First, an apology. I woke up yesterday with every intention of the usual Wednesday Silmarillion Recap post. But unforeseen forces consumed all of my time yesterday, making it impossible. Today, however, is a new day. So, without further ado…
Melkor has left Valinor in disrepair (and during a party, too), and Fëanor is on a quest for his own brand of revenge. Things are about to get very ugly…
Quenta Silmarillion: Chapter 9
Yesterday, Valinor was one of the most idyllic lands anyone could imagine. Now, it is in ruin. The two Trees that lit the land are dead. The Wells of Varda are dry. Everything is dark. Only the stars provide light, and only because Manwë has blown away the thick Darkness that Ungoliant (the giant, evil spider) left behind.
But amid the tears, there’s a sudden glimmer of hope as Yavanna (tree-loving Vala) remembers something.
Before getting on bad terms with everyone, Fëanor created the Silmarils, three beautiful, unique gems. What makes them so beautiful and unique? Light from the two Trees of Valinor. The ones that are now dead.
Yavanna clings to the hope that maybe, just maybe, Fëanor will give up the selfishness that’s riven his relationship with the Valar and many of the other Elves. You know, the needs of the many…?
At first, Fëanor doesn’t respond to the request. And understandably. Yes, he does have a selfishness problem, but the Valar are asking him to give up his greatest treasure.
Aulë, the Vala who loves creating things (like Dwarves), understands that well and sticks up for him. In Aulë’s experience, though, he also learned that sometimes we have to give things up… and that, sometimes, by giving things up, we still end up with what we wanted. Or we find that it’s worth the cost. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that Fëanor knows about Aulë and the Dwarves, and there’s no indication that Aulë shares his experience. How different the story might be if he had…
Instead, words that Melkor whispered creep into Fëanor’s mind: The Valar want the Silmarils and will do anything to take them. They’re not safe.
So Fëanor lashes out at the Valar. “This thing I will not do of free will,” he shouts at them. “But if the Valar will constrain me, then shall I know indeed that Melkor is of their kindred” (Tolkien 84).
Surely the Valar are hurt and disappointed. All they wanted was to bring the Elves that they had waited for and fought for to just enjoy their beautiful land. Now, everything has fallen apart and one of their beloved Elves is seething with anger and shouting at them.
It’s in this awful moment that things get worse.
Word from Fëanor’s home: Melkor has been there. Still hidden in Ungoliant’s Darkness, he has killed Finwë (Fëanor’s dad), stolen the Silmarils (which he’s wanted all along), and fled.
And Melkor immediately becomes the focus of Fëanor’s wrath again. In fact, he curses Melkor’s name and gives him a new one: Morgoth, “the Black Foe of the World.” This is all the Eldar (the Elves from Valinor) will call him from now on.
Speaking of Melkor/Morgoth, he’s already out of Valinor and nearly to Angband, one of his old strongholds. And Ungoliant, who’s now quite the daunting figure even to a Vala, is still hungry. Since Melkor promised he’d give her whatever she wanted if she was still hungry after sucking the life out of the Trees, Ungoliant decides that she wants the Silmarils. Of course Melkor doesn’t want to give them to her, but she refuses to take no for an answer, so she wraps him in a web. That’s when Melkor lets out a scream that literally is so desperate that the echoes can still be heard in that region years afterwards. Fortunately for him, the Balrogs (his servants) back in his lair hear his cry and save him from Ungoliant. Safe at home, Melkor sits back, puts the Silmarils in a crown, and starts calling himself the King of the World. (Look out, Leonardo DiCaprio.) But this isn’t the end of Melkor’s problems.
Meanwhile, Fëanor calls together the Noldor, which he isn’t supposed to do because he’s in exile. And he riles them up against both the Valar and Melkor/Morgoth. After all, if the Valar can’t protect their own lands from their own enemy, what good are they? Things were better before they came to Valinor. So that’s where their headed. Home to Middle-earth. Where they can seek revenge.
Some of the Noldor immediately jump on the bandwagon. Some (like Fingolfin, Fëanor’s half-brother) speak out against it. Some try to get everyone to just take a deep breath and think a little more clearly (like Finarfin, another of Fëanor’s half-brothers). Some just want to leave (like Galadriel — yes, the Galadriel, who happens to be Finarfin’s daughter).
It’s not long before Fëanor wins the fight, dragging most of the Noldor with him. (Though some, like Fingolfin, regret it every step of the way.)
As he packs up to go, though, Manwë (leader of the Valar) sends a message. Heartbroken over everything that’s happened, Manwë (and the rest of the Valar, essentially) beg Fëanor not to go. He has no idea what sort of sorrow is ahead, and the Valar won’t be there to save them. Fëanor doesn’t listen. He’s just as mad at them as he is at Morgoth, and he’s determined to take matters into his own hands.
As the Noldor trek northwards, Fëanor realizes a problem with his plans. He will need ships to reach Middle-earth. Fortunately, he knows a group of Elves who love building them: the Teleri. But when he asks the Teleri for help, they sympathize but refuse to be part of Fëanor’s plan. They still love the Valar and have no intentions of leaving Valinor.
Fëanor refuses to take no for an answer. He slaughters the Teleri, takes their ships, and runs. This massacre becomes known as the Kinslaying at Alaqulondë, and it will be important in chapters to come.
After this, Mandos (Vala who judges and keeps the houses of the dead) shows up at a distance and proclaims the Doom of the Noldor:
Tears unnumbered ye shall shed; and the Valar will fence Valinor against you, and shut you out, so that not even the echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains. On the House of Fëanor the wrath of the Valar lieth from the West unto the uttermost East, and upon all that will follow them it shall be laid also. Their Oath [to take down Morgoth] shall drive them, and yet betray them, and ever snatch away the very treasures that they have sworn to pursue. To evil end shall all things to that they begin well; and by treason kin unto kin and the fear of treason, shall this come to pass. The Dispossessed shall they be for ever … [T]hose that endure Middle-earth and come not to Mandos [through death] shall grow weary of the world as with a great burden, and shall wane, and become as shadows of regret before the younger face [Men] that cometh after. The Valar have spoken. (Tolkien 96)
Upon hearing this, Finarfin and some of his followers immediately turn back and beg the Valar’s forgiveness, which they readily give. But the rest don’t. They continue on, even though they have a glimpse of what lays ahead.
Before the chapter ends, Fëanor makes one last fateful decision. On their trek to Middle-earth, the Noldor reach a part that requires the use of the ships they stole from the Teleri. Unfortunately, though, there aren’t enough ships for everyone to go at one time, so Fëanor abruptly takes the ships, fills them with everyone most loyal to him, and leaves before the others know what happened. Then, Fëanor torches the ships, laughing maniacally and leaving Fingolfin, Finrod (Finarfin’s son), and Galadriel (yes, the Galadriel; Finarfin’s daughter) stranded with part of the Noldor. (What did Mandos just say about “treason kin unto kin”?)
But Fingolfin, Finrod, and Galadriel are tougher than Fëanor ever would have guessed. They find a way through the impossibly harsh, icy terrain. And they don’t forget what Fëanor did to them.
Next week, the “meanwhile, back in Middle-earth” segment filled with fighting, Dwarves, and that elusive Thingol.