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Thursday Quotables – The Silmarillion

Nonetheless the greater part of the Noldor escaped, and when the storm was past they held on their course, some by ship and some by land; but the way was long and ever more evil as they went forward. After they had marched for a great while in the unmeasured night, they came at length to the northern confines of the Guarded Realm, upon the borders of the empty waste of Araman which were mountainous and cold. There they beheld suddenly a dark figure standing high upon a rock that looked down upon the shore. Some say that it was Mandos himself, and no lesser herald of Manwë. And they heard a loud voice, solemn and terrible, that bade them stand and give ear. Then all halted and stood still, and from end to end of the hosts of the Noldor the voice was heard speaking the curse and prophecy which is called the Prophecy of the North, and the Doom of the Noldor. Much it foretold in dark words, which the Noldor understood not until the woes indeed after befell them; but all heard the curse that was uttered upon those that would not stay nor seek the doom and pardon of the Valar.

‘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 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 turn that they begin well; and by treason of kin unto kin, and the fear of treason, shall this come to pass. The Dispossessed shall they be for ever.

‘Ye have spilled the blood of your kindred unrighteously and have stained the land of Aman. For blood ye shall render blood, and beyond Aman ye shall dwell in Death’s shadow. For though Eru appointed to you to die not in Eä, and no sickness may assail you, yet slain ye may be, and slain ye shall be: by weapon and by torment and by grief; and your houseless spirits shall come then to Mandos. There long shall ye abide and yearn for your bodies, and find little pity though all whom ye have slain should entreat for you. And those that endure in Middle-earth and come not to Mandos shall grow weary of the world as with a great burden, and shall wane, and become as shadows of regret before the younger race that cometh after. The Valar have spoken.’

Then many quailed; but Fëanor hardened his heart and said: ‘We have sworn, and not lightly. This oath we will keep. We are threatened with many evils, and treason not least; but one thing is not said: that we shall suffer from cowardice, from cravens or the fear of cravens. Therefore I say that we will go on, and this doom I add: the deeds that we shall do shall be the matter of song until the last days of Arda.’

Tolkien is best known as a creator of words. But to me, his best creations are his characters. What I like about them is that they are all strong. Be they Elves, or Men (and women) or Dwarves, they all have strong personalities and they all ‘want’. They never let things happen to them, they always drive their destiny, one way or another, with such will that often borders on stubbornness.

This is particularly true for The Silmarillion, but maybe here it is more apparent because so many characters and so much story are crammed into such short book.
Yeah, yeah, I know, The Silmarillion isn’t short at all, but if you read its many chapters, you get the idea that a lot remains untold. I had that feeling reading one of my favourite chapters, The Nirnaeth Arnoediad, the Battle of the Unnumbered Tears. The reader gets the district idea that even if the battle is told in just a few pages, there’s material there not just for a novel, but for an entire trilogy. 

Tolkien did create a secondary reality that could live on its own, and I’ll be honest, The Silmarillion got me so depressed. So many stories we won’t ever read.

#Silmarillion "#Tolkien is best known as a creator of words. But to me, his best creations are his characters Click To Tweet

But what we do read is marvellous. I know that many readers, even many fans, are hesitant to read this book. It is indeed an extraordinary book, especially by today standards, but the story is so beautiful, so insightful, that whatever you feel about it, I do urge you to try and read it. 

Although it starts from very far and it covers many different things that seem unrelated to each other, this is actually a story that starts and ends. Or rather it’s a story (the Doom of the Norldor) that encompasses the totality of the Elder Days’ history, and when I came to the end of it, for the first time, I saw its design. The Silmarillion comprises many different stories that may stand on their own, but there is also a theme overarching all of them. It might be difficult to detect it at the beginning, because the story starts with the beginning of time, with a creation myth, but that narrative arc does find an end at the end of the First Age. 

No, The Silmarillion isn’t just a compilation of stories, it’s a story in itself.

Of course, we don’t need to read The Silmarillion to appreciate The Lord of the Rings, but reading The Silmarillion made the experience of The Lord of the Rings even more poignant. Nothing happens in a vacuum in Middle Earth. Everything is connected, and those connections create layers of meaning that make every story more than it would be by itself.

It’s a beautiful, terrible story.

The Silmarils and the One Ring

As I read The Silmarillion, I noticed one thing I never noticed before. The Silmarils and the One Ring are very similar and yet very different objects.

They are similar in that they charm whoever possesses them. Anyone who comes in contact with them becomes obsessed and can’t bear to part from them. They seem to have an inner life that influences the owner’s will in a way that the owner may only partly control. So people fight over them, each in their own way and for their own reasons, but still all of them feel the power of these ‘magical’ objects.

But here, the similarities end.

The One Ring was created with evil intents, so it is not surprising that it arises evil thoughts and deeds in who possesses it. Quite clearly, the One Ring is a metaphor for absolute power and the way this kind of power may bend and transform people, no matter what the initial reasons may be. I find it fascinating that the One Ring has a will of its own, and its own goals because truly Absolute Power seems to have that ability in the way it seems to corrupt anything it touches.

But what about the Silmarils? They were not created for evil purposes. They were actually a work of art, created by Fëanor’s skills and desires and love for beauty. In many respects, it was a positive creation, which kept the lights of the Trees of Valinor alive even after the Trees where destroyed, a memento of what it is no more. They don’t have their own will, they just exist. And yet their mere existence influences the will of people in a way that is not always good, and actually more often evil. 

Everyone who owns them, including Fëanor, their creator, craves for them and become jealous. It seems that everyone has a hard time sharing them with others and who comes to possess them wants them for themselves alone.

"The Silmarils and the One Ring are so similar and still so different. what is their meaning in the logic of #Tolkien's stories? #LOTR #Silmarillion Click To Tweet

To me, they don’t seem to stand for Absolute Power, as the One Ring does. They have a very different nature – positive rather than negative. They don’t ‘want’. They merely exist, though their existence is enough to wreak havoc.
What may be their meaning?

I talked about this with a friend who also is a fan, and we came up with this idea: that the Silmarils stand the lost innocence. They are something positive and good, which keep beauty and blessings that are in the past and cannot live in the present again. They don’t want to control people, yet, people crave for them and want to get them, even if keeping them is very hard. They are easy to lose, and it seems nobody is going to keep them forever.
Fëanor and his sons doomed the entirety of their people with their Oath to retrieve the Silmarils from Morgoth. Indeed nothing they did in connection with that Oath ever ended in anything positive.
When they finally disappeared from the world, and nobody could ever get them anymore, a new Age was born.
This is how I understand them. And it would be a very complex metaphor, far more complex than the One Ring, in my opinion.

What do you think? What are the Silmarils for you?

THE SILMARILLION

Ainulindalë

Valaquenta

Chapter One 
Of the Beginning of Days

Chapter Two
Of Aulë and Yavanna

Chapter Three
Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor

Chapter Four
Of Thingol and Melian

Chapter Five
Of Eldamar and the Princes of the Eldalië

Chapter Six
Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor

Chapter Seven
Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor

Chapter Eight
Of the Darkening of Valinor

Chapter Nine
Of the Flight of the Noldor

Chapter Ten
Of the Sindar

Chapter Eleven
Of the Sun and Moon and the Hiding of Valinor

Chapter Twelve
Of Men

Chapter Thirteen
Of the Return of the Noldor

Chapter Fourteen
Of Beleriand and its Realms

Chapter Fifteen
Of the Noldor in Beleriand

Chapter Sixteen
Of Maeglin

Chapter Seventeen
Of the Coming of Men into the West

Chapter Eighteen
Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin

Chapter Eighteen
Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin

Chapter Nineteen
Of Beren and Lúthien

Chapter Twenty
Of the Fifth Battle Nirnaeth Arnoediad

Chapter Twenty-One
Of Túrin Turambar

Chapter Twenty-Two
Of the Ruin of Doriath

Chapter Twenty-Three
Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin

Chapter Twenty-Three
Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin

Chapter Twenty-Four
Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath

Akallabêth

Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age



READ MY ARTICLES ABOUT TOLKIEN ON MY MEDIUM PUBLICATION


DISCLAIMER:  Of course, none of these images belongs to me. I’ve only collected them in order to share my feelings about the story, but every image belongs to its own creator. The great many of them come from Peter Jackson’s film trilogy, but classic works of the most famous Tolkien’s illustrators (I’ll just mention Alan Lee and John Howe as an example, but there are others) also appear, together with illustrations created by less known Tolkien enthusiasts.

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In post is part of the Thursday Quotables meme. If you want to discover more about this meme and maybe take part in it, head over to Bookshelf Fantasies


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