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Scholar of Imladris and Theodens Lady
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Post MoM: The Fall of Fingolfin
on: April 17, 2005 11:03
Poor Fingolfin. He tries his hardest to get his people through the first years of life in Middle-earth, manages not to annoy Fëanor any more, and then in a little fit of madness (note the similarity to the end of his elder brother!) he goes off and gets killed by Morgoth, who no doubt enjoys the experience immensely.
"Therefore Morgoth came, climbing slowly from his subterranean throne, and the rumour of his feet was like thunder underground. And he issued forth clad in black armour; and he stood before the King like a tower, iron-crowned, and his vast shield, sable enblazoned, cast a shadow over him like a stormcloud. But Fingolfin gleamed beneath it as a star; for his mail was overlaid with silver, and his blue shield was set with crystals; and he drew his sword Ringil, that glittered like ice.

But at the last the King grew weary, and Morgoth bore down his shield upon him. Thrice he was crushed to his knees, and thrice arose again and bore up his broken shield and stricken helm. But the earth was all rent and pitted about him, and he stumbled and fell backward before the feet of Morgoth; and Morgoth set his left foot upon his neck, and the weight of it was like a fallen hill. Yet with his last and desperate stroke Fingolfin hewed the foot with Ringil, and the blood gushed forth black and smoking and filled the pits of Grond.

Thus died Fingolfin, High King of the Noldor, most proud and valiant of the Elven-kings of old...."

Before even putting Fingolfin's death into more context, there's a good number of things to note just in this quote.

- firstly, this is pretty gory for Tolkien! Blood gushing, Morgoth's foot crushing Fingolfin's neck … This always seems to me the most graphic of the deaths in the Silmarillion, and the most humiliating. What more degrading way for a warrior leader to die than with the foot of your enemy on your neck, his victory assured? Saying that, he did get in one final act of defiance – striking at Morgoth's foot. Still, it’s a big, and obvious, defeat.

- And the way he dies is a big humiliation – compare his death to the way Achilles drags Hector's body around the walls of Troy in "The Iliad":
"He said, and devised foul entreatment of noble Hector. The tendons of both feet behind he slit from heel to ankle-joint, and thrust there through thongs of ox-hide, and bound him to his chariot, leaving his head to trail. And when he had mounted the chariot and lifted therein the famous armour, he lashed his horses to speed, and they nothing loth flew on. And dust rose around him that was dragged, and his dark hair flowed loose on either side, and in the dust lay all his once fair head, for now had Zeus given him over to his foes to entreat foully in his own native land."

- And Grond. Lovely Grond. I'll leave aside the question of why its called Hammer of the Underworld as Tolkien very obviously avoids all mention of a heaven or hell / underworld … and just say that if Morgoth's blood filled all the pits that Grond had made in the ground, then – well – Morgoth must have lost a lot of blood!

- "the weight of it was like a fallen hill" – ouch! But what a wonderful description!

- "thrice he arose again" – even though its not analogous at all, this bit really reminds me of the Christian tradition of the resurrection of Jesus. And Fingolfin does fit the archetype of a pure, inspirational leader.

- Another "analogy". Sorry JRRT, I know you hated that word. But we have Fingolfin shining like a single star against the darkness of Morgoth. Ring any bells? I can think of 2 similarities. One in LotR where Sam sees the single star sparkling against the darkness of Mordor, and more generally, when the Elves awake to seeing the light of the stars breaking up the darkness. There's probably more examples. But they all make Fingolfin seem very much like the Great Champion of the Forces of Light. (Oh dear, that makes him sound like he's come from one of David Eddings' novels!)

And while I'm in an Iliad-ic mood, here's a rather familiar description of Achilles:
"As a star goeth among stars in the darkness of night, Hesperos, fairest of all stars set in heaven, so flashed there forth a light from the keen spear Achilles poised in his right hand, devising mischief against noble Hector, eyeing his fair flesh to find the fittest place."

Also interesting is the next sentence:
"The Orcs made no boast of that deal at the gate; neither do the Elves sing of it, for their sorrow is too deep."

I'm not sure what to make of this. The Elves' bit is obvious, and their sorrow and grieving absolute – but the Orcs? Are they actually acknowledging the bravery of Fingolfin in not crowing about Morgoth's victory? Or is it just that Fingolfin injured Morgoth enough for the victory to be soured?

But let's look at the wider context of this, and in particular I want to look back at part of the doom pronounced by Mandos back in Valinor:
"Ye have spilled the blood of your kindred unrighteously and have stained the land of Aman. For blood ye shall render blood, and beyond Aman ye shall swell in Death's shadow. For though Eru appointed to you to die not in Eä, and no sickness may assail you, yet slain ye shall be: by weapon and by torment and by grief; and your houseless spirits shall come then to Mandos."

Is Fingolfin's death a direct consequence of the Doom? What do you think?

Its hard to say, I think. How can one separate their fate set down at the start of time, and the fate Mandos decreed for them? But I think here, the Doom pretty much leads to Fingolfin's death, and the consequent demoralisation of the Eldar – if we look at Fingolfin's reasons for going out to challenge Morgoth:
"Then Fingolfin beheld (as it seemed to him) the utter ruin of the Noldor, and the defeat beyond redress of all their houses; and filled with wrath and despair he mounted upon Rochallor …"

I've got more to say about the doom ... but I'm going to wait till next week and write a separate thread
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