Move over Fëanor …

Since my last post was a little on the heavier (and more controversial) side, I thought I’d post something lighter for a change. After all, even heretics like to have fun. :) I encountered this article quite by accident today on The New York Times website while reading a much more serious article on food-labeling practices. Among many other nifty gadgets, the artisan featured in the article has made an LED necklace.

Of course, my first thought–upon seeing the photo–was “OME! Light-up jewelry! That’s probably what the Silmaril that Fëanor wore looked like!” It even has that sharp, blue-white light, as I’ve always pictured the Silmarils.

But these he was not suffered to approach; for though at great feasts Fëanor would wear them, blazing on his brow, at other times they were guarded close, locked in the deep chambers of his hoard in Tirion.

In truth, I’ve always had a problem with imagining that passage, at least in a way that makes it seem appealing (as I’ve always assumed it was meant to be). And–with no offense intended to Alison Lewis–her newfangled Silmaril necklace sort of shows why. As cool-looking as it may be in a photograph, can you imagine actually interacting with someone wearing light-up jewelry “blazing” on any body part, much less the brow? It’d be distracting, to say the least. I’ve always had a mental image of Fëanor wearing the Silmarils looking something like one of those cartoonish miner’s hats with the bright lamp on the front of it. That’s all well and good if one is delving for mithril but in conversation at a party? Could you even look such a person in the eye? And wouldn’t it rather ruin the mealtime ambiance? And what if the lights were dimmed for, say, Maglor to play a concert? “Oh, look, there’s Dad standing in for an exit sign over by the door!” “In case of fire, walk–do not run–to the nearest Silmaril-wearing Elven lord.” I mean, these things are bright enough for us to see one of them sailing across the sky with Eärendil; what must have three looked like, worn by one Elf in a confined space? “Don’t worry about the lamps, Anairë, dear. Fëanor just sent word that he’ll be attending.”

Am I reading too much into it? Absolutely. I think this relatively minor matter of Fëanor’s choice in accessories (and the fate of said accessories a couple hundred pages later) illustrates something important about the “canon” one can glean from The Silmarillion: It’s not meant to be taken literally. The image of an Elven lord of unimaginable beauty wearing three radiant (not blazing) stones that he crafted from untainted light is an amazing image. And the notion of that untainted light being preserved in stones and placed within the earth, sea, and sky is a lovely concept. The two, however, don’t reconcile very well. And I think we lose something if we try too hard to make them.


10 Responses to “Move over Fëanor …”

  1. French Pony says:

    Well, the nice thing about your image of Fëanor wearing miner’s lamps to one of Maglor’s concerts is that it doesn’t necessarily need to destroy a dimmed-light mood. That kind of concert is a relatively modern invention, coming into vogue steadily throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. Prior to that, concerts were a very different kind of affair, and full lighting was only the least of the differences.

    I can, however, see Maglor getting extremely annoyed at having the damn Silmarils shining in his eyes when he was trying to work through a tricky cadenza or something. Or even worse, if he were trying to, say, accompany a singer, and dear ol’ Dad just kept watching him (as parents do) — the effect would be like shining a spotlight on the accompanist, and people would not be thrilled.

    And, of course, because Fëanor is . . . well, Fëanor, there’s not really anything anyone can do about it!

  2. Independence1776 says:

    *laughs* I’ve been trying to figure that one out myself, for the simple reason that I want to make a Fëanor costume! I was thinking LEDs for the Silmarils, but on top of annoying people around me, I’m also light sensitive and don’t feel like deliberatly causing myself pain with bright lights directly above my eyes.

    But, oh, yes, poor Maglor. I can imagine the rows between the two: “Could you please not wear it?” “What do you mean? Aren’t you proud I made them?” and so on.

  3. Lyra says:

    *laughs* You know, we had people dressed up as Varda, Fëanor and Morgoth at various Ring*Cons in the past years, and except for the Morgoth (of all people), whose “Silmarils” were fairly dim, they all got asked to “tune down the sparkly”. (The “Varda” costume came with a crown of stars.) Fortunately their shiny came with an off-switch (they used LEDs, too).
    The ideas were absolutely brilliant (no pun intended) and looked marvellous – but when you’re sitting in a darkened room listening to a talk or watching movie clips, you don’t really want to get flashed by MASSIVE SHINY.

    So yes, I have been wondering about how often Fëanor would’ve worn the Silmarils at parties – and how often people would (in secret, one hopes) have rolled their eyes. I mean, we all know that the Elves loved Bling, but Bling that not only reflects light but makes its own is kind of overdoing it!

    More than the “brightness” issue, however, I am normally puzzled by the size issue. In many, many Silmarillion illustrations, the Silmarils are the size of an egg. AT LEAST. I don’t know how people get that impression – “large jewels” just means that they were “large in terms of jewels”, not that they were absurdly gigantic, right? kind of like “a small house” vs. “a huge rat” (hopefully the former would still be bigger than the latter!). How is an Elf supposed to wear an egg-sized jewel on his brow, let alone THREE?

    I don’t believe in the spotlight effect, though. Unless the jewels were built into tube-like things, the light would have diffused at once, so while looking right into the Silmarils would surely have been painful, from a few feet away it shouldn’t be too bad. At any rate the light wouldn’t focus on something the wearer looks at. The closer, the brighter, sure – but in a normal “Maglor on stage, daddy in audience” situation, by the time the light reaches the stage it would’ve diffused in all directions, thus fuzzily lighting everything not blocked by Feanor’s forehead but not highlighting poor Mags. … I think. My physics classes are a while back.

    And as French Pony says, lighting the stage exclusively during purely musical performances is fairly modern…
    As for mealtime ambiance: I suspect looking for a dark time to dine in the Years of the Trees is rather like looking for a dark spot on Iceland in June (try the mountain, at least it casts a shadow?). We mustn’t forget that the lighting conditions in Valinor were very different from what we consider normal today in the first place!

    I do think the concepts can be reconciled. After all, Fëanor didn’t wear them all the time. At great feasts, when there would be a lot of bright jewellery and a lot of candles (or light-stones) and all that jazz, not to mention those infernal Trees, those three bright spots in the crowd would likely be noticeable (and, as you say, highly distracting in direct conversation with Feanor) but not too absurd.
    We are, after all, talking about “bright” (for a given value of bright) jewels – not about laser pointers 😉

  4. pandemonium_213 says:

    Melkor: The Silmarils are huge and brilliant!

    Professor Thû: Sir, by my calculations, absed on best guess estimates, they are the size of 30 to 40 carat diamond with illuminaiton in the 500 lux range at best so “mythic hyperbole” should be taken into consideration…

    Melkor: Shut up, Thû.

    Professor Thû: Yes, sir.

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  5. Niki says:

    And if one Silmaril is Venus, think of all the atmospheric pressure and corrosive gasses one would be exposing oneself to by wearing that on one’s brow…

    (Unless the corrosive gasses were Earendil’s fault. My “Beren Stinks” story could have a sequel! ;))

  6. Rhapsody says:

    Fëanor just wanted to make sure he was noticed once he made an entrance 😉

  7. Lois says:

    Well I like the LED necklace!

    Perhaps the Silmarils had to be that bright to be seen at all in Valinor with the light of the two trees?

  8. Angelica says:

    Well, it is another definition of the spotlight!

  9. Pink Siamese says:

    There is a line in the Silmarillion somewhere that refers to the “living” light within the Silmarils. I imagine them being reactive to Feanor, so sometimes they’re more like gentle moonlight reflected in water and less like deer-jacking disco balls. I imagine them to be not very big at all, somewhere between the diameter of an American quarter and an American half-dollar, faceted in a dome style so they’re flat on the back. But maybe, y’know, I think about this stuff too much. 😉

  10. Taylor17387 says:

    And all this time Morgoth thought that it was his eyes what daunted people…

    This gives another turn at the tale of Beren and Lúthien. They didn’t infiltrate Angband; they were invited by the squint-eyed orcs that couldn’t endure anymore those disco-balls on the head of their master.

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