🌟 Our Most Beloved Star: Eärendil and the Stars Above Middle-earth
How the starry skies of Arda shine new light on The Lord of the Rings
Elen síla lúmenn' omentielvo! A star shines on the hour of our meeting!
This is just a quick reminder to keep your eyes out for a special post that will be arriving in your inboxes tomorrow on Hobbit Day (September 22nd)!
“Gilthoniel A Elbereth!”
Faced with the sight of Shelob moving towards him to kill him, Samwise Gamgee reels from the shock of his encounter with the foul creature. But a sudden thought comes to him as she closes on him and he reaches into his cloak. Rising to his feet, he pulls out the phial of Galadriel and cries “Gilthoniel A Elbereth!” At that, the phial “flamed like a star that leaping from the firmament sears the dark air with intolerable light. No such terror out of heaven had ever burned in Shelob’s face before.”1
The light from the phial pains Shelob so greatly that she instantly retreats, miserable and defeated.
On the face of it, this scene in Shelob’s lair near the Stairs of Cirith Ungol is compelling and exciting because of the danger that Sam and Frodo face, the way Sam’s love for Frodo motivates him to do courageous deeds, and the way that the gift Galadriel gave Frodo earlier becomes crucial to the plot and the survival of our heroes. But it’s also effective because the cry that Sam utters and the power of the phial itself hint at a deep history to the world of Middle-earth that we are only scratching the surface of in this scene.
The world of The Lord of the Rings is an ancient world with ages of history and legend that fill its pages. Readers interested in this world and history might find themselves asking what exactly Sam’s cry meant. Who or what is he referencing? And what was it about the phial and the light that it emitted that so pained Shelob?
It turns out that the answers to these questions go back to the very creation of the world of Arda as told in The Silmarillion and involve the heart of the story of The Silmarillion: the light of the Trees of Valinor, the light of the Silmarils, and the light of the very stars in the heavens.
Knowing more of this story uncovers layers of richness to the story of The Lord of the Rings that anyone reading the book can sense but that only those who know The Silmarillion—or who paid extra attention during any of the many songs that reference and explain some of it in The Lord of the Rings—can fully appreciate.
So today we’re going to look at the stories of Varda, Queen of the Valar, Fëanor, creator of the Silmarils, and Eärendil the Mariner and then return to some of the references to the stars and to Elbereth in The Lord of the Rings. These stories will give us fresh eyes for and a deeper understanding of what’s going on not just on the surface of the The Lord of the Rings but also in the deeper layers of meaning as well.
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