Feanor has always been my favorite character in the Legendarium, and it has always been extremely difficult for me to pin down what exactly is is about him that fascinates me. It wasn’t until after the discussion in Monday’s class, where the language Tolkien uses to describe the Silmarils themselves was examined, that something began to form in my mind. It may be too far ‘out there’ but I find it incredibly interesting, so why not write a blog post on it.
At the beginning of “On the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor,” the crystal of the Silmarils is compared the bodies of Elves and Men: “Yet that crystal was to the Silmarils but as is the body to the Children of Iluvatar: the house of its inner fire, that is within it and yet in all parts of it, and is its life.” The Silmarils have a life to them beyond what we would attribute to a gemstone, which is especially fitting, considering the role which they play in the history of Middle Earth. What I was immediately reminded of were descriptions of Feanor himself. Of all the figures in the Legendarium, he is the one whose spirit receives most dicussion.
Feanor is called the Spirit of Fire; his birth name is Curufinwe. His mother Miriel retires to Mandos after his birth, claiming that he has sapped her of her strength. Surrounding Feanor’s birth, though, is some language of creation that would seem to belong more with an artifact being made than the birth of a living creature. Miriel was a great weaver, “for her hands were more skilled to fineness than any hands even among the Noldor” (Of Feanor). She puts forth a strength into him that could have supported many children, and so a fire burns within him that gives him this nickname, and also sets him apart from the other Noldor.
Rereading this passage, the only “things” within the Legendarium that really compare to this description of Feanor are the Silmarils. Both are well-crafted and beautiful, and both are filled with a light unlike that found in others of their kind. It is important that Feanor is always filled with fire, and not light, while the Silmarils are connected with fire most prominently in the cited passed from “On the Silmarils”. While the Silmarils are unbroken and cannot be handled by anything evil, Feanor is marred.
In “On the Sun and the Moon” his fall is described, “And they mourned not more for the death of the trees than for the marring of Feanor: of the works of Melkor one of the most evil. For Feanor was made the mightiest of all parts of body and mind, in valour, in endurance, in beauty, in understanding, in skill, in strength and in subtlety like, of all the Children of Iluvatar, and a bright flame was in him.” If the Silmarils were actually living creatures, they would be described like this. In addition, Feanor’s fall isn’t described as a fall here, but as a marring,and like the death of the Two Trees. The Trees themselves have gemlike qualities, being silver and gold and full of light.
Feanor seems more like a gem than an Elf, in many ways. The great difference between the two is that the gems in Middle Earth remain unbroken and fundamentally good, while Feanor’s fall (or marring) cannot be denied. There are several reasons that could be suggested for this. The most obvious being that Feanor isn’t actually a gemstone, but an elf with free will. This aside, there is also the peculiar instance of his death, where Feanor’s body burns away because the fire of his spirit was too much. It’s as though the crystal of his body was not strong enough to contain the fire of spirit, though he was a Child of Iluvatar.
A possible solution to this might be that as Feanor turns from Iluvatar and his spiritual connection to the Silmarils, he is no longer this perfect, well-formed creation and so the fire of his soul slowly erodes his body as his acts become more evil. If gemstones in Tolkien’s universe are, as we discussed in class, deeply religious objects that serve as physical connections to heaven, then as Feanor loses this connection his own gem-like qualities start to disappear, and his inner fire gradually consumes him.
Thinking of Feanor in these terms, part crafter and part crafted thing, helps make sense of how well he is put together, his burning spirit, the dissolving of his body, his marring (and that this marring is an act of evil) and the fact that “the works of wonder for the glory of Arda that he might otherwise have wrought only Manwe might in some measure conceive” (Of the Sun and the Moon). As a maker he lost his spiritual bond to the divinity of the Silmarils, and as a made thing he was marred, much as the trees were, and by the same malice.