By Special Holiday Request: the History of Tolkien’s Elves (part VI)
As seen in the previous installment, Fëanor, prince of the Noldor and arguably the main character of elven history, had just gotten into a shouting match with the Valar. Morgoth and Ungoliant had stolen the silmarils. Unable to restore the Trees without Fëanor’s help, the Valar were forced to construct the sun and the moon, aka the shitty golden non-Tree replacement light and the slightly less objectionable silver non-Tree replacement light, to paraphrase their Quenyan names. Sun- and moon-making took the Valar about five years.
First, a quick update on Morgoth and Ungoliant, as they aren’t elves and are therefore incidental to this history of the elves. Hidden in the unlight, the rebel Valar and the Great Old One fled northward, and traveled on foot from Valinor to Middle Earth via the glacier-covered distant north. Maybe they went over the north pole, but for that to work the planet would have to be round, and the world wasn’t “indeed made round” until the end of the First Age and beginning of the Second Age, about six centuries later. So that’s a little confusing.
Less confusing: up in the icy north, Ungoliant started complaining about how they’d agreed to quench all the light of the Trees. And Morgoth was carrying around a box full of silmarils, which shone with the last vestiges of the raw Tree-radiance. Morgoth was a being of almost ineffable power, but Ungoliant was a being of literally ineffable power, and also Morgoth was tired and Ungoliant invigorated on account of she’d just drunk the wells of Varda dry. So long story short, Ungoliant soon had Morgoth bound up in webs of unlight. She was about to consume the silmarils, completing the destruction of the Trees, but then Morgoth pulled one last rabbit from his hat. He called out for his various followers (orcs, trolls, and balrogs) whom he’d abandoned back in part I of this story. Sauron, his lieutenant, and the orcs had all spent a few hundred years just sort of sitting around the icy wasteland waiting for him. Morgoth’s host came running, and they drove off Ungoliant.
Morgoth, now with the silmarils and an army of orcs and balrogs and trolls, elected to remain in the icy wastes of the north. He rebuilt his fortress, calling it Angband this time, and announced to no one in particular that he was the rightful king of the world and the other Valar were just jealous of his might.
Ungoliant fled southwards, to the nascent land of Men, and birthed a vast host of spiders (Shelob, the spiders of Mirkwood, et cetera) before her thirst for light became too great and she consumed the spark of light which was her own self.
Meanwhile Fëanor stomped back to Tirion, the city of the Noldor, and gave a rousing speech denouncing the Valar, on the following grounds:
1) They stood idly by while Morgoth killed his father.
2) They claimed to offer the Noldor their protection, but couldn’t even protect their own Trees from Morgoth.
3) In fact, weren’t they and Morgoth basically the same class of entity? Were they even really against Morgoth? The elves couldn’t trust them!
4) The Valar invited the elves to come across the sea to Valinor, but really all of Valinor that the elves inhabited was just a narrow stretch of coastline, one river valley, and the formerly-magic island.
5) Meanwhile Middle Earth was just sitting there, perfectly fine. Once it was inferior to Valinor, sure, because Valinor had the Trees, but the Trees were gone. What were the Valar hiding? Why did they pull the elves away from Cuiviénen, where they had been perfectly happy?
6) Because the Valar wanted to clear out Middle Earth to make room for Men!
This was the first most of the Noldor had heard about Men, who were even then in the process of awakening in Middle Earth. They weren’t too pleased to hear about it, needless to say. But Fëanor told them all about Men, and then he reached the real purpose of his speech, which was not to denounce the Valar. It was to recruit the Noldor to join him in invading Middle Earth and seizing the silmarils back by force of arms.
This was a tough sell, partly because Fëanor had just then invented the twin concepts of “invading” and “seizing by force of arms.” However, he was a great speaker, and a prince of the city. His seven sons (whom I know I haven’t mentioned up to this point, sorry) rallied around him, along with some of his nephews. The city as a whole, the host of the Noldor, were uncertain, however.
Everyone turned to Galadriel, looking to see what her position was. Why she was held in such high esteem is unclear, but there it is nonetheless. Possibly it was because her father was a Noldor prince, her mother was a Vanyar princess, and her grandfather was the king of the Teleri, making her a princess three times over. She outlined her view thusly:
1) Being queen is great.
2) But you can’t be queen for serious when there’s a bunch of stupid Valar looking over your shoulder all the time.
3) The Gardens of Lorien are great.
4) But screw Lorien himself! Always lording over me about how they’re his gardens! I’m going to go make my own Gardens of Lorien, with blackjack and hookers!
5) To Middle-Earth, and glory, and conquest!
(It may be worth pointing out that by the time of the War of the Ring, Galadriel is about seven thousand years old. When Fëanor proposed the Flight of the Noldor, she was a mere pup of a hundred and thirty or so. Also, now you know why Galadriel named her forest-kingdom Lorien.)
“You see, everyone? Galadriel agrees with me!” cried Fëanor. “Whose plan is insane now, huh? Now everyone stand back, I’m going to swear!”
And then Fëanor swore the worstest promise, the Oath of Fëanor. This was yet another new thing Fëanor invented: oaths and the swearing thereof. Fëanor’s Oath was not a mild thing, not a Sunday School prayer-meeting promise to love thy neighbor, oh no. When Fëanor swore his Oath, he cracked the world. This was not a promise that could be broken; this oath could never be retracted. This was a commitment. Every oath sworn in the history of Middle Earth after this was an echo, an aftershock, a parasite on the central spine of Oath that Fëanor created. He decompiled the cosmos and inserted a few lines of new code. He spoke, and the ground shook. The clouds parted, and there was fire in the sky. Everyone wept. Everyone everywhere wept.
Once they’d all regained consciousness, Fëanor’s seven sons joined in the Oath. Fingolfin, Fëanor’s estranged brother, and his son Turgon thought the Oath was a bad idea. Finarfin, Fëanor’s other brother, and his son Finrod (Galadriel’s brother) agreed with them. But by then it was too late. The Oath of Fëanor had been sworn.
“They swore an oath that none shall break, and none should take, by the name of Iluvatar, calling the Everlasting Dark upon them if they kept it not; and Manwë they named in witness, and Varda… vowing to pursue with vengeance and hatred to the ends of the World Vala, Demon, Elf or Man as yet unborn, any creature, great or small, good or evil, that time should bring forth to the end of days whoso should hold or take or keep a Silmaril from their possession.”
(Important words to remember here: ‘Vala, Demon, Elf or Man,’ and ‘Good or Evil.’ Varda herself could retrieve the silmarils and Fëanor would be Oath-bound to pursue her ‘with vengeance and hatred.’)
NEXT: SWAN BOATS?!
Shit’s getting serious yo. But it’s all starting to make perfect sense to me now!