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XV - Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin

Yet another thing oft forgotten by those that criticise Tolkien for the acts of his imitators was that there was a time when the Dark Lord won.

The Noldor quest for vengeance and the brothers' quest for the captured Shinies grows blunted; the years taken to replenish elven strength and social stability to a state where Morgoth might be threatened produce a generation to whom Morgoth has always been locked in his fortress, and presumably always will be. The elves continue to kill orcs whenever they find them, and consider the situation stable.

Which is how Morgoth - capable of invention when he tries hard enough, and literally as old as Creation in terms of experience planning for the long game - manages to take them by surprise. A deft tap one night and a lot of his tunnels are suddenly volcanoes. The forests catch, and utter chaos erupts as Morgoth's forces pour out under cover of the smoke. The Fëanorians' holding ring of fortifications are the first to fall, Finrod rides out and vanishes, orcs push across the foothills, taking human settlements as they go, and a full-grown Glaurung, progenitor of land dragons, hauls out like an ironclad to leave charred highways where once was forest.

Such was the view from Fingolfin's fortress as the black tide swept to engulf it: the other Houses gone with their dependants, the Sindar about to be overrun long before news of the North's fall called them to arms, the very land scoured and burning, blacking out the sun. Fingolfin had stared down the length of Fëanor's sword with sang froid. Fingolfin had smouldered quietly crossing a thousand miles of ice. This time, Fingolfin snaps.

Orcs, elves and various fell beasts scramble to get out of the way as the High King grabs a sword and a horse and rides straight at Angband. Morgoth, seeing another of those House Finwë nutters coming for him and all out of balrogs, "retreats" to his cellar.

Interesting here is that Morgoth is pointed out as being technically the Valar of Fear - in addition to being a manifest cause of it, he's the only one that truly understands the stuff, and feels it himself. Perhaps this - the fear of things being taken away, going wrong - is in fact the root of his corruption, the cause of that primal sin of possessiveness from which the root of the Tolkienverse's wickedness is sprung. Maybe.

Those of Morgoth's captains who're still held back in Angband point out that the single elf screaming and banging his hilt against the walls outside is less than a quarter of Morgoth's manifested size, not the most powerful singular being in Arda, and capable of dying. Morgoth is still somewhat dubious, but armours up and goes out there when the screams of 'COWARD!' outside start causing the minions to look at each other and wonder.

There follows a ghastly, brutal, and generally embarrassing duel, which winds up with Morgoth lame of one foot and Fingolfin a greasy smear. It is hard to read without tearing up a little bit. Again, Tolkien has a great knack for the reality of bathos - sometimes all the fury, all the love and desperate courage in the world just don't help. They're no less real for their futility, and we grieve their waste and the waste of Fingolfin, who had he but stayed to hold his fortress a little longer would have recieved a straggle of reports from his scattered kinfolk, not dead but weary, forced back but still alive.

The narrative dips into what looks like purer legendy here, where the remains of Fingolfin were said to have been siezed by the King of the Eagles and carried to a crag overlooking Gondolin, where his son built a cairn - archaeologically speaking, this looks like a foundation myth associated with a natural or ancient monument later attributed to the ancestor of the ruler.

Fingon regretfully takes the High Kingship as the Noldor fall back to salvage what they can, and sends his very young kitten (who would later be known as Gil-Galad) to the western coast.

When Morgoth's army sweeps the north, eating everything and anyone, and Morgoth's lieutenant Sauron takes Minas Tirith, the surrounding humans take to fleeing. The men of Barahir's tribe refuse to budge and become, curiously, "outlaws". Since it seems unlikely that orcs, if they have laws, would consider giving food a fair trial, I assume this refers either to living in a wild state - in which case this may be a foundation myth for the Ranger tradition in the area - or/and that these guerillas would rob/attack other refugees for supplies, demonstrating more grey morality than Tolkien is usually credited for.

On the theme of Tolkien, morality and colour, some new humans, a "swarthy" type that seem to be of Asiatic descent, show up at this point. It's noted that one tribe of these later join Morgoth, but to start with they fall to helping fellow-humans and are adopted by the hard-pressed elven tribes pretty quickly. So yeah, canonically it's not really fair to characterise orcs as Tolkien's Evil Brown People...orcs-as-foreigners is a flaw of High fantasy inherited not from the Prof's views, but skimming. Sometimes an orc is just an orc.

In discussing the occupied lands, it's noted that the elves reject anyone who's escaped from the depths of now-Morgoth's terrtory. This goes with the demonstrated theme of shunning the injured and non-empathic pragmatisim, but introduces the idea that those broken by Morgoth's will can't help but return to him, becoming spies whether they want to or not...there's something very, very nasty and underexplored going on there, and it might be related to Morgoth as Valar of Fear (and how fear is a natural trait to orcs and a learnt one in elves).

A couple of young human chieftain buddies, Húrin and Huor, wind up in Gondolin via eagle after a very confusing nearby mountain skirmish in which Ulmo decided to intervene, and raising mists and scrambling everyone's memories. Morgoth belatedly notes the general area bemused orcs are occasionally wandering from with injuries they don't remember getting, and realises that Gondolin exists. He determines to find it.

Turgon, having possibly just buried his father so soon after his little sister, tries sending an expedition across the Western sea on hearing the tidings from Húrin and Huor's report (they sucessfully reach and leave the Havens before being lost at sea). The humans stay and recuperate, but are keen to go home, which Turgon allows (providing they go by giant eagle rather than learn of any of the actual ways into Gondolin's hinterland). Maeglin laconically remarks the king is being very generous, which leads the humans to nettle a bit and swear great oaths not to tell anyone where they went.

Maeglin, who was probably just being a little bitter over the quirk of Gondolian law that caused his father to murder his mother whilst aiming for him and get executed for said murder, says "..."

Orcs are eating everything. Dark days settle in, and even the "outlaws" left in the worst-hit areas are whittled down to one man, called Beren.


...another long-long post: this one should probably have been two, but it would have messed with my numbering. Hopefully it makes sense, since between this cold and very little sleep of late I'm not sure I do.


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