Sinda’s Advocate: Defending Eöl

Today, as an interesting exercise, I’m taking the Tolkien Elf I personally consider the most morally reprehensible, and giving him his day in court, so to speak.

That Elf is Eöl of Nan Elmoth – Sinda, smith, friend of Dwarves, and hater of all things Noldorin. Others might prefer to target his son, or the Fëanorians, but for me it is the forest low-life that is most worthy of reader condemnation. And precisely because I find him so reprehensible, I figured I would look at what could be said in his defence, if Eöl were to somehow face external trial for his in-universe crimes.

Yes, welcome to that thrilling court case, R. v. Eöl.

For the sake of convenience, where possible I will be trying to apply the legal system I am personally most familiar with, namely New Zealand’s. The result is a tad artificial, of course, since we are dealing with fictional characters in a fictional universe, and holding them to a standard they themselves would not recognise, but it serves its purpose. I am basically trying to put myself in the shoes of Eöl’s hapless defence lawyer – not condoning or excusing his actions, but merely trying to do the best I can for a particularly loathsome client.

So here goes. The statute law I am mostly drawing from is the Crimes Act 1961:

Charge I: Coerced Marriage

Crimes Act, s207A(1): Everyone is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years who, with intent to cause another person to enter into a marriage or civil union, uses coercion (for example, intimidation, threats, or violence) against that other person.

Plea: Not Guilty

We have heard much about the unsavoury manner in which the accused took Aredhel to wife. We have also heard much about the unhappy nature of the subsequent marriage. However, in answer to the charge that the accused unlawfully coerced his wife into marriage, it is submitted that the Prosecution is falsely conflating coercion with seduction. One is an act of force, of hostile domination of will. The other, though repugnant to the sensibilities of many, is fundamentally an act of persuasion. Aredhel herself was not wholly unwilling to the arrangement, which implies a choice to ‘go along’ with the accused.

It is further submitted that the Crimes Act helpfully sets the parameters of ‘coercion’ in this context. The wording of the section lists examples, namely ‘intimidation, threats, or violence,’ and as per the principle of eiusdem generis, that in turn defines the wider class of unlawful coercive acts. Specifically, that coercion represents the presentation of negative consequences, calculated to instil fear in the other person. “Marry me, or else.”

The accused did not present negative consequences to Aredhel, in order to persuade her to marry him. He did not threaten or intimidate in pursuit of his goal. No, he wove goeteia – enchantments – in order to lure Aredhel to his abode in Nan Elmoth. Once there, she acquiesced to his advances, and remained there willingly for many years. This situation – however we may view it morally – cannot have been the one envisaged by Parliament in s207A(1), and as such the accused must be acquitted of the charge.

Charge II: Abduction for Purposes of Marriage

Crimes Act, s208: Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years who unlawfully takes away or detains a person (P) without P’s consent or with P’s consent obtained by fraud or duress,—with intent to go through a form of marriage or civil union with P; or…

Plea: Guilty

It is to be regrettably admitted that the accused did take Aredhel away unlawfully, with the intent of going through marriage with her. Fraud, in the form of goeteiac enchantment, was a key part of the accused’s methods, in terms of luring Aredhel to his abode in Nan Elmoth. However, in considering the facts of the case, it is also submitted that mitigating factors must be taken into account.

Chief among these is that fraudulent enchantment was only used to get Aredhel into the accused’s abode. The accused did not otherwise misrepresent himself, or his situation, once she had set foot in his dwelling, and as has been elsewhere noted, Aredhel was not wholly unwilling to play her part in this drama. This was a marriage that lasted many years, and while one might question the accused’s determination to cut his wife off from her kin and from daylight, the notion that the accused was tantamount to a kidnapper is not borne out by the facts. Aredhel was free to go where she pleased, just not to her family, whom the accused had long hated. It was a disagreeable situation, unquestionably, but not detention within the walls of a forest prison.

The other mitigating factor is the accused’s psychological state. The accused has been described as inherently anti-social. And indeed he is, to a degree the experts can only speculate upon. But even the most anti-social person – cut-off from the ways of others – can secretly desire a family, or have desires awoken within them. Aristotle called man a social animal, and one suspects Elves are little different. Before Aredhel and her son, the accused was a single creature of the dark forest woods. Beyond periodic interactions with the Dwarves, with whom he shared a mutual love of crafts and smithing, he had only his household servants for company. Isolated and strange, one can only imagine how the accused’s mind responded to seeing Aredhel for the first time – the White Lady of the Noldor herself, riding through his woods.

Indeed, we can imagine. We know his reaction to seeing her – it was not a reaction years in the making, but that of impulsive desire, as hot as the forge. Alas, he overreached, and here we are, on the wrong side of the law. But in considering sentence, one ought to take such thought processes into account. Desire has been the root of many moral failings.

Charge III: Attempted Kidnapping (two counts)

Crimes Act, s72(1): Every one who, having an intent to commit an offence, does or omits an act for the purpose of accomplishing his or her object, is guilty of an attempt to commit the offence intended, whether in the circumstances it was possible to commit the offence or not.

Crimes Act, s209: Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years who unlawfully takes away or detains a person without his or her consent or with his or her consent obtained by fraud or duress,—with intent to cause him or her to be confined or imprisoned; or

Plea: Not Guilty (Aredhel), Guilty (Maeglin)

The Prosecution has described, in great length, the accused’s epic horse-chase across northern Beleriand, whereby he hunted down his wife and son in terrifying fashion. And indeed, the episode reflects extremely poorly on the character of the accused. But does it constitute attempted kidnapping, in accordance with s72(1) and s209? The Prosecution have suggested that the accused would have dragged both wife and son back to Nan Elmoth, and returned them to confinement within a forest prison.

It is submitted that the charge of attempted kidnapping, with regard to Aredhel, must be dismissed. As noted by the scribes of Gondolin – none of whom have reason to show the slightest bit of favouritism towards him – the accused was willing to let the “let the bird go back to the cage [of Gondolin], where she will soon sicken again.” The pursuit from Nan Elmoth to Gondolin was thus less about Aredhel, and more about the son and heir, Maeglin.

The charge of attempted kidnapping with regard to Maeglin must, alas, be admitted. It has been established that the accused threatened his son with bonds if he associated with his Noldorin mother’s family. In light of subsequent regrettable events at Gondolin, it is also clear that if the accused had overtaken his son on the way to the Hidden Kingdom, Maeglin would have faced confinement in Nan Elmoth against his will. Only Maeglin and his mother arriving at Gondolin in time saved the young Elf from this fate.

In considering the mitigating circumstances for this reprehensible deed, one must again investigate the psychology of the accused. This is an Elf for whom the Noldor – save his wife, presumably – constitute a foreign and invasive evil. Nor is he alone among the Sindarin Elves of Beleriand for expressing this view, though the accused takes things further than most. The accused indeed goes beyond objecting to the Kinslaying, and actually considers the Noldorin realms in Exile to be an outright usurpation of Telerin territory.

In light of this innate hostility towards the Exiles, the accused’s treatment of his son begins to make a twisted sort of sense. Maeglin was his only close blood-relative, his heir – the notion that he might lose him to the hated usurpers was too much to bear. So the accused reacted with extreme protective measures, which ended in tragic circumstances. It does not excuse the attempted kidnapping, of course, but before one judges, it is important to understand.

(Note that it is unclear whether the accused was aware of Maeglin’s theft of the sword, Anguirel).

Charge IV: Rape

Crimes Act, s128(2): Person A rapes person B if person A has sexual connection with person B, effected by the penetration of person B’s genitalia by person A’s penis,— without person B’s consent to the connection; and without believing on reasonable grounds that person B consents to the connection.

Plea: Not Guilty

No-one is in any doubt as to the dubious nature of the accused’s relationship with Aredhel. Least of all the learned J.R.R. Tolkien himself, who in his early writings explicitly condemned Eöl as a wicked rapist. However, in light of subsequent evidence – especially the revelation that Aredhel was not wholly unwilling, and that her life in Nan Elmoth was not hateful to her – it is submitted that the Prosecution cannot prove beyond reasonable doubt that Aredhel was non-consenting to sexual connection with the accused.

One can further cite the example of Laws and Customs of the Eldar, for further evidence against this charge. Namely that Aredhel’s fëa would have abandoned her body, rather than submit. Since Aredhel did not die, but rather stayed to raise the accused’s family until her son desired to leave, one ought to conclude consent – unless the Prosecution is willing to ignore Laws and Customs, or imagines married and unmarried Elves behaving differently in the face of sexual violence?

Charge V: Ill-treatment or neglect of child or vulnerable adult

Crimes Act, s195(1): Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years who, being a person described in subsection (2), intentionally engages in conduct that, or omits to discharge or perform any legal duty the omission of which, is likely to cause suffering, injury, adverse effects to health, or any mental disorder or disability to a child or vulnerable adult (the victim) if the conduct engaged in, or the omission to perform the legal duty, is a major departure from the standard of care to be expected of a reasonable person.

Plea: Not Guilty

Few would consider the accused a particularly stellar parent. Raising his child in the depths of his forest home, one suspects he did Maeglin few favours in his early years. Through cutting the child off from the maternal side of his family, and through likely imparting unhealthy ideas about pursuing romantic attachment, the accused set the scene for Maeglin’s later problems. Quite apart from the later incident with the javelin, of course.

But it is submitted that the accused never crossed the line into criminal ill-treatment, at least while Maeglin was a child. For by the time Maeglin left Nan Elmoth, and went on his ill-fated journey to Gondolin, the young Elf was objectively an adult.

In terms of the treatment of Maeglin as a child, there are two bones of contention, which stand out as major departures from conventional Elven parenting. The first is the accused’s lengthy delay in giving his son his father-name – some twelve years, when it is customarily given soon after birth. The latter concerns the accused’s threat to bind Maeglin if he ever associated with the Noldor.

It is true that the twelve-year delay in naming stands out as curious, but it is unclear whether this caused Maeglin suffering, or resulted in mental disorder or injury. One might speculate as to the psychology of a child who spends the first decade of life without a name of his own (at least not a public name – he did, after all, have his secret mother-name), though doubtless there were in-house work-arounds, used by his parents and household servants for referring to ‘the boy.’ Since Maeglin did not encounter any other Elven children during this time, he would be unlikely to realise the unusual nature of his situation. But all this is raw speculation. It is submitted that, overall, the case for this unconventional parenting being criminal ill-treatment cannot be proven beyond reasonable doubt.

The other matter is the threat of binding. And it is to be conceded that this was an extreme reaction on the part of the accused – to the degree that carrying out the threat would have indeed qualified as ill-treatment (there remains the quibble of Maeglin’s age at the time, but since he remained in the care of his father, it is accepted that we treat him as a child). It is also conceded that the episode brought about a clear worsening of relations between father and son. Maeglin ceased accompanying the accused on his periodic visits to the Dwarves.

However, there is no evidence of binding ever actually being used on Maeglin, and the matter was never again raised outside this unique threat. Meanwhile, it has been established that the accused has a known short-temper, and a profound hatred of the Noldor. Lashing out with threats is perfectly in-character for him. It is therefore submitted that there is insufficient evidence of injury or mental disorder arising from this episode. It created an internal family grudge, certainly, and constitutes another display of poor parenting from the accused, but there is reasonable doubt as to whether it crosses the line into criminality.

Charge VI: Failure to comply with border-restrictions

This does not pertain to the Crimes Act, but rather to the established law of Gondolin, whereby arrivals to the city are forced to remain within the city.

Plea: No Plea Entered. Jurisdiction not recognised.

The accused utterly rejects the jurisdiction of the so-called King Turgon, and his realm of Gondolin, and as such disputes their right to enforce this law. The Noldor have no more right to govern – or imprison – the Teleri than Angband does.

Moreover, the following points are submitted about the injustice of the situation:

Firstly, if the accused is to be tried for attempted kidnapping, what to make of Turgon confining both father and son? On arrival, Maeglin was less free to leave Gondolin than he was Nan Elmoth.

Secondly, Aredhel was permitted to leave Gondolin previously. Would she be free to leave again, if, say, she desired to meet the Sons of Fëanor? If the wife is permitted to leave the city, why not the husband or the son? There is clear inconsistency in the application of this so-called law.

Thirdly, as seen by later events, the law was inadequate to protect Gondolin.

Fourthly, the accused had a house and servants, and existing business relationships with the Dwarves. To deprive him of this was blatantly unjust.

Charge VII: Possession of an offensive weapon

Crimes Act, s202A:

(1) In subsection (4)(a) offensive weapon means any article made or altered for use for causing bodily injury, or intended by the person having it with him or her for such use.

(2) In subsection (4)(b) offensive weapon means any article capable of being used for causing bodily injury.

(4) Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years—

(a) who, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, has with him or her in any public place any knife or offensive weapon or disabling substance; or

(b) who has in his or her possession in any place any offensive weapon or disabling substance in circumstances that prima facie show an intention to use it to commit an offence involving bodily injury or the threat or fear of violence.

(5) It is a defence to a charge under subsection (4)(b) if the person charged proves that he or she did not intend to use the offensive weapon or disabling substance to commit an offence involving bodily injury or the threat or fear of violence.

Plea: Not Guilty

It is accepted that the accused entered Gondolin, in possession of a poisoned javelin, and that aforementioned javelin was an offensive weapon in accordance with s202A.

However, it is submitted that with regard to s202A(4)(a), the javelin was not confiscated by the guards of Gondolin, prior to the audience with Turgon. As such, the accused claims lawful authority for possessing the weapon, even under the so-called laws of Gondolin – had the King wished to deprive him of the weapon, the city’s notoriously thorough guards would have done so. The Prosecution cannot prove beyond reasonable doubt that these guards merely overlooked the javelin.

With regard to s202A(4)(b), it is accepted that there appears to have been, prima facie, an intention to cause injury. In the event, the accused did actually cause injury with the weapon.

However, it is submitted that, in accordance with s202A(5), the intent of carrying the weapon was as a personal means of self-defence. The dark and mysterious forests of Beleriand are full of peril, while the journey from Nan Elmoth to Gondolin is not without its hazards. Indeed it has been established that the accused was temporarily held by a hostile and ill-tempered Son of Fëanor. Offensive weapons were (and are) necessary in the circumstances.

The intent in pursuing Maeglin was not to kill or injure him, of course, but to return him to his rightful home in Nan Elmoth. Yes, the accused would eventually attack his son with the javelin, but that was only in response to the accused suddenly learning of his family’s permanent imprisonment within the walls of Gondolin. The accused had likely never foreseen a situation where neither he nor Maeglin could ever return home – and certainly not when he initially took the javelin into his possession, back in the forest.

Charge VIII: Attempted murder

Crimes Act, s72(1): Every one who, having an intent to commit an offence, does or omits an act for the purpose of accomplishing his or her object, is guilty of an attempt to commit the offence intended, whether in the circumstances it was possible to commit the offence or not.

Crimes Act, s167(1)(a): Culpable homicide is murder in each of the following cases: if the offender means to cause the death of the person killed…

Plea: Guilty

It is with deep regret that the accused must admit culpability in the attempted murder of his son, Maeglin. Attempted murder is itself a severe crime, but to attempt to kill your child, your own flesh and blood, makes the circumstances so much worse. Only through the tragic intervention of Aredhel was the murder of Maeglin prevented, but that is a tale for another charge.

It is, however, submitted that there is a mitigating factor in this crime. Once again, we must turn to the psychology of the accused.

It has been repeatedly noted that the accused harbours a deep-seated, nigh on pathological, hatred for the Noldor – those Great Usurpers of Beleriand, those murders of the Teleri beyond the Sea. An extreme viewpoint, certainly, but not a completely unfounded one for a Sindarin Elf.

Now recall that Maeglin was his son, heir to Nan Elmoth, and follower in his father’s footsteps. The father raised the son as a Sinda, a skilled smith, and even as a friendly acquaintance of the Dwarves. And yet, burrowing in the back of the accused’s mind, was the knowledge that Maeglin was also half Noldorin. Of course he was – Maeglin was Aredhel’s child too. So the accused dreaded for many years that his son would associate himself with his mother’s family, and took all precautions against it. Alas, those precautions were not enough, and the family eventually found themselves within the walls of the great Noldorin city of Gondolin.

Gondolin is no ordinary city, of course. It carries with it a terrible doom for all who would look upon its fair walls – that of being a permanent prisoner. For a Man that would be bad enough, but for an Elf, whose lifespan is as long as the life of Arda? One can only imagine what was going through the head of the accused. He faced an indefinite future, being forced to live among the people he most despised. And worst of all, his son – who had defied him by coming here at all – would become one of them.

This was too much for the accused. Hot-tempered as he is, he saw only one way out. He would die. And so too would his son. With no time for cold calculation, he threw his poisoned javelin at Maeglin. And the rest, alas, is history.

None of this excuses the behaviour of the accused, of course. It was not insanity that drove him to the fatal act – he suffers no disease of the mind, and understands right from wrong well-enough – but rather a sense of proud and poisonous despair. It is an emotion to be pitied as much as it is condemned. So while we cannot find an excuse for the accused, we can at least find a psychological understanding for his crime – an understanding that argues, once again, for clemency. The accused is a hot-tempered fool, who acts in the moment, not a cold and calculating schemer like the one he tried and failed to kill.

Charge IX: Manslaughter

Crimes Act, s171: Except as provided in section 178, culpable homicide not amounting to murder is manslaughter.

[But see Addendum below]

Plea: Guilty

And now, with yet further sorrow, we turn to the tragic fate of Aredhel. Throwing herself in the path of the accused’s poisoned javelin, she was pierced by the weapon, and soon died from her wounds. The accused did not intend to kill her, of course – which is why this is not a murder charge – but it is a clear case of culpable homicide. An illegal act caused an unintended, but hardly unforeseeable, death. As such, the accused pleads guilty to the crime of manslaughter.

Insofar as there are mitigating circumstances to this, they have been largely dealt with in considering the attempt on Maeglin’s life. After all, that attack is precisely what caused Aredhel’s death.

The javelin-throw was a rash act, committed in the heat of the moment, and though the accused’s anger at his wife is clear – hence his reference to Gondolin as a bird cage – it must also be remembered that they spent many long years together. The accused’s despair at his perceived Noldorin entrapment indeed reaped bitter fruit, and regardless of his legal fate, the consequences of the loss of his family will affect him at the personal level for a long time to come.

Addendum: A closer inspection of the Crimes Act, s167(c), would upgrade this charge from Manslaughter to outright Murder:

Culpable homicide is murder in each of the following cases:

(c) if the offender means to cause death, or, being so reckless as aforesaid, means to cause such bodily injury as aforesaid to one person, and by accident or mistake kills another person, though he or she does not mean to hurt the person killed:

Eöl meant to kill Maeglin, and accidentally killed Aredhel. This is non-contentious murder under the Crimes Act. My error.


And thus ends my extensive – and thoroughly icky – defence of Eöl. I must reiterate that this was really just a legalistic thought experiment, not a serious attempt to morally rehabilitate a character guilty of some pretty toxic and abusive behaviour. But I found it an interesting exercise, if nothing else. In fact, I am actually toying with the idea of doing something similar for other characters in future.

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