Friday, May 16, 2014

Mortal Craft and Immortal Desire

                There is an interesting contrast that we were not able to discuss fully in class, that of the disparate responses Melkor had to the creation of the Simarils and that of the Sun and the Moon. All three were crafted to contain part of the brilliance of the two trees, yet Melkor responded to the former with lust and avarice while he sought to destroy the latter. What was brought up in class is the nature of all three as being jewels of a sort, even though the Sun and the Moon are more accurately speaking ships that act as vessels for the remnants of the trees. Melkor is a being at this point possessed of many vices, so his desire for the Silmarils and wrath against the Sun are not out of character, but there must be more to such different responses than the mercurial nature of Melkor’s various vices.

                The Simarils were created by Feanor at the height of his craft, with no aid from Melkor nor any other of the Valar or the Noldori. Their creation is not described in detail, with Feanor somehow managing to house within them an “inner fire… made of the blended light of the Trees of Valinor.” How Feanor managed to capture the light of the two trees within the Simarils is unknown, as it is certainly not a deed he could replicate, and appears to be one beyond the powers of the Valar as well. When the Valar create the Sun and the Moon, they are able to craft only the vessels in which the light was to be borne, relying upon the remnants of the trees to supply the fruit and flower within. Feanor appears to be able to somehow take the light itself from the trees and contain that light within the Silmarils such that the gems not only shine with the light of the trees but even amplify any other light that is shone upon the gems as well.
The Simarils are unique in the light that they contain, but this alone does not explain Melkor’s lust for them. After all, Melkor led Ungoliant to Valinor to destroy the trees, the original source of the Silmaril’s radiance, so it is not the light itself that he desires. The light is also shared between the Simarils and the Sun and the Moon, so there must be something in the craft used to create the Silmarils that endows them with a distinct character from the Sun and the Moon. From this, we must turn to something that we brought up briefly in class discussion.
In our discussion we covered many aspects of jewelry, from their use in the City of God to the craft that render them form and splendor. There was something about the gems that we sought to put a name to, a certain property to the gems that was life but not quite life, magic but not quite magic. Marbode, drawing upon traditions both ancient and biblical, attributes magical properties to specific gems. In Marbode’s conception, it seems to be the gems themselves that hold this magic, with miners and jewelcrafters perhaps making the magical properties easier to access but certainly not imbuing the items with magic with their craft. Some of this magical character was attributed to the gems’ origin in Eden an assertion that can seem ludicrous with the advances in geology we have had since, but something of the Simarils’ value seems to be based on a similar conceit.
The primary difference between the Simarils and the Sun and the Moon lies indeed in their crafted origins. The Sun and the Moon had their vessels crafted by the Valar, were manned by Maiar, and were fueled by the radiance emanating from the last fruit and flower of the two trees, which were also planted and nurtured by the Valar. The Silmarils, on the other hand, were crafted entirely by Feanor’s craft, albeit with the essence of the trees captured within, but nevertheless being made primarily of mortal power. Tolkien even makes a point to draw a parallel of sorts to the rings of power, with Melkor claiming in later times to have shared the lore used to create the Simarils much as Sauron aided in the creation of the rings of power, but Tolkien here explicitly denies the involvement of anyone else in the creation of the Silmarils. This mortal agency and craft then, is crucial to both the Silmaril’s power and the lust that it arouses in Melkor.
Melkor was, after all, a fallen Valar in origin, and certainly understood the allure and power of the trees on some level. The trees were the focus of his attack on the Valar just as he tipped over the lanterns the lit the world in the first sundering of Arada. Much as the Valar value light in Arda, in his fall Melkor has become a creature of darkness, hating and fleeing from light in some cases. This explains his response to the creation of the sun and the moon, seeing light as a threat to him in his darker form and seeking to eliminate such threats as possible. He is unable, however, to reach the Sun and the Moon on his own, having “bec[o]me ever more bound to the earth” as he passed much of his power into the evil creatures that he twisted to his will. After the first assault upon the sun, Melkor knew that both the sun and the moon were beyond his power at this point, with hiding his only recourse.
Not so with the Silmarils, however. Where the sun and the moon were purely divine in origin, with the powers of the trees, Valar, and Maiar combined, the Silmarils were of mortal artifice. They contained in the light of the trees just enough of the divine to inspire wonderment and awe, and enough of the earthly, the mundane, to entice with its attainability. Melkor’s primary vice was ever his desire to dominate and master, and the Silmarils were a prime opportunity to do so. They contained a hint of the divine past that Melkor remembered, the light that was not bright enough to wound them (the hurt the Simarils wrought upon him being from Varda’s hallowing), just enough to inflame in him a rabid desire to master that which he could never create nor emanate himself anymore. The Silmarils represented to him, if you will, a sort of paradise lost, one that was tantalizingly packaged in the mortal form of gems that he could take and bind to his very crown as a symbol of his ascendency.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your post; I really enjoyed reading it! Going through it I was thinking about the power of the Silmarils and the difference between them and the sun and moon, even though they have the same source of beauty (from the trees). Do the jewels really possess an inherent in themselves, or does their power come from somewhere externally? Perhaps the “power” lies in the fallen nature of those who lust after them.
    For instance, take Thorin and the Arkenstone. The Arkenstone was lovely and sparkly and all that a gem could be (apart from the Silmarils) and it broke Thorin apart inside and he could no longer see reason rationally. Was this some power from within the Arkenstone or a fallen desire within Thorin himself?
    Melkor’s desire to destroy the sun and moon may be because of the service they provide to all things that live and grow, but he also has no power to control them. Similarly, no creature has the power to control the sun and moon but they have the same beauty that also fills the Silmarils. The Silmarils, however, are small enough and material enough to be possessed by a creature on earth.
    Anyway, just some thoughts... Thanks again for your post!