Mar 11 2013, 11:41pm
For asking questions off the top of your head, Telain, you do much better than me after I spend hours trying to formulate discussion questions.
Personality development: nature, nurture, or fate?
1. Does it strike you as odd that the Blessed Realm -- a place seemingly beyond time and change -- should have a noontide? Tolkien frequently uses time markers to describe the progress (or decline) of a people. What is he saying (if anything) about the cyclical nature of more metaphysical matters?
It does seem to contradict popular notions of paradise, doesn't it? Isn't paradise supposed to be wonderful all the time, or at noontide ALL the time? One of his themes is that the world ultimately leads to melancholy, so happiness is more the exception than the rule. Fortunately in this case it lasts a good, long time. Yet it seems the spring was the early years of the Two Trees, the summer is now, and while there's no winter, the autumn comes with the death of the Trees and revolt of the Noldor, and there will be no spring again. Similarly, Luthien lives at a time of the noontide of the Eldar; Arwen in her likeness is the Evening Star that signals their great decline. Not very uplifting, huh?
2. This noontide is described as "...long in tale of years, but in memory too brief." Why? Are tales of good thing happening simply too boring to recount or dull to remember -- much like the model of modern-day news broadcasts? Would you like to know what happened during those years (or in the very least have access to a short summary?) What might that entail?
That's a general observation that we think happy times will and should last forever, and while they last, we want to flow along with them without examining them closely. Hard times are the ones that we examine because we want to know how to make them end and how to prevent more hard times, so the bad times get us much more involved, though against our will, and we want to flow against them, not with them.
And, yes, I'd still like to know more about what happened during the noontide. What else did the creative Valar like Aule, Yavanna, and Varda make? What were the Eldar up to? What was it like for Elves to be happy and not contemplating loss and grief?
3. Who is/was Miriel? According to the above description, she does not seem to be Noldo and a later passage regarding Indis (a Vanya and Finwe's second wife) describes Indis as: "golden-haired and tall, and in all ways unlike Miriel." So was Miriel rather short and dark? What does the comparison with Indis say (if anything) about Miriel's -- or Indis's -- character? And perhaps more importantly,...
I like that she was skilled with her hands; Feanor got that from her. My impression is that Miriel was as close to plain as an Elf can be without being homely, since it doesn't seem they can be. I get the impression that she's the outwardly dull one, who's introspective, shy, and has a lot going on inside her, while Indis is the glamorous party girl who sweeps into Finwe's life and cheers him up after his melancholy wife is gone. That's my imagination filling in a lot of gaps here. I never get the impression that Indis is the cruel stepmother, but it seems to me that she never understands Feanor.
It also appears that he never gave her a chance, but that's common with stepchildren and their stepparents. While in other chapters Elvish behavior seems exalted, here it seems very domestically human.
4. What causes her to have complications ("...consumed in spirit and body...") in childbirth -- resulting in death, no less -- while living in Valinor? Does that not seem contrary to the whole idea of the Blessed Realm? (By the way, this is also Finwe's question, so maybe we can help him find some closure...) Does Miriel really just "give up"? Is this strange birth merely a plot device or is there a better or more satisfying explanation?
Good to bring up the question about plot devices. What if she had lived normally? Wouldn't she have made a great tragic figure, her husband murdered by Morgoth and her son a kin-slaying rebel? Would she have tried to restrain Feanor, or gone with him to Beleriand out of loyalty and her own thirst for revenge?
To me, Tolkien wanted to show that Feanor was larger than life, greater than was normal and greater than he should have been. His hubris was fed by excess ability compared to his peers that he was too keenly aware of. If he'd been an ordinary Elf, the story would not be so dramatic. But since he seemed to suck the life potential of future siblings out of his mother, and sucked life out of her also, he was a sort of super-elf. That kindles the imagination of what good he could have done, and makes his Fall the more tragic. So, I'd say it's a plot device that Miriel needed to die for us to appreciate this super-elf.
It also makes me pity Feanor here, at the beginning. Anyone who loses a parent while young faces hardship in life that others never understand. Since he was the only semi-orphan in all of Valinor, he was doomed to not fit in. Being blessed with exceptional talent while being a misfit is usually a recipe for disaster. I don't pity him later, but here at least, I think he got a rough start in life that explains his later actions.
I get the sense that Miriel knew that bad things were in store for the Noldor because of Feanor. "Hold me blameless in this and all that is to follow." If she didn't know details, she still forebode trouble ahead. On the one hand it seems irresponsible of her to not stick around and try to restrain this son she felt would be a big problem (I know many parents would say that's not realistic). Yet she has had the life sucked out of her, and it doesn't seem capable of self-replenishment. It's as if she's been prematurely aged with no hope of recovery. Given that, it's understandable that she did give up, and I think she did give up voluntarily. Why she didn't want a quick return from Mandos is harder to explain. But if I stick with my theory that she knew what evil Feanor would wreak on the world, what mother wants to confront her son that is a monster beyond her control? She may have stayed in Mandos to escape that greater grief.
5. Why do we get such a detailed glimpse of Feanor? What connection is Tolkien making? Is it a commentary on productivity? progress? an over-active imagination? D)All of the above or E) None of the above?
I think Tolkien feels obliged to give us all the detail about this mover and shaker of world events. What interests me is that Tolkien seems to admire Feanor as a person even while setting him up as a selfish, rash, and heartless bad guy. It's good to make a villain complex like that, but it seems more than authorship, I always feel Tolkien has a deep-down affection for Feanor, which I never share myself.
Free will/fate: oh, Tolkien the Ambivalent! First there's some almost-implied criticism that if Miriel had lived, Feanor might have been more mellow, then the blame falls on Finwe for being an inattentive father. That's right, kids, blame the parents for what goes wrong. But how could Finwe have known? There were Elves who disappeared on their first awakening, but did any die after that? Is he the first widower? If so, how is he to know what will happen to the first stepson among the Eldar? He seems pretty idealistic throughout, so wouldn't he assume that giving a new mother to Feanor would make him happy, all of them happy, forever after? I won't blame him since I don't think he had any precedent to follow and couldn't have known any better.
First reading: I knew before the Silmarillion that Feanor would do and make important things, so on first read, I knew this was just an introduction to him Before the Big Stuff Happened.