Eol the Dark Elf
Eol the Dark Elf is one of the darker characters in the Silmarillion and, for me, in Tolkien’s entire universe because of his shadowy relationship with Aredhel, a Noldor Elf-lord, and daughter to Fingolfin. Everything about the tale is creepy and cringy and would most definitely set off red flags if it were written in today’s world with our awareness of toxic relationships. So I wanted to examine Eol because he disturbs me so much.
There he lived in deep shadow, loving the night and the twilight under the stars. He shunned the Noldor, holding them for the return of Morgoth, who troubled the quiet of Beleriand ...
— Passage regarding Eol, "The Silmarillion"
The Distant Relative
Eol was a relative of the Sindarin/Teleri High King, Thingol, and had lived in Beleriand during the era when it was peaceful and lived under a perpetual night. He chooses to remove himself from his family in Doriath during the first conflict with the renegade Vala, Morgoth, and before the arrival of the Noldor. With a select entourage, he moves to the forest of Nan Emroth, a location where the trees are so tall and the canopy so thick that almost no light can get through it. There he remains, even after the Eldar return and the first daylight shines in Middle-earth.
Eol despises the Noldor ever after for ruining the endless night and believes they brought war to Beleriand. However, he would travel to the Dwarven kingdoms in the Blue Mountains, presumably at night, having befriended them and learned their metalwork under their tutelage.
Sometime later, when Beleriand is in a watchful peace, Eol comes across Aredhel, a Noldor who has gotten lost in his woods. Overcome by her beauty, he uses “enchantments” to manipulate Aredhel into getting lost in the forest. By the time she finds Eol’s dwelling, she is tired out, and Eol, still being of noble blood, introduces himself kindly, allowing him to somehow convince her to stay with him in Nan Elmoth and eventually marry him.
Though initially there was a bond between them, Eol isolated his wife by forbidding any contact with her clan or leaving Nan Elmoth, while also rejecting the sunlight as Eol and his following had done. Eventually, Aredhel gave birth to their son, whom she named in the language of the Noldor, Lomin. Eol, however, waited several years before giving him his own name, Maeglin.
Tensions mounted in the family as Eol’s restrictions felt more and more like a prison. Moreover, the father and son had argued when Maeglin wanted to meet his mother’s side of the family. When Eol forbade it as he had his mother, Maeglin stopped speaking to him and plotted to leave Nan Elmoth with Aredhel as he loved her more.
Mother and son make their move while Eol is away, but when he returns sooner than expected to find them gone, he becomes enraged. Following their trail in broad daylight, he is captured by Curufin, Aredhel’s cousin and Noldor Elf-lord of those adjacent lands. After thinly veiled hostility and insults between the two lords, he learns that his estranged family is returning to Gondolin. Once tracking them there, he is again caught and brought before his family and brother-in-law, the king of Gondolin, Turgon.
Eol spurns both their kindness and judgment of not being allowed to leave Gondolin, demanding instead to return to Nan Elmoth with his son. When this is rejected, he tries to kill him, but Aredhel instead takes the shot and is mortally wounded. After her death, Turgon executes his brother-in-law, but not before he casts a curse on Maeglin.
Cloaked in Shadow
Looking at the Elf himself, Eol comes off as an anti-social introvert. The Silmarillion describes him as being restless even before the war. He doesn’t like to meddle in affairs that do not concern him, as he is not mentioned as having participated in the war, rarely leaves Nan Elmoth except on business with the Dwarves, and even when Turgon bounds him to Gondolin to protect the city's secrets for which Eol cares nothing about.
Everything about Eol screams secretive and controlling, even down to his home. Nan Elmoth is described as a near-impenetrable forest that only he knows and little to no light gets in; it's the perfect manifestation of the Elf's inner workings. Eol seems to find comfort and security in dark places, period. Even his following are described as silent and busy working, not having any discussions amongst themselves or with Eol and his family. Perhaps the lack of light represented to him the nature of secrets, and because the Dwarves shared similar preferences, it would make sense that Eol would have more in common with them than other Sindarin.
This preference would have translated into his appearance as well as being a blacksmith working so often in cramped spaces and caves. He was somewhat bent over at the shoulders and lower back, with stronger upper body strength than his other Teleri kin and perhaps even paler in appearance. His eyesight was probably even better at seeing in the dark than other Elves for the same reasons. That said, he was still an Elf.
There is malice in this sword. The dark heart of the smith still dwells in it. It will not love the hand it serves ...
— Melian regarding the sword Anglachel and its forger, Eol, "The Silmarillion"
Armorer of Doriath
Despite his preference for secrecy, Eol apparently still maintained some contact with the Doriath in that he provided them with weapons. It is said, in fact, that he was a great blacksmith, able to blend Sindarin and Dwarven elements into his work. This reputation is confirmed much later after his death by the exploits of one of his works, Anglechel, in the hands of the human warrior, Turin. Anguirel was another work that was stolen by Maeglin when he and Ardehel fled Nan Elmoth. As Maeglin is noted to be an accomplished warrior, I would presume it was used during the Nirneath Arnoediad war and the fall of Gondolin.
However, some of his works would somehow take on Eol's ambiguous and dark nature. It is implied that the blades themselves have a bent towards violence, despite their craftsmanship, and I wonder if they were similar to the One Ring in that it corrupted its user to similar ends.
Not much is said of Eol's relationship with Thingol beyond business. Given his secretive nature, I'm assuming there was none. But they did share certain traits. Like Thingol, Eol also prefers things to stay as they were before the war and chaos ensued, and there was no daylight. His accusation to Turgon’s face implies as much when he says his people are responsible for the current state of the world. As far as he is concerned, anything having to do with the siege of Angband or Noldor secrets they can keep to themselves.
Eol also shares the trait of a quick temper with the High King when he is not obeyed or is challenged by someone equal or superior to himself. And, like the High King, he is willing to resort to killing the offender when not rectified. Though he presented himself in the beginning with a royal bearing fitting of his status as a Teleri noble, which was no doubt part of Eol’s personality, that only remained as long as he stayed in control of his world and those in it. Once that was challenged or removed, his darker tendencies emerged.
I would go so far as to say that being a control freak was so much a part of Eol’s deeper personality that he even regarded other Elves as property rather than individuals with their own wills to be respected. I think this is most apparent in his relationships. Aredhel, whom he obsessed over at first sight and manipulated her entire life from their meeting till her exodus. Eol is caring enough that Aredhel, at some point, chose to stay with him, and they spent a lot of personal time together early on. But that eventually sours over time.
That brings us to Maeglin, whom Eol plotted to kill prior to his arrival at Gondolin when he is told he cannot leave. If anything, the father's relationship with his son is distant even when they were talking. They spent enough time together going to the Blue Mountains early on, but like with Aredhel, the relationship sours as Maeglin inquires about his Noldor heritage. During their final encounter, Eol addresses Maeglin more as property that was owned rather than any love on his part.
The last personal characteristic of Eol is his hatred of the Noldor. Given his friendship with the Dwarves, Eol wasn’t prejudiced in general. This was regarded as odd for Sindarin Elves as they traded with the Dwarves but by and large regarded them as lower than themselves and their Noldor brethren they thought as too alien and ill-tempered, even while living with them.
Eol’s hostility towards the Noldor was for very specific reasons: bringing war to Beleriand, which Eol should have known somehow wasn’t true since Morgoth arrived first. And their arrival brings an end to the age of the stars, which Eol clearly cherished. He also intensely disliked the high and mighty nature that the Noldor lauded over the native Sindar and saw them more as invaders like Morgoth rather than as fellow Elves.
This intense hatred also marks Eol out from his people in that while they regarded the Eldar as strange and violent, many of them also had no qualms about working and living with them as well if the conditions allowed for it.
That he would become so obsessed over a Noldor says something of the beauty of Aredhel if it could pierce the darkness of that level of malice. Yet, I could also see Eol’s hatred being the reason why he tried to quash her Eldar tendencies, as he would now be constantly reminded of it in some fashion. Perhaps he was trying to change her into more like himself. And this poisons the marriage.
Similar, But Not the Same
As I had mentioned when discussing Aredhel’s profile, there’s a strong similarity between how the stories of Eol’s family and Thingol’s family play out in the Silmarillion. Both Teleri had come across their would-be wives in dark forests under the night sky. Both married up into a higher social status because of their wives’ lineage. Both had a single child whom they jealously watched over.
It makes me wonder, perhaps, if Eol was trying to somehow recreate his own interpretation of Thingol’s family. Did he envy what his kinsman had? And did that envy play a part in Eol’s leaving Doriath in the first place?
The stark difference lies in their underlying motivations, however. Eol and Thingol may have both had quick tempers that could turn to malicious action. However, Thingol never had a precedent of showing said quality before his encounter with Beren. Even then, when he did try to have Beren killed by impossible quest, it at least was not for selfish reasons, but as he saw it, trying to protect his daughter, Luthien.
Thingol also did not manipulate his wife, Melian, or try to control her (as if he could). His desire was out of love, and their organic marriage was a partnership as well as a romantic pairing to the benefit of Doriath.
Meanwhile, Eol’s encounter with Aredhel was entirely manufactured from start to finish. While the book does say that there was some kind of love between them for a time, it was marred by Eol’s previous enchantments, his controlling nature, hostility towards her heritage, and that he ultimately saw her as a possession. Something the Noldor woman had always balked at prior when she was on her game.
Even the circumstances of their first meeting are ambiguous as it doesn’t say if Eol had forced Aredhel into marriage or even raped her. I don’t think he could physically take on a Noldor, but Aredhel was weakened from the spells. But again, the book doesn't say one way or the other. The bottom line is that theirs was no partnership like with Thingol and Melian.
This baggage is unfortunately passed down to Maeglin so that even before he and his mother escaped from the forest lair, the family was already estranged. And the father's legacy corrupts the son's future.
The final separation between the two kinsmen is that while both wanted to preserve the status quo, Thingol still maintained some knowledge and contact with the world outside of Doriath. Though his contribution to the war effort was minimal at best, he did so to protect the people that lived there. He had led and fought in the first Beleriand coalition against Morgoth, after all, before the Noldors’ arrival. Flawed as he was, Thingol was still primarily moved by concern for others and even improved upon his flaws over time.
Eol was the polar opposite. The dark Elf cares nothing for the world beyond Doriath's borders, and even then that bond may have been small. He is much closer with the Dwarves than Thingol and the Sindar, only making weapons for them while maintaining no familial connection. Moreover, Eol's obsession to preserve the memory of the night was not driven by trying to help his people but rather by his personal preference for isolation and secrecy. Even though some of his statements about the Noldor were correct, his intention behind them was malicious and extremely self-centered.
Art Imitating Life
What was amazing to me about Eol’s story is how so much of it mirrors many real-life relationships and the issues concerning them today. The House of Eol was incredibly toxic, filled with all the worst aspects of human relationships that one could think of: manipulation, anger issues, abuse, murder, and the legacies those factors have on the children. Even his legacy beyond his life is corrupted as the sword, Anglachel also inherited its maker's violent tendencies.
Eol is mired both in shadow and controversy. Though I would not call it a cautionary tale, as to my knowledge it was not the author’s intention to make it that way, it still hits close to home and is remarkably uncanny in how toxic relationships operate in the real world.
© 2020 Jamal Smith