Unhood your Silver Lamp and let’s shine some light on this most thematic of attachments as we explore some deep questions about destiny and doom. Although I haven’t had a chance to build a deck with the Silver Lamp yet, I’ve been intrigued by this card and inspired to write about it since stumbling across one in Tolkien’s text while studying Unfinished Tales this week. A Silver Lamp makes an appearance in the First Age account “Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin” and it is a pretty sweet scene! Rich in theme and powerful imagery, I know I’ll never see the Silver Lamp in the same light again after this tale. Ready for some enlightening illumination? Read on!
EXPLORE THE LEGEND
And then Gelmir brought forth one of those lamps for which the Noldor were renowned; for they were made of old in Valinor, and neither wind nor water could quench them, and when they were unhooded they sent forth a clear blue light from a flame imprisoned within a white crystal. Now by the light that Gelmir held above his head Tuor saw that the river began to go suddenly down a smooth slope into a great tunnel, but beside its rock-hewn course there ran long flights of steps leading on and downward into a deep gloom beyond the beam of the lamp.
This luminous passage is taken from a key turning point in the Unfinished Tales narrative “Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin”. For those unfamiliar with the lore, when Tuor does finally come to Gondolin, he will become only the second Man in the history of Middle-earth to marry an Elf woman, the king’s daughter Idril who will bear him a son. That alone is a quite epic, but there’s more. Tuor and Idril’s son Eärendil is the great mariner of the seas whose intercession on behalf of Elves and Men brings the Valar across from the Blessed Realm to defeat Morgoth in the last Great Battle of the First Age. And just in case that’s not enough grand history in consequence of Tuor’s coming to Gondolin, it should also be recalled that his Half-elven grandsons are Elrond and Elros who, you might know, will have a little bit to do with the history of the Second and Third Ages!
In this unfinished beginning of the story, however, we only get to see Tuor struggling to discover this great destiny, his life’s purpose, or as Tolkien calls it, his “doom”. Overall, the tale is a wonderful exploration of the interplay between free will and divine calling that is a central theme of the Professor’s writings. The divine being is Ulmo the Vala who is drawing Tuor to the sea even as Tuor has chosen of his own accord to follow a stream “in search of [his] doom”.
It is when hope in his quest seems lost and “gone into darkness”, that Tuor encounters two Elves coming to him up from a tunnel in the Echoing Mountains carrying “one of those lamps for which the Noldor were renowned”. This silver lamp is a key symbol of the advice the Elves will give to Tuor in his dark hour; indeed it is symbolic of the entire tale and Tolkien’s great concept of how one comes to purpose in life. Directing Tuor down a staircase into the shadowy tunnel, through which he will ultimately find the sea and meet Ulmo, the Elves say, “Come now! Through darkness you shall come to light.” As Tuor peers “downward into a deep gloom”, their silver lamp “[sends] forth a clear blue light” that “neither wind nor water could quench”. The light is mystical in its essence as we are told in the footnote to the passage that even “the Noldor themselves did not know the secret” of these “blue-shining” “Fëanorian lamps”.
Yet, although the Elven lamp briefly illuminates the path ahead, it is not given to Tuor and he is left to walk without its light into the doom that awaits him. As the text reads after the Elves bid their farewell:
With that the Noldor turned and went back up the long stairs; but Tuor stood still, until the light of their lamp was lost, and he was alone in a darkness deeper than night amid the roaring of the falls. Then summoning his courage he set his left hand to the rock-wall, and felt his way forward, slowly at first, and then more quickly, as he became more used to the darkness and found nothing to hinder him.
Through this dark passageway, Tuor finds his way into a ravine which leads him “straight West” and, amidst further moments of rising and falling hope, at last he comes unawares to “to the black brink of Middle-earth, and saw the Great Sea, Belegaer the Shoreless” in the breathtaking scene described below:
At that hour the sun went down beyond the rim of the world, as a mighty fire; and Tuor stood alone upon the cliff with outspread arms, and a great yearning filled his heart. It is said that he was the first of Men to reach the Great Sea, and that none, save the Eldar, have ever felt more deeply the longing that it brings.
It is here, at the edge of the earth, that Tuor discovers the shield, helm, and sword left for him in Vinyamar by Turgon centuries before and receives his commissioning from the Lord of Waters which will guide him to Gondolin and his destiny. It is a place that he reached through his own decisions, courage, and methods, and yet it is a place that was prepared for him by a higher power and those who had come before — a sacred place only reached by a journey through darkness into light.
To weave these weighty matters back into thematic play of our card game then, just as the Silver Lamp shows the shadow cards but does not defeat them, Tuor gets to see the tunnel briefly in Elven light, but still must walk it alone. So we may catch a glimpse of our purpose in a moment of mystical clarity, yet face it with naught but our own convictions to keep us going. How about that for something to think about next time you drop this Spirit attachment on the table!
SHOWCASE THE ARTWORK
The fantastic image for the Silver Lamp was created by New York based artist Owen William Weber who has done a couple of cards including such notable pieces as the Gondorian Shield and good old Barliman Butterbur. Mr. Weber was born on Halloween and considers this to be source of his “craving for the darker aspects of the world”. Although he mainly does sci-fi and fantasy illustration, his personal work is about bridging contemporary realism with surreal fantasy elements.
Mr. Weber says that when he was initially assigned to the Lord of the Rings card game, he thought that he’d be “never worthy” compared to the artists who have illustrated Tolkien’s world over the years. I’d say that his work has placed him firmly in this company! His Silver Lamp is beautiful and I love the angling in the frame suggesting light confronting the darkness by actively pressing forward against the shadows. As you can see, Mr. Weber originally composed the image facing left, but the art designer flipped it horizontally for the card. Not only did Mr. Weber kindly share his original image for this article, he also answered several of my questions about his work. Go check out my full artist spotlight on Owen William Weber!
For our next piece, let’s see how Tolkien’s description of the Fëanorian lamps in Unfinished Tales has inspired digital artist Pamela Dominguez. Her photomanipulation of a Viking crystal pendant reflects the mysterious blue light that even the Noldor do not fully understand. While I like the leaf motif on Mr. Weber’s work, the suggestion of surreal candlelight in Ms. Dominguez’s lamp is a beautiful touch!
As we have seen, the theme of “coming through darkness into light” to discover destiny is central to the story of Tuor. Czech artist Matěj Čadil has produced a lovely series of six storybook illustration pages recounting the tale as told in The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. Below is the second page featuring Tuor’s journey to the sea, including the two Noldorin Elves, Gelmir and Arminas, who emerge from the tunnel bearing the silver lamp. Check out his entire series starting with the first page on DeviantArt!
The final piece I’d like to share is a video that I created after reading Tuor’s story and browsing all the amazing artistic portrayals of his journey to sea in search of his doom. I find this story to be profoundly moving and personally resonant. The song I’ve chosen to feature with this compilation is called “Dig” by Jars of Clay. It features a beautiful line of refrain about going “to the sea” in a quest for purpose. I hope you find this piece stirring as you travel your own journeys of meaning. Please enjoy!
DISCUSS THE CARDS
From a thematic standpoint, the Silver Lamp is simply brilliant. As mentioned above, the fact that the Silver Lamp uncovers but does not cancel shadow effects is a fitting reflection of its role in Tuor’s tale. He must still face his doom, despite having it revealed to him.
Since the Fëanorian lamps are carried by the Noldor, it seems that the hero who best deserves our lustrous lantern is Spirit Glorfindel who can add it to his already impressive stack of attachments with Light of Valinor, Asfaloth, and Rivendell Blade. The Silver Lamp actually functions quite strategically with him as well, as he can quest without exhausting using the Light of Valinor and then be ready to unhood a beam of bluish light on shadow cards at the beginning of the combat phase.
That being said, the quote in the flavor text on the card refers to a scene from The Fellowship of the Ring in which Haldir is welcoming Frodo and the Company to Lórien. Of course, our current Haldir is in the Lore sphere and he is an ally, so that’s two reasons he can’t carry the Silver Lamp but who knows, we’ve been promised a “new Silvan hero” in the upcoming “Trouble in Tharbad” scenario. Could it be him?
Strictly speaking from a gameplay standpoint, the Silver Lamp suggests a great combo with Small Target, a card that I thoroughly enjoyed playing in my Hobbit Spirit deck, but with which I often whiffed resulting in some disastrous effects. If I’d only had a Silver Lamp along on this thematic playthrough, things may have gone differently for me! The most useful play though is probably in a Spirit/Lore deck with A Burning Brand, a combo that gives even more potency to what I consider to be the Great and Almighty Hero Triumvirate of Glorfindel, Frodo Baggins, and Lore Aragorn.
For two resources, I have to wonder if Silver Lamp is worth the cost and deck space. Then again, after exploring this lore, I think that playing the Silver Lamp is no longer just a nifty trick but an evocation of the delicate dance between fate and free will in one’s destiny and the dark path that must often be walked to find it. I suppose I should give it try!