The figure of Míriel, the wife of Finwë the first High King of the Noldor, is tragic and touching. The mother of Fëanor and an unsurpassed broideress, she set a very unusual precedent in the Elvish tradition.
Míriel was a Noldorin lady, so, like all her people, she was gifted in working with hands. It was she who devised the art of needlework, and none surpassed her in this craft. Her fine tapestries were valued very highly “for the richness of her devices and the fire of their colours were as manifold and as bright as the wealth of leaf and flower and wing in the fields of Yavanna’’ (Morgoth’s Ring, p. 272). For that Míriel was called Serindë — the Broideress. Though she herself would have probably preferred the version Þerindë: when the change from sound /þ/ to /s/ occurred in Quenya, Míriel was among those who disregarded the shift and firmly stuck to using /þ/. Míriel was very slender and graceful, gentle and delicate, with the hair of silver. Her voice was beautiful and soft: she sang as she worked, with her song being a melody, not words, flowing like water. Her character, however, was very different to her looks: Míriel was steadfast and determined. If she set her mind upon something, nothing could change her decision.
Finwë and Míriel’s love began in the blissful days of Aman, so it was very happy. Alas, their joy was soon to be diminished. In bearing of their son Fëanáro, Míriel was spent, as a lot of her strength went into him, and she deemed herself unable to bear any more children. After giving the name Fëanáro to her son, with a usual insight Elvish mothers had for their children’s inner nature, Míriel wished for release from living. Manwë put Míriel into Irmo’s care in Lórien, and that was a grievous thing for the mother to be parted from her son in the early days of his life. She realised full well how wrong this was: Elvish parents were not usually parted from their children and from each other so soon after a child’s birth. Besides, Míriel seemed to have a certain degree of foreboding into the possible consequences of her actions:
‘It is indeed unhappy,’ said Míriel, ‘and I would weep, if I were not so weary. But hold me blameless in this, and in all that may come after.’
What first seemed a temporary repose, soon turned into permanent sleep. After laying down to rest in the gardens of Lórien, Míriel looked as if she were asleep, but her fëa (spirit) departed to the Halls of Mandos. Estë’s maidens looked after Míriel’s body, so it did not wither, but her fëa remained with Mandos.Finwë was greatly grieved at the loss of his dear wife: he often went into Lórien and sat by her body. Later he ceased these visits as they caused even more sorrow to him: all of his calls to Míriel were unavailing. When it became plain that Míriel did not intend to return to life, Finwë called to Manwë for advice, seeking permission to take a second wife: he was young and eager for more children. What followed this plea became known as the Statute of Finwë and Míriel, recorded in the books of Eldarin law.
Míriel’s death of free will was held to be the consequence of Arda Marred. Her desire was unnatural, especially for the immortal Elves, and would have never taken place in Arda Unmarred. The Elves wedded once and for life, so no Elf could have two living spouses. Thus the Statute proclaimed that a union could be lawfully dissolved in case of death of one of the spouses, with the living spouse being permitted to wed again. The marriage could be ended forever “by the will of the Dead, if they refuse ever to return to the life of the body; by the doom of Mandos, if he will not permit them to return’’ (Morgoth’s Ring, p. 259).When Míriel’s fëa was summoned to the Council, where the Statute was being debated, and Mandos questioned her, she persisted in her reluctance to return to life. Thus Finwë and Míriel’s marriage was lawfully ended and the High King of the Noldor was allowed to take a second wife. This Statute meant that Míriel was destined to abide in the Halls of Mandos until the end of Arda and could never return to the world of living.
This precedent is believed by the Eldar to have led to many sorrows which otherwise might have been prevented. Some think that if Finwë had been content with bringing up his son, Fëanáro’s deeds might have been very different: he did not love Finwë’s second wife Indis and her children, and that enmity caused bitter strife within the House of Finwë. Because of that the cases of re-marriage among the Eldar are very rare, even if they are lawfully permitted.However, after Finwë was slain by Morgoth, his and Míriel’s fëar met in Mandos. Míriel showed great wisdom when she heard about Finwë’s second marriage:
I erred in leaving thee and our son, or at the least in not soon returning after brief repose; for had I done so he might have grown wiser. But the children of Indis shall redress his errors and therefore I am glad that they should have being, and Indis hath my love. How should I bear grudge against one who received what I rejected and cherished what I abandoned.
(Morgoth’s Ring, p. 248)
This meeting also rekindled Míriel’s desire to return to embroidery which, in the Halls of Mandos, was, naturally, not possible. But Finwë offered that he should stay in the Halls of Awaiting until the end of Arda instead of his first wife, so that Míriel could return to life and pursue her craft again. At Nienna’s prayer Mandos accepted Finwë’s offer, and Míriel returned to life in her bodily form. But after spending some time in Lórien, she still felt sad and no desire to go back to her kin, so she prayed admittance to the house of Vairë. It was granted, making Míriel the Valië’s chief handmaid. She was the only living being given this honour, and her task was to weave into tapestries the histories of the Noldor and their deeds in Middle-earth.
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.
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