A lot is known about the Elves and their deeds in Middle-earth. However, those who stayed behind and did not go into exile have similarly fascinating personalities. In this series of reflections I would like to explore some of the female characters who dwelt in Aman, look into their stories and discover more about the ladies who had to make many tough decisions. The first character sketch of the series is dedicated to Nerdanel.
Nerdanel was the daughter of Mahtan the smith. She was not a typical Elvish maiden in many respects, namely in her craft of choice: Nerdanel was a gifted sculptor and loved working with metal and stone. She created the statues of the Valar in their visible forms, of her friends or sculptures “of her own thought in shapes strong and strange but beautiful” (Morgoth’s Ring, p. 272). Those who did not know about her craft could start talking to the statues mistaking them for real people — such was the talent of Nerdanel. She also loved long wanderings far and wide in the lands of Aman. It was during one of such walks that she met Fëanor, and later they went on those expeditions together.
Nerdanel and Fëanor’s eventual marriage was surprising to many, because Nerdanel was not considered beautiful by the standards of her people. However, it was not beauty that attracted Fëanor to her. Nerdanel was strong-willed, eager for knowledge and willing to understand other minds, instead of mastering them. When in the company of others, Nerdanel would often keep silent: she watched and listened to other people, studied their faces, gestures, words. For her character she was often called Nerdanel the Wise. Being more patient than her husband, for some time she was the only one who Fëanor turned to for advice and who “restrained him when the fire of his heart grew too hot” (Silmarillion, p. 65).
Later even Nerdanel could no longer influence her spouse in any way, as the fire of his heart turned into a consuming flame. Fëanor’s later deeds caused grief to her and the two became estranged. Nerdanel did not go with Fëanor into Formenos, where he was banished for drawing a sword against Fingolfin. She asked for permission to stay with Finwë’s second wife Indis, who Nerdanel admired, much to Fëanor’s distaste. Besides, as the Silmarils tightened their hold on Fëanor, “he grudged the sight of them to all save to his father and his seven sons” (Silmarillion, p. 70), so Nerdanel was among those denied the sight of the jewels.
Fëanor and Nerdanel had more children, than any of the Eldar. While it was not uncommon to have four or five children, especially when the race of the Eldar was young and dwelt in the bliss of Aman, seven was considered a lot even by the Elvish standards. The reason for this was the great amount of strength that went into bearing children. For instance, before having children Elvish women could take part in battles and fight with equal strength alongside Elvish men. After childbirth this was no longer possible for them, as their diminished strength was no longer sufficient for fighting.
As the unrest among the Noldor grew, Nerdanel was advised against joining Fëanor in his rebellion. Aulë foretold that it would end in the eventual death of the Noldo and all of his sons. Nerdanel asked her husband to leave the youngest twins Amrod and Amras with her, but everything she earned was a rebuke from Fëanor for being a bad wife and not following him into Middle-earth.
By choosing not to follow Fëanor into exile, Nerdanel did not do anything extraordinary or shameful: it was not something against the Eldar’s customs. The Elves were rather independent in their marriages. It was necessary for parents to be together during the bearing and young years of their children, but afterwards a wife and a husband were not bound together. It was not expected of them to always remain close, as both of them were individuals with their own wishes and endeavours which they were free to pursue. Nerdanel, like some other Eldarin wives, made her choice according to her wisdom, hearkened to Aulë’s counsel and remained in Valinor.
This series is mostly based on the texts found in The History of Middle-earth, twelve volumes of which feature drafts, essays and notes Tolkien composed for his Legendarium during his life. For these reflections I am using only the information which does not contradict the published Silmarillion. It cannot be known which of these manuscripts stand at their final versions, while some of them are obviously works in progress. However, even regardless this uncertain state, Tolkien’s notes in HoME offer valuable insights into his mythology and enrich the reading experience of his published works.
- J. R. R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1999.
- J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien – Morgoth’s Ring; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2015.
Featured image: Pixabay.com