Quenta Silmarillion is a collection of fictional legends written by the high fantasy writer J. R. R. Tolkien, and published after the author's death in The Silmarillion, together with four shorter stories. Due to its unfinished state at the time of Tolkien's death, it was completed by his son Christopher with assistance of the young Guy Gavriel Kay, who would later go on to a successful career as a fantasy author. The title Quenta Silmarillion is translated as "the Tale of the Silmarils".
Tolkien envisaged the Silmarillion as deriving from a manuscript written by an Eriol or Ælfwine of England, an imaginary dark age source for the material, which itself contains little or no reference to the people or events of the Second or Third Ages of his legendarium. Originated from Elvish legends, in some parts it presents Elves as long gone, which hints that its final form was edited during the Fourth Age by Hobbits and/or Men.
It tells about the history of Arda (the Earth), after its creation by Eru Ilúvatar. The Valar, angelic beings, enter into the world and try to shape it after a vision given to them by Eru. The initial shape of Arda, chosen by the Valar, was of a symmetrical continent lit by the Two Lamps. However, the lamps were destroyed by the vicious Melkor; Arda was darkened, and the lamps' fall spoiled the symmetry of Arda's surface. Two main continents were created that are of concern to the story: Aman in the west, and Middle-earth in the east.
Following this, Melkor hid himself from the Valar in his fortress Utumno in the north of Middle-earth. He also surrounded himself with horrible beasts, many of them Maiar in the form of fell animals, known as Balrogs.
The Valar moved to the western continent of Aman where they established the realm of Valinor of which Manwë was made king. The Vala Yavanna created the Two Trees which illuminated Valinor. Middle-earth, by contrast, was in perpetual darkness, and was seldom visited by the Valar. Only some of them, most notably Oromë, visited it periodically, especially to prepare for the coming of the Elves, which the Valar had foreseen in their vision and to keep an eye on Melkor's activities.
Introduction of the Elves
On one of his expeditions Oromë discovered the newly awakened Elves at Cuiviénen. The Valar, aware of the risk Melkor posed to the Elves, besieged his fortress and finally overthrew him and took him prisoner to Valinor to serve "three ages" in the Halls of Mandos.
Oromë was then sent to the Elves again, to invite them to come with him to Aman and live there. Some of the Elves did not follow him or became sidetracked and stayed in Middle-earth, and so the Elves became sundered. These notably included the Sindar, who stayed in Middle-earth when their king, Thingol, became lost in the forest. He was to later emerge, married to the Maia Melian, and found the Kingdom of Doriath.
The Elves who accepted the summons were carried across the sea on a floating island.
The Noldor and Melkor
Finwë, the first High King of the Noldor, had a son Fëanor. At his birth Fëanor drew so much life from his mother Míriel that she grew weary of life and her spirit left her bodily form, departing to the halls of Mandos. Eventually, Finwë remarried to Indis and had two further sons, Fingolfin and Finarfin. Fëanor became the most famous elven craftsman, especially by making the Silmarils, three jewels in which he trapped the light of the Two Trees. The Silmarils were hallowed by Varda, and would burn any evil or mortal creature who touched them.
About this time, Melkor, having completed his sentence, convinced the other Valar that he had reformed and he was released. By various lies he managed to play Fëanor and Fingolfin against each other, creating strife and division amongst the Noldor; furthermore, he convinced the Noldor that they had been brought to Aman primarily so the Valar could keep them under control. Finally, Fëanor rebelled against the Valar, publicly advocating leaving and then drawing his weapon against Fingolfin.
The Valar were soon aware of Melkor's ultimate responsibility in this. Tulkas hunted him, but Melkor had hidden and could not be found. Because he threatened Fingolfin's life, Fëanor was exiled from Tirion for twelve years. With his seven sons and his father Finwë he moved to a newly built stronghold, Formenos.
Coveting the Silmarils, Melkor went to Formenos, hoping to trick Fëanor and gain possession of them, but Fëanor saw through his ruse and dismissed him with contempt. Melkor then travelled to Avathar in secret, where he joined forces with the evil spirit Ungoliant, whose form was a giant spider-like creature. Melkor swore an oath to give Ungoliant whatever she desired, and imparted some of his power to her. With her help, they travelled into Valinor secretly, where Ungoliant's poison killed the Two Trees. Covered by an impenetrable blackness, Melkor and Ungoliant then travelled to Formenos, assassinated Finwë and stole the Silmarils, before escaping in the confusion.
Melkor and Ungoliant then made their way across to Middle-earth, and he gave Ungoliant all the great jewels he had stolen, except the Silmarils, which he desired to keep. The rapacious Ungoliant consumed them all and, still hungry, she demanded the Silmarils, but the ever-treacherous Melkor reneged on his oath, so she seized him and bound him with her webs, and his anguished cries echoed across all of that region, which was renamed "Lammoth" or "the Great Echo."
Melkor escaped from Ungoliant with the help of his former servants, the Balrogs, who came to his aid from their hiding places in the deepest recesses of the ruins of Utumno, and he re-established his empire in the North from his secondary fortress of Angband. He placed the three Silmarils, which now were the only source of the unmarred light of the Two Trees, in his Iron Crown, although his hands were burned black by them.
Fëanor was furious at the death of his father and the theft of the Silmarils. Travelling to Tirion in violation of his exile, he publicly blamed both Melkor, whom he named Morgoth, and the Valar (for failing to protect Finwë and the Silmarils). He urged the Noldor to leave Valinor, for a punitive expedition against Morgoth and a new life in Middle-earth. He and his sons then swore the notorious Oath of Fëanor, vowing to pursue with hatred anyone who withheld a Silmaril from them.
Departure of the Noldor and assault on Doriath
Inflamed by the passionate urging of Fëanor, most of the assembled Noldor left Tirion, and travelled to Alqualondë, attempting to persuade the Teleri to join them, or at least to lend them ships to cross the Great Sea. When the Teleri refused, Fëanor ordered that the swan-ships be taken by force; the notorious Kinslaying ensued, in which many Teleri were slaughtered. Shortly afterwards, at the northern boundary of Eldamar, the Noldor encountered Mandos, who cursed all the Noldor who left with Fëanor.
At this point, Finarfin, who had always been reluctant to leave, turned back to Valinor with a small number of followers. Many ships had been lost by this time and not all the Noldor could cross to Middle-earth, so Fëanor and his sons seized the remaining swan-ships, abandoning Fingolfin and his followers (including Galadriel), who were obliged to make their way to Middle-earth across the terrible ice wastes of the Helcaraxë.
Meanwhile, Morgoth attempted to conquer Doriath, the realm of Thingol and Melian in Middle-earth. In the first of five great Battles, he sent out two armies of Orcs, forcing Thingol and his Maia queen to establish a magical boundary around Doriath, the "Girdle of Melian", while the coastal Elves were forced to retreat into their fortified harbour towns. By luck, Fëanor and his host arrived at the height of this conflict and the combined forces of the Noldor and the Sindar utterly defeated the Orc armies in the second Battle, Dagor-nuin-Giliath (the "Battle under the Stars"). However Fëanor, in his fury, chased after the retreating Orcs, and he was ambushed and killed by Balrogs.
The Sun and the Moon, the Long Peace and the Coming of Men
The grieving Valar could not revive the Two Trees, but they were able to create the Moon and the Sun from a silver leaf and a golden fruit, which were all that remained of them. These new lights illuminated Middle-earth, stimulated much new plant and animal growth, and for a while, confounded the plans of Morgoth. Unable to assail them, as his once near-limitless power grew ever more dispersed among his servants, who feared the new lights no less than he, the Dark Lord was forced to take refuge in clouds and shadow that surrounded his strongholds. In this era, Men, the younger Children of Ilúvatar, awoke in eastern Middle-earth, and some began to migrate westward.
The Noldor established kingdoms and principalities in northern and central Beleriand, which were ruled by the descendants of Fëanor, Fingolfin and Finarfin. They built many great strongholds, including the vast cavern-city of Nargothrond, ruled by Finrod, on the river Narog, and the mighty hidden mountain fortress of Gondolin, ruled by Turgon, from whence none who entered were permitted to leave. Many of the Sindar, the native Elves of Beleriand, were absorbed into the Noldorin kingdoms. Others were in Sindarin states: Thingol's kingdom in Doriath, the coastal Falas ruled by Círdan the shipwright, and the secretive Green-elves of Ossiriand.
Relations between the Noldor and the independent Sindar were at first amicable but they later deteriorated. The Noldor had long hidden the truth about the Kinslaying and the Curse from Thingol, but he eventually learned of it from Angrod. As a result, he banned all the Noldor (except his kin in the house of Finarfin) from entering Doriath, decreeing also that the Noldorin tongue could no longer be spoken within his realm.
A further rift between the Noldor and the Sindar, which was to have far-reaching consequences, was caused by the actions of Aredhel, daughter of Fingolfin and sister of Turgon. Tiring of her long confinement in Gondolin, she rode east to seek out her old friends, the sons of Fëanor, but she was barred from crossing through Doriath by the decree of Thingol. Forced to skirt along the edge of the dreaded region of Nan Dungortheb (where Ungoliant had gone after the escape of Morgoth), Aredhel was separated from her escort and lost. She was eventually found by Eöl, the Dark Elf, a kinsman of Thingol who lived alone in the dark forest of Nan Elmoth. He took her as his wife, and they had a son, Maeglin. Eöl often travelled east to deal with the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains, and he acquired great skill in metalwork from them, which he imparted to his son. He refused to let his wife and child leave his domain, but Aredhel determined to return to Gondolin with her son, so they waited until Eöl left for the east and then made their escape.
Eöl pursued them to Gondolin, where he was captured and brought before Turgon. Eöl demanded that Maeglin should leave with him, or be cursed, but Maeglin remained silent. Turgon then decreed that Eöl must either remain in Gondolin or die. The next day, when he was again brought before Turgon, Eöl tried to kill Maeglin with a poisoned lance, but Aredhel stepped between them; struck in the shoulder, she died that night. As punishment, Turgon had Eöl thrown to his death from the walls of the fortress. Maeglin remained in Gondolin, became a mighty warrior and was close in counsel with Turgon, but his forbidden love for his cousin Idril Celebrindal would eventually cause him to betray Gondolin to Morgoth.
After fifty years, believing the Noldor to be unprepared for war, Morgoth again attacked them from the north. Fingolfin and Maedhros were ready for him and they defeated Morgoth's forces in the third Battle, called Dagor Aglareb, the Glorious Battle, pursuing the Orcs to the very gates of Angband and destroying them utterly. They then laid the Siege of Angband, which lasted for four hundred years.
Almost one hundred years after the Dagor Aglareb, Morgoth's forces tried to attack the realm of Hithlum by stealing in from the far north-west, but were intercepted and defeated by Fingon. After a further hundred years, Morgoth sent forth the dragon Glaurung, the first of the Urulóki. Being only half-grown and not fully armoured, Glaurung was unable to withstand Fingon and his archers, eventually fleeing back to Angband. The period after the first defeat of Glaurung became known as The Long Peace, lasting almost two hundred years.
It was during this time, about three hundred years after the Noldor had arrived in Beleriand, that Men first came over the Blue Mountains from regions far to the east. They first appeared in Ossiriand, where Felagund was the first of the Noldor to befriend them. Over the next hundred years many of them became allies of the Noldor in the war against Morgoth, and settled in Noldorin realms.
The Dagor Bragollach
Morgoth, however, merely used the Siege as an opportunity to build up strength, and in Y.S. 455, renewed the war on his own terms. The fourth Great Battle, Dagor Bragollach (The Battle of Sudden Flame) became famous for the re-emergence of the Dragon Glaurung in his full strength. Morgoth's armies overthrew the Siege, slaying many of the Noldor, with Glaurung laying waste to Ard-galen and Dorthonion.
Enraged by the assaults against his people, Fingolfin fearlessly made his way alone to the gates of Angband, where he challenged Morgoth to single combat and the evil Vala was forced to come out and meet him rather than appear cowardly. In the ensuing battle Fingolfin wounded Morgoth seven times, but eventually stumbled and fell among the great pits created by Morgoth's hammer, Grond. Morgoth beat Fingolfin to the ground three times with his great shield, and then crushed Fingolfin under his foot, but with his dying strength Fingolfin slashed Morgoth's foot, maiming him.
Morgoth broke Fingolfin's body and was about to throw the remains to his wolves, but Thorondor, the gigantic king of the eagles, had been watching the battle from afar and at that moment flew down to rescue the body. The giant eagle gouged Morgoth's face with his talons, seized Fingolfin's body and carried it back to Gondolin for burial. After that time Morgoth's seven wounds never healed, he became lame in his left foot, where Fingolfin had hewn it, and his face forever bore the scars of Thorondor's talons.
Sixteen years later, Maedhros led the northern Noldor and their allies among Men in a final desperate attempt to defeat Morgoth. In this climactic battle — which is named Nírnaeth Arnoediad ("The Battle of Unnumbered Tears") — the forces of the Noldor attacked Angband and briefly broke through the gates, only to be beaten back when Morgoth unleashed his full forces, now vastly outnumbering those of Elves and Men. Led by the terrible dragon Glaurung, Morgoth's forces crushed the armies of the Noldor, and many of the elf lords were killed or captured, leaving Morgoth master of the entire North. Afterwards, he set about destroying the remaining Elf-kingdoms one by one.
Beren and Lúthien
The later parts of the Quenta Silmarillion include two stories dealing with individuals and with the relations between Men and Elves.
The tragic yet heroic story of Beren and Lúthien (which has similarities to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice) tells of the love between the Man Beren and Lúthien, daughter of Thingol and Melian and the most beautiful of all elf-maidens. Thingol, disliking mortal Men and determined to prevent their marriage, declares that he will consent only if Beren brings Thingol a Silmaril from Morgoth's crown. Thus, in sending Beren on this perilous quest, Thingol unwittingly binds himself to the Doom of Mandos, ensuring his eventual downfall.
Travelling to the mountains of Thangorodrim in disguise, Beren and Lúthien succeed in making their way into Angband and to the very foot of Morgoth's throne. There Lúthien reveals herself, but her beauty and charm enable her to briefly overcome the evil lord and she casts a spell that puts Morgoth and his minions to sleep. Beren then cuts one of the Silmarils from Morgoth's iron crown, but when he attempts to take a second Silmaril his knife snaps and a shard flies off; it cuts Morgoth's face, and he begins to stir.
As they leave, Morgoth and his creatures reawaken and Beren and Lúthien are confronted by Carcharoth, the giant Wolf that guards the gate of Angband. Beren attempts to hold off the terrible creature with the power of the Silmaril, but Carcharoth bites off his hand and swallows the holy jewel. Driven mad by the pain it inflicts, the creature goes on a rampage through Doriath until it is eventually killed by the mighty Elf-hound Huan. In this final battle Beren is fatally wounded by Carcharoth, so Lúthien travels in spirit to the Houses of the Dead, to plead with Mandos for Beren's release. She and Beren are sent back to Middle-earth alive, but Lúthien becomes a mortal woman, so that in time they will both die and leave the Universe together. As immortals whose souls are bound to Arda for as long as it lasts, Thingol and Melian suffer the grief of being deprived of their daughter for all time.
Also included is the story of Túrin Turambar. His father Húrin is captured at the end of the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, and for his defiance, Morgoth places a curse on his family. Túrin becomes a great hero, but due partly to his hot temper and partly to a string of bad luck (in fact, the working of Morgoth's demonic will), whatever he turns his hand to seems to go wrong, and death and grief haunt those around him. Making matters worse, both Túrin and his sister Nienor are enchanted by the mighty dragon Glaurung — who has sacked the great Elf-city of Nargothrond and taken up residence there — and they fall in love and live for time as man and wife. Eventually Túrin kills Glaurung, but with his death the spell is lifted. Driven mad by the realisation of their sins, Túrin and Nienor both commit suicide.
The last Elf-Kingdom to fall was the hidden city of Gondolin. Tuor, a mortal man, was sent by Ulmo as a messenger to Gondolin, to warn King Turgon of the city's impending destruction. Remaining in Gondolin, Tuor married Turgon's daughter, Idril, and they had a son Eärendil. Gondolin was eventually betrayed to Morgoth by Maeglin, and destroyed. Tuor, Idril and Eärendil escaped, together with a number of refugees.
Growing up, Eärendil married Elwing, granddaughter of Beren and Lúthien and current keeper of the Silmaril they took from Morgoth. With the help of the Silmaril, Eärendil and Elwing sailed to Valinor to plead with the Valar, asking them to pardon the Noldor and assist Elves and Men in their need. The Valar agreed to this request, and set Eärendil, with the Silmaril, to sail the skies as a star until the ending of the world.
Battle between Morgoth and the Host of the Valar
The Host of the Valar, led by Eönwë, finally attacked Morgoth in Angband. In this battle, the Great Battle (also known as the War of Wrath), Morgoth was utterly defeated; his armies were destroyed, with only a few remnants scattered across the Earth - but at the cost of Beleriand sinking under the waves, most of its territory utterly lost. Morgoth was taken prisoner and his two remaining Silmarils were confiscated. Maedhros and Maglor, Fëanor's two surviving sons, stole the Silmarils from Eönwë, but they found the Silmarils would not tolerate their touch, instead tormenting them with burning pain. Maedhros committed suicide by jumping with the Silmaril into a chasm in the earth, and Maglor threw his Silmaril away into the sea.
The Valar pardoned the Noldor for their rebellion, and the Teleri offered forgiveness for the Kinslaying. Many of the Noldor and the Sindar left Middle-earth and travelled into the West, to live in Valinor. Many still stayed in Middle-earth. Morgoth was cast out of the World, imprisoned in the Void that lies behind the Walls of the Night. The Silmarils were lost "unless the World be broken and re-made", but each one found its home in one of the elements: earth, water and air.