Want to catch up on The Silmarillion so far? Check out the Silmarillion Recaps page here.
Last week, Morgoth was thoroughly defeated by the Valar and their allies, and Eönwë (Manwë’s herald) was charged with protecting the two Silmarils pried from Morgoth’s crown. This week, Fëanor’s sons make a fateful decision to bring their quest for the Silmarils to an end.
Quenta Silmarillion Chapter 24 part 9
In the aftermath of the War of Wrath, Middle-earth is a changed place. Not only is the topography (especially in the north) different, but one more major change is about to take place.
The Elves who have been living in Middle-earth live here under one of two circumstances: 1., they never left for Valinor so they have only ever lived in Middle-earth, or 2., they are Noldor and came to Middle-earth on a vengeful and cursed quest to retrieve the Silmarils from Morgoth. For the second group, the quest is now complete. Two of the Silmarils are under the Valar’s protection and the other is safe with Eärendil (who lives in Valinor). Now they will return where they belong… and without passive-aggressive Fëanor, the light of the Two Trees that Morgoth destroyed can be shared with everyone again.
So with this quest complete, it’s time for the Elves to go to Valinor, especially the Noldor who will be judged.
However, in the pattern of Fëanor, his two remaining sons — Maedhros and Maglor — refuse to comply. They have another plan in mind: to take the Silmarils. In fact, when Eönwë tells them that it’s time to go, they instead ask for the Silmarils. Eönwë clearly explains that their father’s claim to them is over thanks to all of the evil they’ve done. (Have they already forgotten how they killed Dior in cold blood?) Only the Valar can relinquish the Silmarils, and the only way they would consider it is if Maedhros and Maglor are judged for their actions.
After hearing this, Maglor wants to go. According to him: “The oath says not that we may not bide our time, and it may be that in Valinor all shall be forgiven and forgot, and we shall come into our own in peace.” (Tolkien 304)
Maedhros couldn’t disagree more. The oath still stands. Besides, what if the Valar decide to keep the Silmarils? They surely won’t let anyone wage war in Valinor again after all that’s happened. Besides, they swore by Ilúvatar himself, so nothing can release them. Maglor rebuts that they are doomed to “Everlasting Darkness” either way, so they might as well just break the oath and try to live in peace, but Maglor isn’t as strong as his brother. Soon, he gives in and they slip into camp to steal the Silmarils.
In disguise, Maedhros and Maglor make it all the way to Eönwë and the group that has been protecting the Silmarils. There, they kill all of the guards and prepare for a fight. However, Eönwë refuses to let them die or to fight them. Perhaps he knows what will happen as the brothers flee camp, each with a Silmaril for himself.
However, the brothers don’t make it far before trouble starts. The Silmarils begin to actually burn the brothers’ hands — something that has never happened with the Silmarils before. As they think it through, they realize it’s because they have no right to them anymore. The whole oath and their actions are in vain. They’ve already sealed their fate.
In his misery, Maedhros ends up throwing the Silmaril and himself into a fiery chasm. Maglor heaves the Silmaril into the Sea but doesn’t kill himself. He just wanders the shores of Middle-earth alone, filled with regret and still stinging from his wounds.
And so, as seems apropos, one of the Silmarils ends up in the earth (thanks to Maedhros), one in the Sea (thanks to Maglor), and one in the sky (with Eärendil during his nightly voyages). Thus the story of the Silmarils, Fëanor, and his sons come to an end.
Next week, Morgoth’s fate, the lasting effects of the War of Wrath, and the end of the “Quenta Silmarillion.”