The Silmarils (Quenya pl. Silmarilli, radiance of pure light) are three fictional brilliant jewels composed of the unmarred light of the Two Trees in J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium. The Silmarils were made out of the crystalline substance silima by Fëanor, a Noldorin Elf, in Valinor during the Years of the Trees. The Silmarils play a central role in Tolkien's book The Silmarillion, which tells of the creation of Eä (the universe) and the beginning of Elves, Men, and Dwarves.
Fëanor, son of Finwë, created the Silmarils—"the most renowned of all the works of the Elves"—from the light of the Two Trees. The Silmarils were hallowed by Varda, so that they would burn the hands of any evil creature or mortal who touched them without justly deserving possession.
Together with the evil spider Ungoliant, the rebellious Vala Melkor destroyed the Two Trees. Later, at the healing effort of the Valar, one of the trees bore a silver flower, and the other bore a golden fruit before their death. They were sent to the sky, and became the Sun and the Moon, to illuminate Middle-earth against Melkor. But neither sphere radiated the original light of the trees, that was free of Ungoliant's poison. The Silmarils then contained all the remaining unmarred light of the Two Trees. Therefore, the Valar entreated Fëanor to give them up so they could restore the Trees, but he refused. Then news came that Melkor had killed Fëanor's father Finwë, the High King of the Noldor, and stolen the Silmarils. After this deed, Melkor fled from Valinor to his fortress Angband in the north of Middle-earth. Thereafter he wore the Silmarils in his Iron Crown.
Fëanor was furious at Melkor, whom he named Morgoth, "Dark Enemy of the World", and at the Valar's desire to take the gems for their own purposes. Together with his sons he swore the Oath of Fëanor, which bound them to fight anyone who withheld the Silmarils from them. This terrible oath resulted in much future trouble including mass murder and the war of Elf against Elf.
Fëanor led many of the Noldor back to Middle-earth. His flight, which occurred during the First Age of Middle-earth, led to no end of grief for the Elves and eventually for the Men of Middle-earth. Five major battles were fought in Beleriand, but ultimately the Noldor and all the people who took the oath failed in their attempt to regain the Silmarils from Morgoth.
One of the Silmarils was recovered by Beren and Lúthien through great peril and loss, when Lúthien sent Morgoth to sleep with her singing and Beren cut it from his crown. The werewolf Carcharoth attacked them as they left Angband and swallowed Beren's hand containing the Silmaril, and this drove Carcharoth mad. He was later killed by Huan the Hound, who died from his wounds, and Mablung cut the Silmaril out. It was later taken to the Valar in the West by Eärendil, son of Tuor and Idril and husband of Elwing: heir of Beren and Lúthien, as a token of repentance. The Valar then set this Silmaril as a star in the sky. The other two gems remained in Morgoth's hands, and were taken from him by a servant of Manwë at the end of the War of Wrath. However, soon afterwards, they were stolen by Fëanor's two remaining sons, Maedhros and Maglor, as they tried to fulfil the oath they had sworn so many years before. But the jewels burned their hands, in denial of their rights of possession, as they had burned Morgoth's hands before. In agony, Maedhros threw himself and his Silmaril into a fiery pit, and Maglor threw his Silmaril into the sea. Thus the Silmarils remain in the ocean, the earth, and the sky—their light present but inaccessible to those in Middle-earth.
According to a prophecy of Mandos, following Melkor's final return and defeat in the Dagor Dagorath (Battle of Battles), the world will be changed and the Silmarils will be recovered by the Valar. Then Fëanor will be released from the Halls of Mandos and give Yavanna the Silmarils and she will break them and with their light she will revive the Two Trees, the Pelóri Mountains will be flattened and the light of the Two Trees will fill the world in eternal bliss. This concept appears in Tolkien's manuscripts that were published by his son Christopher in The Shaping of Middle-earth but was not implemented in the published Silmarillion.
The idea of the Silmaril is connected to Tolkien's exploration of the Old English word Sigelwara, which was used in the Old English Codex Junius to mean "Aethiopian". Tolkien wondered why the Anglo-Saxons should have had a word with this meaning, and conjectured that it had once meant something else, which he explored in his essay "Sigelwara Land". He stated that Sigel meant "both sun and jewel", the former as it was the name of the Sun rune *sowilō (ᛋ), the latter ... from Latin sigillum, a seal. He decided that Hearwa was related to Old English heorð, "hearth", and ultimately to Latin carbo, "soot". He suggested this implied a class of demons "with red-hot eyes that emitted sparks and faces black as soot". The Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey states that this contributed to the sun-jewel Silmarils, "helped to naturalise the Balrog" (a demon of fire), while the Aethiopians suggested to Tolkien the Haradrim, a dark southern race of men.[a]
Shippey comments that the Silmarils relate to the book's theme in a particular way: the sin of the elves is not human pride, as in the Biblical fall, but their "desire to make things which will forever reflect or incarnate their own personality". This elvish form of pride leads Fëanor to forge the Silmarils, and, Shippey suggests, led Tolkien to write his fictions: "Tolkien could not help seeing a part of himself in Fëanor and Saruman, sharing their perhaps licit, perhaps illicit desire to 'sub-create'."
The critic Jane Chance Nitzsche views the Silmarils as "created things misused by their creators", like indeed the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings; and like it, they give their name to their book and help "to unify the entire mythology". She sees the theme as straightforwardly Biblical, the Silmarils symbolising "the same desire for knowledge of good and evil witnessed in the Garden of Eden."
- Tolkien, Christopher (1981). The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Allen & Unwin. ISBN 0-04-826005-3.
- Drout, Michael D. C. (10 October 2006). J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. Routledge. p. 612. ISBN 1-135-88034-4.
- Jane Chance (2003). Tolkien the Medievalist. Routledge. p. 209. ISBN 978-1-134-43971-3.
- Maglor Casts a Silmaril into the Sea as illustrated by Ted Nasmith
- Verlyn Flieger (2002). Splintered Light: Logos and Language in Tolkien's World. Kent State University Press. pp. 97–. ISBN 978-0-87338-744-6.
- "Second Prophecy of Mandos". Encyclopedia of Arda. Mark Fisher. 30 June 2010.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1986), Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Shaping of Middle-earth, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-395-42501-8
- J. R. R. Tolkien, "Sigelwara Land" Medium Aevum Vol. 1, No. 3. December 1932 and Medium Aevum Vol. 3, No. 2. June 1934.
- Shippey 2005, pp. 48-49.
- "Junius 11 "Exodus" ll. 68-88". The Medieval & Classical Literature Library. Retrieved 1 February 2020.
- Shippey 2005, p. 54.
- Shippey 2005, pp. 49, 54, 63.
- J. R. R. Tolkien (1989), ed. Christopher Tolkien, The Treason of Isengard, Unwin Hyman, ch. XXV p. 435 & p. 439 note 4 (comments by Christopher Tolkien)
- Shippey, Tom (1982). The Road to Middle-Earth. Grafton (HarperCollins). pp. 213–216. ISBN 0261102753.
- Nitzsche, Jane Chance (1980) . Tolkien's Art. Papermac. pp. 131–133. ISBN 0-333-29034-8.