Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath, Part 1
“And the wise have said that it was by reason of the power of that holy jewel that they came in time to waters that no vessels save those of the Teleri had known; and they came to the Enchanted Isles and escaped their enchantment; and they came into the Shadowy Seas and passed thier shadows, and they looked upon Tol Eressëa the Lonely Isle, but tarried not; and at the last they cast anchor in the Bay of Eldamar, and the Teleri saw the coming of that ship out of the East and they were amazed, gazing from afar upon the light of the Silmaril, and it was very great.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we start the process of closing the Quenta Silmarillion as we review the fates and legacy of the two half-Elves looking to save the world from not only Morgoth but their own kind.
We pick up right where we left off in the last chapter, with Eärendil marrying Elwing and having two boys, Elros and Elrond. Yes, that Elrond. Eärendil was restless because of how he viewed the progression of the destruction of Beleriand, so he took to the sea. “Seeking after Tuor and Idril who returned not; and he thought to find perhaps the last shore, and bring ere he died the message of Elves and Men to the Valar in the West, that should move their hearts to pity for the sorrows of Middle-earth.“
Eärendil became friends with Círdan the Shipwright, who built him a fantastic ship named Vingilot, the Foam-flower. He left his family on the coast and sailed West to find answers, but something nagged at him. It was the fear of the remaining sons of Fëanor and what they would do to fulfill their oath. He was right to fear because when the tidings came to Maedros that Elwing lived and had the Silmaril, he gathered his brothers and they demanded the Silmaril, but Elwing refused to relinquish it. “And so there came to pass the last and cruelest of the slayings of Elf by Elf; and that was the third of the great wrongs achieved by the accursed oath.“
The Noldor won the day, but only Maedros and Maglor survived the battle. Elrond and Elros were taken captive, but Elwing, wearing Nauglamír, complete with the Silmaril, cast herself into the sea.
Ulmo came to her rescue and turned her into a “great white bird,” yet again calling reference to the swan boat referenced at the beginning of this book and Galadriel’s ship in The Lord of the Rings.
Elwing, as a bird, found Vingilot and landed on the ship, only then turning back into Elwing. She relayed the events of the last great slaying to her husband, and they feared the loss of their sons, so they did the only thing they could think of doing. They sailed for Valinor to try and gain assistance from the Valar. We get the opening quote of this essay here.
Elwing and Eärendil step to the shores of Valinor but ask the other sailers to stay on the boat because they think that by stepping back on the shored of the Valar, they will not return alive. Their only hope is to get the Valar to agree to help those still living under Morgoth’s wrath.
They come before the council of the Valar, where an excellent discussion about what to do with them takes place. Mandos, the Valar who proclaimed the great curse which eventually led to the Noldor’s destruction, volleyed to have them put to death, for they came to the undying lands unbidden. However, cooler heads prevailed, and Manwë forgave them, if only because they came to Valinor to save others. He gave them a choice, however; “to Eärendil and to Elwing, and to their sons, shall be given leave each to choose freely to which kindred their fates shall be joined, and under which kindred they shall be judged.“
Both Eärendil and Elwing chose to be judged “among the Firstborn Children of Ilùvatar,” thus adhering, at least in part, to the Curse of Mandos.
The Valar sent a significant wind which set the sailors on the boat back to Beleriand, “but they took Vingiot, and hallowed it, and bore it away through Valinor to the uttermost rim of the world; and there is passed through the Door of Night and was lifted even into the oceans of heaven.“
And that is the fate of Eärendil. He is to sail the stars for the remainder of eternity with the Silmaril on his brow, shining brighter than any star. In fact, “when this new star was seen at evening, Maedros spoke to Maglor, his brother, and he said: ‘surely that is a Silmaril that shines now in the West?’
“And Maglor answered: ‘If it be truly the Silmaril which was cast into the sea that rises again by the power of the Valar, then let us be glad; for it’s glory is seen now by many, and is yet secure from all evil.'”
This end brought the light of the Trees of Valinor to the world, without ever having a single being be in charge of keeping the Silmaril, and thus lightened a load of all living beings to just existing. The Power the Silmarils held was never meant to be in the lands beyond Valinor because the gems indicated that a mortal (or semi-mortal) being could be close to godliness. The Light of the Trees was a creation of the music of the Ainur, spurned on by Ilùvatar himself (itself?). Fëanor created them not out of reverence for his betters but out of a lust to be more like them. That is what the power of the Silmarils entails, and that is why no one can seem to give them up when they have one (with the significant exception of Lùthien). They are a piece of God-made tactile. People still fight over lands they deem holy because they believe God was born there. Can you imagine what they would do if they knew there was a physical talisman which embodied God in the world? This is what caused the strife of Beleriand. This is what caused the world’s wars. Because one Noldor deemed that it was his birthright to be more like a god, he ascended high enough to create an aspect of that light but not high enough to become part of it.
Meanwhile, Elwing stayed on Valinor in a large white tower built by the Valar. “And it is said that Elwing learned the tongues of birds, who herself had once worn their shape; and they taught her the craft of flight, and her wings were of white and silver-grey.“
In Tolkien, there is always a node of hope in the harshest stories. For example, Elwing and Eärendil sacrificed themselves to end the strife of Beleriand. They were ostracized and put to death, owning the curse of Mandos to end it. But hope comes because whenever Eärendil comes close to Beleriand, Elwing becomes a bird and flies to meet him and be with her husband again. This is somewhat reminiscent to another resurrection story where someone takes on the sins of others…
The scene of them riding through the sky, however, is reminiscent of many old Mythologies and adds to the magic and wonder of the world. More importantly, it shows that though they took the curse on their shoulders, they still can be together, fly over the world of Middle-earth, and view their children growing up and old while being close to the light of their God.
We are nearly there; just a few pages more! Join me next week as we conclude The Quenta Silmarillion!