Fëanor the Spirit of Fire was the most gifted of all the Elves in linguistic lore. He could use language so well that his speeches affected those who heard them and inspired them to do different, though not always sensible, things. Thus, being gifted with words and able to use them potently, Finwë’s eldest son was also exceptionally good at insulting others. As a true loremaster, Fëanor was very sensitive to all language matters. When the sound /þ/* was substituted with /s/ in Quenya, some adapted to it, while some did not. For Fëanor the usage of /þ/ was a personal matter as it was the sound his mother had used in her speech. So when most Elves switched to /s/, he could not keep silent and answering his sons’ question about why so many of their kindred used /s/ said to them: ‘Take no heed! We speak as is right, and as King Finwë himself did before he was led astray. We are his heirs by right and the elder house. Let them sá-sí, if they can speak no better’. (Peoples of Middle-earth, p. 336).
A linguist is very linguistic (and very poisonous) in his reaction. We could barely expect anything else from Fëanor, couldn’t we? This, in fact, is one of the mildest things the Elf uttered when he wished to express his disagreement or dissatisfaction. The true heart of his insulting talent lay in the Noldo’s ability to bestow various epithets on those he considered worthy of them.
Growing haughty and arrogant, Fëanor recognised no authorities, and it seems that the rank of a person he was directing his insult at or the place where he was doing it was of no importance to the Noldo as long as he had something poisonous to say. The fire within him burnt so fiercely that, when Fëanor was angered, his words became sharp like swords and aimed with the precision of the most skilled word swordsman.
Heated up by Melkor’s lies about Fingolfin’s wish to be the King of the Noldor in his stead, Fëanor wasted no time, got armed, walked into the hall full of the Elves where Finwë was holding a council and poked his brother’s chest with a sword: ‘See, half-brother!’ he said. ‘This is sharper than thy tongue. Try but once more to usurp my place and the love of my father, and maybe it will rid the Noldor of one who seeks to be the master of thralls.’ (Silmarillion, p. 72).
There is a jealous type in front of us, isn’t there? Such words are not a simple insult, but a downright threat. In this edgy situation Fingolfin was wise and sensible enough to walk away without saying a single word, and such disregard to his person must have enraged Fëanor even more. The threat aside, the key insult here is in the word ‘thrall’. It becomes a frequent reference Fëanor applies to the Elves of Aman: his perception is clouded by Melkor’s words, so he begins to believe that the Eldar are held in the Blessed Realm as thralls by the Valar forgetting that he is one of them and, then, a thrall, too. In the aforementioned situation the Elf goes as far as calling his kindred thralls for everyone to hear in the hall full of the Noldor, right in front of King Finwë. That does not sound exactly like a compliment, does it?
Another unflattering epithet is readily given by Fëanor to the Teleri when they refuse to aid the Noldor in their march to Middle-earth and do not lend their white ships to them. Enraged, Fëanor crushes his desperation and anger on Olwë: ‘Yet you were glad indeed to receive our aid when you came at last to these shores, fainthearted loiterers, and wellnigh emptyhanded. In huts on the beaches would you be dwelling still, had not the Noldor carved out your haven and toiled upon your walls.’ (Silmarillion, pp. 92-93).
The Teleri were the last Elves to arrive in Aman from Middle-earth after Oromë found them and the Valar summoned the Firstborn Children of Ilúvatar to Valinor. Such a delay is not a bad thing at all, and the Teleri used their time in Middle-earth well definitely not loitering in a fainthearted manner. Fëanor’s twist of this event is far from being accurate. Seriously, how arrogant can one get? The Teleri were wise enough not to meddle into the quarrels of the Noldor being too dignified for that and not caring an atom about their turf battles. They also have enough courage to rebuke the Noldor’s folly. In return the Teleri are represented as simpletons unable to build their own houses (though perfectly capable of constructing fair ships) and loitering slowcoaches. Well, that is not really nice, Fëanor.
Once Fëanor begins, he becomes unstoppable. After stealing the Telerin ships and killing a lot of the mariners, the Noldor sailed to Middle-earth and landed in the Firth of Drengist. Maedhros’s suggestion to send the ships back for the remaining Elves was met with Fëanor’s uproar: ‘What I have left behind I count now no loss; needless baggage on the road it has proved. Let those that cursed my name, curse me still, and whine their way back to the cages of the Valar! Let the ships burn!’ (Silmarillion, p. 97).
The wannabe master of thralls and his subjects (Fingolfin and his people that is) are granted yet another unflattering nickname. It is worth mentioning here that the needless baggage did not then whine their way back to the cages of the Valar but challenged the colds of Helcaraxë to arrive in Middle-earth with more triumph and stronger guts than Fëanor could ever dream of.
The epithet which takes the biscuit in the list of affronts courtesy of Fëanor’s is the one directed at none other than Melkor: ‘Get thee gone from my gate, thou jail-crow of Mandos!’ And he shut the doors of his house in the face of the mightiest of all the dwellers in Eä. (Silmarillion, p. 74).
Of all the insults uttered by Fëanor this one displays his arrogance in its most astonishing degree. Remember that Fëanor had no authorities? Now we see that he, indeed, had none. Even Melkor was rendered speechless. Well done, Fëanor!
*roughly the equivalent of the voiceless sound /θ/ represented by th in English.
- J. R. R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1999.
- J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien – The Peoples of Middle-earth; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2015.
Featured image: Ivan Aivazovsky – Ships in a Storm (Wikimedia Commons)