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Dates
Made in Valinor during the Years of the Trees; two were cast away in I 587; the last of the three still survives in the West
Origins
Created by Fëanor
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Claimed by the Sons of Fëanor
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  • Updated 27 April 2021
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Three Jewels

The Silmarils of Fëanor

"[Fëanor] wrought the Three Jewels, the Silmarilli, and filled them with the radiance of the Two Trees, Telperion and Laurelin..."
The Lord of the Rings Appendix A I (i)
Númenor

Fëanor, greatest of the craftsmen of the Noldor, created the three Silmarils in Valinor while the Two Trees still shone on the land of the Valar. Each of those Three Jewels was made from an unbreakable crystal substance (said to have been called silima), and within each Fëanor blended the Light of the Two Trees, the silver of Telperion and the gold of Laurelin. The secrets of their making were known only to Fëanor, and he never revealed them to any other craftsman.

The Three Jewels were works of unsurpassable skill and beauty, and the Valar blessed Fëanor's work. Varda hallowed the Silmarils so that they could not be touched by unclean flesh, and some claimed that they possessed the power to bring good fortune and healing.1 The Doomsman Mandos made a prophecy, predicting that the fate of the World would be bound to the Silmarils, and associating the Three Jewels with the three elements of earth, sea and sky that made up Arda.

The Loss of the Three Jewels

Through the machinations of Melkor, Fëanor began to fear for his creations, and locked them in a deep vault in Formenos, his stronghold in the North of Valinor. Soon afterward, Melkor destroyed the Two Trees and plunged Valinor into darkness, but Fëanor would not give up the Three Jewels, though they were the only means to return the Trees to life. Melkor went on to break open the vaults of Formenos and steal away the Silmarils to Middle-earth. An enraged Fëanor brought his people together and swore a binding Oath to recover the Jewels, leading a pursuit of the Dark Lord back to Middle-earth, and setting the stage for the Wars of Beleriand. The power of their dreadful Oath would drive Fëanor and his sons over the years to follow, bringing disaster and tragedy in its wake.

Melkor had allied himself with the spider-creature Ungoliant to destroy the Two Trees, and after their escape to Middle-earth she demanded payment in the form of gems. She came close to devouring the Three Jewels, but Melkor was able to escape with them to his ancient stronghold of Angband. Once safe within, he claimed himself to be the King of the World and forged himself an Iron Crown, on which he mounted the three Silmarils. So, for much of the remaining First Age, the Three Jewels blazed unseen by Elf or Man in the dark depths of Angband.

The Wars of Beleriand

Fëanor and his host returned to Middle-earth in pursuit of the Silmarils, and Morgoth immediately sent out an army of Orcs against them. The Elves easily defeated these Orcs, and Fëanor was emboldened to recapture the Jewels immediately. Pressing on toward Angband, he was set upon by Balrogs and wounded mortally. So the maker of the Silmarils was slain, and the long Wars of Beleriand between the Eldar and the Dark Lord began.

Sixty years passed, and Morgoth imagined that his foes had become complacent in this time. He sent out two great armies of Orcs against Beleriand, but once again they were utterly defeated by the Elves, who named this action Dagor Aglareb, the Glorious Battle. Now, seeing how dangerous the Dark Lord remained, the Elves arrayed their defences to create the Siege of Angband, which would hold Morgoth at bay for nearly four centuries. During all this time, Morgoth held the Three Jewels in the deep darkness of his underworld domain.

Morgoth eventually broke the Siege of Angband in the Dagor Bragollach of I 455, a disaster for the Elves that saw their defences swept away and their High King Fingolfin slain. The land of Dorthonion fell to Morgoth, an event that would have important and unforeseen repercussions. After living for a time as an outlaw, Barahir the former lord of that land was slain, and his son Beren was forced to flee. In his wanderings he came upon Lúthien in the woods of Doriath, and Lúthien's father Thingol set Beren a seemingly impossible quest as the price of her hand: the recovery of one of the Three Jewels from Morgoth's Iron Crown.

After the long and arduous Quest of the Silmaril that followed, Beren and Lúthien succeeded in reaching Morgoth's throne in the depths of Angband and recovering one of the Three Jewels from the Iron Crown. Thus Thingol and his land of Doriath were enmeshed in the fate woven around the Jewels. One immediate outcome of the Quest was that it showed the Elves that Morgoth was not invulnerable, and they began to ponder an attack of their own against Angband.

The Eldar thus formed a great alliance, the Union of Maedhros. The Sons of Fëanor had already sent demands to Thingol that he give up the Jewel Beren had captured, and so the King of Doriath refused to commit his warriors to the Union. The battle that followed was closely fought - so closely that Thingol's involvement might have brought victory - but in the end the Eldar and their allies were utterly defeated.

Years later, after the Fall of Nargothrond, Thingol also acquired the fabulous golden Necklace known as the Nauglamír. He determined that he would bring the Jewel and the Necklace together, and called upon the craftsmen of the Dwarves to complete the task. When the work was finished, the Dwarves were entranced by the shining Jewel, and were driven to slay Thingol and make off with the Silmaril. This act brought war between the Elves and the Dwarves, and Thingol's treasury was sacked. The Dwarves who had looted the Silmaril found themselves ambushed by Beren before they could return to their mountain homes, and so the Nauglamír with its shining Jewel was recovered.

While Beren and Lúthien kept the Jewel on their inviolable Green Isle, the Sons of Fëanor took no action to recover the Silmaril. After the deaths of Beren and Lúthien, however, the Jewel was carried to Doriath, and Fëanor's sons were driven by their Oath to attack that land. Though they brought down the realm of Doriath, the Jewel eluded them, carried away to the refuges at the Mouths of Sirion. Still the brothers did not relent, attacking the last survivors of Beleriand gathered at Sirion's Mouths, and once again they failed. Elwing, who had received the Jewel from her father, Dior Thingol's Heir, leapt into the Sea, and was miraculously borne up from the waves. In the form of a white bird, she brought the Silmaril to her husband Eärendil on his distant ship, and so the Jewel was carried away into the West. Afterward Eärendil would sail the skies with it bound to his brow, and its shining light could be seen even in Middle-earth, where the survivng Sons of Fëanor saw that it was now beyond their reach forever.

The End of the Three Jewels

In Aman, Eärendil had gone before the Valar and begged for their aid against the power of Morgoth, and the Valar agreed. And so, as the Dark Lord seemed on the point of achieving absolute victory, a host came out of the West against him. In the terrible War of Wrath that followed, Morgoth was defeated and cast out of the World, and the two remaining Jewels were recovered from his Iron Crown.

Those two Silmarils were taken by Eönwë, the herald of the Valar. By this time only two of Fëanor's seven sons survived, and those two, Maedhros and Maglor, were even then still driven by their Oath to recover the Jewels. Against the odds, they succeeded; although they were discovered, Eönwë would not permit their slaying, and they escaped with the two Silmarils that remained in Middle-earth.

The brothers each took one of the two Jewels, but neither held their prize for long. Because the Silmarils had been hallowed by Varda to reject any unclean touch, and because of the brothers' evil acts in recovering the gems, they now found that the Silmarils burned them. In despair Maedhros threw himself, with his Jewel, into a burning chasm in the earth. Maglor cast his Jewel into the Sea, and wandered the shores of the World ever afterward mourning its loss in plaintive song.

Each of the Three Jewels found its home in an element of the World: Eärendil bore his high into the airs; Maedhros took his into the fiery depths of the earth; and Maglor's Jewel was lost in the depths of the ocean. Even so, the Jewels did not fall entirely out of history at the end of the Elder Days. The light of Eärendil's Jewel guided the Edain across the Great Sea to find Númenor, and later that light was captured by Galadriel in a Star-glass, and would eventually save the Ring-bearer during his journey into Sauron's Black Land.

The Three Jewels themselves were lost, but perhaps not forever. According to prophecy, after the Last Battle the World will be unmade and remade. At that time in the far future, the Three Jewels will be reclaimed from the sky, earth and sea, and the Light held within them will be used to rekindle the Two Trees to shine out across the World.


Notes

1

It should be said that the nature and power of the Three Jewels is not explained in detail. Some who held them claimed to have been blessed by their possession, but it is left ambiguous whether the Silmarils actually brought good fortune to their owners, or whether this merely seemed to be the case.

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About this entry:

  • Updated 27 April 2021
  • This entry is complete

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