Continued from Part 1.
Despite having manifested more openness to the Noldor than Thingol, Círdan does not relinquish sensible caution in his assessment of the unanticipated return to Middle-earth of their long-sundered kin. As noted earlier above, it is Fëanor’s Noldor who rescue Círdan and the Falathrim from their encirclement by Melkor’s forces in the Dagor-nuin-Giliath (Battle-under-Stars). Círdan’s relief must have been tremendous and unexpected. Celegorm’s troops find themselves "in a position to bear down victoriously on the flank of an Orc-host that previously had laid siege to the Havens of the Falas"1 and obliterate Melkor’s hordes, at last freeing Círdan’s people.
Celegorm receives news of an Orc force approaching the Fëanorian army from the west and waylays them
with a part of the Elven-host, and coming down upon them out of the hills near Eithel Sirion drove them into the Fen of Serech. Evil indeed were the tidings that came at last to Angband, and Morgoth was dismayed. Ten days that battle lasted, and from it returned of all the hosts that he had prepared for the conquest of Beleriand no more than a handful of leaves.2
Círdan’s gratitude and need, however, never override his loyalty to Thingol nor his deductive reasoning, which tells him there are missing details surrounding the Noldor’s flight from Aman. He remains alert and observant of his new neighbors.
It was not long before whispered tales began to pass among the Sindar concerning the deeds of the Noldor ere they came to Beleriand. Certain it is whence they came, and the evil truth was enhanced and poisoned by lies; but the Sindar were yet unwary and trustful of words, and (as may well be thought) Morgoth chose them for this first assault of his malice, for they knew him not.3
This plan composed of lies and half-truths is reminiscent of the treacherous tactics of Morgoth in Valinor when he fanned the flames of smoldering resentments and differences within the Noldor into a major conflagration, which, until the point of his intervention, had been relatively petty and manageable.
And Círdan, hearing these dark tales, was troubled; for he was wise, and perceived swiftly that true or false they were put about at this time through malice, though the malice he deemed was that of the princes of the Noldor, because of the jealousy of their houses. Therefore he sent messengers to Thingol to tell all that he had heard.4
Thingol, naturally, reacts strongly. He turns to his own kinsmen Finrod, Galadriel, and Angrod, visiting in Doriath at the time, for confirmation or denial. Finrod, deeply troubled, still refuses to accuse his cousins and reveals nothing. His brother Angrod, however, tells all: "Then Angrod spoke bitterly against the sons of Fëanor, telling of the blood at Alqualondë, and the Doom of Mandos, and the burning of the ships at Losgar."5 It is impossible to imagine that the dirty secrets of the Noldor’s flight would have not come out at some point, and it is doubly impossible to fault Círdan for his revelation to Thingol and Melian of the rumors being circulated. However, the result long-term will be devastating for the Elves in their drawn-out battle against Morgoth. The division between Thingol and the Noldor becomes a lasting one. And when the Noldor and their allies most need Thingol’s support, they will not receive it.
In The Silmarillion, one reads of the particular relationships that develop between Círdan and Finrod Felagund and Fingon the Valiant. First, Finrod, among all of the princes of the Noldor, ruled the geographically largest realm, if not one of the most populous. It touched the lands under the control of Círdan and stretched from Sirion to the sea, excluding the Falas.
There [in the Falas] dwelt those of the Sindar who still loved ships, and Círdan the shipbuilder was their lord; but between Círdan and Finrod there was friendship and alliance, and with the aid of the Noldor the havens of Brithombar and Eglarest were built anew. Behind their great walls they became fair towns and harbours with quays and piers of stone. Upon the cape west of Eglarest Finrod raised the tower of Barad Nimras to watch the western sea, though needlessly, as it proved; for at no time ever did Morgoth essay to build ships or to make war by sea.6
There is some question in alternate texts as to whether Círdan ever consider Felagund as his lord.
The concluding sentence 'But they acknowledged the high-kingship of Thingol, and Círdan never took the title of king' differs from the Annals, where Círdan either acknowledged Felagund of Nargothrond as overlord, or else was (as it seems) an independent Lord of the Falas 'yet ever close in friendship with Nargothrond' (GA §85, and commentary p. 117).7
In the Battle of Sudden Flame or Dagor Bragollach, Morgoth breaks the Siege of Angband that held for a period of approximately 400 years of uneasy peace. With the death of his father, Fingon the Valiant becomes High King of the Noldor. Fearing for the safety of his young son and heir, Fingon sends him into what he hopes will be relative safety to be fostered by Círdan at the Havens of the Falas.
Great was the lamentation in Hithlum when the fall of Fingolfin became known, and Fingon in sorrow took the lordship of the house of Fingolfin and the kingdom of the Noldor; but his young son Ereinion (who was after named Gil-galad) he sent to the Havens.8
In collaboration with his spouse Melian the Maia, Elu Thingol has basically a single strategy against Morgoth after the First Battle of Beleriand fought before the arrival of the Noldor (for further details on that tenuous victory won at a terrible cost see the first part of this biography ). Thingol retreats into his cave city of Menegroth in Doriath. Melian constructs a magical barrier protecting their underground fortress city and the lands immediately surrounding it. Already wary and mistrustful of the arrogant and energetic Noldor who return with such an aggressive flourish to Middle-earth before he knows anything bad about them, Thingol hardens into an intractable isolationist stance after he learns of the Kinslaying in Alqualondë. He refuses to join in the strongest and most widespread alliance organized by the Noldor in the First Age in their ongoing struggle against Morgoth.
Thingol grants reluctant permission to his two chief captains and marchwardens Beleg and Mablung, as individuals, to join the alliance of the free peoples of Middle-earth in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad (Battle of Unnumbered Tears). They are the only two Elves from Doriath to participate.9 Thingol refuses to send troops. Actual military support from Doriath (or Nargothrond) might have turned the tide of that war; instead Unnumbered Tears goes down in the history of Arda as the most heartbreaking of examples of a potential victory turned into a horrific defeat by betrayal from within the forces of Maedhros and the alienation of potential supporters.
Many songs are yet sung and many tales are yet told by the Elves of the Nirnaeth Arnoediad , the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, in which Fingon fell and the flower of the Eldar withered. If all were now retold a man’s life would not suffice for the hearing.10
Círdan, however, as the leader of the Falathrim Sindar, while recognizing Thingol as his King, rules almost entirely autonomously in the Havens of the Falas.
But Círdan and his people remained in many ways distinct from the rest of the Sindar. They retained the old name Teleri . . . and remained in many ways a separate folk, speaking even in later days a more archaic language. The Noldor called them the Falmari, 'wave-folk', and the other Sindar Falathrim 'people of the foaming shore'. [Internal footnotes redacted.]11
Michael Martinez’s "Life in an Elven Fishing Town" is an interesting article containing speculation upon Círdan’s people and their settlements at the end of the First Age and throughout the Second Age. Therein he observes that
In many ways, Círdan seems like the first Viking: he is tall, bearded, a warrior, and a mariner. And his people fought with great axes as well as swords, much like Vikings. After the Falathrim were driven from their homes to Balar, Círdan’s mariners ranged up and down the western coasts of Beleriand, raiding the Orcs and disturbing Morgoth’s outposts. Círdan even allied himself with Hithlum during the Wars of Beleriand, an act no doubt born of necessity since his people could not be protected by Melian’s Girdle.12
A cautionary note on the purpose and orientation of Martinez’s creative interpretations of his impressive knowledge of the texts is that his intent is to summarize and extrapolate for a target audience of gamers and role-players not overly concerned with citations. By contrast, one might note that these monthly biographies are directed toward, although not limited to, committed readers of Tolkien and writers of fanfiction who have an expressed interest in being pointed to the primary sources upon which any speculative remarks are based, a subtle perhaps but significant difference.
Returning to the account of the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, the Lord of the Falas does not stand down from the great alliance against Morgoth, which is organized by the Union of Maedhros and Fingon, by then High King of the Noldor.
Under the standard of Fingon, Círdan’s mariners, shipwrights, and fisher-folk join ranks with the Noldor of Hithlum, the Men of Dor-lómin and of the House of Hador, the much reduced number of Elves from Nargothrond who insist in participating despite Orodreth’s refusal to commit significant forces, and the small grouping of the folk of Haleth, not to mention, of course Turgon’s glittering and well-equipped troops from Gondolin. So, Fingon’s tremendous force of Elves from throughout Hithlum and his "great strength of Men"13 in the final count includes a not insignificant number of Círdan’s people ("to them were gathered many Elves of the Falas"14).
Círdan’s coastal peoples’ actions in these histories prove them to have none of the isolationist impulses of their Doriathrim kin living under Thingol. This is doubtless due both to the leadership of Círdan and his people’s vulnerability. They do not confine themselves to a narrow land bordering the sea. Instead, they march to Eithel Sirion where Fingon’s forces were "arrayed in the valleys and woods upon the east of Ered Wethrin."15
After Fingon is killed in battle, the majority of the brave forces of his alliance, so recently filled with such optimism, are smashed and scattered, and their future hope all but destroyed. Círdan rescues large numbers of survivors and refugees fleeing in the wake of the devastation of that defeat. Even his Havens of Falas are not safe, however, and he removes all that he is able to save to the Isle of Balar in the south.16
After rampaging throughout the north, Morgoth finally turns his eye upon the Falas.
Morgoth sent great strength over Hithlum and Nevrast, and they came down the rivers Brithon and Nenning and ravaged all the Falas, and besieged the walls of Brithombar and Eglarest. Smiths and miners and masters of fire they brought with them, and they set up great engines; and valiantly though they were resisted they broke the walls at last. Then the Havens were laid in ruin, and the tower of Barad Nimras cast down; and the most part of Círdan’s people were slain or enslaved.17
The last possible sanctuary of many of those refugees of war lies with Círdan and he does what he can with his limited remaining forces.
But some went aboard ship and escaped by sea; and among them was Ereinion Gil-galad, the son of Fingon, whom his father had sent to the Havens after the Dagor Bragollach. This remnant sailed with Círdan south to the Isle of Balar, and they made a refuge for all that could come thither; for they kept a foothold also at the Mouths of Sirion, and there many light and swift ships lay hid in the creeks and waters where the reeds were dense as a forest.18
The urge is absolutely irresistible to point out that there is in fact a version of canon in which even Maedhros and Maglor are among the refugees that Círdan shelters on the Isle of Balar.
Maidros and Maglor, sons of Fëanor, dwelt in hiding in the south of Eastern Beleriand, about Amon Ereb, the Lonely Hill, that stands solitary amid the wide plain. But Morgoth sent against them, and they fled to the Isle of Balar. Now Morgoth’s triumph was complete, and all that land was in his hold, and none were left there, Elves or Men, save such as were his thralls."19
The inarguable fact of the final result of the Battle of Unnumbered Tears is that it is an utter and devastating defeat for the grand alliances that Maedhros and Fingon had built upon their dream of a final victory over Morgoth. And, long after many of the surviving participants have disengaged, Círdan still presses forward in his work to save his own people and any refugees who fall within his geographic reach.
Turgon, having assumed the High Kingship of the Noldor and retreated to Gondolin, then decides the time has come to seek outside help and appeals to Círdan also.
At the bidding of Turgon Círdan built seven swift ships, and they sailed out into the West; but no tidings of them came ever back to Balar, save of one, and the last. The mariners of that ship toiled long in the sea, and returning at last in despair they foundered in a great storm within sight of the coasts of Middle-earth; but one of them was saved by Ulmo from the wrath of Ossë, and the waves bore him up, and cast him ashore in Nevrast. His name was Voronwë; and he was one of those that Turgon sent forth as messengers from Gondolin.20
There will be no help coming in response to Turgon’s desperate attempts to appeal to the Amanyarin Eldar and the Valar. The fate of the exiled Noldor grinds inexorably toward the fulfillment of the Doom of Mandos. In those dark days, all that is left of the vast lands and fortresses of the lords of the Noldor are the secret cities of Gondolin and Nargothrond. The future High King of the Noldor, Ereinion Gil-galad, is for the moment still safe under Círdan’s care and tutelage.
Chronologically, the next major world-changing event in which Círdan plays a role concerns a warning from Ulmo the Lord of the Waters, who is the Vala most concerned about the welfare of the Elves and Men in Middle-earth throughout the period when the Valar in Aman appear to have all but forgotten them. Círdan sends a messenger to Nargothrond conveying a serious warning from Ulmo. The messenger, one Gelmir, arrives with his message for Orodreth, King of Nargothrond following the death of Finrod Felagund.
The always ill-fated Túrin, in close counsel to Orodreth at this time, is present when the warning is received. He rudely tells Gelmir, "‘Your news is stale. If the message of Círdan was to any purpose, it should have come sooner.’"21 But Gelmir will not be silenced:
‘At least, lord, you shall hear the message now,’ said Gelmir to Orodreth. ‘Hear then the words of the Lord of Waters! Thus he spoke to Círdan: "The Evil of the North has defiled the springs of Sirion, and my power withdraws from the fingers of the flowing waters. But a worse thing is yet to come forth. Say therefore to the Lord of Nargothrond: Shut the doors of the fortress, and go not abroad. Cast the stones of your pride into the loud river, that the creeping evil may not find the gate."’ These words seemed dark to Orodreth, and he turned as ever to Túrin for counsel.22
Arrogant, scornful, and mistrustful of the messenger, Túrin counsels Orodreth to dismiss the warning, saying, "‘What does Círdan know of our wars, who dwell nigh to the Enemy? Let the mariner look to his ships! But if in truth the Lord of Waters would send us counsel, let him speak more plainly."23 Has there ever been a worse adviser? Nargothrond falls as a result of Orodreth’s failure to heed the warning from Círdan.
After the fall of Nargothrond and the fall of Gondolin, the center of the story of the Elves in Middle-earth has shifted to Gil-galad as the last High King of the Noldor, where he governs from the refuge founded by Círdan upon Balar. It is of no small significance that not only was Gil-galad fostered by Círdan, but Eärendil looks to Círdan as a mentor as well, and it is through his relentless seafaring that eventually he reaches Aman and convinces the Valar to come to the aid of the struggling remnants of the free peoples of Middle-earth.
After the War of Wrath and the destruction of Beleriand, Gil-galad, in close collaboration with Círdan, founds the settlements of Lindon between the Blue Mountains and the Sea and the havens of Forlond, Harlond, and Mithlond.24
The wisdom of Círdan is not only spoken of throughout the texts, but demonstrated graphically in his deeds. One needs to recognize that a wise man by our modern definition usually refers to some indefinable characteristic involving astuteness and good judgment grounded in life experience. In The Shibboleth of Fëanor, wisdom is described as: "‘Knowledge’ would be nearer, or ‘Philosophy’ in its older applications which included Science."25 Elven wisdom as referenced therein is closer to philosophy in the Greek sense of the term, which included science and mathematics and incorporated everything the philosophers knew, believed, or inferred about the universe.
In Tolkien’s subcreation, the Noldor are famous for their Kurwë (Curwë) or ‘technical skill and invention.26 Círdan is no Noldo, but he has no shortage of scientific knowledge and technical skill as a shipbuilder and mariner of unequaled skill and inventive intelligence. Aficionados of Tolkien who enjoy a "scientifictious" approach will likely imagine that Círdan has mastered all manner of skills and science related to the business of keeping a ship afloat on a large body of water and its navigation—an understanding of geography, winds, weather, and the stars—as well as the tools required to build a ship and sail one.
Another frequently referenced form of Elven wisdom is Ñolmë which combines science and philosophy.
The stem appeared in Quenya (in which it was most used) in forms developed from Common Eldarin ňgol-, ňgōlo-, with or without syllabic ň: as in *Ñgolodō > Quenya Ñoldo (Telerin golodo, Sindarin goloÐ) - the Ñoldor had been from the earliest times most eminent in and concerned with this kind of ‘wisdom’; ňolmë a department of wisdom (science etc.); Ingolë (ňgōlē) Science/Philosophy as a whole; ňolmo a wise person; ingólemo one with very great knowledge, a ‘wizard’. . . The wizards of the Third Age - emissaries from the Valar - were called Istari ‘those who know.’27
This Ñolmë may be applied to Círdan as well. Not only is he a master of practical matters and highly skilled in the art and science of sailing, but he has shown himself to be sage and patient in a political sense, able to see into the hearts of Elves, Men, and Maiar with an additional gift of insight into the future, stretching as far as instances of actual foresight or prophetic visions. He is a warrior and a political leader as well, a teacher, and a mentor. There are numerous references above and below to his skills as a leader in peace and war.
During the onset of the events which culminate in the fall of Ost-in-Edhil, the center of an Eldarin renaissance of arts and sciences in the Second Age, Celebrimbor seeks to distribute the three major Elven rings of power. Knowing that he must hide them from Sauron, he chooses to give them to those among the Elves whom he believes to be most trustworthy and powerful. Without going into great detail, Tolkien mentions in a letter that Sauron upon realizing that the Elves have discovered his identity
. . . came against them with open war, demanding that all the rings should be delivered to him, since the Elven-smiths could not have attained to their making without his lore and counsel. But the Elves fled from him; and three of their rings they saved, and bore them away, and hid them.28
There are a few minor variations relating to the chain possession of the ring of fire Narya which ends up in the hands of Círdan. In the Appendices to The Lord of the Rings, it is said:
Throughout the Third Age the guardianship of the Three Rings was known only to those who possessed them. But at the end it became known that they had been held at first by the three greatest of the Eldar: Gil-galad, Galadriel and Círdan. Gil-galad before he died gave his ring to Elrond; Círdan later surrendered his to Mithrandir.29
Interestingly, Círdan’s choice of Gandalf to best use and safeguard Narya is another example of his prescience and/or ability to look into the hearts and minds of others and know them. He recognized that Gandalf was the strongest of these wizards who arrive from across the sea—once again his power of foresight comes to the fore. Others, even Galadriel or perhaps Gandalf himself, looked to Saruman as the paramount among the wizards sent from the West. Círdan, however, holds the ring until their arrival the Third Age, chooses to present it to Gandalf, not Saruman, saying,
"Take this ring, Master, for your labours will be heavy; but it will support you in the weariness that you have taken upon yourself. For this is the Ring of Fire, and with it you may rekindle hearts in a world that grows chill."30
Before jumping into accounts of somewhat obscure wars in the dark days of the northern Dúnedain after the kingdom of Arnor had split into three, it is useful to examine Círdan’s relationship with Aldarion and the early Númenórean mariners.
For nearly 600 years in the early Second Age, the men of Númenor confine themselves to their idyllic isle. But like people throughout the history of our real world, being surrounded by the sea, they are drawn to explore first their own island homeland and later much farther shores. Vëantur, the grandfather of the first of the great Sea-Kings of Númenor Tar-Aldarion, introduces his gifted grandson to the sea. Vëantur was the first Númenórean mariner to make his way back to Middle-earth.31
When Aldarion reaches the age of twenty-five, Vëantur, nearing the end of his sailing days, desires to take him across the sea to Middle-earth with him. This voyage will have a great effect upon both the future of Númenor and Middle-earth.
. . . once more at least I would ride the Great Sea and face the North wind and the East. This year you shall come with me, and we will go to Mithlond and see the tall blue mountains of Middle-earth and the green land of the Eldar at their feet. Good welcome you will find from Círdan the Shipwright and from King Gil-galad.’32
Aldarion is to make many voyages to Middle-earth. He looks to Círdan, as he had to his grandfather before him, as a mentor in the craft of ship-building and voyaging, much to the consternation of his father initially. Gil-galad also involves Aldarion in the concerns of Middle-earth. The connection between the island of Númenor and Middle-earth is never again to be severed.
After Elendil and Gil-galad perished defeating Sauron at the end of the War of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, it is Círdan who stands by Elrond when he attempts to convince Isildur to destroy the One Ring.
The Ruling Ring passed out of the knowledge even of the Wise in that age; yet it was not unmade. For Isildur would not surrender it to Elrond and Círdan who stood by. They counselled him to cast it into the fire of Orodruin nigh at hand, in which it had been forged, so that it should perish, and the power of Sauron be forever diminished, and he should remain only as a shadow of malice in the wilderness. But Isildur refused this counsel . . . .33
The next series of encounters with Círdan chronologically, before we read of him in the narrative of the events of The Lord of the Rings and the aftermath of the Ring War, are recounted in the historical texts to be found in the final volume of that work in the Appendices to The Return of the King.
There we learn that in the early Third Age the northern kingdom of the Dúnedain of Arnor has been divided into three parts. Círdan assists the kings of Arthedain in a long drawn-out attempt to destroy the Witch-king of Angmar. In the year 1409 of the Third Age, Círdan assists the valiant young Araphor son of King Arveleg in repelling the enemy from Fornost and the North Downs.34
Generations later, with the menace of the Witch-king continuing, Círdan hears that King Arvedui of Arthedain is trapped on the shore of the Icebay of Forochel in the Blue Mountains, where the Snowmen are attempting to feed and shelter him and his men. Círdan sends a ship to rescue them. However, that ship and all of its crew and passengers are lost when it founders and sinks during a blizzard. Thus, ends the reign of the last of the Kings of the Dúnedain of the north based in Arthedain, who had preserved the line of Isildur son of Elendil, which will continue to survive and will one day produce Aragorn.35
Círdan also assists the Dúnedain of the North in finally achieving a victory against the Witch-king, ending the power of Angmar in the Battle of Fornost.
"Then Círdan summoned all who would come to him, from Lindon or Arnor, and when all was ready the host crossed the Lune and marched north to challenge the Witch-king of Angmar."36
The Battle of Fornost is where Glorfindel delivered his famous prophecy: "Do not pursue him! He will not return to this land. Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall."37
According to the article on the palantíri in Unfinished Tales, Círdan took possession of the abandoned Elendil Stone on Emyn Beraid, with which one could see across the sea into Elvenhome, but which had no connection to any of the other palantíri.38
Following the construction by Círdan and Gil-galad of their cluster of coastal cities after the flooding of Beleriand, Círdan is always to be found at the Havens, wise and able, with the intent to assist, shelter, or advise those who require him. He is turned to as a comrade in war. He is one of the members of the White Council of Elven lords and wizards who come together to address the mystery of the growing power of Dol Guldur. And it is Círdan who continues to ferry across the great sea those of the Eldar who would return to Elvenhome.
At the Grey Havens dwelt Círdan the Shipwright, and some say he dwells there still, until the Last Ship sets sail into the West. In the days of the Kings most of the High Elves that still lingered in Middle-earth dwelt with Círdan or in the seaward lands of Lindon. If any now remain they are few.39
In the section on Círdan in The Peoples of Middle-earth, there is a moving paragraph, which describes Círdan’s first sight of the Sea at end of the long trek of the Eldar from Cuiviénen across Middle-earth and after his long search for Elu Thingol. He has missed, to his great dismay, the opportunity to travel with the last of the Teleri to be ferried to the West. Sorely disappointed and eager to reach this land of light, he determines to make the trip in his own ship to the Undying Lands. But he is warned he has not yet the skill, although he someday will have. But, more importantly, that he has tasks in Middle-earth which no one else can fulfill.
. . . it seemed to him that he saw (in a vision maybe) a shape like a white boat, shining above him, that sailed west through the air, and as it dwindled in the distance it looked like a star of so great a brilliance that it cast a shadow of Círdan upon the strand where he stood. As we now perceive, this was a foretelling of the ship which after apprenticeship to Círdan, and ever with his advice and help, Eärendil built, and in which at last he reached the shores of Valinor. From that night onwards Círdan received a foresight touching all matters of importance, beyond the measure of all other Elves upon Middle-earth.40
It is easy upon first glance at the material to overlook the importance of Círdan and his unique role in Middle-earth. Tolkien’s Silmarillion is filled with more flamboyant heroes and anti-heroes among the Eldar. However, upon more in-depth reading and attention to his history and his accomplishments, his steadfastness and the depth of his wisdom, it becomes well-nigh impossible to overrate Círdan’s significance.
Perhaps this explains why Tolkien returned to add additional details to his history of Círdan. The Telerin leader, while present in so many significant events or struggles from Cuiviénen until the sailing of the last ship to the West, played the consistently vital roles of nurturing, advising, mentoring, and serving as a wellspring of wisdom and perspective, while showing few of the faults of self-interest, narrowness, or short-sightedness one finds to a greater or lesser degree in nearly all of the more dramatically described Eldar who dominate the narrative of the First Age.
Author’s Note: I would like to thank, in addition to Dawn Felagund for her usual copy check under time pressure, my friend Ignoble Bard for graciously reading through this essay late on a weekend night.