Reader: The Silmarillion. Quenta Silmarillion, Chapter 23 “Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin”

Reader deep thought: Tuor and Túrin. Two peas in a pod when they started. But their life stories could not be more different. What would have happened if Tuor had spoken to that tall, dark stranger he encountered at Irvin? Probably something bad (even were it no fault of the stranger), and somebody would behave badly. Whatever might have transpired, chances were it would have driven a trident in Ulmo’s plans and given him a litter of shark pups. So sometimes it does pay to heed the elders: Don’t speak to strangers!


“At length they came in their journeying to the Pools of Ivrin, and looked with grief on the defilement wrought there by the passage of Glaurung the Dragon; but even as they gazed upon it they saw one going  northward in haste, and he was a tall Man, clad in black, and bearing a black sword. But they knew not who he was, nor anything of what had befallen in the south; and he passed them by, and they said no word.”

 

SUMMARY NOTES

This is the tale of Tuor, Túrin’s cousin whom he never met. Huor, Húrin‘s brother died in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears leaving his widow Rían, to birth their son alone that winter in the wilds of Mithrim. Tuor was then fostered by Annael of the Grey-elves.

When Tuor was sixteen years old the Elves were attacked by Orcs and Easterlings before they could firm up plans to abandon their homes in the caves of Androth and make for the Havens of Sirion far in the south. Tuor was captured by Lorgan, chief of the Easterlings of Hithlum. After three years of thraldom, he escaped and returned to live alone in Androth from where he caused “such great hurt to the Easterlings that Lorgan set a price upon his head.”

But after four years of living with abandon, Ulmo, having identified Turo for his plans, awoke a desire to leave in his heart. So the Man went westwards across Dor-lómin, to the Annon-in-Gelydh (the Gate of the Noldor), which the people of Turgon built when they still resided in Nevrast long ago. From there, “a dark tunnel led beneath the mountains, and issued into Cirith Ninniach, the Rainbow Cleft, through which a turbulent water ran towards the western sea,” and so Tuor’s flight from Hithlum was undetected by all. At Nevrast, Tuor felt affinity with Belegaer the Great Sea,”the sound of it and the longing for it were ever in his heart and ear, and an unquiet was on him that took him at last into the depths of the realms of Ulmo.” Alone he lived in Nevrast, until autumn and the doom of Nargothrond drew near. The flight of seven great swans flying south told him he had dallied too long and he followed them along the shores of the sea.

ted nasmith_the silmarillion_2_quenta silmarillion_23_of tuor and the fall of gondolin2_tuor and ulmo_medThus he came at length to the deserted halls of Vinyamar beneath Mount Taras, and he entered in, and found there the shield and hauberk, and the sword and helm, that Turgon had left there by the command of Ulmo long before; and he arrayed himself in those arms, and went down to the shore. But there came a great storm out of the west, and out of that storm Ulmo the Lord of Waters arose in majesty and spoke to Tuor as he stood beside the sea. And Ulmo bade him depart from that place and seek out the hidden kingdom of Gondolin; and he gave Tuor a great cloak, to mantle him in shadow from the eyes of his enemies.

 

The next morning, after the storm had passed, Tuor encountered Voronwë, son of Aranwë, of Gondolin, who sailed in the last ship that Turgon sent into the West, standing beside the walls of Vinyamar. The Elf was the only one saved by Ulmo and cast onto land near Vinyamar. Once he learnt that Tuor was on a mission for Ulmo, Voronwë guided him to the hidden door of Gondolin, through the Fell Winter of that year, “eastward under the eaves of the Mountains of Shadow.”

During their journey, they passed the Pools of Ivrin, and the defilement of Glaurung’s passage. They also observed a tall Man, clad in black, and bearing a black sword going north in haste. But they knew him not, nor happenings southward, and they did not speak with him.

ted nasmith_the silmarillion_2_quenta silmarillion_23_of tuor and the fall of gondolin3_medFinally, they reached the hidden door of Gondolin. And at the inner gate, they were taken by the guard, and “led up the mighty ravine of Orfalch Echor, barred by seven gates, and brought before Ecthelion of the Fountain, the warden of the great gate at the end of the climbing road”. Tuor took off his cloak, and the arms that he bore from Vinyamar proved his claim of being sent by Ulmo.

Then Tuor looked down upon the fair vale of Tumladen, set as a green jewel amid the encircling hills; and he saw far off upon the rocky height of Amon Gwareth Gondolin the great, city of seven names, whose fame and glory is mightiest in song of all dwellings of the Elves in the Hither Lands. 968full-silmarillion-of-turin-and-tuor-and-the-fall-of-gondolin-artworkAt the bidding of Ecthelion trumpets were blown on the towers of the great gate, and they echoed in the hills; and far off but clear there came a sound of answering trumpets blown upon the white walls of the city, flushed with the rose of dawn upon the plain.

 

So after a guided tour through Tumladen and Gondolin, views of the Tower of the King, and the images of the Trees of Valinor inclusive, Tuor found himself standing before before Turgon son of Fingolfin, High King of the Noldor. Maeglin was on his right, and on his left was Idril his daughter. Speaking with the voice of Ulmo, Tuor delivered the warning: “the Curse of Mandos now hastened to its fulfilment, when all the works of the Noldor should perish; and he bade him depart, and abandon the fair and mighty city that he had built, and go down Sirion to the sea.”

Turgon dawdled, even though he recalled Ulmo’s words to him in Vinyamar.

‘Love not too well the work of thy hands and the devices of thy heart; and remember that the true hope of the Noldor lieth in the West, and cometh from the Sea.’

But Turgon was really houseproud, for he had achieved in Gondolin his goal of recreating Tirion. And in his pride, he chose to trust it was unassailable. It didn’t help matters that the Gondolindrim were determined to stay insular after the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, “nor to return through dread and danger into the West.” Thanks to Maeglin repeating his thoughts back at him, Turgon decided to stay put, even though Ulmo’s warning was déjà vu of the Noldor’s siutation on the coast of Araman. Trust issues resurfaced, and so he had the entrance to the hidden door in the Encircling Mountains blocked. The only means of communication was through Thorondor Lord of Eagles, through whom Turgon learnt of Nargothrond, the slaying of Thingol and Dior his heir, and the ruin of Doriath. But Turgon vowed to never fight alongside any son of Fëanor. In effect, Gondolin was under house-arrest.

So Tuor remained perforce, Thankfully, “its bliss and its beauty and the wisdom of its people held him enthralled. Becoming mighty in stature and in mind, and learned deeply of the lore of the exiled Elves” he captured Idril’s heart. Which thwarted the jealous Maeglin (and his secret fan club), “for he desired above all things to possess her, the only heir of the King of Gondolin.” Fortunately, Tuor had his own standing with Turgon, and seven years later, he wedded Idril, in the second ever Elf-Man marriage. (Interestingly, Turgon’s blessing was informed by his perception “the fate of the Noldor was wound with the one whom Ulmo had sent; and he did not forget the words that Huor spoke to him before the host of Gondolin departed from the Battle of Unnumbered Tears.”)

The next year, five hundred and three years since the Noldor arrived in Middle-earth, Eärendil Halfelven, was born to Tuor Idril.

Of surpassing beauty was Eärendil, for a light was in his face as the light of heaven, and he had the beauty and the wisdom of the Eldar and the strength and hardihood of the Men of old; and the Sea spoke ever in his ear and heart, even as with Tuor his father.

 

By then, danger already was already closing in on Gondolin though it was still joy and peace within. Húrin had painted the beacon for Morgoth when he stood in the wilderness beyond the Encircling Mountains and called loudly on Turgon in despair. Morgoth had been channelling his attention on the area between the Pass of Anach and the upper waters of Sirion, where his servants could not yet trample thanks to the vigilance of the eagles. Still, Idril had a premonition, and prepared a secret underground escape route that exited northward of Amon Gwareth (very near to Angband as it turned out), so secretly that Maeglin had no inkling of it.

maeglin_capturedAnd what should happen next but that Maeglin, master and leader of the Elves who worked in the mountains distant from the city, who often went seeking after metals for smithying in open (but unknown to the King) defiance of Turgon’s ban, was captured and taken to Angband. The threat of torment and his dark desire for Idril (and hatred of Tuor) oiled the slippery slope down which Maeglin fell. So he bought his life and freedom by revealing Gondolin’s coordinates and how to find and enter it.

Great indeed was the joy of Morgoth, and to Maeglin he promised the lordship of Gondolin as his vassal, and the possession of Idril Celebrindal, when the city should be taken; and indeed desire for Idril and hatred for Tuor led Maeglin the easier to his treachery, most infamous in all the histories of the Elder Days. But Morgoth sent him back to Gondolin, lest any should suspect the betrayal, and so that Maeglin should aid the assault from within, when the hour came; and he abode in the halls of the King with smiling face and evil in his heart, while the darkness gathered ever deeper upon Idril.

 

When Eärendil was seven years old, Morgoth unleashed the Balrogs, Orcs, and wolves, and Glaurung’s kids.

The host of Morgoth came over the northern hills where the height was greatest and the watch least vigilant, and it came at night upon a time of festival, when all the people of Gondolin were upon the walls to await the rising sun, and sing their songs at its uplifting; for the morrow was the great feast that they named the Gates of Summer. But the red light mounted the hills in the north and not in the east; and there was no stay in the advance of the foe until they were beneath the very walls of Gondolin, and the city was beleaguered without hope. Of the deeds of desperate valour there done, by the chieftains of the noble houses and their warriors, and not least by Tuor, much is told in The Fall of Gondolin: of the battle of Ecthelion of the Fountain with Gothmog Lord of Balrogs in the very square of the King, where each slew the other, and of the defence of the tower of Turgon by the people of his household, until the tower was overthrown; and mighty was its fall and the fall of Turgon in its ruin.

Tuor too had his moment, for he had to rescue his wife and kid from Maeglin on the walls; “and cast him far out, and his body as it fell smote the rocky slopes of Amon Gwareth thrice ere it pitched into the flames below.” Then Tuor and Idril led what survivors they could find and made their way to Idril’s secret exit.

ted nasmith_the silmarillion_2_quenta silmarillion_23_of tuor and the fall of gondolin4_the fall of gondolin_medThe fume of the burning, and the steam of the fair fountains of Gondolin withering in the flame of the dragons of the north, fell upon the vale of Tumladen in mournful mists; and thus was the escape of Tuor and his company aided, for there was still a long and open road to follow from the tunnel’s mouth to the foothills of the mountains. Nonetheless they came thither, and beyond hope they climbed, in woe and misery, for the high places were cold and terrible, and they had among them many that were wounded, and women and children.

 

Their route led them through the treacherous terrain of a high and narrow pass, Cirith Thoronath (the Eagles’ Cleft). There they were ambushed by Orcs, for Morgoth had spies all about the surrounding hills. They would have been all slain for the Orcs had a Balrog with them. Xb6Fs8eEven as Glorfindel, chief of the House of the Golden Flower of Gondolin, fought him, Thorondor arrived in the nick of time to help. “Many are the songs that have been sung of the duel of Glorfindel with the Balrog upon a pinnacle of rock in that high place; and both fell to ruin in the abyss.” The eagles swooped in and drove the Orcs back, and all were killed or fallen off the precipice, so that Morgoth only learnt of the escape long after. Thorondor retrieved Glorfindel’s body he was buried in a mound of stones beside the pass; “and a green turf came there, and yellow flowers bloomed upon it amid the barrenness of stone, until the world was changed.”

Finally, the refugees descended into the Vale of Sirion, and went south on an arduous trek to Nan-tathren, the Land of Willows, where the power of Ulmo was yet in the great river. There they had a pit-stop of a feast in memory of Gondolin and those who had fallen. There too, Tuor composed a song for Eärendil about how he came to be Ulmo’s oracle to Gondolin, which awoke the sea-longing in both father and son. So they followed the river south to the sea, and settled by the mouths of Sirion, and mingled with the folk of Elwing  who had arrived earlier.

And when news of Turgon’s death and Gondolin’s fall reached Balar, Gil-galad son of Fingon was named High King of the Noldor in Middle-earth.

Meantime, Morgoth rejoiced in his triumph, giving little thought to the sons of Fëanor, nor of their oath, “which had harmed him never and turned always to his mightiest aid”, so much so he dismissed the lost Silmaril as the price of clearing the Eldar from Middle-earth and trouble it no more.

tumblr_static_tumblr_static__1280Morgoth seemed to pay no heed to the growing Elven settlement at the Mouths of Sirion, which now counted the mariners of Círdan from Balar among its settlers from Doriath and Gondolin. They looked to the seas and learnt shipcraft, close as they were to the coasts of Arvernien, under the guidance of Ulmo.

It seemed Ulmo made a rare trip to Valinor and told the Valar about the Elves’ plight under the evil machinations of Morgoth. But his plea for the Elves’ rescue and the retrieval of the Silmarils did not impress Manwë.

… and of the counsels of his heart what tale shall tell? The wise have said that the hour was not yet come, and that only one speaking in person for the cause of both Elves and Men, pleading for pardon on their mis-deeds and pity on their woes, might move the counsels of the Powers; and the oath of Fëanor perhaps even Manwë could not loose, until it found its end, and the sons of Fëanor relinquished the Silmarils, upon which they had laid their ruthless claim. For the light which lit the Silmarils the Valar themselves had made.

tumblr_neq2p8mtjC1rjnur7o1_500By then, Tuor was feeling his age, and goaded by his sea-longing, built a great ship, named it Eärrámë (Sea-Wing) and sailed into the sunset and the West with Idril.

No more was heard from the couple, though latter day tales sung of Tuor being the only Man accounted among the elder race, assimilated as a member of his beloved Noldor, and ever after “his fate is sundered from the fate of Men.”

 

Well, despite the somewhat parallel paths of the cousins, Tuor’s fate was much different (and levels better) than had happened to Túrin. Having the vested interest of a Vala in one’s life could certainly grant privileges than the creepy interest of a vengeful ex-Vala.

(Relevance: read-along schedule)

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5 thoughts on “Reader: The Silmarillion. Quenta Silmarillion, Chapter 23 “Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin”

  1. Eric

    Tuor almost meeting Turin was easily the most sitcomie thing that Tolkien ever wrote. I love it. If only they had done a double take and maybe a Patty Duke mirror routine.

    And Glorfindel!

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    1. lurkerinthemirk Post author

      Glorry gets his moment for sure 😀

      If the cousins met, would that have split the Ages? Would it have been Turin who got the girl instead of Tuor? Or would that be one chance too many? And would Earendil be so pacificist as to go looking for help instead of just rousing a rabble and duking it out? Questions, questions.

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        1. lurkerinthemirk Post author

          And a cafe culture sprang up in the place of their meeting, it became hip to drink frothy caffeine out of paper cups, and the Pools of Irvin came to be known as the home of a global conglomerate built on selling overpriced coffee with fancy names. 😛

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