Menu

user avatar

Nerdist Book Club: The Silmarillion, Part 3

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.

What happened

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.

feanor_and_silmarils_by_breathing2004-d66rrx1

Feanor and the Silmarils by breathing2004

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.

howe_Melkor and Ungoliant

Melkor and Ungoliant by John Howe

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.

Favorite quotes

“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.”

Discussion questions

– 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?

Bonus material

Interactive map of Beleriand
Silmarillion fan art by Gerwell

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.

Tags , , , , , , , , ,

41 comments

  • Okay, so, just catching up now (thanks, bar exam!). LOVE the insights in this thread.  A few thoughts before I move on to Parts 4 and 5 (hopefully back on track for next week!).
    I think we’re seeing here more of the dimensions of good versus evil that continue to develop.  Sometimes I just want to headslap the Valar with an, “Are you stupid?” But then I think the reason I might perceive things this way is that I am not pre-evil, whereas they are. As a flawed human being trying to live rightly, I have to look at what I can do and “cobble” it: I see lots of immoral options and try to choose moral ones. Because I am familiar with evil as someone capable of it, I see what Melkor is capable of.  But if I were not evil at all, I might not see the immoral ones, and I might not really see it coming.  Only a couple Valar do, but they are not willing to impose their will (which would also be an evil). 
    I think some brilliant things have been said about Feanor and his creation of the silmarils, so I won’t retread well-trod ground.  I will add, however, that I think in Feanor we see this idea of corruption, of perversion.  Feanor is the “most” as another commenter pointed out. But while his talents are a good thing, his pride and desire to possess perverted his greatest accomplishment.  That oath – that oath!  Perversion has within it this idea of turning, and I think it’s a great insight into evil, and one in line with JRRT’s thinking, that evil is not always a brash choice, a declaration of war, but an incremental turning, and often inward, to serve one’s own ends rather than something greater. Feanor turns inward and inward until he cannot perceive what is outside of himself accurately. Feanor made the silmarils, but his obsession with them unmade him.

  • Playing a little bit of catch-up…!

    I’d have to say that it certainly this section of the book that starts to let me settle into these origins easier, with the familiar names and such. I’m very happy to say that when I got to Ungoliant and her Spider-ific form, I reasoned straight away that she must be an explanation for Shelob! (Though, I did at one point think that Ungoliant *was to be* Shelob XD) Similarly, when I came across the White Tree, the familiarity bulb turned on! ^^

    The last of the questions you pose is quite an interesting predicament for me…Again it’s one of those things where you can relate the religious drawings by Tolkien (the deity allowing destruction to happen). I may just pontificate and not answer (so what’s new XD), but it’s the good ol’ fashioned good vs. evil arguments; what if good actually overcame evil completely…If they did, would they remain good in the process or as a result…If there is no evil, how do you justify the good…? And so on…

    – AM

  • Feanor is definitely one of the most interesting, multi-faceted characters in the entire histories, but no way is he my “favorite,” or even the most tragic. (For me, Turin Turimbar will always hold that miserable title.) Refusing to even try to use the light from his gems to resuscitate the Trees (even tho it was already too late); that cursed Oath that brings so much strife to so many, even after he’s dead; his sheer hubris, shown in almost everything he says or does – No, far from my favorite, for sure. Troubled (like so many in this tale) but how he handles that (or doesn’t) makes him one of my least favorite in the whole story. (One of the “little things” I like so much and which I think of whenever Feanor’s name comes up, is him asking Galadriel for a few strands of her hair to include in his making of the Silmarils. She refuses, he’s pissed, and they go their separate ways. Thousands of years and two ages later, a certain someone asks again for a single lock of her hair, and she gives him three… Her transformation over those ages could fill its own essay, easily.)

  • Oh, one more thing I wanted to mention before.

     
    In a subtle way, we’ve just gained a slightly better comprehension of Galadriel in LOTR, just from having her name and genealogy explained here. We can understand the effect she had on all the characters in LOTR, including Men, Wizards, even other Elves (at least in the movies), just from the fact that she’s referenced in the Eldamar chapter, as a Noldo elf, granddaughter of Finwe, living in Valinor.

     
    Because that means she was one who beheld the light of the Trees before the sun and the moon were made. It even says it was if her hair caught some of it. It’s the difference between the Calaquendi and the Moriquendi. Elrond never saw the Trees. Arwen never did. Legolas certainly didn’t.
    So while all elves would still be considered “fair,” I think the Calaquendi would have given off that extra magical, otherworldly air of enchantment. That extra touch of “Faerie.”

  • one other thing, sorry. Regarding Ulmo and Tulkas and even Namo as he seems like he already knows what is going to happen anyway- the valar are guided by a set of rules; boundaries called authority. That prevents them from really doing anything about it, which tolkien also points out. Melkor having no rules, can more or less do what he wants even though the consequence is that he loses much of his power and learns fear.

  • Im agreeing with bruce hear and saying that feanor is also my fav character in the whole book for several reasons. one is the circumstance of his family. It feels very human and not at elvish-at least in the films kinda way.Second is the enormus talent he had.  I really felt the loss in his corruption when melkor tricked him and identify with his fiery spirit.Three because he’s a grey character, not evil in the pure way which tolkien lately has been said to portray his characters. He’s arrogant but you understand where its coming from. lastly because the dude has balls. He confronts the valar to their face that they keep getting played by melkor and are failing at their jobs. thats like a human telling the archangel micheal he f&^%ked up on his duties. He truly is the most tragic character out of many in the entire book.
    Also melkor behaves like a sith. In starwars I always felt like the sith were more powerful force users because they break rules and are not bound by honor or respect. Melkor gets away with his shit because he is always thinking outside the box, and it takes the valar a very long time to get the point. Scary if he and palpatine teamed up lol
    I also loved feanor’s speech in tuna. thats is truly epic and is up their with rotk theoden speech from the movie in terms of creating a blood lust. Ive used its style in my writings before and it again also heightens just how truly gifted feanor was. 
    I was never sure of how old galadreil was. i read somewhere its like 40,000 years. And then i watch the Hobbit and its like damn! It also explains why she’s the most powerful elf by the third age being the only one who survives of the leaders of the rebellion. 

    • Feanor does seem more relatable than any of the rest of them, and I think that’s one reason we connect to him. He doesn’t see the world in black and white, and he doesn’t just follow the playbook because it’s predestined.

      Palaptine and Melkor would be very bad news!

  • Fëanor is one of my favorite tragic characters in The Silmarillion, because of his combination of undeniable skills, fiery temperament (forgive the pun), need for action, and obsessive personality. To me, Fëanor comes across as a type of antihero or a hero with fatal flaws. His obsessive personality and passionate disposition lead him to act rashly on key occasions but these qualities also helped him develop his skills as he eschewed the company of others as we learn, “driven by the fire of his own heart only, working ever swiftly and alone.” I can’t help but wonder if Tolkien was consciously or unconsciously influenced by the personalities of famous authors who are often idealized as innate geniuses while they work obsessively on their craft. Although he was clearly talented beyond his peers and was able to burn through Melkor’s “fair semblance” and pierces “the cloaks of his mind,” Fëanor was still susceptible to the whispered suggestions of Melkor and, like the majority of the Noldor, gave in to pride. Pride seems to lead the Noldor to suspicion and covetousness and Fëanor seems to be the hyperbolic embodiment of all of the positive and negative qualities of the Noldor. While Fëanor was never a team player and his heart was “fast bound” to his creations, we could imagine a very different chain of events had Melkor been refused pardon. In many ways Fëanor and Aulë have similar creation impulses and of all the Valar, Aulë understands what is being asked of Fëanor, “be not hasty! We ask a greater thing than thou knowest,” he says when the request is made for Fëanor to “unlock” the Silmarils. That similarity aside, Aulë would act for the greater good while Fëanor due to pride, mistrust of the Valar, and his unhealthy obsession with his greatest creations refuses the request. In this way, we can see connections to the One ring and the behavior of anyone who possesses it for a lengthy period of time; however, I believe that Fëanor’s case is slightly different in the sense that he is the inventor and that the objects are his greatest achievement. The Silmarils are tied to Fëanor’s identity and legacy and ultimately the fate of the Noldor. I don’t view Melkor as a creator or maker, but rather he is merely a corrupter.
    One passage that chokes me up each time I read it is: “Then Finwë lived in sorrow; and he went often to the gardens of Lòrien, and sitting beneath the silver willows beside the body of his wife he called her by her names. But it was unavailing; and alone in all the Blessed Realm he was deprived of joy. After a while he went to Lòrien no more.”
    Tulkas we learn mistrusts Melkor for his past deeds being slow to forget without necessarily seeing through Melkor’s deception. Ulmo on the other hand “was not deceived,” and it is somewhat surprising that he raised no objection; however Manwë is supposed to understand most clearly Ilúvatar’s designs so Ulmo may have believed that pardoning Melkor was destined by Ilúvatar. Along those lines, I believe we are invited to read much of what transpires as fate or doom since unlike a traditional novel, what we might refer to as spoilers are given throughout and lead to a sense of unfolding fate. Another possible explanation for the references is that Tolkien is attempting to recreate his text as if the stories were originally from the oral tradition and the teller could expect that some parts of the tale were already known. So, the answer is “because fate.” 

  • I felt like in the last part, Melkor got scared himself, of Ungoliant’s powers and just ran away. Maybe it’s just my overactive imagination. 
    – Fëanor longs to create like Melkor and Aulë. How is he different from each of them?
    It felt a bit more like an obsession, he saw he could make beautiful jewels so he created the best ones? I don’t really know, I have not formed an opinion just yet. Maybe it’s a special bond with an object and its creator.
    – Compare Fëanor’s obsession with Silmarils to Frodo and the One Ring.
    I see no difference, to be honest, they are both carrying burdens. 
    – 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?
    Yes, but at the same time I would think that if these two would of said something they wouldn’t of been taken seriously, it’s kind of a double edged sword. 
    – 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?
    If it were me I would of liked to know, so maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do. 
    – Do you think Ilúvatar should have interfered and stopped Melkor from destroying the Trees?
    Yes, but then again, look at our own world, and the “god” that created it, he did not get involved and stop the holocaust or 9/11 etc. 

    • You’re absolutely right about Melkor running away from Ungoliant. I felt satisfied when I read that and a small part (okay, a big part) of me hoped Ungoliant would overtake him.

      You and I agree on many of these points!

  • - 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?

    I don’t think their keeping their opinions to themselves causes them to be fully or partially responsible for what Melkor did.  Melkor is responsible for his own actions.  But I do think that Tulkas and Ulmo should’ve kept a closer eye on Melkor.  They didn’t even make the effort to warn the elves not to trust him or at least be careful around him.  After everything Melkor has done, it seems like they still don’t understand that sometimes you have to break the rules for the greater good.

  • I think the main difference between Fëanor and Frodo is the nature of the object they’re each obsessed with, and the source of the corruption in each case.
    Frodo’s obsession with the Ring comes from the Ring itself; it has a corrupting influence because of the evil spirit lurking within it. He was selfless in his choice to take it to Mount Doom, and his obsession with it is a result of the Ring’s attempts at self-preservation.
    Fëanor’s obsession with the Silmarils comes from his own pride. The Silmarils themselves aren’t inherently evil; after all, they contain the light of the Two Trees, and in hindsight it was a good idea to preserve that light in a more imperishable container, as the book put it. They were even blessed by Varda. The corruption comes when Fëanor himself becomes possessive of his creation, acting as though even the light within them was of his own doing. He was selfish in storing away the Silmarils, and his obsession with them is a result of his own hubris.
    In a way, Fëanor’s love of creation is reminiscent of Aulë’s, except I feel like Aulë loves to create things like an artist does; his love lies in the act of creating itself, and sharing it with others. Even his creation of the Dwarves was not a selfish act; he just so greatly desired to share his love and knowledge of creation with others that he couldn’t wait for the coming of the Children.
    Fëanor doesn’t strike me as the sharing type; his love of his own creation comes from a sense of pride. Melkor, on the other hand, seems to desire the power to create out of both jealousy of Ilúvatar and a thirst for mastery. Unlike Fëanor and Aulë, I don’t think he enjoys the act and the labor of creation, nor do I think would he take pride in the creation itself; I think he just wants it because it is a power he, a power-hungry being, never had, and because it gives him mastery—i.e., even more power—over that which he would create.

    • This is beautiful!  I think you’re really hit the nail on the head in what makes Feanor’s creation different. That urge to create to possess rather than just to create out of love for creating, to own rather than love – brilliant.

  • Feanor’s creation of the Silmarils is the original sin of Middle Earth, and disturbingly it recapitulates an idea in religious creation mythology which I feel is highly detrimental: the idealization of ignorance.  It isn’t Man’s (or Elven) nature which is evil, it is the desire to exceed one’s nature that results in evil.  Just as Adam and Eve’s consumption of the apple from the tree of knowledge, Feanor’s construction of the Silmarils treads upon the domain of the gods and as such results in tremendous evil both through the influence of Morgoth and through the actions of his kin.  This same idea will be revisited again by Tolkien in the Akallabeth. 

      • Hmm, maybe not, but I kind of see where TheTariqM is coming from. While I wouldn’t call it a sin, their creation ultimately leads to a lot of tragedy… however, I think Melkor would have ended up walking down the same path even without the Silmarils.

  • I was trying to think of different words for Melkor like, challenging, as in having difficulty, which makes you want to fix things rather than sit about.   Trying to understand the evilness of someone so evil .. comparing him to the evil that has eaten up Smeagol.. Maybe if its all predestined then Iluvatar would have thought this evil up in his head while singing so its inherent – once there is dark and light available, things are going to get nasty?
    Orome on his horse always reminds me of Odin on Sleipnir, and Tulkas reminds me of Thor. (marvel fan here).

  • I think Fëanor is similar to Aulë because at first he just wants to create beautiful things and share them with others, his pride makes him more like Melkor as he becomes obsessive and controlling of his creations, not letting anyone but his sons see the Silmarils.
    I really enjoyed the fact that once Melkor was released,  Tulkas constantly wanted to punch him in the face. :) I’d probably feel the same way. 

  • - Fëanor is described as the Most of all elvenkind, best, brightest, smartest, craftiest, etc. He defines “hubris” in Tolkien’s world, though it’s no mere boasting, he was made that way by Ilúvatar. I’m struck over and over by the way in which Eru knowingly introduces strife and hardship into Eä. –The Silmarils power & beauty corrupt like the One Ring, but Frodo didn’t make his burden, though he took it on willingly.- Tulkas and Ulmo cannot be held accountable for not sharing their fears. Ulmo rarely interfered with the business of the Valar and Tulkas was probably thought to be too hot-headed anyway, which he likely knew, and so their counsel would’ve likely gone unheeded. They both knew Manwë essentially spoke for Ilúvatar- Who are we to judge what God should or shouldn’t share with his creations?- Ilúvatar knew the fate of the Trees before they were even grown. Their destruction was simply part of how the eternal battle between light & darkness would unfold. If he had intervened, the sundering and darkening would’ve come anyway

  • You know I’ve never seen that art of Feanor before, it’s quite stunning.
    I’m also glad you posted that iconic (well, for Tolkien fans iconic) John Howe art of Melkor and Ungoliant. It’s a fantastic, classic Silmarillion image.
    Regarding Feanor, he’s always been an interesting character to me, because he’s possibly the most intense figure in Arda’s history, that I can remember. In Star Wars, he would be prime Sith material, with how easily he is swayed by his passions, how quick his temper and how vast his pride. They don’t call him the spirit of fire for nothing.
    Also, another point of relevance to LOTR, it basically implies Feanor created the Palantiri here, “and other crystals he made also, wherein things far away could be seen small but clear, as with the eyes of the eagles of Manwe.” These are the seeing stones, such as Saruman had.
    I think the main difference with Feanor’s obsession with the Silmarils and Frodo’s with the ring is that the Silmarils, iirc, don’t make him physically and mentally waste away. After all, they’re gems filled with the Trees light and blessed by Varda, whereas the Ring contains Sauron’s malice and will.
    Also, I like the imagine Ulmo and Tulkas did bring their concerns to Manwe, but as has been established, Manwe doesn’t comprehend evil, so his judgment stood. And as it says, they obeyed his judgment, “for those who will defend authority against rebellion must not themselves rebel.”

    • John Howe’s art is so incredible!

      Thank you for pointing out the connection to the Palantiri. I didn’t even pick up on that.

      I totally hear you about Ulmo and Tulkas, but man, I wish they had some rebellious spirit in them.