Here’s a question: do modern people believe in curses?
Ever heard of the Madden Curse? Every year, video game makers EA Sports put a standout football player on the cover of the popular Madden game, and curiously the player that they choose has a disappointing season or gets injured. This year it is Detroit wideout Calvin Johnson, although he says he isn’t worried. (Here’s a link to an interesting article and video on the subject.)
Many of the players interviewed say, “I don’t believe in curses.” But some do! And others say they hope the curse will be broken! But this article asks the question, “Is Calvin Johnson doomed?”
Did somebody say “doomed”? Enter Tolkien!
We are investigating Tolkien’s ideas on doom, death, despair. In the last post, I asked about the place of hope in the midst of the long, slow defeat that is The Silmarillion.
Early in The Silmarillion, a powerful elf named Feanor fashions three jewels called the silmarils. In each of these jewels he has captured some of the light from the Two Trees, the trees which gave light to the world before they were destroyed by the uber-Spider Ungoliant. (I know, try to keep up).
In any case, these jewels are so beautiful that they bewitch Feanor. After the trees are destroyed, he refuses to give the silmarils to the Valar, but they are stolen anyway by the evil Morgoth. Feanor and his sons swear an oath that they will pursue the silmarils to their deaths, and will never surrender the silmarils to any hands but their own. In their rage and haste to leave Valinor, Feanor and his followers (the Noldor) slaughter their fellow Elves, in what becomes known as “The Kinslaying.”
In response to this, Mandos (the “doomsayer” of the Valar) pronounces a curse on the Noldor:
Tears unnumbered ye shall shed; and the Valar will fence Valinor against you, and shut you out, so that not even the echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains. On the House of Feanor the wrath of the Valar lieth from the West unto the uttermost East, and upon all that will follow them it shall be laid also. Their Oath shall drive them, and yet betray them, and ever snatch away the very treasures that they have sworn to pursue. To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well; and by treason of kin unto kin, and the fear of treason, shall this come to pass. The Dispossessed shall they be for ever.
The Doom of the Noldor hangs like a shadow over the rest of the narrative. Beautiful realms are built; but the Curse does its work in undoing the most worthy accomplishments in Middle Earth: “To evil end shall all things turn that begin well.”
Has Tolkien just summed up his legendarium? Is the doom of the Noldor emblematic of the entire story? That no matter what characters do, no matter how good it is, that there is something – call it curse if you want – that will make everything go awry?
I once met a guy whose parents had divorced, due to infidelity. And he believed that the same fate awaited him, that it hung over him like a curse. He couldn’t escape the feeling that he was cursed. Years later he married. After a few years he divorced, due to infidelity.
I’ve also met people who believe that they are cursed with unbelief. Try as they might, they simply cannot bring themselves to believe in God.
What hope is there for those who feel cursed? Are curses real? And is it possible to break the curse?
As we continue, it might get worse before it gets better.
Next: Turin Turambar! Or, Tolkien’s Most Tragic Character