Great Tolkien Passages: Nírnaeth Arnoediad

April 14, 2011

Tolkien's Lore

I am beginning a series of blogs which will highlight some of the greatest passages from Tolkien’s writings from Middle-Earth. I plan to highlight passages that are either important to the history of Middle-Earth, or were exceptionally written, or both. My goal is that by showing LOTRO players some of depth of the history created for this world, and the quality of the writing that they will develop a desire to read some of the books the game is based on. Since this is a blog, I will also try to enhance the text with images I am able to find.

For this first installment I decided to look at one of my personal favorites, the Nírnaeth Arnoediad (the AE is pronounced eye, so the full name is pronounced: neer’neyeth arnoy’deead). This was one of the great battles of the First Age, when Turgon rescinded the leaguer of Gondolin and came forth to war as ally with the rest of the Noldor, Edain, and Dwarves.

– Haakon

 

The Nírnaeth Arnoediad

Illustration by Karen Wynn Fonstad
Illustration by Karen Wynn Fonstad

 

Then in the plain of Anfauglith, on the fourth day of the war, there began Nírnaeth Arnoediad, Unnumbered Tears, for no song or tale can contain all its grief. The host of Fingon retreated over the sands, and Haldir lord of the Haladin was slain in the rearguard; with him fell most of the Men of Brethil, and came never back to their woods. But on the fifth day as night fell, and they were still far from Ered Wethrin, the Orcs surrounded the host of Hithlum, and they fought until day, pressed ever closer. In the morning came hope, when the horns of Turgon were heard as he marched up with the main host of Gondolin; for they had been stationed southward guarding the Pass of Sirion, and Turgon restrained most of his people from the rash onslaught. Now he hastened to the aid of his brother; and the Gondolindrim were strong and clad in mail, and their ranks shone like a river of steel in the sun.

Illustration by Tom Loback
Illustration by Tom Loback

Now the phalanx of the guard of the King broke through the ranks of the Orcs, and Turgon hewed his way to the side of his brother; and it is told that the meeting of Turgon with Húrin, who stood beside Fingon, was glad in the midst of battle. Then hope was renewed in the hearts of the Elves; and in that very time, at the third hour of morning, the trumpets of Maedhros were heard at last coming up from the east, and the banners of the sons of Fëanor assailed the enemy in the rear. Some have said that even then the Eldar might have won the day, had all their hosts proved faithful; for the Orcs wavered, and their onslaught was stayed, and already some were turning to flight. But even as the vanguard of Maedhros came upon the Orcs, Morgoth loosed his last strength, and Angband was emptied. There came wolves, and wolfriders, and there came Balrogs, and dragons, and Glaurung father of dragons. The strength and terror of the Great Worm were now great indeed, and Elves and Men withered before him; and he came between the hosts of Maedhros and Fingon and swept them apart.

Ulfang
Illustration by Frank Frazetta

 

Yet neither by wolf, nor by Balrog, nor by Dragon, would Morgoth have achieved his end, but for the treachery of Men. In this hour the plots of Ulfang were revealed. Many of the Easterlings turned and fled, their hearts being filled with lies and fear; but the sons of Ulfang went over suddenly to Morgoth and drove in upon the rear of the sons of Fëanor, and in the confusion that they wrought they came near to the standard of Maedhros. They reaped not the reward that Morgoth promised them, for Maglor slew Uldor the accursed, the leader in treason, and the sons of Bór slew Ulfast and Ulwarth ere they themselves were slain. But new strength of evil Men came up that Uldor had summoned and kept hidden in the eastern hills, and the host of Maedhros was assailed now on three sides, and it broke, and was scattered, and fled this way and that. Yet fate saved the sons of Fëanor, and though all were wounded none were slain, for they drew together, and gathering a remnant of the Noldor and the Naugrim about them they hewed a way out of the battle and escaped far away towards Mount Dolmed in the east.

Last of all the eastern force to stand firm were the Dwarves of Belegost, and thus they won renown. For the Naugrim withstood fire more hardily than either Elves or Men, and it was their custom moreover to wear great masks in battle hideous to look upon; and those stood them in good stead against the dragons. And but for them Glaurung and his brood would have withered all that was left of the Noldor. But the Naugrim made a circle about him when he assailed them, and even his mighty armour was not full proof against the blows of their great axes; and when in his rage Glaurung turned and struck down Azaghâl, Lord of Belegost, and crawled over him, with his last stroke Azaghâl drove a knife into his belly, and so wounded him that he fled the field, and the beasts of Angband in dismay followed after him. Then the Dwarves raised up the body of Azaghâl and bore it away; and with slow steps they walked behind singing a dirge in deep voices, as it were a funeral pomp in their country, and gave no heed more to their foes; and none dared to stay them.

clip_image008
Illustration by Jenny Dolfen

 

But now in the western battle Fingon and Turgon were assailed by a tide of foes thrice greater than all the force that was left to them. Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs, high-captain of Angband, was come; and he drove a dark wedge between the Elvenhosts, surrounding King Fingon, and thrusting Turgon and Húrin aside towards the Fen of Serech. Then he turned upon Fingon. That was a grim meeting. At last Fingon stood alone with his guard dead about him; and he fought with Gothmog, until another Balrog came behind and cast a thong of fire about him. Then Gothmog hewed him with his black axe, and a white flame sprang up from the helm of Fingon as it was cloven. Thus fell the High King of the Noldor; and they beat him into the dust with their maces, and his banner, blue and silver, they trod into the mire of his blood.

The field was lost; but still Húrin and Huor and the remnant of the house of Hador stood firm with Turgon of Gondolin, and the hosts of Morgoth could not yet win the Pass of Sirion. Then Húrin spoke to Turgon, saying: ‘Go now, lord, while time is! For in you lives the last hope of the Eldar, and while Gondolin stands Morgoth shall still know fear in his heart.’

But Turgon answered: ‘Not long now can Gondolin be hidden; and being discovered it must fall.’

Then Huor spoke and said: ‘Yet if it stands but a little while, then out of your house shall come the hope of Elves and Men. 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. Farewell!’

And Maeglin, Turgon’s sister-son, who stood by, heard these words, and did not forget them; but he said nothing.

Then Turgon took the counsel of Húrin and Huor, and summoning all that remained of the host of Gondolin and such of Fingon’s people as could be gathered he retreated towards the Pass of Sirion; and his captains Ecthelion and Glorfindel guarded the flanks to right and left, so that none of the enemy should pass them by. But the Men of Dor-lómin held the rearguard, as Húrin and Huor desired; for they did not wish in their hearts to leave the Northlands, and if they could not win back to their homes, there they would stand to the end. Thus was the treachery of Uldor redressed; and of all the deeds of war that the fathers of Men wrought in behalf of the Eldar, the last stand of the Men of Dor-lómin is most renowned.

So it was that Turgon fought his way southward, until coming behind the guard of Húrin and Huor he passed down Sirion and escaped; and he vanished into the mountains and was hidden from the eyes of Morgoth. But the brothers drew the remnant of the Men of the house of Hador about them, and foot by foot they withdrew, until they came behind the Fen of Serech, and had the stream of Rivil before them.

Illustration by Ted Nasmith
Illustration by Ted Nasmith

 

There they stood and gave way no more.

Then all the hosts of Angband swarmed against them, and they bridged the stream with their dead, and encircled the remnant of Hithlum as a gathering tide about a rock. There as the sun westered on the sixth day, and the shadow of Ered Wethrin grew dark, Huor fell pierced with a venomed arrow in his eye, and all the valiant Men of Hador were slain about him in a heap; and the Orcs hewed their heads and piled them as a mound of gold in the sunset.

Last of all Húrin stood alone. Then he cast aside his shield, and wielded an axe two-handed; and it issung that the axe smoked in the black blood of the troll-guard of Gothmog until it withered, and each time that he slew Húrin cried: ‘Aurë entuluva! Day shall come again!’ Seventy times he uttered that cry; but they took him at last alive, by the command of Morgoth, for the Orcs grappled him with their hands, which clung to him still though he hewed off their arms; and ever their numbers were renewed, until at last he fell buried beneath them. Then Gothmog bound him and dragged him to Angband with mockery.

Thus ended Nírnaeth Arnoediad, as the sun went down beyond the sea. Night fell in Hithlum, and there came a great storm of wind out of the West.

-The Silmarillion

Avatar of Haakon Stormbrow

6 Responses to “Great Tolkien Passages: Nírnaeth Arnoediad”

  1. Capnhoppy Says:

    Day shall come again!

    I love the Tolkien Proffessor’s excitement when he talks about this battle.

    Great article, H!

    Reply

  2. Baranwen Says:

    This is one of my favorites parts aswell, not only of The Silmarillion but of all Tolkien works. When you read this chapter, you can feel all the sadness and tragegy of the Middle Earth’s people condensed in this event.

    Reply

  3. RannaDylin Says:

    As leader of the Lonely Mountain Book Club, I heartily approve this post. :-) Looking forward to the next highlighted passage!

    Reply

  4. ralph humphrey Says:

    You can feel the pain and pride in Hurin. Like Leonidas, he knows there is only death in his choice. Sadly, he doesn’t get the clean death he has earned.

    Reply

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