Nerdist Book Club: The Silmarillion, Part 3
By Amy Ratcliffe on July 22, 2014
Not that the book hasn’t been interesting thus far, but I feel like The Silmarillion just took a more serious turn. The world is in turmoil, and the Valar, who have been confident up to this point, have been wrecked. Melkor made a vicious attack upon Valinor that made me gasp out loud, and Fëanor crafted the Silmarils. Call me crazy, but I think those gems could be significant to the story.
Chapter 5 – Of Eldamar and the Princes of the Eldalië
The Elves settled in Beleriand; it was part of Middle-earth then, but by the time of the Third Age in Lord of the Rings, it’s been drowned and covered. Not all Elves wanted to stay though, so Ulmo turned an island into a boat and took some of them to Valinor. That scene sounds like it’s begging to be adapted into a film. While most Elves left Beleriand, some stayed and the splitting explains differences in customs and language.
The Vanyar and Noldor stuck together for a time and lived on Túna in Valar. It didn’t last because the Vanyar grew restless, but the groups flourished while they were in Túna. Finwë’s family in particular did well; they discovered the earth-gems and how to shape them. This included his son Fëanor.
Chapter 6 – Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor
While the story of Finwë and the loss of his first wife was touching, the heavy-hitting portion of this chapter is about Melkor. He’d been in solitary confinement for three ages or about 9,000 years. They don’t kid around in Valinor. Melkor appeared before the Valar/Board of Parole and lied through his teeth and said he’d changed. Manwë believed him, and Melkor was set free.
I want to highlight the high school mean girl comparison again because Melkor then roles a 20 for being sneaky and plants rumors and unhappiness. He hated the Elves more than anything and pretended to help them in order to take them down. Gollum would call him tricksy, and I would agree.
Chapter 7 – Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor
Fëanor turned his gem-making skills up to 11 and crafted the Silmarils. The three great jewels looked like diamonds and contained the blended light of the Trees of Valinor. They sound stunning, and I can’t imagine any of our gems comparing to them. Varda blessed the Silmarils so no evil could touch them, but Melkor desired them anyway and the greed gnawed at his heart. He focused all his hatred on Fëanor.
While Fëanor became more and more taken with the Silmarils, Melkor continued his work of poisoning the names of the Valar and turning the Elves to his side. He was successful for a time and even got the Noldor to craft weapons in case they needed to rebel against the Valar.
Even though the trickery of Melkor was revealed, Fëanor was banished for believing him and speaking against the Valar. I think that seems harsh, but the Valar’s actions don’t make much sense to me. Fëanor and his family went away, and the sentence cemented Melkor’s plans. The Valar don’t strike me as overly bright for beings who mostly know what’s going to happen in the world. They have a knack for playing right into Melkor’s hands.
Chapter 8 – Of the Darkening of Valinor
Melkor decided he couldn’t ruin the Valar on his own, and he recruited Ungoliant. The giant spider sounds scarier than all the other giant spiders in the world put together. She devours light, and she’s smart. Once the partnership was formed, Melkor and Ungoliant waited until the Valar were distracted by a festival, and they attacked. His destruction of the Trees of Valinor felt like a punch to the gut, and Ungoliant drinking the sap was painful. There was so much terror and sadness in just a handful of sentences that I must bow to Tolkien’s storytelling skills.
Without the Trees, darkness fell upon Valinor. It doesn’t sound like a lack of light but instead a penetrating and malicious blackness that would creep into your pores. Melkor used the darkness to his advantage and escaped. And the Valar got tricked again.
Relevance to The Hobbit and/or Lord of the Rings
Besides the Silmarils having a One Ring-like effect on Fëanor, a couple of familiar names fall into place. Galadriel, Lady of Lothlórien, was mentioned with Finwë’s family tree. She’s his granddaughter. There’s the mention of another family connection; we meet Shelob’s mother, Ungoliant. Shelob is thought to be the last child of the huge spider to trouble Middle-earth.
We also encounter the predecessor to the White Tree of Minas Tirith. Yavanna made a tree for the Elves in Túna, and the seedlings reached down through the generations.
The exploration of the light vs. dark theme continues, and reflections of that are present in both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.
“Then through Calacirya, the Pass of Light, the radiance of the Blessed Realm streamed forth, kindling the dark waves to silver and gold, and it touched the Lonely Isle, and its western shore grew green and fair. There bloomed the first flowers that ever were east of the Mountains of Aman.”
“Like the crystal of diamonds it appeared, and yet was more strong than adamant…the house of its inner fire of the Silmarils Fëanor made of the blended light of the Trees of Valinor.”
“The Light failed; but the Darkness that followed was more than loss of light. In that hour was made a Darkness that seemed not lack but a thing with being of its own: for it was indeed made by malice out of Light, and it had power to pierce the eye, and to enter heart and mind, and strangle the very will.”
– Fëanor longs to create like Melkor and Aulë. How is he different from each of them?
– Compare Fëanor’s obsession with Silmarils to Frodo and the One Ring.
– Tulkas and Ulmo didn’t think the release of Melkor was a good idea, but they didn’t bring their concerns to Manwë. Are they in any way to blame for what Melkor wrought after his release?
– The Valar didn’t tell the Elves more Children of Ilúvatar were coming. Do you think it was right for them to withhold this information?
– Do you think Ilúvatar should have interfered and stopped Melkor from destroying the Trees?
Head to the comments to discuss the questions and your thoughts about Chapters 5-8 of The Silmarillion or hit me up on Twitter. Be sure to add the #NerdistBookClub hashtag in all your social media postings so everyone can find your insightful comments.
Come back for the discussion of Part 4 next Tuesday, July 29th, at 10:30am PST. We’ll be going over Chapters 9-10.