Thursday, January 21, 2010

Blogging The Silmarillion: Melkor strikes back, and the pride and exile of Fëanor

Part three of Blogging The Silmarillion continues with chapters 6-9 of the Quenta Silmarillion.

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Say farewell to bondage! But say farewell also to ease! Say farewell to the weak! Say farewell to your treasures! More still shall we make. Journey light: but bring with you your swords! For we will go further than Oromë, endure longer than Tulkas: we will never turn back from pursuit. After Morgoth to the ends of the Earth!

—from Fëanor’s speech to the Noldor, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion


Difficult and boring. Too dry. Too much history and too many names. Not enough heat and passion.

These are some of the typical complaints often leveled at The Silmarillion. As you can probably guess I don’t have much sympathy for them, and I hope that my first two Blogging The Silmarillion posts have helped dispel the myth that nothing exciting or worthwhile happens in this book. But after 50 pages of The Silmarillion it’s not an unfair question to ask (literally and figuratively): What’s the story, JRRT?

The disappointed and befuddled critics who reviewed The Silmarillion back in 1977 wanted a main character upon whose sturdy frame the story could be told; at the outset of the book such a protagonist does not seem to exist. Instead of hobbits, we’re fed a steady diet of creation myths and lists of demigods.

But I would counter with: Did these critics and disappointed readers ever get beyond Ainulindalë and Valaquenta? And if they did, how did they miss the great, proud, headstrong, damn the torpedoes Noldorin Elf known as Fëanor? Fëanor is what I would consider the first “big name” in The Silmarillion, a larger than life hero that seems to have strode out of some wild northern legend and into the pages of Tolkien’s magnificent legendarium. He shatters the pale, washed-out, emotionless Elven stereotype that people have unfairly associated with Tolkien.

To read the rest of this post, visit The Cimmerian Web site.

10 comments:

G. Benedicto said...

Fëanor is indeed the Man! Er, I mean the Elf! One of my favorite characters from the Silmarillion, but then there's so many great characters to choose from. The only valid criticism to be leveled against this book is that Tolkien manages to cover so much territory in so few pages. Even that is a pretty weak argument, if you ask me.

Taranaich said...

Ah, Fëanor: if you ever need one individual to scatter the "effete, passionless, stuck-up Elves" stereotype, you'd be hard pressed to find a better example.

I guess it's natural that "The Curse of Fëanor" on Blind Guardian's "Nightfall in Middle-earth" is by far the most unashamedly metal on the album, considering the focus. Yes, even "Mirror Mirror", "When Sorrow Sang" and "A Dark Passage" take a back seat in my book (though "Blood Tears" comes close) Hell, that whole album's great.

David J. West said...

Hell yeah, Feanor destroys the concept of flowery androgynous elves.

Awesome post Brian, too many things for me to possibly reasonably comment on.

But an excellent point is the question of evil and Tolkien making us think. You asked what do we think-I am inclined to say its both-we can be influenced and we have our own natures/choice.

And of course we can read whatever we want into the text but I believe that's what Tolkien was saying. Such great biblical parallels, Choice and Temptation intertwined, that's life.

Eric D. Lehman said...

The choices of the Valar seem to me either a weak point in the writing, or perhaps Tolkien showing that Feanor is right in some ways to defy them.

I mean, Melkor is a god. And the Valar, his fellows, just let him run wild on the earth so he can mess up everything. Why don't THEY go after him after he kills the two trees? That's some weak sauce on their part.

I guess Feanor's real problem is that he kills/destroys other elves in the process of going after Morgoth. That's where he loses it.

Welleran said...

Feanor is a phenomenal character and the impetus for so much of the Silmarillion. Still, if I met him I'd smack him upside the head for being such a jerk!

David J. West said...

Eric- I see what you're saying, but what the Valar do, does not seem weak to me.

It allows for the opportunity of free will and choice. IF the Valar had kept Melkor forever bound there would be no story and alternately would evil have came into the world? Not trying to turn any of this into a religious debate by any means but Tolkiens personal belief structure can't be denied and therefore a theme running through his works even if unconscious (which I don't believe it was). It's hard for me to talk about this and not think of the religious parallels of Paradise Lost.

And even with what the Valar do ultimately Iluvatar/Eru still stands above the Valar and allows even them free will.

Eric D. Lehman said...

Good point, David. However, leaving aside the elves under Feanor who come back to Middle-earth from Valinor, what about everyone else there? Were they just going to let all of them (not to mention men, ents, etc) get wiped out and enslaved? Nothing could have stopped Morgoth... though Feanor's crowd came close. It is only through Feanor's "wrong" decision to return that Morgoth is slowed down in his conquest.

Maybe I'm wrong. Brian? Any thoughts?

Brian Murphy said...

Wow, great comments here. I'm glad people seem to like The Silmarillion as much as I.

G. Benedicto: In an ideal world in which JRR were an immortal Elf, he would have given every story and aside in The Silmarillion a Children of Hurin, full-length novel treatment. We can dream ...

Taranich: One of my planned asides during the Blogging the Silmarillion album was a look at Nightfall in Middle-earth. It is a great album--powerful and a lot of fun.

David and Eric: Great discussion. Actually what happens (and shame on me for not including this detail in my recap), when Melkor/Ungoliant destroy the two trees and steal the Silmarils, a handful of the Valar give chase, including a host led by Orome, as well as the mighty-thewed Tulkas. But they are foiled by the darkness which Ungoliant and Melkor weave about themselves.

Remember that the Valar, though unimaginably powerful, are not omniscient or omnipotent. Manwe is the closest to Iluvatar, but even he cannot see all ends. Again, it's hard to say at this point in The Silmarillion whether he made a mistake by freeing Melkor (because he couldn't read the evil in Melkor's heart), or whether he was being properly merciful by freeing him, knowing that doing so would ultimately work out for the good in the end.

Without spoiling things too much, the Valar do return to Middle-earth with a vengeance.

Gabriele C. said...

Thanks for another great post, Brian.

Btw, I recently reread the series about the top 10 battles, and there's still three missing. I admit I'm a bit curious as to which ones that may be. :)

Brian Murphy said...

You caught me, Gabriele. I got seriously derailed from that project and I still owe my top 3 battles :(.

I take some responsibility, but I'm going to throw a friend of mine under the bus who borrowed a book containing one of my favorite battles. While waiting for him to return it I lost momentum. I will finish it one day!

Glad you like Blogging the Silmarillion.