I hate to be the person who comes with a hot pin to pop the happy balloon of this theory but that’s what I’m about to be. I’m going to start out by clarifying that I take no issue with using this (or any!) theory for writing fan fiction or as a personal head canon. One of the points of fan fiction is to fit pieces together, to invent and create in such a way to develop and extend the texts beyond what Tolkien gave us, and I can certainly see the appeal of the Arkenstone stitching the seemingly microcosmic events of The Hobbit to the expansive mythology of The Silmarillion. I am troubled, though, that the theory that the Arkenstone was in fact a Silmaril is starting to be discussed as though this was a connection that Tolkien wrote into the text and that it is a fact that should be presented as such.
Here I come with my hot pin: It was not.
I am contending two posts here. The original post by Gwaihir the Windlord on the Barrow Downs (New evidence for the Arkenstone-Silmaril case) uses flawed reasoning and omits some very necessary context from the discussion of this question. A second post on Ask Middle-earth (Was the Arkenstone a Silmaril?) then borrows the same arguments, and despite purporting to present “any holes in such arguments,” does so without a lot of critical examination of them. Unfortunately, both posts are now being linked on wikis and other sources that fans use when trying to locate information about the texts as evidence that the Arkenstone is a Silmaril, so through a process that possibly neither writer intended, flawed arguments have been elevated to the level of fact.
The Ask Middle-earth post suggests that “The Arkenstone’s description sounds very much like a silmaril,” followed immediately by textual evidence that the Arkenstone actually doesn’t sound much like a Silmaril. This is followed by an unexamined rehashing of Gwaihir the Windlord’s made-up-out-of-thin-air theory that the Arkenstone may have been dimmer than a Silmaril because the stone was “depressed.” Gwaihir the Windlord writes,
The Arkenstone had been lying in the darkness of Smaug’s hoard for many, many lightless years; perhaps it was depressed. It’s energies would have been at a low ebb. While Feanor’s Silmarils were kept in a vault, I am sure he would have taken them out for an airing quite often, more than he let on about anyway, and at least a lot more than the Arkenstone was left in the hoard for. So they were joyous and kept shining like the stars, while the Arkenstone – not seeing much light in the Earth for all those millennia, then just sitting in the blackness of Smaug’s lair – shone with a lower wattage.
No. No no no no no. Just no. Really. No.
The Silmarils were not made of something like the glow-in-the-dark rubbery stuff that makes the bouncy balls you get out of quarter machines. The stuff that, if you leave the bouncy ball in your desk drawer for a week, it just looks like snot-colored rubber, but if you “recharge” it under a lamp, it will glow in the dark. The Silmarils are filled with the Light of the Two Trees:
And the inner fire of the Silmarils Fëanor 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. (The Silmarillion, “Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor”)
The fact that they are filled with the Light of the Two Trees explains my aversion to the argument that they might become “depressed.” This Light-with-a-capital-L was gifted to Varda by Eru. In the late text Myths Transformed, “To Varda Iluvatar said: ‘I will give unto thee a parting gift. Thou shalt take into Eä a light that is holy, coming new from Me, unsullied by the thought and lust of Melkor, and with thee it shall enter into Eä, and be in Eä, but not of Eä'” (section II). This is a late text but makes explicit an idea that was suggested in the earliest versions of what would become The Silmarillion. In The Book of Lost Tales 1, light “flowed and quivered in uneven streams about the airs, or at times fell gently to the earth in glittering rain and ran like water on the ground” (Of the Coming of the Valar). This Light eventually watered and produced the Two Trees. In his letter to Milton Waldman (151, dated around 1951), Tolkien explicates on this Light as a “primeval symbol” that is “sullied” when the Trees are destroyed, thus explaining the significance of the Silmarils. In other words, Light was something that existed as part of Eru’s creation, not the subcreation of the Ainur, Elves, Dwarves … anyone. To suggest that this light becomes “depressed” is preposterous.
It is also a complete invention of Gwaihir the Windlord. It is not anything that Tolkien wrote or even suggested. Once again, this is a great approach to take to fan fiction (although, if I were Gwaihir the Windlord’s beta, I’d still probably object to this idea), but one doesn’t simply get to invent details in research writing. I expect more from my students, and I am frankly surprised that so many people seem to accept this idea without questioning its source.
The other major issue I take with Gwaihir the Windlord’s essay (and that is also echoed in the Ask Middle-earth post) is the dismissal of the quote from The Hobbit that the Arkenstone was “cut and fashioned by the dwarves” as possibly misinformation and distortion passed down across the years as folklore that was simply accepted and never questioned. Now anyone familiar with my fiction and meta based on Tolkien’s texts will probably object to my objection here. Viewing the texts as historical or mythological sources has been my bread and butter for these ten years and an approach that I very much like. Note “approach,” though. This isn’t something that is trotted out and applied when it is convenient or when one doesn’t like what the texts have to say; it is a broad and generalized approach that questions everything from a historical or mythological standpoint and, when possible, attempts to locate the source of information presented in the text and analyze it based on the agenda, biases, and access to information of its original author and its mode of transmission from that author to the person who recorded it in the form we have it.
Unfortunately, there is nothing broad or generalized about the approach here. It is used to negate information from the text that is inconvenient to the author’s theory. It is never used again, even though, in my opinion, the fact presented in Gwaihir the Windlord’s essay that most demands this type of reading is Bilbo’s assertion that “there could be no two such gems … even in all the world,” which Gwaihir the Windlord accepts in this instance (because, of course, it fits the theory!), even though questioning whether a Hobbit would be able to make such a judgment (versus simply responding in this way out of a sense of wonder) is certainly, I think, a valid question to ask.
Thus, two major legs on which this theory rests–the difference in appearance of the two stones and the carving of the stone by the Dwarves–are shakier than in fact they are presented in either essay. The difference in appearance of the two stones should alone lay the theory to rest that Arkenstone-as-Silmaril was something intentionally written by Tolkien. However, there are other problems with the theory that neither essay addresses.
Well, Gwaihir the Windlord actually hints at one: “No-one actually knew (maybe some High Elves had suspicions but didn’t disclose them, Gandalf and Saruman may have known, but the general public didn’t) that the Arkenstone (if it was) was a Silmaril.” This introduces a major shortcoming of the Arkenstone-is-Silmaril theory: This story unfolds in a world where a significant contingent of the population is not only immortal but actually saw the Silmarils before they were lost. The idea of a lost artifact possibly resurfacing and the mystery that surrounds the determination of whether the lost artifact and the discovered artifact are one and the same does not work in a world where multiple authorities exist who can make a definitive judgment on this question.
Middle-earth at the time of The Hobbit has several canon characters who would have seen the Silmarils: Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast, Sauron, Galadriel, Celeborn, Círdan, and Elrond. Perhaps most intriguingly, it is possible that Thranduil would have as well. (Scarlet’s character biography of Thranduil on the SWG reviews the information we have about when Thranduil was born; Scarlet concludes that the texts point to the likelihood that he was born in the First Age, although more specific information on this–whether he lived during Thingol’s reign, in this instance–cannot be determined.) We know that Gandalf and Thranduil saw the Arkenstone. As far as I know (and The Hobbit and its supporting texts are not my area of expertise, nor was this post exhaustively researched, so I hope those who know better than me will correct me when I’m wrong!), none of the other canon characters I listed saw the Arkenstone in the texts. The canon does not name–but we know they must have existed–the hundreds if not thousands of Elves who lived in Doriath and Sirion in the time the Silmaril was there, as well as surviving Noldor (like Galadriel) who knew them in Aman and journeyed to Middle-earth with the exiled Noldor to pursue them.
Appendix A of LotR states that “the rumour of the wealth of Erebor spread abroad” (“Durin’s Folk”). Therefore, there does not appear to have been an attempt to keep the Arkenstone a secret in the 1,771 years between the founding of Erebor in TA 1999 and its overthrow by Smaug (who indeed, according to Appendix A, targeted the mountain because of rumor of its riches) in TA 2770. Erebor was also a major kingdom; it more likely than not that the Dwarves of Erebor had diplomatic and trade relations with other kingdoms and settlements of Middle-earth, including those of the Elves. Even if none of the canon characters who had seen the Silmarils directly saw the Arkenstone, it is possible, even likely, that many of their advisors and messengers who had contact with Erebor and probably did see it knew the Silmarils as well. They certainly would have carried back and shared such significant information. The Istari were also in Middle-earth at this time, and Sauron was afoot, first in Dol Guldur and then Barad-dûr. It is a near certainty that at least one of those survivors of the First Age would have caught wind of this great find by the Dwarves, and if there was any chance that it was a Silmaril, would have provoked extreme interest and action.
I think what bothers me the most about the dismissiveness toward the fact that the Arkenstone would have likely been identifiable as a Silmaril, if it was, by many among the Elves and Ainur of Middle-earth is the certainty that this would have been treated as trivial knowledge. As though Galadriel would have been eating breakfast and Celeborn and said, “Hon, did you hear that Thráin found Maedhros’s Silmaril? How fascinating! Please pass the orange juice,” and that would have been the end of it. Acknowledging the likelihood of knowledge that the Arkenstone was a Silmaril rediscovered reduces the Silmarils to mere baubles, pretty trinkets, without significant history or meaning to those who had contact with them in the First Age and earlier.
In fact, as anyone who has read The Silmarillion can attest, the exact opposite is the case. Every single person I listed as having seen the Silmaril(s) before they were lost knew–and many had firsthand experience with–the terrible events inspired in a large part by those stones. The Elven characters experienced exile, loss of loved ones, and displacement from their homes because of the Silmarils. They watched an entire age defined not by progress and preservation but by war and the shame of multiple betrayals and kinslayings, ended by inundation of their homeland in the last and most calamitous of those wars. To think that these characters would have thought nothing of the rediscovery of a Silmaril defies belief for me. In the power play that characterized the Third Age, would characters like Sauron and Saruman have simply let such a storied artifact lie unpursued, knowing how valuable it would be to certain individuals and its history in dividing allies and kins and sowing treachery? Would Gandalf–whom we know saw the Silmarils and the Arkenstone both–allow such a potentially dangerous element to be simply buried back under Erebor?
No, the rediscovery of a Silmaril is a game-changer and one that would have likely mobilized several key players in Middle-earth to action. It is unlikely that the Arkenstone would have been permitted to lie long enough to ever be claimed by Smaug if it were a Silmaril. The fact that we never hear of the Arkenstone again after the events in The Hobbit suggest that, no matter its importance to the Dwarven people, its broader significance to the other peoples of Middle-earth simply isn’t there. This is not how a Silmaril would be treated.
Finally, the textual history of The Silmarillion and The Hobbit removes any possibility that Tolkien intended the Arkenstone to represent a Silmaril. The publication history of Tolkien’s books can be a little misleading because they weren’t written in the order they were published. The Silmarillion, although the last of the “Big Three” to be published, was the first of the Big Three to be written. The Music of the Ainur, written between 1918 and 1920 and found in The Book of Lost Tales 1, contained the first mention of the Silmarils (then Silmarilli): “… the finest of all gems were Silmarilli, and they are lost.” Over the course of his life, Tolkien revised what would become The Silmarillion over and over again. The text for The Hobbit was in existence by 1932, many years after the Silmarils and their story first came into existence (introductory remarks to Letter 9, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien).
When Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, it initially began as a story constructed to entertain his children. He eventually submitted it for publication and was rather astounded by its success. His publisher requested a sequel, and Tolkien despaired that he had anything more to say about Hobbits. (All of this is in his Letters.) Having revealed his work on The Silmarillion, he began to try to drum up interest in the publication of The Silmarillion. “Mr Baggins began as a comic tale among conventional and inconsistent Grimm’s fairy-tale dwarves, and got drawn into the edge of it [The Silmarillion] – so that even Sauron the terrible peeped over the edge,” he wrote to his publisher in 1937 (Letter 19). In an earlier letter to his publisher, Tolkien noted, “The magic and mythology and assumed ‘history’ and most of the names (e.g. the epic of the Fall of Gondolin) are, alas!, drawn from unpublished inventions” (Letter 15).
What these letters show is that The Hobbit was not written to share a deep connection with The Silmarillion. The Silmarillion was solidified in Tolkien’s mind by this point, so when he wrote The Hobbit, it was natural to pull in names and details from those myths when background was needed, but Tolkien presents Bilbo’s story as existing merely at the fringes of these larger stories and only accidentally so: “The Hobbit, which has much more essential life in it, was quite independently conceived: I did not know as I began it that it belonged” (Letter 131 to Milton Waldman). Given the tenuousness of the connection between the two stories, it is impossible that Tolkien intended the Silmaril and the Arkenstone to be synonymous. The fact that the Arkenstone is not mentioned in LotR and is not mentioned anywhere in the Letters–despite Tolkien’s explicit attempt to connect The Hobbit and LotR to The Silmarillion as he attempted to find a publisher for it and his explicit elucidations to publishers and fans of details of his work–is likewise telling of its significance to the larger myth, or rather, lack thereof.
At the end Gwaihir the Windlord’s essay, the question is posed: “I wonder whether Tolkien deliberately made this connection between the Arkenstone and the lost Silmarili. Maybe he did; but then again, he may not have.” The answer actually is quite definitive here: Tolkien did not intend such a connection. The textual history of The Hobbit and The Silmarillion negates such a connection. There are numerous details in the texts themselves–the difference in appearance between the stones, the attested roles of the Dwarves in carving the Arkenstone, the lack of concern and action of any of the Elves or Ainur in Middle-earth after the Arkenstone is found–that suggest that the two stones are not the same. In writing fan fiction or developing head canons, perhaps these textual details can be overcome through the invention of details or the selective application of the historical approach, much as Gwaihir the Windlord does in the linked essay; as far as understanding the connection between the Silmaril and the Arkenstone as an intentional, deliberate construction by Tolkien, as something factual about the texts that deserves to be presented as such to fans looking for objective and text-based information about Tolkien’s mythology, these objections coupled with the textual history of the two stories in question become insurmountable.
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