Monday, July 3, 2017

An Enduring Friendship from Tolkien’s Legendarium

“Fingon Rescues Maedhros” by rinthcog
Although The Lord of the Rings remains my J.R.R. Tolkien first love, when asked to write about a key friendship from Tolkien’s legendarium, the one that entered my mind again and again is from The Silmarillion, which took me awhile to learn to love. It’s a book that starts with a Creation story of men and higher beings called elves. There are beings higher still akin to angels, both holy and fallen. The mightiest of the fallen, Melkor, tempts the mightiest of the elves, a prince named Fëanor of the skilled Noldorian class, to lead his people to rebel in a blessed realm called Valinor. In chapter 9 of The Silmarillion they flee from the blessed realm to Middle-earth, murdering fellow elves and stealing ships as they go to avoid having to cross the dreaded Helcaraxë, "where there were vast fogs and mists of deadly cold, and the sea-streams were filled with clashing hills of ice and the grinding of ice deep-sunken." When Fëanor reaches Middle-earth, he laughs as one crazed and cries out “None and none!” when asked what ships and rowers he would spare to help fellow elves stuck in the ice.
“Brothers - Fire and Ice” by matejcadil
Fëanor’s half-brother Fingolfin and his host wander long in misery, “but their valour and endurance grew with hardship; for they were a mighty people, the elder children undying of Eru Ilúvatar [God].” Led by Fingolfin and his sons, and by the mighty elves Finrod and Galadriel, “they dared to pass into the bitterest North; and finding no other way they endured at last the terror of the Helcaraxë and the cruel hills of ice. Few of the deeds of the Noldor thereafter surpassed that desperate crossing in hardihood or woe. There Elenwë the wife of Turgon [later founder of Gondolin and great grandfather of Lord Elrond] was lost, and many others perished also; and it was with a lessened host that Fingolfin set foot at last upon the Outer Lands" of Middle-earth.

The dark Lord Morgoth does not leave these wandering elves unmolested in Middle-earth. His Balrog (demon) lieutenant Gothmog slays Fëanor. Morgoth then sends an embassy to the sons of the slain, who know Morgoth is not to be trusted, but Maedhros the tall, the eldest son, persuades his brothers “to feign to treat with Morgoth.” Poor Maedhros is captured and “taken alive by the command of Morgoth,” who hangs Maedhros from the face of a precipice “by the wrist of his right hand in a band of steel.”

Despite this tragedy, chapter 13 of The Silmarillion states plainly, “No love was there in the hearts of those that followed Fingolfin for the House of Fëanor, for the agony of those that endured the crossing of the Ice had been great, and Fingolfin held the sons the accomplices of their fathers.” Many of Fëanor’s own people “indeed repented of the [ship] burning at Losgar, and were filled with amazement at the valour that had brought the friends whom they had abandoned over the Ice of the North; and they would have welcomed them, but they dared not, for shame.” What can build a bridge of love again between these family members in turmoil?

Morgoth, for his part, takes delight in this strife and seeks further to darken the hearts of his foes by causing “vast smokes and vapours to be made, and they came forth from the reeking tops of the Iron Mountains … staining the bright airs in the first mornings of the world…. They fell, and coiled about the fields and hollows, and lay upon the waters … drear and poisonous.”

“Then Fingon”—a mighty turning point here, probably reminding the famously devout J.R.R. Tolkien of the cherished “but God” passages in Sacred Scripture. Fingon the Valiant, eldest son of Fingolfin, resolves “to heal the feud that divided the Noldor.” How and why? “Long before, in the bliss of Valinor, before Melkor was unchained, or lies came between them, Fingon had been close in friendship with Maedhros; and though he knew not yet that Maedhros had not forgotten him at the burning of the ships, the thought of their ancient friendship stung his heart. Therefore he dared a deed which is justly renowned among the feats of the princes of the Noldor: alone, and without the counsel of any, he set forth in search of Maedhros; and aided by the very darkness that Morgoth had made he came unseen into the fastness of his foes. High … he climbed, and looked … upon the desolation of the land; but no passage or crevice could he find through which he might come within Morgoth’s stronghold. Then in defiance of the Orcs … he took his harp and sang a song of Valinor that the Noldor made … before strife was born among the sons of Finwë; and his voice rang in the mournful hollows.”

Fingon sings a mighty song which accomplishes at that very moment more than he could have imagined or hoped for: “Suddenly above him far and faint his song was taken up, and a voice answering called to him. Maedhros it was that sang amid his torment.” Fingon climbs to the foot of the precipice where his kinsman hangs, but can go no further. He weeps great tears of sympathy when he observes “the cruel device of Morgoth,” and prays for the angelic Lord Manwë to recall “pity for the Noldor in their need.” His prayer is swiftly answered by one of Tolkien’s wondrous eagles, particularly “Thorondor, King of Eagles, mightiest of all birds that have ever been, whose outstretched wings spanned thirty fathoms.” He brings the two Noldorian princes to safety after Fingon cuts off Maedhros’s hand above the wrist.

Maedhros lives to, in time, “wield his sword with left hand more deadly than his right had been. By this deed Fingon won great renown, and all the Noldor praised him; and the hatred between the houses of Fingolfin and Fëanor was assuaged. For Maedhros begged forgiveness for the desertion in Araman; and he waived his claim to kingship over all the Noldor, saying to Fingolfin: ‘If there lay no grievance between us, lord, still the kingship would rightly come to you, the eldest here of the house of Finwë, and not the least wise.'”

What builds a bridge of love again between family members ripped apart by woe? Friendship, a Good memory, and lots of courage facing a common enemy. “Trouble drives those together that have been at variance; and the pieces of metal that had been separated will run together again when melted in the same crucible.” Those words come not from Tolkien, but from Matthew Henry the Bible scholar, yet are quite Tolkienesque.
“Saving of Maedhros” by Catherine Karina Chmiel

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