In his tales J. R. R. Tolkien stated that Fëanor was the greatest of the Noldor in all features of his personality: body, mind, hands. Even though tainted by his arrogant, proud, fierce character and evil deeds, Fëanor’s talents were undeniable, and he made a great contribution to various aspects of Elvish culture. One of the fields which Fëanor was especially gifted in was languages.

The Noldor were, in general, exceedingly good at tongues. Fëanor’s linguistic talent spanned theoretical and practical sides of the subject: not only did the Noldo contribute a lot to the study of the Elvish linguistics, but he could also use words with great mastery.

Let us first turn to Fëanor’s impact on language development. The original Elvish alphabet was created by Rúmil, but it was Fëanor who went further and thought up the symbols both long-lasting and widely used. “In his youth, bettering the work of Rúmil, he devised those letters which bear his name, and which the Eldar used ever after” (Silmarillion, p. 64). Known as tengwar or the Fëanorian alphabet, the script was universally acclaimed and applied by many races of Middle-earth to write in different languages.

Fëanor was traditionally credited with founding the school of  ‘Loremasters of Tongues’, Lambengolmor, that studied language matters seriously. These Elves were skilled linguists and they preserved much information about Elvish languages in their records. With his innate gift for linguistics, the ability to understand what was good for language and what was not, Fëanor was heeded and respected by the loremasters, even though at some point his dark reputation began to get in the way and not everyone agreed with him openly. It seems that Fëanor took little part in the work of the school and eventually ceased it at all, which was very likely due to his restless spirit and constant desire to do new things, but his brainchild lived on. When the exiled Noldor returned to Middle-earth, it was the foundations of Lambengolmor that Fëanor had laid that allowed the Elves to carry on with language study as well as preserve historical records and information even amidst the wars and tribulations of Middle-earth.

A glimpse into Fëanor’s ability to learn other languages can be seen from the fact that he was most familiar with the Valarin language than any of the Eldar. The language of the Powers was rather difficult for the Elves to learn and did not sound pleasant to their ears. Besides, learning it was quite pointless for the Elves as the Valar spoke fluent Quenya. Those few who undertook the study of this language did so for the sake of either lore or interest. Fëanor was believed to know quite a lot of Valarin, but because of his disagreement with the Valar he did not share his knowledge, not even with Lambengolmor.

It is one thing to invest into language study or learn a difficult language, but it is absolutely another to use words in the way that makes an impact. That Fëanor could do, too. His mastery at word play was truly great. Sarcastic remarks borderlining with insults from the eldest son of Finwë addressed to various individuals, including Melkor, showed not only his linguistic ability but also his fierce, hot temper. The same qualities were true about Fëanor’s public speaking.

The speech that Fëanor made before the Noldor following the Darkening of Valinor was as powerful as it was poisonous. Fëanor “was a master of words and his tongue had great power over hearts when he would use it” (Silmarillion, p. 87). That power could be clearly seen in Tirion: his speech was long remembered by the Noldor.

Giving his hate to Morgoth, accusing the Valar of keeping the Eldar in Aman as in a gold cage, urging the Elves to fight for their freedom and go to Middle-earth to live there as their hearts wished, Fëanor showed his talent at public speaking and influencing others with the power of words and his personality. The Noldo’s speech seemed to resonate well with the Elves. David Crystal in his book The Gift of the Gab wrote that speeches come from the mind and personality of the speaker. In Fëanor’s case his own views alongside his fiery character became mixed with the lies Morgoth had planted in the Elf’s heart, which proved an explosive combination and, framed into a passionate speech, catapulted the Noldor into exile.  Fëanor was not the only one influenced by Melkor’s falsehoods: the Dark Vala had spread them generously among all of the Noldor. It might stand as one of the reasons why they were so moved by Fëanor’s ideas, some of which were outright blasphemous: the ground had been well prepared.

Delivered at a very difficult and evil moment just after Valinor — once a safe place— had been darkened, Fëanor’s speech touched upon all those painful aspects that troubled the Noldor at that moment. The timing could not have been better. If the land of the Valar could suffer such a terrible blow, then nowhere was safe, so why stay in Aman and not go to Middle-earth in search of better life? Fëanor’s Melkor-bred accusations of the Valar’s keeping the Elves as slaves in Aman, restricting their freedom so that the Men could rule Middle-earth sounded disturbingly true to the Noldor in the light of what Morgoth had done to ruin the bliss of Valinor. The Elf’s words and calls for rebellion became the answers to the dismay and fear: the promise of freedom and mastery of wide lands, moving forward rather than stagnating in Aman, bright future and lordship for the Firtsborn. It was at that dark moment when the picture heavily distorted by lies and fears looked genuinely true, and, having believed it, the Noldor went into exile.

Delivered in a fiery way, amongst the burning torches, Fëanor’s speech made a powerful effect on those who were listening. It achieved the very aim that he had wanted it to: to urge the Noldor to follow Morgoth into Middle-earth. Even those who did not like the Noldo were moved, Galadriel and Fingon being prominent examples. Powerfully presented, even though poisoned, the words kindled the desire for their own lands in Elvish hearts, and this ability to exercise so much influence on listeners speaks volumes about Fëanor’s speaking skills:

Fierce and fell were his words, and filled with anger and pride; and hearing them the Noldor were stirred to madness.

(Silmarillion, p. 87)

While the published Silmarillion compares the effect of Fëanor’s words with madness, Morgoth’s Ring, with an earlier version of the scene, offers another description: it refers to the effects of the speech as those of “hot wine”. Totally intoxicated by Fëanor’s words, his masterful delivery and, no doubt, the power of his personality, the Noldor became drunk on words and acted in the heat of the moment. Acting mostly on emotions rather than common sense, the Elves did not assess the situation critically, nor did they analyse it properly.  Reasons for going away varied from personal vengeance to keeping one’s word, but hardly anyone realised how dark the road would really be. It is hardly surprising that Fëanor was eager to go as soon as possible so as not to lose his followers. Just as the effect of wine wears off with time, so the effect from a speech, however impressive, does not last forever.

In The Gift of the Gab David Crystal called speech making a true form of art. That statement is absolutely true about Fëanor. Language for him was, just like many other things he was gifted at, a kind of art. Whether it was studying language matters, or speaking, Fëanor did everything with the zeal that made him one of the greatest of his race.

 

Further reading:

On Fëanor’s skills

On what Fëanor and Melkor have in common

 

 

Works consulted:

  1. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1999.
  2. J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien – Morgoth’s Ring; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2015.
  3. J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien – The War of the Jewels; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2002.
  4. J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien – The Peoples of Middle-earth; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2015.
  5. David Crystal – The Gift of the Gab (Amazon Audible version)

Featured image: Pixabay

3 thoughts on “Fëanor the linguist.

  1. I wonder if Tolkien had a specific person in mind when he dreamed up the character of Fëanor.

    (He based Treebeard’s laugh on CS Lewis’s laugh, so it’s plausible that he had someone specific in mind.)

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