We Are Fëanor? Thoughts on Reading Moral Ambiguity into the Characterizations of the Fëanorians

[Crossposted to Tumblr]

Several weeks ago, I got irritated at a piece about The Silmarillion in a well-known blog that cast Fëanor in the role of the unmitigated villain. It was a rare show of negativity for me, and I almost didn’t post it because of that. But I did, and I’ve been thinking about why this particular interpretation of Fëanor as some evil entity irritates me to the point of uncharacteristic venom (especially since I’ve been known to roll my eyes at people who can’t be arsed to go out to vote because it’s raining but will tip over cars because of a football game or encourage teenagers to self-harm because they don’t like their fan fiction).

But, on this issue, I rather feel like I’ve come full circle. I’ve now been participating in the Silmarillion fandom for ten years, and what caused me to take the plunge and start working in earnest on the series of character studies that would become my novel Another Man’s Cage was irritation with an opinion expressed on FanFiction.net about Maedhros’s villainy.

I feel like to reduce Fëanor (or his sons) to villains flattens one of the most interesting questions posed in The Silmarillion to where it isn’t even worth asking: What causes a person to “fall”? In his letter to Milton Waldman (#131), Tolkien wrote, “There cannot be any ‘story’ without a fall – all stories are ultimately about the fall – at least not for human minds as we know them and have them.” Tolkien had his own idea about what caused a person to fall, and in the case of the Fëanorians, he was explicitly concise, writing (again to Waldman) that “[t]he fall of the Elves comes about through the possessive attitude of Fëanor and his seven sons to these gems [the Silmarils].”

My own interest in the question goes deeper than that: What caused that “possessive attitude”? What causes any of us to develop the traits that define us as individuals and cause us to do what we do? In psychology, there is the truism about nature and nurture. This is not an either/or matter, and to put the full weight of analysis of a character’s motivations in the “nature” camp–as presenting him as a pure villain, corrupted from the moment of birth, does–takes all the fun from the story for me. It’s the same as stripping a character of free will. People do actions because they must, because they lack choice. Where is the conflict in that? Where is our ability to connect to them as fellow humans, likewise conflicted and saddled with choices that we do have to make without recourse to “nature” as an excuse when we fail?

But to acknowledge that a character like Fëanor is capable of villainous actions without existing purely as a villain is a scary proposition for a lot of people, I think. We like to imagine people like Fëanor as somehow different from us in their capacity for evil deeds. We–those of us who are good by nature–would never rob, murder, and betray our fellow humans like that. There is something extraordinary and wrong in the nature of Fëanor that he can and does.

In my non-fannish life, I teach English at a special-ed high school that serves boys with emotional disabilities. “Emotional disability” is a term from U.S. special-ed law, an umbrella vast enough that it is essentially meaningless as a label beyond its legal uses in ensuring special-ed services are provided for kids that public schools would otherwise rather not have to deal with. Some of my students have severe psychiatric illnesses: bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression. Others are aggressive and disruptive (“conduct disorder” is the label they’re given). Others have already, in their short lives, tangled with the criminal justice system to such an extent that their home schools regard them as too dangerous to be trusted alongside “normal” kids. No one holds 5K fun runs for my students, no one puts “Schizophrenia Speaks” magnets on their cars, and there is a dearth of celebrity spokespeople trying to rouse sympathy for the 15-year-old kid who carjacks someone at gunpoint. Honestly, most people view my students as a blight, as simply biding their time before going to jail or getting killed themselves.

A few weeks ago, I found out that one of my former students had been arrested on murder charges. I only taught this kid for about six months in the ninth grade (age 14) before his mother advocated for him to return to his home school so that he could play sports. He was a bright kid, energetic, at that stage of growth where he was all coltish legs and oversized feet, and constantly smiling. He gave me a nickname that, to this day, sticks among the students who attended the school when he did. Like all of my students, he had his days. He’d sometimes come to class with his face a blank mask and refuse to speak to anyone, the anger beneath that mask like a storm cloud covering the sun. He sometimes fought with his peers.

He also allegedly shot and killed a drug dealer, point blank, while that drug dealer sat in his car. He is 17 now and is being charged as an adult, so I was able to Google his name and read the article in the Baltimore Sun. The article was basic enough–another African American boy from Baltimore whose life is probably over–but the comments chilled me.

People called him a monster. I remember someone labeling him a “soulless kid.” More than one person demanded his death: an eye for an eye. Someone with the capacity to kill didn’t deserve to live. Spare us the risk and expense of a person who isn’t even really a person but a blight upon humankind. People looked at him and didn’t see a child or a flawed human: They saw his actions. They looked at him and saw a villain, someone different from them in his capacity for something they couldn’t fathom doing. I saw his actions too, of course, but I also remembered the smiling kid who would bound into my room, calling me the nickname he gave me, who once signed a thank-you card to my mom–who’d sent a tray of homemade cookies to my students–with “love” and hearts. How could the two coexist?

They can, and that’s the frightening part. That’s the power of words like “villain” and “evil”: They make atrocity the other. They hold at bay the awful reality that any one of us could become my student, could become Fëanor, given the right set of circumstances. Any one of us could be a person whose on-the-whole-good life is obliterated by a single act, in a single instant, that comes to define us. As the old saying goes, “But for the grace of God I go.”

The fascinating question for me becomes: What must happen to bring a person to that instant?

This is the point of Fëanor’s story for me. Tolkien is explicit in identifying Fëanor as the “mightiest of the Noldor, of whose deeds came both their greatest renown and their most grievous woe” (The Silmarillion, “Of the Return of the Noldor”). How can the two coexist? Based on the letter to Waldman, Tolkien saw the matter of Fëanor’s fall thematically or symbolically: “By the making of gems the sub-creative function of the Elves is chiefly symbolized, but the Silmarilli were more than just beautiful things as such. There was Light. … A marked difference here between these legends and most others is that the Sun is not a divine symbol, but a second-best thing, and the ‘light of the Sun’ (the world under the sun) become terms for a fallen world, and a dislocated imperfect vision.” The Silmarils, then, represent perfection; their theft and eventual loss represents a marring of that perfection that is coincident with the fall of Fëanor and meant to symbolize the same thing: “And [the Valar] mourned not more for the death of the Trees than for the marring of Fëanor: of the works of Melkor one of the most evil” (“Of the Return of the Noldor”).

I, however, see the matter of Fëanor’s fall psychologically, as something that must have been generated through the interaction of nature and nuture/environment. If the greatest of the Noldor could fall so far, what does that say of the capacity of those of us lesser–of you, of me–to do the same? What does it say about us as humans that the atrocious and the sublime can so comfortably inhabit the same mind? That who we are is so malleable that the greatest among us can be molded into monsters? This is scary stuff.

To me, this isn’t just a jumping-off point for meta and head canons and fanworks about the Fëanorians. It is a question with very real-world implications, as the anecdote about my former student shows. Our species has always produced its Fëanors. We can label them and other them and exile them from the human family, or we can understand what pushes someone toward one outcome or another. And once we understand, perhaps we could keep smiling 14-year-olds from becoming cold-blooded killers. This isn’t an easy issue to grapple with, but the very complexity of it–and its importance–is what makes it interesting to me.

The idea that fanworks allow us, as creators, a way to interpret the texts through the lens of our own experiences and use our fanworks to bring to the forefront what is important to us (versus what was important to the author) is nothing new. Henry Jenkins’ 1992 Textual Poachers popularized the idea of fanworks as a means to read and interpret texts through the fan’s experiences versus the author’s authority. This is exactly what I find myself doing with the story of Fëanor. Like many nerdy kids, I was cruelly treated as a child, by both my peers and some of the adults who should have protected me. As an adult, I am a teacher of young people who have likewise been cruelly treated in many cases and explicitly sidelined as too disturbed to benefit from the same educational setting as the majority of their peers. Perhaps because of this, I have always been almost obsessed by cruelty, particularly what in us as humans allows it. When I first read the story of the Fëanorians, I was shocked by their acts, as most people would be. But I also couldn’t get out of my mind this respected and beloved family as they existed in Valinor and what happened between their early existences as husbands, fathers, and beloved friends and their later existences as kinslayers. So when I started writing stories about the Fëanorians, this was my focus: to show them not as villains, nor as victims maligned and forced into their fates, but as humans whose flaws and circumstances and choices all interacted to produce the people they were and the people they became.

This is why I find myself so uncharacteristically reactive to the “Fëanor is evil” trope that has clung with all the tenacity and irritation of a cockleburr through my decade in the Tolkien fandom. It feels like a cop-out to see the label and not the person behind it. It seems counterproductive to see an action while ignoring what produced that action. And it seems dishonest to pretend that people who commit atrocities are always wholly different from the rest of us. I look back at my life and can infer the experiences and circumstances that produced the person that I am, but I also know that I feel pride and jealousy and antagonism at times, and if the experiences and circumstances of my life had been different, perhaps those would have been the traits that were nurtured and I would be a wholly different person. The story of Fëanor speaks to that. If he could fall, any of us could fall. “But for the grace of God I go”–or we could any one of us become a Fëanor. That is scary, yes. And so I write, to understand that it may not come to pass.


16 Responses to “We Are Fëanor? Thoughts on Reading Moral Ambiguity into the Characterizations of the Fëanorians”

  1. Independence1776 says:

    Thank you. I am very tired of the feeling that I have to defend myself for liking and writing about the characters I do. People are complicated. Characters should be, too.

    (I’m also reblogging this on Tumblr.)

  2. Dawn says:

    You’re welcome! I don’t hang around Tumblr too much, so I know the character-hate that goes on there by reputation only. But I’m always surprised when smart people who really know their Tolkien buy in so easily to the “Feanor is evil” canard. Umm … the idea of a fall doesn’t work with an evil character anymore than a person can physically fall while already lying on the ground! 😀

  3. Independence1776 says:

    Sad to say, it’s not just the character hate. It’s that there’s a vocal group of people who believe that trying to understand why darker and villainous characters act the way they do makes you a terrible person (because you’re woobifying them, excusing them, explaining away their actions, and whatnot). You can imagine how they feel about you liking said characters. (It’s why I have the “not a Loki apologist” and “does not approve of everything darker characters did” in my LJ profile and my Tumblr About Me page, respectively.) Sad to say, it’s probably in part a reaction against those who do try to excuse the characters. But to my mind, there’s a line between exploring motivations and excusing actions. And I wish more people would recognize that, and recognize that people are exploring but not excusing without tarring them with the same brush as the excusers.

  4. Dawn says:

    There’s definitely the extreme in the other direction. I have known people who discussed the kinslaying at Alqualonde as the War of Telerin Aggression, i.e., who made the argument in all sincerity that the Teleri pushing the Noldor into the sea as they tried to steal their ships excused the Noldor slaughtering them.

    However, it’s ridiculous to act as though the two extremes are the only way to look at a character or incident. (I find the tendency of people toward dualistic thinking annoying in general. And dangerous, as it tends to be counterproductive when applied to people and situations in the real world.)

    Personally speaking, I find the Feanor-is-evil people and War-of-Telerin-Aggression people equally shallow in their reading of the story and their understanding of human nature.

  5. Independence1776 says:

    Yes, all of that. Extremes don’t bring anything good anywhere. Not in the wider world, and not in fandom. And on a fandom level, I’ve noticed that the extremes tend to drown out the moderate voices, if only because anything less extreme is percieved as an attack on their position. It sucks (and it’s why I don’t participate in fandom on Tumblr).

  6. Dawn says:

    I can’t speak on Tumblr, but in my early days in fandom, it seemed like the extremes sometimes spawned each other. Like people were tired of a very dualist good-evil reading, so they swung to the opposite extreme of omg-Feanor-was-a-totally-persecuted-misunderstood-soul!! Which in turn caused those who were like, “Huh? We’re blaming the victims of kinslaying for Feanor’s life??” to double down on the opposite extreme.

    In the middle ground, I sometimes felt assailed from both sides! 😀

  7. Elleth says:

    In the middle ground, I sometimes felt assailed from both sides! 😀

    Still very true in some fannish venues on tumblr, I think. Probably not surprising seeing how dualistic extremes are posited as the only option, generally speaking.

  8. Lyra says:

    In the middle ground, I sometimes felt assailed from both sides! 😀

    Yeah, that’s how I feel on the “Was Tolkien Racist” and “Was Tolkien Sexist” issues. Both sides have some valid points, and both sides go over the top on other points. (IMTNHO, of course.) So I tend to disagree with both – and get clobbered over the head by both. makes you wonder why it’s supposed to be “the happy medium”!

    (Needless to say that I completely agree on your Feanor essay. So many examples from history that could illustrate the point further. The one you gave from your own life was really chilling, for so many reasons!)

  9. Dawn says:

    Elleth: I wonder how much of it is an age thing. I remember similar attitudes (just not as amplified because of the nature of LJ versus Tumblr) among my friends group when I joined fandom, which was largely young twentysomethings. Tumblr seems to be a young contingent of fans as well. And, of course, it’s Tumblr, and everything seems to blow up fast there and encourage piling on (since with the reblog structure, one can miss what the OP may have to say in response to criticisms to the original post and, once reblogged, it’s impossible to fully disappear something). Appropriately enough, since I can’t access Tumblr at work, I am a little worried that this post on Tumblr might have done just that! 😀

    Lyra: Lol on the “happy medium.” The person who coined that phrase has obviously never tried to take a moderate stance on a hot-button issue! 😀

    I think a lot of it, too, is that people can disagree and still be respectful of each other as people. In the sexism/racism debate, it just doesn’t seem to take long before the finger-pointing and ugly name-calling starts, and I just tend not to find that appropriate almost ever. In that sense, I think “over the top” is a fair characterization, even as I tend to sympathize with the perspectives of those who are usually doing the finger-pointing …

  10. Lyra says:

    I think a lot of it, too, is that people can disagree and still be respectful of each other as people.

    To be fair, when I encounter people who I think are absolutely, utterly wrong (for instance, people who insist that Feanor is Pure Evil Incarnate), I find it very hard to “agree to disagree”, too. And I know that ten years ago, I’d probably have run into the debate foaming at the mouth and yelling. By now, I’ve mostly (mostly!) trained myself to either disagree politely or, more often, just go away and talk about it to people who I know share my opinion. But it took training and maturing! So I should sympathise with those who don’t manage to do it yet.
    Part of the problem is, I think, that most fandom debates resurface in cycles. If you’ve been in the fandom for several years, chances are that you’ve been in this debate before – at least once. Some people are happy to reheat an old discussion or to repeat their arguments again and again, but others grow exhausted. And with exhaustion often come frustration and obstinacy. And that’s when arguments don’t actually matter anymore, because neither side will budge, anyway…

  11. Ithilwen says:

    I think what a lot of the anti-Feanorian brigade don’t under stand is that there is a difference between the statements “Feanor is evil” and “Feanor gradually becomes evil.” What most of we Noldor-writers have tried to do is to explore how the latter came to be. Why did someone who started out so promising end by bringing about so much ruin? Asking that question is not the same as exonerating Feanor’s final wicked deeds.

  12. Tyelkormo says:

    I don’t take people seriously who focus so much on Feanor, since they overlook how explicit Tolkien is about two things:
    a)Anyone can fall, even the Valar. They often take the Valar as sources of authority, when in fact, Tolkien specifically points out they can and do err.

    b)Feanor’s mother, Miriel, rejected her immortality and thus provoked part of the situation Feanor grew up in. Without Miriel’s refusal of what was her role in the world, Feanor’s half-brothers would never have existed. THIS, and not the Oath, is described by Tolkien as the fundamental Fall.

    There are thus two incidents which are critical to the Oath happening in the first place which have nothing to do with Feanor himself – the Valar taking the Elves to Valinor, even though their assigned role had been to mentor the Secondborn, and Miriel refusing her very nature.

    Feanor then, in a spur of the moment, took an Oath “That none should make and none shall break”. Everything else was a direct consequence of that moment. We are talking about a society here in which no courts and no codified legal system exists. Oaths are binding, they trap the oath-taker. (Cf. also the Oath-Breakers in Lord of the Rings, trapped in the world until their oath is fulfilled).

    One should also note that Tolkien explicitly likens the possessiveness of the Teleri of their ships to that of the Noldor to the Silmarils. In ALL Kinslayings, the Noldor ask or demand to be given first. It is only when they are rejected that, trapped by the Oath, they resort to violence.

    Possessiveness is a central theme of Tolkien (cf. Frodo’s words to Sam about saving the Shire, but not for himself, or the fact that Gollum’s possessiveness of the Ring brings about both his own destruction and that of the Ring). Another of his central themes is the concept of “ofermod”, of reckless “over-courage”, shown both by Feanor’s dismissal of the warning he could never prevail against Melkor, and by his reckless pursuit which ends up getting him killed.

    Were he not a Noldo, Feanor, but especially his sons, could be straight out of Norse sagas – duty trapping them in a horrible course of action that some of them might not even condone but feel unable to avoid.

    I’ve always held that the houses of Feanor, Fingolfin and Finarfin illustrate the transition from pure Norse spirit (which Tolkien admired, while still taking issue with aspects) to the version he called “sanctified” under influence of Christianity, epitomized probably most by Finrod’s willingness to sacrifice even himself for the greater good, with Fingolfin representing a middle stage – also sacrificing himself in the end, but needlessly so, throwing his life away without it saving anyone else.

    Feanor was impulsive, and his impulsiveness, epitomized in the Oath, trapped him and his family. But he is far from a premediator of evil – and quite the contrary, his course of action and that of his family not only brought the Noldor back to Middle Earth, where they could teach the Secondborn, as had been Eru’s plan to begin with, it also brought about the cause of action that led the Valar to “man up” and solve the issue of Melkor once and for all. Which ends up being another central topic of Tolkien – that evil will in the end labor in vain and only bring about the greater good. Morgoth’s murder of Finwe, theft of the Silmarils and corruption of Feanor in the end brought about his own downfall.

    Then Ilúvatar spoke, and he said: `Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilúvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderfull, which he himself hath not imagined.’

  13. Dawn says:

    Ithilwen: Yes, I agree completely. And this desire to know what causes that downfall is really at the heart of why I write Feanorian fic.

    Tyelkormo: I agree that the circumstances that produced Feanor are essential to understanding his story. If I would have gone into what produced Feanor’s fall, these would be points I would have brought up. I keep coming back to the fact that it must have been particularly painful to not only lose his mom but then to live in a land that is identified as “blissful” and “deathless” and where people (Elves and Ainur both) very likely didn’t know how to deal with a grieving child. The Valar also didn’t seem to understand the need of Feanor and others of the Elves (the Noldor in particular) to have a real impact on the world around them, not just make more pretty things to adorn an already beautiful world.

    I agree that the Noldor represent what Tolkien would have called “Northern courage” (I like your idea of the transition Feanor -> Fingolfin -> Finrod), and I think that is part of the problem with how people interpret the First Age. Many Tolkien fans and scholars have a hang-up with applying a Christian worldview to the First Age: The Ainur become “angels” with not only authority but infallibility, and evil was introduced into the world by the “sin” and “fall” of the Children of Eru, not already present from the creation of the universe (via Melkor’s rebellion during the Music). Of course, that’s not the way it works at all, and the themes we see in the Silm are, I agree, more Germanic and pagan than Christian.

    And yes, Iluvatar’s statement in the Ainulindale does seal it once and for all. :)

  14. maeglin says:

    Hi, Dawn! I have a somewhat different theory about this. Tolkien does write quite explicitly that Elves (unlike Men) are bound by Fate. And one sees passages like the Doom of Mandos, which makes quite clear that the Noldor (and the Feanorians in particular) are bound by Fate (capitalization intentional). I see this as being quite determinative in later events, much as Melkor’s curse bound the children of Hurin. I don’t think either the Noldor or Turin could have escaped their ends, no matter what they did. Some say this view discounts free will, but I just don’t see it that way. The choices made by Feanor and his sons were their own, and led to the Quenta as is was. Had they chosen differently, the DETAILS of First Age history would have been different, but the end would have been the same. So I really don’t view the Silmarillion as saying anything at all about our society — because our experience of the world is not the same as the Elves’ would have been. But unlike you, I guess, that doesn’t reduce my enjoyment of the story. Not at all! It is just a work of fiction, and fantasy at that! If fantasy worlds were merely more-magical versions of our world, rather than different worlds altogether, it would be a sad thing, no?

    I do, of course, object to those who see the Feanorians as villains. I too agree that people who write that way just don’t understand tragedy. Feanor is a classic tragic hero.

    I am not anywhere near as sympathetic to the Valar as you are, or at least you seemed to be in Another Man’s Cage. My views are closer to those of “The Feanorians Send Their Regards” blog – the Valar mismanaged the First Age almost without exception. For me, the Valar are completely unsympathetic characters who covet the Silmarils nearly as much as Morgoth and the Feanorians they curse. And some of the “good” Valar aren’t even remotely good. It’s hard to argue that Namo has any good intentions at all – no?

    Of course, a lot of this is probably because I’m a scientist (and a physicist at that) – I’m just the sort of fellow Tolkien hated. If I’d been present in First Age Valinor, I certainly would have followed Feanaro. My pen-name is not coincidental, after all :).

    Anyway, as always, you write very thought-provoking stuff!

    • Dawn says:

      Hi, Maeglin, it’s good to see you over here at the ol’ HL. :)

      I am not expert on the fate vs. free will debate in Tolkien, but I am skeptical that Tolkien stated unequivocally that Elves are governed solely by Fate-with-a-capital-F. I’m curious about your source for this.

      Now if you’re saying that The Silmarillion makes this claim, I am more inclined to agree, but I also think it’s important to keep in mind that this (and all of the legendarium) was written with a fictional loremaster in mind. He–the fictional loremaster, that is–might have believed that the Elves were entirely bound by Fate. In fact, I agree that passages in The Silmarillion give that impression, but Tolkien is also very clear that his fictional loremasters are fallible (see, for instance, the draft of his letter to Peter Hastings [153]: “Treebeard is a character in my story, not me; and though he has a great memory and some earthy wisdom, he is not one of the Wise, and there is quite a lot he does not know or understand”). I don’t think that Tolkien wrote the legendarium with the mindset that the Elves lacked free will. The Ainulindalë is pretty clear that Eru turns all actions to serve his will, making beauty out of ugliness (presumably, although I continue to hold that the victims of this roundabout arrival at Goodness might feel very differently about the matter!), but I don’t think that negates the choices that the characters make.

      Everyone reads fantasy for different reasons, and I don’t expect, of course, for mine to be universal. But I do need some anchor to the real world, kind of a bridge to allow me to connect logically and empathetically with the world and its inhabitatants. A lack of free will is too much of a disconnect for me. Conflict moves narratives forward, and conflict is predicated on choice, requiring free will. I need to believe that characters are making choices that affect the outcome for themselves and their world. If the choices don’t matter, what is my stake in the story? I am willing to allow for a measure of “divine intervention” to nudge things in one direction or another; as you said, this is a fantasy world. But to reduce vibrant, complex, multifaceted characters to the pawns of a force or a higher power (however one conceives of “Fate”) makes the story far less interesting (I’d almost say “uninteresting”) to me.

      I tend to view the purpose of fantasy as offering another angle at which to view our own world without being so tightly bound by the laws of our world. Again, though, I recognize that this is not universal. But sometimes relocating a character like Fëanor into a world where resplendent gems holding divine Light are possible can in turn grant insights into very primary-world concerns, whether those are general (greed, creativity) or highly specific (intellectual property, for example).

      I do have to laugh because I don’t think of myself as particularly sympathetic to the Valar! 😀 I also feel like they made a muck of things, but I think my difference is that I do believe that they–including their own lust for the Silmarils, which I also agree is present–believed they were doing the right thing and acted out of good intentions. And I don’t use my fiction to grind an axe against them, or I try not to. I also think they had a nonhuman perspective, so it is hard to place them easily into categories of “good” and “evil.” Námo, for instance, has a very specific purpose and one that is naturally uncomfortable for human minds to contemplate. He judges and rehabilitates the spirits of the dead. From our perspective, as humans who relate to those characters subject to that judgment and all that follows, that feels bad or evil, but I don’t think it is; it is just a perspective that it is hard for us to connect to or understand because we don’t see the world as Námo does.

      I write characters by asking the question: “How do they sleep at night?” And beginning with the assumption that one’s behaviors or one’s rationalizations have to allow her or him to sleep at night. Making the journey between an egregious behavior and becoming okay in one’s own mind is interesting to me. In my experience, this is how humans behave. (This doesn’t apply wholly to the Ainur, since they are nonhuman and, in some cases, I think can almost be compared to natural forces rather than people–Námo being an example–but if I write them as characters, I tend to humanize them for the simple and selfish reason that it is not fun for me to write about characters absent human emotions and behaviors.) Anyway, this means that there are no “evil” characters in my stories, just characters who do evil things and then engage in moral gymnastics with themselves to be okay in their own minds.

      Thanks for the thought-provoking comment! :)

      • maeglin says:

        Hi, again! Thanks for the detailed reply :).

        Since you were curious — my view is indeed based mostly on the famous “Therefore he willed that the hearts of Men should seek beyond the world and should find no rest therein; but they should have a virtue to shape their life, amid the powers and chances of the world, beyond the Music of the Ainur, which is as fate to all things else… ” passage in the Silm. And also on the sense that his stories support this — unlike Men, for example, the Elves do seem doomed no matter what they do. I’m certainly no scholar of the Letters or of Tolkien’s various essays — haven’t read most of them — so you know much more about the full scope of his views than I do :).

        Just to clarify how I see Elves and free will — I see this roughly as follows: they are certainly free to choose their “paths”, and can certainly be judged according to the paths they choose — but all these paths lead to the same destination. Not so for Men, who (apparently) have the ability to choose their destinations as well.

        Just my two cents :)

        Thanks again!

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