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Topic: 'Properties' of the oath of Feanor

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Being lies with Eru - Rank 1
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Date: Aug 20, 2013
'Properties' of the oath of Feanor

The oath of Feanor is not taken "lightly", and it is simply terrifying.
It is said that such an oath would pursue oathkeepers or oathbreakers  to the world's end. It, however, turns out that Feanor himself is the only one who follows its spirit literally. He never gets a chance to directly confront Morgoth in Middle-earth, but not for the lack of trying, and apparent hopelessness of any such attempt does not stop him - he is mortally wounded in a desperate combat with the balrogs.
His sons' attitude is very different if not completely opposite. While Morgoth has all the three jewels, which are considered physically impossible to get, the oath... 'sleeps'. It doesn't torment them. Moreover, it becomes clear that they can live without the Silmarils and be content - in other words, unlike their father, they only care because they are constrained by the oath. 
Even when Silmarils are deemed 'accessible', the Feanor's sons first ask for the jewels, although according to the oath they are supposed to react violently. They do not consider this an oath-breaking. 
The oath starts tormenting them only when the jewels seem to be within reach but are not given up to them.
One would think that this oath, much like any oath, does not exist on its own but only in the minds of the oath-takers (and perhaps witnesses - here I mean the Noldor, because to the named witnesses, Manwe and Varda, this oath is void from the start). For this reason it seems there should be quite a lot of freedom in its interpretation. How then does it happen that the oath 'torments' them? What kind of torment does it do to them? We can only conclude that this torment is severe because it causes kinslaying time and time again. 
Since, according to Maglor, "The oath says not that [they] may not bide [their] time", why are they tormented at all? They can wait for very long. Yet apparently there are limits in the flexibility of the oath's interpretation. These limits are different for each oath-taker though, probably depending on the mindset of each of them - and maybe reflecting the attitude with which they originally took the oath?
The oath also does not say what is supposed to be done with the Silmarils if they are regained. It seems to be implied that they should stay forever with the House of Feanor and cannot, for example, be given to the Valar.
It would be great to get opinions and critique!
 


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Lórellinë

Being lies with Eru - Rank 1
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Date: Aug 26, 2013
It appears that the way the oath was 'handled' - first taken under such circumstances, and so merciless and daunting in its contents, but then surprisingly all but forgotten -
troubles no one... Clearly the sons of Feanor realized that a direct attempt to attack Morgoth would fail, as their father has proved to them by his own example. Or did they get a sneak look into his foreknowledge that they are not to overthrow Morgoth by their force alone? They are made to repeat the oath anyway... And then the oath goes to sleep?

I would also like to touch upon the 'properties' of the Silmarils. Silmarils do seem to have a mind of their own. Apparently Feanor himself did not foresee all the qualities of his jewels. Looks like their burning properties did not exist until Varda hallowed them. After that, no mortal flesh and no flesh unclean could touch them. But it was up to the jewels to decide what flesh is 'mortal' or 'unclean'. Indeed Beren, his descendants (of whom some that held the Silmaril become immortal, but only afterwards) and even the dwarves that killed Thingol (and by the way Thingol too, although his intentions for the quest for a Silmaril were far from innocent) were able to touch and hold the Silmaril. Well, maybe at that time the dwarves were not considered mortal beings but rather beings without spirit indwelling and then Silmarils had nothing to burn in them? What I am saying is that - taking Carcharoth as an example - the Silmaril burned his insides but did not kill him; it even amplified his strength. An object simply physically burning should have long killed that wolf. But the physical damage caused by the Silmaril, that from the description looks incompatible with life, only resulted in great thirst and pain. Most curiously, the Silmaril was scorching the beast through the bitten-off but otherwise undamaged Beren's hand. Unfortunately I cannot recall if it is said that Carcharoth had any spirit (like Glaurung had).
The Silmarils burned Morgoth's hands when he held them (those burns never healed), but not his head through the iron crown - they were felt as a heavy burden but not hot.
Maedhros and Maglor are also in in that nice company of Silmaril-burned creatures. Despite the pain, they were able to run 'far' (how far remains unclear) from the Eonwe's encampment. It also seems that not the pain alone but mostly the despair over the utter impossibility to fulfill the oath is what brings death to Maedhros and what makes Maglor cast his Silmaril into the sea.
Of course we can never know if Feanor himself would have been burned by his jewels should he have regained them from Morgoth.

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Lórellinë

Thorin Oakenshield - Rank 6
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Date: Aug 29, 2013
some interesting speculations and theories Lorelline. To pick up on a few points:

1. I don't recall the Oath dictating that violence was the only means of getting the Silmarils. I assume you're referring to this part:

[I]"...vowing to pursue with vengeance and hatred to the ends of the World Vala, Demon, Elf or Man as yet unborn, or any creature, great or small, good or evil, that time should bring forth unto the end of days, whoso should hold or take or keep a Silmaril from their possession."[/I]

I think the most important part there is the second part I bolded. I think it means violence is the solution for when a Silmaril is kept from the sons of Feanor, as in refusal to give back the Silmaril to them.


2. Regarding the length of time they can wait - I think Middle-earth oaths aren't just 'in the minds of the oath takers'. If sworn properly they actually become a tangible 'contract', if broken then fate will, one way or the other, repay the oath-breaker in kind. Take Isildur's cure on the Men of the Mountain, for example. Clearly there is something tangible about that, as they were not able to 'move on' before fulfilling the oath they took.
I think, therefore, the amount of time they can wait is entirely dependent on the circumstances of the time. If an opportunity arises in which it is possible for them to fulfil their oath and they refuse to do so, they are then tormented, mentally anguished presumably. That's why they were not tormented when the Silmarils were with Morgoth, but when he was defeated and they were with Eonwe and the elves Maedhros and Maglor were compelled to act.

3. As for the burning properties of the Silmarils - personally I don't believe the Silmarils had a mind of their own, not like the One Ring. The One Ring had a mind of it's own because there was literally a mind put into it, Sauron's spirit, or a fair amount of it at least. I think the reason the Silmarils didn't burn those mortals you mentioned was because fate was deeply woven into the equation at those occasions, and thus overrode the burning properties. Beren's journey was heavily fate orientated, hence why not even the Girdle of Melian could keep him out of Doriath.
Carcharoth was burned a lot by the Silmarils, but it is possible - though I don't like injecting science into this - the burning caused some kind of congealed cocoon in his belly with the Silmarils inside unable to burn any further? Or, more likely, it is simply Tolkien writing in mythological style, which tends to ignore many of the intricate details of such matters or the logic behind them.

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You want it for Yourself!
Being lies with Eru - Rank 1
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1. "... violence is the solution for when a Silmaril is kept from the sons of Feanor, as in refusal to give back the Silmaril to them."
That indeed makes sense. The sons of Feanor could not assume that everyone knew about their oath. Although the variation of the oath I had in mind was this (Annals of Aman):
"...whoso hideth or hoardeth,
or in hand taketh,
finding keepeth
or afar casteth
a Silmaril. This swear we all:
death we will deal him
ere Day's ending..."
Pretty violent, I would say.
And it is not until now that I paid attention at "swear we all". So they took it all together after all. Then... technically... how?

2." Regarding the length of time they can wait - I think Middle-earth oaths aren't just 'in the minds of the oath takers'. If sworn properly they actually become a tangible 'contract', if broken then fate will, one way or the other, repay the oath-breaker in kind. Take Isildur's cure on the Men of the Mountain, for example. Clearly there is something tangible about that, as they were not able to 'move on' before fulfilling the oath they took."
The look from this angle (Third Age - I got stuck in the First) is very helpful, Mr. Baggins. The oath you mention exists 'on its own'. So it was the oath of Feanor in particular that didn't really 'exist' this way - a messenger from the Valar tells Feanor: '...thou hast sworn in vain, for none of the Valar canst thou overcome now or ever...'

"I think, therefore, the amount of time they can wait is entirely dependent on the circumstances of the time. If an opportunity arises in which it is possible for them to fulfil their oath and they refuse to do so, they are then tormented, mentally anguished presumably. That's why they were not tormented when the Silmarils were with Morgoth, but when he was defeated and they were with Eonwe and the elves Maedhros and Maglor were compelled to act."
I also think of mental anguish. Although another thing would be the fear of Everlasting darkness (or maybe it is all the same). Somehow Maedhros and Maglor do not leave the impression that they are tormented by the oath; it seems that Maedhros quite consciously wants to get it over with, and Maglor, also consciously, is ready for Everlasting darkness.

3. "As for the burning properties of the Silmarils - personally I don't believe the Silmarils had a mind of their own, not like the One Ring. The One Ring had a mind of it's own because there was literally a mind put into it, Sauron's spirit, or a fair amount of it at least."
Again, I have not even thought of that parallel, simply meant that the jewels 'behaved' strangely. I guess Feanor's words that his heart rests in the Silmarils should not be overinterpreted, and the jewels wouldn't have burned his sons' hands then.



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Lórellinë

Being lies with Eru - Rank 1
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After Mr. Baggins mentioned those oathbreakers, the Men of the Mountains, and the effect of the Isildur's curse on them, I had to reconsider some properties of the oath of Feanor.
If the oath is foretold to never be fulfilled, is it made 'void' by this (that's what Maglor asks)?
And assuming it is void, does that mean that it can be broken? In other words, if the oath is 'void', does it continue to exist only in the minds of its takers, and, should they change their minds and foreswear it, there will be no further torment or a threat of the Everlasting Darkness?
Seems the whole tragedy is that the oath is void in the sense that the success is impossible, but being sworn the way it was it still cannot be broken - the oathbreakers should be pursued by their oath forever. And at a closer look there is a reason for this. Indeed the oath has two elements. The first one is more "obvious" (at least it is the more common interpretation) - they swear to get the jewels back. This is what is predicted to never happen. But there is another element, the most disturbing one, which is 'pursuing with hatred' all those basically coming in contact with the Silmarils. Unlike regaining the jewels, this part is in many instances quite doable. Therefore, as a whole, this oath is never made void.
And so we are told that the oath indeed torments its takers; and then the other condition, the Everlasting Darkness upon those who nevertheless break it, should apply too.
By the way, whether this oath exists 'on its own' or only in the minds of the oath-takers seems to make no practical difference - in the sense that it still operates through their minds.

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Lórellinë

Being lies with Eru - Rank 1
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Date: Nov 3, 2013

Some more on the Silmarils - namely on 'hallowing' of the jewels.

They are hallowed in such a way that undeserving individuals could not touch them because they will be burned - they will experience unendurable pain.

Now, what is the purpose of this? To prevent those unworthy ones from handling the jools, or to punish them? The impression one gets from the narrative is definitely prevention (no unclean thing might touch them). Yet, not in a single case did this new quality work as planned, if indeed that's how it was planned. Not in Morgoth's case. Not in Carcharoth's - he didn't spit it out (nor throw up... disgusting). Not in Maedhros's. It should have been the worst in his case, with one hand only. And not even in the case of Maglor, who in all probability was willing to submit to the will of Eonwe, was ready to go to Valinor and be judged, and could have used this burning as a great excuse to surrender the gem.

Carcharoth deserves a few more words. He is basically evil, to put it plain. As was noted previously, the Jewel not only doesn't kill him but gives him extra strength. And that strength is used against the defense of Doriath. The wolf crosses the Girdle of Melian no problem. So much for hallowing the Silmarils. It is really counterintuitive, to me at least, that it helps the evil purpose. The Jewel just 'does not care' what or who it is aiding. Although in fact the wolf might not have realized that he came within the borders of Thingol's kingdom already - he hardly planned to point out the safety breach to this arrogant king. Of course all this is part of the great plan, but it also underscores the unpredictable 'behavior' of the jewels.

If on the other hand the plan was to punish and to cause pain, then I really wonder that this is called hallowing. The question that occurs to me is whether Varda knew how her alteration would work, or she didn't. I think she didn't (from the overall description of what was known to the Valar, and also if she knew that would mean she did an evil thing, and that's unlikely). And another one - why did Feanor give them to Varda? To show off? Did he know what she did to these rocks? We are told, but was he informed? Did she herself make this burning quality inconsistent, or was it like that because the Jools had some sort of 'mind' already? All in all, this burning seems quite unnecessary, although it makes the story more interesting and a whole lot more tragic.



-- Edited by Lorelline on Sunday 3rd of November 2013 06:09:13 AM

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