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  • Updated 20 January 2022
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Valley of Dreadful Death

The perilous vale south of Ered Gorgoroth

Northward of Beleriand lay the great highlands of Dorthonion, creating an almost unbroken wall of cliffs and crevices running for a hundred and fifty miles from west to east. Southward of this natural rampart a long and narrow land stretched before the northern eaves of Doriath's forests began. Even in the most ancient times, under the starlight before the Sun and Moon, this dark vale had been a place of danger, haunted by hideous creatures of spider form spinning their webs among the shadowy northern hills.

Though a dangerous path, the valley represented the only means of travel from West to East Beleriand northward of Doriath, and a road was made from one end to the other, crossing from Dimbar in the west to the old bridge of Iant Iaur on Esgalduin at the valley's eastern end. This path ran along the northern marches of Doriath, running near to the trees of that land, and so keeping far from the shadowy and infested precipices to the north.

The Coming of Ungoliant

From out of the North a new and unforeseen danger entered the dark valley; the creature named Ungoliant. A monstrous being, of spider shape like the creatures who already dwelt among the northern hills, she had aided Melkor in his destruction of the Two Trees, but in Middle-earth she had turned on her ally and been driven away by his Balrogs. She attempted to cross the vale and enter Doriath itself, but by this time Melian had raised her protective Girdle around the land, and Ungoliant was repulsed. Back on the northern faces of the Valley, however, she found a place of mountains and chasms like those she had once inhabited far away in Avathar, and there she lurked for a time.

In the shadows of the Mountains of Terror, Ungoliant bred with the spider-like creatures that already infested that place. Thus the whole region, already a source of great danger, became filled with true horror. The streams that ran down from the mountains into the valley beneath became filled with poisons, and the vale was deserted of all people and creatures. From this time the valley beneath the mountains gained a new name: Nan Dungortheb, translated as the 'Valley of Dreadful Death'.

After the Departure of Ungoliant

Ungoliant herself departed from the mountains above the valley, but she left behind her hideous offspring to weave their dark webs among the dreary hills. Even after she was gone, the valley remained a place of uttermost peril, and only the hardiest would attempt to pass it in the direst need, following the roadway along Doriath's borders on the valley's southern edge, and thus far from the webbed hills of Ered Gorgoroth.

There were very few such passages of the Valley recorded, but a few desperate Elves and Men made the journey through the haunted vale. The first of these was Aredhel, who had intended to travel eastward through Doriath, but was refused entry through the Girdle. She and her escort then attempted the road through the Valley of Dreadful Death; her companions became enmeshed in the shadows of the Valley, and were forced to escape back to their lord Turgon in Gondolin. Aredhel survived the eastward journey, and indeed retraced her steps some years later with her son Maeglin, followed by her husband Eöl the Dark Elf.

Within a few years of Aredhel's journey, a great party of Men travelled through the Valley from its eastward end. These were the People of Haleth, seeking a land of their own, but they were unprepared for the horrors of the Valley. They survived the journey, though not without considerable suffering and loss. When they emerged from the Valley's western end, some among this people repented their journey, but there was no way for them to make the terrible return through the shadows.

Perhaps the most famed traversal of the Valley was by Beren, who did not follow the road from east or west, but whose escape from Dorthonion forced him to climb down from the heights to the north through the most infested regions of Ered Gorgoroth. He survived the monsters and precipices to descend from the Mountains of Terror into the Valley, which he crossed to its southern edge and - driven by a singular fate - passed through the Girdle of Melian into Doriath. Later, as Beren travelled with Lúthien on the Quest of the Silmaril, they encountered Celegorm and Curufin near the western end of the Valley. Lately expelled from Nargothrond, the two brothers planned to use the path to travel back to their own lands in East Beleriand. These Sons of Fëanor set upon Beren and Lúthien, but were defeated, and afterward apparently1 continued their journey through the vale of Nan Dungortheb.

In the days after the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, the Orcs of Morgoth managed to find a way through the sheer mountains of Ered Gorgoroth. This Pass of Anach led down from the heights of Dorthonion (or Taur-nu-Fuin as it had become known) into the western parts of the Valley of Dreadful Death. Though still a harsh and dangerous journey, the Orcs made a road for themselves out of the Mountains of Terror and many of them used that road in the later days of the Wars of Beleriand.


Notes

1

We are not told specifically that Celegorm and Curufin continued through the Valley of Dreadful Death, and having been unhorsed in the encounter with Beren they might have preferred to take a safer road. We do know that they did eventually return into the east so, with no other obvious routes available to them, they would seem to have continued on through the dangers of Nan Dungortheb.

See also...

Bridge of Esgalduin

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About this entry:

  • Updated 20 January 2022
  • Updates planned: 2

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