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Quite a long time ago (was it last year?), someone on Tumblr sent me this question :
“My question Is why do you think the Fëanorians did not dare to attack Lúthien while she had the Silmaril? This has always been a mystery to me”
Even though the answer might seem quite self-explanatory for many people, I would reply that it’s a bit more complex, especially if you take into account the narrative bias involved in the unreliability of a non-neutral narrator, that is the chronicler (Pengolodh?), and of the translators of the tales of the Elder Days, especially in regard to the Fëanorian tribe.
A short foreword: Of course, any reader is free to play or to ignore the game of metatextuality created by Tolkien ; my speculations are parts of this game and I do not plan to try to guess what was in Tolkien’s mind, or to read between the lines, precisely because I simply want to toy with the narratives knots, the incoherence between the different versions and the tensions involved by the intertextuality. That is how I expand Tolkien’s fictional world. Therefor, this kind of posts is first and foremost a tool to dig deeper into my own interpretations of an expanded fictional universe, and to pave the way for new interpretations about the character’s motives. Some of you might find here some food for thoughts, or a way to read the books with a new perspective. Others might find in those headcanons some materials for fanarts of fanfictions, and who knows? maybe some tools to develop their own knowledge about the lore of Middle-earth. I am but a passionate fan who humbly toys with the stories and characters on which her dreamland relies. (And I must confess this question was also a mere excuse to have a closer look at the different versions of this crucial point in the Tales of the Elder Days)
Back to that question now!
This user was mentioning this part of The Silmarillion:
« For while Lúthien wore the Necklace of the Dwarves no elf would dare assail her; but now hearing of the renewal of Doriath and of Dior’s pride the seven gathered again from wandering, and they sent to him to claim their own. »
First of all, I’d like to emphasize the fact that this idea that the Fëanorians did not attack Lúthien while she had the Silmaril is an important part of the plot – beside the fact that it is a useful narrative tool which allows the second kinslaying to happen in Doriath and to involve Lúthien’s descendants, it is also useful for the characterization of Lúthien ; it develops her legend and the way she’s regarded by other characters.
And I want to remind that, even though Lúthien, being the child of a Maia, is indeed very powerful, Maedhros is incredibly powerful as well, being the elder son of Fëanor, and whose power has been somehow enhanced by his sufferings during his captivity in Angband. On this point, The Silmarillion reminds us that “there Maedhros in time was healed; for the fire of life was hot withing him, and his strength was of the ancient world, such as those possessed who were nurtured in Valinor.” and that “his spirit burned like a white fire within”.
We should also keep in mind that, as long as the Silmaril was in Doriath before Thingol’s death and Melian’s return to Valinor, the Fëanorians could not access it, because of the Girdle of Melian preventing all intrusion. They could only bargain and threaten, and that’s precisely what they did :
« Maedhros and this brothers, being constrained by their oath, had before sent to Thingol and reminded him with haughty words of their claim, summoning him to yield the Silmaril, or become their enemy. »
In order to try to answer more precisely to the question, I’ll simply explain my main hypothesis, and please keep in mind that they are not incompatible and do not exclude one another.
- The light of the Silmaril enhances Lúthien’s power
It’s impossible to assert that the Ainur are actually more powerful in the light of the Trees, but you cannot deny that their relation to the Light is somehow remarkable. We know about Melian that “the light of Aman was in her face” (The Silmarillion), which made her stand out in the dark when Elwë meets her, and this makes me believe that maybe, the Ainur somehow absorb the light; could they feed off on it? I have no idea, but that could be a possibility. This sole question deserves a whole post in itself, and I’m not doing that. Yet, I’ll just point at what is said in The Quenta (HoMe IV) about Lúthien wearing the jewel:
“And it is said and sung that Lúthien wearing that necklace and that immortal jewel on her white breast was the vision of greatest beauty and glory that has ever been seen outside the realms of Valinor and that for a while the Land of the Dead that Live became like a vision of the land of the Gods, and no place have been so fair, so fruitful, or so filled with light”.
With those first words “it is said and sung”, we understand that this is not given by a direct witness – it is a legend, a rumour. No one witnessed it save Beren, Dior and possibly a few elves of Ossiriand. So, who knows? Now, all doubts put aside, this image of Lúthien gives way to many assumptions, including that of her power being increased by the jewel. “Glory” here doesn’t only refer to beauty or fame, it is really a word that has to do with majesty, nobility, if not power. When we speak of the glory of the Valar, we speak of their majesty but also of the very might of their presence. The OED says about « glory », In Biblical phraseology: « the glory of God: the majesty and splendour attendant upon a manifestation of God.” But also “Resplendent beauty or magnificence. Now often with suggestion of sense (…) An effulgence of light such as is associated with conceptions of heaven”. This lexical point is very interesting, so I just drop that here and leave it to that because there would be too much to say. Anyway, it seems obvious (to me at least) that the jewel allows Lúthien to enjoy the full might of her power (even though she’s a mortal at this point), and indeed, the sight of her in this situation must have been very impressive… to say the least.
We can easily imagine that, with the light of the Silmaril reflecting on her face, Lúthien appears not only lovelier than anything in the world, but also more powerful (after all, beauty and power are often closely intertwined in Tolkien’s lore). And maybe she’s indeed more powerful while holding a Silmaril. Or maybe she just seems to be more powerful, but that would be enough for the Fëanorians to stand back.
- Námo roots for her
The Fëanorian must have heard rumours about L&B’s miraculous return from Mandos. They must have guessed that, whatever happened there was unusual, and that she benefited a very unexpected support from the Vala, that same Vala who actually cursed the Ñoldor. There’s no denying that Námo resents greatly the exiled Ñoldor, and surely the latter know they’re in his black book. Therefor if they know that Námo favours Lúthien, they would probably be very careful in their dealings with her.
It could be both of those hypothesis, because in the end, the Fëanorians haven’t met Lúthien since her return, but they heard rumours of her power, of her greatness, of the kind way the Valar treated her. They know just two things for sure: she could be dangerous, but she’s mortal now. Just. Be. Patient.
Which leads to my final theory:
- The Fëanorians know nothing at all, and the narrator fills the gap
The Fëanorians might not know that Lúthien has the Silmaril; They might just know Doriath was ransacked by the Dwarves, and that Thingol’s treasure has been looted, including the Silmaril. So they’re looking for it, but they don’t know where it could be. And indeed, it’s only when Dior inherits the necklace that the Fëanorians learns that “a Silmaril of Fëanor burns again in the woods of Doriath” (The Silmarillion) while the narrator explains that the attack on Doriath is due to the oath waking up when they hear of the “renewal of Doriath and of Dior’s pride”. But… if they knew that Lúthien had the jewels, why was there no “ Silmaril burning in Tol Galen”, and why the oath wasn’t rekindled at this point…?
Perhaps because they didn’t know a Silmaril was burning in Tol Galen.
Moreover I can’t believe that they went for a kinslaying partly because of “the renewal of Doriath”. Even if the Fëanorians had their feud with Thingol, Doriath itself is more a shield against Melkor than an impediment in the war against Angband…they should be somehow relieved to see the Sindar of Menegroth back, no? Consequently, it is possible that they just didn’t know Lúthien had the Silmaril, and only heard about it when Dior wore it… and it precisely Dior’s refusal to surrender it that caused the Second Kinslaying, (and not the renewal of Doriath in itself).
The tricky bit is the actual journey of that Silmaril; there are several versions which make it hard to follow, so let’s go for a short sum up:
In The Silmarillion: the Dwarves loot Doriath, leave with a Silmaril; Beren and the Elves of Ossiriand stop them on their way to Nogrod and Beren gets the necklace back.
In « The Nauglafring » (HoMe II) : after the plundering of Doriath, Huan (still alive in this version) leaves Doriath and finds Beren and Lúthien, who immediately understand what happened. Beren and his rangers march forth to stop the loiterers at the ford of Aros. Beren kills Naugladur and takes the cursed necklace to bring it back to Lúthien. Gwendelin (=Melian) comes to meet them and “she cried as in amaze beholding the Necklace of the Dwarves that hung about the white throat of Tinúviel”. Also, in this tale, after Dior’s return to Doriath, Maidros (Maedhros) “called to his brethren […] and he said to them how it was known to him that a Silmaril of those their father Fëanor had made was now the pride and glory of Dior of the Southern Vales.”
Unfortunately, we, readers, don’t know how it happened to be « known to him », but obviously, it seems they had no idea where the Silmaril was before that moment, that is when the “fame of that jewel spread like fire through all the regions of the North ». We understand they discover the Silmaril with the rumours of the return of Dior.
In the Earliest Silmarillion »(HoMe V), it is explained how “the dwarves are ambushed at a ford by Beren and the brown and green Elves of the wood” and how Beren “takes the Nauglafring”. We also learn that “Melian warned Beren of the curse of the gold and of the Silmaril […] but the Nauglafring remains hoarded secretly in Beren’s keeping”. The idea that he kept it “secretly” is interesting; he hides it from Melian, of course, but not only… who knew about it? Surely not the Fëanorians, even though they might think it possible that the jewel is with Lúthien. But would they make war upon her if they’re not sure she has the jewel? I think not. Here, we don’t know how or when they heard of the return of the jewel in Doriath with Dior, only that “after vain bargaining the sons of Fëanor made war on him.”
In the Quenta (HoMe IV), Melian warns Beren of the presence of the Dwarves’s host; he fights them and takes the necklace. Then, “Melian warned them ever over the curse […] yet the Silmaril they retained”. Dior goes back to Doriath as king, L&B die, Melian leaves to Valinor, and as Dior wears the necklace “the fame of that jewel went far and wide.” And that’s how the Fëanorians seem to learn about the Silmaril.
In the Earliest Annals of Beleriand (HoMe IV), we are told again that it is Melian who sends Beren to stop the dwarven host; he takes the necklace and keeps it until he and Lúthien die; Dior is made king of Doriath, Melian goes back to Valinor and only then “the sons of Fëanor hear tidings of the Silmaril in the East.”
In The Later Annals of Beleriand (HoMe V), Beren again “overthrew the Dwarves at Sarn-Athad as they return eastward” and he took the Nauglamír. We also learn in this version that it is after the death of L&B and the departure of Melian that the Fëanorians “heard tidings of the Silmaril in the East, and they gathered from wandering and held council together”, which also seems to point toward the idea that they knew not where the jewel was after the ruin of Doriath, because if they did, they would have “gathered from wandering” much earlier and took council to decide if they should attack Lúthien whilst she had the jewel.
The Tales of Years (HoMe XI) is maybe the more complicated text, since Tolkien rewrote it several times.
- The first draft reads: “the dwarves invade Doriath. Thingol is slain and his realm ended. Melian returns to Valinor. Beren destroys the Dwarf-host at Rath-Loriel.”
- The second draft was altered and enriched: “the Dwarves invade Doriath. Thingol is slain and his realm ended. Melian takes Nauglamír to Beren and Lúthienand she returns to Valinor. Celegorm and Curufin destroy the Dwarf-host at Sarn-Athrad in Rath-Loriel, and are wroth to find the Silmaril not there. Dior goes to Doriath.”
THIS is an interesting element, and for many reasons ; in the matter at stake, it means that the Fëanorians knew very early on what had happened in Doriath and they believed that the Dwarves had the Silmaril with them. However, even if they come to realize their mistake, it does not mean that they will understand that the jewel is now with L&B… they could guess, but again, it would just be a hunch. Do you make war on a hunch? Especially after the vain killing of the dwarf’s host (because obviously they only killed them because they thought they had the jewel…).
- Likewise, the next stage gives: “The Dwarves of Belegost and Nogrod invade Doriath. Thingol is slain and his realm ended. The Dwarves carry off the Dragon-gold, but Melian escaped and carried off the Nauglamír and the Silmaril, and brought it to Beren and Lúthien. Then she returned o Valinor; but Lúthien wore the Silmaril. Now Curufin and Celegorm hearing of the sack of Menegroth ambushed the Dwarves at the ford of Ascar and defeated them. but the Dwarves cast the gold into the river, which after was names Rathloriel. Great was he chagrin of the Sons of Fëanor to discover that the Silmaril was not with the Dwarves; but they dared not assail Lúthien.” Here, for the first time we have hints of the Fëanorians knowing, or at least guessing, that Lúthien has the jewel. It’s also the very first time we learn about the fact that they didn’t dare attack her.
- The next step is basically the same, but what comes later is relevant: “The sons of Fëanor hearing news of the Silmaril that it is in Doriath hold council.” So, again, they dared not attack Lúthien, but it’s only after Dior’s return that they hold council… Why not before?
What could we conclude after all this? Well, nothing for sure.
Yet, we see that nothing guarantee that the Fëanorians knew exactly where the Silmaril was after the sack of Doriath – even in the versions which involve Celegorm and Curufin: the boys were certain they would find it with the dwarves while Melian had it, but when they realise they were wrong, how could they be sure it is in the hands of Lúthien? They can’t. In the versions in which Celegorm and Curufin don’t appear, it seems that they all only learn about the jewel when Dior is back in Doriath, while some elements seem to indicate that Beren would rather keep it secret whilst they have it (probably a good idea…).
Besides, the narrator’s line concerning their refusal to attack Lúthien could be just an invention to increase her aura, to make her appear, through a simple narrative trick, much more impressive, like, “Even the fell Fëanorians who fear nothing wouldn’t attack her! The girl must be savage!” (And guess what, it worked.)
Actually, I think that if the Fëanorians had known about it, they’d have sent, at least, an embassy to L&B– after all, in « the Nauglafring », they send Curufin to Dior to discuss the jewel-issue, and in most versions they sent messages to Dior. I’m pretty sure Maedhros wouldn’t have missed that opportunity to display his own diplomatic skills (just like he did with Thingol) and discuss the matter with her, precisely because she’s supposed to be devoid of greed… but then again, I don’t think they exactly knew what to expect from her, and of her actual power. Therefor, it is possible that they indeed feared her, precisely because they had so little information about her.
There are two main elements that make me favour that third theory about the Fëanorians’ ignorance of the position of the jewel: The first being the recurrent line referring to the fact the oath was awoken only when they heard about the Silmaril being in Doriath. If they had known where it was before, why would the oath be awoken only then? The second element is more about the characters themselves, and one in particular… guess whom…
[Art by Quel, a commissioned I made a few years ago]
He had been humiliated by Beren, completely, utterly humiliated. I’ve written enough about this character to have a rather good and full idea of him, and yes it is my own, but don’t you think he wouldn’t want to avenge his honour? I believe that if he had known for sure that Beren had the jewel, it would have been a very good justification for a gruesome revenge. And Curufin wouldn’t have hesitated to ride to Tol Galen, not only to get the Silmaril, but also to make Beren pay for the disgrace (using the oath to justify it) (Curufin and the art of killing two birds with one stone)(this image is unfortunate).
But, those are mere speculations and headcanons. The more I think about it, the more I believe it could be a bit of all those points that prevented the Fëanorians from attacking L&B. Now you can choose which theory you prefer, or you can come up with your own (feel free to share your opinion in the comments!)
😉 Thanks for your attention!