“The Foreknowledge of Death”

Consuming Sons: The Nihilism of Fëanor and Denethor, part 5

The previous post ended on the seemingly inevitable doom and futility involved in the oath of Fëanor and his sons. So long as there is the possibility, however, that the quest to which Fëanor and his sons swear themselves may yet be achieved, it may seem uncertain that Fëanor has purposely or knowingly committed himself and his sons to their own utter destruction. All doubt, however, is removed when Fëanor, in his final moments,

beheld far off the peaks of Thangorodrim, mightiest of the towers of Middle-earth, and knew with the foreknowledge of death that no power of the Noldor would ever overthrow them; but he cursed the name of Morgoth thrice, and laid it upon his sons to hold to their oath, and to avenge their father. Then he died…

On his death bed Fëanor now knows that his war on Morgoth is vain. Instead of having them repent of their oath (itself one of the consuming consequences of their oath?), however, Fëanor demands that his sons continue to carry out their hopeless task anyway. In doing so, Fëanor is virtually guaranteeing their destruction, yet for the madness of Fëanor, his own sons’ lives is none too high a price to pay that they might “avenge their father.”

Fëanor, “Spirit of Fire”

Consuming Sons: The Nihilism of Fëanor and Denethor, part 3

More obvious examples of Fëanor’s devouring spirit, of course, are to be found in his demagogic manipulation and exploitation of his fellow Noldorin Elves, persuading them to return to Middle-earth and take up the war against Melkor, a war which is really on his own behalf and for his own benefit; his Melkorish theft of the Teleri’s ships and his instigation of the kin-slaying when the Teleri attempt to withstand him; his abandoning his half-brother Fingolfin and the greater part of the Noldorin people on the northern shores of Aman when he deems them no longer useful to himself, and leaving them to cross over to Middle-earth via the treacherous “grinding ice” of the Helcaraxë; his wanton and wasteful destruction of the Teleri’s beautiful ships upon his own debarkation on the shores of Middle-earth (in this Tolkien may be seen, through his arguably most Dionysian character, to expose Nietzsche’s übermensch as no protection against, but as precariously vulnerable to, the very petty spirit of ressentiment and nihilism that Nietzsche so feared); and finally, the manner in which Fëanor’s spirit destroys his own flesh upon his death after being mortally wounded by Balrogs in his charge upon Angband: “Then he died; but he had neither burial nor tomb, for so fiery was his spirit that as it sped his body fell to ash, and was borne away like smoke…” As Fëanor lived, so he died, consuming even his own self.