Silmarillion Read-Along: Week 2

**Author’s note: I’m very sorry that this week’s post didn’t go up on Monday as promised. I wasn’t feeling well in the last few days and decided that I’d rather postpone the post than publish a half-arsed one. I’m sorry for any inconveniences**

Welcome to week two of our Silmarillion read-along! In the month of March, we will read and discuss J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. For an in-depth weekly reading schedule, head over to my announcement post.

Disclaimer: All cited passages were taken from The Silmarillion unless stated otherwise.

Week 2: Light and Dark.

Last week, we’ve not only learned that the Music of the Ainur is a vital aspect of every atom of Arda, we’ve also learned that Tolkien made use of similes and metaphors to reflect the importance of music in his writings. As we continue to read, visual sensations seem to replace the auditory ones.

While the stars and star light play significant roles, the light of the Two Trees of Valinor and the light of the Silmarils set events in motion that change Arda and everything that lives in it forever. The impact and influence of light on the lives of beings on Arda appears to be even greater than the impact of music.

The Two Trees of Valinor and Beauty

One of the things that struck me immediately, even after reading the Silmarillion for the first time, was Tolkien’s repeated use of the light of the Two Trees as a simile to describe the beauty of female characters.

“But [Elwë] came at last to a glade open to the stars, and there Melian stood; and out of the darkness he looked at her, and the light of Aman was in her face” (Of Thingol and Melian).

Those of you who have already read The Silmarillion know that a similar incident occurs later on in the novel in a chapter we will read in two weeks:

“As the light upon the leaves of trees, as the voices of clear waters, as the stars above the mists of the world, such was her glory and her loveliness; and in her face was a shining light” (Of Beren and Lúthien).”

Beauty, it seems, is not determined by physical feautures, although physical beauty is a characteristic of the elves and Valar, but by an other-worldly glow. Melian’s beauty is so mesmerizing that Elwë, later known as Thingol, not only forgets time, but also no longer seeks to go to Aman and to see the light of the Two Trees. Melian’s beauty is enough.

Many others, by contrast, have no greater desire than to witness the beauty of the light of the Two Trees of Valinor:

“[The Teleri] were torn between the love of the music of the waves upon their shores, and the desire to see again their kindred and to look upon the splendour of Valinor; but in the end desire of the light was the stronger” (Of Eldamar and the Princes of Eldalië).

Later on, when Fëanor betrays his people, it is said that the Teleri remained “unmoved” by Fëanor’s inner fire. Instead, the Teleri remain faithful to the Valar and the promise of a “new dawn”.

Fëanor and the Danger of light
While light in the presence of starlight and the light of the Two Trees represent beauty and hope, other forms of light show that it can also be dangerous and evil. Our first encounter with ‘evil light’ is when we read about the Balrogs of Melkor and the destructive power of their fire. However, even good beings such as Elves can commit murder and other evil deeds, as Fëanor’s betrayal shows, if their inner fire loses control. While Fëanor’s original name was Curufinwë, his mother began to name him “Spirit of Fire” or Fëanor because much of Fëanor’s character resembles fire.

Just as fire can easily go out of control and became a danger to those that come in its way, so did Fëanor. Again and again, Fëanors actions, character and mind is likened with fire and flames. Giving the impression that the flame of his heart is about to swallow anything in its path if no one stops him. As we learn throughout the story, no one can stop him, not even his beloved wife was able to “restrain him when the fire of his heart grew too hot” for too long (Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor). The danger of Fëanor’s inner fire climaxes in the burning of the ships of the Teleri during the flight of the Noldor.

Ted_Nasmith_-_The_Burning_of_the_Ships

“The Burning of the Ships” by Ted Nasmith via tolkiengateway.net

Darkness more than the Absence of Light
One of the most fascinating things about Tolkien’s description of darkness is that it becomes a character in his novels. In Tolkien’s realm, darkness is more than a literary device used to turn a situation more frightening. Darkness is also more than just a symbolic representation of hope, although it is frequently used as such by Tolkien. Darkness becomes an entity to be feared. Nowhere is this interesting quality of darkness most prominent than in the creature Ungoliath. The darkness she creates is, as repeatedly explained by Tollkien more than the absence of light, it becomes an “Unlight”:

“The Light failed; but the Darkness that followed was more than loss of light. In that hour was made a Darkness that seemed not lack but a thing of its own: for it was indeed made by malice out of Light, and it had power to pierce the eye, and to enter heart and mind, and strangle every will” (Of the Darkening of Valinor).

I don’t know about you, but this description is more frightening than any simple description of darkness. Once again, it is interesting to read how Tolkien uses common metaphors or tropes and turns them on its it is head. Usually, it is described that light can “pierce the eye”, blinding someone. Here, however, darkness not only pierces your eye, but enters your body and mind and kills you from within.

What where your thoughts when reading about Fëanor and his betrayal? Any favourite quotes or characters you’d love to discuss? Leave a comment down below!

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2 thoughts on “Silmarillion Read-Along: Week 2

  1. gekitsu says:

    life caught up with me. uni work + surprise invitation to a workshop = i only read about half of the assignment. 😦

    i like your point on the usage of light as beauty, or how light attracting people seems to be a general motif. if i recall correctly, the silmarils are also said to shine with their own light instead of just reflecting, and are the frequent object of attraction. (the arkenstone as well?) ungoliant’s darkness makes a great counterpoint to it. i agree on how powerful that passage about darkness is – this and melkor’s trouble fighting her off made her a mystery quite like tom bombadil. she seems strangely unbound by the hierarchies established up to that point.

    Like

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