Right in the morning, the proto-Fellowship finds an old path that takes them south toward Weathertop. Along the way, they ask about Weathertop’s history. Strider mentions Gil-galad, but hesitates to tell the story. Then, Sam’s unlikely voice picks up the tale.
Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 11 (p185-6 50th Anniv. Ed.)
There is so much to discuss here that it’s hardly possible to begin! First, there’s Gil-galad, someone whom I’ve neglected to mention as I’ve told the history of Amon Sul.
The tower on Weathertop was built by Elendil, the first king of Gondor, after escaping the downfall of Numenor at the end of the Second Age. It was from that tower, now only a ring of stones, that he looked to the west for Gil-galad, the last Noldorian king, who was coming with a column of Elves and Men (called The Last Alliance of Elves and Men). Gil-galad’s column met with Elendil’s at Amon Sul.
The poem spoken by Sam doesn’t tell all that much about this, and it’s easy to wonder how much of it Tolkien actually had worked out by the time Fellowship of the Ring was published.
At the time when Tolkien first penned this story, The Fall of Numenor was already in its second phase (and Elendil was actually named Valandil). It’s always difficult to remember that Tolkien had only a draft of stuff that would eventually end up in the Silmarillion when he wrote Lord of the Rings. Few things were really concrete. For example, Galadriel didn’t even exist before she was written about in Fellowship. Neither did Gondor, for that matter.
The whole existence of Numenor probably lays at the feet of C.S. Lewis. In the mid 1930s, according to a 1967 letter written by Tolkien, Lewis “said to me one day: ‘Tollers, there is too little of what we really like in stories. I am afraid we shall have to try and write some ourselves.'” Somehow or another, they decided that Lewis should write about ‘space-travel’ and Tolkien should write about ‘time-travel.’
Tolkien admits that his effort, “after a few promising chapters, ran dry.” What he was attempting was “a new version of the Atlantis legend.” All that really came of it was “The Downfall of Numenor,” though the whole thing is available in The Lost Road, volume five of the History of Middle-earth series. It’s not really part of the legendarium, per se, having more of a Splinter in the Mind’s Eye relationship to it.
But by 1938, two years before he started work on Lord of the Rings, there was the downfall of Numenor and there was Gil-galad. There was Elendil, the Elf-friend, and the two columns of soldiers who joined to defeat Sauron in Mordor.
That doesn’t mean everything was ironed out, of course. This was when the Noldor were still called Gnomes – Tolkien balked at changing the word until it became obvious that it meant something completely different to most everyone else (why this didn’t prompt him to change Tirion on Tuna to anything but that is beyond me).
A Few Notes:
- Mad props to Sam for remembering the Gil-galad poem! He claims there to be a lot more, but didn’t want to remember it as it had to do with Mordor (“it gave me the shivers. I never thought I should be going that way myself!”)
- This makes me wonder just how much Sam knew about the journey itself. It had seemed that Frodo would be stopping at Rivendell and someone else would be taking the Ring to Mordor. Did Sam know something Frodo didn’t?
- Here, Strider admits to knowing Bilbo (“Bilbo must have translated it. I never knew that.”) None of the hobbits seem to pick up on that bit of aside.
- Strider says that the excerpt spoken by Sam was part of a lay called “The Fall of Gil-galad,” but there doesn’t seem to be a longer version actually penned by Tolkien.
- Tolkien himself reads this poem on a 1975 record album. I’ve got this in my collection, along with the others, and post about them later.
About the Photo
“In the morning they found, for the first time since they had left the Chetwood, a track plain to see.” How could I not use this photo?
- Miles today: 5
- Miles thus far: 236
- 5 miles to Weathertop Summit
- 224 miles to Rivendell
- 1,543 miles to Mt. Doom
Today’s stopping place: On an actual path leading up to Weathertop.(map)