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Megan N. Fontenot

Exploring the People of Middle-earth: Maedhros Maitimo, Foe of Morgoth and Doomed Hero

In this biweekly series, we’re exploring the evolution of both major and minor figures in Tolkien’s legendarium, tracing the transformations of these characters through drafts and early manuscripts through to the finished work. This installment looks at the development and ultimate fate of Maedhros, eldest son of Fëanor—one-time high king of the Noldor, and foe of Morgoth.

The tale of Maedhros is one of the more tragic histories that Tolkien ever penned. Tolkien repeatedly emphasizes the elf’s potential to become a great leader and a spiritual warrior, a hero of great renown fit to stand alongside Beren, Lúthien, Glorfindel, and others. And yet, time and again, Maedhros’s heroic and self-sacrificing impulses break through the gloom of the first ages of Middle-earth only to be quashed and denied by the destructive power of the infamous Oath. Maedhros is an elf doomed from the first; his heroic actions and potential are driven into the dust and ultimately come to naught. Perhaps because of the tragedy and futility of his life, Maedhros has become a favorite among fanfiction writers, many of whom have, in wrestling with the elf’s often-troubling role in many of Middle-earth’s misfortunes, mined the depths of the emotional anguish and trauma lying just beneath the character’s surface. Maedhros attracts such devotion, it seems, because he exhibits the same characteristics that mark others out as heroes—but is kept in chains and ultimately destroyed by rash words spoken in his youth and by a cruel injunction from his dying father.

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Exploring the People of Middle-earth: Legolas, a Radical Warrior

In this biweekly series, we’re exploring the evolution of both major and minor figures in Tolkien’s legendarium, tracing the transformations of these characters through drafts and early manuscripts through to the finished work. This is the second of a two-part series dealing with Legolas Greenleaf, son of Thranduil and prince of Mirkwood. The first section looked at the evolution of the character over numerous drafts and tales; this, the second, looks at Legolas’s role in the published Lord of the Rings.

Last time we looked at the transformation of the character(s) called “Legolas Greenleaf” throughout some of Tolkien’s major drafts and stories. Here’s a quick recap: in The Fall of Gondolin, Legolas Greenleaf is a night-sighted elf of the House of Galdor who leads the refugees from the sack of Gondolin to safety through the mountains. He’s so familiar with the terrain that the text says he knew the land just as well in the dark as he did the day. His night senses are compared to those of a cat. Legolas then vanishes from the tales until somewhere around the fifth draft of “The Council of Elrond” in The Lord of the Rings, where he replaces yet another Galdor (here a messenger from Mirkwood; Galdor of the Havens doesn’t show up until later). At first, he appears to be a rather humorous addition who lightens the mood in dark places, far more akin to The Hobbit‘s Rivendell Elves than to the retiring, somewhat melancholy Legolas of the published book. Tolkien continues to play with Legolas’s role throughout the drafts, but the elf’s active role in the major developments of the plot is relentlessly pared down. Legolas, though he remains a significant member of the Fellowship, begins to seem more like a bystander, leading Christopher Tolkien to describe his father’s tinkering with the character as ultimately “irrelevant” to the integrity of the narrative.

[What are we to do with Legolas Greenleaf?]

Exploring the People of Middle-earth: Legolas, Prince of Mirkwood and Environmental Intercessor

In this biweekly series, we’re exploring the evolution of both major and minor figures in Tolkien’s legendarium, tracing the transformations of these characters through drafts and early manuscripts through to the finished work. This is the first of a two-part series dealing with Legolas Greenleaf, son of Thranduil and prince of Mirkwood. This first section looks at the evolution of the character over numerous drafts and tales; the second will look at Legolas’s role in the published Lord of the Rings.

Legolas is one of the more popular characters to come out of The Lord of the Rings. We can, I think, attribute much of his fame to the success of Peter Jackson’s film franchise and Orlando Bloom’s performance in the role of the immortal warrior-prince. (In fact, it’s surprisingly difficult to find fan art that isn’t either based on or influenced by Bloom’s Legolas.) But for many fans, there is little enough material to work with, at least if we look only at his role in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: Legolas is often described as a flat character, one who changes little and whose impact on the narrative is slight at best. Tolkien himself wrote that of all nine members of the Fellowship of the Ring, “Legolas probably achieved the least” (Unfinished Tales, hereafter UT, 412). Christopher Tolkien, commenting on his father’s drafts of The Lord of the Rings, consistently describes the emendations and additions to Legolas’s character—and even the addition of Legolas’s character—as structurally irrelevant or insignificant.

It has long been my opinion (and in this I am undoubtedly joined by others) that Legolas is the most understated and underrated member of the Fellowship.

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Exploring the People of Middle-earth: Sauron—Craftsman, Ring-giver, and Dark Lord

In this biweekly series, we’re exploring the evolution of both major and minor figures in Tolkien’s legendarium, tracing the transformations of these characters through drafts and early manuscripts through to the finished work.

Sauron is one of Tolkien’s best-known and most terrifying villains. Fire and demons, darkness inescapable, and the pull of the Ring of Power surround him; he is often visualized (if incorrectly) as a great flaming Eye and, as a Lord of Middle-earth, stretches his power across the lands seeking again the One Ring. Many names are his, and yet he is the Nameless One. He is called Annatar, Zigūr, Thû, Gorthû, the Necromancer, Wizard, Magician, lieutenant of Morgoth, Lord of Wolves, King of Kings, Lord of the World. He is one of only a small handful of characters to play a significant part in tales of Arda from the creation of the universe through to the last of the tales of Middle-earth. At first he plays lackey, but with the ages his power increases and he rightly earns the title of Dark Lord from Morgoth, his master.

Sauron is unique for a number of reasons. Unlike many other of Tolkien’s creations, his conception remains relatively stable throughout the legendarium, and because of this he is also one of the few to experience complex and radical development across that same period. His journey from uncorrupted spirit to last of the great mythological evils to threaten Arda is therefore fascinating and worth a closer look.

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Exploring the People of Middle-earth: Haleth, Tolkien’s “Renowned Amazon”

In this biweekly series, we’re exploring the evolution of both major and minor figures in Tolkien’s legendarium, tracing the transformations of these characters through drafts and early manuscripts through to the finished work. This week, by special request, we’re looking at Haleth, one of the great heroes of Middle-earth’s early days. She rallied her father’s people on the brink of destruction and later became one of the only recorded chieftainesses of the Edain, and a powerful advocate for the women of her people.

In the beginning, Haleth was a male character, one of the three Fathers of Men who came into Beleriand after Bëor (The Shaping of Middle-earth, hereafter SM, 211). His people were the last of the Elf-friends to remain in that area, and perhaps, Tolkien at one time suggested, were protected by the magic of Melian (SM 152). The People of Haleth were broad-shouldered and short, with light hair and eyes. They tended to be “slower but more deep [in] the movement of their thoughts” than the other of the two great Houses. Their “words were fewer, for they had joy in silence, wandering free in the greenwood, while the wonder of the world was new upon them” (The Lost Road, hereafter LR, 303). They spoke a language called Taliska, which was influenced by the speech of the Green Elves (LR 195)—and apparently, Tolkien (characteristically) went so far as to devise a grammar of this obscure tongue (LR 210), though to my knowledge it has never been published.

[Enter Haleth, reborn as the formidable chieftainess of the Haladin!]

Exploring the People of Middle-earth: Melian, Divine Enchantress and Deathless Queen

In this biweekly series, we’re exploring the evolution of both major and minor figures in Tolkien’s legendarium, tracing the transformations of these characters through drafts and early manuscripts through to the finished work. This week, by special request, we’re looking at Melian, the incarnated Maia whose power, wisdom, and beauty were renowned in the First Age of Arda and who becomes the foremother of some of Middle-earth’s greatest heroes.

“In the gardens of Lórien she dwelt, and among all his fair folk none were there that surpassed her beauty, nor none more wise, nor none more skilled in magical and enchanting song. It is told that the Gods would leave their business, and the birds of Valinor their mirth, that Valmar’s bells were silent, and the fountains ceased to flow, when at the mingling of the light Melian sang in the garden of the God of Dreams” —The Shaping of Middle-earth, hereafter SM, 103.

This passage describes the Maia Melian before she passed over to the hither shore and took up her incarnate form in Middle-earth. Little is known about the divine mother of Lúthien when she dwelt in the Undying Lands. It’s said that she was kin to Yavanna (according to The Lost Road, hereafter LR, 241), the creator of flora and fauna and lover of trees, and that for a time she dwelt in and tended the gardens of the Vala Lórien and of Estë, as he is also called (Morgoth’s Ring, hereafter MR, 147). She’s also called the fairest of all the Maiar (MR 72). And from the passage above, we know that she has a talent for music—a potent power she’ll later pass on to her similarly-gifted daughter, Lúthien. Her voice is so beautiful that all of paradise leaves off its normal activities just to listen to her. She’s the Orpheus of Arda.

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Exploring the People of Middle-earth: Glorfindel, Resurrected Hero and Spiritual Warrior

In this biweekly series, we’re exploring the evolution of both major and minor figures in Tolkien’s legendarium, tracing the transformations of these characters through drafts and early manuscripts through to the finished work. This week’s installment focuses on Glorfindel, an Elf-lord with only a few appearances, who channels the divine power of the Other-world and whose presence in Middle-earth twice assures the survival of—well, basically everything.

Glorfindel has the double distinction of being, first of all, an elf whose name was so unique that Tolkien felt like it couldn’t be used again for anyone else; and second of all, an elf whose power was so great that he was specifically sent back to Middle-earth by the Valar to aid Elrond and Gandalf in the fight against Sauron. But his fame doesn’t end there: the tale of this particular character is also what drove Tolkien to almost tirelessly revise his theory of elvish reincarnation.

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Exploring the People of Middle-earth: Éowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan

In this biweekly series, we’ll be exploring the evolution of both major and minor figures in Tolkien’s legendarium, tracing the transformations of these characters through drafts and early manuscripts through to the finished work. This installment walks us through the development of Éowyn, the fierce and tragic woman of Rohan who defeats the Lord of the Nazgûl in The Lord of the Rings.

Éowyn of Rohan is one of Tolkien’s most beloved characters—especially, perhaps, by women and girls, many of whom see in her something to be admired, emulated, and loved. Few can forget that stirring moment in which the stern shieldmaiden casts off her helm, her hair like fire in the dim light, and declares with a laugh in the very face of a demon: “no living man am I! You look upon a woman.” But this scene didn’t emerge without hesitation and alterations. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given Tolkien’s penchant for continuous and extensive revision, Éowyn’s textual history is complicated and fascinating, revealing the transformation of a woman who was, originally, an even more outspoken and vital part of her community, but who becomes the woman we know, the one who goes to war in disguise and vanquishes her army’s most fearsome enemy.

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Exploring the People of Middle-earth: Míriel, Historian of the Noldor (Part 2)

In this biweekly series, we’ll be exploring the evolution of both major and minor figures in Tolkien’s legendarium, tracing the transformations of these characters through drafts and early manuscripts through to the finished work. This installment is the second of a two-part exploration of the Noldorin weaver and historian, Míriel. Feel free to request characters in the comments below!

It would be nice if the story ended where we left it last time. There’s resolution of sorts, and the threads appear to be neatly tied together. Míriel gets her corporeal form back; Finwë is reunited (more or less) with his first love; Míriel graciously accepts Finwë’s choice of Indis and even praises her and her sons for the ways in which they’ll eventually redress Fëanor’s wrongs. Míriel then becomes a sort of family historian whose tapestries are so intricate and vibrant that they look alive. She’s able to recognize that her decision, even if it was an error of judgment on her part, did not lead exclusively to evil ends. But, predictably, Tolkien couldn’t leave it alone. It apparently bothered him that Míriel was in some sense at fault for Fëanor’s later actions because she chose to abandon her family so abruptly. Indeed, her own words, “I erred in leaving thee and our son” (X 248), condemn her.

But what could be done? We’ve seen already the various manipulations of reason the Valar go through to untangle this particularly messy situation. None of them work; there’s always another objection to be made. The text itself, “Of the Statute of Finwë and Míriel,” never actually comes to a conclusion about its most belabored question: Was Míriel at fault? Would things have gone down differently if she had stuck around or reincarnated?

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Exploring the People of Middle-earth: Míriel, Historian of the Noldor (Part 1)

In this new biweekly series, we’ll be exploring the evolution of both major and minor figures in Tolkien’s legendarium, tracing the transformations of these characters through drafts and early manuscripts through to the finished work. This installment is the first of a two-part look at the Noldorin weaver and historian, Míriel.

Míriel is probably best known as the mother of that most infamous of the Noldor—Fëanor, whose rash mistakes pretty much ruined Middle-earth for… well, everyone. But who was she? What role did she play in the fashioning of Arda and the troubled history of the First Age?

The Silmarillion records only the barest details about Míriel. One early mention casts her as simply “the mother of Fëanor” (60). A few pages later, the narrator points out in passing that “Fëanor” was the mother-name (63), the name Míriel gave him, before we even get a proper introduction.

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Exploring the People of Middle-earth: Nerdanel, Called the Wise

In this new biweekly series, we’ll be exploring the evolution of both major and minor figures in Tolkien’s legendarium, tracing the transformations of these characters through drafts and early manuscripts through to the finished work. In this first installment, we’ll focus on Nerdanel, the Noldorin sculptor, wife of Fëanor, and mother of seven strapping sons.

In the published Silmarillion, Nerdanel exists as little more than a background figure. We’re told that she is “the daughter of a great smith named Mahtan,” and that she, like her husband Fëanor, is “firm of will.” For a while, Fëanor is content to seek her counsel, though he isolates himself in all other respects (58), but as she is “more patient than Fëanor, desiring to understand minds rather than to control them,” they soon become estranged. Fëanor’s “later deeds grieved her.” Though she gives him seven sons, and some of them apparently have her temperament, she is left out of any further mention of the family thereafter, except in one instance, when Fëanor is referred to as “the husband of Nerdanel” because the text is specifically interested in that moment with the relationship between Mahtan and Fëanor (61). Nerdanel herself is given no voice.

But who is this Nerdanel? What were her motivations and passions, and why (and how!) does she not fall under the spell of Fëanor’s compelling voice and charismatic spirit? Tolkien does not mention her in his letters, but he does give her quite a bit more attention than we’d originally suspect, if we relied only on the published Silmarillion.

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