It is very often that Fëanor is remembered for grievous deeds and worst manifestations of his complex, albeit fascinating, character. However, being a gifted and skilful Noldo, he contributed a lot to Elvish craftsmanship, culture and traditions. His works were meant to be useful, unique and long-lasting, with some things surviving well into the Third Age and remaining long after Fëanor himself was no more.

Fëanor’s gifts spanned many spheres and led to the emergence of many fine works of his mind and hands. Both were very rarely at rest as Fëanor, driven by his fiery spirit, was unable to remain unoccupied for a long time. Thus he became the inventor of many things — the fact that was in accord with his and the Noldor’s interest in what we would call “science”. Being the most gifted of the people with the insatiable thirst for knowledge in their blood, Fëanor was bound to leave his distinct mark in the history of Arda.

One of the spheres which Fëanor was exceptionally talented in was languages. The Noldo could use words potently and was known for eloquent, persuasive speeches. As a linguist, he was aware of what was right for language and what was not. His opinions on linguistic matters were respected, and in many aspects he was the one who understood how closely language and culture were interconnected, how language found its reflection in the people who spoke it and vice versa. Fëanor is credited with founding the school known as Lambengolmor — Loremasters of Tongues. Even after he ceased taking part in linguistic activities, his brainchild lived on and survived through the tumults of hard times in Middle-earth. One of the most notable loremasters of Lambengolmor was Pengolodh, who spoke both Quenya and Sindarin, and it was largely owing to him that the records of the events of the First Age were preserved.

Fëanor also greatly improved the writing system the Elves used.  Based on Sarati — the alphabet of Rúmil — he created Tengwar, which were sometimes referred to as Fëanorian alphabet. The word tengwar is the plural form of tengwa — “a letter”. The Tengwar were created to be written from left to right, with a brush or a pen: their elegant curves were formed by a telco (stem) and a lúva (bow). However, the Tengwar were different from a common alphabet in which each letter corresponds to a certain sound:

It was, rather, a system of consonantal signs, of similar shapes and style, which could be adapted at choice or convenience to represent the consonants of languages observed (or devised) by the Eldar. None of the letters had in itself a fixed value; but certain relations between them were gradually recognized.

(Return of the King, p. 494-495)

This quality of the Tengwar made them very flexible and adaptable to many languages. It was the Noldor who brought the Fëanorian alphabet to Middle-earth, and thus the Edain and the Númenóreans became aware of it. There were 24 primary letters and a number of additional letters that could be applied in compliance with a phonological system of a language. The primary letters were divided into four témar or series (according to the places of articulation) and six tyeller or grades (according to the manner of articulation). Vowels and different qualities of consonants were expressed by tehtar (diacritics).

There existed various modes of writing, dependent on the language in question. For example, Quenya Mode and Sindarin Mode were widely used by the Elves, but they differed in certain particulars. The inscription on the One Ring shows that the Tengwar could even be adapted to the Black Speech: “the letters are Elvish, of an ancient mode, but the language is that of Mordor” (Fellowship of the Ring, p. 66).

Another special talent Fëanor possessed concerned his working with gems. He was the first to discover that skill could be applied to make them better and brighter. “The first gems that Fëanor made were white and colourless, but being set under starlight they would blaze with blue and silver fires brighter than Helluin” (Silmarillion, p. 64). Helluin was the name of the brightest star in the constellation of Telumehtar — what we know as Sirius in the constellation of Orion. If after Fëanor’s working gems shone brighter than the brightest star in the sky, then his talent must have been great indeed.

As time went by, Fëanor’s craft was enhanced and he learnt to supply crystals with inner light. One of his inventions to show it was Fëanorian lamps.  These lamps were made in Valinor, but the Noldor did not know the secret of their making. When Tuor met two Elves, Gelmir and Arminas, on his search for Gondolin, one of such lamps was used:

And then Gelmir brought forth one of those lamps for which the Noldor were renowned; for they were made of old in Valinor, and neither wind nor water could quench them, and when they were unhooded they sent forth a clear blue light from a flame imprisoned in white crystal.

(Unfinished Tales, p. 29)

As Gelmir and Arminas belonged to the people of Finarfin, they could have easily brought the lamp from Aman to Middle-earth (1).

Another instance of Fëanor’s sub-creation in which light became preserved inside a gem was the Silmarils. It is true that their making led to many evil things, but here I would like to consider these wondrous gems as a beautiful, unique work of art that was never to be repeated.

Fëanor worked long and secretly at the Silmarils. He applied all his skill and knowledge to keep the unsullied light of the Two Trees in the three magnificent jewels. Unbreakable, strong and a marvel to behold, the Silmarils appeared as if they were living things, with the crystal being to the light just what the bodies of the Children of Ilúvatar are to their spirits — “the house of its inner fire” (Silmarillion, p. 68).

On several occasions the Silmarils did indeed respond to outside factors and behaved as if they were alive:

Therefore even in the darkness of the deepest treasury the Silmarils of their own radiance shone like the stars of Varda; and yet, as were they indeed living things, they rejoiced in light and received it and gave it back in hues more marvellous than before.

(Silmarillion, p. 68)

In the making of the Silmarils Fëanor’s craft reached its highest point: the gems can be rightfully called his most beautiful and exquisite creation, even regardless their further fate.

Yet other crystals courtesy of Fëanor were the palantíri — the Seeing Stones “wherein things far away could be seen small but clear, as with the eyes of the eagles of Manwë” (Silmarillion, p. 64). They were perfect spheres of deep black colour, ranging in size from small to rather big ones which could take several people to lift. Many considered the stones to be resistant to any kind of damage.

The main function of the palantíri was to establish communication between the owners of the Stones over long distances or to see far-away places. They could not transmit sound, but were only used to see. Physical obstacles were not a hindrance to them, but the Stones could not penetrate in dark places where no light came. The communication by means of the palantíri was conducted mostly for counsel, exchange of news or opinions and involved interaction by thought. This action required a mental effort on behalf of communicators, while even a more considerable effort was necessary to direct the gaze of the Stone to a place the surveyor particularly wished to explore.

The Stones were only used by kings, rulers or their appointed wardens. They responded more readily and clearer to the rightful owners and could either demand a great mental effort, or showed very unclear images to usurpers. While the existence of the palantíri was not a secret, they were not consulted publicly and were kept in guarded rooms. Seven Seeing Stones were brought to Middle-earth by the Faithful Númenóreans which they, in their turn, had received as a consolation gift from the Eldar of Tol Eressëa as Númenor fell under the shadow. Not all of those seven palantíri survived, but those that did played an important role in the War of the Ring.

Looking at all of his wonderful inventions it becomes clear why Fëanor was called the greatest of the Noldor. During his life he made many beautiful or useful things, and could have made many more had he not perished untimely.

This essay marks the second birthday of Middle-earth Reflections. I would like to sincerely thank everyone who has been sharing this incredible journey with me! Your participation in the life of my blog means more to me than I can express with words! Hantanyel!


(1) Fëanorian lamps are not mentioned in the published Silmarillion. Apart from The Unfinished Tales they appear — and that is where they are called Fëanorian lamps — in the early version of Túrin Turambar’s story. Gwindor the Elf, whom Beleg met in Taur-nu-Fuin, had one of these lamps. In the note to Gwindor’s story the name Fëanorian lamps appears.

Further reading:

Fëanor and Melkor: so different, so alike.

Language notes /// On Fëanor.

His sharp tongue or Fëanor’s talent to insult.

Works consulted:

  1. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1999.
  2. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
  3. J. R. R. Tolkien – Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1998.
  4. J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien – The War of the Jewels; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2002.

Featured image: creative common licence from Flickr.

15 thoughts on “Fëanor the skilful.

    1. He did. This kind of “communication” was his trademark. While most used the Stones to exchange thoughts, ideas or news, Sauron used it to dominate others, frighten, deceive them and impose his will upon them. And to troll, naturally 😀

  1. This was a great summary of the highlights of the creativity that we know of Fëanor.
    His ingenuity and skill at bringing his creations to fruition was unparalleled. Celebrimbor comes the closest in such creativity.
    I recall a passage in The Children of Hurin that mentions the Elven thralls taken by Morgoth possessed many Fëanorian lamps.
    “For few of the Noldor whom Morgoth took captive were put to death, because of their skill in mining for metals and gems; and Gwindor was not slain, but put to labour in the mines of the North. These Noldor possessed many of the Fëanorian lamps, which were crystals hung in a fine chain net, the crystals being ever-shining with an inner blue radiance marvelous for finding the way in the darkness of night or in tunnels; of these lamps they themselves did not know the secret. ”
    It would make sense as Gwindor is Gelmir’s brother. I do wonder if the people of Finrod had brought these lamps. I would assume the Fëanorians would have also. Considering the quantity of such lamps mentioned I wonder if the sons of Fëanor were also able to make them?

    1. Thank you so much!
      Indeed, Fëanor’s talent was immense. He was rightfully considered the greatest of his people.
      That’s a wonderful passage! It does tell a lot about these lamps. It seems there were quite a lot of them, and I believe the Elves might have had a lot of them in their march to Middle-earth as they were marching under only the stars for light. So more light was needed and I think all the main actors in the march should have had them.
      That’s a good question about whether the sons of Fëanor could make the lamps. Perhaps they could, but maybe not all of them. Someone must have helped Fëanor in Aman to make so many lamps.

  2. Congratulations to you on the second anniversary of your blog that enriches me every time I read it. I think that in your writing you show yourself to be a daughter of the Noldor in your understanding of the relationship between language and culture. May it grow ever deeper to the enriching of us all!
    I am thinking a lot about Saruman at the moment and I note that he was a man of great skill just as Feanor was. I wonder if they knew each other in Valinor. Sadly both fell in similar ways, in the relationship to the things that they made and in their desire to possess. But when Gandalf ponders the palantiri as he rides towards Minas Tirith it is not in sadness but awe, longing to connect with the mind of their maker.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Stephen! And thank you for your continuous support!
      In these figures Tolkien shows that being a maker is a dangerous thing. Once made, a thing can change places with a maker and start possessing them, instead of vice versa. It always reminds me that we should be careful and remain humble so as not to fall like Fëanor and others did.

      1. That thought is so well expressed, Olga. That idea of the maker and the thing made exchanging places. How true is is with Sauron and the Ring.
        I agree with you entirely about the need for humility.

      2. Aulë is a great example, by the way. The maker who almost fell, but repented just in time. His humility was the key aspect in his ability to acknowledge his mistake of creating the Dwarves and to ask for Ilúvatar’s pardon. I think Tolkien shows us two ways which any maker can undertake: the way of Aulë or the way of Fëanor.

  3. Was it the making of the Silmarils that caused much evil or simply the greed to possess them? The other jewels elves shared freely.

    1. Indeed, it was all about Fëanor’s attitude to them. First of all, his labour was secret — and that wasn’t a good sign to begin with. Galadriel perceived the darkness in Fëanor, so when he asked her for her hair, which he wanted to use in his making of the Silmarils, she always refused. Probably Fëanor’s motives for making these gems weren’t noble at the beginning and one might argue that capturing the light of the Two Trees within them wasn’t a very good idea. Why should one want to capture light rather than simply enjoy it in its freedom?
      Fëanor’s greed and unhealthy love for the Silmarils was the peak of his obsession. He forgot that the light in them was not “his own” and thus, growing possessive, he set the awful wheel rolling.

  4. So happy to read an aritcle about the good things that my boy Feanor did. Not easy to read or hear anything singing his praise 😉

    I love Feanor, he’s alwasy been one of my favourite characters from the Silmarillion, I think there was a lot more good in him that he’s usually credited with and I think his obvious ability to creat beautiful and useful things is a prove of it.

    I didn’t rememebr the Palantiri were his creation too. Thanks for reminding me 🙂
    Great article as usual.

    1. Thank you so much!
      Feanor is a very complex character, and that’s what I absolutely love about him. It’s incredible how much good and bad can be rolled into one person. He was great, and his greatness cost him dearly.

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