Friday, May 12, 2017

The Possession of Jewels

Light is very important in Tolkien’s legendarium. It is intimately connected with life, wisdom, and good. It is Eru’s possession of light in the form of the Secret Fire, which gives him the unique capability to bestow life. Life not imbued with this flame, as the life created by Melkor, will simply be a mockery of true life, and will not possess consciousness or free will. Similarly for the Calaquendi, the elves who saw the light of the two trees of Valinor, this light endows them with wisdom, knowledge, and greatness not possessed by the Moriquendi, the dark elves. Lastly light is deeply connected to good, and thus serves as a sign of hope and nobility. Light is harmful to and hated by the servants of Sauron and Morgoth and Sauron is described as a great shadow, while of Lothlorien it is said that “A light was upon it for which his [Frodo’s] language had no name” (341). 

This importance of light, explains the importance of jewels in Tolkien’s stories, as they are described as containing their own light. The description of the Silmarils is that “even in the darkness of the deepest treasury the Silmarils of their own radiance shown like the stars of Varda; and yet, as were they indeed living things, they rejoiced in light and received it and gave it back in hues more marvelous than before” (67). Similarly, in The Hobbit the description of the Arkenstone is “The great jewel shone before his feet of its own inner light, and yet, cut and fashioned by the Dwarves, who had dug it from the heart of the mountain long ago, it took all the light that fell upon it and changed it into ten thousand sparks of white radiance shot with glints of the rainbow.” (256). Thus, jewels not only reflect their own light, but they shine with a light of their own. This explains the significance of jewels in the stories, and why they are marks of nobility and bringers of hope. However, despite this, jewels often lead characters to evil ends in Tolkien’s stories.

The idea of being the rightful possessor of something is very important in Tolkien’s legendarium. It is said that one of the reasons that Sauron is unable to overwhelm the will of Denethor through the Palantír, is that Denenthor, as the steward of Gondor, is the rightful possessor of the stone, while Saruman is not. Even the ring of power is considered to rightfully belong to Sauron, and can only be wielded to the full extent of its power by him. However, the same cannot be said of jewels. In fact, anyone who claims dominion over a jewel in Tolkien’s stories is usually destined for death and misfortune, even if it appears that the jewels should be theirs by right. 

For instance, in the story of the Silmarils, Fëanor’s decision to claim ownership of the Silmarils and vow destruction on any who withholds them from him, leads not only to his death, but also much pain and suffering for all who follow him. This occurs, even though by all indication, Feanor should be the rightful owner of the Silmarils, he is, after all, their creator. This indicates that their is something inherently wrong in claiming ownership of a jewel, which does not extend to other manufactured objects in Tolkien’s universe. 

A similar story plays out when with Thorin and the Arkenstone. Thorin too claims the Arkenstone as rightfully his, and swears vengeance on any who withholds it, and once again this decision leads only to suffering and tragedy, Thorin is soon after killed in the Battle of the Five Armies. Once again, Thorin is the rightful heir and thus it would seem that the Arkenstone should be his by right, and yet the trajectory of the story seems to suggest otherwise. Unlike other objects where being the rightful heir to them is usually enough to make the claim of ownership good and undisputed, this does not seem to hold true for jewels. 

A suggestion of why this is true, may come from their intimate connection with light. Who has the right to possess light is a short list in Toklien’s stories. Men do not even have the right to look on the light of Valinor. Elves have the right to dwell in light, but not to possess it. Thus, even though Galadriel has long preserved Lothlorien, when presented with the ring of power, she passes the test in not claiming that light for herself. Even though she has a vision of herself becoming the queen of light, she recognizes that the right thing to do is to allow herself and Lothlorien to fade. The Valar dwell in light and can be great fashioners of light - Aulë fashions the lamps of Arda, Yavanna creates the trees of Valinor, and Varda fashions the stars. However, the true possessor of light can only be said to be Eru who possesses the light of creation. Even Varda, who amongst the Valar is most associated with light, is described as shining with the light of Eru. Thus, light in Tolkien’s universe belongs to Eru along, and therefore cannot be claimed by any other. 

This explains why jewels do not seem to rightfully belong to any in middle earth, as objects of light, they can only truly belong to Eru. It also explains why the claiming of them always leads to evil. All evil in middle earth can be seen as acts that desire to possess or destroy light. This may come in the form of desiring to possess the light in each living being, either through the desire to create life or the desire to dominate other people’s wills, but it also comes in other forms. Thus, Melkor and Ungolient’s act of evil in the destruction of the two trees of Valinor or the Numenorean’s evil in desiring the possess Valinor for themselves. Since jewels too are an embodiment of light, claiming them is also an act of evil akin to the claiming of another’s will. Thus, though jewels can be freely given, just as one can freely give one’s will to another as an oath of allegiance, they cannot be claimed. For to claim one is an attempt to usurp the supremacy of Eru. 

Works Cited
Tolkien, J. R. R., and Christopher Tolkien. The Silmarillion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. Print.Tolkien, J. R. R. The Hobbit. New York: Ballantine, 2001. Print.Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999. Print.

- Elise DF 

1 comment:

  1. This makes perfect sense! Jewels as the "embodiment of light" (nice phrase!), which it is evil to attempt to possess since light belongs to Eru alone. What does this say about light? That is it divine/divinity? So evil becomes the attempt to possess the divine? RLFB