Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why do we care about the Silmarils?

            The Silmarils have fascinated me not only for their substance and nature, but also because of the immense value and importance placed upon them. Wars were fought and genocide was committed over these gems. You cannot help but wonder why. For me, there seems to be two different sets of people devoted to these gems: the characters in the legendarium and people in “the real world.” Naturally, we covet these stones for different reasons, but yet we all covet them nonetheless. While the beings in Tolkien’s legendarium value the silmarils due to their connection with light, Eru, and Aman, people in our age value them for not only material reasons, but also for reasons similar to the elves and men of Middle-Earth. There is one common theme though that Silmarils evoke in us all: the capacity for hope and a new beginning.
            After the destruction of the great trees of Valinor, Telperion and Laurelin, all that was truly left of the pure, unmarred light of Arda was left in the Silmarils. While the sun and the moon were used to compensate for the loss of the two trees, they were not up to par. Only the Silmarils, as prophesized by Mandos, could be used to remake the trees as they will be after Dagor Dagorath. Arda was forever truly marred by the loss of the light in a way that resembles the loss of Paradise. In the Silmarils is tied the key to salvation and the greatness of Eru. This is why for the beings of Arda, excluding Melkor, Fëanor, and his kin, whom will be discussed later, the Silmarils matter so much. Evil, Melkor, triumphed that day in a way the Valar could not undo. It is not the superficial value of the gems that attract both evil and good creatures nor even the craftsmanship of Fëanor, which is regarded as impressive. It is the purity of the Blessed Land in its entirety.
            Melkor covets the Silmarils because they represent all that he searched in vain for. The Silmarils, described as almost living beings in The Silmarillion, are inhabited by the Flame Imperishable, which Melkor searched in vain for in The Void before he descended down to Arda. Melkor, unlike Sauron who wanted the power to dominate the wills of the Children of Ilúvatar, wanted the power to create, a power that was native and unique to Eru. The Silmarils are the embodiment of that spirit of creation. If Melkor simply wanted to destroy the light of the trees and Valinor, he would have destroyed the Silmarils, but he did not. He put them in his crown and wore them. Why would someone put something they despise (light) as their symbol on their forehead? They represent his triumph not only of his successful theft, but also of his claimed usurpation of Eru. He finally found the embodiment of the Flame Imperishable, though he has not real control over it. While Melkor would have attempted to destroy the light of the trees anyway as he did with the two lamps, his theft and hunger for the Silmarils stems not from a distaste of light, but from his corrupt desire for divine power.
            Fëanor and to some extent his kinfolk’s lust for Silmarils is slightly more confusing. Fëanor’s desire seems to stem from his pride, distrust, and from the sheer amount of his being he put into the stones. Fëanor, recognizing the beauty of his creations, believed that the Valar or his kinsman would try to steal the Silmarils from him. Eventually, once the trees were destroyed by Melkor, he saw the Valar’s request for Silmarils as confirming this fact. His desperate pursuit of Silmarils that would, in the end, claim his life is reminiscent of Gollum’s treatment of the One Ring. Fëanor is addicted to the Silmarils in the same way Gollum is to the Ring. He needs them; he craves them; they are all he thinks about. Fëanor’s plight regarding the Silmarils is unique most likely because he is their creator. He poured so much of his internal feä into the gems that he cannot be apart from them. Like an addiction, they have consumed him. He is unable to be whole again until he has that distant part of him returned.

            The history of gems we discussed in class today (5/14/2014) resonated a great deal with the story of the Silmarils. Gems in our world were believed to have magical properties, as told to us by Marbode of Rennes, and were thought to have comes from the East from the Garden of Eden (or if we like the Blessed Land, Aman). These heavenly stones, which will adorn the saints on the day of resurrection and cover the new city of God (Revelation 21-22), attract us mortals. Men have always associated precious stones with powers and religious experiences (see “Pearl” in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl and Sir Orfeo). The promise of a bright, shiny future and return of goodness to the world brings hope to drive away the darkness. Is Aman not similar to the Garden of Eden? Is the second music of the Ainur not similar to the second coming of Christ? I know we are to avoid allegory at all cost, but to note parallels is important. We care about gems not only because of the social status and material wealth, but because of the promise of wonder and amazement we bring. If only our diamonds shined as bright as the Silmarils.

-Elliott Snyder

1 comment:

  1. Nice reflection on the significance of the Silmarils—I particularly like your reading of them as “ the embodiment of that spirit of creation,” and this is why Melkor displays them as proof of his creative might. I am a little confused as to what constitutes “the real world” for you (is this is scare quotes because you yourself are not sure, or because the boundaries between primary and secondary realities are blurring here?). Is it the distinction between us and middle earth, or between Silmarillion and LoTR?

    At any rate, I like the parallel you draw between Feanor and Gollum's obsessions being their own downfalls, although Gollum did not create the One ring (one might even say, it created him!), and the manner in which you come full circle to note that the stones are a reminder of creative power and promise!