Following yesterday’s discussion, I found myself giving a lot of thought to one of the Hebrew translations for sin that we mentioned briefly in class: ‘to miss the mark’. When considering the characters from The Silmarillion and trying to match them up against this definition, I discovered that some interesting trends appeared which primarily revolved around a few, select motifs. Of these, I will touch on solitude and fire. But as one ponders the extent to which characters like Aule, Melkor, and Fëanor are sinners, one has to wonder if the level to which they are sinners correlates directly to how ‘evil’ a given character is.
In Splintered Light, Flieger makes an important point about the prevalence of the language of fire when discussing Fëanor and the restlessness of nature it implies. His intense skill and creativity have him constantly at work creating something, and he rarely is found not working (Simarillion). He is filled with an urge to create and bring new things into the world. In the case of Fëanor, early on, his works are only tinged with a hint of mastery, as might be implied from the use of the words ‘preserved imperishable’ in Tolkien’s description of Fëanor’s intention behind the Silmarils: “For Feanor, being come to his full might, was filled with a new thought, or it may be that some shadow of foreknowledge came to him of the doom that drew near; and he pondered how the light of the Trees, the glory of the Blessed Realm, might be preserved imperishable.” (Simarillion 67). His compulsion to create leads him to imprison the Light of the Two Trees in jewels which later become for his use alone: “…for though at great feasts Feanor would wear them, blazing upon his brow, at other times they were guarded close…Feanor began to love the Silmarils with a greedy love, and grudged the sight of them to all save his father and his seven sons; he seldom remembered now that the light within them was not his own” (Silmarillion 69). It is when he arrives at this final step that he fully loses sight of Eru’s target-ideal of creation for creation’s sake, not for ownership: he misses the mark.
It is a similar compulsion to bring new things into being that originally drives Melkor (arguably) and Aulë to their own ‘sins’. Melkor is eager for something to fill the empty void outside the realm of the Ainur: “He had gone often alone into the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame; for the desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own, and it seemed to him that Iluvatar took no thought for the Void, and he was impatient of its emptiness” (Silmarillion 16). One could argue that it is ultimately this impatience to create which drives him to feel he must compensate by increasing the “power and glory of the part assigned to himself” (Silmarillion 16) through adding his own themes to Iluvatar’s music. Thus, due to his restless creative impatience, he too misses the mark of Eru’s goal and makes his act rather about himself than pure creation. Aulë’s creative sin is, perhaps, the most forgivable in Eru’s eyes, as Eru chooses to prevent a willing Aulë from destroying the product of his sin. In his love and excitement for the arrival of the Children of Iluvatar, an impatient Aulë’s ever-shifting creative drive compels him to shape beings in their place: “…for so greatly did Aulë desire the coming of the Children, to have learners to whom he could teach his lore and his crafts, that he was unwilling to await the fulfillment of the designs of Iluvatar….” (Silmarillion 43). But, as a result, seven lifeless puppets are made. From his impatience, an imperfect creation is born and the anger of Eru is aroused. However, unlike Melkor or Fëanor, Aulë realizes his mistake and is willing to part with his creations in order to please Eru: “And in my impatience I have fallen in to folly. Yet the making of things is in my heart from my own making by thee; and the child of little understanding that makes a play if the deeds of his father may do so without thought of mockery, but because he is the son of his father’” (43).
Another notable trend among these three is that of solitude. Melkor often walked alone into the void to seek the Fire that made all life live (Silmarillion 16), and it is while alone that he developed ideas that further separated him from the Ainur: “But being alone he had begun to conceive thoughts of his own unlike those of his brethren” (Silmarilion 16). Additionally, all three of these characters hide their actions (Melkor comes to do so later), as if to imply that they have some inkling that what they are doing is wrong in some way. Fëanor tells no one of his attempts to capture the light of the Trees when making the Silmarils: “Then he began a long and secret labor, and he summoned all his lore, and his power, and his subtle skill; and at the end of all he made the Silmarils” (Simarillion 67). Aulë retreats deep into the Earth to make the Dwarves: “But fearing that the other Valar might blame his work, he wrought in secret: and he made first the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves in a hall under the mountains in Middle-Earth” (Silmarillion 43). All this secretive behavior seems to point to, at least on a subconscious level, some sort of self-recognition that their actions are in some way not quite what they are supposed to be, or a sin.
But the question that has been haunting me the most after considering all of this is the following: do characters stop being evil once you understand them? Is there some sort of transition that happens from seeing some sort of abominable action and calling it evil, versus understanding why someone did said action, and then calling it rather a sin? If Eru understands all of the Ainur’s actions, does he see them as sins or evil deeds? Does he see them at failed attempts of doing what he wants, or as purely self-inspired, self-motivated acts intentionally against his will? Does Eru see the restlessness creative fire within his creations/Ainur and weigh that against their guilty solitude in judging their actions? Does knowing why someone does something change how inherently evil that action is? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions….any thoughts?