The graphic above has enjoyed some popularity on my tumblr after I posted it earlier today. (Yes, those of you with posts with thousands of notes can laugh at my regarding 100+ notes as “popular.” I’m a blogger with bookish, loquacious tendencies and monofandom interests in a rather obscure fandom. It’s all relative!)
In any case, since it’s doing well there, I thought I should share it here as well. It’s not meant to be taken terribly seriously; I had collected all of the death scenes in the Quenta Silmarillion (there’s
65 70 of them) for my current paper on historical bias in The Silmarillion. Well, it turns out they’re not going to be as useful as I’d hoped, so I wanted to do something fun with them, and assuming there is room under your funbrella for Silmarillion death statistics on TGIF, this is it.
(The tumblr post goes into specifics on what I counted as deaths in battle, from interpersonal violence, and from animal attacks, as well as the criteria I used for the Silmaril and Túrin stats. There were, remarkably enough, some difficult decisions to be made as far as which character should go where. I’m sure we could quibble and argue over that, but this is a fun post, right? So we won’t. :))
So I kind of plopped these graphs up on Tumblr without a lot of analysis because I didn’t think anyone would read it anyway, but The Heretic Loremaster is a reading place, so we can stomach a bit more analysis and a few more words here, I hope. My first observation is that these graphs confirm what every person who has read The Silmarillion knows: It is a remarkably violent and depressing story. There are
65 69 death scenes in the Quenta Silmarillion alone. 65 70!! In my little paperback Silmarillion, the Quenta is 279 pages long, which means that someone dies on average every four pages. Overwhelmingly, those deaths are violent deaths. There are no grandmas passing away quietly in their sleep after long happy lives in The Silmarillion. Bëor is the only character whose death occurs under completely normal and non-upsetting circumstances. (Even Lúthien and Beren, we are told, died quicker because of the Silmaril than they would have otherwise [“Of the Ruin of Doriath”].)
To put it into further depressing perspective: As a character in the Quenta Silmarillion, you are equally likely to die by your own hand as die of old age.
The second graph compares deaths related to pursuit of the Silmarils to deaths related to the mere knowing of Túrin Turambar. (Again, Tumblr has the specifics on how I determined this because there were also some gray areas here too.) As I was compiling what I’ve come to think of as The Death Chart, as I reached the Túrin chapter, I noticed I started having to toggle back and forth between my Kindle for PC and The Death Chart with depressing rapidity. I mean, anyone who has read the Túrin chapter knows it’s one of the darkest in the book, but with 12 deaths in the 35 pages of the chapter, that means a death occurs on average every three pages. Come on, Túrin! As I was doing all this switching back and forth and copy-pasting a seeming endless stream of death scenes, it occurred to me that, if you were a character in The Silmarillion, knowing Túrin might well be riskier than deciding to pursue a Silmaril. Since Túrin lived only 35 years (using the timelines in The Grey Annals and The Tale of Years) and the quest for the Silmarils went on for centuries, that’s pretty damned sad.
As some of you know, my current Major Research Project (aside from the omnipresent thesis that hangs over me like a fog of Angband) concerns historical bias in The Silmarillion. Indeed, The Death Chart was originally compiled with this project in mind. I wanted to see how The Silmarillion treats the deaths of various characters. Particularly, I was interested in knowing if the narrator of the Quenta spent more time talking about your death if he was biased in your favor and gave you the short shrift if he thought you were a jerk. This has proven really difficult to quantify, but as is often the case when compiling information and data, the endeavor got me thinking in a direction I hadn’t anticipated when I typed in Míriel as the first entry in The Death Chart.
The destructive outcomes of both Fëanor and Túrin are described at various points as among Melkor’s most evilest of deeds. (Those points are in “Of the Sun and Moon” for Fëanor and “Of Túrin Turambar” for Túrin.) How those characters are treated beyond that point, though, is different. The role of Melkor in the marring of Fëanor (and consequently his sons) is downplayed after its initial revelation. Instead, Fëanor becomes accountable for his actions (not that he shouldn’t be), and his behavior and that of his sons is depicted as “fey” or as mindless adherence to the oath, which develops so much agency that it feels almost like its own character. At no point, though, are the Fëanorians absolved of responsibility (nor should they be). In fact, the Fëanorians are held responsible not only for their actions but for a whole cascade of consequences attributed to the oath (not Melkor or the poor decisions of other actors). For example, when other leaders opt out of military action against Melkor because the Fëanorians are going to be there, then that–and the failure that will be attributed to their absence–is blamed on the Fëanorians, not the characters who actually made the decision to sit at home. In short, the Fëanorians bear a lot of blame, some of it just and some of it not.
Túrin’s story is very different. Túrin was likewise an unwitting tool in Melkor’s designs. But unlike Fëanor, accountability for his actions is never fully assigned to him. As he wreaks havoc across his chapter, we are led to believe that his role in that havoc is not really his fault. Likewise, character after character forgives him, offers him aid, and is hurt in the end. He is regarded with pity, like the awkward child with too-big feet who breaks something every time he gets up to sharpen his pencil. In Túrin’s case, he is breaking lives and whole realms, but who’s keeping score? He is still pitiable, basically a decent guy doing his best and hitting a string of bad luck. The same understanding and forgiveness is never extended to the Fëanorians.
Even his death suggests that we are meant to see him positively, as a sad victim of circumstances rather than someone whose character flaws and very poor decision-making put hundreds of people–including his loved ones and the entirety of Nargothrond–in harm’s way. One fruitful observation that came of The Death Chart is that funerary customs are described only for the good guys. We never hear about how, say, Celegorm was mourned or memorialized by his brothers, even though it is reasonable to assume that he was. Túrin is buried in a mound, a custom that, to this point, has been used almost exclusively to memorialize kings. He was also given a carved stone, a rather unique memorial in Middle-earth. He was, in short, someone worth remembering.
I don’t think that this means that Túrin was worthier than Fëanor, or that Fëanor was worthier than Túrin. Both characters exemplify men with pride and ambition who were led astray through the machinations of Melkor and subsequently made some very poor choices that led to the deaths of a lot of innocents. The similarities in their stories and the differences in their depictions points to the role that the fictional in-universe narrator plays in The Silmarillion in controlling how various characters are seen by readers. This can be seen in the death data. Fëanor and his sons are excoriated for the destruction they cause. Túrin–who, if we consider the concentration of his havoc over relatively few years and the fact that he is only one guy (versus eight), is far worse–gets a king’s burial.
Finally, a few people over on Tumblr have left questions (in the tags, grrr …) about who comprised each category. I’ll include a list of all the deaths in the Quenta Silmarillion below the cut and where I assigned each person. If I’ve overlooked someone, feel free to let me know. I’ve already found one I’ve missed–Lalaith!–since making the graphs. (ETA: And Anonymous on Tumblr caught three more: Angrod, Aegnor, and Bregolas, all of whom should belong in the battle category. Thanks to Brooke for noticing the absence of Finrod’s companions; since I am going with named characters, I’ve added Edrahil, but if you are keeping score at home and would like to include them all, that’s nine in addition to Edrahil in the animal attack category. Thanks to Jenni for catching Halmir, who creates the Unknown category I’ve been trying to avoid. Also I noticed that Haleth was missing, who adds one more to the cheery old age/natural causes category./ETA) I’m not going to quibble over where characters were assigned (although I will answer questions), but feel free to carry on those kinds of conversations and debates in the comments if that suits you. And, of course, feel free to play with this list and data to your heart’s content (just please credit me for the research and let me know what you do with it).