The Near-Annihilation of Elves, Men and Dwarves
With a chapter whose Elvish title can be translated as “Unnumbered Tears”, a reader can only expect one outcome from the battle that unfolds.
The pages recounting the Nirnaeth Arnoediad have always been special to me. Finally, after the conflicts and bickering among Elves, Dwarves and Men, the three races join forces to repel Morgoth once and for all.
It’s undoubtedly a major moment in the history of the First Age, and a highlight in The Silmarillion. It also marks Tolkien’s acute sense of geography, scale and mayhem.
Chapter 20 – Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad
On the appointed day, the sons of Fëanor and Fingolfin, together with the Edain and a large contingent of Dwarves from Belegost and Nogrod, stand defiantly at their appointed positions: an allied host that spreads from West to East along the northern fences of Beleriand.
Even Turgon, king of the Hidden City of Gondolin, emerges from secrecy with ten thousand spearmen to assist in the conflict.
The who’s who and what’s where (click to enlarge)
As Elves and Men remain, for the large part, concealed among the trees and the hills, Morgoth devises a plan to lure them out prematurely.
Gelmir son of Guilin, a lord of Nargothrond, is brought forward amid the army of Orcs. He is dismembered and beheaded, leaving the host of free folk in utter horror.
Before the armies can be contained, Elves and Men charge forward into the ranks of the Orcs. The dark host is completely overcome and pushed back to Angband itself. However, the strategy goes awry in favour of Morgoth who unleashes the rest of his strength; thereby splitting the entire host of Elves, Men and Dwarves in two, forbidding one to come to the aid of the other.
Tolkien gives us ample scenes of defiant combat and emotional last stands, as we witness the glory and deaths of characters we’ve become acquainted with in the previous chapters. The skill of the Elves is proved yet again; the courage of Men shines through; whilst the staunch boldness of the Dwarves resonates with the wounding of Glaurung, the Father of Dragons.
Yet, the overwhelming numbers take their toll and Morgoth’s pre-planned treachery with a group of unfaithful Men (under Ulfang) reduces the alliance into small islands of resistance. The once proud host of free folk is utterly decimated and, as a result, Beleriand is overrun.
The Battle unfolds
Only Turgon and his forces, by the courage of Huor and Húrin, manage to escape back into the Hidden City. Huor and his followers are slain, whilst Húrin is taken back to Angband as prisoner.
The remnants of the Noldor and Edain are scattered into several strongholds withstanding Morgoth’s forces.
Beleriand never recovers from this crushing defeat, and no such alliance of Elves, Men and Dwarves is ever assembled again.
Morgoth is but one step away from total domination.
Then when Fingon heard afar the great trumpet of Turgon his brother, the shadow passed and his heart was uplifted, and he shouted aloud: ‘Utúlie’n aurë! Aiya Eldalië ar Atanatári, utúlie’n aurë! The day has come! Behold, people of the Eldar and Fathers of Men, the day has come!’ And all those who heard his great voice echo in the hills answered crying: ‘Auta i lómë! The night is passing!’
This coming Friday’s post will not be related to the TTRT series. Instead, Chapter 21 ‘Of Túrin Turambar’ will be discussed on the following week: 24 July – giving you ample time to tackle this monster of a chapter 😉