The LOTR Movie Site
October 2, 2000

It Depends on How You Define 'Greatness'
Mark S.

In reply to SHO.

Yes... Feanor has a lot of admirable qualities mentioned in his favour (good scholarship on finding that quote, by the way!) but the 'claim' Tolkien makes for Feaor's greatness is not borne out in the sum total of Feanor's actions.
Feanor, as far as I can read it, was a moral failure. He jealously witheld the Silmarils when their light (which he never made, but borrowed) could have healed all Arda. He vainly set himself over and above the hieraracy set by Iluvatar. He imperilled countless numbers by his arrogance and pride. He murdered innocent brethren and condemned thousands of Elves to the Ice of Helcaraxe. The list of his crimes in service to his ego go on and on.

And when one tallies up his other accomplishments, were they really so 'great'?
Feanor made some shiny jewels and fought off a lot of Balrogs. This makes a person 'great'?! Hurin was mortal and slaughtered seventy trolls...

Feanor has a pretty face and nice big muscles... this makes a person great?!
Feanor is lucky enough to be born to the king of the Noldor. Birth advantages make you great?

I think most people today would include a set of ethical criteria amongst all those others in their assessment of someone's 'greatness'. To limit 'greatness' to the possession of non-moral qualities is to suggest that a sentient being is 'great' merely because it had a privileged gene set and a favourable upbringing.
If that's the case, then the achievements of Jesus Christ are all due to nothing more than a good pedigree, unassailable role models and a first-class moral education.

Or in other words; good luck.

No... the moral component when judging 'greatness' must be included, and on the strength of this criterion Fingolfin beats the pants off Feanor.
[Parenthetically, by this moral criteria I admit that most would want Frodo to be hailed as the 'greatest' - but Frodo, at the critical moment, failed.]

It wasn't Fingolfin's blows upon Morgoth that made him great -- it was his decision to go and do something about the desperate situation the peoples under his rule were in.

Perhaps if Tolkien's Elves understood 'greatness' to mean 'most prominent' then Feanor might stand as such. But then, the point that Morgoth was the 'greatest' could also be urged; did he not force the hand of Iluvatar himself?