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Old 03-03-2007, 12:30 PM   #1
Late Istar
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Sting Silmarillion - Chapter 09 - Of the Flight of the Noldor

This is something of a grim chapter. It is the first (but certainly not last) place in the Silmarillion where we have the ‘good guys’ committing grave misdeeds.

Many events are told in rapid succession here. We have Feanor’s decision not to yield the Silmarils, the death of Finwe and the theft of the jewels, the quarrel of Melkor and Ungoliant, Feanor’s speech in Tirion, the Kin-slaying at Alqualonde, the burning of the ships at Losgar, and finally the crossing of the Helcaraxe by Fingolfin’s host. This has always struck me as a tale that could have borne a longer treatment, like that given to some of the later tales. In fact, Tolkien did at one point begin to write an alliterative “Flight of the Noldor”, but abandoned it after 146 lines.

The tale of the Flight of the Noldor is in a sense a story of a Fall, like, for example, the story of Adam and Eve. But it is more complex than a simple story of temptation and sin. What is interesting here is that the Noldor are reacting against Melkor. They have not been seduced by evil so much as they have been incited by evil. What do you think it says about the nature of good and evil in Tolkien’s world that such atrocities as the Kin-slaying are committed by people working against the ‘devil’ figure rather than with him?

Like previous chapters, this one began as a short section in the ‘Sketch of the Mythology’ summarizing the earlier ‘Lost Tales’ version of the story and was expanded in the subsequent ‘Quenta Noldorinwa’ and ‘Quenta Silmarillion’ stages. Again, the final post-LotR version combined elements from the ‘Quenta Silmarillion’ and ‘Annals of Aman’ texts. Tolkien’s latest revision of the ‘Quenta Silmarillion’ extended only part of the way through this chapter (up to the Thieves’ Quarrel). Perhaps because he feared a stylistic clash when the revised section ended, Christopher Tolkien eliminated many of the ‘fuller’ touches his father added in this last revision. To give one example, while the report of Maedhros concerning the death of Finwe and theft of the Silmarils is paraphrased in the published version, in the latest QS text it is given as a direct quote.

In his late writings, Tolkien often touched upon the events of this chapter, often putting events in a new light and sometimes indicating proposed changes to the narrative. A notable example is the story of the death of Feanor’s youngest son told in notes associated with ‘The Shibboleth of Feanor’.

Additional Readings
Unfinished Tales – ‘The History of Galadriel and Celeborn’ offers several different views of Galadriel’s role in the Flight of the Noldor.
HoMe I – Earliest version
HoMe III – The abandoned alliterative ‘Flight of the Noldor’
HoMe IV, V – Pre-LotR versions
HoMe X – Post-LotR revisions.
HoMe XII – ‘The Shibboleth of Feanor’ discusses the events of this chapter extensively.
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Old 03-09-2007, 05:06 PM   #2
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Pipe Mainly concerning Fëanor

This section probably demonstrates Tolkien's sophisticated approach to good and evil better than any other, in that it clearly spells out that even direct opposition to an evil force itself becomes evil unless its means and ends are good. The central players of this chapter are clearly Fëanor and his sons, who draw other characters along in their wake as they race towards destruction. Therefore we open the chapter as witnesses in the Ring of Doom as the Valar and many of the Eldar gather around the ravaged Trees. Here Tolkien presents us with what is a familiar theme in his writings: a choice which must be made between two things of beauty. Yavanna announces:
'...The light of the Trees I brought into being, and within Eä I can do so never again. Yet had I but a little of that light I could recall life to the Trees, ere their roots decay; and then our hurt should be healed, and the malice of Melkor be confounded.'
If Fëanor can bring himself to sacrifice the Silmarils, the Two Trees can be revived, but his love for his own work will not allow him even to confound the will of his greatest enemy. But even in this apparently simple conversation there are clever narrative devices at play in the order of speech and the personages of the speakers. Hence the first to speak is Yavanna, who presents the problem; second is Manwë, who places the responsibility for answering her on Fëanor. Typically, the third speaker is the impetuous Tulkas, with his unhelpful questions: "...who shall deny Yavanna? And did not the Silmarils come from her work in the beginning?" As is so often the case, Tulkas points out the justice of a situation, but in a manner guaranteed to provoke opposition. The mediating voice is Aulë the smith, who alone speaks for Fëanor: "We ask a greater thing than thou knowest." Next to speak is Fëanor himself, who rails against the Valar and finally issues an insulting ultimatum: "This thing will I not do of free will. But if the Valar will constrain me, then I shall know indeed that Melkor is of their kindred."

Here Fëanor presages an argument that he will use later in the chapter: that the Valar are all related, and that therefore they all share to some extent in Melkor's culpability. This is a common feature in the Icelandic family sagas, in which the extended family and those allied to it by marriage or fostering form a collective of interest, which is responsible for the actions of each individual member. Indeed, the first Lost Tales version of this chapter uses the dramatic shifts from past to present tense at times of action and the run-on sentences with their multitude of 'and's that are the most striking features of the saga style to a modern English reader. Clearly Fëanor is unfair in his accusation: the other Valar have taken no part in Melkor's assault other than to allow him to escape and to fail in his capture. To suggest that they in some way share his inclination simply to take what he wants is counter to all that they have done up to this point, but even were we prepared to accept Fëanor's accusation, Mandos, whose purpose as Doomsman is to pronounce collective decisions, announces: "Thou hast spoken." The Valar will not contest Fëanor's will, but this will prove irrelevant. The Silmarils are beyond their reach in any case.

Fëanor's speech to the Noldor is also significant, since he returns to the subject of the Valar's kinship.

'Why, O people of the Noldor,' he cried, 'why should we longer serve the jealous Valar, who cannot keep us nor even their own realm secure from their enemy? And though he be now their foe, are not they and he of one kin? Vengeance calls me hence, but even were it otherwise I would not dwell longer in the same land with the kin of my father's slayer and the thief of my treasure.
Fëanor, then, transfers the blame for his father's death from the absent Melkor (by this time given his more familiar byname) to the Valar in general. He behaves as we might expect one of uncertain temper to act after the death of a close relative. It is clear from his words that he is hardly thinking about what he says, but throughout the chapter, as his words and actions become wilder his rhetorical power only increases. His speech here culminates in the dreadful oath, which I quote below in the form given in The Annals of Aman:
Be he foe or friend, be he foul or clean,
brood of Morgoth or bright Vala,
Elda or Maia or Aftercomer,
Man yet unborn upon Middle-earth,
neither law, nor love, nor league of swords,
dread nor danger, not Doom itself,
shall defend him from Fëanor, and Fëanor's kin,
whoso hideth or hoardeth, or in hand taketh,
finding keepeth or afar casteth
a Silmaril. This swear we all:
death we will deal him ere Day's ending,
woe unto world's end! Our word hear thou,
Eru Allfather! To the everlasting
Darkness doom us if our deed faileth.
On the holy mountain hear in witness
and our vow remember, Manwë and Varda!
This is, of course, written in alliterative meter, and a substantial post could be made simply by analysing the various verse techniques that Tolkien used in this one section. There is, for example, alliteration on Darkness, doom and deed, a common use of alliteration in Anglo-Saxon and Norse poetry being to provide links between significant words. The deed in question will indeed bring darkness and doom, even before it fails. The verse makes extensive use of triads: hence 'law', 'love', 'league of swords': none of the powers that normally preserve social order will stop them; 'dread', 'danger', 'Doom itself': even the highest judgement will not stand in their way - an impossible boast, even for Fëanor. Impossibility is, of course, the point of this oath: as we will later be reminded by Manwë's herald, Fëanor and his people will stand no chance of achieving their ends. At its very outset, the quest of the Silmarils is doomed to disaster.

The divisions of the hosts on the march from Tirion is significant, particularly in later events, but due to short time I will leave the Kinslaying to others. I shall turn to the burning of the Telerin ships at Losgar. Here we can already see that Maedhros is the most reasonable of Fëanor's sons. It is he and he alone who argues that the ships should return to ferry across Fingon and his followers, but he is overruled. Fëanor's speech demonstrates that all reason has left him as he dismisses potential allies, whom his actions have doomed to exile, as "needless baggage on the road". When he dooms the rest of the Noldor to "whine their way back to the cages of the Valar", it is intended to remind the reader of his earlier speech, in which he declared:
In Cuiviénen sweet ran the waters under unclouded stars, and wide lands lay about, where a free people might walk. There they lie still and await us, who in our folly forsook them.
But Fëanor cannot know this: he was born in Aman, and never saw the Waters of Awakening. Those wide lands have been described to the reader, though:
...Melkor, ever-watchful, was first aware of the awakening of the Quendi, and sent shadows and evil spirits to spy upon them and waylay them. So it came to pass, some years ere the coming of Oromë, that if any of the Elves strayed far abroad, alone or few together, they would often vanish, and never return... And indeed the earliest songs of the Elves, of which echoes are remembered still in the West, tell of the shadow-shapes that walked in the hills above Cuiviénen, or would pass suddenly over the stars; and of the dark Rider upon his wild horse that pursued those that wandered to take them and devour them. Now Melkor greatly hated and feared the riding of Oromë, and either he sent indeed his dark servants as riders, or he set lying whispers abroad, for the purpose that the Quendi should shun Oromë if ever they should meet.
Wide lands indeed, but scarcely safe; and the skies above were anything but unclouded. It seems likely to me that the false image of Cuiviénen was planted in Fëanor's imagination by Melkor himself before the darkening of Valinor, along with many of his other false ideas. Whether this particular delusion was due to his promptings or not, the narrative voice leaves the reader in no uncertainty as to the rights and the wrongs of Fëanor's actions, nor to the ultimate source of his motivation, whatever his opinion might be on the matter.

Originally Posted by Silmarillion ch. 9
[Fëanor's] wrath and his hate were given most to Morgoth, and yet well nigh all that he said came from the very lies of Morgoth himself; but he was distraught with grief for the slaying of his father, and with anguish for the rape of the Silmarils.
It is important, then, to bear in mind the events of the previous chapters, particularly Melkor's careful sowing of dissent among the Noldor. More important even than this direct attack, though, is the effect of his marring of Arda. In the longer version of the story of Finwë, Míriel and Indis in Morgoth's Ring, a discussion of the Valar regarding Míriel's decision is reported, and this makes interesting reading. Although it is too long a passage to quote in full, I have selected part of Ulmo's speech that seems most pertinent to me.

Originally Posted by The Later Silmarillion (HoME X)
But Ulmo answered: 'Nonetheless Míriel died [passage replaced by Tolkien replaced here]... And death is for the Eldar an evil, that is a thing unnatural in Arda Unmarred, which must proceed therefore from the marring. For if the death of Míriel was otherwise, and came from beyond Arda (as a new thing having no cause in the past) it would not bring grief or doubt. For Eru is Lord of All, and moveth all the devices of his creatures, even the malice of the Marrer, in his final purposes, but he doth not of his prime motion impose grief upon them. But the death of Míriel has brought sorrow to Aman. / The coming of Fëanáro must proceed certainly from the will of Eru; but I hold that the marring of his birth comes from the Shadow, and is a portent of evils to come.
Because Fëanor's birth is marred, Míriel refuses to return from Mandos; her obduracy prompts Finwë to marry again, which in turn prevents her return according to the judgement that this forces upon the Valar; this sows a seed of resentment in Fëanor, which becomes obsessive, whilst removing the one person capable of calming his more violent moods. All of this is directly attributable to the Marring of Arda, and therefore to Melkor himself.

I think it typical of Tolkien that the development of Quenya phonology is bound up with Fëanor, Míriel and the children of Finwë and Indis. The Shibboleth of Fëanor, aside from making some interesting points about the development of language in an immortal race, also demonstrates how easily quite trivial matters can become the focus of personal grief and resentment, leading to much wider implications than could be predicted from the issue itself. Fëanor's obsessive insistence on Þ instead of the altered consonant s helps to bring it about; it also plays a part in the opposition between Fëanor and Galadriel, eventually explaining her use of s for Þ in LR. The personal conflicts and tensions among the people affect the language, and the language affects its speakers. Something so minor as a consonantal shift (which Tolkien points out through the narrator must have been agreed by a majority of the Noldor) can play a part in something as terrible as the rebellion and fall of the Noldor. But to Tolkien language was important, and perhaps only in this way could he demonstrate how central it was to the life of the Eldar.

Morgoth's influence therefore runs strongly through the entire response to his actions. It seems as though the Noldor are unable to escape from his snares even when pursuing him to punish him for his theft and murder. So it is that, far from retrieving the Silmarils and avenging Finwë's death, the Noldor will bring only ruin on themselves and their allies. The Kinslaying of Alqualondë, as cataclysmic in its way as the death of the Two Trees, is the first of the tragedies that the Oath of Fëanor will inflict, but not the last, just as Finwë's death is not an end to murder in Aman.
Man kenuva métim' andúne?

Last edited by The Squatter of Amon Rûdh; 03-21-2007 at 05:41 AM. Reason: More spelling and grammatical corrections and some improvements in expression
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Old 03-22-2007, 09:18 AM   #3
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The death of Amrod

This chapter also raises a question regarding the editing of the 1977 text, since in it Christopher makes no mention of the later story in which one of Feanor's twin sons is burned to death in his ship at Losgar. Now it is very much the case that much of Tolkien's projected revisions to the legendarium only exist in the form of notes or sketches, and CRT (laudably) confined himself to using existing narratives, and not pulling a Brian Herbert. However, in this case a narrative actually existed, published in HME.X:353ff: and a passage which even more strongly emphasizes Feanor's fey madness at this point. Any speculations as to why this was omitted? Especially since there is no serious 'ripple effect' for the rest of the story: Amrodandamras remain an undifferentiated pair up until their (joint) death.
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Old 03-24-2007, 05:30 AM   #4
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Pipe A startling omission

I think you may mean HME XII: 353ff. Looking at the notes to the text, it would appear that the account you mention forms part of some untidy notes for an excursus on names at the end of The Shibboleth of Fëanor. It does paint an excellent portrait of Fëanor's unreason, and I can only imagine that it was omitted because of its reliance for some of its effect on Amrod's mother-name, which is clearly a 'name of insight', given its context in SF. The account in HME XII does skip suddenly from the naming of the twins to the burning of the ships, which would mean that to incorporate it into The Silmarillion would have meant separating the vital discussion between Fëanor and Nerdanel from the later account of the tragedy at Losgar, possibly even omitting the former entirely. The irony that derives from Fëanor's desire to change his son's mother-name and his subsequent fulfillment of its prophecy would certainly be lost given such a decision, and perhaps CRT simply wanted to avoid such a mutilation.

Another, less likely alternative would be that during the composition of The Silmarillion, CRT had simply failed to notice the account, contained as it was in a text which he describes as "confused and confusing", and which was originally hand-written at speed. This seems tenuous to me, but perhaps he confused these sheets of manuscript for an excursus on the meanings of names (which was their original purpose), and simply set them aside, only to discover the story they contained at a later date.

Having said that, I don't presume to know what CRT was thinking at any given time unless his own notes announce it. I have no information that can't be found in HME, and the above is simply wild speculation on my part.
Man kenuva métim' andúne?

Last edited by The Squatter of Amon Rûdh; 03-24-2007 at 05:35 AM.
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