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In J. R. R. Tolkien's fictional Middle-earth, Doriath is a forest realm of the Sindar in Beleriand ruled by King Thingol and his queen Melian. It serves as a principal stage for the stories of the First Age, such as The Tale of Beren and Lúthien from The Lays of Beleriand, and parts of The Children of Húrin and The Silmarillion. It is called the "Fenced Land" because of a girdle of enchantment Melian put about it, allowing none to enter the kingdom without her leave or Thingol's.
Doriath (Dôr Iâth, meaning Land of the Fence) was a land of forests located in central Beleriand adjoining the great River Sirion and its eastern tributaries: Mindeb, Esgalduin, Celos, and Aros. It contained the forests Neldoreth or Taur-na-Neldor, the northern beech forest; Nivrim, the West March, an oak forest; Region, the main forest; and Arthórien between Aros and Celon. Additionally, the forests of Brethil and Nan Elmoth were considered part of Doriath, though these last two lay outside the Girdle of Melian.
Elu Thingol, lord of the Sindar, had claimed all of Beleriand from the Gelion to Belegaer as his realm, but after the return of the Noldor to Middle-Earth Doriath was the centre of his power. It is said that of all rulers of Beleriand in the legends "the most mighty and the longest free was Thingol of the Woods."
In the middle of Doriath was a natural feature, a vast hill with many caves, located on the south banks of the Esgalduin. Toward the end of the Ages of Melkor's captivity, Melian counselled Thingol that the peace of his realm would not long endure, so he turned these caves into a citadel called Menegroth, the Thousand Caves, which became his capital city and principal fortress. Thingol commissioned the Dwarves of Belegost and Nogrod to build the halls of Menegroth. Its gates were carved into a rocky hill beside the Esgalduin, and the vast caverns beneath were considered one of the finest works of the Elves of the Elder Days in either Middle-earth or Valinor. Dwarves were employed in its construction as they had far more experience in building underground. Its halls were carved to look like a beech forest, complete with birds and animals. A great stone bridge across the Esgalduin provided the only access to the gates.
Just across the Esgalduin from Menegroth, the great tree Hírilorn stood in the forest of Neldoreth. Hírilorn had a tree-house, wherein Lúthien was confined by Thingol to prevent her from meeting Beren.
Long before Doriath was founded, during the march of the Elves from Cuiviénen, the Vanyar and the Noldor passed through its woods on the Great Journey. Finwë and the Noldor dwelt there for a time before they were ferried across the Great Sea on Tol Eressëa. Treebeard the Ent also wandered through the woods (specifically Taur-na-Neldor) in an early era, although it's not clear whether this was before or after any Elves.
Shortly after the third kindred of Elves, the Teleri, arrived in Beleriand their lord Elwë became enamoured with the Maia Melian and was lost in the forest of Nan Elmoth. When Ulmo returned to take the Teleri to Valinor, a part of that people remained behind to continue the search for their lord. Those Teleri who did journey to Valinor were led by Elwë's brother Olwë, and became the Sea-elves or Falmari of Alqualondë. Those who remained in Beleriand called themselves "the forsaken", and originally called Doriath Eglador, meaning "Land of the Forsaken". Happily for them, Elwë eventually returned, revealed as a lord of great reverence, accompanied by his queen Melian. He became known as Elu Thingol, the king of the Teleri of Middle-earth, and ruled his people throughout Beleriand from Doriath. His people became known as the Sindar, Elves of the Twilight, or Grey Elves, and enjoyed thousands of years of peace.
However, in the last years before the Noldor returned to Middle-earth the Orcs assailed the Sindar of Beleriand. After that Battle, the first of many in the Wars of Beleriand, Melian fenced the forests of Neldoreth, Region, and Nivrim with unseen walls of shadow that would prevent any from entering without her consent or Thingol's. Thingol defended his realm with companies of archers, called March Wardens, who guarded the borders. With the help of the Dwarves, he armed the Elves with axes, long spears and swords, armoured coats of scale-mail, and shields. Thingol then summoned all the wandering Sindar to Doriath, but many remained in the wild or at the havens of Falas under the lordship of Cirdan. After the first battle, many Laiquendi (Green Elves or Nandor, the Elves who left the march of the Teleri east of the Misty Mountains) as well as some Avari removed to Doriath, establishing themselves as "Guest Elves" of Arthórien.
When the Noldor returned to Middle-earth at the beginning of the First Age, they were initially welcomed in Doriath. But Thingol was outraged upon learning of the first Kinslaying at Alqualondë, the victims of which were the people of his brother Olwë. Thingol forbade the Noldorin language of the kinslayers to be spoken by or to the Sindar, leading many Noldor to adopt Sindarin. Furthermore, he barred the Noldor who followed the sons of Fëanor from entering his realm. He allowed entry to the Houses of Fingolfin and Finarfin. He judged that the former had atoned for their part in the Kinslaying through their crossing the ice of the Helcaraxë, while the latter had taken no part in the slaying, and their lords were his kin through their maternal grandfather Olwë. Finarfin's daughter Galadriel came to live in Doriath, and there married the noble Sinda Celeborn.
When Men arrived in Beleriand, they were also refused entry to Doriath, for Thingol felt foreboding at their arrival. But at Finrod's request the Haladin were allowed to live in Brethil as vassals to Thingol, charged with the protection of the Crossings of Teiglin. Despite the ban on Men, Melian foretold that a Man would indeed break her defences and enter Doriath, being driven by a doom greater than her power.
This proved to be Beren, son of Barahir and lord of the First House of Men, who, being driven by war from his home in the north, passed through the Girdle and arrived in Neldoreth. There he met Thingol's daughter Lúthien, and they fell in love. Their forbidden love sparked the quest to wrest a Silmaril from Morgoth, and although they succeeded with great suffering, the great Wolf Carcharoth was also able to breach the Girdle through the power of the Silmaril he had swallowed. The Wolf posed a grave threat to the realm, but Thingol, Beren, Huan the hound, and Thingol's captains Beleg and Mablung hunted the beast and killed it, cutting the Silmaril from its gut. Beren was slain in this action, and Lúthien died of grief shortly thereafter. Her death brought great sorrow upon Doriath. Afterwards Lúthien and Beren were allowed to return alive to Middle-earth, but to achieve this she had forsaken her immortality, and thus left Doriath forever. The Silmaril that Lúthien and Beren had taken from Morgoth's crown remained with Thingol.
In later years Thingol softened his heart towards Men, and Túrin, son of Húrin and Morwen, was allowed to come to Doriath for his protection. Thingol regarded Túrin as his foster son, and he became a skilled warrior and hero of Doriath through fighting Orcs on its northern borders. He was forced to flee the kingdom when a quarrel with Saeros, one of Thingol's councillors, ended in Saeros's accidental death. Later Túrin's mother and sister, Morwen and Nienor, were harboured in Doriath until they left to search for Túrin and were lost.
After the death of his wife and children, Húrin visited the ruins of Nargothrond and brought the Dwarf-fashioned necklace Nauglamír to Doriath. Thingol then engaged the Dwarves of Nogrod to combine the Silmaril of Beren and Lúthien with the Nauglamír. The Dwarves finished the deed, but caught in a spell of lust for the Silmaril and desire for the ancient necklace, they murdered Thingol, stole the treasure, and fled. They were pursued, and most were slain, and the necklace was returned. However, Melian, in her grief, departed from Middle-earth, ending her protective girdle around Doriath. Upon hearing of the death of their kin, the Dwarves of Nogrod mustered an army and perpetrated the first Sack of Doriath, all but destroying the realm.
Doriath was briefly restored under Dior, the son of Beren and Lúthien, but within a few years Doriath was again attacked, this time by the sons of Fëanor, who had sworn to recover the Silmaril Dior possessed. This event became known as the Second Kinslaying and the second Sack of Doriath. Dior perished and his kingdom was utterly destroyed. The sons of Fëanor failed to take the Silmaril, however, as it was saved by Dior's daughter Elwing. Following this second sack Doriath was abandoned, and the remnants of its people fled to the Havens of Sirion. Along with much of the rest of Beleriand, the land itself eventually sank into the sea after the War of Wrath.
Several different versions of the details of this history exist in Tolkien's drafts, and in many cases the author's final intent is not known.
- Tolkien in the land of Arthur: the Old Forest episode from The Lord of the Rings. Mythopoeic Society, 2006. An article discussing the significance of forests in Tolkien's work, in particular, the Old Forest with comparisons to other myths and romances.
- Doriath at the Encyclopedia of Arda