The Good, the Bad, and the Outlawed
But life is not so simple in Middle-earth, as it seldom can be. Outlawry proves to be a state in which the character defines his purpose. For example, when Melkor asserted his presumptious claim to Arda, the Valar rejected his arrogance. He became an outlaw and fled (for a time) into the wastes of Ea (Creation, the universe). It was during this initial period of oultawry that Melkor metamorphosed into the first dark lord.
Upon initially entering the universe, Melkor assisted the Valar in all their labors. There appears to have been no strife between them. Only when they began to shape the "habitation of the Children of Iluvatar" (Cf. "Ainulindale") did Melkor depart from the appointed task begin to pursue his own goals. But though "he meddled in all that was done, turning it if he might to his own desires and purposes" (ibid.), it would not be until Melkor said to the other Valar, "This shall be mine own kingdom; and I name it unto myself" (ibid.), that he transgressed and passed into a state of natural outlawry.
Natural outlawry is the segregation of the individual from the community. It may be formalized through a process of law, but the fact of outlawry is determined by the individual's decision to set aside the moral bounds of the community. Melkor abandoned the task set to the Ainur by Iluvatar, and thus he entered into outlawry. But though he attempted to claim Arda for himself, his claim was rejected and he was himself driven into exile. There he bided his time, and he gathered followers from among the other Ainur.
Melkor's last act of pure outlawry was the toppling of the two lamps of the Valar. In destroying the lights which nourished Arda, Melkor brought about an end to the formal order established by the Valar. We are told nothing about how the Valar arranged themselves prior to the hour when they began to shape Arda. But they may have, for all we know, passed from world to world, dwelling upon it for many ages, giving shape to their thought. Yet when they came to rest in Arda, they were sundered from Melkor and their natural course through Time was irrevocably altered.
Without Melkor as a member of their community, the Valar were bereft of his strength and his direct influence. They were diminished and the character of their society was altered by his absence. On the other hand, the Valar also summoned many Ainur to help them after the first conflict with Melkor. By enlarging their community the Valar established a new order which excluded Melkor. At the same time, Melkor established his own community, and with that his own order. The old order thus perished and two new, diametrically opposing, orders were estsblished.
Although there were two opposing regimes, the only legitimate one was Manwe's. Manwe was Iluvatar's representative, and Iluvatar's authority passed through Manwe to the other faithful Valar. But Melkor's followers surrendered their freedom of choice to him, subjecting themselves to his will. In this way, Melkor established a moral imperative for himself which carried the force of law. Iluvatar would not invalidate the choices made by the Ainur, even if those choices opposed his own designs.
Melkor's order thus obtained a sub-legitimacy relative to Manwe's order. Melkor's order could exist within Ea because the (fallen) Ainur had surrendered their right of choice to him. They became his servants. But, in one attempt to reconcile what must have happened with the natural order of the evolving cosmology, Tolkien realized that the act of subservience was insufficient. "In his thought which deceived him...he believed that over the Children [of Iluvatar] he might hold absolute sway and be unto them sole lord and master, as he could not be to spirits of his own kind, however subservient to himself" (Cf. "Myths Transformed: II", Morgoth's Ring).
Melkor's order would exist only so long as his Ainurian followers accepted him. He therefore set about enlarging that order by including within it other creatures who could not of their own free will become subservient to him. He sought to dominate the wills of other creatures, and ultimately to be to those creatures as if he were their true creator. He usurped not Manwe's authority but Iluvatar's. Melkor was the ultimate slaver, governing a society of both willing and unwilling slaves. His society possessed its own law and justice, even if it only seems twisted by comparison with Manwe's society.
Outlaw societies have indeed existed throughout history. Outlaws leave the greater community and flee into the wilds, and sometimes they band together either for mutual protection or for mutual gain. Historically, it was safer to be part of a group, even a villainous group, than to live on your own. And when the rulers of society are themselves cruel and evil, the outlaws are those people who cannot endure the cruelty without protest.
Outlawry therefore accommodates both the good and the bad, just as government does. But Middle-earth presents a unique style of outlawry, one in which the outlaws are outlawed not only by the just, but also by the unjust. In Beleriand, law and order were established by the Eldar and the Dwarves. The first outlaws were the Noegyth Nibin, the Petty-dwarves, who were outcasts from the major Dwarven cities. They wandered into Beleriand (apparently before the Eldar arrived on the Great Journey) and established their own humble community. And, like true outlaws, the Petty-Dwarves attacked the Elves rather than seek to make peace with them. In their eyes, the Petty-Dwarves saw the Elves as intruders. But as outcasts they had no moral prerogatives. They could not stake their claim in the wider world.
And yet, if the Petty-Dwarves were outcasts, what were their children, and the children of their children? Was the stigma of outlawry inherited? When Turin met Mim and one of Turin's outlaws slew Mim's son, were the outlaws merely slaying outlaws, or had the Petty-Dwarves, now a vanishing people, achieved a moral legitimacy, since Mim's generation had not been exiled by other Dwarves? Mim embodies the outlaw spirit, eschewing the opportunity to become a part of Turin's community when he offers his home to the outlaws. He remains apart, and ultimately betrays Turin's outlaws to the Orcs. In the end, Mim perishes by Hurin's hand, the hand of justice, albeit Morgoth's justice.
Turin himself is both an outlaw and a hero, but not a folk-hero outlaw. That is, he passes through outlawry and gains acceptance into two communities despite his own moral failings. Turin's initiation into outlawry derives solely from his lack of faith in Thingol's justice. He elects not to abide in Doriath while the Elves decide his fate. Hence, Thingol's pardon is ineffectual, even though Beleg seeks out Turin to explain the outcome of Thingol's investigation. In ceasing control over a band of outlaws, Turin sets the stage for his emergence from outlawry. With Beleg's aid, Turin leads the outlaws in a campaign against the Orcs. They turn aside from their past behavior in which they preyed upon their own kind.
Turin's outlaws are not simply outlaws from the community of men. Morgoth's forces treat them as bandits, and when their hideout on Amon Rudh is captured only Turin is kept alive. Nearly all the outlaws are slain. They atone for their past crimes with their lives, but never achieve acceptance into a moral community again. But Turin eventually reaches Nargothrond, and there he is given a new lease on life. And when Nargothrond falls Turin passes once more into outlawry and still finds a home among the Men of Brethil.
Turin's career as an outlaw underscores the difficulty faced by Men and Elves in Beleriand when their societies were destroyed. Morgoth only wanted them as slaves, if at all. The Elves were taken to Angband and placed into forced labor or, worse, turned into tools of Morgoth's will. The Men were simply imprisoned in Hithlum and given over as property to other Men. If anyone escaped from Angband or Hithlum, he generally had no home. Hurin led a band of outlaws to Brethil after Morgoth released him, and the Men of Brethil drove the outlaws away. They had done nothing wrong but apparently that was the way outlaws were treated. Elsewhere it is noted that Elves who escaped from Angband were generally treated with mistrust. Gwindor seems to have been a rare exception, in that he was restored to his place among the folk of Nargothrond.
The Easterlings who served Morgoth were not outlaws. They accepted his rule willingly, and therefore benefitted from his justice. If one of them was murdered, the murderer was justly declared an outlaw. However evil the Eldar and Edain might have perceived the Easterlings to be, did they in fact accept that they were evil? Did they simply believe they had chosen sides in a war, and had accepted the best offer which came to them? The Easterlings not only possessed community, they were assigned a place in Morgoth's community. They may not have received the reward they expected, but they were not driven off into the wilds as outlaws.
Outlawry was therefore as severe a penalty as one could receive from either side in the war, short of losing one's life. There was little hope of passing from outlawry into another community, except under the most extreme circumstances. The Easterlings, once they cast their lot with Morgoth, literally had no place to go. The treachery of the Sons of Ulfang ensured the Elves would never accept them into Eldarin society again. So even if they had the will and desire to rebel against Morgoth, the Easterlings would only have faced death or outlawry. But life under Morgoth wasn't so bad. The warriors, at least, got their pick of the slaves. The Easterlings continued to marry and raise families. They were given land. They enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle and possessed some wealth.
Nonetheless, an entire people could indeed be subjected to outlawry. The Noldor, when they rebelled against the Valar and attacked the Teleri of Alqualonde, outlawed themselves. They were sundered from the community of Aman. Being numerous, they were able to establish a new community in Beleriand. Outlawry is thus not necessarily the final path. The Noldorin realms were morally tainted by their misdeeds. But the greater part of the Noldor atoned for those misdeeds in part by their crossing of the Helcaraxe. The Feanorians, who had turned upon their own kinsmen, thus remained outlawed within the community of outlaws. Fingon's rescue of Maedhros brought about a peace and reconciliation between the two groups, but Maedhros eventually led his followers eastward, where he established a march under his own rule.
As rebels, the Noldor returned to Middle-earth without any legitimacy. Their new legitimacy arose from Thingol's unwitting acceptance of their aid in the war with Morgoth. He knew nothing of the Kinslaying in Alqualonde, but the Feanorians had destroyed Morgoth's western forces and freed Cirdan's people in Brithombar and Eglarest. The recognition which Thingol extended to the princes of Aman restored their legitimacy. They were received into the community of Beleriand as kinsmen because they had suppressed the stain of their outlawry. Hence, when Thingol learned the truth years later, it was too late to renege on his grants of land. He could only banish the use of the language of outlawry, requiring that the Exiles use the Sindarin language, and therefore acknowledge his authority. The Noldor were in a sense put on probation, although Thingol had no power to enforce that probation. Nonetheless, only Thingol's moral authority was sufficient that only his word was required to bar the use of Quenya in Beleriand.
As the Beleriandic civilization crumbled, the Eldar and Edain were gradually reduced to outlawry in all their communities. The High Kings of the Noldor-in-Exile retained the only moral prerogatives of the Beleriandic civilization. That is, when northern Dorthonion was conquered, the Beorians fled their lands. Driven into exile, they were absored into either the Folk of Haleth in Brethil or the Marachians in Dor-lomin. The Beorians and Marachians of Estolad fled back to Eriador where, presumably, they were accepted into the communities of Edain still dwelling there.
When Hithlum and the March of Maedhros were destroyed in the Nirnaeth, anyone who could get out, left. Men and Elves fled into hiding, although few of the warriors survived. The community of Hithlum was absorbed into Morgoth's realm (and presumably most of the non-combatant Elves were taken captive). Some Edain and Sindar escaped. The Falas went next, but Cirdan led a part of his people to the island of Balar. Balar would become the final refuge of Elves and Men from Beleriand. Ereinion Gil-galad also fled to Balar, probably from the ruin of Nargothrond, and after the fall of Gondolin he was acknowleged the High King of the Noldor-in-Exile. The community of Balar thus preserved as much of the moral authority of Beleriand's culture as could be. Hence, when the Feanorians attacked the survivors of Doriath and Gondolin at Arvernien, Gil-galad and Cirdan intervened. They represented the highest authority in what remained of Beleriand's community.
The Edain themselves had originally fled from Morgoth centuries before, wandering across Middle-earth in search of a refuge where they might be safe. Along the way many Edain had settled down and established new communities, so that only small groups ever reached Beleriand. Therefore, except for the Sindar, the Eldar and Edain who sought refuge on Balar had passed from outlawry to community to outlawry to community. The loss of community in a way purified the outlawed peoples. It was in like a trial by ordeal, where if the accused survived a test of moral purification, whatever they had done before was forgotten and forgiven.
This process of purification was, in fact, recognized by the Valar before the Noldor returned to Middle-earth. The Valar understood that the Elves could sin and fail of their promise. In the Halls of Mandos, the majority of Elves who had died would spend time reflecting on their lives and reconciling themselves to the proper way. If Namo decided they were completely restored to their proper state of mind or well-being, they could live again. When Eonwe greeted Earendil (who was himself an outlaw when he reached Aman, for his community had been destroyed), he mentioned that Earendil had long been looked for. The Valar had known he would come. So they understood that the Noldor would eventually pay for their sins by suffering great tribulations.
Thus, Gil-galad and Cirdan's community on Balar founded a new community which ultimately gave rise to the civilizations of Lindon and Numenor. And from Lindon sprang the communities of Eregion, northern Mirkwood, Lothlorien, and probably others. From Numenor came the communities of Arnor and Gondor and of the Kings' Men in the south (of which only Umbar is named). As Melkor had before them, the Kings' Men established communities which were morally opposed to the community against which they had rebelled (that is, the community of Aman). The Black Numenorean realms were like faint echoes of the Morgothian realm of the First Age.
Yet, despite all the foreshadowing and repetition, there was one outlaw who was never fully restored to community: Beren. Unlike Turin, he did not win full acceptance into any community of Elves and Men after his own people were defeated in war. Beren remained with his father and kinsmen in Dorthonion, retreating slowly southward before the forces of Angband, until his mother led the women and children away south. The community of Ladros, where the Beorians had settled, evaporated from around Beren, and in time he even lost the outlaw community his father had established. Passing south in his mother's footsteps, Beren made his way to Doriath. There he pursued a forbidden love for Luthien, and when she brought him before Thingol's court Beren was not simply a dispossessed human lord, he was an outlaw. Thingol's pride was hurt not only by the fact his daughter had fallen in love with a mortal, but also by the fact that he was a landless, lordless man bereft of any community. Luthien might have done worse if she had fallen in love with a rock.
Beren's quest to retrieve a Silmaril was in itself an act of outlawry. He was not executing the justice of Aman by recovering a Silmaril, nor even exacting Beleriand's repudiation against Morgoth for all the trouble he'd caused. Beren was sent to steal a Silmaril. And as an outlaw sent upon a thief's errand, he could not right expect to find any help. Nonetheless, Beren turned to Finrod, who had been his king, and Finrod did owe Beren a favor. Yet, Finrod had to answer to the will of his people, which at that time was influenced by two of the sons of Feanor. They claimed (perhaps rightly, perhaps not so) that Beren had no right to take a Silmaril, let alone give it to Thingol. If he was going after a Silmaril, he'd be doing so without their commission.
Finrod's resolve to fulfill his oath therefore led him to renounce his crown, and with only ten companions he joined Beren in outlawry. As outlaws they sought to make their way through Morgoth's territory (formerly a part of Finrod's kingdom). The whole enterprise was just one shady deal after another, as Finrod disguised himself and his companions as Orcs in order to pass through the Vale of Sirion. They did not allow for Sauron's careful watch over the comings and goings of Morgoth's servants, and so they were caught and eventually unmasked by Sauron. Finrod and his Elven companions all died, and Beren only escaped because Luthien rescued him.
Although Celegorm and Curufin were evntually driven out of Nargothrond, Beren's task remained the deed of a thief. He had no hope of recruiting an alliance of Elves and Men to help him storm Angband. And though he and Luthien succeeded in stealing the Silmaril they paid a heavy toll for their success. Both gave up their lives, Beren in the hunting of Carcharoth, the wolf which had bitten off his hand and swallowed the Silmaril, and Luthien in her grief over Beren. Beren only enjoyed a brief hiatus of acceptance among Thingol's people before he died.
And though Luthien once again intervened for Beren, winning a reprieve for him, they could not dwell among Elves and Men again. They passed eastward to Ossiriand and lived out their lives in seclusion, bereft of community. Unlike other outlaws, Beren and Luthien undoubtedly enjoyed the respect and admiration of Elves and Men alike. Even the Feanorians left them alone. Beren more than anyone else became a folk-hero throughout Beleriand, celebrated in song. What he and Luthien accomplished inspired Maedhros to form his powerful alliance.
It is the journey through outlawry, not the onset of outlawry, which Tolkien utilizes for his redemptive journeys. Outlawry is the hardest path to tread, because one must tread it alone, no matter how many other outlaws are crossing the ice beside you.
Michael Martinez is the author of Visualizing Middle-earth, which may be purchased directly from Xlibris Corp. or through any online bookstore. You may also special order it from your local bookstore. The ISBN is 0-7388-3408-4.