The Oath of Fëanor

Consuming Sons: The Nihilism of Fëanor and Denethor, part 4

To return to the theme of this series, a less obvious and even counter-intuitive, but for all that, perhaps the most tragic example of Fëanor’s many consumptive relationships, is the one between himself and his seven sons. Fëanor doubtlessly loves his sons, but as with the Silmarils, by the end we see this love corrupting into something that has less to do with his sons than it does with himself and his own selfish desires. The clearest illustration of this is the dreadful oath sworn by Fëanor, an oath which “none shall break, and none should take,” and yet which he allows his sons to make with him. Their penalty of the oath is that they should be cursed with “the Everlasting Dark” should they fail to “pursue with vengeance and hatred to the ends of the World” anyone who should withhold a Silmaril from their possession. In encouraging his sons to bind themselves, upon pain of eternal damnation, to the pursuit of his Silmarils, and the punishment of any who might resist them, Fëanor of course is putting his sons at the very great risk (if not the certainty) of forever losing their own souls—a devouring fire indeed. That they further name in witness to their oath not only Manwë (interesting in light of Fëanor’s previous curse upon Manwë’s summons), Varda, and their mountain home of Taniquetil (the Valar’s “Olympus”), but even Ilúvatar himself, is also noteworthy in this context. In calling upon the Absolute and Unconditioned One to bind themselves to an otherwise rebellious and essentially self-serving oath, we see what is in some ways the perverse extreme of Fëanor’s pragmatism. In the classical theological terms of St. Augustine, God, the one who is the ultimate end of all things and therefore the only proper object of true “enjoyment” (frui), Fëanor and his sons are effectively exploiting as a mere means for their “use” (uti). A consuming “spirit of fire” Fëanor may be, but when the fire one “plays” with is none other than the Flame Imperishableit will not be Ilúvatar, but Fëanor who will find himself burned.

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