you've read J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, and perhaps The
Hobbit. In the background of those works, like mountains glimpsed on
the edge of the horizon, is a large body of myth. Tolkien, blessed
with only the lifespan of a Mortal never got to finish that
mytholology, but his son, Christopher, has spent a lifetime compiling
what was written; it can be found in The Silmarillion, Unfinished
Tales, Lost Tales, and the rest of The History of Middle-earth
series. Those tales, though fragmentary, are full of vast beauties
and fascinating characters. This is a quest into those less-read
works, and with a little luck, it may throw some light on them for
those who feared to venture into those shadowy seas.
You're off the edge of the map now...here there be dragons...
but don't worry, it helps when you've got a
Faithful Elven Sidekick
(a musing on an obscure character without whose help many things in Middle-earth would not have come to pass)
A dark dank cave strung with spider webs, faint, phosphorescent, eerie blue light, a scuttling of feet...non-human feet. A frightened Hobbit too far from home to ever go back. He is alone against the daughter of darkness. Shelob slithers into view, attacks, and Frodo raises his hand, holding a glass vial.
"Aiya Earendil Elenion Ancalima!" he shouts. The vial blazes with light, and Shelob backs off.
That's the theatrical version. In The Book, Sam is by Frodo's side, and they have been blundering blindly through utter darkness, darkness that cannot be shown onscreen (unless you turn the movie into a radio play). They hear "a sound, startling and horrible in the heavy padded silence." The sound of Shelob's spidery feet. They realize that Gollum has led them into a trap. Then in the blackness of Frodo's despair and anger he remembers a light: "a light when all other lights go out"...the starglass of Earendil given by Galadriel.
Shelob is the descendant of Ungoliant, ancient weaver of darkness who took the form of a giant spider in the earliest legends of Middle-earth, as told in The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and Lost Tales (all compiled from Tolkien's scattered notes by his son Christopher). Ungoliant went with Morgoth (the orginal Dark Lord) to the Blessed Realm and poisoned the Two Trees of the Valar; Laurelin and Silperion, the trees of the Sun and Moon, the trees that held the original light of creation. And they died, taking their light with them.
But not quite all of it. Already in existence were the Silmarils; gems made by a genius Noldorin craftsman, Feanor; most beautiful, most blessed of the High Elves who awakened in Middle-earth, and returned to the Blessed Realm at the summons of the Valar, there to grow in wisdom. Feanor had captured the light of the Two Trees in those three amazing gems called Silmarils.
And Melkor, the Vala, lusted after them.
Melkor, or as he is later known, Morgoth, is a fallen Vala, the original Bad Boy of Middle-earth (Sauron of LOTR is a mere Maia, an understudy of Morgoth's); even in the song of creation Morgoth sang his own tune. And ever since he has gone against the will of Eru, Illuvatar, The One, The Creator. He weaves a plot to destroy Feanor and end the friendship of the Valar and the Elves.
And he does. There are many chapters of the Silmarillion which tell of The Kinslaying, where Feanor's folk went against the will of the Valar, killed the Teleri and stole their ships, and sailed back to Middle-earth, chasing Morgoth and the stolen Silmarils. Of the darkening of Valinor, when the Two Trees are killed. Of the terrible oath of Feanor and his sons; vowing to pursue with vengeance to the ends of the World Vala, Demon, Elf or Man as yet unborn, or any creature, great or small, good or evil...whoso should hold or take or keep a Silmaril from their possession. Of Galadriel's flight to Middle-earth across the Grinding Ice (yes THAT Galadriel). And of Yavanna's drawing forth of the last two fruits of the Trees: the Sun and Moon. Of the Hiding of Valinor: when "the Enchanted Isles were set, and all the seas about them were filled with shadows and bewilderment. And these isles were strung as a net in the Shadowy Seas from the north to the south, before Tol Eressea, the Lonely Isle, is reached by one sailing west. Hardly might any vessel pass between them, for in the dangerous sounds, the waves sighed forever upon dark rocks shrouded in mist. And in the twilight a great weariness came upon mariners and a loathing of the sea; but all that ever set foot upon the islands were there entrapped, and slept until the Change of the World. Thus it was that as Mandos foretold to them in Araman the Blessed Realm was shut against the Noldor."
The door is closed. None of the Elves in Middle-earth can ever go home again.
Until Earendil. Earendil who found a way West, who asked for pardon and help of the Valar. Who sails the heavens as the evening star, a Silmaril bound upon his brow. Who gave his light to Frodo's starglass.
Who wouldn't have existed without Voronwe the Faithful.
The threads of story in Middle-earth weave themselves into a vast tapestry; pull any one of those threads and the whole thing unravels. Take Frodo's vial; without the light of Earendil, he likely would have wound up as yet one more late night snack for Shelob the Mighty Hungry. The ring would have lain in wait for another few millenia...or one of Sauron's orcs would have found it and...
Well, it didn't. Frodo had the handy dandy Flashlight of the Valar, and he made it to Mount Doom after all.
He never would have done it without Sam, of course.
We'll start with that Earendil guy. Earendil was the son of Tuor, a human hero, and Idril, daughter of the Elvenking of Gondolin. You may have heard of Gondolin. If you read The Hobbit carefully, you may remember Elrond's words to thirteen Dwarves and one pudgy little Hobbit burglar, as Elrond peers at some swords they have brought from the trolls' hoard (the very trolls Frodo later encounters, in stone, in his own travels): "These are not troll-make. They are old swords, very old swords of the High Elves of the West, my kin. They were made in Gondolin for the Goblin Wars.They must have come from a dragon's hoard or goblin plunder, for dragons and goblins destroyed that city many ages ago. This, Thorin, the runes name Orcrist, the Goblin-cleaver in the ancient tongue of Gondolin; it was a famous blade. This, Gandalf was Glamdring, Foe-Hammer that the king of Gondolin once wore. Keep them well !" Sting also came from that hoard, and is of elven make. The High Elves Elrond speaks of are the Noldor, kin of Galadriel and Feanor, the exiles who came back to Middle-earth from the Blessed Realm. The Goblin Wars he speaks of are the battles against Morgoth, fortressed in Thangorodrim in the North of Middle-earth. The destruction of Gondolin is recounted in a very early Tolkien writing: "The Fall of Gondolin", finally published by Christopher Tolkien in "Lost Tales 2". As Tolkien wrote The Hobbit in the 1930s, his earlier mythos (some scribbled in the trenches of WW1) materialized in the background like a ghost city seen through ancient mists, setting the stage for the last tale: Lord of the Rings.
Back to that Earendil guy; half-Elf Earendil married Elwing (also of both races; Elven and Mortal Man), and had twin sons. One, Elros, chose the path of Men, and founded the line of Numenoreans, the folk whose last descendants wander about as Rangers of the North; one in particular...some guy known as Strider...reclaims the throne and returns those people to their former glory after the War of the Ring.
The other twin chose the path of the Elves, he ends up in Rivendell, forming a Fellowship to aid a Hobbit in carrying the One Ring to Mount Doom. And marrying his daughter off to the aforementioned Ranger of the North. When Elrond is explaining the lineage of those swords to Gandalf and Company, he never mentions that the Elvenking who originally wore Glamdring is his great-grandfather; his father's (Earendil) mother's (Idril) father (Turgon).
And none of them would have got to where we find them in LOTR if it hadn't been for Voronwe.
says of Earendil in a letter to Milton Waldman of Collins
Publishing:(late 1951, "Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien") "He
is important as the person who brings the Silmaril to its end, and as
providing in his offspring the main links to persons in the tales of
later ages. His function, as a representative of both Kindreds, Elves
and Men, is to find a sea-passage back to the Land of the Gods..."
The Valar listen to his pleas on the behalf of Elves and Men. And
"But Morgoth himself, the Valar thrust through the Door of Night beyond the Walls of the World." The Way West is opened again, and there ends the great saga called The Silmarillion. There are other tales to tell, including the Akallabeth, the Downfall of Numneor, in which the World is bent and the Way West concealed to all but the Elves. And darkness rises again in the form of a lesser power, that of Sauron the Maia. And even there, Earendil's light echoes down through the ages in Elrond's wisdom, in Aragorn's strength, and in Galadriel's gift.
After his great voyage west, Earendil is given a ship to sail the heavens, with a Silmaril bound upon his brow, as the evening star. It is the only Silmaril ever recovered; torn from the iron crown of Morgoth, in the depths of his realm by Beren and Luthien (ancestors of that Strider guy, as is Earendil). The Silmaril itself travels a long and twisted road, but eventually it finds its way to Beren and Luthien, and to their son Dior. He marries Nimloth, and their daughter is Elwing, who marries Earendil. Which is how he gets a Silmaril stuck on his forehead.
And he wouldn't be up there, sailing the night sky with this glowy thing on his forehead (making it kind of hard to see) without Voronwe.
Ok, we now know the whole history of Earendil, but that's not who this is about. Who's this Voronwe guy?
Who Is This Voronwe Guy?
I first met him back in the late 70s, after I realized that Professor Tolkien had written more than just LOTR and The Hobbit. I picked up a copy of The Silmarillion, and plowed through that epic tale of biblical proportions. I found a few characters that I really liked. One was Voronwe.
In chapter 23 of The Silmarillion (published in 1977), we find; "Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin". That tale tells little of the actual destruction of the hidden Elvish city, but does tell of how Tuor came to find it, and marry the daughter of its king. In Unfinished Tales (published in 1980) I found more of the Tuor tale, and more about Voronwe. In "The Book of Lost Tales 2", (published 1984, my paperback in 1992) we at last find the entire tale: "The Fall of Gondolin", the earliest bits written in 1916-1917, one of Tolkien's Middle-earth legends that he mentions over and over in his Letters, a tale that was once delivered as a reading to his Oxford contemporaries (who heard it as thefallagongolin, Tolkien tended to mumble). The problem with any of the tales of Middle-earth after LOTR, is that they are as fragmentary as Tolkien's scattered notes. His son, Christopher, has done an awesome task; gathering the scattered fragments, like a shattered Silmaril, and piecing them together.
But you still have to read several books to get the whole known history of one character.
So who is this Vorowne?
In the Silmarillion, we hear of Huor, the brother of Hurin (father of the tortured hero Turin, another tale featuring yet another favorite obscure character), who dies in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. In the winter of that year, his wife Rian bears a son, Tuor, in the wilds of Mithrim. He is taken to foster by Annael of the Grey-Elves (Sindarin, the same folk as Thingol father of Luthien, Thranduil the Elvenking of The Hobbit, and Legolas of the Fellowship...I remember Annael, because his name spelled backwards, is nearly mine.) Tuor has a long and rough history: his Elven companions are assailed by orcs and Easterlings, and he is taken captive, made a slave by an Easterling, escapes, and becomes an outlaw, living in the wilderness, picking off Morgoth's evil minions one by one.
The Valar have mostly removed themselves from the affairs of Middle-earth at this point, allowing Feanor's rebellion and its repercussions to play themselves out in their own good time. Alone of the Valar, Ulmo, Lord of Waters, has not entirely forsaken the Noldorin exiles, though his underling; Osse, Maia of the sea, has. Ulmo dwells, not in Valinor, but in all the seas and rivers of the world, and has done so since the Begining. He has watched the Noldor wage war upon Morgoth, and from time to time has offered counsel to those he thinks will understand it.
He has a Plan. And it involves Tuor. He sets a desire in Tuor's heart to travel.
And Tuor comes to Nevrast, and looks upon Belgaer, the Great Sea. He eventually follows the silent promptings of Ulmo to a deserted elven city: Vinyamar, a city once held by Turgon.
Turgon, Turin and a Lot of Other People Whose Names Sound the
And if all this tangled myth has left you going; "heh?" Turgon's the guy who fled with his people to a hidden realm known as Gondolin. The guy with the swords named Glamdring and Orcrist and Sting, the one with the daughter named Idril, mother of Earendil, the dude with the Silmaril stuck to his forehead. Turin Turambar is the cousin of Tuor, his Faithful Elven Sidekick is Beleg Cuthalion, and that all comes to a terrible end in another tale (Children of Hurin).
Tuor enters the deserted city of Vinyamar, and finds a lot of really nice armour. It's not there by accident, Turgon left it there, with a sword and helm and shield and spear, long ago, at the prompting of Ulmo: "...from Nevrast, one shall come to warn thee, and from him beyond ruin and fire hope shall be born for Elves and Men. Leave therefore in this house arms and a sword, that in years to come he may find them, and thus shalt thou know him, and not be decieved." The armour is left there before Turgon leaves Vinyamar. Before the founding of Gondolin. And if it seems strange for someone to leave a lot of perfectly good expensive Elvish Armour (about the price of a new Mercedes at the local Armour Swap Shop) lying about for a few hundred...or thousand...years, remember, these are Elves, and this is all but one ripple in the stream of time for them.
Tuor arrays himself in that armour, and goes down to the shore. A great storm arises out of the west (west, the land of the Valar, also it's kind of hard to have a sea storm rising out of the east, because there is very little water in that direction). Out of the waters rises Ulmo, Lord of the Sea. This time, Ulmo delivers his message in no uncertain terms; in the midst of storm and wind and leaping wave (most impressive) he tells Tuor to find the hidden city of Gondolin. It's time to warn Turgon; the dark powers are about to uncover his hidden realm and overrun it. And Ulmo adds: "I will send one to thee out of the wrath of Osse (Maia of the sea, Ulmo's wayward servant), and thus shalt thou be guided: yea, the last mariner of the last ship that shall seek into the west until the rising of the Star (Earendil's star)."
comes, and with it warm sun and quiet sea and the call of gulls. And
there, at the edge of the sea is someone; hunched on the sand, cloak
sodden and torn, hair and clothes full of sand and sea-wrack. Dazed,
beyond hope, cast up on the shores of Middle-earth, alone, with only
a short sword and a packet of lembas, in a world beset by creatures
of evil and darkness. The reader knows nothing about him at that
moment, he is only a sodden shape on the sand. A bit of storm wrack
cast up by the Sea which stretches west to the Blessed Realm. The
west closed against the Noldor, because of Feanor's rebellion. The
West protected by shadowy seas and enchanted islands. We do know this
about this stray lone sailor, if we remember Ulmo's words: "the
last mariner of the last ship that shall seek into the west".
The one on the beach has traveled far through impossible dangers,
seen every ship and every companion swallowed by those great
heartless waters. This sailor was part of a fleet sent on a quest to
find a path home.
They failed, utterly. And died. All of them. And they were immortals, Elves, people who would have lived to the Change of the World otherwise. Now their spirits will wait long, wrapped in their shadowy memories, in the Halls of Mandos.
This one survived. His odyssey would have been terrible. His loss more terrible. And his guilt at being the lone survivor? We can only guess.
Tuor looks down from the sea-wall and a name, untaught, comes to his lips.
"Welcome Voronwe, I await you!" The soggy Elf turns and looks up, and Tuor meets the "piercing glance of his sea-grey eyes, and knows him for one of the high folk of the Noldor".
Voronwe sees above him, on the sea-wall, a vision of majesty, arrayed in the armour of Noldorin kings. He looks on this vision with fear and wonder, and the two study each other's faces, trying to make sense of it all. At last Voronwe bows before Tuor's feet, "Who are you lord? Long have I laboured in the unrelenting sea...have great tidings befallen since I walked the land? Is the Shadow overthrown? Have the Hidden People come forth?" For all that he's been through, he has not had all hope dashed from him. He shows some of that brightness, lightness of spirit that we see in Legolas when things are darkest for the Fellowship.
"Nay." says Tuor.
Only then does Voronwe see past the armour, and the great shadowy cloak of Ulmo, and see that the one he bows to is a Mortal Man. With Tuor's "nay" and the realization that he is only a Man, Voronwe might have been dismayed, losing hope once more. But instead his amazement grows as he hears Tuor's tale; of escaping thralldom, of meeting with Ulmo, and of Tuor's need to find the Hidden City of Gondolin.
Here he balks. "But were you the highest of your folk, no right would you have to seek Turgon, and vain would be your quest. For even were I to lead you to his gates, you could not enter in." For Voronwe is one of the folk that Turgon sent out from Gondolin to seek a way to the Uttermost West. He is not about to betray his people to a total stranger, no matter how awesome in appearance or lineage, no matter that he invokes the name of Ulmo.
Crazy Human, I'm Leaving
here, things in Middle-earth could grind to a halt. Voronwe could say
"screwit crazy human", and go find himself some nice safe
willow mead to live out his eternal life in.
Tuor says; "I do not bid you to lead me further than the gate...will Turgon forget that which (Ulmo) spoke to him of old? 'Remember that the last hope of the Noldor cometh from the Sea? When peril is nigh one shall come from Nevrast to warn thee.' "
And Nevrast is where Tuor hath cometh frometh.
Tuor's words to Voronwe are an inspiration from Ulmo. Tuor has never heard them before, but Voronwe has. Those words are known to the Hidden People of Gondolin. "but he (Voronwe) turned away, and looked toward the Sea and sighed."
"Alas! he said. I wish never again to return. And often have I vowed in the deeps of the sea that, if ever I set foot on land again, I would dwell at rest far from the shadow of the North (where Morgoth has his stronghold), or by the Havens of Cirdan (the shipwright who keeps the Grey Havens of LOTR), or maybe in the fair fields of Nan-tathren, where the spring is sweeter than heart's desire." He is weary of questing, worn out, burned out, and he wishes only for peace. His is a gentle, poetic heart. But he continues; "But if evil has grown while I have wandered, and the last peril approaches them, then I must go to my people. I will lead you to the hidden gates, for the wise will not gainsay the councils of Ulmo." His is also a wise heart, and one respectful of the Powers. Even if they have closed the West to him.
They make their plans on faring in the wild, and passing the harbourless winter. Voronwe says to Tuor, "You know the strength of Men. As for me, I am of the Noldor, and long must be the hunger and cold the winter that shall slay the kin of those who passed the Grinding Ice." He does not say these words with pride, they are but a simple statement of fact. Humility is a quality you can see in Tolkien and his most successful characters. The ones who fail, or come to tragic ends are the ones who succumb to pride, like Tuor's cousin Turin, or Feanor, who started the whole Silmaril mess.
Voronwe also carries a small waterproof pouch of lembas:"Yet how think you we could labour countless days in the salt wastes of the sea?" Once again this near magical waybread enables our heroes to undertake impossible journeys.
One thing you will notice in The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and Lost Tales, is the language: as LOTR becomes more poetic and less light and silly than The Hobbit, these later published tales become even more mythic in their tone, forsooth. Downright biblical even. In LOTR, the camera is right in there, on top of the characters, following their every move. In these later tales, it has stepped back; the people are seen through the Mists of Time, few of their conversations are recorded. It is more like reading an ancient newspaper account than watching a movie. But the characters still live and breathe, and with some effort, you can figure out who they are.
They set out; an Elven mariner, quick and agile and strong enough to trim a sail in a storm, on a tree-tall mast swinging wild arcs as the ship bucks beneath it on monster waves. A Man hardened by slavery, and experienced in living off the land. though he has misgivings about that; "...not in all lands is it safe to hunt... and hunters tarry on the road."
Voronwe likely has the skills of all Elves when it comes to the natural world; a spiritual connection with all things, "the elvish way with all good beasts" that we see in Legolas (as well as his tendency to talk to trees and the odd rock), and in Beleg (Unfinished Tales) who tracks Turin through the wild ("too well did I teach this child of Men craft in wood and field"). Beleg can read a bent blade of grass better than any Ranger, and can hear the "rumour of the passing of Men among the wild things with whom he could speak". In The Hobbit chapter "Fire and Water" we read: "The Elvenking had received news from his own messengers and from the birds that loved his folk..." That Elvenking is of course Thranduil in LOTR, father of that archer guy in the Fellowship, who says lines like; "Only I hear the stones lament them..."
It is Tuor here who is the archer (carrying something like Aragorn's hunting bow from the film), but Voronwe has only a short sword, likely no bigger than the "long white knife" Legolas uses. Doesn't sound like much, till you remember (bookverse) Legolas at Helm's Deep, knifing orcs as they come over the wall. An eerie image of Elvish skill and stealth.
A short sword may be all the weaponry Voronwe needs.
Lest you imagine Tuor clanking about the wilderness in unwieldy gothic plate armour, like a great noisy orc-magnet, I should clarify that the armour he found is a hauberk (sort of an oversized t-shirt) of mail. Elvish mail, like untarnished silver glinting with gold. It is likely very light (remember Frodo's mail shirt). His shield, though, is long and tapered, not the handy round shield Boromir carries in LOTR. It is painted with a blue field with a white swan's wing upon it, the imagery seen in Gondor in a later age.
Swan of Doom
Tuor is aided and guided on his quest (before he meets Voronwe) by swans. They bow before him at one point, each plucking out one flight feather and laying it before his feet. He puts those reverently in his new-found helm.
If you're used to thinking (as I was) of swans as those serene cutesey things floating about on ponds, picture postcards, and the odd inspirational poster, look again.
Notes in "Ted Andrews' Animal-Speak Calendar" (Dragonhawk Publishing, 2004) resonate with other things I have read on swans: "The swan is a bird of great magic. It has ancient ties to the Faerie Realm and other magical dimensions. "It is associated with dreams, with quests, with innumerable faerie and folk tales.”
Tolkien knew this, and used the imagery widely. Swans generally mate for life (so do geese and hawks and owls, and ravens). They are "the totem of the child, the mystic, the poet and the dreamer...that part of us which knows our possibilities."
The swans I have met personally were formidable: the Swan of Doom who guarded the pond of a local wildlife rehabber, beating off foxes, stray dogs and the odd volunteer. He was killed by lightning in a thunderstorm, and his wings and feathers graced several fundraising items: dance fans, dreamcatchers and the like. There was also the Attack Swan who guarded a stretch of one of the local kayaking streams. Swans paddle nearly as fast as I can, and they can fly a whole lot better. Both of these were the non-native mute swans, the ornamental variety imported from Europe, and likely much like Tuor's swans. In the marshes of Assateague Island, I saw a tundra swan take flight, and understood why they are also called whistling swans; the rush of their wings would have struck awe into the heart of the Noldor themselves. (These are the native north American ones: the more common tundra swan, and the trumpeter swan of the northwest.) The wobbly skeins of wild geese in flight, with their haunting calls, have been likened to the hounds of hunting gods (Araw in Sindarin), but they have none of the power of a phalanx of white tundra swans appearing out of the silver haze of a spring sky... which I have stood in awe of.
Tuor and Voronwe travel through some dangerous orc-infested country, staying hidden as much as possible; Voronwe has an Elvencloak, and Tuor one given by Ulmo, both of which help as camouflage. Tuor asks Voronwe about Turgon's city, and Voronwe redirects the conversation, talking instead about other places he has loved in Middle-earth. He speaks of how he was sent from Gondolin, one of several messengers, to Cirdan in the Bay of Balar. Voronwe is young in years among the Eldar, he was born in Middle-earth, his father of the Noldor, but his mother of the Sindar; the Grey Elves who are kin to the Teleri whose ships were stolen, and burned, whose kin were killed by the Noldor led by Feanor.
About those Elves
The Silmarillion there is a geneology chart showing the divisions of
the Quendi (all of the Elves) like the branches of a great tree. It
is best understood as a picture, but here is the manner of its
First there are the Quendi, all of the Elves, the Firstborn Children of Illuvatar who are awakened by the Creator (Illuvatar, Eru, the One) in Middle-earth by the waters of Cuivienin.
They are divided into the Eldar (Elves of the Great Journey from Cuivienen, the Waters of Awakening)...and the Avari (the Unwilling, the Elves who refused the Great Journey)
The Great Journey is the well-meaning attempt by the Valar to gather up the Elves and keep them safe in Valinor, Aman, The Blessed Realm, The West. Safe from the Dark Lord and his minions. Like trying to keep your teenager away from wild parties and fast cars, (or the Americans as part of the British Empire) it didn't work very well.
The Eldar (alias the Calaquendi, or Elves of the Light, for they have actually seen the light of the Two Trees) are divided into Vanyar (who went to Aman and stayed, possibly hanging out on the beach and partying)...the Noldor (who went to Aman, got their phd in silmarilli 101 and went back to middle-earth to kick Morgoth's butt)...and the Teleri who went to Aman, settled down by the sea, built some nice ships and had them stolen by the Noldor.
Some of the Teleri never made it to Aman; those were the Sindar who got as far as Beleriand by the Sea, and got distracted and never sailed West. Also the Nandor, who bailed out earlier, somewhere east of the Misty Mountains, and a few of their kin, the Laiquendi who eventually wandered into Beleriand. All of these Teleri (Sindar, Nandor and Laiquendi) who stayed in Middle-earth are called Umanyar (the Elves who are not of Aman), and are numbered also among the Moriquendi (the Elves of the Darkness) for they have never seen the light of the Two Trees. Those silvan Elves mentioned in LOTR are actually Nandor according to the New Tolkien Companion (by J.E.A. Tyler, 1980). Some of these silvan Elves are the ones who end up as the Mirkwood Elves and the Galadhrim of Lothlorien: though the leadership in both places is Sindarin (except Galadriel who is Noldorin). Some of the Mirkwood Elves and Galadhrim may be Avari.
The East-Elves, sometimes called wood-Elves, sometimes dark-Elves are the last group; the Avari, who were quite content to hang out in the forests without any of that messy Great Journey stuff. Some of them got kidnapped by the Dark Lord at the beginning, and were mutated into orcs, though in the earliest accounts (The Fall of Gondolin) orcs were said to be bred by Melko out of the subterranean heats and slime.
Yuck. Just like in the movie.
"I have the sea-heart of my mother's people." Voronwe says.
speaks of the sea-longing, which lies buried in the hearts of his
people; the Sindar. Voronwe's Sindar are already people of the sea;
they are skin to Cirdan the Shipwright himself, and live on the
shores of the Great Sea. And in this part of the history of
Middle-earth, no one can sail West, so the Sea-longing Legolas speaks
of has no real meaning here. Voronwe's task though, is to get
Cirdan's help in building ships, so some of the Noldor can sail West
and ask for pardon, and for the way to be opened.
"But I tarried on that way." In an earlier account of Tuor's journey (The Fall of Gondolin, in "The Book of Lost Tales 2") it is Tuor who tarries on his journey till Ulmo gets annoyed with his procrastination and appears before him; "and for dread he came near to death".
Voronwe is another great procrastinator, the original spacey, absent minded, attention deficit Elf. I suspect, after reading several Tolkien biographies and Letters by J.R.R. Tolkien, that he was describing himself with characters like these. "For I had seen little of the lands of Middle-earth, and we came to Nan-tathren in the spring of the year. Lovely to heart's enchantment is that land." Voronwe is rather like Legolas entering Fangorn for the first time: wide-eyed with wonder, forgetting his true mission he tarries knee-deep in grass and listens; "In that land Narog joins Sirion and they haste no more, but flow broad and quiet through living meads; and all about the shining river are flaglilies like a blossoming forest, and the grass is filled with flowers, like gems, like bells, like flames of red and gold, like a waste of many-colored stars in a firmament of green. Yet fairest of all are the willows of Nan-tathren, pale green or silver in the wind, and the rustle of their innumerable leaves is a spell of music: day and night would flicker by uncounted, while still I stood knee-deep in grass and listened. There I wandered, naming new flowers or lay adream amid the singing of the birds, and the humming of bees and flies; and there I might still dwell in delight, forsaking all my kin, whether the ships of the Teleri, or the swords of the Noldor, but my doom would not so. Or the Lord of Waters himself maybe, for he was strong in that land."
Here's a guy after my own heart; he finds beauty in a marsh; the sort of place that sends most people running for the 100% DEET bug destroyer and the air conditioning. I have floated in a sea kayak on the broad reaches of the Susquehanna River, on small slow-moving creeks, in the salt marshes of Assateague Island, feeling every ripple of the water under my seat, hearing every rustle of daylilly and reed, the ratcheting call of the kingfisher, the croak of a blue heron. I know the beauties of which Voronwe speaks. Salt or fresh water, the edges of rivers, or barrier islands are rich nurseries of life. They are resting places for migrants, from waterfowl to raptors to butterflies. Young fish and young birds start their lives here. Sediments flow down from the land and settle, forming a rich substrate for life. Mosquitoes take the blood of large lifeforms and recycle it back into the life of the marsh, as they themselves are eaten. As for Voronwe, even the buzz of flies is beautiful to him. The whole rich web of life that he is experiencing down to its smallest part fascinates him, and it is in sharp contrast to the darkness that lurks like a shadow to the north.
I Have You Now
will not have his plans so easily botched. Voronwe tells Tuor: "It
came into my heart to make a raft..."
He floats it out on the "bright bosom of Sirion". You can almost see Ulmo's grin...
Aha! I have you now!
Water is the most powerful stuff on earth, and the Vala of the Waters is not to be trifled with. Even a deceptively broad, slow current can be more powerful than even the mightiest paddler or the best boat. You can't fight water, you must dance with it.
Voronwe's raft is blown downriver to the Sea. "Thus I came last of the messengers to Cirdan." Ah yes, been there, done that. I was born late. I think (she says hopefully) that it is the sign of a creative mind. It is also the sign of a time when clocks and factories and offices did not exist, when the world ran on the rythms of sun and moon and tide and season. When the texture of the snow under your feet had more meaning than where the second hand was. When the direction of the wind meant more than being at a meeting at precisely ten. In the various historical recreation groups I have belonged to, none paid much attention to clocks. Native American People comment about running on "Indian Time"...that's whenever you get there.
Of the seven ships that Turgon asked to be built, all but one were finished by the time Voronwe arrives. And one by one, they set sail into the West.
"But the salt air of the sea now stirred anew the heart of my mother's kin within me, and I rejoiced in the waves, learning all ship-lore as were it already stored in the mind...and I feared not, for the ships of the Teleri no water may drown." I had originally pictured these as sort of extreme viking longships; long, narrow, sea-worthy vessels with one mast and a square-rigged sail (and no belowdecks). The film ships had lateen rigged sails; the yard holding the sail angled sharply, the hull longshiplike. A friend of mine, who knows a bit more about ships that I ever could, suggests that the Numenoreans (who learned their sea-craft from the Elves) had a highly advanced sea-going culture. So the Elves, who had many millenia to perfect their skill, may have had something more akin to the extreme clippers that appeared just before the Age of Steam brought an end to the clouds of canvas harnessing the wind.
"But the Great Sea is terrible...and it hates the Noldor...worse things it holds than to sink into the abyss...I will not darken your heart, son of Middle-earth, with the tale of my labour seven years in the Great Sea from the North even unto the South, but never to the West. For that is shut against us."
Voronwe is the sole survivor of that odyssey (My Webster dictionary claims the epic poem by Homer about the wanderings of Odysseus took place in the ten years after the fall of Troy, so the original odyssey was a bit longer than Voronwe's). Perhaps Voronwe was chosen by Ulmo because his blood combines the two peoples, Noldor and Teleri, who are at the roots of the conflict.
The final blow in Voronwe's awful odyssey comes within sight of land, of home; the last ship has survived and returned, then the storm to end all storms blows up, and "the waves hunted us like living things filled with malice..." The unsinkable ship is broken and Voronwe is lifted by a great wave and deposited by the Vinyamar seawall, where Tuor finds him.
Voronwe began his quest young, inexperienced, a bit naive. He began with hope. The bright hope of the young who have never had their dreams dashed against the rocks. Now he has endured an odyssey of "loathing and loneliness, madness, terror of wind and tumult, and silence, and shadows where all hope is lost and all living shapes pass away. And many shores evil and strange...and many islands of danger and fear..." He has endured the bitter loss of "all my friends that went with me so long and so far, beyond the sight of mortal lands." But even so, he has memories of glimpsing mountains from afar, mountains at the far far edge of the world. Were they the mountains of his long home, of the Blessed Realm? He knows not."Far far away they stand, and none from mortal lands shall come there again, I deem..."
Little does he know that at the bitter end of his rope, in the depths of his failure, he is beginning a quest which will send Earendil to those far mountains and beyond. Hope is not, after all lost.