Note: This is primarily a write-up for my own purposes; I am not trying to emulate or even approximate the many outstanding Tolkien resources already available on- and offline. As I prefer having all closely-related information available on one and the same page, I am keeping the information on Tolkien’s major (groups of) characters on one single page — even if that necessarily makes it a long page — instead of breaking it up into bits: I just prefer navigating one page with the “Search” function to having to navigate between different browser windows in order to track the interrelating histories of Tolkien’s protagonists.
General spoiler warning: This page mentions crucial plot points and events from Tolkien’s major works, so if you have not yet read these — at the very least, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings (including its Annexes) and The Silmarillion –, you’re proceeding at your own peril.
As for illustrations, for the Third Age, where possible I’ve stuck with the incarnations given to the protagonists in the Peter Jackson / New Line Cinema movies, which at this point have become iconic in their own right* (despite the movies’ occasional bits of reconning, in the adaptations of The Hobbit more so than in those of The Lord of the Rings). For the bodily representation of the immortal beings and the First and Second Age people(s), from the many depictions available I’ve selected those most resonating with me — arguably, Ilúvatar and the Ainur are essentially fair game anyway, as they can manifest in any form they choose.
In the spirit of keeping this in the nature of an overview, and in the interest of narrative flow, I’ve decided to essentially dispense with specific date and year references on this page and include the legendarium’s timeline only in its broadest strokes here; specifics can be found, however, on the page named The Timeline of Arda and Middle-earth, as well as at the online resources linked there; and with regard to the armed conflicts also on the page named Wars and Battles of Arda and Middle-earth.
Maps and images illustrating place references and the geography of the legendarium’s universe, which likewise are a matter best tracked on a dedicated page, can be found on the page The Geography of Arda and Middle-earth.
Lastly, separate pages also exist for the creatures of Middle-earth more naturally at home in the animal kingdom, the wars and battles, (see above), as well as the weaponry of Middle-earth, and the legendarium’s most notable shiny objects.
The Creator: Eru Ilúvatar
Enano Akd: Eru Ilúvatar and the Timeless Halls
The Tolkien legendarium’s version of the creator god, who called the universe (Eä) into being in a vision fulfilled through the music of the Ainur and by making the things created by the music of the Ainur become real by saying “Be!” (“Eä!”). He dwells in the Timeless Halls in the Void (outside of the world, Arda), which is also the place where he first instructed the Ainur in their role and reason of creation. — Eru (“the One”) and Ilúvatar (“Allfather”, which is what the Elves call him) are two different versions of his name, but they are frequently used together.
The immortal beings who, upon having been created from Ilúvatar’s thought, in turn created the world by their music (the Great Song or the Music of the Ainur), after having been instructed in music and in their individual roles by Eru Ilúvatar. The chief groups of Ainur are the Valar and the Maiar.
Jerrel Salvatierra: Powers of Arda
The Powers of the World; the Tolkien legendarium’s version of a pantheon: the fourteen (originally fifteen) supreme Ainur tasked with the creation of the world and with its governance, once created.
In the beginning of Arda, they lived on the island of Almaren in the middle of the Great Lake at the center of the Earth, which was illuminated by two Great Lamps. After Almaren and the Great Lamps had been destroyed by Melkor (the fallen / expelled Vala), and Middle-earth had emerged, they created a new home for themselves covering most of the western edge of Arda, naming it Aman (“the Undying” or “the Blessed Lands”; in the First Age, still connected to Middle-earth by an inhospitable polar region of crashing ice to the very north called Helcaraxë). There they lived in Valinor (the Land of the Powers), many of them in their chief city of Valmar, not far from the hill Ezellohar (“Green Mound”), on which stood Laurelin and Telperion, the Two Trees illuminating Valinor wth their golden and silver light. The Valar held council in the Ring of Doom (Máhanaxar), a court in which their thrones were arranged in a circle, and which was to be found outside the golden western gates of the city. Their version of Mount Olympos was Taniquetil, a mountain also located not far from Valmar near the eastern shore of Aman, to the south of the Girdle of Arda (roughly: Arda’s equator).
However, not all of the Valar actually lived in or near Valmar; Ulmo (Lord of the Waters; the Vala roughly equivalent to Poseidon) moved through the oceans of Arda, Mandos (the Doomsman of the Valar, roughly equivalent to Hades) lived in his own halls on the western edge of Valinor (and hence, of Arda), and Nienna, the Lady of Tears (and of pity) is also described as having dwelling place of her own at the western edge of Valinor, looking out through the Doors of Night into the Void.
The Aratar — the eight (originally nine) highest of the Valar — were Manwë, Varda, Ulmo, Yavanna, Aulë, Mandos, Nienna, and Oromë:
Manwë (by gemennair)
“The Blessed One”, highest of the Valar (very roughly the Tolkien legendarium’s version of Zeus … minus the girl-chasing), ruler of all of the Ainur — except for Melkor — and all of Arda; Lord of the Winds (= the breath of Arda, referenced in his second name Súlimo) and spouse of Varda Elentári. He is said to have been Melkor’s brother, because they were the first Ainur to be created (near-)simultaneously, but when Melkor started to create discord, Manwë, chiefly assisted by Ulmo, ensured the restoration of harmony and the realization of the Vision of Ilúvatar.
Queen of the Stars, which she first set into the sky using silver dew drops from Telperion (one of the Two Trees illuminating Valinor before the creation of the Sun and the Moon) in order to prepare Middle-earth for the awakening of the Elves, after Middle-earth had been cast into darkness when Melkor had destroyed the Two Lamps that had originally illuminated the world. For this, the Elves revered her as Elbereth (“Star Lady”). — Spouse of Manwë Súlimo.
John Howe: Ulmo and Tuor
Lord of the Waters; second in prominence only to Manwë Súlimo and next to him, chiefly instrumental in the creation of the world. The sound of water is said to carry an echo of his music. He, too, was the one who brought the Elves from Middle-earth to Valinor by ferrying them across Belegaer (“the Sundering Seas”) on the island of Tol Eressëa, which he moved back and forth between its original place on the western shores of Middle-earth and the Bay of Eldamar (north of Taniquetil) on the eastern shores of Aman, where he ultimately anchored it and made it a home for the last group of Elves to complete the journey (the Teleri).
Ulmo stayed friendly with, and assisted, the Elves — including those who had remained behind in Middle-earth or were later exiled there — and the other inhabitants of Middle-earth even after the rest of the Valar had more or less washed their hands off events in Middle-age early in the First Age, and it was chiefly his counsel that convinced the Valar to come to the people of Middle-earth’s help once more at the end of the First Age in the War of Wrath, which ended with the expulsion of Melkor and the Drowning of Beleriand and most of the lands towards its north.
The Queen of the Earth and giver of fruit; mistress of all that grows and spouse of Aulë. It was Yavanna who, helped by Nienna, created the Two Trees of Valinor (Telperion the White Tree and Laurelin the Golden Tree), which gave silver and golden light to Valinor before the creation of the Moon and Sun. After the giant spider Ungoliant had, at Melkor’s behest, sucked the light from the Trees and poisoned them, and had spread her pitch-black, nauseous vapors all over Valinor, thus causing the Darkening of Valinor, Yavanna and Nienna were instrumental in saving a single silver flower of Telperion and a single golden fruit of Laurelin, from which the Valar made the Moon and the Sun.
Aulë (art by Kamehame)
The Smith; concerned with the substance of Middle-earth, rock and metal. Spouse of Yavanna. Impatient for the arrival of the Children of Ilúvatar (Elves and Men), he created the Dwarves; however, Ilúvatar — after having granted them life — made Aulë send them to sleep until the arrival of the Elves. When the Elves came to Valinor some time after their awakening, the Ñoldor in particular became Aulë’s students; his greatest pupil, the Ñoldorin Lord Fëanor, used the craft he had learned from Aulë to create the Silmarils — three gems encapsulating the light of the Two Trees of Valinor created by Yavanna — as well as (probably) the Palantíri, eight “seeing stones” that could communicate with each other over great distances.
The Doomsman of the Valar; roughly the Tolkien legendarium’s equivalent of Hades. His Halls — known as the Halls of Waiting and the Houses of the Dead — were far on the western edge of Valinor; all the inhabitants of Middle-earth came here after their death, though subsequently their paths diverged:
Most Elves were eventually re-embodied and returned to life in Aman. The spirits of those Elves from whom this gift was withheld, however (e.g., Fëanor) were fated to remain within Mandos’s Halls while the world lasts. The spirits of Men, after having been gathered in the Halls, passed on across the Outer Sea to a mysterious realm beyond Arda, unknown even to most of the Valar. The fate of the Dwarves, finally, was uncertain, as they were not part of Ilúvatar’s original scheme for the world. They themselves believed that their spirits, too, would be gathered by Mandos, and would remain in his Halls until the time when Arda would be remade, when they would assist their own maker, Aulë the Smith.
Nienna (art by Edarlein)
The Lady of Tears; Mandos’s sister, concerned with grief and mourning, but also with pity. Her tears first watered the Two Trees of Valinor created by Yavanna and made them grow; and after their destruction by Ungoliant, she wept on the trees once more, encouraging them to bear a last fruit each, from which the Valar created the Sun and the Moon.
The Maia Olórin (Gandalf) was Nienna’s student and learned much from her; as there is a passage in the Quenta Silmarillion referring to her “grey hood”, there is a conjecture (though not a certain one) that this may be how he originally became the Grey Wizard.
Oromë (art by Steamey)
The Huntsman of the Valar who, before the coming of the Children of Ilúvatar, often used to ride in the forests of Middle-earth. It was thus that he discovered the Elves at Cuiviénen, the Water of Awakening far to the east of Middle-earth on the shores of the Inland Sea of Helcar, and named them Eldar (a name later only given to those Elves that traveled to Valinor on the invitation that he issued to them on behalf of the Valar). However, Oromë may not have been the first to come across the Elves — likely the fallen Vala Melkor, the Dark Lord of the First Age, saw them first and ensnared enough of them to breed from his captives the creatures that came to be known as Orcs.
Yet, not only the Elves revered Oromë; so did among the Men of Middle-earth particularly the Rohirrim and their ancestors, the Éothéod, who believed that the forefathers of their treasured horses, the Mearas, had been brought to Middle-earth by Oromë (whom they knew as Béma), and possibly even had been sired by his own horse, Nahar.
Vána the Ever-young (by Emberrose Art)
Yavanna’s younger sister and Oromë’s spouse, also known as the Ever-Young: associated especially with flowers and with the tending of the Two Trees of Valinor created by her sister. Not one of the Aratar, but important in the context of the legendarium, because — aside from her own tasks — among the Maiar following her were Arien (the steerswoman of the Sun) and Melian, who, through her marriage to the Elf-king Thingol, founded a dynasty reaching all the way down to into the Third Age to Aragorn and Arwen.
Janka Latečková: Tulkas
The last Vala who entered Arda; the legendarium’s rough equivalent of Ares, or Mars — the god of War, surnamed Astaldo (“the Valiant”). Also not one of the Aratar and, as the Silmarillion states, “of no avail as a counsellor”; but a steadfast friend: it was he who led the Valar into battle from the beginning, and he was counted among the Valar for his many deeds of valor: in fact, if it had not been for him, they might well have lost their very first battle already, one of many that would follow with:
The Fallen Ainu: Melkor (Morgoth)
JMKilpatrick: Morgoth and Fingolfin
The oldest and originally the greatest of the Ainur, he began creating a music of his own early on (NB: in this particular context, this is not a good thing), instead of joining in the harmony created by the music of the other Ainur. It soon turned out that Melkor was Evil personified: He set his will against that of Ilúvatar and the Valar from the start by either trying corrupt other Ainur or openly opposing them; beginning with the First Battle even while Arda was still being created and the destruction of the Two Lamps that had illuminated Arda in the early days of the world, and ending with the War of Wrath in the final days of the First Age, in which the Valar engaged in battle with him for the last time alongside the peoples of Middle-earth, and at the end of which he was finally bound in chains forged by Aulë and cast out into the Outer Void, never to return. (Or, well, almost never, as there are hints in certain parts of the legendarium that there was to be a “Battle of Battles” in the final days of Arda in which this arch-fiend would return from the Void for a very last and definitely final stand; but there is little elaboration as to the details of this looming “Battle of Battles”, and it is uncertain — and a matter of great debate — whether the concept had finally been abandoned by the legendarium’s creator.)
For his opposition to the will of Ilúvatar and his innumerable acts of evil, Melkor was (unsurprisingly) soon cast out from the ranks of the Valar and the Aratar, who would have been fifteen and nine, in turn, including him; and after the Battle of Powers — unleashed by the Valar in order to protect the newly-awoken Elves — he was imprisoned in the Halls of Mandos for three ages. When Melkor was released from the Halls of Mandos, he promptly set about causing discord among the Elves who had by this time migrated to Valinor and incite the giant spider Ungoliant to suck the light from Yavanna’s Two Trees Telperion and Laurelin and poison them, after which Ungoliant cloaked all of Valinor in impenetrably black — dark beyond dark — vapors, thus causing the Darkening of Valinor; and Melkor made use of the pitch-black, impenetrable darkness produced by Ungoliant to steal the Silmarils. For this, the gems’ creator, the Elf-lord Fëanor, cursed him and gave him a new name, Morgoth (“the Black Foe”), by which name he was known ever after.
Morgoth fled from Valinor to Middle-earth, where he established himself as Dark Lord and unleashed a reign of terror, operating out of a place he had already created and inhabited before his imprisonment in the Halls of Mandos: a fortress called Angband (the Iron Prison) beneath the Iron Mountains in the north of Middle-earth, whose gates were in turn guarded by three towering peaks named Thangorodrim. The (increasingly desperate, though also increasingly heroic) attempts made by the Elves and Men to resist Morgoth’s growing power and dominion is the constant background of the story of the First Age; yet it was only when things had literally reached fever pitch, Elves and Men had been either killed, enslaved or driven away, and Morgoth was on the point of gaining full and unfettered dominion over Middle-earth, that the Valar were persuaded to do battle with him for a last time, moved by the plea of the people of Middle-earth’s self-appointed messenger Eärendil, but presumably also because they realized that this would likely be the last chance that even they had of getting rid of him. Though, obviously, even after he had finally been cast into the Outer Void at the end of this epic struggle, which came to be known as the War of Wrath or the Great Battle, the discord that he had sown among the people(s) of Middle-earth lived on, as did his chief lieutenant, the Maia Sauron.
Which brings us to …
The lesser Ainur, typically following one of the Valar (in some cases, with allegiances changing from Valar to another over the course of time). There were quite a number of them; including:
Arien and Tilion
Ingvild Schlage: Arien and Tilion
The steerers of the Sun and the Moon after the destruction of the Two Trees of Valinor. In keeping with the Nordic mythologies from which Tolkien drew much of his inspiration (and, incidentally, also modern German) — and unlike in Greek and Roman mythology (and in the Romance languages and modern English) — the guide of the Sun, Arien, was female, and the steersman of the Moon, Tilion, was male.
Arien was a spirit of fire and one of the people of Vána. To guide the Sun through the skies, she took the form of a brilliant flame.
Tilion was a member of Oromë’s hunt, carrying a bow of silver. He loved the silver rays of Telperion, and when the Tree was destroyed he asked for the honor of steering its last flower into the sky.
Eönwë (art by M0rket)
Manwë’s herald and banner-bearer; the chief of the Maiar and in all of Arda, the one most knowledeable about weapons. It was he who delivered the Doom of Mandos to the exiled Ñoldor, and who at the end of the First Age welcomed Eärendil to Aman, led the host of the West in the War of Wrath, overthrew Morgoth, and secured the two remaining Silmarils from Morgoth’s iron crown (which were then stolen by the two surviving sons of their maker Fëanor, Maedhros and Maglor: but again it was Eönwë who spared them from being killed).
After the fall of Morgoth, Sauron, too, had originally bowed to the power of Eönwë and declared his willingness to abjure all evil, but changed his mind and hidden in Middle-earth when he had learned that only Manwë could pardon him and he had to go to Aman to receive that pardon.
Yet, it was Eönwë, once more, who at the beginning of the Second Age also blessed the surviving members of the faithful Three Houses of the Edain — the ancestors of the High Men of Númenor — with wisdom, power, and greatly extended lifespans.
Together with Eönwë, the mightiest and most powerful of the Maiar; and the handmaiden of Varda Elentári. Her name is probably related to one of the Quenya words for “starlight” and thus also reflects the name which the Elves gave to Varda, Elbereth (“star-lady”).
Elena Kukanova: Melian
Like Arien, the guide of the Sun, a follower of Vána; the only Maia to wed a denizen of Middle-earth, when she married the Elf-king Thingol. Together, they founded the kingdom of Doriath, which Melian protected with a magic “girdle”, a spell enclosing the kingdom and hiding it from all outsiders.
Thingol and Melian’s daughter Lúthien, in turn, would become the first Elf to wed a Man (Beren): Their descendants include — through their granddaughter Elwing and her husband Eärendil — the brothers Elrond and Elros, who after the War of Wrath were given the choice whether they and their descendants would be Elves or Men: Elrond chose Elfdom and remained in his refuge of Rivendell (and fathered Arwen); Elros chose to become a Man and became the first king of Númenor and thus, many generations later, a direct ancestor of Aragorn. (Don’t think too long about the genealogical consequences of that one.) The fact that the Númenórean Kings and their Third-Age Dúnedain heirs not only descended, in part, from Elves, but also presumably also still bore at least traces of Melian’s heritage, goes some way towards explaining their preeminence even among the Kings of Men.
Melian herself remained in Doriath until Thingol’s death in a dispute with the Dwarves over a necklace into which had been set the Silmaril recovered from Morgoth by Beren and Lúthien (the Nauglamír). After Thingol’s death she returned to Valinor.
The chief follower of Ulmo, who assisted him in shuttling the island of Tol Eressëa back and forth across the Sundering Seas to ferry the Elves to Valinor on their Great Journey. He formed a particular friendship with the third Elven Kindred, the Teleri, who due to their late arrival on the shores of Beleriand had to wait for the island ferry’s return, and he taught them much of his craft. Thus, both the Teleri who decided to stay in Middle-earth after all and settle on its shores (known as the Falathrim) and those who proceeded to Valinor (the Falmari) came to be known as excellent ship builders in their own right, and it was the Telerin lord Círdan — known as Círdan the Shipwright — who built the ship on which the Elves still remaining in Middle-earth made their final journeys to Valinor; the last of them leaving at the end of the Third and early in the Fourth Age.
The Istari (Wizards)
Left image: source; right: The Blue Wizards (art by Giuliano Bròcani) plus Radagast, Saruman, and Gandalf
Five Maiar sent to Middle-earth in the Third Age to assist its denizens in their struggle with the fallen Maia Sauron, there taking the guise of Wizards and, in keeping with that image, appearing as old, though hale and hearty men, with their wizard staffs the embodiment and only outward expression of their supernatural powers:
Curumo (aka Curunír and Saruman the White)
Originally the leader of the Order of the Istari (Heren Istarion); one of Aulë’s people and noted for his particular skill and ingenuity as a creator. Known as Curunír to the Elves and Saruman to the Men of Middle-earth (all of his names translate as “Man of Skill”), he was eventually seduced by the power of the One Ring created by Sauron, which proved to be his downfall, when his former companion Olórin — having taken on the mantle of Gandalf the White — stripped him of his power after his stronghold of Isengard had been destroyed by the Ents (treeheards) from nearby Fangorn forest. After the end of the War of the Ring he came to a rather inglorious end when he was slain — or rather, the body in which he had incarnated in Middle-earth was destroyed — by his much-mistreated underling Gríma Wormtongue, while his spirit rose from its bodily form and was blown away by a wind from the West: Manwë did not want him back.
His native ingenuity played a role both in his seduction by the One Ring and in the belief that he was able to master everything, however powerful, and it is also seen in his devising new tools of warcraft (like the bomb that explodes the gate of Helm’s Deep) and building an army, in part out of newly-bred types of Orcs and Uruks.
Olórin (aka Mithrandir and Gandalf)
The wisest of the Istari, probably a follower of Manwë and Varda, but also a student of Nienna’s and a dweller in the gardens of Nienna’s and Mandos’s brother Lórien (one of the six lesser Valar). There are some unexplored hints that he first may have visited Middle-earth in the First Age and established friendly (though possibly not yet very deep) relations with Elves and Men, but in the Third Age it took the persuasive powers of Manwë himself to make him join the Istari’s mission, where his initially grey cloak possibly reflected his (co-)discipleship of Nienna. He was known as Mithrandir (“Grey Wanderer”) to the Elves and as Gandalf (“Wand-elf”) in the Common Tongue; his name among Men reflects the misconception of those first coming in contact with him that he was an Elf, and he kept using it. When he was “killed” (disembodied) in his fight with the Balrog known as Durin’s Bane, he was sent back to Middle-earth as his mission was not yet complete: he returned as Gandalf the White, as Curumo / Saruman had at this point been corrupted by the One Ring and had thus lost all claim to his former position. After the end of the War of the Ring, Olórin returned to Valinor with a group of the Elves then still residing in Middle-earth and with the two Hobbit ring-bearers, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins.
His character and strengths, too, are reflected in many parts of the Third-Age Ring saga: He was the only one of the Istari to befriend the Hobbits and enjoy walking the Shire (an at least outwardly serene, verdant green place — reminiscent of the gardens of Lórien); moreover, he was the one who applied his wisdom to assiduously studying the history of the One Ring and who was wise enough to reject it out of hand when offered its possession by Frodo.
Yet, Saruman was not the only one of the Istari to use fire; so did Olórin / Gandalf, though unlike the fallen White Wizard he employed it as a force for good: in fireworks for entertainment, but also as a means of defense when attacked, e.g., by setting fire to pine cones to ward off the wargs attacking Bilbo Baggins, Thorin Oakenshield and company in the Misty Mountains. In fact, Gandalf’s very character was noticeably fiery and, on occasion, even explosive: whereas Saruman was able to master his temper even in moments of the greatest provocation and still use his voice to supremely persuasive effect, Gandalf was known to blow up in sudden anger when provoked; even if as a rule his rage was quickly (and in his case, genuinely) assuaged by friends or by his own better wisdom. It is not entirely clear to what extent Gandalf’s nature was linked to the fact that he was the wearer of the Elven Ring of Power known as the Ring of Fire, Narya, which was set with a glowing ruby: but Círdan the Shipwright — the prior bearer of that Ring — entrusted it to Gandalf in the belief that he would be able to draw greatly on its fire in his tasks in days to come; and Gandalf himself proclaimed during his fight with the Balrog known as Durin’s Bane that he was the “wielder of the flame of Anor” and “a servant of the Secret Fire”, two descriptions that he expressly set against the Balrog’s “dark fire” (he incidentally called the Balrog “flame of Udûn” — i.e., “flame of Hell”; this may just have been a derogatory epithet, though at least possibly it may also have been the name by which it used to be known among the Maiar). At any rate, it was evidently not a coincidence that Gandalf / Olórin was the one who had to take it upon him to fight the Balrog, effectively matching fire with fire.
Aiwendil (aka Radagast the Brown)
A follower of Yavanna and a particular friend to birds. Curumo (Saruman) was reluctant to take him along at all — he only did so because it was Yavanna’s specific wish — and once in Middle-earth grew downright contemptuous of him, but Aiwendil (in Middle-earth known as Radagast the Brown) remained on good terms with Olórin / Gandalf. He also carried his love of birds and of all growing things to Middle-earth, and his staff’s greatest powers were powers of healing and plant-and-bird-lore.
When the White Council was formed, uniting those foremost in the lead of the fight against Sauron, he seems to have mostly hovered on its edges and kept a watching brief on Sauron’s — the Necromancer’s — stronghold of Dol Guldur in Mirkwood, near which Radagast himself had made his home; but he is not recorded as ever having taken a decisive hand in the White Council’s activities (nor attended all, or indeed any, of its meetings).
His fate throughout much of the War of the Ring and its aftermath is likewise not known; and he is not mentioned as having returned to Valinor from the Grey Havens — so either he eventually made his way back to Valinor on his own or he stayed in Middle-earth and went on attending to his friends, the birds.
The Blue Wizards (art by Daniel Pilla and Ted Nasmith)
Alatar and Pallando, the two Blue Wizards
Both followers of Oromë: Alatar — next to Curumo / Saruman and Olórin / Gandalf one of the three originally chosen for the mission — requested and was granted the wish that his friend Pallando should be allowed to join, and upon their arrival in Middle-earth they both immediately travelled to the East, having been tasked with stirring unrest among the people(s) in thrall to Sauron. They are sketchily developed in the legendarium, however, and their traces are lost immediately after their departure for Sauron’s realm.
In the legendarium’s Last Writings, there is a suggestion that the two Blue Wizards may first have been sent to Middle-earth not in the Third but in the Second Age, with the aim of keeping the peoples living in the East and the South in check, preventing them from outnumbering those living in the West of Middle-earth and from forging too powerful allegiances with Sauron. According to this account, the two wizards would seem to have been known as Morinehtar and Rómestámo (“Darkness-slayer” and “East-helper”) among the peoples with whom they made contact in the Second Age. In the Third Age, they would then have returned to Middle-earth together with the other three wizards and been tasked with discovering Sauron, but failed in their mission.
The White Council
Of the three wizards remaining after the Blue Wizards had set out eastwards, two — Curumo (Saruman) and Olórin (Gandalf) — formed the White Council together with the leaders of the Elves still in Middle-earth during the Second and, especially, the Third Age: Elrond, Galadriel, and Círdan the Shipwright. The council’s purpose was to unite those in Middle-earth believed to hold the greatest wisdom, in order to unite and direct the forces allied against Sauron. Elrond, Galadriel, and Cirdan were also the only ones in Middle-earth who were aware of the Istari’s true nature as Maiar. (Though if Galadriel, who might have known Olórin in her own youth in Valinor, recognized him in his guise as Gandalf, she never seems to have let on as much, although it certainly seems possible.)
During an earlier incarnation of the White Council, prior to the Istari’s arrival in Middle-earth, another key member of the Council had been Gil-galad, the last High King of the Ñoldor, who would however be killed in the final battle of the Last Alliance against Sauron. Later meetings of the Council were, in turn, joined by unnamed other Elven lords; possibly Celeborn, Glorfindel and / or Thranduil, all three of whom were frequently included in the more comprehensive term of the Wise, which designated men and women of all the peoples of Middle-earth recognized as possessors of great wisdom and great knowledge and understanding of history and lore.
Olórin / Gandalf had entered Sauron’s then-stronghold of Dol Guldur in the southern part of Mirkwood during a reconaissance mission early in the third millennium of the Third Age, trying to determine whether the occupant of that tower really was Sauron, as the White Council suspected. As a result, Sauron had fled to avoid detection and for the next four centuries — a period known as the Watchful Peace — temporarily seemed to have disappeared, while in reality secretly continuing to build up his forces and forging allegiances. When Sauron was known to have reappeared and the Watchful Peace thus had to be understood to have ended, Galadriel summoned the White Council. At that meeting, Curumo / Saruman was chosen as the Council’s leader; but unbeknownst to the other members, he decided to embark on a search of his own for the One Ring of Power. Therefore, at all subsequent meetings he tried to dissuade the others from the attack on Dol Guldur urged by Olórin; initially successfully so, though after their third meeting the Council did follow the (as-yet) Grey Wizard’s urging and launched an attack that was carefully coordinated to coincide with Thorin Oakenshield’s and his company’s quest to regain the Lonely Mountain, so as to prevent Sauron and Smaug to come to each other’s assistance. The White Council was successful in driving Sauron out of Dol Guldur once more, but unbeknownst to them Mordor had been readied for him in the interim; so there he now returned and about a decade later openly declared his return to his age-old stronghold. Thereafter, the Council met one last time; Curumo / Saruman again appealed for reticence, arguing that the Ring of Power had vanished in the waves of the Anduin and been washed down to the sea after Aragorn’s ancestor Isildur — having taken it from Sauron in the Last Alliance’s decisive battle with the Dark Lord — had died in the river while trying to escape from an Orc attack. Thus, for a time, Saruman managed to assuage Olórin / Gandalf’s concerns about the Ring found by Bilbo Baggins while crossing the Misty Mountains with the Dwarves on the way to the Lonely Mountain.
No further meeting of the White Council took place, and Saruman / Curumo withdrew into Isengard, there to pursue his search for the One Ring and build an army of his own, in the secret certainty that the ring found by Bilbo Baggins was the One Ring. Gandalf, for his part, only obtained confirmation of this fact after the Ring had come down to Frodo. It would take the formation of the Fellowship of the Ring, Saruman’s open declaration of his treason to Gandalf prior to locking him up on top of the Tower of Orthanc, and Olórin’s return as Gandalf the White after having destroyed the Balrog known as Durin’s Bane, for Curumo to be stripped of his power and be ejected from the Istari, and for Olórin to come into his full power as leader of the Order of the Istari; or as much of that power as he was allowed to reveal in Middle-earth.
Note: As it is customary to refer to these three Istari by the names they were given in the Common Tongue when speaking of their actions in Middle-earth, I’ll be using their (true) Maia names from here on out only where this is called for because their immortal nature is directly at issue, e.g., in connection with the White Council, as well as Olórin / Gandalf’s possession of one of the Elven Rings of Power, his return as Gandalf the White after his fight with Durin’s Bane, and his return to Valinor after the conclusion of the War of the Ring.
Chief among the Maiar corrupted by Morgoth were Sauron and the Balrogs, the latter led by a demon named Gothmog (not to be confused with the chief of Minas Morgul and, later, commander at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields bearing the same name).
One of the mightiest (initially perhaps the mightiest) of the Maiar, Sauron was originally one of Aulë’s people and, at the time, known as Mairon (“the Admirable”). However, he was corrupted by Melkor / Morgoth and became his most trusted lieutenant early on, as well as the most feared of Morgoth’s servants. When Melkor was carried back in chains from Middle-earth to Valinor to be imprisoned in the Halls of Mandos for three ages during the Years of the Trees (preceding the First Age), Sauron stayed behind and (likely) had a hand in readying Angband for Melkor’s return. After Melkor — now known as Morgoth — returned to Middle-earth and again took up residence in Angband, Sauron was instrumental in his campaigns; not least by taking possession of an Elf-built, strategically important watchtower named Minas Tirith (not to be confused with the later name of the capital of Gondor) on the river Sirion — the Great River of the First Age, crossing Beleriand from North to South — and holding it in his possession, having renamed the island Tol-in-Gaurhoth (“Isle of Werewolves”), until he was finally driven out by Beren, Lúthien, and Huan, the Hound of Valinor, who kept watch over Beren and Lúthien on their quest for the Silmarils. Sauron then fled to the east of Middle-earth and was not heard from again, but after the War of Wrath and the expulsion of the original Dark Lord (Morgoth), Sauron assumed his former master’s mantle for himself.
He now used the knowledge that he had obtained from Aulë in terms of forging and making things to build Barad-dûr — his stronghold in Mordor — and create the One Ring, to gain mastery over all other Rings of Power previously forged by the Elven smith Celebrimbor at Sauron’s behest. (He failed, however, in trying to extend the One Ring’s power to the three Rings worn by the Elf-lords, as they sensed his evil purpose and took off their rings in time; and the only effect the One Ring had on the bearers of the Dwarven Rings was to enhance their greed for precious things.) He also assumed a deceitful, apparently benevolent guise under the name Annatar (“Lord of Gifts”) in order to corrupt others while outwardly seeming to help them.
After having suffered a few setbacks over the course of much of the Second Age — as long as the Númenóreans were still faithful to the Valar and true to the conditions established for their residence on the island, and moreover came to Middle-earth’s aid when called upon –, Sauron withdrew into Mordor and fortified it as his main stronghold. Then a Númenórean king named Ar-Pharazôn, having himself usurped the throne, set out to subdue Sauron; and rather than waste his troops in battle or waste energy in punishing them for their desertion out of fear of the Númenorian forces, Sauron agreed to accompany Ar-Pharazôn to Númenor, allegedly as his subordinate, but with the secret purpose of corrupting him and eventually assuming preeminence from behind the throne, which plan he swiftly put into action. Eventually, in pursuance of this plan, he even managed to persuade the Númenóreans to worship Morgoth instead of Ilúvatar and the Valar.
This in turn — ultimately spurred on by Ar-Pharazôn’s hubris and his attempt, encouraged by Sauron, to travel to Valinor and confront the Valar — brought about the drowning of Númenor, with only a small band of uncorrupted Númenóreans making their escape to Middle-earth … and Sauron returning there as well, albeit now having lost the ability to ever again appear in a fair and appealing form. At the end of the Second Age, Men and Elves joined against Sauron one final time in the Last Alliance, led by the last High King of the Ñoldor, Gil-galad, and by Aragorn’s ancestor Elendil, the leader of the faithful Númenóreans who had escaped to Middle-earth (the Dúnedain). Both Gil-galad and Elendil died in the decisive battle on the slopes of Mount Doom; but Elendil’s son Isildur took up the hilt of Elendil’s sword Narsil, which had broken in his fight with Sauron. With the shard of his father’s sword attached to the hilt he cut off Sauron’s finger with the One Ring and took the Ring for himself. Yet, he lost the One Ring when it slipped off his finger in a failed attempt to cross the river Anduin, fleeing from a host of Orcs that had attacked his party on their way north after the War of the Last Alliance; and for almost three millennia, the Ring was believed to have been lost.
Indeed, after his defeat in the War of the Last Alliance, for a long time Sauron seemed to have vanished entirely. However, he first manifested again about a millennium later as a shadowy “Necromancer” in a fortress named Dol Guldur in southern Mirkwood. Having been driven out of there by a reconnaissance mission undertaken by Olórin (Gandalf) early in the third millennium of the Third Age, he vanished once more for four hundred years — the period known as the Watchful Peace — until word of his reappearance caused Galadriel to summon the White Council, which initially, however, remained inactive at Saruman’s urging of patience, until Gandalf was able to prevail on them to launch a renewed attack on Dol Guldur, coinciding with the attack launched by Thorin Oakenshield’s company of Dwarves on the Lonely Mountain, so as to prevent Sauron and Smaug to come to each other’s assistance. As a result of the attack Sauron did flee from Dol Guldur, but it would shortly turn out that he had far from vanished:
Some five hundred years earlier, the One Ring had been retrieved from the bottom of the Anduin river and fallen into the hands of Gollum (formerly a member of the Anduin Riverfolk named Sméagol), who, having become the Ring’s slave and been gradually consumed by its possession over the course of his greatly-extended life, eventually in turn lost it to Bilbo Baggins in the waning days of the Third Age. Shortly thereafter Sauron, having fled from Dol Guldur after the attack of the White Council, reentered Mordor, and about a decade later he openly declared his return. From here on out, his goal was twofold: to recover the Ring of Power and to destroy Gondor, the strongest of the realms allied against him, where he believed the Ring would eventually be taken.
Only when the One Ring was at last destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom (the place where it had originally been forged, and where it was taken back on the perilous journey undertaken by Bilbo’s nephew Frodo Baggins and his companion Sam Gamgee at the end of the Third Age), was Sauron defeated once and for all.
Gothmog (art by Atohas) and Durin’s Bane
Primordial spirits of fire that Melkor had gathered around himself as early as in the Years of the Lamps, the Balrogs, too, originated as Maiar: together with Sauron, they were among the most feared of Morgoth’s servants, especially during the Battles of Beleriand in the First Age. Demons possessed of supernatural powers, their might was that of several mortal fighters (Elves as well as Men); and in almost every instance, the price paid for the destruction of a Balrog, particularly in a direct duel, was its opponent’s own life. It is not known how many Balrogs there were, but almost certainly not many, possibly not more than seven in total; including their leader, Gothmog, and the Balrog who in the Third Age resurfaced in the mines of Moria, there became known as Durin’s Bane, and was eventually killed by Olórin / Gandalf.
The Balrogs — who are known almost exclusively by this Sindarin term, which translates as “demons of might” — usually took on a huge, vaguely man-like shape with arms and legs, but appeared either cloaked in the shadow of an impenetrable darkness or in a fiery form of perpetually streaming flames. Able to move with enormous power and speed, and probably to at least some extent knowledgeable of magic, their weapon of choice was a whip of flame; though some also carried blades of flame or whip-like thongs of steel, and Gothmog favored a great black axe.
Like (probably) Sauron, the Balrogs awaited Melkor’s / Morgoth’s return from his imprisonment in the Halls of Mandos in the depths of Angband. Over the course of the First Age, they proceeded to wreak unnamed havoc in battle and otherwise, playing a crucial role in the defeat of the armies of Elves and Men time and again, including in the destruction of Gondolin towards the end of the First Age (even though Gothmog himself was killed there). It was not until the War of Wrath, when the Valar at last decided to take a hand themselves in the battle with Morgoth one last time, that most of the Balrogs were destroyed.
Even then, however, some of them escaped over the Blue Mountains and hid in Middle-earth; including, most notably, Durin’s Bane, who vanished into the chasms below Moria for several millennia. It was at last reawakened by the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm (the Dwarves’ name for Moria), proceeded to kill the Dwarf King Durin VI — hence its name — and eventually caused the Dwarves to abandon Moria, which remained uninhabited once more for a long period thereafter. Eventually Balin (one of Thorin Oakenshield’s and Bilbo Baggins’s companions in the quest to regain the Lonely Mountain from the dragon Smaug, and related to the royal Dwarven lineage himself) obtained the permission of Thorin’s cousin and successor as King Under the Mountain, Dáin II Ironfoot, to try and retake Khazad-dûm, where he was subsequently styled Lord of Moria. The new Dwarven community at Moria was short-lived, however; it perished, Lord Balin and all, only some few decades later at the hands of a company of Orcs likewise bent on claiming Moria for themselves. Durin’s Bane finally met its match when the Fellowship of the Ring chose the mines of Moria as their path to the eastern side of the Misty Mountains on their way to Mount Doom, and when the Balrog and Olórin (known to the Fellowship as Gandalf) fought to the death in a match that lasted several days and ended with the destruction of the Balrog and the transformation of Olórin from Gandalf the Grey into Gandalf the White.
(Note: Since the Balrogs were corrupted Maiar and, hence, had been created immortal, terms such as “death”, “destruction”, “killed”, “slain”, etc. must be understood, in connection with them, physically as the destruction of their bodily manifestation, and spiritually as the prevention of their immortal spirit from re-manifesting on Arda in a new shape, either by being permanently locked away in the Halls of Mandos or by being cast into the Void, like Morgoth. — The same applies, mutatis mutandis, to Curumo / Saruman after having been fatally attacked by Gríma Wormtongue after the Hobbits’ return to the Shire: in his case we expressly learn that, after his bodily manifestation had been destroyed by Gríma, his spirit rose from its bodily form and was blown away by a wind from the West, as Manwë did not want him back in Valinor.)
The legendarium’s most mysterious character, intentionally left so by Tolkien himself. The riddles arising in connection with him are of manifold natures; in part they stem from the fact that his creation as a character (and inclusion in early drafts of what would become The Fellowship of the Ring) substantially predates that of the Silmarillion: yet, Tolkien left Tom Bombadil in the final version of the story even though he is assigned no specific place in the world order set forth in detail in the Silmarillion, which had begun to take a definite shape by the time The Fellowship was published, saying only that “he represents certain things otherwise left out” and “he represents something that I feel important, though I would not be prepared to analyze the feeling precisely.” Then again, the riddles associated with Tom Bombadil’s role in part also stem from the fact that we are told uncharacteristically little about his origin and his place as a character within the confines of the legendarium itself. As a result, people have been cracking their skulls over the question “Who is Tom Bombardil and why is he?” practically since Day One of his appearance in print, and I am not even going to try and restate the debate here: For a very serviceable summary of the various attempts at placing him, and the respective major textual evidence pro and con, see The Encyclopedia of Arda: Tom Bombadil
Rather, since probably every reader has their own take on Tom Bombadil anyway, I’ll just briefly state mine:
To me, Tom is the embodiment of Nature; immortal and as old as Creation itself. (Therefore, Goldberry just says of him “He is” — echoing the word by which Eru Ilúvatar created the world in the first place: “”Be!” — “Eä!”) He was there before the awakening of the Elves, this much we know from his own mouth, also that he is known as “oldest and fatherless” to the Eldar (so Elrond tells us). Moreover and significantly, though, Tom says of himself that he “remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn … He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless — before the Dark Lord came from Outside”: so he not only remembers the beginning of the world’s natural phenomena, such as weather and the seeds of things that grow; in fact he existed (“under the stars” — inside Arda, that is) before Melkor / Morgoth arrived, as Melkor was the first to enter Arda “from Outside” (i.e., from the Void), and the only thing already there prior to the first Ainu to enter the world was Nature itself. Similarly, “the dark under the stars” instantly stopped being “fearless” with the arrival of Melkor (this is also why “the Dark Lord” in the quote above can’t refer to Sauron) — and lastly, Tolkien himself leaves open in the Silmarillion the possibility of immortals existing besides the Valar and the Maiar “of any other order that Ilúvatar has sent into Eä”; in other words, the canon of Silmarillion‘s immortals is not a numerus clausus but expressly allows for the existence of other immortal beings. So might not the Spirit of Nature, as an immortal being sui generis, be one of that “other order” … especially since we have proof positive of Tom’s casual mastery over Nature in his dealings with Old Man Willow; and leaving the confines of the legendarium as set forth in the Silmarillion for a moment, we have Tolkien’s own reference to Tom Bombadil as “the spirit of the (vanishing) Oxford and Berkshire countryside”?
Just to be clear, Tolkien himself also ruled out the idea that Tom Bombadil could be synonymous with Eru Ilúvatar; and I don’t think he’s either type of the Ainur described in the Silmarillion: For one thing, if that were the case, Olórin / Gandalf would likely recognize him, regardless in which form he had chosen to manifest in Arda (and Olórin doesn’t). Also, the Silmarillion is very clear about Melkor having entered Arda before any of the Valar; yet, Tom was there before Melkor (see above) — and that idea applies with even greater force to the Maiar. Besides, none of the Maiar that we meet in The Lord of the Rings remain unaffected by the One Ring: Olórin / Gandalf fears its power and refuses to handle it, Curumo / Saruman covets it, and even the powers of its own maker, Sauron, are tied to the Ring’s “availability” — they diminish when the Ring is lost, then gradually begin to regrow and continue to do so while it is on Gollum’s finger, and finally experience a veritable surge once the Ring is out in the open again after Bilbo Baggins has found it and taken it to the Shire. Only Tom Bombadil is powerful enough not to be affected by the Ring: he can pick it up and put it on as if it were just any other sort of trifle; and he can still see Frodo after Frodo has put it on in turn. (As a side note, Tom’s house is also the one place in all of Middle-earth where the Ring does not seem to be doing anything harmful to Frodo while he is wearing it; and for once, the decision to put it on at least largely seems to be Frodo’s own, not impacted by the Ring of Power itself.) Lastly, since Tom’s powers are thus clearly greater than those of any of the Maiar — and he was in the world before the awakening of the Elves — that also rules out the notion that he might be an Elf; or, for that matter, a spirit or supernatural being on the level of the Barrow-wights (in fact, his powers are clearly vastly superior to those of the latter).
That all being said, it seems only fitting to me that by the time we meet Tom Bombadil, he should have chosen as his dwelling place an ancient part of Middle-earth that had remained practically unchanged since the beginning of time: other than Tom himself, the Shire of the time before the War of the Ring is, for better or worse, similarly a slightly idealized version of Tolkien’s “vanishing Oxford and Berkshire countryside” (its very name aside, it even looks the part, too): remaining intact (only) as long as the “blessings” of technology and industrialization are kept outside its borders — and it’s no coincidence, either, after all, that it is Saruman, of all people, who introduces industrialization (albeit through his minion Lotho Sackville-Baggins) and instantly proceeds to turn the Shire into a mini-version of Isengard with the deliberate intent to spoil the homely Eden that it had heretofore been to Frodo and his Hobbit friends.
Yet, even the Hobbits only arrived in the region which subsequently became known as the Shire halfway through the Third Age; and at that time, it was virtually the only part of Middle-earth that had remained untouched by the destruction wrought first by Morgoth and then by Sauron and their respective minions. The world of the Years of the Lamps no longer even existed; Aman had experienced the Darkening of Valinor at the hands / glands of Ungoliant (and Melkor), which had brought to an end the Years of the Trees; Beleriand and almost everything east of the Blue Mountains had been the first place to be spoiled by Morgoth inside of Middle-earth and, but for Lindon, also no longer existed after the War of Wrath; Númenor, too, had drowned at the end of the Second Age (and arguably, had no longer been all that hospitable a place for a long time before its Fall, at least not for the Faithful, long before Ar-Pharazôn’s oversized ego spoiled things once and for all); and once Sauron had taken over from Morgoth the title and job description of “Dark Lord”, hardly any place remained in Middle-earth that hadn’t been war-ravaged, enslaved, reduced to an uninhabitable desert, or otherwise rendered thoroughly inhospitable at some point or other.
Virtually the only remaining oases were (unsurprisingly, given the importance that Tolkien places on trees in all sorts of respects) the major forests of Middle-earth; and as I see Tom, he would have wanted his own natural environment to remain natural all the way through, i.e., uninhabited (except for himself and Goldberry): so most of the forests were “out” as dwelling places by the Third Age as well, because they were inhabited by the Elves; and Fangorn was home to the Ents (who as we learn from Treebeard in turn, had likewise had to withdraw there after once having been able to freely walk all over Middle-earth, including places such as Ossiriand and Dorthonion). If, in fact, as we learn from Treebeard (and Elrond) — and can also take from the description of the lands west of the Blue Mountains prior to the exile of the Ñoldor and the increasing destruction wrought by their centuries-long, practically perpetual warfare against Morgoth — not only all of Eriador but also most of Beleriand and the lands to the north, almost up to the foothills of Thangorodrim and the Iron Mountains, were verdant places of flourishing nature once upon a time, who’s to say that Tom Bombadil himself hadn’t once made his home somewhere west of the Blue Mountains (or elsewhere in Eriador, for that matter), before having to withdraw to the Old Forest just outside the Shire? We know so little about his antecedents that I don’t think this can be ruled out with absolute certainty. Anyway, certainly by the time we meet him, few other places in Middle-earth remained that would have looked similarly inviting to him as the Shire; or rather, a place just outside of its borders ancient and believed to be mysteriously fearsome enough for no Hobbit to ever want to set foot in it if he could help it.
The People and Peoples of Middle-earth
OK, OK, strictly speaking, not the highest beings in the Middle-earth pecking order and genealogically typically classed as part of Men (though still different from the “Big Folk”, as they call the taller people in their linguistic usage), as they seem to have had the same origin as Men back in the mists of Arda-time, but come on — where would the whole amazingly, gorgeously elaborate legendarium even be at all if one day Tolkien hadn’t jotted down the sentence: “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit”?
No further introduction necessary, I think; and I’m definitely not going to try and copy, restate, let alone try to do justice the admirable Prologue to The Lord of the Rings here, which condenses in one single place all the information about Hobbits that you can possibly ask for. Even less do I feel inclined to give a summary of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins’s wanderings, covering the better part of four books (in the way they were initially published, that is, or one shorter and one much longer book, as Tolkien intended them and as they have been republished since). To the extent their wanderings coincide with the stories of other characters, they will briefly be summarized there. For the moment, though, perhaps two additional comments are warranted:
(1) Bilbo and Frodo had both cracked 50 by the time they set out on their respective journeys, which even for Hobbits takes them into (early) middle age and makes Frodo, especially, quite a bit older than his three Halfling companions. Due to the “age-preserving” nature of the One Ring, he still retained his younger looks (and thus it makes sense for the movies not to show an age difference between Frodo and the other Hobbits), but it bears keeping in mind with regard to the other Hobbits’ acceptance of his leadership, even though — contrary to Sam — Merry and Pippin were actually of a far higher social standing than Frodo.
(2) Merry and Pippin are the closest a Hobbit can come to royalty; both of their families are the lords of their respective parts of the Shire — the Tooks are even its Thains — and Aragorn expressly recognizes this fact by including them in his Council after having been crowned King and reunited Arnor and Gondor. This, I think, goes some way towards explaining their sometimes egregiously privileged behavior, as well as their natural assumption of command in the Battle of Bywater upon their return to the Shire (whereas Frodo is just exhausted, can’t possibly be bothered, and is looking for nothing so much as peace and quiet, and for nobody else to get hurt — not even his enemies). Merry and Pippin’s fairly exalted social standing also explains their later activities in trying to build a record of the history of the Shire, or at least certain aspects thereof: this was the sort of activity typically engaged in by rulers, looking to set down a record of their countries’ and antecedents’ history. Last but not least, it probably also explains why neither of them feel a significant abashment, and instantly know how to behave properly, when in the company of real royalty or as-good-as-royalty, such as Théoden, King of Rohan, and his family, or the Steward(s) of Gondor. (Aragorn, of course, is a different matter entirely, even after they know who he really is; as is in his own way Legolas.) Gandalf, on the other hand, doesn’t scare them at all as long as they just take him for the friendly old neighborhood wizard, but their awe of him grows exponentially once they understand that this is probably a misconception, though to what extent precisely they of course can’t begin to know — which in turn is probably part of why, even after having seen Gandalf break Saruman’s unimaginably great power (and his staff, without even touching it), Pippin still thinks there’s nothing major wrong with stealing the Palantír of Orthanc from a sleeping Gandalf’s arms just because he wants to look at it and considers it unfair for Gandalf to withhold the pretty crystal ball from him even though it was he, Pippin, who picked it up after Gríma Wormtongue had hurled it at them in the first place.
Also called the Firstborn or Elder Children of Ilúvatar (because they were created before the arrival of Men), the Elves first appeared at Cuiviénen, the Water of Awakening far to the east of Middle-earth on the shores of the Inland Sea of Helcar, during the time when Arda (outside of Aman) was still only illuminated by the stars put into the sky by Varda Elentári. For this, Varda was greatly admired and called Elbereth (“star lady”) by the Elves. The Elves’ collective name for themselves was Quendi (“speaking”); Oromë called them Eldar (“People of the Stars”). They were not immortal, although they might easily have been thought so because of their vastly longer life span and much slower process of aging than that of Men; but they were not immune to grief, nor to being killed by violence; and they might die of world-weariness after having inhabited Arda for several millennia, even if they had not been killed by violence before then.
Still at Cuiviénen, the Elves were likely first discovered by Melkor, who instilled a fear of the Valar in them and who also would seem to have proceeded to ensnare some of them and breed from them the creatures later known as Orcs. However, soon afterwards the Vala Oromë, the Great Hunter, also came across the Elves and persuaded them of his and the Valar’s friendly intentions.
The three Elvish ambassadors to Valinor and representatives of the three Kindreds, Ingwë, Finwë and Elwë (aka Elu Thingol)
(Art by Peter Xavier Price)
At Oromë’s urging and on the counsel of Ilúvatar, in order to protect the Elves from Melkor’s machinations, the Valar initiated the fight against Melkor that came to be known as the Battle of Powers, during which Arda (and Middle-earth in particular) was reshaped once more and took the form that it would keep until the end of the period known as the First Age. After the Valar had locked up Melkor in the Halls of Mandos for three ages, Oromë invited three Elf ambassadors (one representative of each of the three Kindreds) to Valinor and, through them, the Valar extended an invitation to all Elves to settle in Aman for their better protection. Most, but not all of the Elves followed that summons; later only those who had embarked on the Great Journey to the West — and their descendants — came to be known as Eldar, whereas those who had rejected the Valar’s invitation were called the Avari:
The Three Kindreds that set out from Cuiviénen were members of the Houses originating from the first three Elven fathers who had awoken in Cuiviénen; the Vanyar, the Ñoldor, and the Teleri:
Originally known as Minyar, “the First ones”, and 14 in number: the House tracing its roots back to the very first Elf couple awaking in Cuiviénen, Imin (“One”) and his wife Iminyë. However, it was not the first Elf-father but rather his grandson Ingwë whom Oromë chose as the first of the three Elf ambassadors to Valinor, and who became not only King of the Vanyar but High King of [all] the Elves.
The Vanyar, whose name translates as “The Fair (People)”, and none of whom remained behind in Middle-earth as part of the Avari, were the clan most eager to travel to Valinor and the first Kindred to reach the shores of Beleriand; they were ferried to Aman together with the Ñoldor on the first voyage of Ulmo’s island ferry Tol Eressëa.
Once in Aman, the Vanyar initially settled in the city of Tirion, a white-walled and diamond-and-crystal-adorned city on top of the green hill of Túna in the steep-walled valley of Calacirya (“The Cleft of Light”), the only pass through the Pelóri, the mountains guarding Aman’s eastern shores. In the centre of the city of Tirion grew the white tree Galathilion, created by Yavanna in the image of Telperion (except not light-giving like the latter), from whose seeds was grown another White Tree — Celeborn — on Tol Eressëa and from Celeborn, in turn, Nimloth of Númenor and the White Tree(s) of Gondor. In the center of Tirion, too, was the High King’s tower of Mindon Eldaliéva, built by Ingwë, whose silver lantern shone far out to sea.
Since the Vanyar, however, had a particular love for the light of the Two Trees, they eventually settled in the plains and woods of Valinor or on the slopes of Taniquetil, where Ingwë took residence beneath the halls of Manwë. The rule of Tirion passed to Finwë, first King of the Ñoldor, whose house was beneath the tower of Mindon Eldaliéva.
Marya Filatova: Indris
The Vanyar were particularly beloved by Manwë and noted for their golden hair and gift of poetry. The Vanya Indris — probably Ingwë’s niece –, the second wife of the Ñoldorin King Finwë and mother of his sons Fingolfin and Finarfin, passed on her golden hair to her second son Finarfin and, through him, to his children, including Galadriel and her brothers Finrod, Angrod and Aegnor.
Nearly all pure-blooded Vanyar decided to remain in Valinor, once they had arrived there; virtually the only occasion on which they returned to Middle-earth with the Host of Valinor was the War of Wrath, where their preferred weapon was the spear, rather than the sword or the bow (the weapons preferred by the other Kindreds of the Eldar).
Lords of the Ñoldor: Finwë (art by Kimberly80), Fëanor (art by Steamey), Fingolfin (source), Fingon (art by Niyochara), Turgon (source), Gil-galad, and Celebrimbor (source)
(Pronunciation / spelling note: In the legendarium’s internal context, the beginning of this group’s collective name was, initially and at least during the entire First Age, pronounced with a nasal “N” similar to “Ng”, which is traditionally rendered as “Ñ”. By the Third Age, this had morphed into a straight “N”, but since most of the noteworthy events of this Kindred’s history in Middle-earth occurred during the First Age — and most of their kin who were still in Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age were either born in the First Age (or even before), or at least at a time in the Second Age that makes it more likely that they would have recognized “Ñ” rather than “N” as the correct pronunciation –, for consistency’s sake I’m using the spelling associated with the original pronunciation throughout.
This approach also seems to me to be more reflective of the fact that in the legendarium’s external genesis, their name initially was “Gnomes” — not in the sense of the red-capped modern-day garden adornments, of course, but as in the Greek word “gnosis”, “knowledge”, consistent with the translation of their name as later given for Ñoldor, “the Knowledgeable”, or “the People of Knowledge”: in other words, from the first the name of this group did not begin with a straight “N”, but with a “Gn” phonetically contracted into “N”, which in turn, is likewise represented more completely in its inversion into “Ñ” instead of the use of a simple “N”.)
Originally known as Tatyar, “Seconds”, and 56 in number, the Ñoldor were descendants of the second Elf couple, Tata (“Two”) and his wife Tatië, whose descendant Finwë became the second Elf ambassador to Valinor chosen by Oromë. Upon Finwë’s return to Middle-earth, half of the Tatyar decided to join him on the Great Journey, whereas the other half stayed behind as part of the Avari. After the Eldar’s later return to Middle-earth, those Tatyarin Avari that had, in the interim, reached Beleriand grudgingly acknowledged their Ñoldorin kin, but they were not on friendly terms, as the Tatyarin Avari considered the Ñoldor arrogant and envied their much more illustrious standing and appearance.
Much of the history of the First Age is concerned with the Ñoldor and their — as well as the Sindar’s and the Edain’s (First-Age Men’s), but chiefly the Ñoldor’s — war against Morgoth, so it’s as well to get a handle on their genealogy to begin with:
Excerpt of a Tolkien legendarium family tree found in full HERE (minimally edited for display purposes).
The “♦” symbol appearing at the end of a vertical line (e.g., as shown leading down from Idril) does not mean “no issue”,
but “line continued in another part of the display” (not included in this excerpt).
The Ñoldor were the proudest of the Eldar and of striking appearance with their signature dark hair (usually dark brown or black, only occasionally red), from which the House of Finarfin alone formed a golden-haired, but not less striking exception as to physical appearance. They were also the greatest and most skilled craftsmen of all the Elves in both speech and crafts, and of a near-insatiable curiosity; in fact, their very name translates as “the Knowledgeable”. This made them great students of the Valar and of Aulë especially; the most gifted of them by far being Finwë’s son Fëanor, who used the craft he had learned from Aulë to create a set of three unique gems enclosing within them the light of the two Trees of Valinor, the Silmarils, as well as (probably) a set of “speaking stones” that could communicate with each other and show to those holding them places and events far removed, the Palantíri.
However, the Ñoldor’s manifold gifts also made them particularly susceptible to the machinations of Melkor, who hated them most of all the Elves. He first approached them under the guise of friendship, the more thoroughly to be able to betray them. But once he had gained their trust, he proceeded to sow conflict among them; and when Fëanor created the Silmarils, Melkor set his sights firmly on their possession. He engineered a dispute within Finwë’s family profound enough to bring about Fëanor’s banishment, who departed from Tirion accompanied by his father and his seven sons, whereas his half-brother Fingolfin (the older of the two sons of Finwë and his second wife Indris) — whom Fëanor disliked and mistrusted — became ruler in Tirion. After having killed the Two Trees of Valinor with the help of the giant spider Ungoliant and caused the Darkening of Valinor as a result, Melkor proceeded to Fëanor’s place of exile at Formenos (north of Tirion), where he killed Finwë and stole the Silmarils. Fëanor now claimed his father’s erstwhile kingship for himself and, along with his sons, swore vengeance, vowed to recover the Silmarils come who and what may, and cursed Melkor as Morgoth (“the Black Foe”) — the name by which Melkor was known ever after.
The Silmarils: made by Fëanor and stolen by Morgoth during the Darkening of Valinor
(Fëanor: art by Steamey — Silmarils: source — Melkor / Morgoth: art by Frédéric Bennett)
While there was some uncertainty among the Ñoldor whether Fëanor (the firstborn son) or Fingolfin (second-born, but appointed by the Valar even while Finwë had still been alive) had the greater claim to the kingship, most of them nevertheless decided to follow Fëanor on his campaign of revenge, including even Fingolfin himself and (initially) Finwë’s youngest son, Galadriel’s father Finarfin. The Ñoldor demanded the use of the ships that the Teleri (the final Elves to reach Aman) had built in order to travel from their first dwelling place off the Eastern shore of Aman — the former island ferry of Tol Eressëa, now anchored just outside the Bay of Eldamar — to Valinor; but the Teleri were unwilling to grant the Ñoldor’s request, as this would have meant going against the will of the Valar. Instead of giving up their ships, they attempted to persuade the Ñoldor to reconsider. The Ñoldor, however, angered by the Teleri’s response, started taking their ships by force, and a bitter fight ensued that came to be known as the First Kinslaying and during which many of the Teleri were killed. (There were two other Kinslayings in later years, both initiated by Fëanor’s sons, and because of the Three Kinslayings the Valar decreed that Fëanor’s descendants had foregone all right to the Silmarils.) Thereupon Manwë’s herald Eönwë delivered the Doom of Mandos: both a condemnation of the Ñoldor for the Kinslaying and a warning to them that their oath would betray them and they would come to great grief and to death. This caused some of the Ñoldor who, like Finarfin, had not participated in the Kinslaying, to return to Valinor, there to be forgiven by the Valar; they became known as the Amanyar (“those of Aman”). However, the vast majority of the Ñoldor marched on regardless, including besides Fëanor himself all of his sons, Fingolfin and his sons Fingon and Turgon, as well as Finarfin’s children Finrod, Galadriel, Angrod and Aegnor. They became known as the Etyañgoldi (the exiled Ñoldor).
Elena Kukanova: Finarfin bids farewell to his children
As foretold by Mandos, the Ñoldor’s pursuit of Morgoth was beset by grief and strife throughout. When they reached the north of Aman, Fëanor (fearing treachery), together with his sons and his most trusted followers, secretly departed in the ships appropriated from the Teleri, leaving Fingolfin and the rest of the Ñoldor to cross into Middle-earth via the inhospitable and fearsome polar desert of Helcaraxë. This of course only deepened the hostilities between the various Houses of the Ñoldor.
As it turned out, however, Fëanor never even lived to see most of the pursuit of Morgoth in Middle-earth. While the Ñoldor easily won their first battle against Morgoth, not long after their arrival in the northwestern regions of Hithlum and Mithrim (even though the battle had been initiated by a surprise attack launched by Morgoth’s forces), Fëanor was killed by a group of Balrogs, led by their lord Gothmog, only a short time later while attempting to press on directly towards Angband. After his death, his sons finally reconciled with the House of Fingolfin; a development considerably furthered by Maedhros‘s (Fëanor’s eldest son’s) rescue by Fingolfin’s son Fingon, with the assistance of Thorondor, the King of Eagles, after Morgoth had captured and chained Maedhros to the outer walls of Thangorodrim. Maedhros formally gave up his claim to kingship in favor of Fingolfin, who became the first High King of the Ñoldor in Middle-earth. The House of Fëanor, by contrast, subsequently became known as The Dispossessed.
After their return to Middle-earth, the Ñoldor spread out over Beleriand and the lands to the North: While Fingolfin remained in the northwestern region of Hithlum (“Mist-Shadow”), the first part of Middle-earth that the Ñoldor had reached, his elder son — and eventually, his successor as High King of the Ñoldor — Fingon took for himself the land of Dor-lómin, south of Hithlum (and like Hithlum entirely encased by fearsome chains of mountains), and his younger son Turgon, after having spent some time in Nevrast (southwest of Dor-Lómin) eventually founded the hidden city and kingdom of Gondolin in the mountains just east of the river Sirion.
Finarfin’s eldest son Finrod, with the help of Dwarves — who awarded him the honorific name Felagund, “Maker of Caves” –, built the hidden underground city of Nargothrond near the river Narog in West Beleriand, while Finrod’s younger brothers Angrod and Aegnor for a time held the highlands of Dorthonian, until those were taken by Morgoth and both Angrod and Aegnor were killed in the fourth of the five Battles of Beleriand fought between the Ñoldor and their Edain (First Age Men) allies and Morgoth; a confrontation known as Dagor Bragollach (“Battle of Sudden Flame”) for its initiation by the rivers of flame sent by Morgoth across the lands between Angband and Dorthonian.
A year into that same war and in an attempt to force a decision, Fingolfin made the fateful choice of riding up to the gates of Angband and challenging Morgoth to single combat: although during the ensuing duel Fingolfin’s sword, Ringil, wounded Morgoth seven times, Fingolfin was eventually crushed to death under Morgoth’s shield once he had begun to tire; and he died after having stabbed Ringil right through Morgoth’s foot a final time, causing the Dark Lord an injury that came to make him walk with a limp ever after.
Fingolfin’s elder son and successor Fingon, in turn, did not survive the fifth and final Battle of Beleriand (Nírnaeth Arnoediad, the “Battle of Unnumbered Tears”, for the heavy losses incurred by the Elves and their Edain allies), where he was killed by Gothmog, the lord of Balrogs. The name of the battle echoes the Doom of Mandos pronounced on the exiled Ñoldor, which had predicted that they would be brought to crying “unnumbered tears” if they persisted in their hunt for Morgoth.
Ñoldor of Gondolin: Turgon (source), the half-Ñoldo Maeglin (source), Ecthelion (by SaMo-art), and Glorfindel (by Magali Villeneuve)
Fingon’s younger brother Turgon, who had become High King of the Ñoldor after him, perished in the fall of Gondolin, after his own foster son Maeglin (the son of his sister Aredhel and the Dark Elf Eöl) had betrayed its long-hidden location to Morgoth. In the battle for Gondolin, its captain and Warden of the Gate Ecthelion killed, and was killed in turn, by Gothmog, the lord of the Balrogs. The captain of Gondolin, Glorfindel — a golden-haired warrior, so probably a member of the House of Finarfin — escorted Turgon’s daughter Idril and her Edain husband Tuor out of the city through a secret pathway. When they were ambushed, he, too, fought the Balrog leader of the ambushing party to their mutual death. (NB: In the Third Age, Frodo is rescued from the Nazgûl at the Ford of Bruinen by an Elf lord named Glorfindel, at that time Elrond’s second in command. According to Tolkien’s Last Writings, this is the same person, granted a quick return to the living in acknowledgement of his valor and returned to Middle-earth on a mission to assist the Elves (and Men) then still living there in their struggle with Sauron and to lend support to the Istari. — In the movies, of course, the issue doesn’t arise, because Frodo’s rescue is accomplished by Arwen.)
Finrod, in his turn, was imprisoned by Sauron after he and twelve companions had joined the lovers Beren (an Edain) and Lúthien (the daughter of the Sindarin Elf-king Thingol) in their own quest for the Silmarils; he wrestled to the death with a werewolf sent by Sauron to kill the captives one by one, in a failed attempt to coerce the remaining companions to reveal their identities and purpose.
As the fall of Gondolin had brought about the end of the House of Fingolfin with the death of both Turgon and his nephew Maeglin, the title of High King of the Ñoldor passed to the next House in the line of succession, that of Finarfin; not, however, to any of his sons (since Finrod had died on his mission with Beren, and his younger brothers Angrod and Aegnor had already been killed previously in the fourth Battle of Beleriand), nor to Angrod’s son Orodreth, who had become ruler of Nargothrond after Turgon, but had been killed when the city was sacked by a host of Morgoth’s minions led by the dragon Glaurung. So, the royal title passed instead to the last remaining direct male descendant of Finarfin in Middle-earth, Orodreth’s son (Finrod’s grand-nephew and Angrod’s grandson) Gil-galad, who after the Drowning of Beleriand at the end of the First Age founded a new Ñoldorin kingdom in Lindon (the remnant of Ossiriand). Gil-galad would remain King until his own death in the battle on the slopes of Mount Doom that was fought against Sauron by the Last Alliance between Elves and Men at the end of the Second Age (and which ended with Sauron’s loss of the One Ring at the hands of Isildur, wielding the sword Narsil; or rather, its hilt and upper shard).
The sons of Fëanor (art by Tuuliky)
Fëanor’s sons — Maedhros, Maglor, Celegorm, Caranthir, Curufin, Amrod and Amras –, after having renounced their claim to the kingship, had at first occupied various parts of East Beleriand, but they were driven out in the fifth and final Battle of Beleriand (Nírnaeth Arnoediad), and after that battle for a time they took to wandering the woods and plains of Ossiriand. Celegorm, Caranthir and Curufin were subsequently killed in a failed attempt to fulfill their ancient oath and regain the one Silmaril which Beren and Lúthien had, by this time, brought to the Sindarin kingdom of Doriath (a fight known as the Second Kinslaying). Fëanor’s youngest sons, the twins Amrod and Amras, died shortly thereafter in the Third Kinslaying, the worst of the three events thus named; also in a failed attempt to obtain this same Silmaril, which however was rescued from the Fëanorians and borne away by its then-keeper Elwing, the mother of Elrond and Elros. After the end of the War of Wrath and Morgoth’s downfall, Fëanor’s eldest and last-surviving sons Maedhros and Maglor finally did get their hands on the two remaining Silmarils, but their own deeds and the Doom of Mandos caught up with them, and the Silmarils burned their hands. Maedhros thereupon threw himself into a fiery chasm, and Maglor cast his Silmaril into the sea, where it disappeared.
Celebrimbor (art by Kapriss)
After the War of Wrath, many of the surviving Ñoldor returned to Valinor, accepting the pardon now issued by the Valar. Others, however, decided to remain in Middle-earth. These included Finarfin’s daughter Galadriel — who by this time had met her husband, the Sindarin / Telerin King Thingol’s grand-nephew Celeborn –, as well as Curufin’s son (Fëanor’s grandson), the jewelsmith Celebrimbor. The latter, drawn by the discovery of Mithril and the proximity and craftsmanship of the Dwarves, founded a Ñoldorin kingdom of his own named Eregion near the Walls of Moria, west of the Misty Mountains; his people were known as the Gwaith-i-Mírdain (“the People of the Jewelsmiths”), and their skill was renowned as the highest since the days of Fëanor. This of course drew Sauron’s attention, and he approached them in his apparently benevolent guise as Annatar (“Lord of Gifts”), eventually tricking them into creating the first sixteen Rings of Power (seven for the Dwarf-lords and nine for the Kings of Men). After Annatar / Sauron had departed from Eregion, Celebrimbor himself made the Three Rings of the Elves. However, when Sauron subsequently forged the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom, the bearers of the Elven Rings became aware of his doings and took off their Rings. This enraged Sauron and he proceeded to sack Eregion, but before he could do so — and torture and eventually kill Celebrimbor in the process –, the jewelsmith managed to secretly send the Elven Rings to the three greatest Eldar then in Middle-earth, Gil-galad, Galadriel, and Círdan, Lord of the Falathrim (Sindar / Teleri). Gil-galad later entrusted his ring, the sapphire ring Vilya (Ring of Air, the mightiest of the Three Elven Rings), to Elrond at the first meeting of the White Council; Círdan’s ring Narya (the Ring of Fire, set with a glowing ruby) eventually passed to the Istar (Wizard) Olórin, known in Middle-earth as Gandalf, predicting that the Wizard would be able to greatly draw on Narya’s inherent fire in days yet to come. (According to one version of the events, Narya, too, had first come to Gil-galad and had passed from him to Círdan.) — The third ring, Nenya (the Ring of Water, made of mithril and set with a white stone of diamond-like adamant), remained in Galadriel’s possession.
Galadriel and Celeborn, meanwhile, wandered across all of Middle-earth (as it had been reshaped by the Drowning of Beleriand) and came to be the surviving Elves best familiar with its geography and people. They first remained in Lindon, where Celeborn ruled the fiefdom of Harlindon south of the Golf of Lune (the location of the Grey Havens), which had formed when the waters had cleft apart the Blue Mountains. Then they crossed into Eriador — the northern part of the lands between the Blue Mountains and the Misty Moutains, where later (inter alia) the Shire and Bree were to be found –, where they lived in the country about Lake Nenuial (just north of the later location of the Shire), ruling the Eldar in Eriador, including the wandering companies of the native Nandor (Telerin Green-Elves and Wood-Elves). Yet later they removed to Eregion and stayed there for a time. Then Galadriel crossed the Misty Mountains and spent some time among the Galadhrim, Wood Elves living in a place then called Lindórinand (and later Lothlórien) just east of the mountains near the gates of Moria, whereas Celeborn stayed in Eregion until its sack, founding Rivendell (Imladris) together with Elrond on their retreat from the final battle. Galadriel and Celeborn then reunited in Rivendell and stayed there for a long time, but eventually resumed their wanderings, now making their way down to a place later known as Dol Amroth on the Bay of Belfalas (on the southern shores of what would become Gondor; the place would come to be named for the Elven-king drowned off its shores); there, their company was joined by many Silvan Elves (Wood Elves) from Lothlórien. At last departing from Belfalas, Galadriel and Celeborn spent a long time exploring Rhovanion — the overall name by which the lands east of the Misty Mountains were known — from the south all the way to the Mirkwood in the north, and then returned once more to Rivendell, where Elrond had remained since its foundation, and where he now married their daughter Celebrian. When the last Sindarin king of Lothlórien (Amroth) died, drowning in the Bay of Belfalas, Celeborn and Galadriel finally made their home with the Galadhrim and became their new rulers, renouncing the titles of King and Queen and becoming known as the Lord and Lady of Lothlórien instead.
Two years after the War of the Ring, Galadriel sailed to the Undying Lands together with the two Hobbit Ring-bearers Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, as well as her son-in-law Elrond and Gandalf. — Celeborn, together with Thranduil, the Elvenking of Mirkwood, renamed that wood Eryn Lasgalen (“Wood of Greenleaves”, similar to its original name, “Eryn Galen”, “Greenwood”) and partitioned it into three thirds, the northernmost of which was kept by Thranduil, while the central part was given to the Beornings (the people of Beorn the skin-changer), and Celeborn founded the new province of East Lórien in the southernmost part of the wood; the area to which had belonged Sauron’s (“the Necromancer’s”) erstwhile stronghold of Dol Guldur, which the Elves had destroyed during the War of the Ring. However, Celeborn only remained in East Lórien for a short time, then he retired to Rivendell to stay with his grandsons, the sons of Elrond and Celebrian (Celeborn and Galadriel’s daughter), before boarding the Last Ship out of Middle-earth together with Círdan the Shipwright.
Haldir: one of the Galadhrim (Wood-Elves of Lothlórien)
Originally known as Nelyar, “Thirds”, and 74 in number: descendants of the third Elf-father, Enel (“Three”) and his wife Enelyë. The Teleri were dark- or silver-haired and particularly gifted as singers, which is reflected in another name of theirs, Lindar, and in the alternative name of Lindon given to one of their main areas of settlement, Ossiriand. Moreover, they were gifted silversmiths; in fact, they preferred silver over gold and even the Ñoldor envied their silverwork.
The Telerin lord Elwë (later and probably better known by his Sindarin name Elu Thingol) was the third ambassador invited to Valinor by Oromë. Upon his return from Valinor, most of his people agreed to join him on the Great Journey, but 28 refused and became part of the Avari. (In later years — after the Eldars’ return from Valinor — the Nelyarin Avari, unlike the Tatyar, maintained friendly relations with the Eldar, showing a willingness to learn from them and (re)establishing a feeling of kinship. Especially in Eriador and the Vales of Anduin, Nelyarin Avari often merged with the Eldar of Middle-earth.)
The 46 Nelyar that did embark on the Great Journey were the slowest to make it to the shores of Beleriand; therefore they came to be known as Teleri (“Last-Comers” or “Hindmost”). However, by far not all of the 46 firstborn Teleri who had set out to travel to Valinor made it there in the end:
The Nandor: Green-Elves and Wood-Elves
A first group abandoned the Great Journey near river Anduin, whose wild waters they were reluctant to cross, and headed south instead. They were called the Nandor (“those who turn back”) and later split once more into two groups: those that, due to the green camouflage which they assumed after the first Battle of Beleriand, came to be known as Laiquendi or Laegil (Green-Elves) — these eventually had crossed the Misty Mountains and settled in Ossiriand; however, after the first Battle of Beleriand many of them joined with Thingol’s reunited Sindar –; and the Silvan or Wood-Elves, who scattered and primarily settled in the Woodland Realm of Mirkwood and L(othl)órien, east of the Misty Mountains. The Elves of Lórien came to be known as Galadhrim (“Tree-people”), because rather than building houses on the ground they lived on huge platforms (known as “flets” or “telain”) in the crowns of the golden mallorn trees unique to their realm.
Notable Wood-Elves of the Second and Third Age were the Elvenking of Mirkwood, Thranduil (believed to have been at the beginning of the Second Age) and his son Legolas, who at the end of the Third Age would become a member of the Fellowship of the Ring. (In contrast to Thranduil and Legolas, Tauriel (“Daughter of the Forest”) isn’t canonical within the legendarium, but I like her … and I’d like to believe Tolkien would have, too.) Loving and knowledgeable of nature and all of its creatures, the Wood Elves were not the first to rush into battle, but they fought bravely if called upon to do so. Thranduil led the Elves of Mirkwood in the Battle of the Five Armies near the Lonely Mountain, and Legolas, as a member of the Fellowship of the Ring, participated in several battles of the War of the Ring. (Though contrary to what we see in the movies, no other Elves are noted to have been present at the Battle of Helm’s Deep.) Both when hunting and when fighting, the Wood Elves’ preferred weapon was the bow and arrow.
Sindar of the First Age: Thingol (art by Kimberly), Lúthien (art by Aerankai), and Círdan (source)
The next sundering of the Teleri occurred when the company that had set out on the Great Journey to Valinor had reached the forest of Nan Elmoth on the banks of the river Celon, above Estolad in East Beleriand. There, while wandering in the forest, Elwë (Elu Thingol) met the Maia named Melian … as a result of which he vanished for the next several years or more and his remaining people had to decide whether to follow his younger brother Olwë to Valinor or remain in Beleriand. The King’s close friends and relations chose to stay behind and search for him, coming to be known as the Eglath (“Forsaken”), as they had chosen to abandon the journey.
Of the Teleri who continued their journey, a further group (known as Falathrim, or “Coast People”) ended up staying behind on the shores of Beleriand, where they had formed a friendship with the Maia Ossë, the chief follower and assistant of Ulmo, while waiting for Ulmo’s island ferry (which had departed on its first journey while they were still on their way to the coast). One of the greatest of the Falathrim was Elwë (Elu Thingol)’s kinsman Nowë, later and better known as Círdan the Shipwright, who had profited from Ossë’s teachings more than all of the others. He would survive the wars and battles of all Three Ages of Middle-earth and in the Third Age thus came to be one of the few pre-First Age Elves still remaining there; unlike Galadriel, he was even one of those born / awakened at Cuiviénen before the beginning of the Great Journey. It was Círdan, too, who eventually built the ships eventually ferrying the Elves still remaining in Middle-earth to Valinor on their final journey at the end of the Third Age and in the early years of the Fourth Age.
Elena Kukanova: Melian and Thingol
After Thingol and Melian had emerged from their prolongued mutual enchantment, Thingol appeared taller and even nobler than he had been before and now almost resembled a Maia more than an Elf. He reunited the Eglath and the Falathrim, who collectively became known as Sindar (“Grey People”, possibly for their silver hair, possibly for the grey cloaks they frequently wore), and who after the first Battle of Beleriand were joined by many of the surviving Nandor of Ossiriand. Having suffered many losses in the first Battle of Beleriand, Thingol founded the kingdom of Doriath (“Guarded Realm”) in the woodlands surrounding his Dwarf-built underground capital of Menegroth (“the Thousand Caves”); the realm owed its name to the fact that Melian had hidden it from outsiders by surrounding it with a spell operating as an impenetrable girdle (“the Girdle of Melian”). Even ruling from inside a hidden kingdom, Thingol was acknowledged as High King of all the Teleri in Beleriand. — Those of the Sindar who lived inside the girdle of Doriath were also known as the Iathrim (“People of the Fence”). The Sindar were widely considered the fairest, wisest, and most skilful of all the Elves of Middle-earth.
Thingol had only engaged with Morgoth in open battle once, in the first Battle of Beleriand (victoriously, but at a cost heavy enough to make him decide to retreat into Doriath forever after); and he had the Ñoldor’s surprise return to Middle-earth to thank for getting Morgoth’s Orcs temporarily off the backs of the Falathrim, who continued to live outside of Doriath. Nevertheless he resented the return of the haughty Ñoldor, mistrusted them and refused them permission to settle in the parts of Beleriand under his control — other than Hithlum and Dorthonion –, even before he had learned the truth about the First Kinslaying. He later established a more trusting relationship with Nargothrond and Gondolin; however, his ban of Quenya (the Elvish spoken by the Ñoldor) in Beleriand contributed to the fact that Sindarin became the common Elvish language of Middle-earth.
Thingol was killed by Dwarves and Menegroth was subsequently sacked, late in the First Age, following a dispute over a necklace known as the Nauglamír, into which the Dwarves — at Thingol’s request — had set the only Silmaril recovered from Morgoth at this point, the one reclaimed by Thingol’s daughter Lúthien and her beloved Beren as a price for Thingol’s consent to their marriage.
Elena Kukanova: Eöl
An outsider even among the Teleri of the First Age was Eöl, the Dark Elf of Nan Elmoth, who lived alone, although he was of Thingol’s kin. He maintained friendly relations with the Dwarves and learned much of their smithcraft, eventually forging two black swords from meteoritic iron that he named Anglachel (“iron-flame”) and Anguirel (“iron-of-the-fiery-star”); the first of these blades later became better known as Túrin Turambar’s unlucky sword Gurthang (“death-iron”).
Eöl’s doom came in the form of a Ñoldorin princess, Turgon’s sister Aredhel, with whom he fell in love when she strayed into Nan Elmoth, and whom he (as good as) abducted and kept as a virtual prisoner, forbidding her ever to leave Nan Elmoth. Aredhel bore him a son whom she named Maeglin, and with whom she was at last able to flee back to Gondolin. Eöl, having followed them and having tried to kill his son rather than leave without him, instead killed Aredhel when she threw herself into the path of his poisoned javelin; for this he was sentenced to death. Maeglin, in turn, was raised by Turgon as his foster son, but while he grew to be a warrior, he was quick-tempered and his jealousy was easily aroused; and it was ultimately his treason which led to Gondolin’s downfall.
Ted Nasmith: The Ships of the Teleri drawn by Swans, and The Kinslaying at Alqualondë
So it was that, after the Nandor, the Eglath, and the Falathrim had decided to remain in Middle-earth after all, only 20 of the Teleri who had set out from Cuiviénen eventually did reach Valinor. These came to be known as the Falmari (“Wave Folk”), and initially continued to live on the island ferry, which Ulmo had anchored just off the Bay of Eldamar, and renamed it Tol Eressëa (“The Lonely Island”). Eventually, helped by Ulmo’s follower Ossë, they built ships to travel to the coasts of Aman, where they built the great city of Alqualondë (“Haven of the Swans”, for the birds that had helped ferrying them across the Sundering Seas) and united with the other Elves in Valinor.
However, after Melkor’s theft of the Silmarils and the First Kinslaying over the Ñoldor’s demand of use of the Teleri’s ships, relations between the Ñoldor and the Teleri soured, and the embittered Teleri later refused to join the host of Valinor that embarked on the War of Wrath at the end of the First Age. It would take a long time for the Teleri to forgive the Ñoldor and for the two Kindreds to reestablish peaceful relations.
At the end of the Third Age, the most significant Telerin communities remaining in Middle-earth were the Silvan Elves of Mirkwood, the Falathrim led by Círdan the Shipwright, and the Galadhrim of Lothlórien, the latter at this time no longer ruled by one of their own but by the Ñoldorin princess Galadriel and her Sindarin (Telerin) husband Celeborn, styled as Lord and Lady of Lothlórien.
Elrond, founder of Imladris (Rivendell) together with Galadriel’s husband Celeborn, was heir to the royal lines of both the Ñoldor and the Sindar; as well as heir to all three Houses of the Edain (First-Age Men allied with the Elves):
The title of High-king of the Ñoldor had not been claimed by anyone after the death of Gil-galad; however, the line of the House of Fingolfin continued in Elrond, because his grandmother Idril (the mother of Eärendil the Mariner) was Fingolfin’s granddaughter, the daughter of his younger son Turgon.
At the same time, Elrond’s mother Elwing was the great-granddaughter of the Sindarin King Thingol (the granddaughter of Thingol’s daughter Lúthien and her husband Beren).
In addition, Elrond counted among his ancestors some of the greatest heroes of the Edain: He was the son of Eärendil the Mariner and the grandson of Eärendil’s father Tuor (in turn, related to both the Haladrim — the Second House — and the Third House, the House of Hador), while his maternal great-grandfather was Lúthien’s husband Beren, the last male representative of the First House, the House of Bëor.
Lastly, by marrying Galadriel and Celeborn’s daughter Celebrian, Elrond added yet another royal Ñoldorin line (that of Finarfin) to the heritage which he himself passed on to his twin sons Elladan and Elrohir and his daughter Arwen; as did Arwen, eventually, to her children and further descendants from her marriage to Aragorn. Unlike Elrond, however, who left Middle-earth for Valinor two years after the end of the War of the Ring, Arwen herself remained in Middle-earth, having chosen the life of a mortal woman in order to be able to wed Aragorn.
Sources: http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Elrond and http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Idril
Calaquendi vs. Moriquendi
The term Calaquendi (“Elves of the Light” or “Light-elves”), referred to those Elves who had seen the light of the Two Trees of Valinor. Also called High Elves or Tareldar in the lore of the Dúnedain (Second- and Third-Age Men; the former inhabitants of Númenor and their descendants), the Calaquendi include the Vanyar, the Ñoldor, and those Teleri (the Falmari) who had crossed the Sundering Seas on Ulmo’s island ferry, as well as the Sindarin King Thingol (alone of all his people), because he had been an ambassador to Valinor before the Elves’ migration. Another name for the Calaquendi — here with the exception of Thingol — was Amanyar (“Those of Aman”).
Those of the Elves who refused the summons of the Valar or did not complete the Great Journey to Valinor were called the Úmanyar (“Not of Aman”; comprising the Sindar and the Nandor) or the Moriquendi (“Dark Elves”, as they had not seen the light of The Trees; this latter term typically comprised the Avari in addition to the Sindar and the Nandor). King Elu Thingol of Doriath was unique in belonging both to the Calaquendi and to the Úmanyar / Moriquendi, as he had seen the light of the Trees as one of the ambassadors invited to Aman by Oromë, but ended up not returning to Aman during the Great Journey.
The High Elves temporarily returned to Middle-earth because of events such as the Exile of the Ñoldor, the Battles of Beleriand, etc.; however, by the later Third Age, most of them resided in or had returned to Aman, with only a few of them remained in Middle-earth (at least some in Rivendell). Thus, almost all of the Elves active in the War of the Ring and its antecedents (such as the events told in The Hobbit) were Moriquendi, including but not limited to Legolas, his father Thranduil, Tauriel and the other Silvan Elves of Mirkwood, as well as Celeborn, Haldir, and the Galadhrim of Lothlórien. Círdan the Shipwright was the oldest Elf still alive at the time, but Sindar and hence, likewise Moriquendi. Elrond was heir to both the royal line of the Ñoldor (High Elves / Calaquendi) and that of the Sindar (Moriquendi); the same was true of course for his children, including Arwen, whose affiliation with both royal Elven lines was fortified through their mother Celebrian (through her own mother Galadriel a descendant of the Ñoldor (High Elvish) line of Finarfin and through her father Celeborn — Thingol’s grand-nephew — a descendant of the royal Sindarin line (Moriquendi)). This, in turn, made the Ñoldorin princess Galadriel, the Lady of Lothlórien, the only High Elf known to have had a hand in the events associated with the War of the Ring.
Almost all of the Elves remaining at the end of the Third Age returned to Valinor with the last ship built by Círdan the Shipwright that sailed at some unknown point (probably: fairly early) in the Fourth Age; only individual remnants of the Silvan Elves of Lothlórien are believed to have stayed behind after that.
A Summary Timeline:
The Dwarves didn’t owe their existence to Ilúvatar but to Aulë: Anticipating and increasingly impatient for the arrival of the Children of Ilúvatar (Elves and Men), he decided to go ahead and just do his own thing, so as to have a group of his own to whom he could teach his many skills and arts. Ilúvatar eventually agreed to grant the Dwarves life and include them in his plan for Arda, but he made Aulë send them to sleep far apart from one another, deep underground, until after the arrival of his own Children, or at least the Elder / Firstborn of those, the Elves. So, the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves created by Aulë slept through many ages until after the awakening of the Elves. Almost all the Dwarves of the legendarium known by name descended from the eldest of the Seven Fathers, Durin the Deathless.
Probably fairly soon (in “creation of the world” terms, that is) after their awakening, Durin the Deathless founded Khazad-dûm (“Dwarf-Mansion”, later called Moria) in the Misty Mountains, which subsequently became the Dwarves’ main stronghold and citadel. As it was the only known source of mithril in Middle-earth, Khazad-dûm could not fail to become spectacularly wealthy. However, like the Elves (though independently of them), the Dwarves also crossed the Blue Mountains into Beleriand well before the beginning of the First Age, probably during the second age of the captivity of Melkor. Rather than actually settling in Beleriand itself, however, they built two mighty fortress-cities in the Blue Mountains; Gabilgathol (“Great Fortress”) to the north and Tumunzahar (“Hollowbold” or “Hollow Dwelling”) to the south, both better known by the Elvish versions of their names, Belegost and Nogrod (whose name was later modified into Naugrod, “Dwarf Bold” or “Dwarf Dwelling”). The Dwarves also built a long road running westwards out of the Blue Mountains and along the course of the river Ascar, crossing into East Beleriand at Sarn Athrad. When Belegost and Nogrod were destroyed at the end of the First Age, Dwarves from these two cities sought refuge in Khazad-dûm, which thus gained even more in importance than it had held before.
Having created them at a time when the world outside Aman was under the dominion of Melkor, Aulë had made the Dwarves sturdy and hard, so as to be better able to to survive the dangers and hardships of that time. While their loyalty and friendship, once gained, was firm and steadfast, they were also excessively proud and quickly insulted; and their enmity was long-lasting and difficult to overcome. The Dwarves’ underground lifestyle gave them a tendency towards stubbornness and secrecy; they kept themselves apart from the other peoples of Middle-earth, and their language, Khuzdul, was a closely guarded secret. So were their true names, which they told to none but themselves; to all others, they were only known by the names given to them by Elves and Men, and these are also the only names by which they are known in the legendarium. In fact, not even the names of all of their first Kings are known. (Among the words that are known of their language, however, is the term “Khazad”, which means “Dwarf”.)
Like all of Aulë’s students, the Dwarves were quick to learn new skills and crafts. They particularly loved and instinctively understood everything associated with smithcraft and stoneworking; and they mined and worked metals throughout the mountains of Middle-earth, initially chiefly copper and iron, though they became increasingly proficient in gold- and silverwork and even more famous for the the mithril which they found and wrought in the mines of Khazad-dûm.
Sergio Artigas: The Seven Houses of the Khazad
The oldest of the seven clans of the Dwarves, founded by Durin the Deathless was referred to as Durin’s Folk or, in Elvish, the Anfangrim (“(Host of) Longbeards“). To them belonged all of the Dwarves mentioned in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
The First-Age strongholds of Nogrod and Belegost, however, were not founded by the Longbeards (residents of Khazad-dûm / Moria), but by two other clans known as the Firebeards and the Broadbeams; though remnants of both these joined the Longbeards in Khazad-dûm after the destruction of their cities in the War of Wrath. — The other four Dwarf clans, all of whom lived farther east, were the Ironfists, the Stiffbeards, the Blacklocks, and the Stonefoots.
Azaghâl was the First-Age lord of Belegost; probably the chief of the Broadbeams (the House mainly associated with Belegost; though there is no clear-cut separation between these and the Firebeards, and at least initially Dwarves of both Houses seem to have lived in both locations).
Besides having been the first owner of the Dragon-helm of Dor-lómin, which later came to even greater fame as a piece of Túrin Turambar’s body armor, Azaghâl was chiefly noted for his great battle ax, which he carried into the fifth Battle of Beleriand (the Nírnaeth Arnoediad) on the side of the Sons of Fëanor. Covering the Ñoldorin lords’ retreat, Azaghâl and his Dwarves surrounded the dragon Glaurung — the greatest of the many terrors unleashed by Morgoth in this battle — and kept striking him with their axes. They in fact did manage to injure the dragon, as his scales were not yet hardened enough to make him completely immune to the Dwarvish blades; however, in his rage he struck down Azaghâl and crushed him to death by crawling over him. With his last bit of strength, the Dwarf-lord stuck a knife into Glaurung’s belly and thus wounded him seriously enough to make him flee, followed by many of the monsters from Angband that he had led into battle, while Azaghâl’s body was carried off the battlefield by his people with great pomp and dignity.
Donata Giancola: Telchar forging Narsil
Telchar was a Dwarf of Nogrod; and the greatest and most renowned weaponsmith of the First Age, as well as one of the (if not the) greatest weaponsmith(s) of the entire history of Middle-earth. He was an apprentice of Gamil Zirak, himself also a craftsman of great renown, whose work was to be found, among other exalted places, in the treasuries of Elu Thingol, King of Doriath.
Among Telchar’s masterpieces were Elendil’s sword Narsil (the sword that, even when broken, still cut off Sauron’s finger with the One Ring on it), Beren’s dagger Angrist (which he used to cut a Silmaril off Morgoth’s iron crown), and the Dragon Helm of Dor-lómin, which was first owned by Azaghâl, the lord of Belegost, but even more so came to be Túrin Turambar’s signature piece of armament next to his black sword Gurthang.
Descended from the oldest and most long-lived of the seven Fathers of the Dwarves, the Longbeards, aka Durin’s Folk, were — if not already in the First Age, at any rate in the Second and Third Ages — the most prestigious of all Houses of the Dwarves.
The main strand of Durin’s Folk,
including those members of Thorin Oakenshield’s company that were related to the royal line of succession.
Durin the Deathless
Left: Durin the Deathless (art by FrerinHagsolb); right: the Doors of Moria (Khazad-dûm)
The eldest of the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves and the first one be created by Aulë: After he had awoken from the sleep into which Aulë had sent him at Ilúvatar’s command, he journeyed southward from the place of his awakening, Mount Gundabad, an isolated mountain just east to the northernmost poart of the Misty Mountains and west of the Grey Mountains), which as Durin’s (de-facto) birthplace thereafter was held sacred by the Dwarves. He eventually came upon the Mirrormere, the lake in Azanulbizar (the valley on the eastern flanks of the Misty Mountains on the way to Lothlórien), which the Dwarves would come to call Kheled-zâram (“Glass-Lake”). Reflected in the lake’s surface, he saw a constellation of mysterious stars, which he took as a sign, and there founded the city of Khazad-dûm (called Moria by the Elves), tunnelled across the heart of the Misty Mountains. The constellation of stars, in turn, came to be known as Durin’s Crown, and it could be seen ever after by anyone looking into the lake, while at the same time the face of the person looking into the waters was not reflected at all. The constellation is pictured at the top of the image carved in mithril into the secret Gates of Moria.
Durin lived to a great age even by Dwarf reckoning, but although he was called the Deathless, he was not immortal. He died some time before the end of the First Age, but the line of the Kings of Durin’s Folk founded by him extended all the way down through the history of Middle-earth, until the end of the Third Age and, at least for a time, even beyond. He also passed on his name, which possibly simply means “King”, to the first six of his known successors (however, the names and identities of most of those who ruled the Dwarves after him throughout the First Age are not known).
Durin accepts the Ring (art by Torgeir Fjereide)
Other than the fact that it may simply mean “king”, Durin III — like all Dwarven-kings bearing the name of the Father of the Longbeards — earned his name for his great resemblance to Durin the Deathless, both in his appearance and his manner; to the point that the Dwarves held all of their kings bearing this name to be reincarnations of the Father of Durin’s Folk himself.
Durin III was the ruler of Khazad-dûm at the time of Sauron’s Second-Age assault on Eregion, the land just to the west of the Misty Mountains near the mines of Moria, which was then ruled by Fëanor’s grandson Celebrimbor. At that time, the Ñoldor of Eregion and the Dwarves of Moria had formed a friendship inspired by their mutual appreciation of mithril and both peoples’ great skill and interest in everything related to smithcraft. When Celebrimbor began forging the Rings of Power, he gave the first of the Seven Rings for the Dwarven-kings to Durin III; it therefore came to be known as Durin’s Ring and was thereafter passed down as a royal heirloom to all future rulers of Durin’s Folk. (Though an alternative piece of lore holds that it was Sauron who gave the Ring to Durin, after having tortured the locations of all Seven Rings out of Celebrimbor first.)
When Sauron attacked Eregion, the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm came to the aid of the Ñoldor, but although their assistance would allow Elrond and Celeborn to escape to the north and, having come across a secret passage in the Misty Mountains, there eventually found Imladris (Rivendell), even the combined forces of Elves and Dwarves were not able to prevent the fall of Eregion. The Dwarves withdrew into Moria and shut its gates; and they were too numerous and too fierce fighters, and the halls of Moria were too deep and too strong, to be conquered by Sauron. However, the Dark Lord’s servants also invaded Gundabad and the Grey Mountains, which caused all communication between Khazad-dûm and the Longbeards’ colonies in the Iron Hills, established in the First Age, to be cut off. For the same reason, the alliance then existing between the Dwarves and the Northmen of Rhovanion came to an end at this point.
Durin VI (by Narog-art)
A Third-Age king and, like all Kings of the Khazad bearing his name, held to be a reincarnation of the Father of the Longbeards, Durin the Deathless, due to their great resemblence in manners and appearance.
It was towards the end of his reign that the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm, mining for mithril, awoke the Balrog hidden deep beneath the halls and mines of Moria. This caused the monster to go on a rampage in the Dwarven city, and in the process to kill King Durin — for which the surviving Dwarves, unsure of its nature, named the Balrog “Durin’s Bane” — and, subsequently, also his son Náin I: losses dear enough to cause the Longbeards to abandon their ancestral stronghold and seek a new home elsewhere.
The second of the known Dwarven-kings not to be called Durin: After the Balrog called Durin’s Bane had earned its name by killing first King Durin VI and then his short-lived son and successor Náin I, it was Nain’s son Thráin I who led a large party of his people out of Khazad-dûm and into the northern part of Rhovanion, the land east of the Misty Mountains, where they eventually founded a new Dwarf-kingdom below Erebor, the Lonely Mountain above the Long Lake, and Thráin I was the first Dwarf King to be styled King Under the Mountain.
Dwarf of the Grey Mountains
The son of Thráin I, who succeeded his father at the latter’s death. Realizing that right about this time many previously scattered Dwarves, who had left Khazad-dûm but not joined the new settlement under the Lonely Mountain, had instead begun to make their new home in the ore-rich Ered Mithrin (Grey Mountains) further north, Thorin eventually abandoned the Lonely Mountain to likewise join his people in the Grey Mountains. After his time there was no King under the Mountain for almost half a millennium, until the Lonely Mountain was resettled by Thorin’s late-Third-Age-descendant Thrór.
By the time that Thrór ascended the throne in the waning days of the Third Age, the northern mountains were increasingly harassed by dragons. So Thrór decided to lead his people back to the Lonely Mountain, while his younger brother Grór formed another new Dwarf settlement with the remainder of their people further east in the Iron Hills. Some two centuries into Thrór’s reign, the Lonely Mountain was attacked and the Dwarven settlement destroyed by the dragon Smaug. Thrór, his son Thráin and his grandson Thorin escaped and, after long wanderings in the wild, eventually reached the Dwarven stronghold of old, Khazad-dûm. This, however, had in the interim been occupied by Orcs, and setting out to explore its halls, Thrór died at the hands of their leader, Azog the Defiler.
Thráin succeeded his father and saw his death avenged in the defeat of Azog’s band of Orcs in the Battle of Azanulbizar beneath the eastern gate of Moria; during that battle, Azog himself was killed by the son of Thráin’s cousin Náin, the future King Under the Mountain Dáin II Ironfoot. The Dwarves nevertheless decided not to attempt to resettle in Khazad-dûm at that point, as it had clearly become unsafe.
Having lived in Dunland, just west of the Misty Mountains and north of Isengard, for some time, Thráin eventually decided to move to the Blue Mountains on the western borders of Eriador, where his company gradually prospered and increased. Later he sought to return to the Lonely Mountain and set out to go there on an exploratory mission, together with a small number of companions. However, wandering in the wilds of Mirkwood, he was captured by Sauron and taken to the dungeons of Dol Guldur, where Sauron took away the Dwarven Ring of Power that he had inherited from his forefathers, Durin’s Ring, and tortured him for five years. This, and his growing despair, over time caused Thráin to lose his memory, to the point that he even forgot his own name. He did, however, hold on to the key to the side door of the Lonely Mountain and the map that he had received from his father Thrór; and when Gandalf came across him in the pits of Dol Guldur, he handed these over to the Wizard after the latter had promised to keep them safe until he would be able to pass them on to Thráin’s son Thorin. Having received that promise, Thráin died.
Thorin II Oakenshield
The son of Thráin II, who ruled as King in the Blue Mountains for many years; his epithet derived from his use of a large oaken branch as a shield during the Battle of Azanulbizar.
Having received from Gandalf his father’s final gifts — the map and the key to the side door of the Lonely Mountain –, he, too, at last determined to return to the place that, to him, was both birthplace and birthright, exactly 100 years after his father’s failed exploratory mission. Accompanied by Gandalf and having grudgingly, at Gandalf’s insistence, hired the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins as a “burglar”, whose services were to be instrumental in recovering the prize piece among the Dwarves’ treasures now guarded (and slept upon) by the dragon Smaug, the Arkenstone (a huge, unusually brilliant white jewel), he led a band of twelve companions into the east of Middle-earth, beyond the Misty Mountains.
An apparently fairly minor (albeit scary) incident along the way would prove the key moment that, a generation later, would initiate the War of the Ring, when fleeing from Goblintown in the caves and tunnels underneath the Misty Mountains north of Rivendell, Bilbo encountered Gollum and found the One Ring. The only member of the company sensing that this discovery had far greater implications than apparent on the surface was Gandalf, who decided to find out everything he could about Bilbo’s discovery as soon as possible. Yet, for the moment this would have to wait, because there were even more pressing things on the Wizard’s hands: Once their company had, helped by the Great Eagles, safely made it through the mountains and into the Vales of Anduin, Gandalf departed from them to join the White Council’s attack on Sauron’s nearby stronghold of Dol Guldur, carefully coordinated with Thorin and company’s mission to reclaim Erebor, so as to prevent Sauron and Smaug to come to each other’s assistance. However, the Wizard resolved to make his way to Erebor after the conclusion of the attack on Dol Guldur, and to also turn his attention to the Ring found by Bilbo as soon as he might.
Thorin’s company, meanwhile, reached the Lonely Mountain after many further adventures, including run-ins with both the giant spiders and the Elves of Mirkwood; and they gained access to the Dwarves’ ancient home through its concealed side door. Exploring the dragon’s lair in fulfillment of his mission as a “burglar” and after narrowly escaping the accidentally awakened dragon’s teeth, Bilbo goaded Smaug into revealing the vulnerable spot on the underside of his body. He subsequenlty also found the Arkenstone, but decided to keep it hidden from Thorin, who at this point was beginning to show signs of “dragon sickness”, the much-feared ailment constituting a risk for any Dwarf ruler sharing the same space with huge hordes of gold and a dragon (and probably either caused or exacerbated by the possession of Durin’s Ring or another one of the seven Dwarven Rings of Power, which all were under the One Ring’s control, and which kindled the Dwarves’ inborn greed, especially that of their rulers).
The Dwarves succeeded in driving Smaug out of the Lonely Mountain, and in his wrath he torched the nearby settlement of Lake-town; the only settlement of Men still existing in the area at that time. However, in attacking the town Smaug was killed by Bard the bowman, heir to the erstwhile Lords of Dale, a now-abandoned city that had been Smaug’s first target besides the Lonely Mountain after the dragon’ arrival in the area several centuries earlier. Bard killed Smaug using the Black Arrow that he had inherited from his forefathers, and which he had come to trust never to fail him, after having learned about Smaug’s vulnerable spot from a thrush, which in turn had learned about it by listening to Bilbo’s conversation with the Dwarves.
Instead of Thorin, Bilbo revealed to Gandalf (who had returned just in time) and to Thranduil and Bard that he had found the Arkenstone. A great battle — known as the Battle of the Five Armies — ensued for possession of the Lonely Mountain and the Arkenstone, and for the future of Lake-town, between Thorin’s company, a Dwarf army from the Iron Mountains coming to their support and led by Thorin’s cousin Dáin Ironfoot, the people of Lake-town, Thranduil’s Elven army of Mirkwood, and a horde of Orcs led by Bolg, son of Azog the Defiler, who had killed Thorin’s grandfather Thrór. (Or in the movies, both Azog and Bolg’s horde — but according to the actual legendarium as set out in writing, Azog had already died at this point, having already been killed during the Battle of Azanulbizar.) The arrival of the Orcs caused the other forces to ally against them; and thanks to the arrival of the Great Eagles and the skin-changer Beorn, whom Thorin’s company had first encountered before entering Mirkwood, the battle ended with the Orcs’ destruction. However, during the battle Thorin was mortally wounded (in the book we never learn precisely how; the movie version, he was killed by Azog in a single combat that ended with both of their deaths); and he was buried next to his ancestors under the Lonely Mountain, with his sword Orcrist on his breast and with the Arkenstone in his hands.
Dáin II Ironfoot
As Thorin’s nephews Fili and Kili, who had been among his twelve companions, were likewise killed in the Battle of the Five Armies, the line of Kingship passed to Dáin, who was a descendant of Grór, the younger brother of Thorin’s grandfather Thrór; and who had avenged Thrór’s death by killing his murderer Azog during the Battle of Azanulbizar. Dáin Ironfoot ruled in prosperity as King under the Mountain for many years until the time of the War of the Ring, during which he died in the Battle of Dale, and was succeeded by his son Thorin III Stonehelm.
The known line of the Kings belonging to Durin’s Folk ended in the Fourth Age with a last king of that name, though probably not an immediate descendant of Thorin Stonehelm.
Three other Dwarves need to be mentioned; all likewise members of Durin’s Folk and related to the royal line, though too far removed from the line of succession to have realistic expectations of Kingship themselves.
Like his father Fundin, who had been killed in the Battle of Azanulbizar, Balin was a member of the company of King Thráin II. After the Dwarves had decided once again to leave Moria behind, Balin followed Thráin and, later, his son Thorin to all of their various settlements in exile, from Moria to Dunland and the Blue Mountains; and he was also a member of Thráin’s failed exploratory mission in the attempt to retake the Lonely Mountain. When Thorin Oakenshield, in turn, decided to set out for Erebor, Balin was again part of his company, along with his brother Dwalin. Although at this point the oldest of Thorin’s twelve companions, he was renowned for his sharp eyesight and often used as a lookout, and he acted as Thorin’s lieutenant in his absence. Balin was also Bilbo’s greatest friend among the Dwarves and the only one to ever visit him in the Shire after the completion of their mission.
Unable to forget his own birthplace of Khazad-dûm, however, Balin at last obtained permission from Thorin’s successor, King Dáin II, to set out and try to reclaim the Dwarves’ stronghold of old. The King reluctantly agreed; and Balin and his company initially succeeded in establishing themselves in Moria and driving out the Orcs who had settled there in the interim. Balin was styled Lord of Moria. However, only a few years later the mines were overrun by a new, much more powerful horde of Orcs, and Balin and all of his Dwarves were killed.
The younger of the two sons of Gróin and a namesake of the son of King Thorin I (who initially had let the Dwarves away from the Lonely Mountain centuries earlier). Together with his father and his elder brother Óin — in turn, a namesake of the erstwhile King Glóin’s son –, and like Balin and Dwalin, he followed Kings Thráin and Thorin on their wanderings to Dunland and the Blue Mountains, and eventually became a member of Thorin’s party on the mission to reclaim Erebor.
Glóin’s brother Óin later joined their mutual friend Balin in his fatal attempt to reestablish a Dwarf settlement in Khazad-dûm. Glóin himself remained in Erebor with the new King Dáin; but when an emissary of Sauron arrived to demand information about Bilbo Baggins and a ring, “but a trifle”, that was known to be in his possession, Glóin and his son Gimli set out for the west in order to convey a warning to Bilbo. At Rivendell they encountered not only him but also his nephew and heir Frodo, along with his three Hobbit friends, who had arrived there in the interim; and when the Fellowship of the Ring was founded in the Council of Elrond, Gimli became one of its members.
About Glóin himself, little more is known for certain except that he survived the War of the Ring for a number of years. Presumably, having delivered his warning at Rivendell, he returned from there to the Lonely Mountain; and since Gimli likewise returned there after the War of the Ring (before eventually settling in Aglarond, the “Glittering Caves” in the mountains behind Helm’s Deep), it is likely that father and son reunited at least for a while.
Glóin’s son accompanied his father to Rivendell on his mission to send out a warning that Sauron was searching for Bilbo and “the trifle”. At the Council of Elrond, reuniting (for the first time in in the existence of Arda) representatives of all of Middle-earth’s peoples (Elves, Dwarves, Men, and Hobbits), Gimli became a member of the Fellowship of the Ring, formed to accompany Frodo Baggins on his mission to Mordor in order to destroy the One Ring, which had passed to him from his uncle Bilbo, and which Gandalf — having at last found his suspicions about Bilbo’s find confirmed — deemed to be a danger not only to the Shire but to all of Middle-earth. En route, Gimli formed a firm friendship with the Elf Legolas (son of Thranduil, the Elvenking of Mirkwood); and during the Fellowship’s stay in Lothlórien his deep-seated mistrust of Galadriel morphed into a downright crush on her. Both of these facts would later come to earn him the honorific name of Elf-friend.
The Fellowship lost its leader Gandalf while crossing Moria, when the Wizard was pulled into a chasm by the fire whip of the Balrog known as Durin’s Bane. Thereafter, their leader was the Ranger Aragorn, who had already guided the four Hobbits from Bree (outside the borders of the Shire) to Rivendell. None besides Gandalf and Elrond had known before Aragorn’s and the Hobbits’ arrival at Rivendell that Aragorn was, in truth, heir to the Kings of Arnor and Gondor.
Aragorn guided the members of the Fellowship from Moria to nearby Lothlórien and from there down the river Anduin towards Gondor. However, at Parth Galen, just inside the northern boundaries of Gondor, the Fellowship broke up, when Frodo, the Ring-bearer, and his companion Samwise Gamgee (Sam) set out for Mordor alone, Boromir (elder son and heir to the Steward of Gondor) was killed by a host of Orcs, and the two Hobbits Merry (Meriadoc Brandybuck) and Pippin (Peregrin Took) were captured by the Orcs who had also killed Boromir.
With Aragorn and Legolas, Gimli set out in pursuit of Merry and Pippin and their captors. In the ancient forest of Fangorn they reunited with Olórin, the Istar (Wizard) they had known as Gandalf the Grey, and who had returned to Middle-earth as Gandalf the White, after having at last destroyed the Balrog Durin’s Bane in a long and exhausting fight that had brought about the end of his (Olórin / Gandalf’s) own incarnation as Gandalf the Grey as well. Gimli, Legolas and Aragorn accompanied Gandalf to Edoras, the capital of Gondor’s great ally Rohan, where he freed that kingdom’s ruler Théoden from the vile and deep-seated influence of his counselor Gríma Wormtongue, a longtime minion of the traitorous Wizard Saruman.
Together with the Rohirrim they then fought (and eventually won) the fierce Battle at Helm’s Deep (aka Battle of the Hornburg) against the united forces of Saruman, consisting essentially of Orcs and the Rohirrim’s enemies of old, the Dunlendings (Men of Dunland). Then they proceeded to Saruman’s former stronghold of Isengard, where they caught up with Merry and Pippin, who in the interim had escaped from the Orcs, had been rescued by the Ent (treeheard) for whom the forest of Fangorn was named, and had incited him and his fellow Ents to take on Isengard.
After Pippin had almost betrayed their company to Sauron by secretly trying to peer into the Palantír (“seeing stone”) of Orthanc, which Gríma had hurled at them not knowing the nature of the huge crystal ball, and which Gandalf and Aragorn (correctly) believed to be in easy reach of Sauron’s own Palantír (now housed in Barad-dûr), Gandalf immediately departed for Gondor, taking Pippin with him.
Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli returned to Rohan for a brief respite; then, having been joined by the Grey Company, an elite unit of Aragorn’s Rangers, Gimli, Legolas and the Rangers accompanied Aragorn on the Paths of the Dead on his mission to raise the host of Oathbreakers, who had been condemned to dwell under the Dwimorberg (near Dunharrow) rather than in the Halls of Mandos for their betrayal of Aragorn’s royal ancestor Isildur, and whom only Aragorn as Isildur’s heir could seek out (and pardon if this time they kept their oath to him). This was to be the only occasion on which even Gimli the Dwarf felt downright dread when walking into a mountain. After having emerged from the dreadful Paths of the Dead, with the army of the unpardoned Dead now following them (felt but not seen), Aragorn and his companions traveled south and finally, having captured the ships of the Corsairs of Umbar (allies of Sauron), they arrived back in Gondor in time to help turning the tide against the armies of Sauron in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields outside Minas Tirith.
After the conclusion of the War of the Ring, Gimli returned to the Lonely Mountain for a while, but in fulfillment of a mutual promise he also visited Legolas’s woodland realms, and Legolas joined Gimli in his beloved mountain caves and tunnels. Eventually, he settled in Aglarond, the “Glittering Caves” behind Helm’s Deep, which he had first seen and come to admire during the Battle of the Hornburg, and where he was now styled Lord of the Glittering Caves. There, he may or may not have been joined, at least for a while, by his father Glóin (this is subject to speculation; the records are silent). At the end of their time in Middle-earth, Gimli’s friendship with Legolas is believed to have reached yet another unprecedented (and never-repeated) high-water mark, when Gimli, as the only Dwarf ever to be thus honored, was permitted to accompany Legolas to the Undying Lands in the West.
A visual shorthand reference to the Longbeards of the latter Third Age (albeit minus Gimli):
Elves and Dwarves
Left: Durin accepts the ring (art by Torgeir Fjereide); right: Dwarves in Rivendell
The Elves living in Beleriand before the beginning of the First Age were stunned by the appearance of the Dwarves in the mountains to the east of their lands, as until then they had believed themselves to be the only speaking inhabitants of Middle-earth. Over time, the two peoples developed a relationship of mutual respect, though with varying degrees of friendship. The Dwarves were instrumental in the creation of the Elven underground strongholds of Menegroth (the capital of Thingol and Melian’s hidden realm of Doriath) and of Nargothrond, the city founded by Finrod Felagund; and they also created other things for the Elves, particularly weapons and unique pieces of jewelry. Since the Ñoldor, like the Dwarves, were students of Aulë and loved arts and crafts, of all the Elves these were the Kindred most closely associated with them. In the First Age, Azaghâl and the Dwarves of Belegost covered the Ñoldorin retreat in the face of the devastation wreaked by the dragon Glaurung during the fifth Battle of Beleriand (a feat of bravery and loyalty for which Azaghâl paid with his life); and the chief Dwarven Ring of Power, Durin’s Ring, was given to the Second-Age Dwarven King Durin III by the smith and Ñoldorin Lord Celebrimbor as a token of friendship, and it passed down from generation to generation as an important heirloom of the Longbeards.
A Sindarin Elf who befriended the Dwarves and often traveled to their cities in the Blue Mountains was Eöl, the Dark Elf of Nan Elmoth. However, the Dwarves’ relationship with the Sindar and the Teleri at large (including the Silvan Elves of Mirkwood and Lothlórien) received a serious blow from which it never really recovered when a dispute arose with Thingol over the necklace called the Nauglamír, into which the Elf-king had asked the Dwarves of Nogrod to set the Silmaril that by then had come into his possession; and when as a result of that dispute, the Dwarves ended up killing Thingol and sacking Menegroth. The movie adaptation of The Hobbit suggests that similar, though perhaps not quite as cataclysmic dispute would seem to have occurred at the end of the Third Age between the Elves and the Dwarves over a necklace called the White Gems of Lasgalen — the movies’ stand-in for the book’s actual Emeralds of Girion, which Bard’s ancestor Girion, the last Lord of Dale, had given to the Dwarves in payment for a mithril shirt made for his son; and which after the Battle of the Five Armies Bard received back from Dáin Ironfoot, only to hand it over to Thranduil, as the Elvenking had a greater appreciation for it. The movie version implies that the dispute over this necklace (and by further implication, probably also the one over the Nauglamír) may still have been on both Thranduil’s and Thorin’s minds when Thorin’s company fell into Thranduil’s hands while crossing Mirkwood on their way to the Lonely Mountain; thus adding fuel to the fire already created by the Dwarves’ claim of having been left to face Smaug alone, without assistance from the Elves, when the dragon first came to Erebor. (This latter is also an elaboration the movie adaption makes over the original material, where Thorin simply refuses to be interrogated by Thranduil over the purpose of their entry into Mirkwood; but it’s a proximate notion.)
Even the movie adaptation’s “White Gems of Lasgalen” detour aside, however, the undisputed legacy of the dispute over the Nauglamír and the sacking of Menegroth alone clearly makes for lasting ill-will on both sides: The Dwarves were famous for carrying a grudge anyway; and they probably also hadn’t forgotten that the Nauglamír had been taken away again from their First-Age Nogrod kin, and many of those had died in that raid, before they had ever made it back to the Blue Mountains. The Silvan Elves of Mirkwood, on the other hand, were the Sindar’s Telerin kin; worse yet, Thranduil’s father Orodreth was one of the Sindar of Doriath who had survived the sack of Menegroth, and Thranduil himself was probably born either late in the First Age (while Orodreth was still living in Doriath) or very early in the Second Age, i.e., not terribly long (especially in terms of Elven life spans) after the events, so he would likely have grown up hearing all about them, and about the Nauglamír and Thingol’s death, until he could recite the story backwards and forwards at the drop of a
hat diadem. Add to that the Dwarves’ (as the movies credibly suggest) charge of having been abandoned by the Elves when first having to face up to Smaug, and you have the makings of an explosive brew that really makes it the mother of all foregone conclusions that Elves and Dwarves should have faced off against each other initially in the Battle of the Five Armies, and would only have joined forces when facing up to a common enemy: the Orcs.
When, therefore, only a generation later a firm friendship grew between Thranduil’s son Legolas and Thorin’s kinsman Gimli — and when Gimli was not merely admitted into Lothórien but there came to greatly admire Galadriel — these were, at that point, truly extraordinary events. Even more extraordinary was Legolas’s prevailing on the Valar to allow Gimli to accompany him to the Undying Lands at the end of their time in Middle-earth. (There is a suggestion in the Annexes to The Lord of the Rings that this might have been achieved with the assistance of Galadriel — though one has to wonder whether Olórin / Gandalf might not also have had a bit of a hand in this.)
The youngest of the peoples of Arda, the first Men awoke in the far eastern land of Hildórien (even further east than Cuiviénen, the Elves’ Water of Awakening) when the Sun first rose after the Darkening of Valinor and the Ñoldor returned to Middle-earth. Seeing the sunrise, and wishing to distance themselves from the Men who even at this early stage of their history had already fallen under the Shadow of Morgoth (who had again been the first to discover and try to corrupt them), many of the first Men set out westward, and a few centuries later arrived in Beleriand. There they befriended the Elves, entered their service, received land and title in exchange, and fought with the Elves in the Battles of Beleriand. The Elves called Men Hildor (“Followers” or “After-Comers”; from this derives the name of the place of their awakening).
Some Men refrained from participating in the wars, either remaining in a region called Estolad (“the Encampment”, east of Thingol’s kingdom of Doriath) or in the Forest of Brethil to the west of Doriath, while yet others fled south or east from the power of Morgoth. Some groups of Men, however, who had been corrupted or enthralled by Morgoth, actively fought on his side and, later, on that of Sauron; most notable among these were the peoples that came to be known as the Easterlings and the Haradrim (Southrons), as well as the so-called Black Númenóreans, surviving descendants of the enemies of the Valar among the Second-Age people of Númenor, and the Corsairs of Umbar, the mighty port far to the south of Gondor, on the eastern shore of the Sundering Seas.
Over the course of the Three (main) Ages of Middle-earth, these are the major groups of Men that emerged:
Virtually the only group of Men relevant to the history of the First Age were the Edain, the Men who first came to the lands west of the Blue Mountains and fought alongside the Elves in the Battles of Beleriand. Their name, which in Sindarin strictly speaking designates Men in general (singular: “adan”), was traditionally applied, primarily and in a narrower sense, to the Three Houses who were faithful to the Elves and whose survivors after the War of Wrath were given the island of Elenna (Númenor) as a reward at the beginning of the Second Age. — The term is used gender-neutral for both the male and the female sex.
The Three Houses of the Edain were (in the order in which they made their way into Beleriand) the House of Bëor (the Bëorians), the House of Haleth (the Haladin), and the House of Marach, later and better known as the House of Hador (the Hadorians):
The House of Bëor (aka The First House): Descendants of the so-called Lesser Folk, a small group of Men who had become separated, near the Sea of Rhûn (in the far east of the lands beyond the Misty Mountains), from the main group taking a northern route towards the west of Middle-earth. The Bëorians, originally approximately 2000 in number, were dark-haired and stoutly built, and among the Elves, they most resembled the Ñoldor. In Beleriand they were first discovered by Finrod Felagund, King of Nargothrond, and under his guidance they made their way to Estolad, which was then ruled by Finrod’s cousins Amrod and Amras, Fëanor’s twin youngest sons. The Bëorians remained loyal to the House of Finarfin (Finrod’s father); later they settled in the mountains of Dorthonion at the northern edge of Beleriand, ruled by Finrod’s brothers Angrod and Aegnor, where they received the highland region of Ladros in the northeastern part of Dorthonion as a a fiefdom. In the fourth of the five Battles of Beleriand, however, they were almost totally annihilated. Notably, all but one of the thirteen last surviving fighters of the House of Bëor were killed; the only survivor — Beren — made his way to the court of the Elven King Thingol’s realm of Doriath, where he met and fell in love with Thingol’s daughter Lúthien and thus produced one of the legendarium’s greatest love stories (easily equal to that of their descendants Aragorn and Arwen), as well as achieving one of the greatest feats of bravery of the entire First Age when Beren and Lúthien together entered Morgoth’s stronghold of Angband in order to cut a Silmaril from his iron crown.
The House of Haleth (aka The Second House): The Haladin were reclusive and unrelated to the other two Houses; dark-haired but smaller in stature than the Bëorians. They had reached Beleriand following a southern rather than a northern route, passing through the opening between the Misty Mountains and the White Mountains (later known as the Gap of Rohan); and they lived mostly in small, scattered bands, keeping separate from the other Men even after they had reached Beleriand. They first settled in Ossiriand, but found the Green-Elves living there to be hostile; therefore they moved on, first to to Thargelion (north of Ossiriand), before eventually receiving permission to settle in the Forest of Brethil, which belonged to Doriath but was outside of its protective Girdle of Melian. Their original number is not known for certain, but believed to have been more than 2000; and in part because they largely succeeded in staying out of the wars fought by the Elves, they were the House that survived the longest. However, the Haladin, too, suffered huge losses at last in the War of Wrath.
The House of Marach (aka The Third House), later best known as The House of Hador: Descendants of the Greater Folk, the main group that had traveled to Beleriand following a northern route, eventually reaching the northeastern woods near the shores of Rhûn. The Greater Folk crafted boats and could sail the Inland Sea, and they were probably kin to the ancestors of the Northmen. Having originally set out together with the Lesser Folk and their descendants (the Bëorians), the First and Third Houses were related, though physically distinct: tall and golden- haired, the Hadorians most closely resembled the Elven Kindred of the Vanyar. They were also the largest of the Three Houses, coming into Beleriand in three hosts of 2000 adults each, which so frightened the Green-Elves of Ossiriand that the Hadorians were soon asked to move on to Estolad, as the First House had done before them. Loyal to Fingolfin and to his son Fingon, the Hadorians finally settled in Fingon’s fief of Dor-lómin, which belonged to Fingolfin’s lands of Hithlum. However, as the House that was most actively involved in the Battles of Beleriand, their lands were finally overrun by Morgoth’s forces in the fifth of the Battles of Beleriand and, to the extent that they had not been killed in warfare, their population was brutally suppressed and enslaved, even if individual heirs to their nobility were successfully smuggled away and hidden with the Sindarin Elves of Doriath or in the Mountains of Mithrim between Dor-lómin and the northern part of Hithlum. Yet, even after the War of Wrath, the Hadorians still formed the largest group of the Edain who made their way to Númenor.
Virtually all of the Edain individually remembered in later Ages lived in the waning days of the First Age, during the fourth and fifth Battles of Beleriand and the War of Wrath, including in particular:
Beren — and the Elven Princess Lúthien
Donato Giancola: Beren and Luthien in the Court of Thingol —
Lúthien enchants Morgoth (source) — Justin Gerard: Beren and Carcharoth
Beren and his beloved Elven lady Lúthien Tinúviel are remembered as the star-crossed lovers of the First Age: Their names are as inseparable in lore as the two lovers were during their lives; and as Lúthien was as instrumental as Beren in performing one of the First Age’s greatest deeds of valor, it is only fitting that they should be placed on an equal footing.
Beren was the son of Barahir, the last chief of the House of Bëor. After Barahir had saved the life of Finrod Felagund, lord of Nargothrond, during the fourth Battle of Beleriand, Finrod vowed to always come to the assistance of Barahir and his kin, and he gave him his ring as a token of that oath. The ring, subsequently known as The Ring of Barahir, became a heirloom to the surviving Bëorians. When Barahir and his companions, twelve of the last thirteen members of the House of Bëor alive, were in turn killed shortly thereafter, Beren — the only one of them to survive — avenged his father by killing the Orc who had slain Barahir, and he retrieved his father’s hand with the ring on it, which the Orc had taken it away.
Having had to leave his native but now Orc-infested Dorthonion and after wandering in the wilds for some time, Beren finally made his way to the Sindarin King Thingol’s court in Doriath, where he could not fail to meet Thingol’s daughter Lúthien Tinúviel — and it was mutual love at first sight. Thingol, having hoped for an Elven husband for his daughter instead of a mortal Man, flat-out told Beren that the price for his daughter’s hand was one Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown (in other words: “You’ll get her when hell freezes over”). But if he had hoped that this would make Beren back off, he soon saw that he was sorely mistaken, because not only did Beren take the challenge literally and accept it as if it were so much child’s play — even worse, Lúthien decided to set out and join him not long after he had departed.
Beren first traveled to Nargothrond, to claim Finrod Felagund’s assistance in fulfillment of the vow that Finrod had made to his father and confirmed with Barahir’s ring. However, together with their companions selected from Finrod’s Court, they were captured by Sauron near the river Sirion (the Great River of the First Age) and imprisoned in a fortress that Finrod himself had once built on an island in the river as a watchtower over the valley of the Sirion. Finrod had named the fortress Minas Tirith, “Tower of the Guard” — the same name as that given much later to the capital of Gondor –, but under Sauron it came to be known as Tol-in-Gaurhoth, “Isle of Werewolves”; and it was a werewolf, sent by Sauron to kill his captives one by one in order to coerce them into revealing their identities and purpose, that ended up killing Finrod, who by killing the werewolf in turn redeemed his vow and saved Beren’s life.
Lúthien meanwhile had had a run-in with two sons of Fëanor, Celegorm and Curufin, who had tried to abduct her and forcibly marry her to Celegorm, but she escaped, accompanied by Celegorm’s giant hound Huan, an erstwhile present from Oromë when the Ñoldor had still been living in Valinor. (Celegorm and Curufin, it turned out, had also been the ones to betray Beren and Finrod to Sauron.) Now Lúthien arrived at Tol-in-Gaurhoth, where she and Huan made short shrift of the werewolves, even driving Sauron himself to flee, after he had taken the shape of a huge werewolf, too. When Celegorm and Curufin reappeared, there was another skirmish, in which Beren was wounded but healed by Lúthien and Huan, who now turned against his former master once and for all. After a bit of back and forth over the question whether they’d continue the quest together or whether Beren would go on to Angband alone — which Huan, making use of his limited gift of speech, resolved by telling them that their fates were now entwined, so the issue didn’t actually even arise — they finally arrived at the gates of Angband, disguised as Sauron’s servants, the werewolf Draugluin and the vampire bat Thuringwetil. There Lúthien used the magic powers she had inherited from Melian to enchant Morgoth and his entire court by her singing and dancing until they fell into a deep sleep, and Beren managed to cut a Silmaril from Morgoth’s iron crown; his blade snapped, however, when he attempted to cut off a second Silmaril.
Beren and Lúthien had barely escaped from Morgoth’s throne room, when on their further way out of Angband they found their path barred by the hellhound Carcharoth, who was not even deterred by the Silmaril that Beren held up to him — he just bit off Beren’s hand, still clutching the stone. As in the Silmaril, however, was locked the light of the two Trees of Valinor, and the stones had been hallowed by Varda, the Silmaril burned so brightly that it scorched Carcharoth from inside, and he ran away, howling with pain and leaving a trail of destruction and terror behind him wherever he went. Beren and Luthien, meanwhile, were rescued by the Great Eagles and, after Lúthien had once more healed Beren, returned to Doriath, to report “mission accomplished” and tell Thingol that all he had to do in order to retrieve the Silmaril still held by Beren’s bitten-off hand was to catch and kill Carcharoth. So Huan was called upon to serve the lovers once more, but although he did kill Carcharoth when they had at last hunted down the hellhound, Morgoth’s creature also killed both Huan and Beren. This, in turn, caused Lúthien to wither away with grief. Yet, in the Halls of Waiting her song moved Mandos himself to grant both her and Beren a new lease of life (Lúthien now becoming mortal), after which they lived together on the island of Tol Galen in the river Adurant, the southernmost of the seven rivers of Ossiriand and its southern border, until they finally died of old age.
Meanwhile, at Thingol’s request, Dwarves had set the Silmaril into a magnificent necklace known as the Nauglamír, but a dispute arose between the Elven-king and the Dwarves over the ownership of, and payment for the work, as a result of which Thingol was killed and the Dwarves sacked Menegroth, the capital of Doriath. Beren’s final fight was his participation in the party that hunted down the Dwarves, in the course of which mission he acquired the Nauglamír and brought it to Lúthien. From her, it passed to their son at her death; but it was to remain unlucky for Beren and Lúthien’s descendants, as it caused two further Elven Kinslayings, initiated by the seven sons of Fëanor in pursuit of their oath to regain possession of the Silmaril for their own House as that of its original maker. Ultimately it would take the great heart of the Silmaril’s final keepers, Beren and Lúthien’s granddaughter Elwing and her husband, Eärendil the Mariner, as well as the intervention of the Valar, to rescue this Silmaril, the only one to survive the First Age, and determine its ultimate fate.
Húrin and His Children
Ted Nasmith: Morgoth and Húrin — Eric Verhagen: Glaurung and Nienor — John Howe: Túrin kills Glaurung — Elena Kukanova: Nienor and Túrin — Alan Lee: Túrin wearing his dragon helm
This is the kind of tale that really only makes sense if you read it as a tale of an evil superpower overriding Man’s free will and self-determination. Otherwise you are left with the exclamation of an Elf named Mablung, whom the Sindarin King Thingol had given the thankless task of trying to watch over Húrin’s family, and who in despair burst out one day:
“Truly, it is by lack of counsel not of courage that Hurin’s kin bring woe to others! Even so with Túrin; yet not so with his fathers. But now they are all fey, and I like it not.”
And that, dear Mablung, is actually putting it very mildly.
Húrin and his younger brother Huor were heirs to the most illustrious representatives of both the Second and Third Houses of the Edain: their grandfather Hador was the Lord of Dor-lómin in whose honor (rather than for his ancestor Marach) the Third House came to be named, recognizing his manifold deeds of valor; and their mother Hareth was the daughter of Halmir and sister of Haldir, chiefs of the Second House who in turn had likewise come to be recognized for their bravery in battle. Initially raised by their mother’s brother Haldir in the Forest of Brethil, one day they were rescued from peril by the Vala Ulmo and the Great Eagles and taken to Gondolin, where they stayed for the next several years. However, after they had duly vowed to keep the location of Gondolin secret, Turgon eventually agreed to let them return to their own people, and Húrin became Lord of Dor-Lómin at his father’s death. Then the fifth and final Battle of Beleriand began, in which Húrin participated and fought so bravely that even when he was literally the last man standing, he was still slaying Orcs by the dozen. It took Gothmog, the lord of Balrogs, to finally overpower him and take him to Angband, where Morgoth decided that a quick death was entirely too easy a punishment for Húrin’s resistance and for the many followers of the Dark Lord that Húrin had killed on the battlefield. Instead, he therefore placed a curse on Húrins entire House, then he bound him to a chair high on the peaks of Thangorodrim from where, pursuant to a further spell put on Húrin himself by Morgoth, he was able to witness the doom now descending on his family in all its heartwrenching details.
As after the fifth Battle of Beleriand, Hithlum (including Dor-lómin) was overrun and enslaved by Easterlings — Morgoth’s human allies –, Húrin’s wife Morwen eventually decided to send their only son Túrin to Doriath, there to be raised by the Elven-king Thingol, while she herself remained behind in Dor-Lómin. At this point (probably as a first consequence of Morgoth’s curse), Túrin’s beloved baby sister had already died of a plague. After Túrin had left Dor-lómin, Morwen was delivered of a third child, again a girl, whom she named Nienor.
Túrin prospered at Thingol’s court and eventually formed a great friendship with an Elven warrior named Beleg. However, a misunderstanding with one of Thingol’s counselors caused Túrin to leave the court and join a band of outlaws roaming the lands south of the Forest of Brethil. Beleg, after having cleared up the misunderstanding on Túrin’s behalf, set out after him and, unable to persuade him to accompany him back to Doriath, initially returned there himself, but at last asked the King’s permission to join Túrin in his wanderings and watch over him. As a parting gift, Thingol invited Beleg to select a weapon from his own armory to take on his errand, but he saw with worry — having been alerted to the blade’s sinister powers by his wife Melian, the Maia — that Beleg had selected a sword then known as Anglachel (“Iron Flame”), which had been forged and given to Thingol by Eöl, the Dark Elf of Nan Elmoth. Thingol tried to convince Beleg to reconsider, but Beleg’s mind was made up.
Beleg at last caught up with Túrin and his company of outlaws (many of whom remained mistrustful of the mighty Elf, despite his many kindnesses to them) near an isolated, near-inaccessible rock named Amon Rûdh south of the Forest of Brethil, where Túrin’s company had half-cajoled and half-coerced themselves into sharing the well-concealed dwelling place of a Petty-dwarf named Mîm: together with his sons among the last descendants of this group of Dwarves who, in the past, had been exiled from their people’ cities and subsequently grown progressively smaller and increasingly unsociable. Though Túrin and Beleg together kept the area free of Orcs and other miscreants, disagreements with Túrin’s main outlaw lieutenant over time increased Mîm’s resentment of his enforced “guests”, and he eventually betrayed the outlaws to — the Orcs. Túrin’s men were killed one and all, and Beleg, who alone had been absent, returned to learn that Túrin had been captured and was to be taken to Morgoth. The Elf set out in pursuit, on the way collecting a prince of Nargothrond named Gwindor, who was wandering in the wilds, worn out by the decade and a half since the end of the fifth Battle of Beleriand that he had spent enslaved in Angband; and eventually the two Elves found and Beleg freed Túrin from the Orcs in the forests of Dorthonion. Húrin’s son, however, disoriented by his captivity and his mistreatment at the hands of the Orcs, now mistook his oldest friend for an Orc, too, seized Beleg’s sword Anglachel, and killed the Elf with his own blade.
Thereafter, Gwindor led the now all the more dazed Túrin from Dorthonion to the healing Pools of Irwin near the foothills of the Ered Wethrin (“Mountains of Shadow”), the mountain range separating the two main eastern parts of Hithlum (Dor-lómin and Mithrim) from West Beleriand. When the warrior had finally come back to his senses and understood what he had done, Gwindor took him to Nargothrond, which at that time — after Finrod’s death during Beren’s mission to claim a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown — was ruled by Orodreth, the son of Finrod’s predeceased younger brother Angrod (who himself had already been killed in the fourth of the five Battles of Beleriand). In Nargothrond Túrin had Beleg’s sword, which had grown blunt after having been used to kill its owner, reforged, and named it Gurthang (“Iron of Death”). As the blade was black, having been forged from a meteorite, Túrin himself became known as Mormegil (“the Black Sword”) and acquired great renown under that name, as well as the trust of Orodreth and the love of his daughter Finduilas, which feelings he returned. However, just when Túrin’s life finally seemed to have turned over a new leaf, Morgoth sent a host of his minions to Nargothrond, led by the fearsome dragon Glaurung, who bewitched Túrin into a state of paralysis long and profound enough to sack Nargothrond literally under his eyes — even worse, making use of an access that Túrin himself had disastrously counseled Orodreth to keep open, overriding the warning sent to Nargothrond by messengers from the Vala Ulmo himself via his Elven friend Círdan — and abduct Finduilas as one of the captives to be taken to Morgoth.
Again, Túrin only realized what had happened when Glaurung’s spell was removed and it was too late. Grief-stricken, he returned to his childhood home in Dor-lómin, thinking there at least to rescue his mother and his sister Nienor (of whose existence he had learned while still in Doriath, but whom he had never seen) from the Easterlings that had overrun the land after the fifth Battle of Beleriand. But when he got there he found that Nienor and their mother Morwen had in the interim removed to Doriath in turn, hoping to meet him there. Túrin killed the Easterling lord who had forced his only remaining kinswoman in Dor-lómin into marriage and the rest of the population into servitude, but then left again to search for Finduilas, who however had at this point been killed in a failed rescue attempt. Despairing, Túrin ultimately found himself back in the Forest of Brethil, where he joined the woodsmen led by the Haladin chief Brandir, changing his name for the last time in a whole series of name changes — one for each of his turns of ill fate — and defiantly now calling himself Turambar (“Master of Fate”).
Túrin’s mother and sister meanwhile had learned of his residence in Nargothrond and, disregarding Thingol’s warning, decided to go there in turn. Their company found the city sacked and Túrin gone, but Glaurung was still there; and he bewitched Nienor into a state of total forgetfulness, thus effectively robbing her of her identity (or the awareness of it) and even of some of the most basic faculties, such as that of speech. Running away from Nargothrond in fear, Nienor likewise eventually ended up in Brethil, where she was found by Túrin’s company and, after having been taught to speak again, called herself Níniel (“Tear-Maiden”). Although unaware of each other’s identity, Túrin and Níniel now saw each other for the first time and felt instinctively drawn to each other, both sensing that they had found what they had long been looking for — and mistaking it for love. So the inevitable happened (there apparently can’t possibly be a legendarium, whether historical or fictional, without this sort of thing):
Worse yet, within a short time “Níniel” became pregnant — which in turn, of course, was the culmination of all the evil that could possibly be showered onto Húrin’s children under Morgoth’s curse.
Now, however, Glaurung came to Brethil as well; and Túrin, seeking revenge for the sacking of Nargothrond and the death of Finduilas (not to mention for the path of destruction which the dragon was leaving along his way wherever he went), determined to kill the monster once and for all. This he achieved by his final feat of daring, stabbing the monster with his black sword from below when Glaurung had exposed his belly by crossing a gorge named Cabed-en-Aras (“Deer Leap”) not far from the settlement of Túrin’s company on the hillsite of Amon Obel (“Fortified Hill”). In dying, the dragon cast a last spell on Túrin, causing him to faint and appear dead to Nienor-Níniel, who had followed him to Cabed-en-Aras, and whose cry of grief and horror then roused Glaurung one last time in turn, long enough to remove the spell he had placed on her and reveal to her that she had married her own brother and was carrying his child. Horrified, Nienor threw herself into the gorge. Awaking from his faint, Túrin learned from Brandir, with whom he had formed a friendship despite their rivalry over “Níniel”, what had happened, but rashly proceeded to kill yet another friend rather than believe him. It took a final meeting with the Elf Mablung, whom Túrin had known since his early days in Doriath, for him to realize that Brandir had told him the truth after all. After this, Túrin, too, committed suicide, impaling himself on his sword Gurthang and thus giving the black blade the opportunity to make up at last for the great evil in which it had been made to participate at Túrin’s hand.
Húrin and Morwen later met for a final time near Túrin’s burial mound, which also contained an inscription remembering Nieonor, after Húrin had at last been released by Morgoth, the doom of his family now being complete. When Morwen died during the night after their final reunion, Húrin buried her with her children. The burial mound survived the destruction of Beleriand in the War of Wrath and later became an island known as Tol Morwen off the newly-formed coast of Lindon in the later Ages of Middle-earth.
Tuor’s arms (source) — Ted Nasmith: Tuor — Steamey: Tuor and Voronwë — Ted Nasmith: Tuor reaches the Hidden City Gondolin
Tuor was Túrin’s first cousin, the son of Húrin’s younger brother Huor, who had fought bravely at Húrin’s side but was killed in the events of the fifth Battle of Beleriand that would earn Húrin his imprisonment on Thangorodrim at Morgoth’s hands and the cursing of his entire family. As Tuor’s father (himself a descendant of both the Hadalin and the House of Hador) had married a Bëorian woman named Rían, Tuor was a descendant of all three Houses of the Edain.
After his father’s death and in order to shield him from Morgoth and his Easterling minions, Tuor was fostered by the Elves of Mithrim, the mountain-encased region in eastern Hithlum northeast of Dor-lómin, which even after the return of the Ñoldor and Fingolfin’s establishing himself as the ruler of Hithlum continued to be inhabited by its original Sindarin population. When Tuor had barely reached manhood, together with a group of companions he tried to get to the delta of the river Sirion (the Mouths of Sirion) in the Bay of Balar far to the south, but they were attacked by a band of Orcs; and Tuor was captured and taken to the chief of the Easterlings who had occupied Hithlum after the fifth Battle of Beleriand. After several years in thrall to the chief, he managed to escape and first returned to the Caves of Androth, the hidden system of caves in the mountains where he had been raised, but eventually set out once more to leave Hithlum, this time through a concealed passage known as Annon-in-Gelydh (“Gate of the Ñoldor”) in the mountains known as Ered Lómin further to the West near the sea. Having almost despaired of finding the secret passage’s entrance, he at last learned about it from a group of Elves who had just emerged from it themselves, and so this time he eventually did reach the coast after all.
Guided by Ulmo, Tuor made his way southward to the abandoned city of Vinyamar, where Turgon had established his first court after reaching Middle-earth and before founding Gondolin. There Tuor found the arms that Turgon had left behind at Ulmo’s behest when leaving Vinyamar many years earlier, bearing the device of a white swan on a blue field and thus corresponding with the signs that Tuor had been given by Ulmo along the way. On the seashore Ulmo himself finally appeared to Tuor in a great storm and ordered him to make his way to Gondolin. The next day, Tuor met Voronwë, an Elf of Gondolin, who had been shipwrecked and, the sole survivor of his party, had been brought to Vinyamar by Ulmo to act as Tuor’s guide to Gondolin.
On the way to the hidden kingdom, near the Pools of Irvin Tuor and Voronwë came across Túrin, desperately searching for Finduilas. However, the two cousins had never met and thus did not recognize each other; and this would remain their only encounter. Having crossed the lands devastated by Glaurung on his way to Nargothrond and survived a bitterly harsh winter, the two companions at last arrived in Gondolin, where Ecthelion, the Warden of the Great Gate, recognized the arms worn by Tuor and thus knew him for the messenger that Ulmo had promised to Turgon long ago when they had left Vinyamar. When Tuor, however, delivered to Gondolin’s ruler Turgon Ulmo’s warning to abandon the city because it was doomed, and to remove to the Mouths of Sirion, Turgon chose to disregard the Vala’s message; he only blocked the hidden access route and thus sealed the city from the outside world entirely. Tuor remained in Gondolin and, like his father Huor, who had become a great friend of Turgon’s when staying there together with his own brother Húrin, he learned much from the Elves and soon gained Turgon’s favor. He also won the hand of Turgon’s daughter Idril, thus forming Middle-earth’s second marriage between a Man and an Elven Princess.
However, Idril’s hand had also been coveted by Turgon’s foster son Maeglin, who was jealous and quickly-angered, and who envied Tuor for his popularity with his foster father and, even more so, for winning the bride that Maeglin himself had sought to take home. When Maeglin was captured by Orcs and taken to Morgoth, feeling vengeful over his perceived slight and listening to Morgoth’s lies and false promises of the lordship of Gondolin and Idril’s hand, he betrayed to the Dark Lord the location of Gondolin’s secret access route through the mountains surrounding the city; thus providing Morgoth with the final piece of information he had been looking for, after Húrin, erring through the mountains of Dorthonion after his release from Thangorodrim, had already sought the city and unwittingly guided Morgoth’s eye in the right direction, without, however finding the secret access he had once known still open.
When Morgoth’s forces attacked and sacked Gondolin, almost all of its inhabitants — including Turgon and Ecthelion — were killed defending the city. Ecthelion died in a duel to their mutual deaths with Gothmog, the lord of the Balrogs. Maeglin tried to exploit the chaos of the battle in order to abduct Idril, but he was killed by Tuor. Idril and Tuor then led a small band of followers, including Voronwë and another captain of the city, Glorfindel, out of Gondolin through a new secret pathway that Idril had devised after Maeglin’s return from the excursion which had ended with his betrayal of Gondolin to Morgoth, sensing that evil doings were afoot even though Maeglin had of course kept his treason secret. The escapees were nevertheless ambushed by a horde of Orcs patrolling the encircling mountains’ outer flanks, but were able to fend off their attackers; albeit at the price of Glorfindel’s death in the fight in wich he, in turn, killed the Balrog commanding the ambushing party.
Guided by Ulmo, Tuor and Idril finally found their way to the Mouths of Sirion, where they raised their son Eärendil (born in Gondolin and seven years old at the time of their flight) and instilled in him the love of the sea that Tuor, too, had instantly begun to feel when he had first arrived at the shores of Beleriand, after crossing the Ered Lómin through the secret passage known as the “Gate of the Noldor”. At last, Tuor built a ship and sailed into the West, taking Idril (and possibly Voronwë) with him; both the Eldar and the Edain believed that they had eventually reached Valinor and been received there and granted immortality, thus making Tuor the only Man in the history of Middle-earth to be thus favored.
Eärendil and Elwing
Eärendil’s ship (art by alarie-tano) — Eärendil and Ancalagon the Black (source) — John Howe: Elwing’s Tower — Steamey: Eärendil and Elwing — Alan Lee: Gil-Estel — The light of Eärendil and Galadriel’s phial (source)
(Note: Although the story of Eärendil and Elwing is one of the most important ones of the First Age, it also remained among the most fractuous ones at Tolkien’s death, spread out over numerous partially-conflicting sources. What is set down here are the bare bones of the consolidated version that seems to be agreed upon with the most amount of consistency, however with no claim to either completeness or any degree of authority.)
Eärendil was the Half-Elven son of Tuor and Idril, thus through his father a descendant of all three Houses of the Edain and through his mother a descendant of the royal line of the Ñoldor. He would become the closest thing the legendarium has to a savior figure, which his grandfather Huor foresaw and expressed in his farewell to Idril’s father Turgon right before his own final stance in the fifth Battle of Beleriand:
“This I say to you, lord, with the eyes of death: though we part here for ever, and I shall not look on your white walls again, from you and from me a new star shall arise.”
After his and his parents’s flight from Gondolin, Eärendil grew up in the Havens of Sirion at the Great River’s mouths (= delta), where a community had been founded when Círdan and the Falathrim had removed there after the fifth Battle of Beleriand, leaving behind their original homes at Brithombar and Eglarest further to the northwest. This community increasingly became a refuge to people of Middle-earth fleeing from Morgoth’s advancing hordes. Eärendil, who had learned to love the sea as much as his father, Tuor, became a mariner and, with Círdan’s help, built a ship that he named Vingilot (“foam-flower”). Eventually he also became the leader of the community living at the Havens of Sirion. He married Elwing, the granddaughter of Beren and Lúthien, who had in turn fled there from the Second Kinslaying wrought upon her family in Doriath by Fëanor’s sons in pursuit of the Silmaril that Elwing’s grandparents had taken from Morgoth’s crown; and together she and Eärendil had two sons, Elrond and Elros.
However, Fëanor’s four surviving sons Maedhros, Maglor, Amrod and Amras followed Elwing to the Havens of Sirion (their brothers Celegorm, Caranthir and Curufin had died in the Second Kinslaying); and the Third Kinslaying which ensued was the worst of all three events thus named. Yet, Elwing again foiled the Fëanorians’ purpose by escaping with the Silmaril; rather than surrender it to them she now threw herself into the sea, holding the stone. From there, Ulmo lifted her up and gave her the form of a white bird with the Silmaril on her breast. In this shape she flew out to the sea and eventually reached her husband’s ship, where she dropped onto the deck in exhaustion. Eärendil cradled her in his arms and, when he woke up again in the morning, she had turned back into her human form.
Elwing’s narration of the Third Kinslaying added to the knowledge about the Battles of Beleriand passed down to Eärendil from his parents, and of course also to his own observations of Morgoth’s now near-total control of Middle-earth and the effect this had on the land; and he resolved to do what no Man had dared to do until then: to sail to Valinor — accompanied by Elwing, who would not be parted from him again — and plead with the Valar to come to Middle-earth’s assistance. The Valar were moved by his plea and, as he had made it wholly altruistically on behalf of Middle-earth’s Elves and Men, they granted him, Elwing, and their sons the gift to choose whether to be Elves of Men for the rest of their lives. Eärendil let Elwing make the choice for both of them and she chose Elvendom; of their sons, Elrond would come to make the same choice, whereas Elros would choose to join the ranks of Men and would become the first of the Kings of Númenor and the forefather of their heirs, including (at the end of the Third Age) Aragorn.
The Valar accepted Eärendil’s plea for assistance to Middle-earth and departed there with an army of immortals and Elves known as the Host of Valinor; including Eärendil, the Silmaril on his brow and sailing his ship Vingilot, which the Valar had filled with a shining white flame and set into the skies. At the pitch of this final fight between the Valar and Morgoth, which came to be known as the War of Wrath, Eärendil — together with the Great Eagles, led by Thorondor — killed one of the Dark Lord’s most terrifying creatures, the dragon Ancalagon, and threw him onto the peaks of Thangorodrim, which broke apart as a result; and not they alone: The fierce warfare of the forces of Good and Evil created an earthquake and a flood wave of such terrifying magnitude that most of Beleriand was drowned and Lindon, the part of Beleriand just east of the Blue Mountains, became the new western edge of Middle-earth, while the mountains themselves were split apart to form the Golf of Lune, where would later come to be found the Grey Havens from which the Elves departed onto their final voyage into the West. — Morgoth, meanwhile, was bound in chains forged by Aulë and cast into the Void.
After the end of the War of Wrath, Eärendil continued to sail his white ship across the skies, and the light of the Silmaril on his brow appeared in the skies as the Evening Star, “Star of High Hope” (Gil-Estel), or simply Star of Eärendil. Some of this light was captured in the phial that much later, at the end of the Third Age, Frodo would receive as Galadriel’s parting gift, to shine a bright light when all other light had failed, and which would come to his and Sam’s aid in their fight against Shelob, the giant spider of Mordor.
Elwing, meanwhile, was gifted a white tower high up in the north of Aman on the borders of the Sundering Seas, where she became a patron to the seabirds that visited her, learned their language, and acquired the ability to fly. The Elves residing on Tol Eressëa (“The Lonely Island”), the erstwhile island ferry now anchored in the Bay of Eldamar, often observed her, rising from her tower like a white bird, to meet her husband’s white ship when it returned from its voyages beyond the Circles of the World high up in the heavens.
Left: Númenórians (source) — Ar-Pharazôn (art by Steamey) — Elros Tar-Minyatur (art by MellorianJ) — Númenorian ships in harbor (art by Emilio Rodríguez) — Giovanni Calore: Secret Harbor — Rómenna (source);
Right: The White Tree and Forest of Mallorn Trees (both by Ted Nasmith) — Arrival of Ar-Pharazôn in Umbar (art by ivanalekseich) — Isildur and Nimloth (source) — Ar-Pharazôn’s armada (source) — Ted Nasmith: The Ships of the Faithful — Darrell Sweet: The Fall of Númenor
As a gift to those Edain who had been faithful to them and fought at their side in the War of Wrath, the Valar raised the island kingdom of Númenor (the legendarium’s equivalent of Atlantis) from the sea when Beleriand was flooded at the end of the Third Age. The island was located between Middle-earth and Aman, but closer to the latter. The Edain sailed there guided by the Star of Eärendil; for this, they called it Elenna (“Starwards”). They were led by Elrond’s brother Elros, who had chosen to be counted among the Men rather than the Elves and who became the first King of Númenor under the name Tar-Minyatur (“King, first Lord”).
As a token of friendship and allegiance, Elros Tar-Minyatur had also received from the Eldar of Tol Eressëa — the erstwhile island ferry now anchored in the Bay of Eldamar — seedlings of their White Tree Celeborn, itself grown from seeds of Galathion, the White Tree of Tirion, which Yavanna had created in the image of Telperion. Elros planted these seeds in his court, and from them grew another White Tree that would come to be called Nimloth (“White Blossom”). A fruit of Nimloth, in turn, would later bring forth the White Trees of Gondor. Númenor was also the only place other than Lothlórien, the realm of the Galadhrim, where the golden mallorn trees grew.
The Royal Court of Númenor was located in Armenelos (later known as Armenelos the Golden) near the mountain of Meneltarma (“Pillar of the Heavens”) in the center of the island; and on top of Meneltarma the Númenóreans created the Hallow of Eru, an unroofed shrine dedicated to Eru Ilúvatar. On clear days, those endowed with supremely good sight could look as far as Tol Eressëa from the top of Meneltarma.
Under the rule of Elros Tar-Minyatur and his successors, the Númenóreans rose to great power and wealth. Their island’s chief city besides Armenelos was initially the port of Andúnië in the west, which was frequently visited by the Elves of Tol Eressëa, who traded with the Men of Númenor and shared much of their knowledge of arts, crafts, shipbuilding and husbandry with them. Return visits were not possible, however: in order to prevent the Númenóreans from becoming envious at the riches and splendor of the cities of the Undying Lands, the Valar had barred them from sailing further westwards and approaching Aman in turn; this was known as the Ban of the Valar. But they were free to return to Middle-earth; and several centuries after they had first sailed to their new home, under Tar-Elendil, the fourth King of Númenor and one of its most significant rulers, as well as under Tar-Elendil’s grandson Tar-Aldarion, a great explorer and founder of the Guild of Venturers, they started to do just that: initially in order to found new harbors and cities as outposts of their culture and as trading posts; however, in later centuries they would increasingly begin to oppress the remaining population of Middle-earth and levy hefty taxes and duties, both in coin and in material goods. Yet, other than for purposes of trade and the collection of taxes and duties, their only contact with Middle-earth was a campaign against Sauron some seventeen centuries after the beginning of the Second Age, in which their naval force arrived too late to prevent the destruction of the Elven realm of Eregion, which by this time had been established west of the Misty Mountains near Moria, but still arrived in time to cause Sauron a crushing defeat and drive him back into Mordor — and incur his everlasting wrath and his resolution to destroy Númenor at the first opportunity.
Meanwhile, a new hereditary aristocratic line had been created in Númenor; and it would be from this line that the heirs of the Númenóreans later returning to Middle-earth would descend: Tar-Elendil’s eldest child had been his daughter Silmariën; as, however, in the early centuries of Númenor women had been excluded from inheriting the throne (this was later changed), the kingship had passed from her father to her brother (Tar-)Meneldur. But Tar-Elendil had created the hereditary royal title of Lord of Andúnië in honor of Silmariën’s son Valandil, and Silmariën had also received several of the heirlooms that would be passed on to the descendants of the Númenóreans in Middle-earth; including the Ring of Barahir (an heirloom since the days of Barahir and Beren all the way back in the First Age), the Elendilmir (Star of Elendil), a star-shaped white gem set in a mithril diadem, a replica of which would be worn by Silmariën’s Third-Age descendants in lieu of a crown, and the Sceptre of Andunië (later known as the Sceptre of Annúminas), which would become the symbol of her descendants’ kingship.
As Númenor grew in power and wealth, Armenelos overtook Andúnië as the island’s most important city. However, some two millennia after the beginning of the Second Age, the Númenóreans began to turn away from the Eldar and the Valar and increasingly to mutter against the ban of their sailing westward towards Aman, which they had begun to believe had been imposed to deprive them of immortality. Initially they did not yet dare to openly defy the Valar’s will; and they continued to use the Elven languages of Sindarin and Quenya, both in daily use and at Court. But in line with the Númenóreans’ growing ill will towards the Valar and the Eldar, Adûnaic (the common language originating from that spoken by the House of Hador in the First Age) was increasingly used at Court, too, and the royal prefix eventually changed from the Quenya “Tar-” to the Adûnaic “Ar-“, indicating the corresponding change in nomenclature from the use of royal names and titles in Quenya to that in Adûnaic. At the same time, those seeking to remain faithful to the Valar — known as the Faithful and now led by the Lords of Andúnië — were suppressed more and more severely and, in the third millennium of the Second Age, King Ar-Gimilzôr finally ordered them to all move to the eastern port city of Rómenna, so as to be more easily controllable and oppressable by the king’s guards and by the King’s Men: the party of the majority of Númenóreans in agreement with the Kings’s policies in defiance of the Valar and the Eldar. Ar-Gimilzôr also began to neglect the care of Nimloth the White Tree, and he stopped worshipping at the Hallow of Eru.
Númenor’s penultimate ruler, Tar-Palantir, undertook a largely failed attempt to right the wrongs committed by his predecessors, taking a Quenya royal name as an outward indication of his policies; but his rule was marred by civil war, as the majority of his people now openly dared to disagree with his views. Things then came to a head under Númenor’s last king Ar-Pharazôn. Styled as the Golden in both his name and in the splendor of his court, Ar-Pharazôn usurped the throne from the then-rightful queen, Tar-Palantir’s daughter Míriel, after having forced her to marry him. He took his armies to Middle-earth and declared war upon Sauron, who had risen to power there after the destruction of Morgoth; and the Númenóreans’ forces were mighty enough at this point to strike terror in Sauron’s armies and make them desert. Yet, Sauron quickly realized that this desertion was a blessing in disguise and would give him the opportunity to achieve the much greater aim of corrupting and eventually destroying the Númenóreans on their own terrain. So he sued for peace and returned with the King to Númenor. He gradually gained Ar-Pharazôn’s trust and impressed on him and all of his followers — the vast majority of the Númenóreans — that Eru Ilúvatar was an invention of the Valar and the Elves and that the true immortal lord of the world was Melkor. At Sauron’s urging, the White Tree Nimloth was destroyed and the Hallow of Eru on top of Meneltarma was replaced by a great temple dedicated to Melkor, where worship included the practice of human sacrifice in the form of members of the Faithful. Sauron’s greatest and final moment of triumph came when, exploiting Ar-Pharazôn’s growing hubris, he succeeded in persuading the King to sail to Aman and declare war on the Valar.
Hearing of this, Amandil, Lord of Andúnië and leader of the Faithful, counseled his son Elendil and his followers — including Elendil’s sons Isildur and Anárion — to take to their ships, leave Númenor behind and sail to Middle-earth. This they did, departing from the port of Rómenna in a group of nine ships; and Elendil’s elder son Isildur took with him a fruit of Nimloth that he had managed to take from the White Tree, breaking into the royal Court just in time before the tree was destroyed. Amandil himself sought to preempt the destruction of Númenor that he feared was coming at Sauron’s and Ar-Pharazôn’s hands and get to Aman before the King’s armada; however, the Valar did not judge his mission to be on the same purely altruistic footing as Eärendil’s, and he was not heard from again after he had departed from Númenor. — When Ar-Pharazôn and his armada reached Aman in turn, at Manwë’s urging Ilúvatar himself took a hand in the matter by trapping the Númenórean King and his mighty host in mounds of dirt inside the Caves of the Forgotten, which formed when the hills of the Calacirya, the narrow “Pass of Light” leading through the Pelóri mountains north of Taniquetil, collapsed on top of the invaders. Ilúvatar then removed Aman and Tol Eressëa from Arda for all eternity and changed the shape of Arda from a a disc to a ball, thus perpetually removing all earthly paths to Aman. In the process, Númenor was drowned under a giant wave that killed all of its inhabitants; after that, it was referred to in Quenya as Atalantë (“the Downfallen”).
Elendil, his sons, and the nine ships of the Faithful were washed onto the shores of Middle-earth, Elendil’s company on the coast of Lindon and the ships of his sons on the coast of the Bay of Belfalas. From there they proceeded to found the Realms in Exile, Arnor (Elendil’s kingdom in Eriador, the land between the Blue Mountains and the Misty Mountains, later ruled by the heirs of Isildur) and Gondor (the kingdom established by Isildur and Anárion, later ruled by the heirs of Anárion; reaching from Argonath, the entrance of Nen Hithoel lake on the river Anduin, to the Bay of Belfalas).
The Dúnedain (“Men of the West”, for their arrival in the west of Middle-earth after the drowning of Númenor) were the heirs of the Faithful who, at the urging of Amandil, had taken to the sea in nine ships and escaped to Middle-earth and thus had become the sole surviving Númenóreans.
Through Elros Tar-Minyatur and, subsequently, through the Kings of Númenor and the Lords of Andúnië, the Kings and (later) Chieftains of the Dúnedain could trace their heritage all the way back to the Half-elven and through them, further back to the royal lines of the Ñoldor and the Sindar, as well as all Three Houses of the Edain of the First Age:
Noted for their much longer lives than those of the other Men of Middle-earth — not anywhere near the lives of the Elves, but life spans of two or three centuries were not a rare thing, particularly for their Kings and Chieftains –, the Dúnedain were renowned for their great power, wisdom, and overall superiority to their fellow Men.
After having been washed onto the shores of Lindon, Elendil and his followers moved on to Eriador, the land between the Blue Mountains and the Misty Mountains, where they established a kingdom simply known as Arnor (“Land of the King”), whose capital was the newly-founded city of Annúminas on Lake Evendim (Nenuial), the source of the Baranduin (Brandywine River) north of the region that would later become known as the Shire. Although the lake had, in the earlier days of the Second Age, for a time been populated by a company of Elves led by Galadriel and Celeborn, at the time when the Dúnedain arrived the area was only sparsely-populated by Men of Middle-earth. Yet even before the foundation of the kingdom of Arnor, the Númenóreans had favored this part of Middle-earth because of its proximity to the Elven realm in Lindon, and they had since intermingled with the local population. They now extended their settlement areas along the rivers Lhûn and Baranduin and the hills of Rhudaur in eastern Eriador. (Probably) after the establishment of the kingdom of Arnor, the Dúnedain also founded another great city at Fornost on the North Downs, which would replace Annúminas as the capital of Arthedain, the last-surviving partial successor kingdom of Arnor, towards the end of its existence; and they built an important watchtower on a huge hill named Amon Sûl (Weathertop) overlooking the East-West Road running from Eriador across the Misty Mountains and all the way through Mirkwood further east. — For their part the first to realize the advantages of having a formally and well-organized kingdom of Men for a neighbor, instead of merely a number of ill-protected and scattered settlements, Gil-galad and the Ñoldor of Lindon gladly assisted the Dúnedain in settling into their new realm, and they fortified the Tower Hills (Emyn Beraid) in eastern Eriador for them.
Elendil’s sons Isildur and Anárion, meanwhile, had been washed onto the shores of Middle-earth in the Bay of Belfalas and from there made their way upwards through the Mouths of Anduin along the river — which had become the Great River of Middle-earth after the disappearance of Sirion in the Drowning of Beleriand — into a region where the important Númenórean port of Pelargir had been established centuries earlier. Here they founded a kingdom of their own, which they named Gondor (“Land of Stone”) for the great feats of stonework accomplished there. Gondor’s capital in these early days was Osgiliath (“Citadel of the Stars”) on the shores of the Anduin, in addition to which each of the brothers held a fortress of his own: Isildor’s was named Minas Ithil (“Tower of the Moon”, after its capture by the Nazgûl and its integration into Mordor, this would become Minas Morgul, the “Tower of Sorcery”); and Anárion’s was Minas Anor (“Tower of the Sun”, later Minas Tirith, “Tower of the Guard” and Gondor’s capital in lieu of Osgiliath).
(Image bottom left: source)
Sauron in his turn, however, had also survived the Fall of Númenor, had settled in Mordor once more, and had begun to reassert his power over those in thrall to him. So after they had established their kingdoms in Middle-earth, Erendil and his sons, together with the Elves led by Gil-galad and Elrond, formed what would come to be known as the Last Alliance of Elves and Men in an attempt to defeat the Dark Lord. At the height of this war, which lasted for several years, they marched into Mordor and besieged his stronghold of Barad-dûr; during that siege, Elendil’s younger son Anárion was killed by a rock thrown from the besieged tower and crushing his helmet. The war’s final battle, fought on the slopes of Mount Doom, ended with the deaths of both Gil-galad and Elendil, but Isildur grabbed the broken hilt of Elendil’s sword Narsil and with the shard still attached to it cut off Sauron’s finger with the Ring of Power. Though urged to throw the Ring into the fires of Mount Doom before leaving Mordor, Isildur refused and decided to keep it for himself, saying in a scroll found by Gandalf three millennia later that it was “precious” to him.
After the end of the war, Elendil was buried in a hidden tomb on the summit of a hill called Amon Anwar (“Hill of Awe”) that stood out alone from Firien Wood on the borders of Rohan and Gondor, separated from the White Mountains by a deep cleft. The presence of Elendil’s tomb would come to hallow the entire hill; and as part of the so-called “Tradition of Isildur”, in later years (from the fifth century of the Third Age onwards), each King of Gondor would visit Amon Anwar together with his son upon the son’s coming of age — as would in the final millennium of the Third Age the Stewards of Gondor with their heirs –; thus echoing Isildur’s visit to Elendil’s secret tomb with Anárion’s only surviving son Meneldil, to whom Isildur had handed over the rule of Gondor prior to his departure for Arnor. — Amon Anwar would also become one of the beacon hills included in Gondor’s early warning system of seven beacons on the mountaintops of the White Mountains overlooking Anorien; and it would be here, too, that the mutual oath of allegiance between Gondor and Rohan would be solemnified two and a half millennia after the War of the Last Alliance and the beginning of the Third Age.
Isildur himself, however, would not long survive his father: On the way northward to Arnor, whose kingship had fallen to him with his father’s death, his company was attacked by a host of Orcs near the Gladden Fields northeast of Moria, and Isildur and his three eldest sons were killed. Moreover, in his failed attempt to cross the river Anduin and escape from the Ocrs, Isildur lost the Ring of Power, which subsequently seemed to have vanished for the better part of the Third Age.
Arnor and the Rangers
Kings of Arnor and Arthedain (art by Rowena Morrill and ElfinFen; further images sourced here, here and here), the Star of Elendil (art by by Rondador), Arthedain soldiers (source), Annúminas (source), and Fornost (source)
The regency of Arnor was taken up by Isildur’s fourth son, but it turned out that with Elendil’s and Isildur’s deaths the realm’s troubles had only begun. Arnor would know almost 900 years of peace and prosperity — but after the death of King Eärendur towards the end of the ninth century of the Third Age, his three sons fought over his succession; and the ensuing civil war was eventually settled by the partition of Arnor into its three major regions Arthedain, Rudaur and Cardolan, which henceforth existed as three separate kingdoms, uneasily coming together at Weathertop (Amon Sûl) as their joint and frequently-embattled border point:
- The territory of Arthedain covered the core of the north-kingdom bordering the Lune;
- The territory of Cardolan covered the lands south of the East Road and east of the Brandywine River (Baranduin); and
- The territory of Rhudaur comprised the region between the Weather Hills and the Misty Mountains.
Moreover, in Cardolan and Rhudaur the line of Elendil and Isildur eventually failed, thus leaving Arthedain as the only successor kingdom of Arnor still ruled by heirs of the Númenórean Lords of Andúnië. This played straight into the hands of the Dúnedain’s sworn enemy:
About thirteen centuries after the beginning of the Third Age (and a little over four centuries after the partition of Arnor), the kingdom of Angmar rose in the north, ruled by a Witch-king who, it would later turn out, was none other than the leader of Sauron’s Nazgûl, the nine Kings of Men who had come in thrall to the Dark Lord and turned into ring-wraiths through the agency of their nine Rings of Power. Sauron had taken a full millennium until he had emerged from hiding once more, but now he was back, this time in the guise of a shadowy Necromancer inhabiting a newly-built stronghold named Dol Guldur (“hill of sorcery”) in southern Greenwood. The White Council originally thought Dol Guldur was held by the lord of the Nazgûl, whom, however, Sauron dispatched to Angmar for the purpose of destroying all of what had formerly been Arnor. Thus, the newly-styled Witch-king of Angmar soon began to corrupt Rhudaur, where a lord of the Hill-men then living in the area (descendants of the tribes that had originally populated the White Mountains), in secret alliance with Angmar, seized power in TA 1349. Thereafter, Rhudaur was firmly set against the other two successor kingdoms of Arnor, Arthedain and Cardolan, and the Witch-king began to use it as its base for attacking these, while driving the remaining Dúnedain out of Rhudaur or having them killed.
At about the same time as the Angmar-fostered rise of the Hill-men in Rhudaur, the seventh King of Arthedain, Argeleb I, formally refounded the kingdom of Arnor and claimed overlordship over all of its territory. While Rhudaur resisted, Cardolan accepted Arthedain’s claim and placed itself under its protection. However, Argeleb I was killed in an attack launched by the Hill-men of Rhudaur only a few years later. Then, about a century after the Witch-king’s rise, Rhudaur and Angmar once more launched a massive attack on Cardolan and Arthedain; in the ensuing campaign, both Argeleb’s son and heir Arveleg I and the last Prince of Cardolan died; while on Weathertop the tower of Amon Sûl was destroyed, never to be rebuilt. The Prince of Cardolan and his men were buried in the Barrow-downs south of the Great East Road (the northernmost part of Cardolan); over a millennium and a half later, Frodo Baggins and his fellow Hobbits would (likely) come to be temporarily imprisoned in his tomb by a Barrow-wight. Meanwhile, Rhudaur was now openly occupied by Angmar and Cardolan was ravaged. Both regions — but especially so, Cardolan — were largely depopulated, with Rhudaur now being inhabited solely by the Hill-men and their Angmar confederates, while what little remained of the population of Cardolan, including a small band of Dúnedain, held out in the Barrow-downs and in the Old Forest, as well as scattered across other parts of Minhiriath (the region between the rivers Baranduin and Gwathló).
Already scourged by civil war, partition and warfare with Angmar, the remaining kingdom of Arthedain — as well as what remained of Cardolan and Rhudaur — was then further devastated by a plague that struck most of Middle-earth some two centuries later. Most of Cardolan’s remaining population, including all of the Dúnedain, were lost to the plague. As a final blow the Witch-king sent evil beings (the Barrow-wights) to infest the Barrow-downs. Therafter, Cardolan was left a desolate and deserted land.
Thus, the kingdom founded by Elendil had dwindled further and further away; even its only surviving successor realm, Arthedain, had lost much of whatever little remained of Arnor’s waning importance shortly after the Third Age had barely reached the mid-point of its history.
It was during this time of Arnor’s decline and partition that the Hobbits arrived from parts of Eriador even more heavily affected by the constant warfare and destruction (such as Dunland and the war-ravaged lands of Rudaur and Cardolan) and, having first settled in the area of Bree, eventually obtained permission to establish themselves in the former royal hunting grounds of the Shire. There they mostly kept to themselves, although nominally considering themselves subjects of the King of Arthedain, the last of the three kingdoms formed in the partition of Arnor to survive, and to whose territory the Shire belonged.
Yet, even Arthedain eventually fell in Angmar’s final onslaught. The urgently-summoned united forces of Gondor and of the Elves of Lindon, Rivendell and Lothlórien arrived too late to be able to prevent the defeat of the forces of Arthedain; but they did proceed to take the war into the enemy’s camp at last, meeting the forces of Angmar in open battle in an area lying between the hills of Evendim near Lake Nenuial (the area of Arnor’s former capital of Annúminas) to the west and the later Arnorian capital of Fornost, which had been one of the final prizes to be won by the Witch-king’s armies, to the east. Angmar’s forces were thoroughly routed and its kingdom annihilated; only the Witch-king himself escaped.
(Image sources here, here and here)
However, the surviving Dúnedain of Arnor were now too few to reestablish their kingdom. Aranarth, the son of Arvedui, the last King of Arthedain — who had been shipwrecked in the far north while seeking refuge from the armies of Angmar — styled himself Chieftain rather than Prince, and embarked on a wandering life with his remaining people, who became known as the Rangers of the North, often living alone or in very small groups, hunting Orcs and otherwise keeping Eriador safe as best they could. The Chieftains’ sons were secretly fostered by Elrond in Rivendell, where also the heirlooms of the House of Isildur came to be housed: the Sceptre of Annúminas (symbol of the regency of Arnor), the shards of Elendil’s sword Narsil, the Ring of Barahir (symbolizing the royal line’s First-Age roots), and the Star of Elendil or Elendilmir (or rather, an Elf-made replica of the original diadem symbolizing the royal line’s Númenórean heritage, as the original Elendilmir was believed to have been lost when Isildur died in the attempt to cross the river Anduin on his way back to Arnor after the war fought by the Last Alliance). Thus, Rivendell became both the Rangers’ retreat and the guardian of their exiled royal line, waiting in the shadows for their day to come again. It was also the headquarters of one significant larger (semi-)organized group of Rangers, known as the Grey Company; a group of thirty-one Rangers led by the twin sons of Elrond, Elladan and Elrohir, as well as, in the last days of the Third Age, by a Dúnandan named Halbarad.
Meanwhile, as had already been the case in Cardolan, the war-devastated realm’s population mainly survived in the greatly-diminished trading centre of Bree and in scattered villages, while the Hobbits essentially confined themselves to life in the Shire and in Bree. In the now-independent Shire, a Hobbit Thain came to replace the fallen King.
Boromir, Faramir, and rank and file soldiers of Gondor with the insignia of the White Tree and Seven Stars; Minas Tirith, Argonath, and Aragorn crowned King (sources of 3d and 4th images here and here)
When arriving in the Bay of Belfalas and subsequently traveling up the river Anduin, in the Númenorean colonies and trading posts, like Belfalas and Pelargir, Isildur and Anárion had come across many Faithful of Númenórean heritage, who had settled there long before the island kingdom was drowned. These welcomed the sons of Elendil, who in turn elevated their leading families to the nobility of their new kingdom of Gondor, whose population otherwise consisted of Men of various provenance and often mixed heritage; notably Men who had immigrated to the territory of what now became Gondor over the course of the Second Age, coming from the direction of the White Mountains and seeking shelter from Mordor’s growing shadow.
Isildur and Anárion ruled Gondor together and, in the court of their fortresses of Minas Anor (later renamed Minas Tirith) and Minas Ithil, as well as in Osgiliath, Isildur planted seedlings of the fruit of the White Tree of Númenor that he had brought to Middle-earth. Thus, three new White Trees grew in Gondor and came to be the kingdom’s device, similar to the symbolism of the Star of Elendil in Arnor. While Minas Anor chiefly served as a bulwark against the Wild Men (Drúedain) living in the White Mountains, in the Drúadan Forest and in Dunland — as well as, from the fourth century onwards, for a time being the summer residence of the Kings of Gondor –, Isildur’s fortress of Minas Ithil was intended to keep watch over the goings-on in Mordor. Even beyond these two fortresses and its capital Osgiliath, however, Gondor (“the Land of Stone”) was known for its magnificent buildings and statues, which also included the tower of Orthanc in Isengard on the northern side of the Gap of Rohan — the passage of land between the southern end of the Misty Mountains and the White Mountains –, the fortress of Aglarond (later known as the Hornburg at Helm’s Deep), fronting a system of caverns inside a cliff edge of the White Mountains on the southern side of the Gap of Rohan; as well as Argonath, where in later generations two immense statues of Isildur and Anárion would be erected to mark the northern boundary of Gondor at the entrance of Nen Hithoel lake on the river Anduin.
Departing for Arnor after the Last Alliance’s war against Sauron, Isildur had handed over the rule of Gondor in favor of Anárion’s eldest son Meneldil. Together, Isildur and Meneldil also established what would come to be known (and five centuries later, recorded in a scroll henceforth delivered by the Steward of Gondor to each King’s heir before his coronation) as the “Tradition of Isildur”:
- A visit to the hidden tomb of Elendil on Amon Anwar by the King of Gondor together with his heir when the heir came of age (this aspect of the continued until TA 2510, when Elendil’s tomb was removed to Minas Tirith); and
- The passing on of the secrets of the kingdom from the King to his heir; initially orally, later also in the form of a scroll.
There later would be a dispute over the question whether Isildur had actually relinquished the rule of Gondor entirely or had just empowered Meneldil to govern in his stead; but for all practical and, increasingly, also administrative and constitutional purposes, from the moment of Isildur’s departure and Meneldil’s assumption of the rule of Gondor, the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor were independent of each other, even if still closely allied in their early days.
Gondor, initially the less important of the two realms, now steadily grew and prospered and, even after Arnor had begun to decline and fall into partition, Gondor (albeit having to deal with problems of its own) was still a power to contend with. A line of “ship-kings” of Gondor, in particular, pursued an expansive policy of maritime conquest, eventually even defeating the Black Númenórean stronghold of Umbar further to the south and its neighbors, the Harad, whom the last of the ship-kings — bearing the self-appointed name Hyarmendacil (“South-victor”) — compelled to accept Gondor’s overlordship. At the height of its power under this ruler, the kingdom’s boundaries reached as far east as the Sea of Rhûn, encompassed the entire coastline of Umbar to the south all the way to the Cape of Umbar, and reached all the way north to the river Celebrant (Silverlode), rising from Mirrormere in the Misty Mountains, and as far west as the river Gwathló (Greyflood), which at the time marked the southeastern border of Cardolan, one of the three kingdoms that had emerged from the partition of Arnor.
However, Gondor’s great might eventually made its leaders complacent. Beginning with Hyarmendacil’s son, they spent less time and effort on maintaining the kingdom’s strength, while at the same time, growing increasingly decadent. Thus, the kingdom’s power began to decline, slowly at first, but inexorably. Some two centuries after the reign of Hyarmendacil, the king then ruling, Rómendacil II — the king who had Isildur’s and Anárion’s statues erected at Argonath — sought to strengthen Gondor’s ties with the Northmen in the east and sent his own son to live among them; a well-meant move that, however, would have a disastrous effect, as it inspired the civil war later known as Kin-strife, in which the mixed-blood grandson and heir of Rómendacil, Eldacar, had to fend off the rebellion of his own chief naval officer, Castamir, the Captain of the Ships, who tried to usurp the throne asserting his own descendance from Rómendacil’s brother and claiming that as a “half-breed”, Eldacar had no right to the throne at all. The Kin-strife was a bitterly-fought war that also led to the destruction of Osgiliath and its replacement with Minas Anor as the new capital. Although Castamir, who had soon made himself unpopular with the people of Gondor as a harsh ruler, was eventually driven out, this was only achieved at the cost of a renewal of the lasting hostilities with Umbar, to where Castamir withdrew, and where he and his descendants created a people of Corsairs which Gondor not only did no longer control, but which even before officially forming an allegiance with Sauron did everything in their power to make life and naval lordship hard for Gondor at every possible turn. In the aftermath of the Kin-strife, Gondor also lost its hold over the Haradrim and other peoples of the South who had previously been made to accept its overlordship, and who would soon emerge as key allies of Sauron as well.
Further weakened by the plague that scourged all of Middle-earth at this time — the remnants of Arnor as much as Gondor and the lands further to the south and east –, Gondor next had to fend off the Wainriders, the fiercest of all Easterlings, who had settled in and enslaved Rhovanion. While Gondor turned its attention to the Easterlings, the Nazgûl returned to Mordor. It took a century filled with many setbacks and much bloodshed, including the death of no less than two Kings of Gondor, to eventually defeat the Wainriders. Seeking to reestablish a closer allegiance in the realization that both Gondor and Arthedain (the only free successor kingdom of Arnor remaining at the time) were dealing with the same controlling power of Evil that, after having lain dormant for nigh-on two millennia, was beginning to re-manifest itself, the rulers of the two kingdoms agreed to arrange a marriage of their children, Arvedui, heir to the throne of Arthedain, and Fíriel, daughter of the King of Gondor. However, when the King of Gondor was killed and Arvedui asserted his claim to the kingship of Gondor, relying on his wife Fíriel’s claim under Númenórean law (as it had been modified some time prior to the island’s Drowning) as well as on his own descendance from Elendil and Isildur, Gondor rejected his claim, declaring instead that a heir of Anárion must be King of Gondor. Thus the rule fell to Eärnil, the victorious general who had at last defeated the Wainriders, who was himself related to the royal line, and who was succeeded by his son Eärnur, the general who — with the Elven armies of Lindon, Lothlórien and Rivendell by his side — had successfully done battle with the forces of Angmar in the final battle for the possession of Arnor. For this, however, the Witch-king of Angmar sought revenge. After the Nazgûl had captured Minas Ithil and renamed it Minas Morgul (“Tower of Sorcery”), he kept sending taunting messages to Eärnur, who eventually was provoked to ride out to Minas Morgul with a small company of armed knights — never to be heard from again.
The disappearance of Eärnur would have placed the rule of Gondor in limbo if at this point it hadn’t been upheld by the Stewards: Nobody was keen to risk another Kin-strife, which this time around would almost certainly have finished Gondor for good; so in light of the much-watered-down and comingled Númenórean bloodlines and absent indisputable proof to anyone’s “best” claim to the kingship, nobody dared to declare Eärnur dead and the line of Anárion formally terminated for all eternity, and put forth a claim to the throne of their own. Arnor, meanwhile — even if anybody had wanted to reconsider any claim of its Kings to the rule of Gondor — no longer existed at all: the last known ruler of its successor kingdom Arthedain had been shipwrecked while fleeing from the forces of Angmar, and of his heirs nothing was generally known. Few in Gondor were aware that the royal line of Arnor was not extinct, and that the heirs to the throne of Arthedain (and Arnor) had exchanged the Elendilmir and the sceptre of Annúminas for the simple garb of Rangers and were walking the deserted lands that their forefathers had ruled, keeping the peace on an incident-by-incident basis and waiting for their moment to come. So, as they had already done on a prior (though much briefer) occasion, the Stewards — the only advisors to the Kings of Gondor now in existence — once more assumed the guardianship of the Kingdom.
Hereditary like a kingship and in fact originally established in a lateral line of the House of Anárion, over time the office of the Steward more and more began to resemble that of a king; certainly in terms of actual power, even after Gondor’s significant decline its Stewards were still far superior to many a King formally holding that title. However, the Stewards were careful to always maintain their formal deference to the absent King; they did not sit on the throne but on a chair of black stone beneath it, and the symbol of their office was not a crown but a white rod. Upon assuming their office, they swore “to hold rod and rule in the name of the king, until he shall return.”
Yet, the Stewards took command of the kingdom in difficult times, and they continued to have to do battle with its many enemies, who were fostered by and in (at this point still secret) alliance with Sauron: the Easterlings, the Dunlendings, the Haradrim, the Corsairs of Umbar, and of course the ever-present Orcs. At the time of the death of the 21st of the 26 Stewards that ruled Gondor after the disappearance of Eärnur, the White Tree of Minas Tirith died, but it was left standing and kept under guard “until the king comes”, thus echoing and becoming yet another symbol of the Stewards’ oath of office. This was also the only one of Gondor’s White Trees now remaining in existence, as the White Tree of Osgiliath had died during the plague and the White Tree of Minas Ithil had been destroyed when the fortress had been taken by the Nazgûl and renamed Minas Morgul.
The most important new alliance forged by the Stewards of Gondor was that with the Éothéod, a tribe of Northmen who considered themselves distant cousins of the people of Gondor, as they descended from the tribe with whom, in days gone by, Rómendacil II had sought a closer alliance by sending his son there as an ambassador, and from whose ranks had come the mother of Rómendacil’s grandson Eldacar. They had fled from Rhovanion’s enslavement by the Wainriders and settled first in the Vales of the Anduin and then in the area east of the intersection of the Grey Mountains (Ered Mithrim) and the northern end of the Misty Mountains; as a result, that latter region itself also came to be known as the Éothéod. Eventually, the Stewards granted their new allies the right to settle in the plains of Calenardhon south of the ancient forest of Fangorn and west of Isengard, where the Éothed founded a kingdom that came to be known in Gondor and elsewhere in Middle-earth as Rohan or the Riddermark, and they themselves as the Rohirrim (“Horse-lords”). To themselves, meanwhile, Gondor’s new allies referred as the Eorlingas, or followers of Eorl the Young, the King who had first led them into battle against the Easterlings at Gondor’s side and then to their new home in the Riddermark; and who, after Gondor’s and the Éothéod’s joint defeat of the Easterlings, exchanged an oath of perpetual loyalty with Gondor’s then-governing Steward Cirion: this came to be known alternatively as the Oath of Cirion or the Oath of Eorl.
The arrival of Saruman was likewise initially greeted with enthusiasm in Minas Tirith; the Stewards were happy to allow him to establish himself at Isengard and frequently consulted with him. Meanwhile, the people of Gondor withdrew from Ithilien, the area directly bordering on Mordor, which had become increasingly uninhabitable as the power of Mordor began to grow again; only Gondor’s Rangers — the Rangers of Ithilien, later commanded by Faramir, son of Denethor II — kept an eye on the land and maintained a secret shelter at Henneth Annûn, as well as fortifying the island of Cair Andros in the Anduin, which formed the western boundary of Ithilien.
Towards the end of the Third Age, Sauron — who had previously resurfaced as the “Necromancer” of Dol Guldur in Mirkwood, while the Nazgûl, led by the Witch-king of Angmar, prepared his path — openly declared his return to Mordor at last. He proceeded to rebuild his stronghold of Barad-dûr and assemble the forces of all those that were allied with or in thrall to him. While from here on out his chief aim would be the recovery of the One Ring of Power, the destruction of Gondor, still the most powerful of the forces allied against him, also was a primary strategic goal in the War of the Ring; all the more as he suspected Gondor of trying to use the One Ring against him if the Ring should ever come into Gondor’s possession. However, Sauron’s forces were defeated against all odds in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields near Minas Tirith, and his chief minion, the Witch-king of Angmar — who had been prophesied not to be able to be killed “by any man” — was destroyed by Éowyn, niece of Théoden, King of the Rohirrim, with the assistance of Frodo’s friend Merry, the Hobbit Meriadoc Brandybuck. Thereafter the united forces of Gondor and the West marched on the Black Gate of Mordor, thus successfully — though at the high cost of the loss of many further lives — distracting Sauron’s attention from the mission of Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee, who (as their friends could only hope) at this point had almost reached Mount Doom, and in fact shortly thereafter completed their mission and destroyed the One Ring, thus annihilating Sauron’s power once and for all.
While the Battle of the Pelennor Fields was raging outside the gates of Minas Tirith, Denethor II — the twenty-sixth and last Steward of Gondor before the reunification of the kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor — had killed himself on a pyre, despairing over what he falsely believed to be the end of his line, after the death of his elder son and heir Boromir in the Orc attack that had led to the breaking up of the Fellowship of the Ring at Parth Galen; and after, as Denethor feared, his son Faramir had sustained a deadly wound in the suicide mission (commanded by Denethor himself) of trying to win back Osgiliath from the Orcs and the Nazgûl that had captured and occupied it earlier. Faramir was saved literally at the last minute and pulled off the pyre onto which Denethor had had him lain, too, by Gandalf and Frodo’s friend Pippin (Peregrin Took). His health restored, after the end of the War of the Ring Faramir renounced the rule of Gondor in favor of Aragorn, the rightful heir of Elendil and his sons, who had finally given up his existence as a Ranger and now claimed the kingship of both Arnor and Gondor; reuniting both realms and ruling them as Aragorn II Elessar (“Elf-stone”). Faramir, meanwhile, reassumed the position of a Steward of Gondor as it had existed originally, as the chief advisor to the King and head of the re-established Great Council of Gondor; and he was given the title of Prince of Ithilien for his loyalty and bravery. He married Éowyn, whom he had first met and fallen in love with in the Minas Tirith Houses of Healing after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, and who was the sister of Éomer, who had succeeded their uncle Théoden on the throne of Rohan. Thus Faramir’s and Éowyn’s marriage, in addition to the personal friendship and mutual respect existing between Aragorn and Éomer, further strengthened the already-solid alliance between Gondor and Rohan.
Aragorn II Elessar
(Right side, top row: Image sources here, here, here, here and here)
A Ranger’s life was fraught with peril and often lead to a premature death: thus, too, Arathorn II, sixteenth Chieftain of the Dúnedain, was killed by a horde of marauding Orcs. At this time, his son Aragorn was only two years old, but already being fostered in Rivendell, where he would remain until he had reached young adulthood, trained in the skills and duties of a Ranger by Elrond’s sons Elladan and Elrohir and accompanying them on their outings. During this time, his true name and identity remained concealed and he was called Estel (“Hope”).
While still living in Rivendell, Aragorn first met Elrond’s daughter Arwen when she returned from Lothlórien, where she had been staying with her maternal grandparents, Galadriel and Celeborn. (Poetically, he had been walking in the woods, reciting the Lay of Lúthien; and when he saw Arwen, for a moment he thought that Lúthien herself had returned.) For him it was love at first sight, but not so for her — she would only come to return his feelings after she had returned to Lothlórien and he was paying a visit there several decades later. They eventually promised each other marriage on Cerin Amroth, a mound originally created to keep an eye on the goings-on at Dol Guldur in Mirkwood (further to the northeast), which however also carried a(n albeit tragically) romantic connotation: it owed its name to the fact that it had formerly been the living place of Amroth, the last King of L(othl)órien, who had lost his lady love Nimrodel and eventually his life when they were parted while searching for a more peaceful new home further to the south. — When Elrond had first noticed that Aragorn, then barely come to manhood, had fallen in love with Arwen, he had taken heart from his daughter’s then-apparent unresponsiveness and had roundly told Aragorn that Arwen was above his station. Now learning that the pair were engaged to be married after all, he took a page out of Thingol’s book and told Aragorn that he would consent to their marriage only if Aragorn were to become King of both Arnor and Gondor.
When Aragorn had grown up and decided to leave Rivendell, he accepted his real name and received from Elrond two of the heirlooms of the House of Elendil: the shards of Narsil and the Ring of Barahir. However, Elrond said that Aragorn had yet to earn possession of the two heirlooms most directly signifying the kingship of Arnor, the Elendilmir (“Star of Elendil” diadem; or rather, the replica made after the original was believed to have been lost when Isildur had died in the waves of the Anduin) and the Sceptre of Andúnië (or of Annúminas). Having left Rivendell, Aragorn assumed the name Thorongil (“Eagle of the Star”) and spent many years serving the King of Rohan and the Steward of Gondor, whose son Denethor however was aware of his true identity and suspected him of wanting to oust the Stewards. Aragorn also formed a friendship with Gandalf, who interested him in the Shire and the adjoining lands, where Aragorn subsequently became known as “Strider“.
(According to the Hobbit movies, Thranduil, the Elvenking of Mirkwood, in his turn encouraged his son Legolas to seek the friendship of the Ranger known as “Strider”, after Legolas had told his father that he was not going to return to Mirkwood after the Battle of the Five Armies; however, this is requires some further speculation in order to be reconciled with the text of The Lord of the Rings, as there we learn that Legolas is Thranduil’s ambassador to Rivendell, sent there to inform Elrond, Gandalf and Aragorn of Gollum’s escape from Mirkwood: so for both versions of the events to be possible, Legolas must have returned to Mirkwood, after all, at some point between the Battle of the Five Armies and the Council of Elrond. There is certainly enough time between the two events for such a return to be feasible; however, it remains a tangent based entirely on speculation, and there is nothing to tell us that Aragorn and Legolas had ever met independently of Aragorn’s visit(s) to Mirkwood.)
After the One Ring had found its way to Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf had thus become aware of Gollum‘s existence, Gandalf and Aragorn embarked on a hunt for Gollum, who however had, in the interim, been captured by Sauron and been taken to Mordor, there to be tortured for several years and eventually reveal the words “Shire” and “Baggins”. Aragorn finally caught up with Gollum after the latter’s release in the Dead Marshes northwest of Mordor and took him to Mirkwood, there to entrust him to Thranduil’s keeping (from which Gollum would, however, eventually manage to escape). Then Aragorn returned to the west and met with Gandalf, who told him that Frodo Baggins, who had inherited the One Ring from Bilbo, was planning to take the Ring out of the Shire. Aragorn and Gandalf agreed that Frodo would need their guidance on his way, wherever that would eventually lead him.
Having learned of the appearance of the Nazgûl, in the form of nine Black Riders, in the area, Aragorn met Frodo and his companions at the inn of the Prancing Pony in Bree. He prevailed on them to accept him as their guide, helped by a letter of Gandalf’s that should have reached Frodo prior to his departure from the Shire, but had inadvertently been kept back by the innkeeper, Barliman Butterbur. Aragorn guided the Hobbits, who had already had a number of perilous adventures and had reached Bree more by luck and with the assistance of the Elves and Tom Bombadil than by their own wits, to Rivendell; but he was not able to prevent a Nazgûl attack on Weathertop, the ancient location of the watchtower of Amon Sûl, during which Frodo was injured by a Nazgûl blade after having been unable to resist the urge to put on the One Ring. With Frodo’s wound tended as best as possible, but pursued by the Ring-wraiths, and at last aided by Glorfindel, whom Elrond had sent out to meet and assist them, Aragorn and the three other Hobbits conveyed Frodo to Rivendell, where he was pulled back from the brink of darkness at the last moment by Elrond’s skill as a healer.
At the Council of Elrond, Aragorn became a member of the Fellowship of the Ring formed to help Frodo conveying the One Ring to Mordor. After they had lost Gandalf as their guide in Moria, Aragorn took up the leadership of the Fellowship and guided them first to Lothlórien and then down the river Anduin into Gondor. When Frodo secretly left the Fellowship at Parth Galen on the western shore of Nen Hithoel and Boromir, the elder son and heir of Denethor (now in turn Steward of Gondor) had been killed in an Orc attack, Aragorn and the two remaining members of the Fellowship, Gimli and Legolas, pursued the Orcs who had captured and abducted Merry and Pippin. In the ancient forest of Fangorn, into which the two Hobbits had managed to save themselves when the Orcs holding them captive were routed by a troop of Riders of Rohan, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli reunited with Gandalf, sent back to Middle-earth after his cataclysmic fight with the Moria Balrog Durin’s Bane as Gandalf the White. Trusting (contrary to what is implied in the movies, even without positive knowledge) Merry and Pippin to be safe in the keeping of the Ent Treebeard, for whose Elvish name (“Fangorn”) the forest was named, Gandalf convinced Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli to accompany him to Rohan’s capital Edoras. There Gandalf proceeded to free King Théoden from the evil influence of Saruman’s agent Gríma (called “Wormtongue” by most of the Rohirrim), and prevailed upon Théoden to muster the Rohirrim against Saruman and, eventually, against Sauron himself. They then participated in the Battle of the Hornburg, fought at the Rohirrim’s mountain fortress of Helm’s Deep and, at the last minute, won against Saruman’s armies.
After the battle they rode to Isengard, where in the interim the Ents, led by Fangorn (with Merry and Pippin), had destroyed Saruman’s pits and war machines; and Gandalf formally stripped Saruman of his power. After Gríma had hurled the Palantír of Orthanc at Gandalf’s and Aragorn’s company without knowing the crystal ball’s true nature, Aragorn used the seeing stone to deliberately reveal himself to Sauron, but also to see what he could learn of the state of Sauron’s campaign against Gondor. At this time Pippin had, for his part, also drawn the attention of Sauron’s eye already by trying to look at the Palantír, which he had stolen from Gandalf’s keeping while the wizard was sleeping. This caused Gandalf to instantly depart for Minas Tirith with Pippin, whereas Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas and Merry briefly returned to Rohan; but Aragorn received a message from Elrond (conveyed to him by the leaders of the Grey Company, the Ranger Halbarad and Elrond’s sons Elladan and Elrohir), reminding him of the Paths of the Dead. Thus, accompanied by Legolas, Gimli, and the Rangers of the Grey Company, Aragorn passed through the Dark Door into the mountain where those who had betrayed his ancestor Isildur in his fight against Sauron had been condemned to remain, awaiting the return of Isildur’s heir, who alone had the power to release them. This Aragorn promised to them in return for their remedying their earlier act of betrayal and assisting him in his own (and Gondor’s and Rohan’s) fight against Sauron.
Thereafter, Aragorn and his companions proceeded further south to Pelargir, where — aided by the army of the Dead — they took the Corsairs of Umbar’s Black Ships. Having released the Dead and declared their oath fulfilled, Aragorn and his companions of the Fellowship and of the Grey Company took the Corsairs’ ships up the river Anduin to Minas Tirith, outside whose gates the Battle of the Pelennor Fields was already well under way at this point. (So, no spooky green ghost soldiers at Pelennor, unike what the movie version of The Return of the King would have you believe: the Dead were released and their oath decleared fulfilled at Pelargir.) Aragon’s and the Dúnedain’s emergence from the ships instead of the Corsairs, and the unfurling of the banner of Elendil, proved the crucial shock to Sauron’s forces, which at this point seemed to be gaining the upper hand; even though their commander, the Witch-king of Angmar, had been destroyed by Merry and King Théoden’s niece Éowyn and command of the forces of Mordor had passed to the Captain of Minas Morgul, the Orc Gothmog. Once the battle was won, Aragorn chose not yet to enter Minas Tirith and claim his title; rather, the hands of a King being those of a healer, he focused on healing those who had been injured in the battle, such as Éowyn and Merry, as well as Faramir, whom Pippin and Gandalf had, at the last minute, rescued from the pyre built for him on the orders of his own father Denethor, in despair over his belief that Faramir had sustained a fatal wound in his and his and his company’s suicide mission to retake Osgiliath from Sauron’s Orcs.
At last, having learned from Faramir (who had come across Frodo and Sam in Ithilien some time before the attack of Sauron’s armies) that the two Hobbits, guided by Gollum, were on the point of entering Mordor, Aragorn took forces consisting mainly of Men of Gondor and Rohirrim to the Black Gate of Mordor, there to challenge Sauron directly as a distraction from Frodo’s and Sam’s attempts to take the One Ring to Mount Doom and destroy it in its fires, which the two Hobbits finally accomplished after having suffered many hardships of their own.
(Emblem of the House of Telcontar: art by Rondador)
Only after Sauron’s annihilation and the end of the War of the Ring did Aragorn formally advance his claim to the kingship of Gondor, based on his descendance from Elendil, Isildur and Anárion and also that from Arvedui, himself Isildur’s heir and heir to the throne of Arthedain, and his wife Fíriel, daughter of the King of Gondor, in the days after the partition of Arnor and the reestablishment of an alliance between Gondor and Arnor’s (partial) successor kingdom of Arthedain. Aragorn’s claim was accepted by the people of Gondor; and he was crowned King of Gondor and styled Aragorn II Elessar (“Elf-stone”), a name long prophesied for him for the green gem that, as legend had it, Olórin / Gandalf himself had first brought from Valinor and given to Galadriel, who had in turn given it to Aragorn on Arwen’s behalf as a parting gift at the end of the Fellowship’s visit to Lothlórien. Elrond himself brought Arwen to Minas Tirith and delivered to Aragorn the hand of his daughter, as well as the Sceptre of Annúminas, thus also acknowledging his right to the kingship of Arnor. Gandalf, for his part, took Aragorn into the mountain of Mindolluin against which Minas Tirith was built (the easternmost part of the White Mountains), where they found a White Tree grown from yet another seedling of Nimloth, the White Tree of Númenor. Aragorn planted a sapling from this tree in Minas Tirith as a symbol of the reemergence of the Kingship. Having subsequently learned from the Palantír of Orthanc, reinstalled at Isengard, that the original Elendilmir had not been lost but, rather, been stolen by Saruman, Aragorn also retrieved the diadem; but in order to preserve it, he chose to only wear the original on high holidays and otherwise continue to wear the replica.
Aragorn established the new House of Telcontar (after his earlier epithet in the North, “Strider”), which by the marriage of Aragorn and Arwen not only reunited the heritage of Elves and Men that had been parted when Eärendil’s son Elrond chose Elfdom, whereas Elros had chosen to become a mortal Man: through her parents Elrond and Celebrian, Arwen also passed on to her children the heritage of all three Elven Kindred and all three Houses of the Edain of the First Age. The device of the new royal house united the Winged Crown of Gondor, the Seven Stars of Elendil, and the White Tree, now signifying not only Gondor’s but the reunited royal line’s Númenórean heritage.
Together with Théoden’s nephew and successor Éomer — with whom Aragorn had established a friendship since their first meeting on the plains of Rohan — the King of Arnor and Gondor renewed the oath of allegiance that had first been sworn, centuries earlier, by Cirion, Steward of Gondor, and Eorl the Young, leader of the Éothéod (the Rohirrim’s ancestors), after the two people’s first successful joint campaign; the so-called Oath of Cirion or Oath of Eorl. The allegiance between Rohan and Gondor was further strengthened by the marriage of Éomer’s sister Éowyn to Faramir, Steward of Gondor and Prince of Ithilien; as well as by a series of joint campaigns, led by Kings Aragorn II Elessar and Éomer, designed to keep Gondor’s ancient enemies to the east and to the south — Umbar, Harad, and the Easterling tribes — at bay and prevent the reemergence of any threat arising from there.
King Aragorn Elessar also declared the Shire a Free Land under the protection of Arnor, and he appointed its highest officials, namely, the Thain (the office soon to come to Peregrin — Pippin — Took), the Master of Buckland (Meriadoc — Merry — Brandybuck), and the Mayor of the Shire’s inofficial capital Michel Delving (Sam Gamgee, for an unprecedented seven terms) Counsellors of the North Kingdom; moreover, he granted the Shire the lands reaching from its old borders all the way west to the Emyn Beraid (“Tower Hills”) on the way to the Gulf of Lune and the Grey Havens. Other peoples who had stood out during the War of the Ring were likewise rewarded; as such, the Drúedain, who had provided crucial assistance to the Rohirrim on their way to the Pelennor Fields, were granted the Drúadan Forest as a protected freehold in perpetuity.
Having ruled for 122 years — mostly from the reestablished Northern capital of Annúminas, though Minas Tirith likeweise retained its preeminence — and having fathered a son named Eldarion and several daughters, Aragorn II Elessar died at the age of 210 years. His wife Arwen, having chosen mortality, survived him for a year, which she spent in Lothlórien, there to waste away in sorrow on Cerin Amroth, the place where she and Aragorn had first promised each other marriage.
(Top row images by Angus McBride, Johnny Shumate and JB Casaco; bottom row images: source here)
There are several, at first sight in part conflicting sources for the origin of the Northmen; taken together, their most likely reading seems to be that the Northmen descended from the group of the Edain traveling to the West that mainly consisted of the First and Third Houses; possibly they were originally part of, or related to the Third House (at this time known as the House of Marach, later and better known as the House of Hador). Like the Hadorians, they were in their majority tall, strongly built, fair-colored and blond. However, unlike the First and the (rest of the) Third House, the Northmen did not cross into Eriador and Beleriand but remained east of the Misty Mountains, in Rhovanion.
Having been divided while crossing through Greenwood the Great (the Mirkwood of later days), some of the the Northmen moved on to the Vales of Anduin, while others settled in the area between Greenwood / Mirkwood and the Grey Mountains (Ered Mithrim) in the north. Those who lived close to Longbeard (Dwarven) settlements traded with or worked for the Dwarves and learned from them skills such as road construction, mining, and weapon-making. When Morgoth’s Orcs, deprived of their leader, went marauding in the lands east of the Misty Mountains after the end of the War of Wrath, the friendship between Dwarves and Men consolidated into a more formal defensive alliance, which however came to an end when Sauron began to establish his mastery of the east and sent Orcs into Rhovanion in a merciless strategy of suppression and domination. This caused the Dwarves to withdraw into their mountain strongholds, whereas Rhovanion fell under Sauron’s rule, until Sauron himself was temporarily beaten back by an alliance of Ñoldor and Númenóreans and eventually taken to Númenor (apparently as a captive) by King Ar-Pharazôn; an event which, in turn, allowed the Ñoldorin King Gil-galad to extend his rule eastwards beyond the shores of the Anduin.
Over the course of the Second Age, the Númenóreans — having gradually begun to establish trading posts in Middle-earth — had come to call those men who had remained in Middle-earth after the War of Wrath but were friendly to the Númenóreans “Middle Men“, a term indicating their common ancestry from the Edain while being of lesser nobility as a result of having remained behind and not followed the Valars’ call to Númenor (as a consequence of which the “Middle Men” had, for a time, regressed into a more primitive way of life); but also distinguishing them from those Men who were in thrall to Morgoth and, later, Sauron, who were known as “Men of Darkness” or “Men of the Shadow”. This distinction was later maintained by the Dúnedain and by the Men of Gondor, who due to their close allegiance and intermingling with the returned Númenóreans likewise considered themselves “High Men”. The term “Middle Men” applied variously either to all of Gondor’s (and the Dúnedain’s) allies or more specifically to individual groups, such as the people of Eriador or those remaining after the fall of Arnor and of Arthedain. Besides the latter, the Northmen were the most significant group typically included in the term “Middle Men”.
In the Third Age, those of the Northmen who were living in the Vales of Anduin for a time became subjects of Gondor; but regardless whether as subjects or as inhabitants of parts of Rhovanion not directly under Gondor’s rule, the Kings of Gondor appreciated the Northmen as an important first line of defenders against the Easterlings, who increasingly began to harass the lands to the west of their own. However, the attempt to further strengthen the two people’s bonds through the marriage of the heir to the throne of Gondor and the daughter of the King (Chieftain) of the Northmen came to have the disastrous consequence of the Kin-strife in Gondor; and shortly thereafter, the Northmen — like most of Middle-earth — were decimated by the plague. Thus, when the fearsome Wainriders attacked from the east, the Northmen were even more defenseless against them than Gondor, and most of Rhovanion was quickly and brutally enslaved. Only a small number of the Northmen living south of the Celduin (“River Running”, the river flowing from the Lonely Mountain and the Long Lake in the north of Rhovanion to the inland Sea of Rhûn in the east) managed to cross that river and join their kinfolk at Dale, whereas others withdrew once more into the Vales of Anduin, before moving north again towards the intersection of the Grey Mountains and the northern end of the Misty Mountains after the Wainriders had been defeated at last, roughly a century after they had first come out of the east. With these latter Northmen, who had begun to call themselves the Éothéod (“Horse-people”) for their growing affinity to horses, Gondor had had an affiliation of one sort or another ever since the days of Rómendacil II and his grandson Eldacar, whose mother had come from the Éothéod’s ancestors; and over time the two peoples had established a particularly close relationship and a military alliance proving its worth in many a campaign, until the Stewards of Gondor at last granted the Éothéod the right to settle in the plains of Calenardhon, which subsequently became known as the Kingdom of Rohan.
By the late Third Age, the Northmen had ceased to be one united people once and for all; except for the Rohirrim — who had moved west — their descendants lived in a plethora of settlements all over the lands east of the Misty Mountains. In those days, the descendants of the Northmen were variously known as the Rohirrim, the Men of Dale (later “Bardings”, for the leadership of the bowman who had killed the dragon Smaug), the Lake-men, the Beornings, and the Woodmen of Mirkwood.
Three groups of the Northmen’s descendants merit particular attention, as they feature significantly in the Third-Age tales of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings:
The Rohirrim (“Horse-lords”) were the descendants of the Éothéod, the group of Northmen who had previously lived in the Vales of Anduin and in northern Mirkwood (“Éothéod”, similarly, also means “horse-people”), and who had long considered themselves distant cousins of the people of Gondor, as they descended from the tribe with whom, in days gone by, Rómendacil II had sought a closer alliance by sending his son there as an ambassador, and from whose ranks had come the mother of Rómendacil’s grandson Eldacar. Their name indicates their special prowess as riders, going back to their king Eorl‘s taming and mastery of Felaróf, first of the Mearas and, but for Shadowfax, the noblest of that breed. It was Eorl, too, who received the plains of Calenardhon as a gift from Steward Cirion of Gondor, and who thus called upon his entire people to remove there. For this, the Éothéod came to call themselves Eorlingas (“Followers of Eorl”), while in Gondor they were known as Rohirrim and their new kingdom as Rohan or the Riddermark.
Generally tall, blond and blue-eyed like most of the Northmen, the Rohirrim continued their ancestors’ lifestyle by settling mostly in villages spread out over the plains of Rohan rather than in cities; with the exception of their capital Edoras in the northern foothills of the Misty Mountains, where stood the royal palace, known as the Golden Hall of Meduseld. Also like their Northmen kin even in the Third Age, while the Rohirrim had a calendarial system and a (somewhat archaic) language and an alphabet of their own, they did not have a written history or literature but still relied on an oral tradition of songs and leys. Notably, however, they valued nothing as much as their horses, bred from the Mearas, some of whom — including Shadowfax — still roamed their plains freely, without submitting to bridle and saddle, and permitting no riders but the Kings of Rohan and their descendants. Because of their affinity to horses, virtually all of the armed forces of Rohan consisted of cavalrymen; although in the event of danger the Rohirrim could also withdraw into the fortress of the Hornburg (originally known as Aglarond), built outside a vast system of caverns in a cliff edge of the White Mountains at Helm’s Deep, northwest of Edoras on the southern side of the Gap of Rohan, which had been included in the gift of land from the Stewards of Gondor, and which was said never to have fallen while it was defended.
At the time of the War of the Ring, Rohan was governed by its seventeenth King, Théoden, who had adopted his predeceased sister’s son and daughter, Éomer and Éowyn, and raised them together with his own son Théodred. Théoden had long been relying on the counsel of Saruman, his kingdom’s neighbor on the opposite side of the Gap of Rohan, who had taken up residence at Isengard with the consent of the Stewards of Gondor somewhat over two centuries earlier. Initially Saruman’s advice had been solid and reliable; as the wizard’s thirst for power and for the possession of the One Ring increased, however, he successively used his agent Gríma (known to most of the Rohirrim as Wormtongue) in order to poison both Théoden’s body and his mind, and so rendered him — and through him, effectively his entire people — increasingly defenseless. But Saruman’s efforts came to naught when Gandalf appeared in Rohan, accompanied by the members of the Fellowship of the Ring with whom he had reunited in nearby Fangorn Forest after his return as Gandalf the White; and when in spite of Gríma’s attempts to prevent Gandalf from entering Meduseld with his staff, precisely this was permitted (although the company grudgingly had to give up the rest of their weapons at the gate). Gandalf swiftly removed Saruman’s shadow from over Théoden’s person; then Théoden himself sent Gríma away, named his nephew Éomer his successor in lieu of his recently-killed son Théodred, and called for the Rohirrim to be mustered against Saruman’s armies. In the Battle of the Hornburg (or of Helm’s Deep), the Rohirrim, led by Théoden and Aragorn and assisted at the last moment by Huorns (wild half-Ents from Fangorn Forest), annihilated the much larger forces of the treasonous Wizard, which in turn chiefly consisted of the Rohirrim’s age-old adversaries, the Dunlendings (Men of Dunland), as well as Saruman’s “fighting Uruk-hai” and the new monsters that he had created by cross-breeding Orcs and Uruks with Goblins and Men.
After the battle, Théoden and a small contingent of his men accompanied Gandalf and the reunited members of the Fellowship to Isengard, where they saw the destruction wrought on Saruman’s dominion and war machine by the Ents. They were welcomed by Merry and Pippin, sent there for the purpose by Treebeard (Fangorn); Merry would later offer his services to Théoden as his squire in thanks for the King’s particular kindness to him. Gandalf, after having given Saruman a final chance to remedy his ways and been rebuffed, broke Saruman’s staff as an outward sign of the removal of his power, and ejected him from the Order of the Istari (the Heren Istarion).
Théoden and his company — including Merry — then returned to Rohan; there to muster the Rohirrim once again, this time in support of Gondor against Sauron, while Gandalf and Pippin had instantly departed for Minas Tirith after Pippin had nearly betrayed their mission to Sauron by looking into the Palantír of Orthanc. Before departing for Gondor in turn, Théoden entrusted the rule of Rohan in his absence to his niece Éowyn, as he had already done prior to his departure for the Battle of the Hornburg. Éowyn, however, raised as a shieldmaiden of Rohan and as versed in the martial arts as the men of the kingdom, was determined to join her uncle in the fight against Sauron’s armies; so she secretly joined their host disguised as a young man, and she also brought along Merry, whom Théoden had likewise ordered to stay behind for his own protection (much to Merry’s sorrow). On the way to Gondor, the Rohirrim were assisted by the Drúedain of Drúadan Forest to the northwest of Minas Tirith, who secretly guided their whole 6,000-men strong cavalry through Stonewain Valley, thus allowing the riders to avoid the host of Orcs lying in ambush on the main road connecting Edoras and Minas Tirith (the Great West Road). The Rohirrim’s arrival in time for the Battle of the Pelennor Fields outside Minas Tirith thus came as a surprise to both friend and foe (to the Men of Gondor all the more as the herald whom they had sent to request Rohan’s assistance had been killed). Théoden himself once more led his riders into the battle, but was killed when his horse shied after Théoden had taken on the leader of Sauron’s forces, the Witch-king of Angmar, and his horse had been hit by a poisoned arrow. Éowyn and Merry, who had been standing their ground near the King, avenged him by destroying the leader of the Nazgûl, who had long boasted that no man would be able kill him, but had not reckoned on ever having to face off against a woman and a Hobbit.
After the battle, Théoden was initially buried with high honors in Minas Tirith, though his body was later taken back to Edoras, to rest with his forefathers. He was succeeded as King of Rohan by his nephew Éomer, who, once Sauron was defeated and Aragorn had been crowned King of Gondor, together with Aragorn renewed the two kingdoms’ oath of allegiance. Meanwhile, Éowyn and Merry had been taken to the Minas Tirith Houses of Healing after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, where Éowyn met Faramir, who in turn had recently risen to the Stewardship of Gondor after the deaths of his father and elder brother, Denethor and Boromir. Faramir was able to win Éowyn’s affection and help her overcome the unhappy infatuation she had developed for Aragorn when first meeting him at Edoras. Thus, their marriage, as well as the friendship that had grown since their first meeting between Aragorn and Éomer, strengthened the bonds between Gondor and Rohan even further; as did the joint campaigns later waged by the forces of Rohan and the reunited Kingdom of Arnor and Gondor, designed to keep their enemies in Umbar, Harad, and the east of Middle-earth at bay and stop them from reemerging as a threat.
The Men of Dale (Bardings) and the Lake-men
The Men of Dale were descendants of Northmen who crossed the River Running (Celduin) when the Dwarven King Thrór, the grandfather of Thorin Oakenshield, reestablished the Kingdom Under the Mountain at Erebror (the Lonely Mountain) in northern Rhovanion, east of Mirkwood, some 500 years before the end of the Third Age. The community prospered, mostly through trade and its proximity to the Dwarven Kingdom Under the Mountain, for approximately two centuries; then the fire dragon Smaug came down from the north and sacked Erebor; only Thrór and his son Thráin escaped through the side door to the mountain, taking the key and a map of the mountain with them. Alongside the Dwarves, the Men of Dale who had come to their aid were killed as well; and further members of the community were killed each night when Smaug, who had settled inside the Lonely Mountain, came out to hunt for human prey. Thus, the surviving Men of Dale fled southward to join the community of the Lake-men living in Esgaroth (Lake-town) on the Long Lake, a body of water probably created when the deep rocky valley originally in its place was filled by the water from the two rivers still feeding the lake in later years, the River Running in the north and the Forest River flowing out of nearby Mirkwood in the west.
Like their former neighbors from Dale, the Lake-men were descendants of the Northmen that had settled in northern Rhovanion; also like the Men of Dale, they lived from trade. However, after Smaug had settled inside the Lonely Mountain and Dale had been destroyed, the only major trade remaining to Lake-town was that with the Elves of Mirkwood. — Unlike Dale, which had been ruled by a hereditary leader style the Lord of Dale, Lake-town was governed by an elected official known as the Master of Lake-town.
As Smaug had left Lake-town alone and spent more and more time sleeping inside the Lonely Mountain, many of its people eventually forgot about the dragon or deceived themselves into believing that he was only a creature from old wives’ tales, preferring not to ponder over the reasons for the destruction of Dale, which after all was not so far away to the north. Yet, they were eventually forced to face up to Smaug when, some two centuries after the influx of the refugees that had left Dale behind when fleeing from the dragon, Thorin Oakenshield and his companions arrived in the area, intent on retaking the Lonely Mountain and on reestablishing the Kingdom Under the Mountain; and when Smaug, driven out of Erebor by the Dwarves, came down to Lake-town after all to burn the town in revenge for what he believed was its participation in a plot against him.
Among the Lake-men at this time was Bard the Bowman, a descendant of Girion, who had been the last Lord of Dale at the time when its people had fled from Smaug. A heirloom in Bard’s family was a black arrow, forged by the Dwarves Under the Mountain and faithful to always be recovered after having been shot. Having failed to kill Smaug with any of his other arrows, Bard finally had recourse to the Black Arrow, hitting an unprotected spot on the dragon’s belly. Smaug had his revenge on Lake-town once more even in dying when he fell onto the town and thereby flattened much of what had not yet been burned; and Bard went to the Lonely Mountain to claim from Thorin Oakenshield the reward Thorin had promised him for his assistance, a share of the treasure recovered from the dragon. However, Thorin, already beset by dragon sickness, refused; and when Bilbo Baggins handed over the Arkenstone — the very gem which to steal Thorin had taken Bilbo along in the first place — to Bard and Thranduil, the Elvenking of Mirkwood, as a bargaining tool, a battle for the possession of the Lonely Mountain and its treasures ensued, in which Bard and the people of Lake-town were originally aligned with the Elves against the Dwarves. However, when the host of Orcs led by Bolg (in the movies, by him and his father Azog the Defiler) — who had been pursuing Thorin and his company all the way since the Misty Mountains (and in fact, had had hostile encounters with Thorin’s people before and had killed his grandfather Thrór at the Mines of Moria many years earlier) — arrived at the Misty Mountains, the efforts of all other combatants were united against the Orcs, and these were defeated in what came to be known as the Battle of the Five Armies., during which Thorin was killed.
Bard, however, survived, and used the money now paid out to him by Thorin’s successor Dáin II Ironfoot in order to restore Dale, to where most of the people of Lake-town followed him and eventually elected him king. Dáin had also returned to Bard a valuable necklace, known as the Emeralds of Girion, which Bard’s ancestor had once given the Dwarves in payment for a mithril shirt made for his son; but Bard now gave that necklace to Thranduil, who he believed would better appreciate it. — In King Bard’s honor, his people were subsequently known as Bardings. They reestablished neighborly trading relations with the Dwaves and over time once more increased their power and influence in the area. During the War of the Ring, the arrival of Easterlings allied with Sauron drove the Bardings into the Lonely Mountain, where — together with the Dwarves — they were besieged for a week and suffered the deaths of both the Dwarven King (Dáin Ironfoot) and the King of Dale (Bard’s grandson Brand) at the gates of the mountain. However, news of the defeat of Sauron put an end to the siege, Dale was rebuilt once more, and Brand’s successor sent an emissary to Gondor to attend the coronation of King Aragorn II Elessar.
Beorn and the Beornings
Beorn as a Man and as a bear attacking Orcs (right image: art by JMKilpatrick)
Beorn was a giant skin-changer living alone in the Vales of Anduin between the Misty Mountains and Mirkwood, on the eastern shore of the river. His antecedents were unknown even to Gandalf, who however suspected Beorn’s ancestors to have been driven out of the Misty Mountains by Orcs. Like most of the people living in the northern part of Rhovanion, Beorn’s kin were believed to have descended from Northmen; unlike any of the others, however, he had the ability to shape-shift into a black bear. Benevolent at heart, but also a loner feared for his sullen temper and not favorably disposed towards Dwarves, he was not a natural host to choose for Gandalf to take Thorin’s and Bilbo’s company to after their escape from the wargs (and in the movies: Orcs) in the final stage of their passage through the Misty Mountains. However, his attitude changed to a welcoming one after he had heard about their plight, as he hated few creatures more than wargs, Goblins and Orcs. After having housed Bilbo and the Dwarves, devised a (relatively) safe way for them to cross through Mirkwood, and lent them some of his tamed ponies, he later appeared at the Battle of the Five Armies in his skin-changed guise as a great black bear and killed Bolg, the leader of the Orcs (in the movies, the lieutenant of his father Azog the Defiler). — He later also helped Aragorn when the Ranger was taking Gollum into Mirkwood, there to be guarded by Thranduil’s Wood Elves.
Beorn eventually became the chieftain of a tribe of Northmen who had collected around him and who came to be known as the Beornings. Together they kept the passes out of the Misty Mountains in to the Vale of Anduin free of Orcs and wolves. They also stood by the Elves of Mirkwood during the War of the Ring.
Beorn himself had died by this point, but he had passed on both his hatred of Orcs and (possibly) also his ability to skin-change to his descendants. After the War of the Ring, Celeborn and Thranduil gave the Beornings the central part of Mirkwood, which they had renamed Eryn Lasgalen (“Wood of Greenleaves”), between the Mountains of Mirkwood and the Narrows of the Forest; whereas Thranduil kept the northern part of the wood and Celeborn the southern part, which he renamed East Lórien. The reason for this grant of land to the Beornings was almost certainly their loyalty to the Elves, but possibly also the fact that their old homes had been burned by Sauron’s minions during the war, as Frodo had seen huge fires east of the northern Misty Mountains when looking in that direction from the Seat of Seeing atop of Amon Hen while wearing the One Ring.
The Ents were a spontaneous invention emerging from the writing process of The Two Towers; this may be one of the reasons why their precise nature (spirits? spirit-inhabited Men? humanoid creatures sui generis like the Dwarves?) is not set forth definitively. We know from the Silmarillion, however, that Eru Ilúvatar created them — probably approximately at the same time as the Elves — as “Treeheards” (shepherds of the trees) at Yavanna’s plea for the protection of the forests.
Easily fourteen feet tall and much stronger and more powerful than either Dwarves, Elves or Orcs, in appearance the Ents resembled trees with Man-like features; their skin was a bark thick enough to defy an axe, their heads and limbs looked like a tree’s crown and trunk, and they walked with only the barest bending of their legs. Almost the only way to destroy an Ent was to torch him. Each Ent was responsible for a particular type of tree and visibly resembled that type of tree in his individual appearance. Having been taught to speak by the Elves, the Ents developed a language of their own, which was characterized by excessively long words (including and especially proper names), as each word included the whole history of the thing it described. Thus, saying anything in Entish took a very long time, and the Ents spoke only about things that were worthwhile taking such a long time to discuss. This particularity of their speech also translated to their attitude towards the world and the actions of the other inhabitants of Middle-earth in general, which often seemed excessively “hasty” to them — “hastiness” being the last thing an Ent would ever want to be accused of himself.
In the early days of Middle-earth, the Ents used to be able to roam freely, and without even having to leave the woods, in places reaching all the way towards areas west of the Blue Mountains, such as Dorthonion and Ossiriand (not to mention all over Eriador); but as a result of the destruction of the forests in the wars fought between the Elves and first Morgoth and then Sauron, by the late Third Age they had to withdraw to Fangorn, the ancient forest west of the southern tip of the Misty Mountains and north of Rohan (as well as, possibly, to the Old Forest just outside of the Shire). There once used to be Ent-wives, too, but those wandered to the eastern shores to the Anduin river, there to create gardens from the shrubs, flowers, grass, and fruit-bearing trees which they particularly loved; and again as a result of the wars fought in Middle-earth, the Ents were separated from the Ent-wives and those were never heard from again. Their gardens, meanwhile, became the uninhabitable Brown Lands of the later days of the Third Age. The disappearance of the Ent-wives also meant that the remaining Ents would grow old without being able to hope for new generations of Entings (children) and that the Ents would eventually die out entirely.
Over time, some of the Ents grew “treeish” and stopped moving or speaking; on the other hand, some trees also grew Entish and acquired the ability to move and talk. Either one or both of these types of beings halfway between a tree and an Ent were known as Huorns: savage, hard-to-govern creatures that were able to move at a great speed when roused to anger and cloak themselves in a shadow making them as good as invisible. — Old Man Willow, with whom the Hobbits had a terrifying and near-fatal encounter at the start of their journey, may have been a Huorn.
Both the Ents and the Huorns played a decisive role in the victory over Saruman during the War of the Ring: On the one hand, Treebeard — the oldest Ent still fully sentient at the time, whose Elvish name (Fangorn) had over time come to be that of the whole forest — had learned from Pippin and Merry (who had escaped into Fangorn Forest from the Orcs conveying them to Isengard) of the perils besetting Middle-earth at the hands of Saruman and Sauron. On the other hand, Gandalf had sought out Treebeard and asked for the Ents’ assistance in the Rohirrim’s impending battle against Saruman’s forces. Having long held a grudge against Saruman for destroying their beloved trees and feeding them to the fires of his war machine, the Ents held an Entmoot (their version of a general assembly); as a result of which they themselves proceeded to Isengard, which they flooded and where they destroyed Saruman’s pits and war machinery, while Treebeard dispatched the Huorns to Helm’s Deep, there to annihilate the forces that Saruman had sent against the Rohirrim (and of these, especially the Orcs, whom the Huorns hated particularly).
The creature later known as Gollum was originally named Sméagol; a member of the River Folk of the Vales of Anduin (the Stoors) and, as such, related to the Hobbits. He had been seduced by the One Ring that his friend Déagol had found when diving in the river, where it had lain hidden after Isildur had been killed in the attempt to cross the river after his party had been routed by Orcs on the nearby Gladden Fields northeast of Moria. Coveting the Ring, which he called his “Precious” almost from the start, Sméagol murdered Déagol, but, out of guilt but also as a mark of the Ring’s quickly-increasing power, he soon withdrew first from his own community, then from the communities of Hobbits and Men generally, and finally from the light of day; morphing into a creature hardly recognizable as of Hobbit or human origin, and who lived on raw fish and Orc- / Goblin-meat rather than on a diet even remotely recognizable as that of Men or Hobbits. Over the course of his extraordinarily long possession of the One Ring, the Ring consumed Gollum (later named thus for the guttural sounds he made when swallowing) to the point of his almost complete destruction and entirely robbed him of his own free will.
Bilbo Baggins’s finding the One Ring in Gollum’s cave under the Misty Mountains sent signals of alarm to Gandalf, who instantly knew he had to find out more about Bilbo’s find as soon as possible, even though at this point he only had a vague notion of its importance. Gandalf and Aragorn later spent a long time hunting Gollum down and questioning him, then gave him into the keeping of the Wood-Elves of Mirkwood, from whom, however, he managed to escape — only to be captured again by Sauron’s agents and tortured into revealing the words “Baggins” and “Shire”, which sent Sauron on Bilbo’s tracks and made him send the Nazgûl on a mission to find the Hobbit, recover his “trifle” and take him to Mordor.
Sauron also set Gollum free again, realizing that he would irresistibly be drawn to the Ring and thus lead others to it, and Gollum did in fact catch up with the new Ring-bearer Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring near the Mines of Moria, not so terribly far from his Stoor home of half a millennium earlier. Having followed Frodo and Sam in (falsely presumed) secrecy for a while after they had separated from the rest of the Fellowship to find their way into Mordor alone, Gollum was at last captured by them and offered to act as their guide in exchange for being allowed to move freely, all the while secretly coveting the Ring and seeking an opportunity to regain its possession. In pursuance of that plan, he eventually led Frodo and Sam to Shelob’s lair near the tunnel leading to the tower of Cirith Ungol just inside the borders of Mordor, but while Frodo was indeed stung and cocooned by the giant spider, Sam fought off Gollum himself and made him flee empty-handed. After Frodo, incapacitated by Shelob, had been found and taken to Cirith Ungol by Orc guards, and had then been freed again by Sam, Gollum (once more compelled to follow and spy on the Ring-bearer and his companion secretly and from afar) finally caught up with the Hobbits on the slopes of Mount Doom; and it was there, at the very end, that Gandalf’s prophecy, made to Frodo very early on, would come true: Bilbo’s hand had been stayed by pity when he had refrained from exploiting the opportunity to kill Gollum all the years back in his own cave, and Frodo was to exercise pity as well, as Gollum would ultimately come to have a part in the final outcome of this matter. It now emerged that this part was to be nothing short of acting as the final agent of the Ring’s destruction, by losing his footing after a fight with Frodo over possession of the Ring on the very edge of the volcano’s crater, and falling into the molten, burning lava in its interior with the Ring in his hand.
Gandalf’s plea with Frodo to hold off his hand and refrain from killing Gollum for pity’s sake, of course, on the one hand shows Gandalf’s enormous prescience, but it also reveals him as Olórin, the student and follower of the Vala Nienna, whose chief gift and teaching was, after all, pity. And Gollum’s story is a pitiable one at least in part; yet, there is no question that he is nevertheless one of the villains of the legendarium: He is willing to commit murder for the Ring’s possession even at the very start, and then again several times thereafter; first in order to regain it from Bilbo (in fact, he is already contemplating to kill Bilbo before he has even found out that he has lost the Ring and Bilbo has found it), then repeatedly after having met Frodo and Sam. His plan to let Shelob do the actual killing in his stead is a mean, egoistic cop-out designed to let him facially promise not to harm Frodo (because he won’t be doing it himself) and still obtaining the Ring (in the belief that Shelob would not be interested in it — yet, she was a creature of pure evil and, as such, it is hard to imagine that she would not instinctively have been drawn to the Ring herself, too). Even the “Sméagol” identity that the remnants of Gollum’s better half assume when he is debating with himself, or rather with his “Precious”, to which both his “Sméagol” and his “Gollum” sides address virtually all of their remarks (even when formally speaking to others), only half-heartedly acknowledges that Frodo has not (yet) done him any harm; and “Sméagol” is firmly pushed to the back seat once and for all when Gollum feels betrayed by Frodo inside the Gondorian Rangers’ secret refuge of Henneth Annûn. He may have been robbed of his free will and become an instrument of Darkness, but his actions still place him on the Dark Side himself, too; and it ultimately takes the intervention of … fate? the Valar? Ilúvatar himself? to right his many wrongs by compelling from him the ultimate sacrifice (and while death, at this point, may in and of itself be a merciful fate, I’m not sure at all whether being molten in the inferno inside Mount Doom has all that much to do with mercy). This, incidentally, also distinguishes Gollum from Túrin, who is likewise made the plaything of the Dark Lord of his time, but who — for all the cataclysmic evil that he causes — nevertheless manages to do some good over the course of his life, and who does not hesitate a second, once his eyes have been opened at last, to administer the ultimate judgment on himself (in keeping with the mindset of a society in which everything else would have been unthinkable, that is).
Top image: source
The Witch-King of Angmar and the Nazgûl
The Ring-wraiths, aka The Nine; Sauron’s most-feared creatures in Middle-earth: the nine Kings of Men who had received Rings of Power from Sauron that initially enabled them to amass great power, see things of the Unseen world (e.g., the Maiar when not appearing in a visible, bodily manifestation) and live much longer lives than ordinary humans, but which eventually caused their bodies to fade to the point of invisibility, only being recognizable by the hoods and garments in which it was wrapped, and which subjected their whole existence to the domination of the One Ring.
Indeed, for however much they themselves might subsequently be beholden to Sauron and the Ring of Power, none of Sauron’s minions caused as much terror in others as did the Nazgûl: their breath — known as the Black Breath — was poisonous (and smelled the part); a wound inflicted by their blades, which were also poisonous, would cause the injured person to fade to wraithdom himself if even the smallest part of the blade remained in his body; their eyes lit up with an infernal fire when they were enraged; their high, keening cries caused the marrow to freeze in any hearer’s bones; and they were surrounded by an aura of terror that further enhanced their already terrifying appearance — their mere presence was enough to cause severe sickness, disorientation, and panic in others. Moreover, being wraiths and, hence, invisible but for the garments clothing them, they themselves were extremely difficult to harm; and even Númenórean weaponry was instantly destroyed when passing through them. While the Nazgûl had almost lost the ability to see anything belonging the living world, they had a powerful sense of smell, they were able to utilize the eyes of others (including their mounts), and they could see — and be seen by — anything and anyone passing into the wraith world; including the ring-bearer as soon as he was actually wearing the Ring of Power.
Not all of the identities of the Nazgûl are known; those identified individually were:
- The leader of the Nazgûl, known as the Witch-king of Angmar;
- His second in command, a lord of the Easterlings named Khamûl (the only Nazgûl known by name); and
- (at least) three lords of the Númenóreans.
The Nine are known to have become Nazgûl during the later part of the Second Age; however, little is known of their activities prior to the war of the Last Alliance, after which they faded into the shadows once more for a very long time.
Some thirteen centuries after the beginning of the Third Age, the Witch-king founded the realm of Angmar to the north of Eriador, from where he proceeded to foster the hostilities that had led to the breakup of Arnor, the northern of the two Númenórean Realms in Exile established by Elendil and his sons Isildur and Anárion after their return to Middle-earth. Then he sent in his armies to subdue first one, then two of Arnor’s much weaker successor kingdoms, Rudaur and Cardolan, and proceeded to put ever more pressure onto the remaining third kingdom, Arthedain. However, while Arthedain eventually did fall, too, a cataclysmic battle ensued in which the forces of Angmar were at last routed by the combined armies of Gondor and the Elves of Rivendell, Lothlórien and Lindon, and from which only the Witch-king himself escaped; returning to Mordor and gathering the Nazgûl in preparation of Sauron’s expected return.
The Nine laid siege to Minas Ithil, capturing it within a space of two years, and renamed it Minas Morgul. Possession of this fortress also gave them and, after his return to Mordor towards the end of the Third Age, Sauron, access to the Palantír housed there. Once Sauron had declared himself and had learned from Gollum that the One Ring was in a place named “Shire” with a certain “Baggins”, he dispached the Nine — equipped with black horses from Rohan — to the north to obtain further information about his “trifle” and about Bilbo’s and the Shire’s whereabouts from the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain, with the ultimate aim of retrieving his Ring of Power. Having at last learned the location of the Shire (not from the Dwarves but from Gríma Wormtongue, counselor to Théoden, King of Rohan), the Nazgûl however missed Frodo in Hobbiton on his day of departure for Bree; and although they later had him in their view several times — and the Witch-king even managed to stab him with his poisoned blade in an attack on Frodo’s company atop Amon Sûl (Weathertop) on the way from Bree to Rivendell — they were foiled for good when Frodo, conveyed by the Elven stallion Asfaloth (in the book, Glorfindel’s horse; in the movies, Arwen’s) escaped over the Ford of Bruinen towards Rivendell and at the Elf’s command the waters of the river flooded the Black Riders and killed all but one of their horses.
Returned to Mordor weeks later, the Nine were repeatedly seen in the skies over the adjoining areas — the Emyn Muil, the Dead Marshes and Ithilien –, searching for the Ring-bearer (whom Sauron now believed to be taking the Ring to Gondor) from the air, but they never detected him; not even when he was almost literally crossing their path near the bridge of Minas Morgul on his own way into Mordor, because his fingers had at the last moment found their grip around Galadriel’s gift, the phial containing the Light of Eärendil, and thus prevented the almost overwhelming urge to put on the Ring, even knowing the disastrous consequences this would have. Shortly thereafter, the Nazgûl led Sauron’s armies into the battles at Osgiliath (which they captured) and of the Pelennor Fields, where the Witch-king launched a fatal attack on Théoden, King of the Rohirrim, who was buried under his horse after the horse had been hit by a poisoned arrow, shied, and fallen. However, the leader of The Nine was destroyed in turn by Théoden’s niece Éowyn and the Hobbit Merry Brandybuck: the only persons on the battlefield able to overcome the prophesy that “no man” would ever be able to kill him. The remaining Nazgûl fled back to Mordor and once more wreaked great terror among the forces allied against Sauron when Aragorn, Gandalf and a host of their allies and armies mounted a challenge on the Black Gate as a decoy campaign from Frodo’s and Sam’s (hoped-for) approach to Mount Doom; but the rest of the Ring-wraiths, too, at last perished when the One Ring was destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom.
Crook-backed, bow-legged and preternaturally strong and bloodlusting fighters, the Orcs were Middle-earth’s bane from its very beginning. The Silmarillion suggests that they descended from Elves first corrupted, tortured and bred into pure man-eating evil by Morgoth (whose work would then later have been continued by Sauron). Though much remains unclear about the origin both of the Orcs themselves and the etymology of their name, this seems to be what can be said with a reasonable degree of certainty:
Melkor (Morgoth) used Orcs from the start as a core constituent of the forces he unleashed against the Elves and their allies; even during his captivity in the Halls of Mandos, they continued to harass the Elves of Middle-earth (chiefly Thingol’s Sindar and the Elves of the Blue Mountains). After Morgoth’s return to Middle-earth, with his increase of power also increased the prevalence and aggressivity of the Orcs both in battle and in (nominal) periods of peace, during which they still continued to harass, kill and rob Elves and Men in smaller bands.
After Morgoth’s defeat in the War of Wrath for a time they fled eastwards, but were called back into service by Sauron after he had begun to establish himself as the Dark Lord in his turn, and once more they formed the core constituent of his armies; as well as settling all over (the reshaped) Middle-earth and making war on its other peoples, most notably in Eriador — where for a time they were led by Sauron in his guise as the Necromancer — and in the Misty Mountains, where they were involved in a series of merciless altercations with the Dwarves of Moria, eventually causing the Dwarves to withdraw from their age-old home.
Saruman later also came to use Orcs as the core constituent of his own army; his troops were chiefly recruited from the Orcs of the Misty Mountains and from a special variant of his own, created by cross-breeding Orcs with Goblins and Men. However, the vast majority of Saruman’s forces were annihilated by the Rohirrim and by the Huorns in the Battle of the Hornburg at Helm’s Deep.
In the remaining battles of the War of the Ring, most of Sauron’s Orcs were either killed or scattered as well; after their Dark Lord’s destruction, much of their fighting spirit went out of the few survivors of his forces, and they seem to have continued to subsist merely in small bands forming no more than a minor nuisance and easily cowed when challenged.
Uruk-hai were a Third-Age breed of Orcs with more upright, taller and sturdier bodies as well as squarer faces than other Orcs: described as “black Orcs of great strength”, they were faster and more enduring runners and, again unlike other Orcs, they could travel during the day without being adversely affected by the sun. Both Saruman and Sauron used Uruk-hai in their forces, often in positions of command.
Orcs and Uruks known by name include:
- Othrod, leader of the Orcs in the raid that would lead to the Fall of Gondolin in the First Age;
- Azog the Defiler, who killed the Dwarf-King Thrór (grandfather of Thorin Oakenshield) at Thrór’s return to Moria, and who was himself killed some years later in the Battle of Azanulbizar outside the gates of Moria by a young Dáin Ironfoot, who would later become Thorin’s successor as King Under the Mountain. (Contrary to Tolkien’s writings, according to the movies he later commanded the Orc-army in the Battle of the Five Armies at the Lonely Mountain, where he killed, and was himself killed by Thorin);
- Bolg, Azog’s son and lieutenant commander; in the actual text of The Hobbit, the commander of the Orc / goblin army at the Lonely Mountain and there crushed to death by Beorn;
- Shagrat, the commander of the garrison of Cirith Ungol in Mordor; after finding Frodo paralyzed and cocooned by Shelob, he ordered the Hobbit’s imprisonment and later took his mithril shirt and the other items found in his possession to Sauron (only to be killed in thanks for his service);
- Gorbag, captain of the Uruks of Minas Morgul; he discovered Frodo together with Shagrat, quarrelled with him over Frodo’s mithril shirt and was killed by Shagrat;
- Gothmog, lieutenant of Minas Morgul and after the death of the Witch-King of Angmar the commander of Sauron’s forces in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields (not to be confused with the lord of Balrogs bearing the same name);
- Uglúk, the commancer of the Orc host in the services of Saruman that had captured Merry and Pippin and had set out to abduct them to Isengard; like his entire host, he was killed by the Rohirrim led by Éomer;
- Grishnákh, captain of the band of Orcs from Mordor who had joined Uglúk’s host; his attempt to spirit Merry and Pippin away and search them for the One Ring made it possible for them to escape when the Orcs were attacked (and killed, one and all) by Éomer’s Rohirrim;
- and two Orcs addressed as Snaga (which however only means “slave”), one a scout in Uglúk’s company (killed with the rest of them by the Rohirrim) and one a member of the garrison at Cirith Ungol who had a fatal encounter with Sam Gamgee after Frodo’s capture.
Probably either a sub-breed of the Orcs living in the Misty Mountains or identical with these; according the their portrayal in the Hobbit movies, more likely the former, since they are visually distinct. They are referred to as Goblins in the text of The Hobbit and as Orcs in The Lord of the Rings and elsewhere in the legendarium; I tend to think of them not as synonymous with the Orcs of the Misty Mountains but as a subspecies of those (and probably a degenerate one, even if Saruman seems to have found something in them that he decided to breed into his own brand of Orcs).
Like the Orcs, among the oldest of Middle-earth’s evil creatures: again, little is known about their precise origin, except that they were created by Morgoth towards the end of the First Age, possibly in mockery of the Ents, just as the Orcs were likely either corrupted Elves or created in mockery of the Elves.
Not many Tolls survived the War of Wrath; those who did, with their enormous size and strength — and very limited brain power, which made them easy to guide — instantly proved just as useful to Sauron as they had to Morgoth. Sauron eventually even “improved” on Morgoth’s design by breeding a type of Trolls that were immune to sunlight and could therefore be used in battle durign the daytime, whereas most other Trolls would turn to stone when touched by the rays of the sun (a fact that Gandalf would come to exploit when saving Bilbo Baggins and Thorin Oakenshield’s company of Dwarves from captivity at the hands of a trio of Trolls in the Misty Mountains).
The Black Númenoreans
Black Númenóreans (top images right & center left by John Howe; bottom: left image by Ivan Ulicny and center image by Maeron; sources of other images here and here)
Númenóreans descended from those who were loyal to the Númenórean Sceptre but in opposition to the Valar and relations with the Elves; i.e., those Númenóreans who had listened to Sauron’s lies and stood against the Valar and against the Faithful who would later come to found the Realms in Exile, Elendil and his sons and followers. The Black Númenóreans originated both from the King’s Men in Númenor itself as well as from Númenórean settlers and explorers who had travelled to Middle-earth in the Second Age, initially to establish trading posts, but increasingly acting as oppressors and exploiters of the local population and its lands. What united all Black Númenóreans was the fact that all of them had chosen to seek and accept the power they could obtain by submitting themselves to Sauron. Their strongest settlement was at Umbar, a vast natural harbor on the southern shores of the Bay of Belfalas, but many Black Númenóreans also became lords in the adjoining lands, especially in those of the Haradrim farther to the south. (At least) three of the Nazgûl had been Black Númenóreans before becoming Ring-wraiths as well.
After the Faithful led by Elendil and his sons had returned to Middle-earth, the Black Númenóreans then still living there became the natural enemies of the Realms in Exile, Arnor and Gondor. Sauron’s defeat in the War of the Last Alliance at the end of the Second Age was a major setback to them, but they rallied to his cause as soon as he reemerged in the Third Age; and those still in Umbar at the time set about pillaging and engaging in campaigns of piracy along the coasts of Gondor, until that kingdom’s last “ship-king”, Hyarmendacil (“South-victor”), put an end to their doings for the next several centuries. However, they regained their former strength when the defeated rebels of Gondor’s Kin-strife came to Umbar, there to establish themselves as Corsairs and resume the harassment of the southern coastlines until their final defeat in the War of the Ring.
The Mouth of Sauron
The commander of Sauron’s forces in the battle before the Black Gate of Mordor, initiated by Gandalf, Aragorn, and their allies in order to distract Sauron from Frodo’s and Sam’s attempt to reach Mount Doom. The best-known of the Black Númenóreans, the creature only known — including to himself — as The Mouth of Sauron had, at this point, been in thrall to Sauron and in his service for so long that even he himself no longer remembered his actual name. It was he who rode out to convey Sauron’s terms (in short: complete surrender and submission) on a pretense of parley before the beginning of the battle, bringing with him as a means to strike fear into his adversaries’ hearts Frodo’s mithril shirt and sword Sting, so as to make them see that “the (one) Halfling” had been captured; not realizing, however, that Frodo had not entered Mordor alone and that Sam had, by this time, already freed him from the Orcs’ captivity in Cirith Ungol and they were well on their way to Mount Doom.
Center image: source; bottom image by Adam Paquette
The Corsairs of Umbar
Umbar had been one of the first and most important trading ports established by the Númenóreans upon their return to Middle-earth. It was controlled by the King’s Men, the faction opposed to the Valar, which would later come to be in league with Sauron (even before the Fall of Númenor and even more so afterwards).
Umbar, along with the neighboring Haradrim, was subdued by the ship-kings of Gondor during the years of Gondor’s greatest power and wealth, in the first centuries of the second millennium of the Third Age; but the port reestablished itself as a force to reckon with after the defeated rebels of the Kin-strife of Gondor fled south, settled in Umbar, and turned to a life as Corsairs, pillaging and ravaging the southern coastlines for the next several centuries. Gondor briefly managed to retake Umbar and end the line of its rulers going back to the Men of Gondor that had fled there after the Kin-strife, led by Gondor’s former Captain of the Ships (chief naval officer) Castamir. But Gondor’s victory was a short-lived one; and soon new Corsairs, now mostly Haradrim or of Haradrim descent, picked up where the first Corsairs had been forced to leave off.
Things continued in this way until the end of the Third Age. Then, at the time of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, Aragorn — accompanied by Legolas, Gimli, and the Rangers of the Grey Company, as well as followed by the army of the Dead, raised by Aragorn before traveling south from Rohan — hastened to engage the Corsairs at the inland port city of Pelargir (northeast of the Mouths of Anduin; besides Umbar, erstwhile one of the first and most important trading ports founded by the Númenóreans), which the Corsairs had just captured en route to joining up with Sauron’s forces. Aragorn and his company succeeded in driving the Corsairs away; then they took their ships further up the river to Minas Tirith, where their black sails were greeted with dread by the city’s inhabitants and with glee by Sauron’s armies — until the banner of Elendil was unfurled by the men emerging from the ships, at which point the combatants’ reactions were reversed. Arriving just in time to prevent the impending defeat of the armies of Gondor and its allies, Aragorn’s company provided the key reinforcements needed to bring the victory to Gondor and its friends and allies.
Once having been crowned King of Gondor, Aragorn II Elessar took a naval force to Umbar to subdue the port and eliminate the threat of the Corsairs once and for all.
The Haradrim (Southrons)
The people living in the lands directly to the south of Gondor: tall, dark-skinned, with black or brown hair and eyes, fierce warriors carrying red scimitars, spiked yellow and black shields, and scarlet and red banners. The Haradrim’s clothing was bright, often scarlet, too, and set with golden or brazen ornaments and scales; they also wore golden earrings and braided their hair with gold, and some of their tribes used body paint. In battle, the Haradrim were chiefly known for their use of oliphaunts (mûmakil), supersized elephant-like beasts with enormous tusks that could carry entire battle towers manned with contingents of archers and spearmen on their backs. The Haradrim were also known as skilled horsemen, though inferior to the Rohirrim, whose prowess with horses was unrivalled. Knowing, however, that horses feared their mûmakil, they often used those beasts with preference when expecting to go into battle against horse-mounted enemies.
Haradrim is a collective term referring to all of this people’s various tribes and fiefdoms, some of which were at war with each other when they were not fighting a common enemy (such as, increasingly in the Third Age, Gondor).
The Haradrim first came into regular contact with the Numenórians when those built their maritime stronghold at Umbar, from where over the course of the Second Age they levied tributes on the Haradrim tribes living in the adjoining lands. After the Fall of Númenor, many of the Black Númenóreans of Umbar continued to occupy positions of influence with the Haradrim. When Gondor came to prominence in the Third Age, the Haradrim at first tried to oppose its territorial spread and growing power, but were forced to accept Gondor’s overlordship by the last of its ship-kings, the self-named Hyarmendacil (“South-victor”). Their enforced submission to Gondor only ended when that kingdom entered into the severely self-harming period of the Kin-strife, from which point onwards hostilities between the Haradrim and Gondor were promptly resumed and culminated, at the end of the Third Age, with the Haradrim’s joining the armies of Sauron. They were among the most ferocious of all the fighters he had mustered against Gondor and its allies, even after their leader was killed in a one-on-one engagement by Théoden, King of Rohan (in the movies, by his nephew Éomer); yet like all of Sauron’s armies, they were eventually defeated after the One Ring and, with it, Sauron’s power had been destroyed. — After the end of the War of the Ring, King Aragorn II Elessar of the reunited kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor made peace with the Haradrim, subdued Umbar, and established diplomatic relations; even if on occasion these had to be bolstered by the occasional show of force and inspection by Aragorn and his friend and ally, King Éomer of Rohan, in order to prevent a reignition of the fires of war.
“Easterlings” was a collective term used for all the groups of Men from the unknown East of Middle-earth who were recurrent foes of the Elves and the Edain in Beleriand and in other parts of the west of Middle-earth, and their heirs, throughout all of the Three Ages.
In the First Age, two groups of Easterlings had crossed the Blue Mountains and had initially pretended to enter into the service of the Ñoldor (more specifically, Fëanor’s sons), but had betrayed them pursuant to a secret allegiance they had previously formed with Morgoth. While the members of one of these groups were killed in the fifth of the Battles of Beleriand, the others survived and were rewarded by Morgoth for their treachery to the Elves and the Edain with the gift of rule over Hithlum, the home of most of the House of Hador, until then governed by Húrin. They quickly enslaved the remaining population and ruled Hithlum until the end of the War of Wrath, after which they retreated back eastwards over the Blue Mountains and instead proceeded to harass and subdue the Middle Men (including the Northmen) in Eriador and Rhovanion during much of the Second Age.
In the Third Age, the word “Easterling” was applied to the various tribes and groups of Men living in the little-known territories east of the Sea of Rhûn, as well as in Mordor, under the sway of which they had been brought by the chieftain Khamûl, one of the two leaders of the Nazgûl. They repeatedly attacked Gondor, but they, too, suffered a severe setback as a result of Sauron’s defeat in the War of the Last Alliance. Two renewed attempts to wage war on Gondor, several centuries apart over the course of the first millennium of the Third Age, both ended with their submission and with Gondor’s gaining control of most of the territory between Rhovaion and the Sea of Rhûn; the second of these attacks, however, caused the Hobbits to leave the Vales of Anduin, where they had been living until then, and move westwards into Eriador. — After Gondor had been weakened by the Kin-strife and the plague, a tribe of Easterlings known as the Wainriders settled in and enslaved Rhovanion; and Gondor needed almost a century to defeat them, not before having lost two of its kings in battle and incurred many setbacks and significant (albeit not permanent) territorial losses, especially east of the Anduin. Thereafter, one more group of Easterlings (the Balchoth) tried to conquer and subdue territories then belonging to Gondor, but they were beaten back by the new alliance Gondor had by then formed with the Éothéod, the “horse people” later known as the Rohirrim.
During the War of the Ring, the Easterlings were chiefly involved in the warfare waged in the northern part of Rhovanion, where they joined with the forces of Mordor to attack and besiege the Men of Dale and the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain. Even after they had lost that war and Sauron had been defeated once and for all, the Easterlings continued to threaten the peace of Middle-earth in the following years, but were finally vanquished by a series of joint campaigns initiated by King Aragorn II Elessar of Arnor and Gondor and King Éomer of Rohan.
Stefano Baldo: Wainriders
After having defeated the Easterlings that had attacked Gondor at the end of the first millennium of the Third Age, for the next several centuries the kingdom had peace from the tribes standing in enmity to it that were living to the east of its borders. However, before the second millennium of the Third Age had come to its end, Gondor had been weakened as a result of the Kin-strife and the plague; and moreover, its attention was then chiefly turned to its long-standing war on the Haradrim and the Corsairs of Umbar. Sauron, seeking to prepare the ground for his own reemergence to power, took advantage of this situation to incite a confederation of Easterling tribes known as the Wainriders (for the wagons in which they traveled and the chariots in which their chieftains rode into battle) to attack Gondor and invade Rhovanion. They made quick work of suppressing and enslaving the Middle Men living in the lands east of the Misty Mountains, who were in no condition to oppose them, and temporarily Gondor lost all of its territory east of Anduin except for Ithilien. Much further bloodshed ensued over the next roughly one hundred years, until the Wainriders were finally defeated by the general who would emerge as Gondor’s next-to-last King, Eärnil. However, by this time Sauron’s purpose had been fulfilled: while Gondor had been busy doing battle against the Easterlings, the Nazgûl had entered Mordor.
The Balchoth — the group of Easterlings from Rhovanion that launched the last notable attack on Gondor, but who were beaten back by Gondor’s new alliance with the Éothéod, the ancestors of the Rohirrim — were almost certainly related to the Wainriders, though decidedly their inferiors as warriors. Yet, from Sauron’s point of view, their attack achieved its major purpose, too, as this time he himself succeeded in secretly reentering Mordor while Gondor’s eyes were once more turned elsewhere.
The counsellor of Théoden, King of Rohan, who acted as a spy of Saruman at the court of Edoras, relaying to Saruman the events at the court as well as in Roham at large, while weakening Théoden with both words and poisons.
Gríma may have given good counsel initially — it is unlikely that the shrewd ruler that Théoden was for most of his reign would otherwise have tolerated him and let him into his confidence at all –, but he was eventually seduced by Saruman, who realized that weakening Rohan would be a strategic necessity if his own bid for ultimate power was to succeed, as Rohan was the key alley of Gondor.
Yet, Gríma was uneasy about the double play in which Saruman was engaged vis-à-vis Sauron, so when the Nazgûl showed up in Rohan during their hunt for the One Ring, he willingly cooperated with them as well, revealing not only the location of the Shire and the information that Gandalf had passed through Roham shortly before, but also that Saruman for his part had kept this same information from the Nazgûl when they had stopped by Isengard before proceeding to Roham.
But when Gandalf returned to Rohan, accompanied by Aragorn, Legoas and Gimli, he freed Théoden from the evil effects of the manifold poisons administered to the King by Gríma (who was now known as Wormtongue to the Rohirrim). Théoden himself, having recovered his prior vigor, instantly named his loyal nephew Éomer — whom Gríma had tried to discredit — as his heir; and Gríma found himself literally booted out of Court. He fled to Isengard, where however fate caught up with him once more when Saruman’s fortress, pits and war machinery were destroyed by the Ents and, shortly thereafter, Gandalf and his companions arrived once more, accompanied by Théoden, and Gandalf broke Saruman’s staff, stripped the erstwhile White Wizard of his power, ejected him from their order, and counseled Treebeard, the leader of the Ents, not to let Saruman (and Gríma) go free for the foreseeable future.
Angry at his former master and at Gandalf and his friends as much as at Saruman, who had quickly started to vent on Gríma all his own fury over his defeat, Gríma hurled the Palantír of Orthanc in the general direction of all of them, unaware of the speaking stone’s true nature, and thus incurred Saruman’s even greater fury for having unwittingly handed over to the Fellowship one of the most powerful items that could possibly have been put at their disposal, while at the same time depriving Saruman of his line of communication into Mordor.
Eventually released from Isengard at the end of the War of the Ring, Saruman and Gríma traveled to the Shire, where Saruman had previously already corrupted Frodo’s kinsman Lotho Sackville-Baggins, whom he now used to establish himself as de-facto ruler and introduce the system of dictatorship by which he had already ruled in Isengard. In addition, in large part to spite Frodo (and Gandalf), he turned to depleting the Shire’s natural resources in pursuance of a ruthless program of industrialization. However, upon their return to their homeland, Frodo Baggins’s friends Merry and Pippin — helped by Sam Gamgee and the majority of the Shire’s very relieved population — put an end to these latest schemes hatched by Saruman (now known as “Sharkey”). During an altercation at Bag End, Gríma, now ever more abused by Saruman, killed the former wizard, but was himself killed by the Hobbits in turn.
The Armies of Sauron
Top image: source
Strictly speaking not an entry in its own right, since Sauron’s forces consisted of masses of all (or most) of the above — in fact, practically everybody except Gríma Wormtongue –, plus of course wargs and oliphaunts. But they were so huge in number and such a terrifying and well-oiled war machine that a separate entry for them in their collective might seems only appropriate.
(Both images sourced here)
Undead, evil spirits appearing as as shadowy figures, haunting burial mounds and stirring the bones of the dead laid to rest therein. Their eyes (or rather, eye sockets) gleamed with a pale, icy light and they spoke with cold, hollow voices; the touch of their bony fingers, typically rattling with golden rings, was of a chill-inducing icy quality, too. Their precise nature and place within the legendarium is unclear; possibly they were spirits of Orcs, of fallen Avari or (somewhat less likely so) of fallen Men.
The Wights were first sent to the Barrow-downs south of the area later known as the Shire by the Witch-king of Angmar approximately towards the middle of the Third Age, as part of his campaign to subdue and destroy Cardolan, the successor kingdom of Arnor to which this area then belonged. (The border between Cardolan and Arthedain was near the Great East Road; the Shire itself was part of Arthedain.) Towards the end of the Third Age the Witch-king returned to the Barrow-downs to rouse and confer with the Wights in pursuit of the One Ring of Power.
Frodo Baggins and his fellow Hobbits were trapped by a Barrow-wight on their way to Bree; however they were saved by Tom Bombadil, against whom the Wight was powerless. The burial mound in which the Wight had trapped them contained treasuries dating back to Cardolan, and Tom opined that it might have been the very burial mound of the last ruler of Cardolan himself. He gave each of the four Hobbits a dagger found in the burial mound to take on their journey, and Pippin’s dagger was later identified as of Númenórean heritage by Denethor, Steward of Gondor, when Pippin presented it to Denethor in token of his offer of service to Gondor.