On Enduring Light Overcoming the Dark

J.R.R. Tolkien united the stories of The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings not just by creating a consistently compelling fictional universe, but by allowing echoes of The Silmarillion to be humming throughout the narrative of The Lord of the Rings. Without spelling it out, the latter tale is the final redemption of all the brokenness of the former. An explicit example of this from the end of The Silmarillion is the connection of the White Tree of Gondor with Valinor. But my favorite example of this narratival unity connects with the Silmarils themselves.

The Silmarillion primarily revolves around the exile of the Noldor from Valinor in order to recapture the Silmarils stolen by Morgoth. These jewels were crafted by Fëanor from the light of the two trees of Valinor, Laurelin and Telperion. These trees were source of all light in the world, and their last flower became the Sun and the Moon. Fëanor’s craft captured the essence of these trees in a more profound way than even the Sun and the Moon, and was distinct from the trees as a beauty unto themselves.

The trees were destroyed by Morgoth and Ungoliant, the spider-demon. She sucked all the life and light from the trees and brought Middle-earth under a new darkness, and from there all evil is. The Silmarillion is the story of the redressing of this wrong. The Silmarillion ends with Eärendil, father of Elrond and grand-nephew of Fëanor, wearing the only surviving Silmaril on his brow as he daily sails his ship across the sky. Eärendil and his Simaril remain a star for all the ages of Middle-earth.

In The Fellowship of the Ring Galadrial gives Frodo a phial of light, captured from the reflection in her mirror of Eärendil’s star, the Silmaril. At the end of The Two Towers Frodo is assaulted by Shelob, descendent of Ungoliant. He fends her off through the phial’s light.

The tales of Middle-earth exist in an inclusio: the story begins with darkness taking the light, and seemingly overcome it. They end with the light, thought diminished, vanquishing the remnants of evil. The vermin Ungoliant bit the light and thought it extinguished. But light overcomes the darkness.