We were talking about the first elven migrations across the sea to Valinor. The Vanyar and the Noldor rode on the magic island from Middle Earth to the Undying Lands, from Endor to Aman. The Teleri trailed along behind, and missed the islands.
Unlike their Avari kin, in theory the Teleri were headed to Valinor. Lots of them eventually made the trip, but they dawdled and built nations in the western regions of Middle Earth. Their migration, done via boats instead of by magic islands, was so drawn-out and attenuated that, arguably, it was still going on as of the War of the Ring. The Teleri who really dragged their feet, to the extent that they formed nation-states, became known as the Sindar; these were the elves who met the dwarves. It was around this time that Durin the Deathless, First King of the Dwarves, founded Khazad-dûm aka Moria. But we’re not talking about dwarves; we’re talking elves.
Ships set forth from the Sindar’s nations, sailing westward to the Undying Lands. This wasn’t as holy a means of travel as the other elves got to use, but still, they reached Aman. No reason to complain. The Vanyar settled on the magic island (once it stopped moving, just off the coast of Aman), but migrated inland, leaving the Noldor on the coast. Then the Vanyar migrated even further inland, and the Noldor followed them, leaving the Teleri on the coast. One can picture three distinct bands of elf settlement across Aman, not unlike a developed thin-layer chromatography plate.
So Morgoth was on probation in Valinor, and he saw the elves coming in. The Vanyar were too holy, having been the first to awaken and the first to come over and they all got extra Tree-looking-at time in, compared to the others. The Teleri were a disorganized bunch of drips. But the Noldor? The Noldor were just right.
To convey this next portion of the story, I’m going to rely on that well-loved literary technique, the imagined expository conversation.
One day Morgoth was chatting with one of the Noldor, specifically the firstborn son of Finwë, the king of the Noldor.
“So Curufinwe…” he began.
“Call me Fëanor,” said Fëanor. “It’s an affectionate nickname my mother gave me.”
“How is your mother?”
“Still dead. I visited her in the Halls of Mandos the other day. She’s happier this way.”
“Death, feh.” Morgoth sighed. “That’s just weird. I can’t imagine wanting to stop existing. Like it’s even possible to stop existing! She isn’t gone, she just relocated from the Gardens of Lorien to the Halls of Mandos!”
Fëanor shrugged. “Maybe eventually she’ll decide to be alive again.”
Morgoth scoffed. “Well, you know she’s just being fashionable. She’s always been a fashion-plate, you know that; she invented embroidery. Certainly she’d want to get…”
“???” (It was not easy to make a noise like ??? but Fëanor invented the question mark, so he could do it.)
“Oh, didn’t you know?” Morgoth feigned surprise. “I would have thought the other Valar would have mentioned it, you elves being their special guests and all. I mean, you guys did clear out of Middle Earth for the Men…”
“?!?” (Fëanor also invented the exclamation point.)
“Oh, didn’t you know?” Morgoth asked again. “Soon the race of Men will awaken in Middle Earth. They’re sort of elves 2.0, you know? Specially beloved by Eru Iluvatar, granted the gift of death…”
“The ‘gift of death?'”
“When a man or woman dies, then they don’t go into the Halls of Mandos, they just… go.” Morgoth went fssst and made a gesture like a leaky balloon jetting off. “It’s a big mystery.”
“So clearly they’re the big new special thing coming down the pipe, and that’s why the Valar moved you guys off Middle Earth and here to Valinor.”
“Well I can see you’ve got a lot on your mind,” Morgoth said cheerily. “I should be moseying along. Say hi to Galadriel for me, will you?”
Fëanor did indeed visit his niece Galadriel, in the Gardens of Lorien. Lorien himself wasn’t home, but his gardens were open to all.
“Oh, it’s you,” she said when she saw him. These two were not exactly friends. “What do you want? I was just enjoying these silver gardens and imagining one day being a queen with gardens of my own.”
“All will love me and despair!”
“I’m sure. Listen, you remember how I wanted a few strands of your hair, right?”
“I remember.” Galadriel’s eyes narrowed. “You’ve asked me for strands of my hair twice before.”
“And twice you’ve refused me, because you don’t like me, but whatever. I need three strands of your hair. Well?” He tapped his foot. “I need them for a special jewelry-crafting project. Hand them over.”
Now, just so we’re clear, Galadriel’s hair was special. She was six foot four, did you know that? And her hair went down to her ankles. Most of the Noldor had dark hair, but Galadriel was a blonde, because of her part-Vanyar ancestry. Not only was she blonde, but her hair had caught the light of the Trees, somehow, and it shone silver and gold, just as the Trees did.
“How many strands did you want, again?”
“Three. I just said. Three.”
“How about none? None is what I said before. Is none okay?”
Fëanor groused, because this was just more bad news. In Galadriel’s defense, the hair was hers to give or not, and maybe she didn’t like the idea of having her hair made into jewelry, and she didn’t like Fëanor. But Fëanor had to come up with another plan. He’d already invented the question mark and the exclamation point, plus a whole alphabet, and the palantiri and even Fëanorean lamps, which, you know the phial of Galadriel? Little bottle of starlight that Galadriel gives Frodo, and Sam uses it to drive back Shelob? It was basically a Fëanorean lamp. He made a tremendous number of cool things, but his crowning achievement was the silmarils.
The short explanation is that the silmarils were three gemstones in which Fëanor caught the light of the Trees, because Galadriel wouldn’t let him use her hair. The long explanation is called the Silmarillion.
The silmarils were awesome, oh, you can’t imagine. They were so, so pretty. Take every art object that’s ever existed, and put them in a big pile, and light that pile on fire, and the resulting fire still isn’t going to be nearly as pretty as the silmarils. Just hearing about them, you want them. You know you do. You’ve seen the Hobbit movies, you know the Arkenstone? The Arkenstone of Thrain simultaneously is and is not a silmaril, which is a funny story in itself. We don’t need to go into it, though.
NEXT: THE END OF THE TREES!
(Addendum: one more quick comment regarding Legolas and his father Thranduil the Elfking: while they claim royal status, it’s because of a Sindar title; they aren’t part of the House of Finwë that we’re about to hear so much about. Rather, they’re descended from Calaquendi (Vanyar and Noldor) who later intermarried with Sindar, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. They themselves are Moriquendi. I’m mentioning this now in case a legit Tolkien scholar comes along someday to correct me.)