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Nerd Contest!

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 10 years ago, in 2012, on the World Wide Web.

I just spent a couple hours on Facebook arguing about the relationships amongst Sauron and the Balrogs over the course of the First and Third Ages. This convinces me that it is time for a nerd contest. The contest for to-day is favorite Tolkien passages. So, what’s your favorite passage from the works of J.R.R. Tolkien? (Favorite in whatever sense you like.) Post it in the comments or on your own blog.

Note 1. Any work from the hand of J.R.R. Tolkien will do.[1]

Note 2. It is perfectly O.K. to have more than one favorite. I sure do.

Note 3. Feel free to post it with, or without, anything you might want to say about why it’s your favorite.

Note 4. If you hate Tolkien, or just don’t care about Tolkien, or just aren’t feeling it today, post your favorite passage from something else at least equally nerdy.

Here’s one of mine. I’ll probably have more to post in the comments, but The Silmarillion is what was ready at hand, so there is this.

But H@@c3;ba;rin did not look at the stone, for he knew what was written there; and his eyes had seen that he was not alone. Sitting in the shadow of the stone there was a woman, bent over her knees; and as H@@c3;ba;rin stood there silent she cast back her tattered hood and lifted her face. Grey she was and old, but suddenly her eyes looked into his, and he knew her; for though they were wild and full of fear, that light still gleamed in them that long ago had earned her the name Eledhwen, proudest and most beautiful of mortal women in the days of old.

You come at last, she said. I have waited too long.

It was a dark road. I have come as I could, he answered.

But you are too late, said Morwen. They are lost.

I know it, he said. But you are not.

But Morwen said, Almost. I am spent. I shall go with the sun. Now little time is left: if you know, tell me! How did she find him?

But H@@c3;ba;rin did not answer, and they sat beside the stone, and did not speak again; and when the sun went down Morwen sighed and clasped his hand, and was still; and H@@c3;ba;rin knew that she had died.

–J.R.R. Tolkien (1977/1999), The Silmarillion, Ch. 22 Of the Ruin of Doriath, p. 229.

  1. [1]Including the ones that were redacted by Christopher Tolkien; whether canonical, deuterocanonical, or apocryphal.

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  1. Rad Geek

    This is pure Style Time, in a deep lingering horror sort of way.

    Terrible was his southward journey. Sheer were the precipices of Ered Gorgoroth, and beneath their feet were shadows that were laid before the rising of the Moon. Beyond lay the wilderness of Dungortheb, where the sorcery of Sauron and the power of Melian came together, and horror and madness walked. There spiders of the fell race of Ungoliant abode, spinning their unseen webs in which all living things were snared; and monsters wandered there that were born in the long dark before the Sun, hunting silently with many eyes. No food for Elves or Men was there in that haunted land, but death only. That journey is not accounted least among the great deeds of Beren, but he spoke of it to no one after, lest the horror return into his mind; and none know how he found a way, and so came by paths that no Man or Elf else has ever dared to tread to the borders of Doriath.

    Silmarillion, Ch. 19, p. 164.

  2. Crosbie Fitch

    Frodo: “I wish none of this had happened.”

    Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

  3. dennis

    “Thus the bliss of Westernesse became diminished; but still its might and splendour increased. For the kings and their people had not yet abandoned wisdom, and if they loved the Valar no longer at least they still feared them. They did not dare openly to break the Ban or to sail beyond the limits that had been appointed. Eastwards still they steered their tall ships. But the fear of death grew ever darker upon them, and they delayed it by all means that they could; and they began to build great houses for their dead, while their wise men laboured unceasingly to discover if they might the secret of recalling life, or at the least of the prolonging of Men’s days. Yet they achieved only the art of preserving incorrupt the dead flesh of Men, and they filled all the land with silent tombs in which the thought of death was enshrined in the darkness.”

    As an aside what was the gist of the discussion you were having about Sauron and the Balrogs? Was this about how Sauron was an Ainu and so were the Balrogs, or something else entirely?

    • Rad Geek

      Nice! The Akallabêth as a whole is a special favorite of mine. (Also actually a really nice, incisive treatment of enlightened imperialism, war and the desire for dominion. Notice how the growth of the darkness in N@@c3;ba;menor is consistently accompanied by the growth in the pomp and ceremony of their state, and the might and violence of their empire — but also how much of this began in supposedly noble and beneficent missions — taking care for Middle-earth, and especially trying to resist evils by conquering them — e.g. to fight against Sauron and bring military aid to Gil-Galad, etc. But whatever the mission, it inevitably led to a quest for power, and the quest for power took on a life its own.) There’s some really interesting and thoughtful development of this also in some of the related material — esp. the story of Aldarion and Erendis in Unfinished Tales.

      The mightiest and proudest was Ar-Pharaz@@c3;b4;n the Golden of all those that had wielded the Sceptre of the Sea-Kings since the foundation of N@@c3;ba;menor; and four and twenty Kings and Queens had ruled the N@@c3;ba;men@@c3;b3;reans before, and slept now in their deep tombs under the mount of Meneltarma, lying upon beds of gold.

      And sitting upon his carven throne in the city of Armenelos in the glory of his power, he brooded darkly, thinking of war. For he had learned in Middle-earth of the strength of the realm of Sauron, and of his hatred of Westernesse. And now there came to him the masters of ships and captains returning out of the East, and they reported that Sauron was putting forth his might, since Ar-Pharaz@@c3;b4;n had gone back from Middle-earth, and he was pressing down upon the cities by the coasts; and he had taken now the title of King of Men, and declared his purpose to drive the N@@c3;ba;men@@c3;b3;reans into the sea, and destroy even N@@c3;ba;menor, if that might be.

      Great was the anger of Ar-Pharaz@@c3;b4;n at these tidings, and as he pondered long in secret, his heart was filled with the desire of power unbounded and the sole dominion of his own will. And he determined without counsel of the Valar, or the aid of any wisdom but his own, that the title of King of Men he would himself claim, and would compel Sauron to become his vassal and his servant; for in his pride he deemed that no king should ever arise so mighty as to vie with the Heir of E@@c3;a4;rendil. Therefore he began in that time to smithy great hoard of weapons, and many ships of war he built and stored them with his arms; and when all was made ready he himself set sail with his host into the East.

      And men saw his sails coming up out of the sunset, dyed as with scarlet and gleaming with red and gold, and fear fell upon the dwellers by the coasts, and they fled far away. But the fleet came at last to that place that was called Umbar, where was the mighty haven of the N@@c3;ba;men@@c3;b3;reans that no hand had wrought. Empty and silent were all the lands about when the King of the Sea marched upon Middle-earth. For seven days he journeyed with banner and trumpet, and he came to a hill, and he went up, and he set there his pavilion and his throne; and he sat him down in the midst of the land, and the tents of his host were ranged all about him, blue, golden, and white, as a field of tall flowers. Then he sent forth heralds, and he commanded Sauron to come before him and swear to him fealty.

      And Sauron came.

    • Rad Geek

      Sauron and the Balrogs were definitely both Ainur, but the discussion about Sauron and the Balrogs was about political relations among them. The Facebook thread started with a joke image:

      I wrote:

      Kid gets an A+. Creator of the image gets a D. Because Gandalf doesn’t say that to Sauron; he says it to the Balrog. And the Balrog is not a servant of Sauron. He was a servant of Morgoth who fled from his master’s downfall in the War of Wrath.

      Andrew Tarant@@c3;b8; replied:

      Well, hold on a second, I don’t think it’s quite that simple: http://tolkien.slimy.com/essays/TAB4.html

      Was the Balrog of Moria under Sauron’s command? (The Truth About Balrogs, Vol. 4)

      There are no clear statements in Lord of the Rings as to the allegiance of the B…

      Though I’ll grudgingly admit that probably has no bearing on the substance of your point.

      Me:

      [R]ight, Appendix A suggests that the reawakening of the Balrog might in some sense have been related to Sauron’s return, but it only suggests that they are related in an indirect way — not because Sauron is somehow summoning the Balrog, but just because his presence is causing all evil things to stir more — in the same way, it worsens the situation with the dragons up north, and even leads to things like the darkening of the Old Forest in Eriador. I think that Tolkien’s omission of the claims about the Balrog being sent by Sauron, in the published version, was a significant omission: that he considered the notion and then rejected it, in order to keep the Balrog as more of a free agent rather than a servant of Sauron’s. (In the letters he expresses some outrage at people, e.g. those who wrote the radio adaptation for BBC, reflexively assuming that any enemy who showed up, all the way down to Old Man Willow, must therefore be an ally of Mordor.)

      Andrew:

      I’m not sure it was established whether Gothmog (the “Lord of the Balrogs”, not the other one) reported to Sauron under Morgoth. If he did, it would seem to follow that the Moria Balrog was under Sauron’s command, at least in the First Age.

      However, if the Moria Balrog was [still] reporting to Sauron in the Third Age (which might’ve been plausible given Sauron’s former proximity to Moria while at Dol Guldur), I think I’d’ve expected Sauron to have somehow sensed the encounter with Gandalf and/or the proximity to the Ring; certainly when Gandalf vanquished him on Celebdil, which I’m sure would have been visible from Barad Dur.

      I suppose, then, I’d acquiesce to putting my money on the Balrog being his own Balrog, at least by the late Third Age. So +1 for Alex.

      Me:

      Well, we don’t get the Org Chart of Evil, so this is all inference or simple conjecture. But I don’t see any reason from the text to take Gothmog as answering to Sauron rather than directly to Morgoth, at least not on any permanent basis. Sauron is described as Morgoth’s “mightiest servant,” “greatest and most terrible servant,” as “lieutenant of Melkor,” etc. But Gothmog’s ranks are all described in superlative terms (Lord of Balrogs, High Captain of Angband), and he’s never shown in action operating under the command of Sauron. Their areas of responsibility were different (Sauron took command of particular outposts or domains on Morgoth’s behalf, and did his Necromancy thing, and was frequently far away from Angband; whereas Gothmog commanded the hosts of Morgoth in their open battles, and always proceeded out of Angband itself, where he commanded the armies, and where he would have been in the presence of Morgoth himself). And really their different areas of responsibility were caught up with different personalities and their modes of showing themselves in power (sorcery and deception, with a desire to corrupt and dominate, vs. a simple rage to terrify, hurt and destroy, etc.). So I’d tend to read all this as them acting more or less independently of each other and answering directly to Morgoth, rather than one being in command over the other. (But certainly in any case even if Balrogs had been under Sauron’s direct command in the First Age, they needn’t be after the breaking of Thangorodrim. Evil creatures are definitely capable of striking out on their own and acting independently, even if they had once been servants — most famously, of course, there’s Ungoliant.) But then my reading typically is to take actors in Tolkien’s world acting as independently, and from their own motives, as the text could plausibly be interpreted to support (to complexify rather than simplify the politics, I guess), so that’s my bias in all this.

    • dennis

      Thanks for the reply. I never got the sense that the Balrog in Moria was under Sauron’s control either. As far as Sauron’s minions in the First Age, and I might be mistaken on this, he had authority over vampires and werewolves (I think this comes from the story of Beren and Luthien).

      I also like the way that the story of Numenor tracks with Tolkien’s consistent theme of the corrupting influence of power. I hadn’t ever thought of the growth of the ceremonial and symbolic trappings of the state in the story, which is odd because that is something I have been interested in for a while now in the real world (TSA screenings, sobriety checkpoints, five gajillion references to “our brave men and women” at every sporting event). Good catch!

      I really enjoyed the Unfinished Tales because of stories like Aldarion and Erendis, well that and little bits of insight into things like the Istari.

  4. Rad Geek

    A couple passages from Chapter 24 of the Quenta Silmarillion. (The material on E@@c3;a4;rendil is some of the stuff that Tolkien got the least chance to work and rework, and what he did get down always leaves me wishing that he’d had world enough and time to do even more.

    E@@c3;a4;rendil found not Tuor nor Idril, nor came he ever on that journey to the shores of Valinor, defeated by shadows and enchantment, driven by repelling winds, until in longing for Elwing he turned homeward towards the coast of Beleriand. And his heart bade him haste, for a sudden fear had fallen on him out of dreams; and the winds that before he had striven with might not now bear him back as swift as his desire.

    Now when first the tidings came to Maedhros that Elwing yet lived, and dwelt in possession of the Silmaril by the mouths of Sirion, he repenting of the deeds in Doriath withheld his hand. But in time the knowledge of their oath unfulfilled returned to torment him and his brothers, and gathering from their wandering hunting-paths they sent messages to the Havens of friendship andyet of stern demand. Then Elwing and the people of Sirion would not yield the jewel which Beren had won and L@@c3;ba;thien had worn, and for which Dior the fair was slain; and least of all while E@@c3;a4;rendil their lord was on the sea, for it seemed to them that in the Silmaril lay the healing and the blessing that had come upon their houses and their ships. And there came to pass the last and cruellest of the slayings of Elf by Elf; and that was the third of the great wrongs achieved by the accursed oath.

    For the sons of Fëanor that yet lived came down suddenly upon the exiles of Gondolin and the remnant of Doriath, and destroyed them. In that battle some of their people stood aside, and some few rebelled and were slain upon the other part aiding Elwing against their own lords (for such was the sorrow and confusion in the hearts of the Eldar in those days); but Maedhros and Maglor won the day, though they alone remained thereafter of the sons of Fëanor, for both Amrod and Amras were slain. Too late the ships of Cirdan and Gil-galad the High King came hasting to the aid of the Elves of Sirion; and Elwing was gone, and her sons. Then such few of that people as did not perish in the assault joined themselves to Gil-galad, and went with him to Balar; and they told that Elros and Elrond were taken captive, but Elwing with the Silmaril upon her breast had cast herself into the sea.

    Thus Maedhros and Maglor gained not the jewel; but it was not lost. For Ulmo bore up Elwing out of the waves, and he gave her the likeness of a great white bird, and upon her breast there shone as a star the Silmaril, as she flew over the water to seek E@@c3;a4;rendil her beloved. On a time of night E@@c3;a4;rendil at the helm of his ship saw her come towards him, as a white cloud exceeding swift beneath the moon, as a star over the sea moving in strange course, a pale flame on wings of storm. And it is sung that she fell from the air upon the timbers of Vingilot, in a swoon, nigh unto death for the urgency of her speed, and E@@c3;a4;rendil took her to his bosom; but in the morning with marvelling eyes he beheld his wife in her own form beside him with her hair upon his face, and she slept.

    […]

    Then at the bidding of the Valar E@@c3;b6;nwë went to the shore of Aman, where the companions of E@@c3;a4;rendil still remained, awaiting tidings; and he took a boat, and the three mainers were set therein, and the Valar drove them away into the East with a great wind. But they took Vingilot, and hallowed it, and bore it away through Valinor to the uttermost rim of the world; and there it passed through the Door of Night and was lifted up even into the oceans of heaven.

    Now fair and marvellous was that vessel made, and it was filled with a wavering flame, pure and bright; and E@@c3;a4;rendil the Mariner sat at the helm, glistening with the dust of elven-gems, and the Silmaril was bound upon his brow. Far he journeyed in that ship, even into the starless voids; but most often was he seen at morning or at evening, glimmering in sunrise or sunset, as he came back to Valinor from voyages beyond the confines of the world.

    On these journeys Elwing did not go, for she might not endure the cold and the pathless voids, and she loved rather the earth and the sweet winds that blow on sea and hill. Therefore was built for her a white tower northward upon the borders of the Sundering Seas; and thither at times all the sea-birds of the earth repaired. And it is said that Elwing learned the tongues of birds, who herself had once worn their shape; and they taught her the craft of flight, and her wings were of white and silver-grey. And at times, when E@@c3;a4;rendil returning drew near again to Arda, she would fly to meet him, even as she had flown long ago, when she was rescued from the sea. Then the far-sighted among the Elves that dwelt in the Lonely Isle would see her like a white bird, shining, rose-stained in the sunset, as she soared in joy to greet the coming of Vingilot to haven.

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