Interpretations of Nightfall In Middle-Earth
Here is a complete summary of the novel in order to have in mind the places and characters.
Beware, the whole story is described and the readers not knowing the novel might want to not read the following.
Who is the best to tell the story but the author itself? The following is from a letter from J.R.R. Tolkien to Milton Waldman, Collins editor, written in 1951.
"The main body of the tale, the Silmarillion proper, is about the fall of the most gifted kindred of the Elves, their exile from Valinor in the further West, their re-entry into Middle-Earth, the land of their birth but long under the control of the Ennemy, and their strife with him [....]. It receives its name because the events are all threaded upon the fate and significance of the Silmarilli ('radiance of pure light') or Primeval Jewels [...]. There was the Light of Valinor made visible in the Two Great Trees of Gold and Silver. These were slain by the Ennemy out of malice, and Valinor was darkened, though from them, ere they died utterly, were derived the lights of Sun and Moon [...]. But the chief artificer of the Elves (Fëanor) had imprisonned the Light of Valinor in the three supreme jewels, the Silmarilli, before the trees were sullied or slain. This Light thus lived thereafter only in those gems. The fall of the Elves comes about through the possessive attitude of Fëanor and his seven sons to these gems. They are captured by the Ennemy, set in his Iron Crown, and guarded in his impenetrable stronghold. The sons of Fëanor take a terrible and blasphemous oath of enmity and vengeance against all or any, even the gods, who dare to claim any parts or rights in the Silmarilli. They pervert the greater part of their kindred, who rebel against the gods, and depart from paradise, and go to make hopeless war againts the Ennemy. The first fruit of their fall is war in Paradise, the slaying of Elves by Elves, and this and their evil oath dogs all their later heroism, generating treacheries and undoing all victories. The Silmarillion is the history of the War of the Exiled Elves against the Enneny, which all takes place in the North-west of the World (the Middle-Earth). Several tales of victory and tragedy are caught up in it, and the passing of the Ancient World, the world of the long First Age. The jewels are recovered (by the final intervention of the gods) only to be lost for ever to the Elves, one in the sea, one in the deeps of earth, and one as a star of heaven [...]. The chief of the stories of the Silmarillion is the Story of Beren and Lúthien the Elfmaiden [...]. It is Beren the outlawed mortal who succeeds where all the armies and warriors have failed: he penetrates the stronghold of the Ennemy and wrests one of the Silmarilli from the Iron Crown. Thus he wins the hand of Lúthien and the first marriage of mortal and immortal is achieved [...]. For the capture of the Silmaril, a supreme victory, leads to disaster. The oath of the sons of Fëanor becomes operative, and lust for the Silmaril brings all the kingdom of the Elves to ruin [...]. His function [of Eärendil, an half-elf, father of Elrond], as a representative of both Kindred, Elves and Men, is to find a sea-passage back to the Land of the Gods, and as an ambassador persuade them to take thought again for the Exiles, to pity them, and rescue them from the Ennemy. His wife Elwing descends from Lúthien and still possesses the Silmaril. But the curse still works, and Eärendil's home is destroyed by the sons of Fëanor. But this provides the solution: Elwing casting herself into the Sea to save the Jewel comes to Eärendil, and with the power of the great Gem they pass at last to Valinor, and accomplish their errand – at the cost of never being allowed to return or dwell again with Elves or Men. The gods then move again, and great power comes out of the West, and the Stronghold of the Ennemy is destroyed; and he himself thrust out of the World into the Void, never to reappear there in incarnate form again. The remaining two Silmarils are regained from the Iron Crown – only to be lost. The last two sons of Fëanor, compelled by their oath, steal them, and are destroyed by them, casting themselves into the sea, and the pits of the earth. The ship of Eärendil adorned with the last Silmaril is set in heaven as the brightest star. So ends the Silmarillion and the tales of the First Age."
When one have in mind the story, the album cover is easy to interpret: it represents Morgoth (the Ennemy) on his throne, in the heart of its dungeon, Angband. The crown inserted with the three Silmarils is on its head. Some servants around him stare at a wraith dancing (that may be Lúthien) while the evil God is lost in his thoughts. So the cover is part of the concept, as well as the cover for the single Mirror, Mirror. It represents an elf walking in an ice desert. That would match with the chapter when the exiled Elves crossed the ice under the leading of Fingolfin. Analysing the actual song's lyrics and the one following in the track-listing will prove that hypothese is probably correct.
The album begins strangely with the end of the novel. War Of Wrath Wrath is a dialog between Sauron (Morgoth's right-arm in the novel, who reappeared during the Second and Third Age) and Morgoth. The following line proves it:
The Black ones has fallen from the sky and the towers in ruins lie
Those lyrics are to be linked with the following excerpt, a few pages before the end of the Silmarillion (p 302-303): "Before the rising of the sun Eärendil slew Ancalagon the Black, the mightiest of the dragon-host, and cast him from the sky; and he fell upon the towers of Thangorodrim, and they were broken in his ruin." So the album starts with the final battle of the novel, when the Ennemy is vanquished and the Silmarils taken back after so many murders, battles and treachous acts. This is a prelude to the dark events that precede this victory and that are succesfully restitutes by Blind Guardian.
The remaining songs follows quite closely the chronological order of the events. The next song is inspired by an event of the novel begining. It takes place after the destruction of the trees of Valinor by Morgoth and Ungolianth (a giant spider who have a child called Shelob, the Spider tormenting Frodo and Sam in Cirith Ungol) and stole the Silmarils. The two thieves rejoined near Angband and then Ungolianth threaten Morgoth to give her the Silmarils (p 85): "Blackheart ! I have done thy bidding. But I hunger still". The lyrics of Into The Storm are inspired by that talk:
Give it to me
I must have it
Blackheart show me
What you hold in your hand
Morgoth resisted Ungolianth and the giant spider tried to strangle him with her web. Morgoth screamed and the listener can hear it in the next song, Lammoth. This is also the name of the region in which Morgoth scream can still be heard (Lammoth means Great Echo).
The trees and their lights are destroyed thus the night fell on Valinor (Nightfall). During the tree destruction Morgoth killed Finwë, king of Noldor and father of Fëanor. "But Melkor also was there, and there he slew Finwë King of Noldor before his doors, and spilled the first blood in the Blessed Realm" (p 85) and in Nightfall:
And spilled the first blood
When the old king was slain
Then Fëanor and his sons swore an oath that will lead them to their death:
An oath we shall swear
By the name of the one
Until's the world end
It can't be broken
and followed Morgoth in Middle-Earth:
Back to where it all began
Their journey lead them to the north, in the ice lands of Araman. Fëanor and his followers took some ships to go to Middle-Earth and burned the remaining ones. As a consequence Fëanor half-brother Fingolfin and its followers (among them is Galadriel) were alone in the desert. Fingolfin was hesitating: should he follow his journey on the ice lands and take the risk that all die of cold, or should he go back in shame to Valinor? His doubts are described in the interlude The Minstrel while the listener hears the cold blizzard in the background:
What will be next?
I still don't have a clue
The following song is the first one that can not be linked precisely to an event in the novel. The Curse Of Fëanor describes the thoughts of Fëanor after he swore to get back the Silmarils and to kill anybody who will claim a right on the jewels. This solemn oath will become a curse. Fëanor and his sons seed only death on their way, beginning with the battle for the boats in Valinor, where Elves killed other Elves.
Fëanor and his children journey will bring them to Thangorodrim and the group is ambushed by Balrogs. Fëanor died from the hand of Gothmog, the most powerful of the Balrogs. Soon after one of his son, Maedhros, is captured by Morgoth and chained to the Thangorodrim. The voice heard on Captured is Morgoth mocking Maedhros, while the wind blowed on the mountain.
Fingon, son of Fingolfin, delivered Maedhros thus ending the grudge between the sons of Fëanor and the son of Fingolfin caused by the episode in the ice deserts. This moment is reminded in the song Blood Tears:
(I can hear your calls
I can hear your calls)
P 124: "For suddenly above him far and faint his song was taken up, and a voice answering called to him." Fingon sung to find Maedhros. When he was found, Maedhros plead Fingon to kill him. Fingon rise its bow (p 124):
Bent the bow
Cause Life in me is gone
However Fingon decided to leave Maedhros alive and call Manwë for help. The God sent the King of Eagles Thorondor. Maedhros is still attached to the Thangorodrim by the wrist and can not be freed easily. So Fingon has no choice but cut his hand:
Cut off your old friends hand
The album does not chronologically follow the novel and the next song is actually about earlier events: the crossing of de ice deserts by Fingolfin and his party. Like The Curse Of Fëanor, Mirror Mirror is about the torment of Fingolfin. During the song The Minstrel, Fingolfin pondered if his party should go back or continue its journey. He decided to go forward in the ice desert but their way is long and hazardous. Fingolfin did its best to lead them: "The fire of their hearts was young, and led by Fingolfin and his sons" (p 97). They did arrive in Middle-Earth, during a full moon light, as it is told in Face The Truth:
The moon, the sign of hope
It appeared when we left the pain of the ice-desert behind
Blind Guardian then go back in time again to return to the ice land journey for Noldor (Dead Winter Reigns), Noldor. One more time the song is written with the point of view of Fingolfin. Then the album does a leap forward and tell us the Dagor Bragollach, the The Battle Of The Sudden Flame. This battle took place in front of Angband, where the Elves were assieging the fortress for 400 years, during a short interlude where an elv warrior (probably Fingolfin) prayed for victory. This was vain as the elves and men were slained. Fingolfin was angry with the loss and decided to go in front on Angband's gate and challenge Morgoth for a one-to-one fight: "Thus he came alone to Angband's gates, and he sounded his horn, and smote once more upon the brazen doors, and challenged Morgoth to come forth to single combat. And Morgoth came." (p 178). The song Time Stands Still (At The Iron Hill) tell us about this heroic deed:
I stand alone
Noone's by my side
I'll dare you
Now it's me or you
He gleams like a star
And the sound of his horn's
Like a raging storm
Fingolfin fought with courage and fended off several blow from Morgoth's war hammer: Grond.
The iron crowned
Is getting closer
Swings his hammer
Down on him
However Fingolfin died but managed to hurt Morgoth. He was celebrated as the greatest king of the Elves.
The remaining part of the album concentrates on the end of the Silmarillion Story. First there is a short interlude named The Dark Elf. This is the nickname of Eöl, his son Maeglin betrayed the Elves by revealing to Morgoth the secret location of the city Gondolin. The sentence "A dark seed of Evil is grown" is taken from page 161 of the novel, when Maeglin childhood is told. Maeglin was in love with his cousin Idril, who hate him. After capturing him, Morgoth promised him power and Idril's hand if Maeglim told him Gondolin location. Maeglin then became the first and only Elv to willingly help the Enemy. Still he is questioning himself about his acts in the song Thorn:
Will I Betray myself
Enslaved and denied
By my love and my ennemies
I'm the illgotten son
The next song is The Eldar and is more difficult to interpret. Several websites indicates that it is about Finrod feeling death upon him when he was imprisonned in Sauron's dungeon with Beren and his companions. It is a possibility since the next song is about Finrod's death from the point of view of Beren. However there is no lyrics in the song naming Finrod so please consider this as an hypothesis only. Things are more evident for Nom The Wise. Finrod owed Barahir, father of Beren. Beren and Finrod are captured by Sauron while on their way to get back the Silmarils. Sauron sent a wolf to torture them and their companions died one after the other. When the wolf is getting near Beren, Finrod broke his chains and killed the beast with bare hands. So Finrod, called also Nom the Wise, died and Beren mourned him besides. The narrator of Nom the Wise is Beren: "Thus King Finrod Felagund, fairest and most beloved of the house of Finwë, redeemed his oath." (p 204).
The album continues with Beren adventures: he managed to steal a Silmaril and escaped Angband. He was then killed by the Wolf Lord Carcharoth. His body is brought back to Lúthien, who died of sorrow, discovering that love is death:
Fooled by the hands of doom
That love means death
I realized too soon
Lúthien soul returned to Valinor and she sang for the God, asking them that Beren and her rejoined the world of the living: she renounced her immortality and asked for Beren to be the only Men to be resurrected. The Gods answered her wishes while Beren awaited his destiny:
Out in the cold
I still wait for her call
And her last kiss
It shall be release
I can't forget her
Her face will not leave
From the depths of my soul
I long for her
So I heard all about it
Her voice's so clear
She's woven both themes in there
Moved me to tears
The world shall hear this sad song
Song of sorrow song of grief
The lyric "She's woven both themes in there" refers both to the immortality of Elves and the mortal fate of Men: "For Lúthien wove two themes of the world, of the sorrow of the Eldar and of the grief of Men." (p 220).
The two lovers retreated to the island Tol-Golen, mentionned in Out On The Water:
The island of the dead that live
which is a reference to Beren returning from the dead.
The end of the album came back in time, when Morgoth conspire to find Gondolin location. During a battle he captured Húrin, a man nicknamed The Steadfast (title of the next interlude). Húrin is a friend of Turgon, king of Gondolin. Morgoth threatened the man to reveal the secret position of Gondolin:
Thou shall not question my power
Nor shall thou defy me further
Húrin laughed (which can actually be heard): "Húrin defied him, and mocked him." (p 233). Morgoth then tied him to a rock seat on the top of Thangorodrim. The song A Dark Passage is written from Húrin's point of view:
I feel cold
Facing the darkness
Deep in his castle he said
All land'll be mine
and then Morgoth's:
Sit down on your chair
And look out for your kin
I smashed down the light
And dared Valinor
I smashed down the light
Revenge will be mine
Slowly marching on
Still marching on
Thanks to the treason of Men, Morgoth's army are marching and destroyed all effforts from Men and Elves during Nirnaeth Arnoediad, the Fifth Battle. The hope is in Turgon, a King that Morgoth feared: "And most of his kin Morgoth feared Turgon" (p 233). The album ends in the darkness, with a new victory for Victory. However a small note of hope remained:
Thus ends the fifth battle
The night falls and great is the triumph of evil
The last vestige of hope lives in the hidden king
It is important to note that the album does not end with the end of the novel: Gondolin's fall is not told, as well as the lay of Túrin Túrambar and Eärendil's quest, which end with the death of Morgoth and the recuperation of the Silmarils. Maybe the bards of Blind Guardian keep that for a future album?