In Tolkien’s Middle-earth Elves are traditionally presented and perceived as noble, wise and overall positive characters. However, as all normal creatures, the eldest Children of Ilúvatar have their flaws, while some of them are flat out villains. In the present essay I will look at several bad guys from The Silmarillion and see how they brought trouble to others’ lives.
When you think The Silmarillion and bad guys, Fëanor is definitely the first name to come to mind. The mightiest and the most skilled of the Noldor started the strife which would be haunting the Elves and giving rise to numerous serious conflicts during the whole of the First Age. Fëanor’s unsurpassable talent and fiery character bred arrogance, selfishness, pride and, as a result, led to his threatening Fingolfin with a sword, banishment and defiance of the authority in the face of the Valar. In fact, there was no authority for Fëanor at all. He was «driven by the fire of his own heart only» (Silmarillion, p. 67) and hearkened to no one. Fëanor raised the Noldor to the rebellion against the Valar and left for Middle-earth in pursuit of the Silmarils stolen by Morgoth thus leading a lot of the Elves into exile and some of them – to their deaths. On his way to Middle-earth he was stopped by nothing: Fëanor went as far as initiating the slaying of the Teleri to seize their ships and later betrayed Fingolfin and his people by leaving them in the colds of Araman, burning the Telerin ships instead of sending them back, thus destining Fingolfin and many others to cross Helcaraxë on foot. Acting on impulse alone and not caring about the consequences, Fëanor led himself and a lot of others to destruction. In his cruel, selfish deeds, pride, arrogance, desire to dominate and master Fëanor closely resembled Morgoth, therefore standing out as the worst villain among the Elves.
Some of Fëanor’s traits were very prominent in his children. In many aspects Celegorm and Curufin were their father’s sons. Celegorm was a skilled, though arrogant, hunter, while Curufin was of perilous mood. The brothers were ever side by side and causing chaos in pursuit of the terrible oath sworn in Tirion. The worst aspects of their father’s temper showed with extreme keenness in the brothers’ abode in Nargothrond. As Beren appeared there and Finrod aimed to set forth to aid him in his quest to retrieve the Silmaril at the bidding of Thingol, Celegorm and Curufin spoke – just as Fëanor had spoken in Tirion – and moved most Nargothrond dwellers to not following Finrod Felagund – their rightful king. Just as Fëanor raised the Noldor to defy the Valar, Celegorm and Curufin raised the Elves of Nargothrond to defy Finrod. The brothers’ motives were plain:
Dark thoughts arose in their hearts, thinking to send forth Felagund alone to his death, and to usurp, it might me, the throne of Nargothrond.
(Silmarillion, p. 199)
When later Celegorm and Curufin brought Lúthien to Nargothrond by deceit aiming to marry her to Celegorm and thus become kin to King Thingol, they believed that at that time Finrod and Beren «were prisoners beyond hope of aid» (Silmarillion, p. 203) in Sauron’s dungeons, so never did anything to try and help them. Following the brothers’ shameful banishment from Nargothrond upon the truth being uncovered, their assault on Beren and Lúthien was so cruel and wicked that even Celegorm’s hound Huan turned against his long-time master and sided with the couple. Cunning, arrogant and ambitious, the brothers pursued the Silmarils with unhealthy vigour plotting ever and again for their profit alone, disregarding the others and ended up perishing in the sack of Doriath they themselves had initiated.
Another disagreeable figure among the Elves was Eöl. Being called the Dark Elf, Eöl was sombre in everything. Not only had he never seen the light of the Two Trees, but there was also darkness in his heart. Even the sword Anglachel wrought by him was alive with Eöl’s malice and his dark heart dwelt in it. Eöl lived in solitude in the forest of Nan Elmoth and loved the shadows, shunning the daylight. When Aredhel strayed in Nan Elmoth, Eöl desired the White Lady and enchanted her into walking to his house and later marrying him. Abusive and bossy, Eöl forbade Aredhel to leave the shadows of the forest and their son Maeglin could never visit the Noldor, who he was kin to, because Eöl hated the Noldor and blamed them for all the sorrows of the Elves. When Aredhel and Maeglin escaped to Gondolin, Eöl followed them and upon his arrival he defied Turgon, refusing to comply with the law of the city: those who find the way to Gondolin, must always stay there.
Then Eöl looked into the eyes of King Turgon, and he was not daunted, but stood long without word or movement while a still silence fell upon the hall; and Aredhel was afraid, knowing that he was perilous.
(Silmarillion, p. 159)
Threatened with death, Eöl refused to die alone and meant to take Maeglin with him. Thus in his ultimate possessiveness of his son Eöl sank to the level of passing the judgement of life and death to others which could hardly be something he had the right to do. Eöl had always meant to keep Maeglin by his side shutting him from the outer world and aiming to raise another solitary person in hatred of the Noldor. After Aredhel’s death following her shielding Maeglin and taking the poisoned dart thrown by Eöl, the Dark Elf was cast from the city walls. Even before his death malice was still hot in him and Eöl cursed Maeglin predicting a similar death for him.
Eöl’s darkness passed on to Maeglin in abundance. It did not show out at first, but when Maeglin started to abide in Gondolin, the darkness awoke. For Maeglin loved Idril, Turgon’s daughter, and as Eldar never wedded the kin so close, Maeglin had no chance to marry her. Apart from shunning Maeglin because of his love, Idril sensed his inner nature and never loved him:
For it seemed to her a thing strange and crooked in him as indeed the Eldar ever since have deemed it: an evil fruit of the Kinslaying, whereby the shadow of the curse of Mandos fell upon the last hope of the Noldor.
(Silmarillion, p. 161)
Thus love in Maeglin’s heart started turning into darkness. When Idril married Tuor, it deepened further. Being high esteemed in Gondolin, Maeglin always counselled against Tuor and once defying Turgon’s orders, left the city walls. Captured by Orcs and taken to Morgoth, Maeglin traded his life for the promise of Gondolin throne and Idril, and revealed the hidden city’s location to the Dark Lord. This treachery became one of the most horrible and tragic events in the First Age and led to the ruin of the last Elvish stronghold which had long been hidden from Morgoth. And Maeglin, just as Eöl had prophesied, died when Tuor threw him from the city walls.
However, not all bad Elvish characters were responsible for such grievous deeds. Some of them were haughty beyond measure and were notorious for their unbearable characters and bad tempers. Saeros was the embodiment of extreme arrogance which is often and in various degrees attributed to Elves. He was one of Thingol’s counsellors and high esteemed by the King. There was one person that Saeros could not stand: Túrin.
He had long begrudged to Túrin the honour he received as Thingol’s foster-son.
(Silmarillion, p. 237)
The way Saeros taunted Túrin in front of everyone for looking unkempt showed his ultimate haughtiness and extreme contempt. Such attitude might have arisen out of both – his natural arrogance as wells as envy for Túrin being esteemed and loved by Thingol so that Saeros seemed unable to bear with the fact that it was a Man who was valued by the mighty Elvenking. Túrin’s throwing a drinking-vessel at Saeros and hurting him awakened a storm of offence and Saeros waylaid Túrin the next day aiming to revenge. Unwilling to tolerate such actions, Túrin drove Saeros to a shameful and tragic death.
Another son of Fëanor – Caranthir – was known to be the harshest and the quickest to anger among the seven. He was known as Caranthir the Dark. The Elf seemed to love no one, be it an Elf or a Man, but a special dislike in his heart was reserved for the sons of Finarfin. Even though Caranthir had dealings with the Dwarves, he «was haughty and scarce concealed his scorn for the unloveliness of the Naugrim» (Silmarillion, p. 128). Thus Caranthir cut a very unpleasant figure with his bad temper, snobbery and arrogance going up to the point of extremity.
A careful look at the bad Elvish guys from The Silmarillion will reveal that all of them had traits that were present in the worst villain of Arda: Morgoth. Haughtiness, arrogance, inner darkness, desire for shadows, malice, ambitiousness, envy, pride, self-isolation and intolerance were ever-present in Morgoth and found their way into some hearts of the fair folk. Even though these Elves did not have such a deeply dark and corrupted nature as Morgoth did, the darkness that was present in each of them poisoned their lives and eventually led to their downfalls and deaths.
- J. R. R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1999.
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