin?

Brian Murphy said...

Gabriele: If I had to vote for a favorite scene in all of Tolkien, Hurin's stand at the Battle of Unnumbered Tears might be it. Not only did he know the field was lost, but he understood that a long and very dark night was coming. But he kept fighting.

By the way, your book sounds excellent!

David: Yes, Moorcock's reasons for hating Tolkien apparently have little to do with the man's writing. When he does actually engage the text he's generally way off-base.

Unfortunately, many people have given MM a pass on this over the years, apparently because of who he is. Morgan's essay is even worse, a deliberately inflammatory piece of marketing for his new book.

Taranich: Yeah, there is some very good stuff I missed. Truth be told, Beren and Luthien is worth a post of its own, too.

That's actually a great point by you, mentioning Luthien's role in the mission to retrieve the Silmaril. She's the one who lulls Morgoth to sleep. And she is the one who petitions Mandos to allow Beren back in the world of the living. She's rather a strong female character--a hero(ine)--and one that Tolkien's detractors overlook when criticizing his unbalanced portrayal of the sexes.

I will note that as I'm writing this series I'm focusing on scenes that I find awesome or otherwise affecting. I'm trying to stay away from simply recapping what happens. As tempting as that is, I'm not sure how much value that has when you have sites like Wikipedia and of course the book itself.

Gabriele C. said...

Tolkien has a number of female characters that have a quiet strength. Like Arwen who choses mortality, or Galdadrien who withstands the ring. It's not always aboug kicking asses. :) Though I must admit the scene where Eowyn addresses the witch king whom even Gandalf fears to some extent, "Begone, foul dwimmerlaik," is pretty badass. :) I'm quite fond of the Rohirrim.

Thank you, Brian. I'm basically working on two projects, an epic Fantasy with the working title Kings and Rebels from which is the scene of Roderic fighting the Avodrite, and a historical fiction novel about the Romans in Germania. That one has some really great battles, like the Varus battle (or battle of the Teutoburg Forest) where the Germanic tribes ambushed and annihilated three Roman legions in a three days fight, or the pitched battle of Idistaviso where the Roman army under Germanicus met with a Germanic one under Arminius, Prince of the Cherusci and former Roman officer. Fun stuff. I have more Roman books in planning, one will feature the battle of Mons Graupius in Scotland.

Brian Murphy said...

Hi Gabriele, I also love the "Begone, foul dwimmerlaik," speech, and I dearly wish it was included in the films.

The books indeed sound great. Have you ever read Eagle in the Snow by Wallace Breem? I'm not a Roman history buff so I can't speak to its historical accuracy, but it's a well-told story about General Paulinus Maximus and his desperate, brave defense of the Rhine River against the invading barbarian hordes.

Gabriele C. said...

Yes, I've read it. Good book.

Hehe, the Germans and the the tribes north of the Hadrian's Wall never made it easy for the Romans.

Andy said...

As much as I like the films, the Eowyn vs. Witch King face-off is a complete let-down compared to Tolkien's version. Of course the movies do tend to be at their best when most faithful to Tolkien :)

I totally agree about Tolkien's female characters exhibiting that quiet strength. Unfortunately lots of people don't get that these days. I just saw a preview of the new Robin Hood movie and, yup, they've got Maid Marian in full armor, wielding a sword :)

David J. West said...

"Maid Marian in full armor, wielding a sword"


Eric D. Lehman said...

Once again, you smash the sad Moorcocks of the world adroitly. These posts/articles are really building up to something, Brian. I hope you're considering a short 'study' or book about the Silmarillion from the result.

"Day will come again!" Indeed.

Brian Murphy said...

Thanks Eric.

I can't believe some of the ill-founded Tolkien "criticism" I've come across on the Web... Moorcock and Morgan are two of the bigger names to play dirty pool with Tolkien, but they only scratch the surface. At times I feel like I'm fighting the Long Defeat.

Eric D. Lehman said...

"Whenever work is done, victory is attained."

Okay, that's Emerson, not Tolkien, but that's the message I take from the Silmarillion's dark years.