Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Character Study: Thingol

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Art by Kimberly80 on Deviantart
For my third character study I have decided to do King Thingol/Elu, another character from the Silmarillion.  
Some might consider Thingol an arrogant and selfish monarch with an over-developed sense of pride.  That may be true, but there are many other aspects to his character that make him very dear to me.  Today, we shall take a closer look at him and discover what a true hero he is.


Now, I know this sounds kind of funny, but it's true.  One of the first glimpses of Thingol we get is how he meets his wife, the beautiful maia named Melian.  
Long, long ago, when the elves were first born into the world, the Valar set out to bring them to the safety of Valinor.  So they led the elves from their first home in Middle Earth and led them across the land to the sea shore.  There, they were to board the ships that would carry them across the sea to Valinor.  
But just before they were to depart, Thingol, who was at the time called Elu, was wandering in the hills.  There, he met Melian, a maia.  When they laid eyes on one another, they were enchanted with each other. Thingol reached out and gently touched Melian's hand, and they stood frozen, locked in one another's gaze.  
They stayed that way for a long time.  The elves who recognized Thingol as their leader refused to leave Middle Earth without him, and so they were left behind.  They stayed near the shores until the spell on Thingol and Melian was finally broken, and they returned to their people.  


He must have been, if his people refused to leave him behind.  They were promised paradise if they continued- it takes a lot of loyalty to stay behind for just one person.  In my experience, that kind of loyalty is only inspired by love.
After Thingol returns with his new wife Melian, they set up a new kingdom together.  Melian teaches the elves of the wonders of Valinor, and introduces the sophistication of the Valar's ways.  Keep in mind, they are working with elves who have had no education, no inkling of what culture or sophistication is.  They've never seen a real society, or even a real building.  But under the directions of Thingol and Melian, they set up one of the greatest kingdoms in Middle Earth.


Some might take Thingol's refusal to help in the Silmaril Wars as selfishness, or perhaps even apathy.  But I interpret it as simply being protective.  He is doing his best to keep his people separate from a war that has nothing to do with them.  He is wise to do so- for what is the war other than a fight over three jewels?  Yes, those fighting the wars were trying to defend their people and drive Morgoth's evil from the land, but Thingol knew that if he entered the war, he would have to side with someone.  And doing that would mean making an enemy of one or more of the other factions of elves.
It isn't as though Thingol is afraid of battle.  He and his armies had driven many clans of orcs away from their lands many times.  Before the Noldor returned to Middle Earth, Thingol's people were already holding their own against Morgoth.
Because of this, I see Thingol as not so much selfish- but rather self-absorbed.  He cares about his people and will defend them readily- but he will not engage in a conflict that is not his own.

#4:  HE IS A GOOD FATHER (Sort of)

In the story of Beren and Luthien, Thingol plays the stereo-typical overbearing fairy tale father.  But if I were the ruler of a realm and some bedraggled homeless bum showed up uninvited and tried to romance my daughter, I don't think I'd respond well either!  Thingol's interactions with Beren when he finds out about his and Luthien's secret relationship are pretty much spot on for a protective parent in that situation.  
Thingol doesn't want to break his daughter's heart by executing the offending man, so instead he offers Beren the chance to prove himself;  go on a dangerous quest to retrieve one of the Silmarils from Morgoth's crown.  If Beren accepts the mission, he will most likely die, and thus be out of Thingol's hair.  If somehow he manages to survive and actually succeed in the mission, then he will have proved himself a hero, and Thingol would have no problem letting his daughter marry him.  It's a win-win situation.

Of course, Thingol makes mistakes, like any parent does.  But being as he is a prideful king, his mistakes are a little bit more extreme than most parents.  Locking his daughter up in a house in a tree, for instance, was not the best thing he could have done for her, even if it was to 'keep her safe'.   But still, there is no denying that he is a loving father.  When Luthien gives up her spirit to death after Beren dies, Thingol goes into a deep depression.  His daughter meant the world to him- and it was only her return from death that saved him from his illness.
(I should note that when an elf becomes depressed, it is extremely dangerous for them.  When they become too sad, it is actually possible for them to die of a broken heart, as was the case with Feanor's mother.  Tolkien describes Thingol's depression as a 'winter of the heart', and it is only Luthien who heals him.  I imagine that Thingol may indeed have been close to death, and it was only the return of his daughter that saved him.)
Later, Thingol adopts the young human child Turin, who is a relative of Beren's.  He did it in honor of his son-in-law, and eventually came to love Turin as he would have his own son.  This, I think, was very kind of Thingol.  He didn't have to take Turin as a foster-child.  He could have simply sheltered the boy from his enemies until he was old enough to take care of himself.  But no, when Thingol first meets the child, he picks him up and sets him on his knee and declares before the whole court that he has adopted him.  All the kingdom was amazed, for until that point, such a thing had never been done before between elves and men.


Alas, though I have praised his virtues, I must also speak of Thingol's faults:  that is, his pride and vanity.  
While he is not afraid to admit he is wrong, it is rare for him to recognize his mistakes.  In his pride, Thingol fails to see his own folly until it is too late.  His vanity causes him to make poor decisions at crucial moments, which eventually leads to his demise, and the downfall of his kingdom.
It his pride that causes him to reject Beren at first, since Beren is a mere mortal, and Thingol does not like to deal with humans.  Thingol's pride delayed their union, and I imagine the guilt of that is part of what drove him into depression after their deaths.
When Luthien entrusts one of the Silmarils to her father, Thingol resolves to have it set in a necklace for himself.  Now to be fair, this is partly because the Silmaril is all he has left of his daughter.  But I suspect it is also because having a Silmaril was a great boasting right.  The entire world was fighting over these gems, and the fact that he had one had to be an immense source of pride for him.  So, ignoring the council of his wife, Thingol commissions the Dwarves to craft a necklace for him, using the Silmaril as the centerpiece.

The dwarves, becoming obsessed with the jewel, refuse to give the necklace to Thingol when he comes to claim it.  Thingol demands they give him his rightful property, but the dwarves murder him and claim that Thingol drew first- thus beginning the feud between elves and dwarves that has lasted ever since.  But though the dwarves took the first life, it was Thingol's pride and vanity that brought him into the situation in the first place. 

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As we can see, Thingol is a man of conflicting nature.  On one hand, he is a heroic, devoted leader and loving father who builds a kingdom from nothing.  On the other hand he is a vain, proud, self-absorbed narcissist who caused the eventual downfall of his own kingdom.  So was he a hero, or villain?  Perhaps an antihero?

In my opinion, he is a hero.  For every hero has his faults, though some are more obvious than others.  Thingol did his best for those he loved, despite his vices.  The tragic end to his story tends to cast a dark light on the rest of his life, but his good deeds still shine through for me.  As for you, my readers, you shall have to judge for yourselves.

-Rayne Speryll

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(DISCLAIMER: I do not own the image used in this post.  All credit goes to the artist who created it)

***  P.S!

With post #100 coming up soon, don't forget to come for my big announcement! ;)  I look forward to seeing you.


  1. I actually never knew the reason behind the Elf/Dwarf conflict, but that fits with what I know of Elves and Dwarves.

    I do enjoy this series of posts and the facts about these characters that I didn't know before. Who are you thinking of doing next?

    1. Glad to share something new for you! :D

      I'm not sure who I'm going to do next. It could be another character from Tolkien's universe, or it could be a character from another book or movie. :) Any suggestions or requests?

  2. Again, great post, Elethia! I enjoyed taking a second look at Thingol and discovering that he might not be quite how I thought of him. :)

  3. Another romantic thing Thingol does is go on long walks through the woods with Melian--I remember reading that it was his joy somewhere in the story of The Children of Hurin. So sweet :)

    "But if I were the ruler of a realm and some bedraggled homeless bum showed up uninvited and tried to romance my daughter, I don't think I'd respond well either!" You summarized the meeting of Beren and Luthien so well XD

    Very nice! I love the idea of doing a detailed study of a character like this. Hmm, if I had to recommend another character from the Sil (I can't think of anyone specific outside of it at the moment who I'm sure you're familiar with and would be an interesting study) I would say maybe Eol or Maeglin? It could be interesting to study two of the most evil Elves of the First Age.

    Thanks for this post--it's great!

    1. Ah yes... long walks with his true love. Thanks for reminding me!

      I totally sympathize with Thingol during the Beren and Luthien story. As much as I believe they were fated for each other, they put Thingol in a tough situation.

      Eol and Maeglin are great ideas! Thanks for the tip!