Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fëanor's Oath

In The Silmarillion, "Of the Flight of the Noldor" (Chapter 9 ), Tolkien writes:

The SilmarillionThen Fëanor swore a terrible oath. His seven sons leapt straightway to his side and took the selfsame vow together, and red as blood shone their drawn swords in the glare of the torches. They swore an oath which none shall break, and none should take, by the name even of Illúvatar, calling the Everlasting Dark upon them if they kept it not; and Manwë they named in witness, and Varda, and the hallowed mountain of Taniquetil, 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.

An earlier version of this oath from around 1925 appears in The History of Middle-earth, volume 3, which says:
Be he friend or foe  or foul offspring 
of Morgoth Bauglir,  be he mortal dark 
that in after days  on earth shall dwell, 
shall no law nor love  nor league of Gods, 
no might nor mercy,  not moveless fate, 
defend him for ever   from the fierce vengeance 
of the sons of Fëanor,  whoso seize or steal 
or finding keep   the fair enchanted 
globes of crystal  whoso glory dies not, 
the Silmarils.  We have sworn for ever!

How does Fëanor's Oath haunt the rest of The Silmarillion? Why is the concept of making and/or breaking an oath or vow so important in Tolkien's works?

1 comment:

Anna Adams said...

Fëanor's Oath haunts the rest of The Silmarillion because it leads to the kin-slayings. It's the primary reason for strife among the elves, isn't it? I think it's because this oath was made in revenge, and revenge has consequences.

I think making and breaking oaths in Tolkien's works is so important because in his world oaths are taken seriously. When someone makes an oath, they mean to do what they say. There's this medieval idea of honor in Middle-earth, and it's part of what makes some of the characters so admirable. Upholding an oath can take a lot of personal sacrifice. This sacrifice can make a character a hero, or it can force a character to commit atrocities.