14

Right near the beginning Of the Flight of the Noldor:

Yavanna spoke before the Valar, saying: "The Light of the Trees has passed away, and lives now only in the Silmarils of Fëanor. Foresighted was he! Even for those who are mightiest under Ilúvatar there is some work that they may accomplish once, and once only. 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.'

Yavanna needed "but a little of that light" to revive Telperion and Laurelin, yet Fëanor refused to give the Silmarils up:

Then Manwë spoke and said: 'Hearest thou, Fëanor son of Finwë, the words of Yavanna? Wilt thou grant what she would ask?' There was long silence, but Fëanor answered no word. Then Tulkas cried: 'Speak, O Noldo, yea or nay! But who shall deny Yavanna? And did not the light of the Silmarils come from her work in the beginning?' But Aulë the Maker said: 'Be not hasty! We ask a greater thing than thou knowest. Let him have peace yet awhile.' But Fëanor spoke then, and cried bitterly: 'For the less even as for the greater there is some deed that he may accomplish but once only; and in that deed his heart shall rest. It may be that I can unlock my jewels, but never again shall I make their like; and if I must break them, I shall break my heart, and I shall be slain; first of all the Eldar in Aman.' 'Not the first,' said Mandos, but they did not understand his word; and again there was silence, while Fëanor brooded in the dark. It seemed to him that he was beset in a ring of enemies, and the words of Melkor returned to him, saying that the Silmarils were not safe, if the Valar would possess them. 'And is he not Vala as are they,' said his thought, 'and does he not understand their hearts? Yea, a thief shall reveal thieves!' Then he cried aloud: 'This thing I will not do of free will. But if the Valar will constrain me, then shall I know indeed that Melkor is of their kindred.' Then Mandos said: 'Thou hast spoken.'

Fëanor had three Silmarils. Why wouldn't he give just one?

  • Was the real reason the mistrust Melkor helped engender?
  • Was each one so dear that he was not willing to give any of them up?
  • Was there too little light in just one? (But how would Fëanor know that?)
  • Were the three (thought to be) linked?
5
  • Does the original source say that one would be sufficient? IIRC Yavanna wanted all three. And if light is what she needed, why not just use the light the Silmarils emitted??
    – Oldcat
    Jul 24 '14 at 19:05
  • @Oldcat I am listening to an audiobook, so it is hard for me to check. I thought she just wanted a little of the original light, not specifically the silmarils. To answer your excellent question about the emitted light, i would suggest that she required a physical manifestation of the light, such as that used in the silmarils. That is, light passes by, physical manifestations give off their own light. But golly, that answer is not nearly as good as the question. :) Jul 24 '14 at 19:27
  • The original light was captured in the Silmarils, so there's no other place to get it from. Thus the confict with Feanor that he could never replicate them again.
    – Oldcat
    Jul 24 '14 at 20:43
  • A little of that light does not necessarily mean "fewer than 3 Silmarils full"
    – Oldcat
    Jul 25 '14 at 0:51
  • @Oldcat That's option 3, above. :) Jul 25 '14 at 0:51
8

The most likely reason, according to the Silmarillion, is reason 2:

Was each one so dear that he was not willing to give any of them up?

Chapter 7, Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor, notes that:

The heart of Fëanor was fast bound to these things that he himself had made.

The Annals of Aman, published in Morgoth's Ring, support this with the full text of the oath of the Fëanorians, which was (regrettably, IMO) omitted from the published Silmarillion. This opens with:

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.....

What's notable here is the closing line, where it's explicitly "a Silmaril", i.e even taking a single Silmaril is sufficient to bring the wrath of the Fëanorians down on you. Of course this was after the slaying of Finwë, but it remains notable that recovery of the Silmarils, and vengeance and wrath against anyone who takes even one, is a primary motive over and above seeking redress for Finwë's death.

7
  • I like the idea, but "fast bound to these things" doesn't necessarily mean each one. Many people care about things they would not part with in the whole but would be willing to give up part for great need. Fëanor recognized the great need saying it was heartbreak that would kill him, which seems like he would have otherwise been willing to give one up. Also, great catch on the singular form and thank you for bringing it up! But, that was after the treachery of Morgoth, as you pointed out. To me, the singular form was more from anger and to strengthen his words than anything else. Jul 25 '14 at 11:20
  • At the end, certainly, the house of Feanor ran a vendetta against anyone having a Silmaril, even the Valar. But at the start, the situation is less clear. And that poem has some issues - at the time, Men had not even been discovered, had they? So how could they so swear?
    – Oldcat
    Jul 25 '14 at 17:10
  • @Oldcat - the coming of men had been revealed to the Noldor by Melkor. Hence "Man yet unborn upon Middle-earth".
    – user8719
    Jul 25 '14 at 19:06
  • According to the Encyclopedia of Arda, men were born after the Sun appeared, which is after Feanor went after the Silmarils.
    – Oldcat
    Jul 25 '14 at 23:36
  • @Oldcat - there must be a misunderstanding here because I'm not disputing that. The Feanorians were aware that Men hadn't appeared yet, and the line, paraphrased, means: "when Men eventually do appear, we'll go after them too".
    – user8719
    Jul 25 '14 at 23:39
7

In the beginning of Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad, it says of Thingol:

And every day that he looked upon the Silmaril the more he desired to keep it forever; for such was its power.

Perhaps the Silmarils themselves caused Fëanor to not want to give up any of them.

5
  • I hesitated before answering my own question, but found it is “explicitly encouraged": blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/07/… Background: I waited before even asking the question, but finally posted it today. Soon after i was in the car and heard this chapter. I had no idea. Anyway, the votes and comments will decide. Jul 24 '14 at 20:40
  • 1
    I think it would be valuable to confirm or refute the "why not just one" option. In the end, Feanor might have refused to even give up one, but I think his actual option was to lose them all to restore the trees.
    – Oldcat
    Jul 24 '14 at 20:54
  • 2
    Yavanna was a Valar, and probably knew that she needed the light of all three to revive the trees. the three jewels represented the three times of each "day" where the trees light was different. Symbolically the jewels represented those three times, and in order to recreate the original "day" she needed all three kinds of light.
    – SteveED
    Jul 24 '14 at 21:04
  • @SteveED That's an excellent point. Though, being she didn't say that, how was Feanor to know? Jul 25 '14 at 1:13
  • This is speculation on my part. Elves of Feanor's time were more in touch with the Valar, and certainly more powerful and knowledgeable. It's possible that he did understand (see the wiki for some hints at this)
    – SteveED
    Jul 25 '14 at 2:02
2

From Lord of the Rings WIKI

Theft of the Silmarils

Melkor stole away to Avathar in the south of Aman to seek out the evil, spider-like creature Ungoliant and secured her as an ally. During the festivities where Fëanor and Fingolfin reconciled, Ungoliant helped Morgoth destroy the Two Trees, bringing darkness to Valinor. Morgoth and Ungoliant then went to Formenos. Melkor, surrounded by an impenetrable black fog, went to Fëanor's vault in Formenos. Finwë, the High-King, fought and lost against Melkor, and was the first Elf to be slain in Valinor. Melkor ransacked the vault, taking many valuable jewels, including the Silmarils. They escaped by crossing the Helcaraxë, or Grinding Ice, in the north to Beleriand in Middle-earth.

The Valar knew that now the light of the Trees survived only in the Silmarils and Yavanna asked Fëanor to give them up so that they could restore the Trees. Fëanor emphatically stated that he would not give up his Silmarils of his own free will; if the Valar forced him, he said, they would be no better than Melkor. A messenger from Formenos then arrived to deliver the news of Finwë's death and the loss of the jewels.

From this, it seems that the raid on the trees and the theft of the Silmarils and murder of Feanor's father were more or less simultaneous. So his refusal is more of a heat of the moment reaction, and it seems that the request was to destroy all three for the restoration.

Feanor was a hothead, and devoted to the Silmarils as their creator, so he might have ended up refusing in the end, but the theft made this a moot point. To me, the actions he takes later in the long fight to recover the gems is what tips he and his sons along the path to evil and ends with them not able to hold the jewels they fought so many years for.

5
  • 1
    I've always wondered if this was a kind of choice between going back to the old days where the Valar ran everything, or the passion and creativity of the new world. If Feanor had given them up, then Arda would not have advanced or followed the plan of Iluvatar. This is pure speculation on my part.
    – SteveED
    Jul 25 '14 at 2:07
  • There are other places where JRRT implies that fate has a stronger hold on the destiny of Elves than Men. I just don't see Feanor and his kin's path to evil as simple as turning a switch - not evil today, evil the next. And he surely was not evil when he had them in his posession, as they would have burned him, so there had to be a change somewhere.
    – Oldcat
    Jul 25 '14 at 17:15
  • I agree that they weren't evil by choice or through any single event. I do notice that the stubbornness and passion of the first elves was their undoing at several points in history. Perhaps that was their fate? again this is pure speculation
    – SteveED
    Jul 25 '14 at 18:09
  • But it wasn't moot. The Silmarillion makes that explicit. Part of why he left Valinor was that he was wrongly lumping in the Valar with Melkor as all wanting to take stuff that rightfully belonged to him and his people. If he had agreed that the Valar's request was proper, he might not have left on his own to try and get them back, and he might not have argued "Let's get what's ours, gems and kingdoms" to the rest of the Noldor.
    – swbarnes2
    Jul 25 '14 at 23:10
  • 1
    Since the Valar had been guest-hosting Melkor right up until he killed the trees and then Feanor's father when stealing the Silmarils, I can understand his resentment of the Valar. Sure this was wrong, but the true descent of Feanor and kin was a bit later, in the kinslaying, and the abandoning of the other Noldor in the crossing, and the subsequent wars with Melkor.
    – Oldcat
    Jul 25 '14 at 23:15
1

In Tolkien's mythology, there is always a moral danger in being a craftsperson, that you might be too attached to the things you create. That's what happened to Feanor. It's a kind of blasphemy, to act like his sub-creations are his to control, rather than recognizing that everything originates from Iluvatar, and ought to be shared with others.

1

@swbarnes2 has the beginnings of a great answer, but it needs to be take much, much further.

In Tolkien's world -- as in orthodox Christianity -- one of the greatest evils that can happen is the corruption of good, and both Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion are full of such falls. The fall of Melkor, was terrible and so were the lesser falls of Saruman and Denethor (and dozens of other characters). Gandalf and Galadriel both fear the Ring because it would cause themselves to distort their own greatests strengths and turn them to evil. (Quotations available upon request!)

Craftsmen are most likely to fall by becoming too involved with or possessive of their creations. Who were the craftsmen who fell? Sauron (originally a Maiar of Aule the Smith), Saruman (likewise), Feanor, and many, many Dwarves. First, look at Aule, a smith sho did not fall:

...but the delight and pride of Aule is in the deed of making, and in the thing made, and neither in possession nor in his own mastery; wherefore he gives and hoards not, and is free from care, passing ever on to some new work.

He was a creator who was not trapped by his creations.

Feanor on the other hand,

...grew swiftly, as if a secret fire were kindled within him... in the pursuit of all his purposes eager and steadfast. Few ever changed his courses by counsel, none by force. He became of all the Noldor, then or after, the most subtle in mind and the most skilled in hand. ...he it was who, first of the Noldor, discovered how gems greater and brighter than those of the earth might be made with skill. The first gems that Feanor made were white and colourless, but being set under starlight they would blaze with blue and silver fires brighter than Helluin; and other crystals he made also, wherein things far away could be seen small but clear, as with the eyes of the eagles of Manwe. Seldom were the hands and mind of Feanor at rest.

So far, so good. He was proud and headstrong, but still unfallen. But then he made the Silmarils:

Feanor, being come to his full might, was filled with a new thought, ...and he pondered how the light of the Trees, the glory of the Blessed Realm, might be preserved imperishable. Then he began a long and secret labour, and he summoned all his lore, and his power, and his subtle skill; and at the end of all he made the Silmarils.

As three great Jewels they were in form. But not until the End, when Feanor shall return who perished ere the Sun was made, and sits now in the Halls of Awaiting and comes no more among his kin; not until the Sun passes and the Moon falls, shall it be known of what substance they were made. Like the crystal of diamonds it appeared, and yet was more strong than adamant, so that no violence could mar it or break it within the Kingdom of Arda. Yet that crystal was to the Silmarils but as is the body to the Children of Iluvatar the house of its inner fire, that is within it and yet in all parts of it, and is its life. And the inner fire of the Silmarils Feanor made of the blended light of the Trees of Valinor, which lives in them yet, though the Trees have long withered and shine no more. Therefore even in the darkness of the deepest treasury the Silmarils of their own radiance shone 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 marvellous than before.

All who dwelt in Aman were filled with wonder and delight at the work of Feanor. And Varda hallowed the Silmarils, so that thereafter no mortal flesh, nor hands unclean, nor anything of evil will might touch them, but it was scorched and withered; and Mandos foretold that the fates of Arda, earth, sea, and air, lay locked within them. The heart of Feanor was fast bound to these things that he himself had made.

..For Feanor began to love the Silmarils with a greedy love, and grudged the sight of them to all save to his father and his seven sons; he seldom remembered now that the light within them was not his own.

My emphasis: Feanor had fallen into a pit of his own devising and fallen in love with his own creations.

He has a chance to save himself after Morgoth and Ungoliant kill the Two Trees, and Yavanna says that with just a little of their light from a Silmaril, she could call them back to life:

Yavanna spoke before the Valar, saying "The Light of the Trees has passed away, and lives now only in the Silmarils of Feanor. Foresighted was he! Even for those who are mightiest under Iluvatar there is some work that they may accomplish once, and once only. 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.'

Note that Yavanna said without qualification that only a little of the light would be needed. She asked for a single Silmaril.

Then Manwe spoke and said 'Hearest thou, Feanor son of Finwe, the words of Yavanna? Wilt thou grant what she would ask?'

There was long silence, but Feanor answered no word. Then Tulkas cried 'Speak, O Noldo, yea or nay! But who shall deny Yavanna? And did not the light of the Silmarils come from her work in the beginning?'

But Aule the Maker said 'Be not hasty! We ask a greater thing than thou knowest. Let him have peace yet awhile.'

But Feanor spoke then, and cried bitterly 'For the less even as for the greater there is some deed that he may accomplish but once only; and in that deed his heart shall rest. It may be that I can unlock my jewels, but never again shall I make their like; and if I must break them, I shall break my heart, and I shall be slain; first of all the Eldar in Aman.'

Feanor still refused. At that point none of them knew that Morgoth had already stolen the Silmarils and they had been lost ot Feanor even before her refused to help. The narrator notes:

The Silmarils had passed away, and all one it may seem whether Feanor had said yea or nay to Yavanna; yet had he said yea at the first, before the tidings came from Formenos, it may be that his after deeds would have been other than they were.

Feanor, like many other characters in Tolkien's world, fell through his own strengths and by the particular failing of the craftsman of falling into a possessive love if his own creations. (Well, he's also a bit of a drama queen...)

0

Other answers have focused on Fëanor’s attachment to the Silmarils, which, while significant, were not his primary concerns in this specific matter. There other several other preeminent factors here.

Firstly, Fëanor was arrogant and pragmatic. The light from the trees was precious, but lamps of gold lit the most important places of Valinor (Bk of Lost Tales I, Chapter VII). He may not have considered the trees' light necessary. Additionally, the trees were a container of the light of the Valar within them, not the light themselves. After their murder, Yavanna says that their light “live[d] only in the Silmarils of Fëanor” (Sillmarillion, Chapter IX). He would prefer these, as they are still containers for the magic, but made by him and in his own image.

Secondly, and more importantly, it was politically shrewd for Fëanor to allow the trees to perish. In order to win the hearts of the Noldor, and make him their ultimate lord, Fëanor had to discredit the Valar. The death of the two trees was a perfect opportunity for him to supplant them.

He says in chapter nine,

“Why, O people of the Noldor, should we longer serve the jealous Valar, who cannot keep us nor even their own realm secure from their Enemy?”

In other words, it was a smear campaign against the gods, and a successful one at that.

1
  • This might be an unfortunate construction by Feanor, but it was hardly a smear as it is 100 percent accurate. The Valar did not keep their realm, and Feanor's home safe from Melkor. Thus his father's life was lost and the Silmarils as well.
    – Oldcat
    Jun 19 '15 at 22:06
-1

Feanor's jewels were more than just coveted jewelry that contained the light of the Two Trees. Feanor had to pour his fea into the making of those jewels, and therefore the Jewels were one with him.

Furthermore the Silmarils were the epitome of Miriel's sacrifice to Feanor, the life energy she bequeathed him; the same life energy that led him to becoming the mighty craftman he was, yet this inadvertently had the side effect of these jewels becoming the only thing keeping him from spiraling into his self-destructive and soul-consuming sorrow, grief, mourning, despair, melancholy, and guilt.

This created a precarious impasse, if Feanor was displaced from the silmarils it would mean that he would swiftly return to his sorrow, grief, mourning, despair, melancholy, and guilt.

This not only had the consequence of opening the floodgates for him to fare the same fate as his mother but also meant that Feanor, Prince of the Noldor, would cause these same feeling to all his kinsfolk, dooming them to permanently be shadowed with despair, melancholy, grief, mourning, and sorrow. The peace of Valinor would be permanently violated, having profound consequences.

Therefore, Feanor made the decision to withhold the silmarils from the Valar, knowing these ramifications. Whether these were justified in the end is up for debate, but this context proves that it was more than arrogance and pride, but more being protective of his kinsfolk.

1
  • Note that you need two returns to create paragraphs; I could see that you intended them, but the text wasn't showing separate paragraphs because you only used one.
    – DavidW
    Apr 9 at 18:49

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