The “Quenta Silmarillion” Death Post

Causes of Death in the Quenta Silmarillion pie charts

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 70 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).

Quenta Silmarillion Death List (in chronological order)

Finwë–interpersonal violence | Silmarils
Fëanor–battle | Silmarils
Aredhel–interpersonal violence
Haleth–old age/natural causes (omitted from graph by mistake)
Bëor–old age/natural causes
Angrod–battle (omitted from graph by mistake)
Aegnor–battle (omitted from graph by mistake)
Bregolas–battle (omitted from graph by mistake)
Fingolfin–interpersonal violence
Gorlim–interpersonal violence
Barahir–interpersonal violence
Edrahil–animal attack | Silmarils
Finrod Felagund–animal attack | Silmarils
Draugluin–interpersonal violence
Carcharoth–interpersonal violence | Silmarils
Huan–interpersonal violence
Beren (first death)–animal attack
Halmir–unknown (omitted from graph by mistake)
Lalaith–sickness (omitted from graph by mistake)
Saeros–accident | Túrin
Khîm–interpersonal violence | Túrin
Beleg–interpersonal violence | Túrin
Orodreth–battle | Túrin
Gwindor–battle | Túrin
Brodda–interpersonal violence | Túrin
Finduilas–interpersonal violence | Túrin
Hunthor–accident | Túrin
Glaurung–interpersonal violence | Túrin
Nienor–suicide | Túrin
Brandir–interpersonal violence | Túrin
Túrin–suicide | Túrin
Morwen–old age/natural causes
Mîm–interpersonal violence
Thingol–battle | Silmarils
Mablung–battle | Silmarils
Lord of Nogrod–battle | Silmarils
Beren (second death)–old age/natural causes
Lúthien–old age/natural causes
Celegorm–battle | Silmarils
Curufin–battle | Silmarils
Caranthir–battle | Silmarils
Dior–battle | Silmarils
Nimloth–battle | Silmarils
Eluréd–starvation | Silmarils
Elurín–starvation | Silmarils
Amrod–battle | Silmarils
Amras–battle | Silmarils
Maedhros–suicide | Silmarils


13 Responses to “The “Quenta Silmarillion” Death Post”

  1. Independence1776 says:

    I’m sitting here cackling at the Túrin v Silmaril v other causes chart. Mainly because I’ve never been able to understand (in-universe or out) why people like Túrin, in part because it seems to me as if he holds significantly more responsibility than the text gives him credit for.

    a few people over on Tumblr have left questions (in the tags, grrr …)

    In agreement, because people assume that posters actually have time to check every single reblog for commentary in the tags. Either that, or they don’t actually want their tags to be seen or to have a discussion or answers to their questions. I was never able to figure that out. (Which is neither here nor there for me now. I’m only on Tumblr now for the Young Wizards fandom; I don’t even check my dash anymore.)

    I know why you put Beren and Lúthien where you did, but I do buy the “Silmaril caused early death” bit, so I’ll personally add two more to the Silmaril chart. But that’s me. :)

    • Dawn says:

      I have tried to like Turin because I generally have a lot of empathy for People with Serious Issues, and Turin definitely falls into the category of People with Serious Issues. What I find hard to overcome–and which gets to the heart of the thesis of the paper I’m working on–is that he is so sympathetically depicted that it feels like there isn’t anything there for me to work with. With the Feanorians, they are aren’t given a lot of sympathy and are blamed for things that really they probably shouldn’t be (or at least, they should share the blame with other actors who, like Turin, tend to get off scot-free), so the temptation to “right the historical record” is there. With Turin, he does something malicious or bone-headed, and it seems like there is a character just waiting in the wings to pet him or pardon it. And he seems to learn nothing from his mistakes. Among the sons of Feanor (since Feanor didn’t live long enough to really be able to say what he might have learned or not), we do see character growth and acceptance of responsibility and attempts to fix some of what they have broken.

      I’ve still not given up on Turin. But if I write him, it will be as a character with a personality where he enjoys being a perpetual victim and is unable to accept responsibility. It will be a challenge to myself to depict sympathetically a person with traits I personally find abhorrent.

      Either that, or they don’t actually want their tags to be seen or to have a discussion or answers to their questions. I was never able to figure that out.

      Luckily, this was my second summer break this week, so I was home and able to check the tags on every. single. reblog. But normally this level of attention on Tumblr would just short-circuit my brain and I would pretend it didn’t exist because I wouldn’t be able to spare the time for anything else.

      The best that I can figure is that people find it difficult or uncomfortable to approach someone (possibly a stranger!) and ask what might be seen as a “dumb question.” I suppose the tags feel more intimate, like asking a question of your friends while you’re all attending a big lecture. I don’t know. I just really do wish people would reach out and ask because 1) I am a nice person and 2) I love being able to share resources. They sometimes take hours to put together, and nothing makes me happier than seeing someone else put that time to productive use.

      so I’ll personally add two more to the Silmaril chart.

      Yeah, I’d personally have another on the Turin chart because I’d include Hurin there as well! :) There were a surprising number of gray areas. I thought this would be simple. I should have known better!

      • Independence1776 says:

        For me, it’s that the Fëanorians actually do things (despite all but one dying) rather than exist in doom and gloom; Túrin’s story is too grimdark for me to have any enjoyment reading it. And he’s one of the characters that I dislike to the point where I’m incapable of writing him sympathetically, so I won’t write him at all. (As contrasted to Elwing, whom I dislike but also can write her sympathetically to the point where the reader can’t tell my actual feelings about her. And that’s my modus operandi for characters I dislike; I don’t like character bashing in general and especially in fic.)

        Being shy or afraid or just wanting to ask your friends is probably a good explanation for the use of tags. (And like you normally would, I’d probably ignore it after the first few reblogs because it’s just overwhelming after that.)

        I thought this would be simple. I should have known better!

        It’s Tolkien; nothing’s ever simple. 😛 Well, apart from the whole “stay far, far away from magical jewelry” lesson that no one seems to ever learn.

        • Dawn says:

          I don’t do character bashing either. If write fiction almost wholly with a mind toward understanding characters and therefore understanding people, not to make a stand against a particular person. (Whereas I will write with a mind toward my readers seeing a character in a new and potentially sympathetic light.)

          There is a novel by Joyce Carol Oates–I forget now which one–that I read once a long time ago and was partway through and realized that I despised the main character but, at the same time, he felt so real to me, and he was characterized so well that, looking through his eyes (which made me feel rather slimy), I could understand why he did what he did. It was a very uncomfortable experience, to find oneself so cozy inside the brain of an abhorrent person. I found this a tremendous accomplishment as a writer. I’ve wanted to do that ever since. Turin may be my test case. 😉 (He is nowhere near as slimy as this character was though!)

          Well, apart from the whole “stay far, far away from magical jewelry” lesson that no one seems to ever learn.

          Or, “Don’t swear oaths, dumbass,” which no one seems to learn either …

      • Niki says:

        I’ve still not given up on Turin. But if I write him, it will be as a character with a personality where he enjoys being a perpetual victim and is unable to accept responsibility. It will be a challenge to myself to depict sympathetically a person with traits I personally find abhorrent.

        Ooh. I’m unfortunately rusty enough on Tolkien now that I don’t remember what I thought of Turin and haven’t really read fanfic in a while, but this idea is very intriguing!

        (And reading this post has me imagining some fancy, heroic prose about an Elf lord’s tragic end after lighting a match in a bathroom or having an Acme contraption backfire in a Wile E. Coyote-inspired attempt to capture a Silmaril or something. :))

        • Dawn says:

          Haaa. Truly, Pengolodh would have witnessed almost none of the deaths that he describes in the Silm. For example, I am fairly sure that Fingolfin actually slipped on a banana peel and hit his head outside of Angband before even getting a chance to call for Morgoth. That’s why the Elves really don’t sing about it–they’re embarrassed! Fingolfin was always doing dumb shit like that. But Pengolodh was a rather dense sort and, lacking songs about it and not picking up on nonverbal cues when he asked, assumed it must have been really epic and really sad, and so made up a story to match.

          Pengolodh: the original author of Tolkien fanfic! :^D

  2. Brooke says:

    Yesssssssss, death statistics! 😀

    The difference between Túrin’s treatment and Fëanor’s has always fascinated me. I suppose part of it is my dislike of how much Túrin gets excused, which no. If he did all the same actions and was given blame for them, I’d probably like him a lot more. 😛 On a more serious note, in many ways Túrin’s treatment reminds me of the way I saw General Custer treated in class and such while growing up – oh yes, it was a disaster, but it wasn’t his fault, now was it? He just got a little overconfident, and he couldn’t have expected that kind of attack.

    …the fact that I read the Silm just a year or two after deciding that I hated the historical bias that led to Custer being seen that way may be part of my love of reading the Silm as a biased as hell historical record.

    I had never thought about the description of funerary customs as regards how liked or disliked a character is, but you’re very right. I would add that it seems specific to some Noldor or Men to get the types of graves that are said to grow evergreen until the breaking of the world, whereas Sindar or Fëanorions are basically “Yeah, who cares?” For example, Thingol’s grave or anything connected to it isn’t mentioned.

    (On a side note, I assume that cause of death only includes named characters, therefore not Finrod’s companions and the at least one more “eaten by werewolf” described in the book?)

    Not to quibble, but merely because I’m curious as to if I missed something, how did you decide to put Eluréd and Elurín as starvation instead of some other category? This is mostly my morbid knowledge of how many ways children can die in the woods coming through.

    • Dawn says:

      Haaa, I am not the only one! Seriously, it’s been entertaining as hell this past day reading all the tags on Tumblr about this. Meanwhile, my poor husband is looking at me askance like, I thought you were researching historical bias?! 😀

      I commented at some length to Indy about my perception of the differences between how Feanor & Sons are treated in the books. Basically: what you said. :) Turin is cut A LOT of slack or the blame shifted off of him, whereas Feanor & Sons are given full blame for their deeds (not that they shouldn’t be) AND the actions of others under the pretense of the oath. Come on, Pengolodh. I’m actually finding Feanor, Thingol, and Turin three really interesting characters to compare as far as how they are treated in The Silmarillion (they are also the three most-mentioned characters in the book) because the three have some of the same flaws and how those flaws are differently depicted depending on the character is interesting. I mean, the whole rigmarole with Thingol sending Beren to retrieve a Silmaril? Can you imagine that rewritten like it would be for the Feanorians?

      And in his insatiable greed and recalcitrant xenophobia, Thingol brought within the bounds of Doriath the very stone that would hasten the departure of Luthien from the world, awaken the slumbering Oath of the Feanorians, and orchestrate his demise and the sack of Doriath.

      Instead, it is treated like it is totally cool. Perhaps I should add a category for characters who die of a combination of Thingol + Silmaril …

      I had never thought about the description of funerary customs as regards how liked or disliked a character is, but you’re very right.

      I totally have data on this now. 😉 I will probably share it at some point. (I’m going to hold back on making further death graphs since I keep finding characters I missed until I think I’ve caught them all.) I can send it privately in the meanwhile if you or anyone else is interested.

      But to sum it up, enemies and characters subject to negative bias not only do not get funerary customs–not once–but are also never described as being mourned. It’s conspicuously absent from Feanor’s death scene, for instance, where we have his sons physically present, bearing his body back to Mithrim, witnessing his death, and yet we don’t have a single mention of what they felt or how they grieved. But of course nothing humanizes a character more than seeing him or her grieve over something so universally experienced (by us mortal readers, anyway) as death. There’s a remoteness to that scene that, when contrasted to Fingolfin’s death scene–which is very similar in a lot of details–seems intended to prevent the reader from not only feeling that loss but also regarding the Feanorians as possessing normal human emotions. It makes their later depictions as oath-crazed monsters much easier to buy.

      On a side note, I assume that cause of death only includes named characters, therefore not Finrod’s companions and the at least one more “eaten by werewolf” described in the book?

      I did go with named characters, but some of the companions are named, iIrc? I’ll have to look back at this, but this may be a few more that need to be added. Thank you!

      how did you decide to put Eluréd and Elurín as starvation instead of some other category?

      Not quibbling at all–questions are always welcome! :) (Really what I didn’t want was a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking of the data on Tumblr. Folks are welcome to redo it themselves if they didn’t like how I categorized things! And it really was just a fun use of a Friday morning to present graphs showing what all of us already know to be true anyway.) But for E&E, I took The Silmarillion at its word on this one:

      … the cruel servants of Celegorm seized his young sons and left them to starve in the forest. (“Of the Ruin of Doriath”)

      This is definitely one that is open to quibbling. No one actually knows if they starved because they were never found. I wasn’t sure of how to better place them in a category short of creating an Unknown.

      • Brooke says:

        But research into death statistics can totally show historical bias! 😀 So no need for him to look askance.

        Thingol is the one that fascinates me the most, because the way he’s treated seems to shift slightly based on who he’s dealing with, such as Feanorians versus Finrod. A category for characters who died thanks to Thingol + Silmaril sounds cool (or even just Thingol. Answering his call to battle is dangerous).

        I totally have data on this now. I will probably share it at some point.

        That data sounds fascinating! I wouldn’t mind a look at all, if you’re sure you wouldn’t mind sending it.

        It doesn’t surprise me at all that there is a sort of dehuminization going on for certain characters though. I’d be almost more surprised if there wasn’t – it seems to me a pretty consistent feature in fantasy, whether it be Tolkien or Harry Potter, for there to be some group that isn’t shown participating in the same human activities as others. Which echos reality to a large degree, but still leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth when it isn’t questioned in fandom.

        You’re welcome! I’m glad to add another one to the list, and it might as well be one of the poor dungeon victims.

        Elured and Elurin are two of my favorite characters (via Nimloth, who is quite possibly my favorite or second favorite female character in his books), so I’m glad I didn’t miss some line making their death certain. 😛 I don’t think an unknown category is necessarily a bad thing – as long as the vast majority of cases are in other categories, all it does is admit that we can’t know everything in all cases. I mean, I question it a lot more when I’m reading social sciences research and every single last variable is accounted for.

    • Dawn says:

      Also, I’ve added Edrahil; he isn’t given an actual death scene but he’s a named character and his death is certain in Sauron’s dungeons, so he adds a stat to the Animal Attack and Silmaril categories.

      Great catch on this–thank you! :)

  3. just_jenni says:

    I have one I didn’t see on your list. Halmir, Son of Haldan, Lord of the Haladin. Here is his LoTR Wiki page:

    While it doesn’t explain exactly how he died, for me it implies from old age, which would seem to be a rather rare death for a warrior.

    • Dawn says:

      Good catch! The Silm says, “but Halmir died ere the war came.” I suppose I can no longer avoid a category called Unknown … ;^)

  4. Anna_Wing says:

    I have never liked Turin. He is an idiot, and the best possible example for the principle “sit down and have a cup of tea and a biscuit before making any major decisions”. My theory for the difference in treatment is that the QS was compiled and written by Elves. Turin is merely a Man, and a youngish one, even in Mannish terms. In Elven terms he is a young child. He is not really regarded as a fully responsible adult, or someone who is the equal of the narrator, unlike the Sons of Feanor. he’s not expected to know better or be able to act better. This would also account for the text’s implicit disapproval of Finduilas’ relationship with him – she was a grown up Elf, she should have known better.

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