Monday, July 19 – Some Valar

6:00 AM The Valaquenta: Welcome!


Welcome to The Silmarillion discussion forum! This week we are batting around Part II, the Valaquenta, or “Tale of the Valar.” Last week, in The Ainulindale, we witnessed the creation of the world, and met some of the Ainur  (heavenly spirits) who, having helped create it, then descended onto the newly made Arda (earth). The greatest among them became The Valar (The Powers), and took up its guardianship on behalf of Eru, the One God. Thanks, Celeborn’s Mirror, for your great work on guiding us through it!

In the Valaquenta, Tolkien takes a short narrative break to introduce the reader to the entire pantheon of the Valar and their associated spirits. He then plunges into the Quenta Silmarillion  (“Tale of the Silmarils”), which is the main story of The Silmarillion and which we will discuss starting next week, and all this summer and fall.

The Silmarillion is tricky stuff for some Tolkien readers who are used to the romance and easy elegant flow of The Lord of the Rings. The Valaquenta especially is written in a high, “Biblical” style and being about Gods practically begs to be the basis for some pretty heavy philosophical and literary questions.

I want to welcome you first-time Silmarillion readers! I will try to suggest topics for response and discussion that are of interest to all who just wander into the Reading Room this week, as well as to that bunch (you know who you are) over there in the squishy chairs under the Tolkien portrait, sipping your amber-colored adult beverages and thumbing your first editions. “Thinking hard”, you guys?

Here’s how I will conduct this week’s discussion: I will post one or two Topics every 6 hours or so. Each Topic will usually have five sections. I by no means expect you to address all 7 to 10 questions in one reply. Pick and choose. Respond to someone else’s post to express yourself on the rest.

A. Text. Because of the brevity and unfamiliarity of the text, I will quote the entire thing during the course of the week. In fact, each Topic will generally address a single paragraph or so of the Valaquenta. Every post will have a link to the entire text for reference.

B. Discussion

·         Monday and Tuesday, following the text, we will consider each of the Valar individually.

·         Wednesday, we will pause and talk about the Valar as a group, about pantheons in general, and about the role of the Valar in Tolkien’s works.

·         Thursday we will go back to the text and look at the Maiar, the Valar’s lesser spirit-folk.

·         Friday we conclude with the Enemies! Darkness and Pain! TGIF!

·         Over the weekend will be a low-volume open discussion. This is July, after all (Northern hemisphere bias admitted! How’s the weather down there, Tornantipodeans?)

·         If I manage to compose a decent summary of this week’s discussion it will be a miracle, but I will try.

C. Images. I have collected some interesting pictures and graphics to look at that should compensate a little for the heavy literary and philosophical stuff.

D. Piled Higher and Deeper. I will provide links to additional material that relates to the Valaquenta. These will be from Tolkien’s early writings, posthumously published as The History of Middle-earth (HoME), and from other secondary sources of interest. I would assume you will read the material provided if you want to comment on it; or feel free to skip the thing completely….

E. Extra Credit. Always a welcome treat for grade-grubbing Reading Room wonks, these questions will reach beyond the traditional limits of Tolkien discussion and contain rich but hidden themes for those who aspire to Valinorean heights of discourse. And silliness.

Entreating Eru, the ethos of the entire enterprise will be as ecstatic, eclectic, erudite, educational and enjoyable as I can endeavor with my essays and enquiries. After that, it’s essentially and entirely up to every one of you! Excelsior!

<a href=""> Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>


Elf_Maven: I think that someone should consider publication.

Erather: squire, you're simply amazing.  What a great presentation! You've raised the bar pretty high, now, for future presenters!

Penthe: *stunned rabbit in the headlights* Or is it that the bar is about to come down and crush my head?

Yes, well done indeed Squire.

Beren IV: What an exhaustive discussion! I have to say that your method appeals to me, Squire - but alas, I do not feel that I shall be able to comment on all of it! :)

NZ Strider: Yields palm.  Bows low.

6:00 AM The Valaquenta: Introduction

Introduction – A Note from The Dear Leader

Although the Valaquenta is about the Valar, it is hardly the only place in The Silmarillion where Tolkien describes the Valar. We have already discussed them in the context of the Ainulindale. Next week Curious will guide us through passages describing our holy friends in the context of the building of Valinor and the Two Trees.

In fact, the Valaquenta is an odd and limited “book”. I think our discussions will inevitably lead us out from this scanty text to other works of Tolkien’s that offer more information, from the rest of The Silmarillion, to the letters and the entire History of Middle-earth (HoME) series.

I will do some of this myself. I think the odd unfinished and posthumous nature of The Silmarillion, assembled and edited by Christopher Tolkien from diverse manuscripts written over a 50-year span, gives us far more justification to refer to the source drafts than I would find appropriate when studying a fully-formed, coherent published narrative like The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings.

That said, I would ask all of us to try to focus here on the Valaquenta as written. Remember that other discussions in other weeks will cover The Valar as they appear throughout The Silmarillion, particularly in the early chapters and especially in Curious’ chapter next week.

I will only offer excerpts from the HoME series that I think specifically address the peculiar evolution and meaning of the Valaquenta. If you bring additional information from those books to this discussion, please give us context and citations as very few people have read them.

Introduction – The Text

“Account of the Valar and Maiar according to the lore of the Eldar

In the beginning Eru, the One, who in the Elvish tongue is named Ilúvatar, made the Ainur of his thought; and they made a great Music before him. In this Music the World was begun; for Ilúvatar made visible the song of the Ainur, and they beheld it as a light in the darkness. And many among them became enamoured of its beauty, and of its history which they saw beginning and unfolding as in a vision. Therefore Ilúvatar gave to their vision Being, and set it amid the Void, and the Secret Fire was sent to burn at the heart of the World; and it was called Eä.

Then those of the Ainur who desired it arose and entered into the World at the beginning of Time; and it was their task to achieve it, and by their labours to fulfil the vision which they had seen. Long they laboured in the regions of Eä, which are vast beyond the thought of Elves and Men, until in the time appointed was made Arda, the Kingdom of Earth. Then they put on the raiment of Earth and descended into it, and dwelt therein.”

Introduction – Discussion

This opening passage of the Valaquenta recaps the Ainulindale, which we have just read. <a href="">Here</a> is the Ainulindale text, highlighted to show roughly what is included in the Valaquenta for comparison.

A. How does it differ? Why did he cut what he did? Any new information?

Luthien Rising: early-morning thoughts on the early morning of the world. Curiously enough, he's gone and excluded Melkor's complication of the music and Eru's response to it. I don't however, recall finding that odd when I first read the Sil (which was just this past spring, so I remember it well). On my first reading, it was indeed the general fact of the music and the order of creation that struck me most; it was on reading it here that Melkor's role came to seem to be the key to understanding the chapter. The difference is interesting, given some of what he says about Melkor later in the chapter (which I think may conflict with the previous chapter, but we'll deal with that, I suppose, on Friday).

Curious: The regions of Eä are vast but lifeless, or so it seems.  We get no hint that Arda or the Kingdom of Earth is one of many kingdoms; instead, it appears to be the kingdom, and the rest of the universe is a vast, lifeless backdrop for the Kingdom of Earth. 

This kind of mythology gives Man center stage in the universe in a way that modern science does not.  We are not an accident of chance in a far-flung speck of a planet, but rather the very reason for creation and the focus of Eru's full attention.  In some ways the mythological view of the world makes sense, for each of us is the center of his or her own universe.  Science tells us we are small; mythology tells us we are great. 

What if you are a superhero?  As Spiderman's uncle said, "'With great power there must also come great responsibility.'"  In Tolkien's world men -- and hobbits -- have great potential, rarely realized.  There is some truth there that science does not recognize, for after all, it is men who invented science, not science who invented men.

Squire: Tolkien actually covered himself on that as well in one of his many, many notes, in (inevitably) 'Morgoth's Ring.'

He admits that there are other Ardas out there, guarded by other Valar; and that Eru made them all. However, he points out that 1) they are so far away as to be unreachable; 2) they thus have no relevance to his story; 3) Eru is limitless, so no matter how many stories He has created in his many universes and solar systems, our Arda and our battle with Morgoth and with our own natures is still primary to Him.

Of course there is no hint of this thinking in the text--that is Tolkien's (and your) point: the mythology is about the Children of Iluvatar of The Silmarillion, not the entire scientific universe.

I personally wish Tolkien wouldn't have worried so much about such issues. He must have felt he was swimming against a very strong materialist tide in his own times (30s, 40s and 50s), to find it necessary to come up with so much parallel scientific 'explanation' for his fantasy mythology.

In the end I think that, as much as his Catholic sensibilities, was what sank his old Silmarillion, and kept him from ever finishing the new one.

Alveric: Other Solar Systems in Ea. Interestingly some of these other solar systems are described in The Notion Club Papers, from Sauron Defeated.  This abandoned novel is set within the Notion Club, a literary group very similar to the Inklings, of which both Tolkien and C.S.Lewis were members, and deals with the ability of some of its members to travel with their minds in a dreaming state to distant times and places.  The book in fact has two parts, the second of which deals with travel back in time to Numenor and who this has repercusions in our own time.  However in the first part the hero journeys to distant solar systems which are briefy described.  Very unlike anything else Tolkien wrote about, including a world of self aware crystaline entities if I remember correctly (don't have the books handy so I can't check).  It's not clear where, or even when, these other 'Ardas' are being seen though.

B. Why does Tolkien summarize the Ainulindale at all? We just read it a page ago.

Luthien Rising: Were these two chapters always sequential in his drafts of the Sil? It strikes me as a provisional summary that would allow this, rather than the Ainulindale, to be the first chapter.

Entwife Wandlimb: deliberate or a series of unfortunate events? Sorry I don't I have time to really analyze this today but it strikes me as being a bit like the two creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2.

Genesis 1:27 says rather concisely:

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

Then, in Genesis 2, we get the detailed account:

7 Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being....

22 The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.

Which is the opposite of what we have in the Silm., but I am wondering if Tolkien is deliberately trying to borrow an ancient style -- sort of giving you the idea that this was assembled from a series of scrolls.  Then again, maybe not.  Maybe just a fluke from the posthumous editing process?

Erather: Whistle while you work. Summarizing the Ainulindale:  I'm somewhat inclined to suspect it's an artifact of the publication process, but Wanda's point about the Bible is compelling. 

C. If you (by chance) had not read the Ainulindale, would this preface make sense to you, or seem mere gibberish? Is it necessary, or sufficient, by itself, for an understanding the rest of the Valaquenta, or the Silmarillion to come?

Erather: Considering it as a standalone piece, I think it's adequate (removing a lot of the abstract images we wrestled with last week), but the longer account adds a lot of majesty to the imagery.

Piled Higher and Deeper

The Valaquenta has its roots in Tolkien’s original sketches of his mythology back in the years after World War I. Originally it was in the first chapter, immediately after the Music of the Ainur. Later, when the Ainulindale was written out as a separate narrative, the Silmarillion began with a first chapter called “The Coming of the Valar”. It was only in the late 1950s that he separated the Valaquenta material from the main tale and made it into a separate “Book”. <a href="">Here</a> is a chart of the evolution of this opening passage.

C. What changes do you see in Tolkien’s conception of the role of the Ainur in creating the World?

Luthien Rising: Love that link! Can I make mine a Lagavulin 16 instead of a Courvoisier? It might help me see more than I do in this change. It strikes me that part of what became important to Tolkien here was a sense of plenitude in language as well as in creation. What had begun simple became rich. (Not particularly high and deep, I'm afraid.)

Lucia: role changes. The main change happens between the Quenta and the Later Quenta. At first, the Ainur are enamoured of the world's beauty and are allowed to enter into it. In the later two versions (the Later and the Valaquenta), they are given tasks to be responsible for: they become co-creators. Its a whole different level of power to be involved in the making rather than just playing in the made.

Personally, I find the wording of the Quenta (the blue column) much more evocative. It sounds to me like something I "know", while none of the other ones have that kind of vibration.

Squire: yes, the change is rather subtle and I'm not sure I understand the purpose for it.

At some point between 1937 and 1951 (i.e., during the writing of Lord of the Rings, but before its publication, and most likely during the period in the late 40s when he had hopes of publishing Silmarillion in conjunction with LotR), Tolkien added a significant twist to the Ainulindale creation story.

Previously, after the song, Iluvatar took the Ainur to see what their song has created, and shows them Arda, complete. Those Ainu who wish then descend into the world to become the Valar, its guardians.

The final version, which we are used to in The Silmarillion, has the world appear to the Ainu as a Vision, which encompasses all the future history of the world as well, since that is what the song was about. But the Ainu, when they descend, are kind of shocked to discover that Arda is not made, it is simply imagined: they are faced with "raw matter" or something, plus the imperishable fire to give it all spirit. Anyway, the point is that the Valar have to "execute" the song and the vision. They physically have to build the universe (and this includes the stars, other planets, etc. -- not just Earth or the Solar System although that is included too).

Thus the earlier Ainulindale told of a universe kind of "created" by the magic music of the Ainur, following Iluvatar's thought. The music literally made the world, and it was complete when the Valar first arrived on it.

The later Ainulindale added the physical creation noted above; and if I remember, the chance for Melkor to contest with the Valar for the mastery of the creation, thus explaining all the apparent imperfections and complications in the physical world's makeup. Which in the earlier version must have stemmed simply from the disharmony of Melkor's theme in the singing.

I think it's interesting that you like the earlier version better (the blue column, as you put it): is it because the prose is simpler and cleaner and shorter, or because you are attracted to a simpler, cleaner creation myth?

Extra Credit

D. As the Ainur went about the work of realizing their Vision, were they quietly humming the Music? What aspects of the world are best explained by the theory that even an Ainu can be tone-deaf?

Luthien Rising: Of *course* they were humming (except the ones who could whistle). They didn't even have a radio, much less MP3 players with 10,000 songs on them. How *else* could they work? As for the tone-deaf parts of creation, it depends on the nature of the tone-deafness. My daughter's variety of tone-deafness would lead to such oddities as the platypus -- some notes just don't belong anywhere near each other. My husband's variety (or lack of variety) of tone-deafness would lead to landscapes like, say, the entire Gobi desert. Those more knowledgeable than I may supply the M-e equivalents.

Looking forward to everyone else's responses!

Ivy Sandybanks: Humming. I always pictured them actually singing for a good bit of the work. Who needs an MP3 player when you're directly tapped into the music of creation?

Penthe. Listening & memory. Yep, I agree. I think they were both singing along with the rest of creation, and with the memory of the song from before they came down to Arda. And I also like platypusses. I reckon they belong to a sublime chorus, rather than a random selection of notes. Albeit a chucklesome chorus.

Aragonvaar: Hey-Don't diss the platypus :D Whimsy and incongruity has its place in music and creation too.

For tone-deafness, I'd have to cite mosquitos as an example.  Manwe and Yvanna were definitely on peyote that day.

Erather: Humming the Music:  I can't even imagine a tone-deaf Vala.  However, since they sang/hummed/whistled different parts, they would certainly be working on different aspects, and I was reassured to get more of a breakdown later of who did what.

Lucia: There are certain bugs that can only be explained by tone-deafness...chiggers and fleas are a couple that come to mind.


<a href="">Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>

6:00 AM The Valaquenta: Of The Valar

Of the Valar – The Text

 “Of the Valar

The Great among these spirits the Elves name the Valar, the Powers of Arda, and Men have often called them gods. The Lords of the Valar are seven; and the Valier, the Queens of the Valar, are seven also. These were their names in the Elvish tongue as it was spoken in Valinor, though they have other names in the speech of the Elves in Middle-earth, and their names among Men are manifold. The names of the Lords in due order are: Manwë, Ulmo, Aulë, Oromë, Mandos, Lórien, and Tulkas; and the names of the Queens are: Varda, Yavanna, Nienna, Estë, Vairë, Vána, and Nessa. Melkor is counted no longer among the Valar, and his name is not spoken upon Earth.”

Of the Valar – Discussion

A. ”Men have often called them gods.” Well, are they gods, or aren’t they?

Drogo drogo: Feanor Potter and the Order of the Valar. Well, "gods" is an inadquate term for that which is beyond the comprehension of Men, in the traditional sense.  Since the Creator does not appear within his creation, the Ainur who incarnated themselves inside Arda are the closest thing to gods in that they are the most powerful entities within the confines of the creation.

Luthien Rising: At least their names are short and differentiable… They're what "gods" are (as opposed to "God", who, in Tolkien's view of the world, “is". It's like Terry Pratchett says: belief makes them gods. In this case, though, belief hasn't (within the mythology) created the gods; it has merely made beings of a lesser order than gods into gods.

Ivy Sandybanks: Lost in translation. In the imperfect, limited understanding of men, yes. Just like to the hobbits, what the elves do is magic.

Menelwyn: the gods or whatevers. When I try to discuss this sort of issue with my friends who have only seen the LOTR movies, I tend to get myself dug in very deep.  (Thanks, Philippa, for that one line about "the grace of the Valar!")  I very much hesitate to say that the Valar are gods, because there is only one God!  On the other hand, I similarly hesitate to use the analogy of angelic beings, because the Valar have a greater role than angels, or so it seems to me.  One compromise I've found is calling them "sub-gods" which conveys to my friends the idea that the Valar are subordinate to God, but way beyond people, Elves, whatever.  Actually, what I would really like to talk about is demiurges (Tolkien does in one of his letters, but I don't have access to my books at the moment), but that would probably just dig the hole even deeper!

Curious:  Thanks for the reference to demiurges! I had not heard that word before, and I did not find Tolkien's reference, but after researching the word it applies perfectly to the Valar.  Apparently Plato invented the word because he was dissatisfied with the Greek pantheon, who usurped the rule of the world and acted like criminals.  In contrast, the Valar take part in the creation of the world and act with great dignity.  They are demiurges.

Timerider: Proferred Deity: They said the same thing about the Numenoreans, and Sauron. Are these persons gods then, also? The argument that their saying so makes it so doesn't really work, unless there is no actual supernatural truth. As it stands, Eru really is the only god present- he alone has creative power, and the Valar do their work by his leave. I'm reminded of a story from the book of Acts, in the bible: Paul and his companion landed in Greece and started working miracles, and the local populace declared them to be Zeus and Apollo, to their dismay. The people called them gods for good reason, but the underlying truth (at least as they saw it) was that they were only servants of a greater God. I think the situation with the Valar is similar.

Stanislaus Bocian: Valar and Zoroastrian Religion. Valar seem to me most similar to the Amesha Spentas of the Zoroastrian Religion. It is probably the first monoteistic religion (it depends whether you count them monotheists, and whether you count Jews at that time monotheistic) I was began (probably) by the prophet Zaratustra in 7 century BC, (or earlier). It was the religion of the Persian Empire. Todays the remains of the believers live in India, where they are called Parsis.

Amesha Spentas are 7 (or 6) personified aspects of Ahura Mazda (Ohrmazd), the creator of the world - or gods, or archangels. Each of them has created a part of Earth.

see at

All translations of the names of Amesha Spentas are extremely controversial.

Spenta Manyu - Holy Spirit, sometimes identified with Ahura Mazda - created,or rules men.

Vohu Manah - Good Thought - connected with cattle (ancient Persians were nomads) and other animals

Asha Vahishta - Justice and Truth - Fire

Kshathra Vairia- Just Power - Metals and minerals, sky

Spenta Armaiti - Holy Devotion - The earth

Haurvatat - Health - Waters

Ameretat - Immortality - Plants

Additionally, there is Angra Mainyu, Evil Spirit. At first he was contrasted with Spenta Mainyu, later he became equal to Ahura Mazda - it is properly a variant religion, Zurvanism.

Angra Mainyu (Ahriman) created snakes, insects and the peacock.

Amesha Spentas are not gods. Most of the gods became Devas- daemons, as Indra, who is the god of lightning in India. Some of the gods were classified as Yazatas - lesser angels, like Mithra.

This is the difference with Tolkien-Valar are clearly sanctified pagan gods.

Galadriela: Interesting  I never thought of the connection. Zoroaster worship

Beren IV: Christianity contains elements of both Judaism and Zoroastrianism. The concept of a Devil is Zoroastrian, for instance. Also, Zoroaster, the son of Ahura Mazda, has his birthday on the twenty-fifth of December...

Annael: Mithras too. The "sun god" worshipped by many Romans in the early centuries AD. Mithraism may have been an offshoot of Zoroastroanism, and many scholars believe the Catholic Church took over many of the rituals of Mithraism, including that birthday and making the Sun-day holy, as a way of co-opting Mithras' worshippers.

Erather: Meet the Pantheon. Hey, Men assign names to things.  Are horses really horses?  They are divine beings with a lot of power and responsibility, and we may use lower-case-god to denote that.  Tolkien is weasel-wording here, so that if this word bothers you you can just say, "Oh, foolish Men, how little they know!"

Penthe: Elves' story of creation. As other have said below, Men are a bit dopey about the nature of Gods and so on in Middle Earth. They don't have first hand knowledge. This story, however, suggests that the Elves' knowledge is also imperfect. The categories applied here are the Elves' version of the hierarchy of the Valar. They are a very hierarchical bunch, Elves. Maybe the Valar and Maiar view themselves as an anarcho-syndicalist collective of precise equals. Who can say? Now I don't believe that for a minute, but Tolkien does take care to remind us that this version of events is what the Elves say, to each other and to men.

Beren IV: What is a god, anyway? That depends on your definition of what a god is. The Valar have powers like the Gods of most pantheonic mythologies. They're not all-powerful, but usually the Gods aren't, when there are a number of them. I think that the word "Powers" is the best translation you could ask for; if you will, they're Gods. But they're not the One.

NZ Strider: Some quick thoughts... No.  They are not gods.  They are created beings whom Men (in their ignorance) might easily treat as gods.  N.b. for example that Tolkien himself once suggested that two of his Maiar, Pallando and Alatar, set themselves up as objects of mystery cults; and a third Maia, Radagast, has the same name as a Slavonic deity.

Annael: Gods . . . . In his "Taltos" fantasy series, Stephen Brust defines a god as someone whose actions cannot be judged by anyone else's moral standards. So if a god kills a mortal, we are likely to call it "divine retribution" instead of "murder." By this definition the Valar are not gods, as they are accountable for their actions to Eru.

B. “Among Men their names are manifold.” Is Tolkien saying that the many other pantheons that men have named are simply the Valar? If he is, is he correct?

An seileachan: Their names are manifold. I don't know how to answer the "is he correct" part, so am leaving that for more knowledgable responses.

But it's my understanding that Tolkien intended his descriptions of the Valar to recall other mythological pantheons, although not on a point-by-point basis. That is, when we read descriptions of Ulmo, for instance, we will recall other sea-gods to mind.

"Among men their names are manifold" may allow for later men, far past the age described in the Silmarillion, to call the gods by other names, when they attempt to explain the world. Maybe he intended this to only mean those men who were existing at the time this manuscript (or fragment) was supposedly written, but allowing us to believe that many generations later, in our own ancient times, the names we gave our gods were just other names for the same elemental powers.

Drogo drogo: Tolkien likes to suggest that the mythology and religious thought of our own ancient world was inspired by the alternative reality of his invented universe, our lost prehistory.  There is not a one-to-one correspondence, but the overall concept of a pantheon seems to have been passed down from the distant memory of tales of the Valar and Maiar.  Since Men had no direct contact with the Valar or Aman, except for a few notables we'll look at in months to come, distortion over millennia could lead to a poor memory of the true nature of the Valar themselves, and Manwe could become Amun, or Odin, or Zeus.

Luthien Rising: Yep. And why not? It's certainly nicer than saying they're all utterly wrong. And in providing a way to reconcile "other" religions with the Elvish mythology here, Tolkien also opens the door to reconcile the Elvish mythology with Christian religion.  

Ivy Sandybanks: The Valar are the source of the various pantheons that we later find in the world of men. Again, man's distance and imperfect understanding can only result in a translation, maybe only a bad translation. Like a game of telephone.

A Wiccan (adopting Tolkien's universe) would say that Tolkien was correct: all pantheons are representations of the Valar, and all One Gods are Eru. A Wiccan would go on to say that the Valar are simply different aspects of Eru, though, which does not at all seem to be what Tolkien intended.

So anyway, sure, he could be correct. It's plausible. Why not?

Menelwyn: In accordance with my answer to question A, I will note that any treatment of the Valar as gods will in some sense be a mistake.  But I think that's exactly what has happened with the Men of Middle-earth (or our world, if you like).  I do think Tolkien is trying to say that many of the pantheons of our world are just misinterpretations of the Valar.  They don't line up exactly--they're wrong, after all--but there are parallels.  I am reminded of Tolkien's notion that something similar happened to the Blue Wizards, that in their travels they ended up getting mistaken for gods and might themselves be the origin of someone's mistaken theology.

Erather: Yes, he is taking that position.  Each culture perceives the reality slightly differently, though, so the specifics will vary without Tolkien's assertion being disproved thereby.  And he himself loves giving myriad names to anyone of importance (and many of little importance, as well).

Beren IV: I'm sure that that was one of Tolkien's ideas.

NZ Strider: As has often been pointed out, the Valar resemble various pagan pantheons.  E.g. Tulkas = Thor = Mars = Ares etc.; Manwë = Wodin = Juppiter = Zeus etc.; etc. 

I think that Tolkien is aiming at a sort of mediation here between paganism and the Christian religion which he believed in; the pagans (such as those who had invented the Old Norse mythology which he so dearly loved) were not entirely wrong, even if they had misunderstood.  The pagan legends of gods, when viewed through the lens of this mediation, are misconstructions of the Valar.  The legends, at base, however are true.  After a fashion.

Stanislaus Bocian: Gods in Neoplatonism. I have written earlier about similarities between Tolkien and Zoroastrianism. They are real, but not quite relevant. Zoroastrianism influenced both Christianity, and (very indirectly) Neoplatonic philosophy-religion. In Neoplatonism pagan Greek and Asian gods have been reinterpreted as lesser beings, subject to the real God.

Neoplatonic influence on Tolkien and on other Inklings - C. S. Lewis and Charles Williams - is very strong. Obviously, there are differences, as Tolkien was an orthodox Catholic. In Plotinus' philosophy there is no creation by the free will of God, but necessary or natural emanation.

The second difference is that Plotinus didn't know the difference between existence and essence, that is between the fact that something is, and that it is something (and no other thing.)

But the general view of universe in Tolkien is Neoplatonic- a living universe, filled with a hierarchy of beings, in which the spirit is earlier and more important then matter.

So, it could be said that Tolkien tries to remodel ancient gods so that they would fit with Christianity. It is a very risky think to do for a man who realy believed in it, and it isn't very strange that he grew more and more doubtful of it.

Link: Tolkien and Neoplatonism

Curious: What a cool link!

Curious: I'm sure Tolkien would deny being a Neoplatonist, although there do seem to be similarities.  But the Neoplatonists, as I understand it, were hostile to Christianity, which Tolkien certainly was not.  The Neoplatonists were making one last attempt to keep Greco-Roman paganism alive; Tolkien may have been sympathetic to non-Christians, but he was never in their camp.  He considered non-Christians woefully misinformed, pitied them, and sought an altogether different hierarchy of spirits that in no way pretended to be gods.  By Tolkien's time, European pantheons were no longer a credible threat to Christianity; scientific materialism was a far greater concern.  Tolkien attempted to capture some of the magic of ancient mythology, while utterly recasting it in a Christian mold.

Annael: I rather like the idea that all the different gods and goddesses people have worshipped over the years are really just different names for the same aspects of Deity. But that's from my personal bias that God is far more than any human religion can conceive of or describe.

C. Is the number seven a coincidence here? And if not, does that mean that Tolkien jiggered his gods and goddesses until he got to the desired number – meaning some would not be Valar if he had stuck on the number five?

Drogo drogo: Seven is the "magic" number, the union of three and four, and hence is extremely important in mythology and Judeo-Christian tradition.

Luthien Rising: Silly squire, the number seven is never a coincidence! (Actually, I feel sorry for people who accidentally think up seven of something only to discover after the fact that they've made something significant.) I'm sure this was quite deliberate on Tolkien's part.

Beren IV: I'm sure seven was deliberate. Tolkien was a Catholic, after all.

NZ Strider: Hmm...  Numbers game...  Seven days of the week; seven pillars of wisdom; seven sages; seven wonders of the world; seven seas; seven hills of Rome;...  It seems a good number: especially one which indicates completeness (the seventh day completes the week; the seven seas = all the waters; and so on).   

D. Lords and Queens? Why not the fully royal Kings and Queens, or the simply noble Lords and Ladies? And why the symmetry of sex, after the departure of Melkor?

Drogo drogo: They are viceroys or governors of Arda, not Kings since there is only one King.  Tolkien, especially in the late 50s, seems to have taken great pains to show that the Valar are only custodians, but not the absolute rulers of Arda.  This keeps his world in line with Catholicism and the Judeo-Christian belief in the One God.

Luthien Rising: Queens are all beneath Kings and thus more equivalent to Lords (or Princes), except in particularly modern monarchical systems (yes, I know, that will seem contradictory to many) that go by pure primogeniture rather than gender-biased primogeniture. Tolkien's is a very hierarchical system -- he's left room for, of course, the king-over-all (Eru) but also for hierarchy within the Valar. Why the symmetry of sex after the departure of Melkor? Because it looks nice. And it makes dinner parties so much easier to plan. It also suggests that the departure of Melkor -- or one of the other men -- was inevitable.

Menelwyn: I'll look at these two questions together.  No, there's no coincidence about the number seven, for reasons others have stated.  And I think Tolkien did go to extremes in trying to make it work out for both the males and females.  *Sigh--not having my books is annoying!  Moving is such a pain.*  I seem to recall Tolkien doing a lot of changing of who gets counted as Vala and who gets counted as Maia, especially among the women (note particularly Osse and Uinen).  To have ended up with exactly seven of each seems to be very intentional.  Oh, and on the issue of Melkor's no longer getting counted, well, wasn't Tulkas something of a late arrival on the scene (in terms of plot)?  He's almost filling out the numbers to keep things balanced once Melkor isn't counted.

Penthe: I kind of like the fact that this gives a kind of sublime, symbolic power to the Queens that is absent from the Lords. The Lords may have dominion, but the Queens are more noble. It may be conservative gender politics, but it is charming in terms of Arwen, Galadriel and the complex political and cultural roles they play for the Elves.

Lucia: the mystery of the eighth goddess. That is actually an interesting question because it means that Tolkien started with eight gods and 7 goddesses. That kind of asymmetry would clearly set up a significant tension, so no wonder there was conflict. It makes me wonder about the eighth goddess that no-one ever mentions. :)

Beren IV: 9 and 7. In the first version, Tolkien had nine male and seven female Valar. The name of the remaining Vala eludes me for the moment.

He also had all of the Valier married in his first version.

Linkinparkelf: My two pennies. First penny, actually a question - Why did Tolkien make the female Valar French?

NZ Strider: My guess is that "lady" (unless "lord" is standing next to it) is too easily understood on a lower level.  Better to use "Queen" and be clear.  And Melkor also did cause things to become disorderly -- as soon as he is removed we have symmetry and order.

Piled Higher and Deeper

The Valaquenta has its roots in Tolkien’s original sketches of his mythology back in the years after World War I, and he revised the material repeatedly over the years. <a href="">Here</a>  is a chart of the evolution of this passage.

E. What changes do you see in Tolkien’s accounting of the Valar?

Drogo drogo: The passages from the 30s through the early 50s use "gods," but Tolkien omits that word in the c. 1958 MSS that became the Silmarillion.  As mentioned above, I sense that Tolkien feared that the overall Christian framework of his invented universe might be overlooked by readers who would see this as an Olympian pantheon rather than as a group of angelic caretakers of creation.  It's hard to have gods, but yet remind readers that they are not really gods. 

Luthien Rising: How nice of him -- he decided to add the women in!

Beren IV: Yes; the identity of some of the Valar change, as well as who they're married to (Vana, for instance, switches both what she is the goddess of and who she is married to). I also recall there being sixteen Valar in one edition (including Melkor)

Extra Credit

F. Do the Valar refer to Melkor as “You Know Who” or “He who Must Not be Named”?

Drogo drogo: Well Manwe Dumbledore and Varda McGonagall don't fear him and can say his name, but Sauron Snape joined You Know Who and was helping him find the Chamber of Secrets in the Halls of Mandos.  Feanor kept interrupting by them by riding his broom and throwing the golden snitches he invented at the Death Eaters, but He Who Must Not Be Named stole the snitches and all the Elves of the House of Gryffindor began a long march to Beleriand win them back.  This is the world according to JRR Rowling.

Luthien Rising: Yes, of course they do. And that is the secret to reconciling Harry Potter with LOTR. It will be revealed in Book VII (and not before) that Voldemort is in fact the latest incarnation of Sauron -- or perhaps even a new incarnation of Melkor himself! And Dumbledore is Olorin in yet another form (he's gotten fond of the Gandalf-form, see). In the end they'll all sail to Nova Scotia.

Menelwyn: In a slightly more serious vein than others (though I absolutely love the Potter-style responses!): I don't know about the Valar, but the Noldor certainly do, at least post-Silmaril theft.  Calling him "Morgoth" (Dark Enemy) is very much like talking about Voldemort as "You Know Who".  

Timerider: Doesn't Morgoth mean "Dark Lord" or something similar? Snape calls Voldemort by the same title.

Squire: 'Voldemort' does not really mean 'Dark Lord''It is possible to break the name Voldemort into the French phrase "vol de mort" which has multiple translations. The most commonly cited is "flight of death", but other meanings include "flight from death" and "theft of a dead body." His ultimate goal is to achieve immortality through the practice of dark magic.'

Thanks for making me look that up; I always thought it was "will to death" or something.

Snape's reference that you noted, to 'Dark Lord', of course shows the essential Tolkien-Rowling connection despite the name difference.

What I was picking up on was that Melkor's name was "not spoken upon Earth" which rang my Potterian bell. Names that may not be spoken are always the key to something.

Sauron too did not allow his right name to be spoken in Middle-earth in LotR, although that seemed to be by his command. Here, I wonder if Morgoth himself forbade the use of his name Melkor?

Erather: I think they refer to Melkor as Him in hushed tones, rolling their eyes for added effect.

Penthe: The Elves can't help but rename stuff. They are very talkative. The Valar? I reckon they view themselves as largely telling the truth as they see it. Not that they can't make mistakes in perception, of course.

Linkinparkelf: Second penny - I think Melkor himself changed his name to Morgoth as it has a much more dreadful sound to it and he henceforth refused to answer to Melkor so that it fell into disuse. Only someone really trying to get his goat would call him Melkor and I don't see too many wanting to attempt that.

Beren IV: Melkor is not named ON EARTH. That doesn't say anything about Aman :) I expect that those who knew the Old Melkor, before he actually became evil, remember the Old Melkor by that name, and reserve the name Morgoth to refer to Melkor after he went bad.

Annael: I'm pretty sure the Valar think of Melkor as the black sheep of the family. They don't fear him - Tulkas can whup him and Mandos can imprison him - but I bet they find him pretty annoying at times.

<a href="">Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>

12:00 PM The Valaquenta: Manwë, God of the Sky and Lord of the Valar

Manwë – The Text

 “Manwë and Melkor were brethren in the thought of Ilúvatar. The mightiest of those Ainur who came into the World was in his beginning Melkor; but Manwë is dearest to Ilúvatar and understands most clearly his purposes. He was appointed to be, in the fullness of time, the first of all Kings: lord of the realm of Arda and ruler of all that dwell therein. In Arda his delight is in the winds and the clouds, and in all the regions of the air, from the heights to the depths, from the utmost borders of the Veil of Arda to the breezes that blow in the grass. Súlimo he is surnamed, Lord of the Breath of Arda. All swift birds, strong of wing, he loves, and they come and go at his bidding.

Manwë – Discussion

erather: First among equals? I wonder if this description of the Prime Minister might apply here.  Eru is plainly in charge, and He has delegated a lot of powers and responsibilities to the Valar (a theme that I want to explore further, probably on Wednesday according to your schedule). 

A. Is Manwë the “good younger brother”? Is the fact that he is slightly “less mighty” than Melkor the secret to his success?

Timerider: Duality. Brothers of this sort are common in mythology. I think that Manwe and Melkor represent the dual nature of power. Manwe creates, Melkor destroys, they balance each other and together represent the single concept of the Power of Eru. Melkor is called mightier, but since Manwe gets to win in the end, I'm inclined to think that this is an equalizing compensation.

Aragonvaar: Well, let's see... I think his secret is his greater wisdom-greater understanding of Eru, source of all wisdom-rather than his less power.  The two might be related, but are not necessarily connected.

Drogo drogo: A few hasty answers. Well, the strongest and the brightest is the one most prone to fall in tradition, so it is fitting that Manwe is great, but not as great as Melkor.

Penthe: Representing the Divine. In terms of might, I don't think it makes much difference. Manwe is portrayed as taking much pleasure in both his own creations, and those of others. He is certainly mighty enough to dominate if he wished (and Sauron is not, and still desires to be the master). I think it is this joy that is absent in Melkor. He only wants to control, not experience wonder.

Erather: The big difference I see is not so much that Manwë is less powerful, but that he is gifted with less of what we call creativity (subcreation, in Tolkien's terms), and so less driven to strike out on his own path.  Instead, he has better management skills.

Lucia: M & J smackdown. He is greatest in understanding while Melkor is greatest in power. That is the secret to Manwe's success. Of course that is sort of confusing because clarity is a power. Melkors power is described as "mightiest" which implies "strength in the physical realm" to me. I guess that is a reasonable interpretation since Melkor seems able to physically destroy what numerous other Valar have created.

Stanislaus Bocian: Yet more Zoroastrianism. It is a quote of Gathas, which are thought to be written by Zaratustra.

"3. Now the two primal Spirits, who reveal themselves in vision as Twins, are the Better and the Bad, in thought and word and action. And between these two the wise ones chose aright, the foolish not so.

4. And when these twain Spirits came together in the beginning, they created Life and Not-Life, and that at the last Worst Existence shall be to the followers of the Lie, but the Best Existence to him that follows Right.

5. Of these twain Spirits he that followed the Lie chose doing the worst things; the holiest Spirit chose Right, he that clothes him with the massy heavens as a garment. So likewise they that are fain to please Ahura Mazda by dutiful actions.

6. Between these twain the Daevas also chose not aright, for infatuation came upon them as they took counsel together, so that they chose the Worst Thought. Then they rushed together to Violence, that they might enfeeble the world of men."

Beren IV: Manwë and Illuvitar. Honestly, I always pictured Varda as the greater of Valar other than Melkor. I think that Manwë understands the Doom of Men more than any of the rest of the Valar, but even he, I don't think, understands all he should.

Curious: Varda may be greater than Manwe, as you suggest, but Tolkien was a traditionalist who believed that the male was the "natural" ruler by temperment.  On the other hand, Manwe and Varda were inseparable and almost became a dual being -- and as such, were greater than Melkor in all ways except for pure strength, where they relied on Tulkas.

Lucia: “natural” male supremacy: "...but Tolkien was a traditionalist who believed that the male was the "natural" ruler by temperment."

Given Tolkien's time and culture, this is probably true but I'm still you know of any statements that he made to this effect or are you just deducing this from his behavior or attitude?

Squire: There are some hints in letter #43 Letter #43 A very long letter to Michael Tolkien on the topics of love and sex and marriage;

"A man's dealings with women can be purely physical (they cannot really, of course: but I mean he can refuse to take other things into account, to the great damage of his soul (and body) and theirs); or 'friendly'; or he can be a 'lover' (engaging and blending all his affections and powers of mind and body in a complex emotion powerfully coloured and energized by 'sex'). This is a fallen world."

Something of the tone of the entire letter can be seen here. It is a straightforward and philosophical look at the classic 'birds and bees' talk.

"No intent necessarily to deceive: sheer instinct: the servient, helpmeet instinct, generously warmed by desire and young blood. Under this impulse they can in fact often achieve very remarkable insight and understanding, even of things otherwise outside their natural range: for it is their gift to be receptive, stimulated, fertilized (in many other matters than the physical) by the male. Every teacher knows that. How quickly an intelligent woman can be taught, grasp his ideas, see his point - and how (with rare exceptions) they can go no further, when they leave his hand, or when they cease to take a personal interest in him. But this is their natural avenue to love."

This and other passages which appear in this letter are the sort of stuff which might drive modern feminists to fury, but were 'common wisdom' in the early 1940s. Still, this letter is one of the most oft quoted items when allegations of 'sexism' are raised against JRRT.

"Literature has been (until the modern novel) mainly a masculine business, and in it there is a great deal about the 'fair and false'. That is on the whole a slander. Women are humans and therefore capable of perfidy. But within the human family, as contrasted with men they are not generally or naturally the more perfidious. Very much the reverse."

One of several passages in this letter which are less than flattering to the male of the species. In general JRRT seems to have been trying to outline the areas where 'love' and relationships can go wrong - and as a consequence concentrating on human foibles.

-Letter quotations and commentary posted on Google news group by Conrad Dunkerson, 6/19/1999

Curious: Also in Letter 244 Tolkien said that Eowyn "was not herself ambitious in the true political sense.  Though not a 'dry nurse' in temper, she was also not really a soldier or 'amazon', but like many brave women was capable of great military gallantry at a crisis."

Then there is Tolkien's statement in this chapter that the Valar took on male or female forms based on temperment.  And there is the fact that, with the exception of Haleth and three Numenorean queens, Tolkien's rulers were always male, even when their wives (Varda, Melian, Luthien, Idril Celebrindal, Galadriel, Arwen) might well have been stronger and more powerful than the kings they married.

There is also the fact that Aragorn's ancestors considered it a sign of divine favor that through forty generations the male line of kings never failed.  Whatever became of the female line?  Did Aragorn have any cousins descended from a female branch with just as much elven blood as himself?  After all, Aragorn himself was descended from a female branch of Elros's descendants.

Tolkien did grant that women could be even more powerful than men, and when necessary could rule, as Queen Elizabeth and Victoria both did in England.  But he did not seem to think that it was normal for a woman to rule when a man was available to do so.  Even when the laws allowed for women to rule, as they did during most of Numenor's history, they rarely chose to do so.

N.E. Brigand: Mistaken Numenorean succession? I thought that Elendil and his "Faithful" heirs were descended from the woman (Silmarien?) who would've been the first queen of Numenor, had the law allowed it.  Was Tolkien suggesting that it would've been better for a woman to rule?

Then again, IIRC, in "Aldarion and Erendis" from the UT, doesn't Aldrarion change the law so that his only child, a daughter, will succeed him?  And doesn't she promptly abandon his pro-Gil-Galad policies, to the detriment of Middle Earth?

Perhaps Tolkien had mixed feelings.

Curious: Manwë is to Melkor as Gandalf is to Saruman. When Tolkien calls someone mighty, we should expect a fall, from Melkor to Feanor to Turin to Ar-Pharazon to Saruman to Boromir.  Even Melkor's might pales in comparison to Eru; thus it is far more important to understand Eru's purpose than strive against those purposes, no matter how mightily. 

The wisest of the Powers in Tolkien's world grow ever more reluctant to exert their strength.  This is why many (including NZ Strider) find Manwë less appealing than Ulmo; he seems so reluctant to intervene, so remote and uninvolved.  I believe that Manwë is simply subtle, and that he is in fact every bit as involved in the events of Middle-earth as Ulmo.  Keep an eye on winds and clouds and birds in Tolkien's stories of Middle-earth, and you may see the presence of Manwë.  And remember that Ulmo and Manwë are partners, not adversaries.  They often work together.

B. Does the term “first of all Kings” mean that Manwë is the model for Elven and Human society having monarchies? Is a monarchy the only natural “political” arrangement on Middle-earth?

Aragonvaar: All Kings below Eru are reflections of Eru (if good) or contemptible Eru wannabes (if bad).

Drogo drogo: Tolkien was a believer in the divine right of kings, and here we have a "king" ruling in the name of Eru, and is the representative of the divine on earth.

Erather: The Benevolent Monarchy seems to work well for Gondor and some of the elvish kingdoms, but the Shire seems to thrive in a Benevolent Anarchy (nobody's in charge, but it all works anyway).  Monarchy seems to be the "natural" arrangement when a culture is under threat, creating the necessity for a firm hand that can summon and command an army.  I'm not aware of any successful examples of either in the Primary World.

          “Benevolent Anarchy” – love it!

Luthien Rising: it's too late at night for this, especially after a long day with way too many kids, but here are a few throwaway thoughts:

No, it means that the Elves have modelled their concepts of that which is "above" them after their own society. I suspect that Tolkien would have seen these patterns -- at least outside his own religion.

Beren IV: Is Manwë really a king or more of a chief? Can Manwë give an order and force the other Valar to obey? I suspect that he really can't, or shouldn't. Knowing Tolkien, however, I bet that Tolkien invisioned that he could just because Tolkien was much more partial to monarchical than to democratic government even in the real world (so say some of his letters).

C. Why is Manwë the “ruler of all that dwell therein”, i.e., in Arda? Isn’t he really just the Ruler of the Valar? What does it mean for a Vala, a God, to be the Ruler of Earth?

Aragonvaar: Manwe is apparentally Eru's deputy for all of Arda, and on the rare occasions on which he lays down the law, the other Valar must listen to him.

Drogo drogo: He is the proxy for Eru himself, the one who is appointed to be the ruler in the name of the divine.

Erather: We're looking at delegation again.  Eru has delegated the specifics of arranging Arda to the Valar, and to the extent that Manwë is their ruler he may be thought of as in charge of all that they're in charge of.

Luthien Rising: It's that "doom" thing. We all get free will -- except when Manwë's had enough. And then he gets to call on Mandos.

Beren IV: Not going to answer that, as I think I already have. 

D. Many Indo-European cultures had a “Sky-God” who ruled their mythological pantheon: <a href="">Jupiter</a>, or Zeus, is most familiar to us. How does Manwë, whose realm includes the stratosphere and the “breezes that blow in the grass”, fit into that mold?

Aragonvaar: I can't speak for cultures farther afield, but w/ regard to the Western-European mythologies, he doesn't fit the mold, except insofar as he is a male deity w/ authority pertaining to the sky who is somehow "in charge" of the "pantheon".  Where Zeus/Jupiter is fickle, where Odin is a loner who keeps his own council, Manwe is a *listener* (note the ability he is described as giving his wife when they are together).  He tries to hear all sides out as much as possible before giving judgement, his primary "element" is heard rather than seen, and it is his eagles who rescue Fingon and Maedhros when the latter, an Exile and a presumed Kinslayer, prays to the Valar for aid in a hopeless hour.

Drogo drogo: He does grow out of the tradition of the sky god king.  Taniquetil is essentially the Olympus of Aman.

Erather: With the major exception of Melkor, the Valar seem to get along better with Manwë than the Indo-European gods did with Jupiter/Zeus and each other.  This is really a pretty orderly and cooperative pantheon, so there's a lot less call for thunderbolt-hurling.

Luthien Rising: Much more elegantly, really: he is not only in charge of the sky, he is of the sky.

Beren IV: Varuna, too.

I don't think there is any coincidence. Manwë has been in since the first iteration of the story, and in that iteration, the Valar are much more polytheistic, with Illuvitar even more in the background. In short, Manwë was originally modeled after Odin, even though Tolkien makes him compatible with Christianity as best he can.

Illustrations of Manwë

<a href="">Here</a> are some illustrations of Manwë by various artists.

Timerider: Does anyone else think the one on the bottom looks like Jesus?

Penthe: I choose not to look at the pictures. Not to be a snob, just to protect the ones inside my head.

Luthien Rising: Ick. I can see a few of the Valar in physical form, but only because of descriptions Tolkien has given. Manwë has not been one of those for me. I prefer the immaterial Manwë, I suppose. (On the other hand, he is one of those said to take on physical form, so it's not really a fair bias on my part.) 

E. Do these images reduce the divine to the level of fantasy art?

An seilachan: reduced to art, and the contest. Not entirely sure I understand the question, really. All images would reduce the divine to SOME kind of the fact that it's "fantasy" art, relevant? Is it worse to be reduced to "fantasy" art, than to some other kind of art?

I don't much care for any of those pics, but what do I know from art, anyhow? :-)

Beren IV: Yes. I don't picture the Valar as being easily describle in terms of his physical features, whether or not he has a beard, etc.

N.E. Brigand: The Nasmith is best. Yes, most of the images are inadequate.  Your request not to consider the technical aspect of the work points to the problem:  while the Valar might look like people, they would have something indefinably greater about them.  It's that "indefinably" which requires a superb artist--the rest are just people in odd clothes.

 (Something similar is presumably true of elves.  To sensitive eyes at least, they are recognizable, despite their unpointed ears, as non-human (though Sam has to be assured by Frodo that Gildor & Co. are elves, and Eomer isn't sure who of the Three Hunters is and isn't an elf) but it's probably not easy to portray.)

However, isn't Nasmith's eagle not Manwe, but a sending of his?  Isn't it his warning to Numenor shortly before their armada sails to Valinor?  Still too literal perhaps, but more effective.

F. Do Tolkien’s Elf-cultures encourage or forbid figurative representations of the divine, as some real faiths do?

Penthe: Again, though, the Elves might like to represent the Divine, because for them it is part of their history. They have no problem with representing anything else they've seen. But they seem more likely to make songs than drawings. Or to build structures that reflect their feelings about Aman and the Valar. Oblique reflections rather than direct representations.

Erather: Hmm, been a while since I read the descriptions of the decor in Doriath, which I remember as being fairly explicit.  My guess is that all forms of artistic expression are encouraged by the elves.

Luthien Rising: Interesting question. They clearly imagine an embodied divine, but their art, as represented by Tolkien, does not seem to encourage representation beyond that of history. But since that history -- including as remembered in living memory -- includes the Valar embodied, I can't imagine a prohibition of this kind. Just not a habit of such representation. They could

represent the Valar through images of the world just as much as through images of the embodiments -- Ulmo is the sea, etc.

Beren IV: Tolkien never discusses Elven religion in much detail, and he does so deliberately for his own religious reasons. Personally, I don't see why they should have taboos, as they seem as a not particularly Elf-like thing to do, but as I said, Tolkien doesn't touch the subject.

Piled Higher and Deeper

<a href="">Here</a> is the chart of the evolution of Manwë in the Valaquenta.

G. Why might Tolkien have dropped The Book of Lost Tales’ emphasis on men’s love for Manwë, and his powers of “poesy and song”?

Erather: Out of order.  He isn't really ready for men to have opinions at this stage.

Luthien Rising: Hmm. I'm actually quite surprised at this one, since he does not seem to have shifted that to any other of the Valar. In a sense, perhaps, it locates poesy in particular with the Elves themselves.

Beren IV: Manwë is not supposed to be very approachable...

Extra Credit                                                     

H. If Manwë and Jesus had a fight, who would win?

Timerider: Jesus would win. Manwe was created by Tolkien, and Tolkien worshipped Jesus. So there.

An seilachan: Well, Jesus. Jesus is not separable from God. Jesus is God. The Creator. The guy who created Manwe. He wins.

Chip of Dale: Manwe vs. Jesus: Well, it depends. Are we talking Manwe suddenly becoming not just a listener and decider but a Tulkas-like figure who gets down off the mountain and decides to go hurling thunderbolts a la Zeus? Well, in that case, a simple flesh-and-blood wandering Jewish ex-carpenter is toast... but then, no matter what mood he's in, Manwe as a spirit would immediately recognize The One and fall on his figurative face in adoration.

An seilachan: shall we take this to the Arena? NO!!! JUST KIDDING!! good heavens, someone might do it!

Someone may already have, I haven't ever visited the Arena. What does one wear? Do they sell beer and corn dogs, one wonders...


I bow out gracefully and concede, since beyond proclaiming his divine nature, I can't think of a way to argue this, um, point.


Chip of Dale:"Layeth the smacketh down" might actually make sense in this context.

Penthe: Jesus would win. Manwe is not up for sacrificing himself to the extent that Jesus is, I don't think. (I'm not a Christian, so I'm not playing favourites!)

Erather: Belongs in the Arena!  Manwë would win, because Jesus wouldn't fight back.

Luthien Rising: Oooh, I wouldn't have had the guts to ask that one! But I'll say Manwë, and then run away and hide.

Lucia: Actually, if they tried to be in the same space time continuum it would cause a tear in the fabric of the universe because they are the same being in different manifestations and it would totally bugger up the time lines. Varda would step in and provide the necessary smack down and all history and creation would be saved.

An seileachan: *raises hand: manwe and jesus the same? because they are the same being in different manifestations

Are you making this interpretation, or is this something Tolkien discussed?

There is no sarcasm here, I just don't have enough knowledge base. (Yet!) :-)

A traditional Catholic view of the trinity is that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all just...God. They are equal and co-existent throughout time, before time, and after time.

The Valar are not entirely consistent with angels; however, that is as close as I can make them conform to Catholicism. I don't think any of the Valar are Eru in another manifestation. They derived from Eru. They are not Eru.

At least, I don't think so.

Lucia: not Tolkien. "He was appointed to be, in the fullness of time, the first of all Kings: lord of the realm of Arda and ruler of all that dwell therein."

It was this statement that made Manwe appear to be in a similar relationship to God as (my understanding) Jesus is. This thought is totally my idea and nothing to do with anything Tolkien said, nor based on any understanding of Catholic faith. The pattern that I am employing here has more to do with my (probably poor) understanding of Hindu Religious Story in which God divides into three (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva) and all Avatars (manifestations of divine beings, like Jesus)are from one of those three. I enjoy having my own interpretations of things that are completely outside anything the author would have intended or possibly even thought of. I'm mostly being playful and intend no disrespect: great writing and great stories seem to vibrate many different patterns and its fun for me to sometimes mention them.

Beren IV: Heh, I don't believe in either! IMO, Arda is not Earth, and even were I Christian, I would still agree that Arda is not Earth. It's a different universe, despite how 'compatible' it may be.

<a href="">Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>

12:00 PM The Valaquenta: Varda, Goddess of the Stars

Varda – The Text

 With Manwë dwells Varda, Lady of the Stars, who knows all the regions of Eä. Too great is her beauty to be declared in the words of Men or of Elves; for the light of Ilúvatar lives still in her face. In light is her power and her joy. Out of the deeps of Eä she came to the aid of Manwë; for Melkor she knew from before the making of the Music and rejected him, and he hated her, and feared her more than all others whom Eru made.

Varda – Discussion

Chip of Dale: May I just say... that I love that Tolkien made such an important member of his pantheon as a lady of light. I'm not used to that with other Western pantheons -- you usually get earth-mothers or warrior-princesses or whatnot. Greeks had Apollo, a guy, as giver of light and poetry. She almost sounds like the Chinese Queen of Heaven -- or the Egyptian Nut, goddess of the night sky. Tolkien's innovation is bringing exceeding symbolic and spiritual significance to the stars.

A. It sounds like Melkor put the moves on Varda before the Music, before existence, practically from the moment Ilúvatar created the Ainur - and she saw him for the slime he was and spurned him. Is that what’s going on in this paragraph?

Aragonvaar: I can't help but cite one of my own fanworks here...

That pretty much sums up my thoughts on A). though Ulmo's role is an UUT of mine.

Drogo drogo: This is the temptation, Tolkien style.  Varda represents the light which refuses to be seduced by the darkness, and the battle between her and Melkor is perhaps the most primeval in The Sil, the struggle of chaos and cosmos.  We get an echo of this early spurning in Luthien's song before Morgoth later on, and there the sexual response of the Dark Lord (one of the only overtly sexual references in Tolkien, too) is used against him (making him vulnerable to Luthien's spell).

Galadriel1a: Short answers Varda is very much Maria (Mary) who is called queen of heaven or Isis is also queen both are connected to Venus.(I think Seth made a pass at Isis as well with the same result)

I was thinking about a Verdi mass...Ave Maria stella maris...hail Mary star of the sea.

I will get back tomorrow

Erather: Hail, Varda, full of grace! Darkness and light are natural opposites.  He shoulda known better.

Eowynthegreat: My first thought. I'm assuming you were making a Blessed Virgin Mary reference. Varda totally ripped off from Tolkien's faith, down to the detail of she being the one Melkor hated the most (shades of Revelation 12) 

Luthien Rising: The archetypal woman of power Well, like, yeah! There's another way to read it?! (I'm sure that explains where that eighth goddess went too -- she's was so p.o.'d that she stayed home and didn't even descend into the world!)

Seriously, though, what really strikes me is that here Melkor's fall begins perhaps before the temptation of the Music, and it's not clear which sin we're looking at. Could Melkor embody multiple deadly sins?

Nerdanel_50: Funny face Before the music, weren't the ainur just aspects of Iluvatar's thought? So that antipathy between one ainu and another would have to indicate some lack of unity in the One? (I may never get past the first line or two of the Ainulindale. :o/ ) I don't understand how Varda could "know" what Melkor  was before the music. Perhaps, because Varda is light and Melkor dark, each might hate the other because each is dependent on the other--only the existence of light gives meaning to darkness--so the mere existence of Varda reminds Melkor that he is not self-sufficient. And vice versa. But otherwise this account sounds much more like the bickering gods on Olympus than aspects of God's thought.

Beren IV: Valar lust and the Book of Lost Tales I think that this is a holdover from an earlier version of the story in which Melkor didn't fall from grace, having never had it in the first place. Recall, also, in the Book of Lost Tales, Melkor concieves Gothmog (the Lord of Balrogs) with an Ogress. I don't like this, and I wonder if Tolkien really did, too. In all honesty, sexual desire doesn't really strike me as one of the impulses that the Valar would necessarily feel in the same way as humans do.

B. Now Melkor fears her, and she comes down from space where she belongs, just to help Manwë keep Melkor in line. Where does that leave little brother Manwë?

Aragonvaar: As w/ Luthien and Beren this is an account of a couple where the woman refuse to let her lover face the darkness alone.  Apart, they're both capable people.  Together, they can accomplish extraordinary things.

Drogo drogo: She complements Manwe by giving him the aid of clearer vision, so the two need each other in order to fight Melkor.  Manwe and Varda together represent the senses attuned to their finest degree.

Luthien Rising: Behind every good man ...

Nerdanel_50: If Manwë is roughly Melkor's equal, he can't be sure of keeping Manwë in line more than half the time. So he needs Varda to help him gang up on Melkor. ?

Beren IV: As I said, I like to see Varda as the more powerful of the two, but then, Melkor is more powerful even than Varda. Manwë and Varda together can overpower Melkor, but Manwë really doesn't have a chance doing it himself.

Lucia: A new trinity Happy in the arms of his dearly beloved, which is probably why he didn't come down from his mountain, much....and wise enough to bind with a Female Power, rather than compete or  subjugate, so that he is greatly increased.

C. I hear an echo here from a Lord of the Rings story arc. Do you? Does Tolkien endlessly repeat a few favored story lines?

Aragonvaar: Not really. Care to be more specific? :D

Drogo drogo: Well, great stories never end, to paraphrase Bilbo and Sam, and LOTR is but part of that same great story arc that unfolded from the creation of Arda.  Like all myth, it is endlessly self-harmonizing and rhyming.  It's music after all!

Luthien Rising: Yes -- and so do many other great narratives. It's part of the power of LOTR that the arc of the narratives is largely familiar, and not just from one place. The powerful stories do this, and I think Tolkien knew this.

Nerdanel_50: Umm, Galadriel and Saruman? She, too, seems to be a jump ahead of the troublemaker, before he has actually made any trouble. Tolkien can't be blamed for reusing old story lines--there aren't really that many stories out there, and he seems to enjoy exploring the possibilities in a strong theme rather than inventing complicated plot twists. I think it's one of the thousand reasons I prefer LotR to Harry Potter.

Beren IV: He does endlessly repeat a lot of common themes, but many of his themes have their own interesting permutations. After a while of Tolkien, however, I really kinda wish that he didn't color *every* little detail with his religion. I think that his emphasis ignores some important aspects of (for instance) human nature.

Curious: LotR?  What about Unfinished Tales? I believe Unfinished Tales contains the story of Feanor asking Galadriel for a strand of her hair, and she refuses him.  I suppose there is also Galadriel's reaction to Annatar (Sauron in disguise).  Or Galadriel's reaction to Saruman, when she preferred Gandalf.

Certainly Galadriel resembles Varda, as does Melian later in The Silmarillion.  Tolkien did freely borrow from himself, but since he did not publish many works, it only became obvious after his death.

Images of Varda

<a href="">Here</a>  and <a href="">here</a> are some illustrations of Varda.

Elf Maven: My choice would be the representation by Covar (did I read that right?) because it seems the most otherworldy, the least human. I prefer my gods to less tainted with human characteristics; otherwise, what makes them "gods"? I always detested, from the time I read even the sanitized Andrew Lang versions, the idea that "the gods" were simply beings with more power to get what they want and do what they wnat.

I want my "gods" with more nobility and a truly higher purpose, such as Tolkien's Valar who were subject to the REAL God, Eru.

Drogo drogo: Well, Ezpeleta's looks like Ziggy Stardust: Sorry, I couldn't resist a comment on my favorite zany Tolkien illustrator! :-)  But her Varda does have that David Bowie early 70s glam rock look... or many she looks like Cher.

D. Why did I find so many excellent images that Varda gets two pages?

Drogo drogo: Varda represents beauty incarnate, the goal which even the Elves cannot attain, and naturally she is the one artists most seek to portray. 

Luthien Rising: Because the idea of light fascinates artists (though none of these is working for me in that way, to tell the truth -- this is a good candidate for photography). And because we women like the idea of a woman who is both powerful and beautiful, and in whose beauty is power, not just seductive.

Nerdanel_50: For all the reasons folks have already given. Varda presents the artist with a variety of challenges--beauty beyond words, tricky business with light, etc.

Beren IV: Lots of artists like beauty. Honestly, I don't think that any of them really look like Varda as I envision her. I envision Varda's body as giving off so much light that it is hard to make out her features, perfect as they may be, so that it is difficult to tell whether her humanoid form is really a Human form or an Elven form. I also envision Varda's body as giving off enough light that to look at it for too long will blind an observer, and getting too physically close will sear one to a crisp, in much the same way as getting too close to a real star would.

E. How does one approach in art one whose beauty is too great to be declared in the words of Men or of Elves, for the light of God is in her face?

Luthien Rising: Abstractly.

Beren IV: I agree with my er, *hrm* Luthien Rising about this :)

F. Have you ever experienced any art that captured such beauty?

Aragonvaar: Michelangelo's Pieta comes the closest for me, as does the so-called "Madonna of the streets".  Some moments in Maia Morgenstern's and Jim Cavaziel's performances in a movie earlier this year also come close imo.

Luthien Rising: Yes, I have -- art that is so perfect in its form that it stuns. An original William Blake print has done that for me, and so has a painting by Atilla Richard Lukacs. (Okay -- a bit eclectic, but there you are.)

Linkinparkelf: some works of art that show beautiful, powerful female forms are Michelangelo's Delphic and Libyan Sibyls and DaVinci's Virgin on the Rocks (two beauties here) and the Mona Lisa (her enigmatic smile represents, to me, the endless mysteries of nature that DaVinci sought to understand).

Nerdanel_50: Holgersen seems to have an odd idea of where the face is located--maybe something was lost in translation?  I don't know how it would be done, but I think some of the French impressionists came close to painting the texture and beauty of light.

Beren IV: No. It's not humanly possible. The starz themselves do have such beauty, though!

Piled Higher and Deeper

<a href="">Here</a> is the chart of the evolution of Varda in the Valaquenta.

G. Why might Tolkien have removed the reference to making the stars in the final version, and added the relationship to Melkor?

Luthien Rising: To give it more power when it is connected with other stories instead.

Beren IV: I think that the relationship with Melkor was a bit of old thought peeping through, and really doesn't belong. I know that it's new in this version, but I still don't think it belongs.

As for the stars, Tolkien was beginning to want Arda to be more compatible with what we know astronomically to be the Earth, and in our universe, stars are things like the sun. If Varda made the stars, then she made the entire universe save for our one solar system. A little too Eru-like, huh? :)

Lucia: Given that he ended up with one less female than males and there was an attraction from both top males to the top female I'm seeing an interesting pattern emerge. Imagine how the story would have been different if Varda had linked up with both Manwe and Melkor. In the process of Iluvatar manifesting his thought, might not the first tier of differentiation have been a number "three"? If the three of them had linked, they would have been as like Iluvatar as possible. The initial non-binding/separation of the three strongest powers set off a string of events that we are "still" enduring. That begs the question of what happened between Varda and Melkor before they were really even formed? It implies that Melkor was truly flawed (and seen by Varda) from the instant of his manifestation from Eru's thought. This either reflects back onto Eru or some intrinsic change that happens in the process of ANY separation from Eru (which of course continues to happen, probably geometrically, as the separation grows larger). Next logical leap: maybe evil doesn't "come from God" it is just an intrinsic factor that happens from any degree of separation?

Deep thought aside, the inclusion of the Melkor/Varda interaction does give Melkor an additional piece of back story. I think the connection of Varda "making the stars" is important to keep, though. Now I understand better some of the Elvish "prayers" that call out to her.

Extra Credit

H. When Varda wears human form, who designs her gowns?

Penthe: Gowns by Givenchy, of course! Sometimes Balenciaga.

Seriously (?), though, the same person who designed Finduilas's starry mantle that Faramir gives Eowyn to wear. Part of the reason I find that so beautiful is because I imagine her wearing the sky, just before full dark. Filled with stars, but still darkest blue, not black. Very Elbereth for me. Didn't take that Arwen to make the night beautiful! Oh no!

Estelwyn: Varda's gowns would be designed by Oscar-winner Ngila Dickson of course!

*runs away before she has to answer any of the other (really hard) questions*

Luthien Rising: Hmmm... Perhaps Alexander McQueen?

Beren IV: You've got quite a wit for comments :)

Luthien Rising: compliments from the name-spouse, eh? must be after *something* ...

Nerdanel_50: Stan Lee

Beren IV: She wears gowns? Or is she just mantled in the plasma that stars are made of?

<a href="">Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>

6:00 PM The Valaquenta: Manwë and Varda Enthroned

Manwë and Varda – The Text

 Manwë and Varda are seldom parted, and they remain in Valinor. Their halls are above the everlasting snow, upon Oiolossë, the uttermost tower of Taniquetil, tallest of all the mountains upon Earth. When Manwë there ascends his throne and looks forth, if Varda is beside him, he sees further than all other eyes, through mist, and through darkness, and over the leagues of the sea. And if Manwë is with her, Varda hears more clearly than all other ears the sound of voices that cry from east to west, from the hills and the valleys, and from the dark places that Melkor has made upon Earth. Of all the Great Ones who dwell in this world the Elves hold Varda most in reverence and love. Elbereth they name her, and they call upon her name out of the shadows of Middle-earth, and uplift it in song at the rising of the stars.”

Manwë and Varda – Discussion

A. Do Manwë and Varda have to be together to have their extraordinary powers of perception?

Erather: The Dynamic Duo Apparently.  A case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

Beren IV: Because Varda is the greater one :) Apparently, although I imagine that they have other powers of survailance that are pretty awesome by themselves. Do you suppose that each star in the sky could be an eye of Varda, able to see anybody under a star? Or that perhaps Manwë can hear each breath of air already?

Luthien Rising: aren't they a sweet couple? Looks like it to me. But since I need glasses and have a more-or-less tone-deaf spouse, maybe I just don't see so well.

Kimi: *Sneaking in cautiously* I think they have extraordinary (to mere mortals) powers of perception even alone, but they only reach their full potential together, each enhancing the other's gift. It's a portrait of an idealised marriage of true minds.

Curious: A far cry from Zeus and Hera, no? I think it is sweet that the supreme rulers of Arda are so blissfully married that they are essentially inseparable.  But that doesn't mean they aren't aware of what is going on in Middle-earth!

Tolkien admitted in one of his letters that he liked the veneration of Mary, and that it probably did influence his description of Galadriel.  If that is so for Galadriel, I would guess it goes double for Varda.  But there are significant differences, of course.  One difference is that Varda may well be greater than Manwe -- after all, it is she Melkor most fears.  Galadriel certainly was greater than Celeborn.  As noted in a previous thread, Tolkien exhibited the traditional view that women were not made to rule -- but the somewhat untraditional view that they might well be more powerful than the monarchs they married. 

B. If Manwë might be thought of as God of the Day Sky, and Varda of the Night Sky (judging by their previous resumes in the Valaquenta), why are they here empowered with, respectively, Sight and Hearing? Any connections here with Lord of the Ring’s Amon Lhaw and Amon Hen?

Erather: Because you can see better in the daytime, and are more sensitive to sounds at night?  Interesting thought to connect them with Amon Lhaw and Amon Hen.  The Greek shrines to various gods & goddesses and their oracles seem to work much the same way, with special powers accorded by the resident deity.  Perhaps these were originally built as shrines, but the later ME historians had lost the divine references.

Ringers reprise:  that's just what I thought, not at the time of reading, but just now when sight and hearing were placed right under day and night like that. Amazing what a little word placement can do.

But then it could also be thought in terms of how their powers depend on each other. You can see stars at night, and hear more living creatures in the day.

Beren IV: Erather got it as well as I can, I think. Besides, if Manwë can hear air without Varda, and Varda's stars can see for her without Manwë, then when together, they pick up the sense that they lack alone! :)

Luthien Rising: You can see farther in the daytime. And sound travels farther at night (at least *I* think it does). I read "Jude Law," so no comments here. More coffee instead.

Kimi: Amons Lhaw and Hen may well be ancient shrines to these two, and as such a little of the ancient power lingers there.

Curious: Of course the Hills of Sight and Hearing are connected to Manwe and Varda.  How not?   

C. Why does Varda get “most” of the Elves’ reverence and love, when Manwë is the greater God?

Erather: For precisely the same reason that the Blessed Virgin Mary is more reverenced by Catholics than Jesus, whatever that reason may be.  In the case of the BVM, I think it's because she seems more "accessible", whereas Jesus seems more remote (one of the big cultural differences between Catholics and Protestants).

MerryK: Pray to the one who is listening... I notice that the attribute ascribed to Varda in this passage is "hearing clearly." Manwe, on the other hand, is watching (look busy!)

Aragonvaar: I can't let this set of misconceptions pass unchallenged. Catholic liturgy and communal devotion do not "reverence" her more than Jesus, although individual Catholics probably do fall into that trap from time to time.  If you track down a Tridentine (pre-Vatican II, the kind Tolkien would've been most familiar w/-and don't worry about the Latin, they're mostly bilingual texts) missal, you will find that that the Mass, the primary Catholic religious service, only occasionally addresses Mary or the saints and is primarily addressed to God.

I don't claim to know a great deal about Protestantism, but the default assumption in most branches appears to be that nobody else's relationship w/ Jesus can have any bearing on one's own relationship w/ Jesus.  Catholicism, on the other hand, proposes that people who have reached God are especially dear to Him, and should be especially dear to believers also.  And by the same token, knowing how other people have managed to model their lives on Jesus can help one to understand how to apply his example in one's own life.  Hence the importance of Saints to Catholics.

Mary's role is partly as that of the most successful "merely human" attempt to conform to God's Will (hence a kind of "supersaint"), partly as someone who, as God's willing instrument in the Incarnation, has a complex and paradoxical relationship w/ God that deserves to be acknowledged.  There is probably also a subconscious need to affirm the value of the feminine archetype even in a masculine, monotheistic theological system.  This aspect has so far not been translated successfully into conscious theology, though: most attempts I've seen either suffer from old-fashioned male chauvinism or veer off into goddess-centric/neo-pagan directions not compatible w/ the rest of this theological system.

To Tolkien, Varda may be a precursor or "echo" of Mary in Eru's thought (since everything ever created or "creatable" has existed from all eternity in his thought), an angelic entity w/ similar values and virtues, or a parallel to Mary in reflecting similar aspects of Eru's "personality" for lack of a better word.  She cannot be a close theological match for Mary, in terms of her role, however.

Didn't mean to jump your case, but I just wanted to clarify where Tolkien was *probably* coming from on this subject.

Erather: I'm not an expert on anyone's theology, Catholic, Protestant, or Tolkien, but I based that remark on behavioral observations of my Catholic friends and acquaintances, in literature, and in history (I was a medievalist in college & grad school).  It certainly seems to me that in private devotions, particularly in times of stress, many Catholics seem to find it easier to call on Mary than on God directly, and (for example) Frodo's appeal to Elbereth at Weathertop and in Shelob's Lair appears to be in that tradition.

Aragonvaar: I'm not saying the psychology isn't sound.... it just wasn't clear at the time that you were talking about the pyschology of the matter.  Sorry.

Mary's position in the Catholic psyche is pretty much a result of the Mother of God/Surrogate Mother of Mankind status she is accorded.  Maybe her creation of the first lights they saw upon awakening makes Varda the Surrogate Mother of the Elves?

Erather: That's a very plausible theory.

An seileachan: yes, some of the symbolism... is Mary's (the star references, particularly), but Mary was a human woman blessed with an extraordinary grace. She was never supernatural in origin. She was not created the "Queen of the Angels", she became that by accepting her role.

Tolkien may have fashioned his idea of beauty and heavenly grace from his life-long exposure to images of Mary, but not the exact role of Varda.

I'd like to echo your explanation of Cathoic regard for Mary. We do highly honor Mary. We reverence her. She is displayed (traditionally, anyway, not as much since Vatican Two perhaps) in much of our art, the names of our churches, and in many of our most beautiful hymns and prayers.

But we do not WORSHIP Mary. There is a vast difference. Mary is not a Goddess.

Although I understand this may appear to be a feeble point, from the outside looking in at our statues, holy cards, and etc.

Estelwyn: Varda and the Elves I'll take a stab at this one...

Because when the Elves awaken (in a few chapters hence) it is under starlight, the creation of Varda/Elbereth, so essentially she's the first Vala they "know", and they bond with her even though they don't know her yet.  Does that make sense?

Beren IV: Because Manwë *isn't* the greater Vala! Also, because Varda strikes me as more quintessentially GOOD, while Manwë is more of a neutral king and judge. Varda is more likely to appeal to the Elves, and Manwë is more likely to appeal to Humans.

Luthien Rising: 'Cause she's prettier? I think it's affection for (spoiler for later chapters!) the stars they were born under. Home, mom, all that.

Lucia: reverance I think because when the elves were first created, it was in the twilight and the stars provided the only light. Even though Manwe was present, I think their first experience of reverence was directed towards the stars and thus they hold Varda first in their hearts.

Kimi: Male Elves write most of the history :-)

It's tied up with the Elvish love of the stars, I think. I suspect that it's the Elves of Middle-earth who give the greater reverence to Varda, who created the stars to give them comfort. I also like Merryk's reference to Varda's listening skills :-) 

D. Similarly, why is Varda one of the only two Valar mentioned in The Lord of the Rings? (and who is the other, since you asked?)

An seileachan: me first!!! I know the other Valar... Orome. Theoden is compared to Orome, at the end of the chapter "The Ride of the Rohirrim" in ROTK.

whew. Don't know if I can answer anything else, but wanted to get my brownie points!!

Luthien Rising: hey, I was right!

Erather: Because the elves and elvish culture (embraced by Frodo) plays such a big part in LotR.  The other is Oromë (I knew that, but a.s. beat me!).

Estelwyn: Oh, and I also thought the other Vala (singular - no 'r')  mentioned in LOTR was Orome, so there!  I vaguely remembered some reference to his horn (maybe in relation to the horn of Boromir?), but darned if I can't find it!  Maybe I imagined that?

Beren IV: There are THREE Valar mentioned in LotR. Varda, Oromë, and, don't forget, Morgoth!

Luthien Rising: It's that connection with the elves, who seem to be the hobbits' connection with the greater spiritual world. (Well, Gandalf is their primary connection, but not in a way they seem to be conscious of.) I guess Orome earlier but can't prove it :-)

Kimi: Orome, to whom Theoden is compared.

I think she's mentioned because stars are so important as symbols of unquenchable hope and beauty.


Images of Manwë and Varda

<a href="">Here</a> are two illustrations of Manwë and Varda enthroned together.

E. Do these pictures tell you more about Manwë and Varda than the various individual portraits we have reviewed?

Beren IV: Not really; just more interpretations of what they look like.

Luthien Rising: Nope. They remind me of Celeborn and Galadriel in the movie, though. I doubt that that means anything beyond a commonality of icons of monarchical couples.

F. It doesn’t actually say that Varda has a throne. Are these artists correct in giving her one?

Beren IV: A throne is a place to sit down after you are tired of standing. Do Valar get tired?

Luthien Rising: I think it's just the iconic thing coming through. And why shouldn't they have thrones? They're given a home, right? I suppose they're allowed furniture too. If I were an artist (which I'm not), I'd be looking into the text but allowing myself to expand on it within reasonable limits (that is, not contradicting its detail or spirit). I'd be more concerned with appropriate style of thrones etc. than with whether they're legit or not in this case.

Kimi: Perhaps they have a two-seater - a love-seat. I don't think Varda would sit on Manwe's lap for a portrait.

Piled Higher and Deeper

This passage is presaged <a href="">here</a> in The Book of Lost Tales, but after that Tolkien eliminated it from all his drafts until he rewrote the first chapter of The Silmarillion as the Valaquenta.

E. Why did he restore it 30 years later, with the addition of Varda and the reverence given her?

Erather: Because I think she's the BVM surrogate, and Tolkien is working hard on reconciling the Sil with his Catholic beliefs.

Luthien Rising: Hmmm ... Part of me wants to think it's about *his* marriage, and his increasing sense over his lifetime that Edith did more than allow him to work.

What, no bonus points on them? Hmph.

Lucia: I'm guessing it had something to do with him writing LotR and discovering that Varda was revered by the elves.

Kimi: I think it's perhaps because of Tolkien's own growing reverence for the BVM, and his vision of her as the source of his own conceptions of beauty.

<a href="">Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>

Tuesday, July 20 – Some More Valar

12:00 AM The Valaquenta: Ulmo, God of the Waters

Ulmo – The Text 1

 “Ulmo is the Lord of Waters. He is alone. He dwells nowhere long, but moves as he will in all the deep waters about the Earth or under the Earth. He is next in might to Manwë, and before Valinor was made he was closest to him in friendship; but thereafter he went seldom to the councils of the Valar, unless great matters were in debate. For he kept all Arda in thought, and he has no need of any resting-place. Moreover he does not love to walk upon land, and will seldom clothe himself in a body after the manner of his peers. If the Children of Eru beheld him they were filled with a great dread; for the arising of the King of the Sea was terrible, as a mounting wave that strides to the land, with dark helm foam-crested and raiment of mail shimmering from silver down into shadows of green. The trumpets of Manwë are loud, but Ulmo’s voice is deep as the deeps of the ocean, which he only has seen.

Ulmo – Discussion 1

Menelwn: one of my favorites too Although I can't go as far as NZS and declare one clear favorite between Ulmo and Varda!  But on to the questions!

Luthien Rising: *running* out of ideas here ... (That was pathetic.)

Lottelita: Water and Chaos. In the religions of the Ancient Middle East, water and chaos were one and the same (as one might expect in places where rainfall comes unexpectedly and can be fantastically destructive).  Gods of water were also gods of chaos in places like Mesopotamia and Egypt.  (For anyone who knows about Hinduism -- is it the same there?)

This carried over, of course, into Judaism and Christianity.  Yahweh fights a water monster in Psalms, Job, and Isaiah: Leviathan, which apparently comes from the Hebrew for "twisted or coiled." 

And in Genesis, we don't really have creatio ex nihilo: "the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."  "The deep" and "the waters" exist as the primordial chaos over which Yahweh must exercise his control. 

Also, in the Judaic cosmology, "the waters" lay under the earth and above the firmament (the sky) -- as if our ordered universe, Yahweh's domain, is this bubble, this exception, amid a great chaotic sea. 

There are echoes of all of this in the treatment of Ulmo.  Note "the deep waters about the Earth or under the Earth."  And the water-god figure inspires "dread."  He's certainly a chaotic figure, choosing an unsettled, nomadic life.

Entmaiden: Like NZS, Ulmo is my favorite Vala although I haven't really thought through why.  I think part of the reason is he seems to be more involved in Middle Earth, and his intervention doesn't get mucked up, unlike other attempts by the Valar to fix a problem.

I think he also appeals to me because he's so independent.  I can picture him at a meeting, all squirmy and uninterested, drumming his fingers while the rest of the Vala discuss important matters.  He's the type to Get Things Done.  Tulkas also seems the same, and he's my 2nd favorite Vala.

Modtheow: Communing with Ulmo The spirit of Ulmo runs in all the veins of the world, and there's his difference from Manwe and Varda, it seems to me.  The power of Manwe and Varda seems to be more external-- they can see and hear everything, but Ulmo knows the "needs and griefs" of the world, and those don't have to be seen or spoken to be known by him.  His is a deeper, more internal power.

I've just returned from a few days by the sea where I've been captivated, as usual, by Ulmo's domain.  I think that "sea-longing" is completely understandable.  The sea is immensely powerful, deeply mysterious, infinitely variable, terrifyingly destructive, and absolutely beautiful.  It makes you immensely aware of how small your little life is; in other words, it can make you think of something beyond yourself: Aman, the music of the Ainur, life and death.  I like the way Tolkien equates the sound of the sea with the music: the sea is always making some kind of music, either a soothing lapping of waves or roaring and crashing.  (Can you tell I've just had a good holiday on the beach? This post brought to you by the Nova Scotia Tourist Board.)

The longing for the sea is a real phenomenon, as some of you already know.  People who have been brought up by the sea, at least in my area of the world, find it very difficult to move away (often necessary to get jobs).  Those who leave dream of returning.  I grew up far inland, but I've been living on the coast for 18 years and can't imagine being away from the sea for too long now either.

Curious: I'm falling behind! Ulmo has a huge role in The Silmarillion.  But Manwe had reason to be tough, and for all Ulmo's efforts Nargothrond and Gondolin still fell.  Still, in Morgoth's Ring Tolkien toys with the idea that the Valar were sadly mistaken when they abandoned Middle-earth for Valinor; if so, Ulmo is the one Vala who does not make that mistake.  On the other hand, as Tolkien goes on to say, who are we to judge the Valar, especially Manwe, who knows Eru's thoughts?

Once again I want to stress that just because the Valar refused to come to the aid of the Noldor does not mean they refused to come to the aid of the opponents of Sauron in the Third Age.  As far as I can tell Manwe and Varda were just as much a part of LotR as Ulmo.

A. What does it mean that Ulmo was closest in friendship to Manwë before the Valar came to Arda – does Ulmo’s resistance to living in Valinor in Elf-form have anything to do with his relationship to Manwë?

Erather: Some folks just hate working through committees. No, I think he just resists being so confined in space and form.  The raiment pulls too much at the crotch, maybe.  He is a free spirit like Melkor, but unlike Melkor he has no internal need to impose his will on others.  Having slaves is confining, too, in a way.

Hills: well... The text does not say that Ulmo was closest in friendship to manwe before coming to arda, but before coming to Valinor. So we can probably assume that they became close during the time of the Lamps and of Almarin. on the other hand, for all we know, they could have been close even before this. As to what this closeness means, i believe that Manwe is the one who can see Iluvatar's mind the most, and Ulmo is next in this hierarchy--also manwe and ulmo were on the same side and of the same opinions in many councils. Another point in which they are together is on the Exiled Elves. It is said that Ulmo does not forget these Elves and through the waters he listens to their troubles and prayers. the same is said of manwe (and varda, for that matter), that he has not yet forsaken the Exiled, and he always watches over them through the airs, and Eagles of the North

I don't honestly think that this relationship has any bearing on his reluctance to live on land in Valinor. When the Valar/Ainur came into Middle-earth, they all had something specific that they reveled in. Ulmo's passion was the waters and that became is domain and dwelling place. "...water was for the most part the dream and invention of Ulmo, an Ainu whom Iluvatar had instructed deeper than all others in the depths of music" (LTI, 53). The water and Ulmo are like two counterparts to a whole--they belong together, which leads to the next point...

NZ Strider: Ulmo is my favourite Vala (with Tulkas a clear second)...

Ulmo and Manwë were close friends so long as the Valar remained in Middle-earth and actively strove against Melkor -- fought the long defeat, as it were, long before the Noldor returned to Middle-earth.  When the Valar withdrew to Valinor (and more or less gave up on Middle-earth and those Elves who stayed there -- as well as the Dwarves and Men), and left Middle-earth and its inhabitants to Melkor, Ulmo grew distant from Manwë for the simple reason that Ulmo never gave up on Middle-earth, never ceased to aid those fighting the long defeat. 

    This theme recurs often in Tolkien: the conflict between those who (though themselves safe from Melkor's or Sauron's depredations) still help those resisting Melkor or Sauron in Middle-earth and those who feel that it is unnecessary.  One thinks, for example, of Aldarion on Númenor, building great navies to aid Gil-galad in his struggle against Sauron in Middle-earth; and how neither his father (Tar-Meneldur) nor his wife (Erendis) could understand why he wanted to do this; what value what he was doing there had. 

     Similar conflicts take place many times in the LotR: between those who are willing to commit to the struggle against Sauron (even if they stand to gain nothing: Elves such as Elrond need not fight the long defeat -- they can go to Valinor any time they choose --, yet he stays and aids those fighting Sauron; Glorfindel dies, is reïncarnated in Valinor, and returns straight back to Middle-earth to fight the long defeat for a few millennia more) and those who feel that this struggle is none of their concern, or at least not much (Gildor Inglorion, for example). 

     Ulmo belongs to the former.  He always takes care for Middle-earth and aids those struggling hopelessly against Melkor.  Manwë doesn't.  That's why they grow distant.

Ascarwen: My secret theory is.... that he was Tolkien's favorite, too, next to Varda, of course.

Kimi: There is no way I could add anything to what you have said. So I'll slip my name here under yours, and bask in reflected glory :-)

Beren IV: Tickle me Ulmo Not sure how to answer that.

Drogo drogo: Water, water everywhere and not a Vala to drink. Manwe remains fixed in one place whereas Ulmo is the Vala who roams.  The two complement each other in that way, since they can patrol Arda from different vantage points.  The Valar need a wanderer in their midst, and therefore Manwe's closest ally is the one who does not remain fixed.

Menelwyn: I agree with those who have said that Ulmo and Manwe sort of complement each other.  We also know from the Ainulindale that they are sort of a team (I'm thinking of Ulmo's discussion of snow etc. with Eru).  It takes both of their powers and abilities to do what needs to be done, and these things may even get done better when they work together.

Luthien Rising: This one puzzles me, honestly. I don't see what that dynamic contributes to anything else in the storylines apart from generally humanizing the Valar.

Aragonvaar: "The secret voice that gainsayeth..." They're friends because they're opposites and appreciate the fact, and because their relationship to Eru seems to be similar.  As others have said, they complement each other.

B. Ulmo has no need of any resting place, no spouse, no desire for the world of the land or the company of his fellows. Why is he so different from the other Valar? Were these traits inherent to his spirit from the beginning, or do they just follow from his primary affinity for Ilúvatar’s waters?

Erather: I think his restless, solitary spirit was that way from the beginning.

Hills: I think that both of these apply, in a way. As demonstrated above, we know that Ulmo basically came up with the idea of water. So things that could be seen as connected directly to his affinity to water are in fact truly be inherent to his spirit from the beginning. In the Shaping (the song of Tuor), it says, "'Twas Ylmir, Lord of Waters, with all-stilling hand that made/ Unconquerable harmonies, that the roaring sea obeyed" (267).  It is clear that Ulmo (later name of Ylmir) is the master and the water is the slave. It listens to him, and yields to his word.

Ulmo is different from his fellow Valar b/c he likes something that, in general, they are not as fond of. While they may not hate it, they don't give it the kind of passion that Ulmo does--he lives and breathes it. Also, living within the water may inhibit his ability to have a spouse. It seems as if Ulmo is a bit anti-social. He is happy living alone. After all, water is singular in its place in the world, so it makes sense that Ulmo should be too.

NZ Strider: Ulmo does not stay in the Blessed Realm to which Melkor (after the rape of the Silmarils) never returns and which remains safe from him.  Ulmo (like Gandalf, by the way) makes sure that he sees what is happening in Middle-earth: he does not seclude himself (like Saruman) or become distracted (like Radagast); he keeps moving around and he learns what is going on in Middle-earth, inhering as he does in the lakes, and streams, and springs.

Beren IV: I think it's a water thing. There is no Water power other than Ulmo, even though most of the surface of the planet is covered in water. So Ulmo tends to the Water.

Drogo drogo: He seems to partake of the essence of water, which flows and is not stagnant (or else it festers and becomes choked).

Menelywn: I think this attitude was inherent from the beginning, and is the cause of Ulmo's association with water rather than the effect.  This sort of solitariness is actually one of my favorite things about Ulmo, and later of Nienna as well, probably because it reminds me a bit of myself.  Also, though, I think it's an element of Ulmo's association with freedom--he tends to advocate a hands-off policy towards the Children of Iluvatar.  He usually gets overruled on that front by the other Valar, but he is the one who can be counted on to speak for the freedom and independence of the Children.  This is the real reason he's one of my favorites, because of his love for independence and free will.

Luthien Rising: I really liked this. Why is he so different? In a sense he's the "god" for all the restless people to see themselves reflected in. Someone for the peripatetic, the wanderers, the shiftless, those unable to find a home. It is Ulmo who allows all of Middle-earth/Arda to be home to those who cannot root themselves.

I like to think that the Valar and those aspects of Arda for which they hold special responsibility have created each other at the time of the first Music. Thus, Ulmo is what he is because of the place he made for himself in the Music, and the waters became what they are in the same process.

Aragonvaar: To paraphrase C. S. Lewis on a somewhat higher (if you know what's being discussed) topic: "he's not a *tame* Vala."  The waters are what they are because Ulmo is what he is: restless, rootless, undomesticated.  It's worth noting that not only has he no wife, but he chooses to befriend the romantically disenfranchised: Turgon the widower, Finrod separated by the Exile from his wife/fiancee (depending on which version you read), Tuor the young man who has seldom seen a woman and never a lady before he came to Gondolin.  Also, in certain HoME texts, he criticizes the love between Finwe and Indis in a very detached fashion: he's probably the least sympathetic to their predicament of any Vala present at that discussion.     

Ulmo – The Text 2

 “Nonetheless Ulmo loves both Elves and Men, and never abandoned them, not even when they lay under the wrath of the Valar. At times he will come unseen to the shores of Middle-earth, or pass far inland up firths of the sea, and there make music upon his great horns, the Ulumúri, that are wrought of white shell; and those to whom that music comes hear it ever after in their hearts, and longing for the sea never leaves them again. But mostly Ulmo speaks to those who dwell in Middle-earth with voices that are heard only as the music of water. For all seas, lakes, rivers, fountains and springs are in his government; so that the Elves say that the spirit of Ulmo runs in all the veins of the world. Thus news comes to Ulmo, even in the deeps, of all the needs and griefs of Arda, which otherwise would be hidden from Manwë.”

Ulmo – Discussion 2

C. Why is there such emphasis in these passages on a comparison, or competition, between Manwë and Ulmo, especially as regards their care for and interest in Middle-earth and the Children of Ilúvatar? Hey, why does Ulmo rate two whole paragraphs in the Valaquenta?

Erather: Because their styles are so different.  Manwë seems rather aloof, residing on his mountaintop, while Ulmo with his ceaseless wandering is present everywhere, and in close communication with those who listen.  One has the feeling that Tolkien was really fond of the image of Ulmo, which is why he got more attention.

NZ Strider: Most of this is implicitly answered under A.  The tension between those who would commit actively to the long defeat and those who don't see the point is already present in nuce in the Valaquenta; and this is why Tolkien expanded on Ulmo's rôle.  He wanted to have a Vala willing (like Glorfindel and Galadriel and Gandalf) to fight the long defeat so that this tension would be present already amongst the Valar.

Beren IV: Probably because Ulmo plays the most visible role in the Quenta Silmarillion.

Drogo drogo: They are the two strongest, and they relate to the Children in different ways.  Manwe does not have the direct contact with the outer world, but rules from on high.  Ulmo is the one who in some ways bears the message of the Valar beyond Aman.  He is also the spokesman, in a sense, for those in Middle-earth as we will see later.

Menelwyn: Ulmo plays a big role later on, both in the coming of the Elves to Valinor, and in the Tuor story, among other things.  So he merits a big introduction.  Besides, Manwe really fits the archetypal role of the sky god.  We know about these.  Ulmo of course touches on the archetypal sea god, but I think there's some differences too.  So maybe we need more introduction to those differences.

Luthien Rising: In part, this is simply Tolkien's own fascination with the sea. But it also makes sense that a "god" of waters and especially of oceans would be key in a mythology of Britain, which must gain consciousness of itself as an island hemmed in by seas.

Aragonvaar: Manwe, as seen in most of the Silm, is extremely cautious in his handling of the Children.  He initally aligns w/ those who seek to teach and shield the Elves, then "overcompensates" (maybe) after the rebellion of Feanor.  Ulmo, as in his analysis of the Finwe/Indis situation cited above, has more of a "tough love" approach: he tends to underestimate the temptations the Children are subject to (I think Aule could've told him how most Noldor would've reacted to the warnings sent to Nargothrond and Gondolin shortly before their destructions), w/ both good and bad results.  If we take Gandalf as the exemplar of Manwe's Third Age policies, it would appear that Manwe has finally found a balance between his two earlier extremes of policy, one Ulmo probably approves of.     

D. It would seem that Manwë has as much ability, through the air, “even to the breezes that blow in the grass”, to know the “needs and griefs” of Arda as ever Ulmo would. Furthermore, we have been told that Manwë and Varda, when enthroned on Oiolossë together, see and hear everything on Arda. Why does this passage suggest otherwise?

Erather: As I said above, Manwë seems to hold himself aloof and apart from the world.  He may see and know all, but Ulmo seems to care and be more involved.

Penthe: Ulmo & Manwe I like what you say about the differences. Manwe and Varda strike me as focused listeners, filtering out the dross and trying for intelligence...whereas Ulmo understands the relationship between the parts and the whole.

NZ Strider: An ability to see does not eo ipso imply that one really does see; and certainly not that one takes action on the basis of what one sees.

Beren IV: Things happen in water that are far away and far too deep. Also, Tolkien probably didn't understand the physics of sound underwater, and didn't realize that if Varda could hear things in the air, she could hear things in water, too.

Drogo drogo: Well, there is immediate knowledge gained from being there versus the expansive vision and hearing of Manwe and Varda.

Luthien Rising: Manwë and Varda rely on air; sight and sound do not penetrate deep waters. The grammatical structure is "They see everything. Not."   

E. Earlier we were told that Ulmo’s music is the closest echo to the music of the Ainur that the Children of Ilúvatar will ever hear. Is this passage consistent with that, or is the “sea-longing” different? How does the “sea-longing” relate to the Children of Ilúvatar’s role in The Great Music, or history of Eä?

Erather: We all love the sound of rushing or flowing (though not dripping) water.  Perhaps a psychoanalyst could tell us why, although my personal theory is that it is similar to the sounds a developing foetus hears in utero.

Penthe: It's interesting how the sea-longing is both the longing for the sea itself, and for Aman. I don't know what to make of it, but I like it.

NZ Strider: Good question.  I can spin a fanciful thought here...  "Sea-longing" in Old English poetry often functions as a sort of metaphor or, if you will (dread word!), allegory for the yearning for the next world, the desire to exchange this transitory life on earth for the life of the world to come.  Tolkien perhaps had this in the back of his mind here...  I.e. the music which calls Men to the sea would approximate to the music of the world to come when Arda is remade and the Ainur shall again make a great music.  But this thought is fanciful...

Beren IV: More internal inconsistency that illustrates that the Sil is a work in progress :)

Drogo drogo: The sea-longing is related because it is connected to the music of the waters.  The Teleri learn their music from Osse, one of Ulmo's Maiar, after all, so the longing for the sea, for Aman, and the music of Iluvatar are all interwoven.

An seileachan: Maybe different, maybe related. But maybe, we hear water because we are primarily water. Maybe, if Ulmo wanders the waters of earth, he knows more clearly than the other Valar, our elemental nature. His voice is easier to hear? We are attuned to one another?

Luthien Rising: Interesting question. In a sense, it *could* be the closest to the Music, because the sound of water is never of water only, but of water stirred by air and reacting with land. It's similar to the strength of emotion that wind stirring leaves can call up.

F. Ulmo's beneficent presence is felt through every body and drop of water in Middle-earth. What do you find if you re-read The Lord of the Rings with this in mind?

Erather: I think first of the Fellowship gliding safely down the Anduin, despite danger on both banks.  But of course the great flood at the Fords of Bruinen is also related... presumably Elrond has good communication with Ulmo.  Legolas is struck with "sea longing" just by hearing the gulls, without actually seeing the sea.  And, of course, there's the final voyage.

NZ Strider: I suppose one could think of the Nazgûl's fear of water...  And of Legolas' and others' longing for the sea...  I could spin another fanciful thought here, but I think that I shall refrain.

Beren IV: Water is generally good in Middle Earth, although the Watcher in the Water certainly is not. I'm not sure how to evaluate this.

Drogo drogo: It does add a new dimension to LOTR, and gives new meaning to the passages such as the crossing of the Ford or the trip down the Anduin.  Just as the wind shifts seem to hearken to some divine power, something Curious pointed out on many occasions, so too do the water passages hint at some greater force on the margins.

An seileachan: If Ulmo, the Valar, can be thought of as present in all water, then even the foul water of Mordor can contain his blessing, and sustain us. As we see, it sustains Frodo and Sam.

Menelwyn: Certainly Ulmo's presence is in all water, and water tends to be a positive force in LOTR, an example of this being its effects on the Ringwraiths (not to open that can of worms again!).  On the other hand, Melkor's corruption also runs through just about everything in Middle-earth, so when we see water in more scary forms, or something like the Watcher in the Water, we can attribute that to Melkor, at least at some remove.

Luthien Rising: I don't know yet, but someday I'll let you know ;-)

Kimi: More seriously [than response to Extra Credit, below]: I do find that Ulmo is a real (though unnamed) presence in LOTR. Water is one of the most basic needs for life; water is also associated with dreams in LOTR. Ulmo speaks to dwellers in Middle-earth through the voice of the water and through dreams.

I grew up within the sound of the sea, and would often listen to it as I lay awake at night. I still miss it, though it's not so very far away (nowhere in NZ is far from the sea).   

Images of Ulmo

<a href="">Here</a>  is a link to several artists’ interpretations of Ulmo. Many depict the scene where he confronts Tuor in Chapter 23.

G. How well do these illustrations respond to the rather specific description in the text?

NZ Strider: I notice that several have automatically given Ulmo a trident (or something close to a trident)...  Actually, in my imagining when Ulmo does take a body after the manner of the Children of Ilúvatar, he does not take a gigantic one, but a regular-sized one.  What makes him terrifying is who he is, and that he rises up out of the sea -- not his size.

Beren IV: Ulmo is one of the few Valar that I typically envision that a mortal can actually SEE his normal form. I generally like the idea that his body is covered in scales, ala the Roger Garland picture, but having limbs being jointed and exoskeletonized like a crustacean, like the Govar picture.

Drogo drogo: The illustations make him look a bit like Poseidon (especially Nasmith's from the illustrated Sil), but they do fit the other-worldly image of this king of the sea, at least as I envision him.

Luthien Rising: I'll let others go into the details. None of them struck me as matching my imagination of the scenes -- quite. Partly I think it's perspective: I need to see Ulmo from below. I think it's very hard to make anything feel watery and concrete at the same time. I suspect it needs unusual media. (Is ringers reprise around? I'd love to hear an artist's thoughts on this one.)   

Piled Higher and Deeper

Judging from the history of the <a href="">text</a>, Tolkien radically expanded his thinking on Ulmo only when the Valaquenta was detached from The Silmarillion in the late 1950’s.

H. What might have compelled Tolkien to so enlarge Ulmo’s role in Middle-earth’s affairs?

Erather: That is really striking, thanks so much for making these grids!  I don't know why, other than the fact that he may have suddenly seen the wonderful images in these paragraphs, and had to express them.  As I recall, late in life Tolkien lived on the south coast of England for a time, so perhaps that close proximity to the sea brought it more forcibly to mind.

NZ Strider: Vid. supra sub C.

Beren IV: Ulmo has a major role already, and needs more discussion.

Drogo drogo: Tolkien gave Ulmo an expanded role perhaps because he is a necessary link between the Valar and the Children of Iluvatar in the subsequent story.  The episode with Tuor later in the narrative necessitates a Vala who journeys to Middle-earth, so there is a practical need to expand his role.  Tolkien also seems to have given water greater significance as a mythic element.  The baddies all like desert terrain, so Ulmo as the water "god" serves as a powerful conduit of goodness in many places throughout the legendarium.

Luthien Rising: Interesting question. Autobiographically, I wonder if it wasn't a growing sense over his own lifetime of the call of the sea to him personally.

Extra Credit

I. If Ulmo speaks to mortals through the sounds of water, what is he saying when the faucet drips endlessly late at night?

Beren IV: Maybe he's expressing disapproval of the artificial stream you've created :)

Luthien Rising: "Fix your faucet!"

Kimi: About that dripping tap:(okay, faucet if you insist)

It represents a tension between the work of men's hands as followers of Aule, and the substance of Ulmo, which is fluid and seemingly soft, but which will eventually wear away all the work of men's hands. That drip-drip-drip is Ulmo saying "I-told-you-so".

<a href="">Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>

6:00 AM The Valaquenta: Aulë, God of the Earth and of Crafts

Aulë – The Text

 “Aulë has might little less than Ulmo. His lordship is over all the substances of which Arda is made. In the beginning he wrought much in fellowship with Manwë and Ulmo; and the fashioning of all lands was his labour. He is a smith and a master of all crafts, and he delights in works of skill, however small, as much as in the mighty building of old. His are the gems that lie deep in the Earth and the gold that is fair in the hand, no less than the walls of the mountains and the basins of the sea. The Noldor learned most of him, and he was ever their friend. Melkor was jealous of him, for Aulë was most like himself in thought and in powers; and there was long strife between them, in which Melkor ever marred or undid the works of Aulë, and Aulë grew weary in repairing the tumults and disorders of Melkor. Both, also, desired to make things of their own that should be new and unthought of by others, and delighted in the praise of their skill. But Aulë remained faithful to Eru and submitted all that he did to his will; and he did not envy the works of others, but sought and gave counsel. Whereas Melkor spent his spirit in envy and hate, until at last he could make nothing save in mockery of the thought of others, and all their works he destroyed if he could.

Aulë –Discussion

Aragonvaar: LOL... Aule is a fairly straightforward transposition of Vulcan/Haesphaetus (presented in the Illiad as a relatively pacific deity who dislikes quarrels and in the Aeneid as being so absent-minded/laid-back that he, at his wife's request, forges a suit of armor for her illegitimate son Aeneas).

He's interested in craft and artisanship to the point of tunnel vision, but open and generous and willing to talk shop w/ any interested party, which is partly why Melkor resents him I think.  He also genuinely cares about his handiwork, which is why Eru cuts him some slack later in the Silm, when Aule [spoiler] pulls a Baron Frankenstein.

What is unusual is that he is identified w/ the earth, and his wife w/ growing things, whereas the opposite seems to be more usually true of old-style pantheons: either an earth goddess for both jobs, or a vegetation god and an earth goddess.  Not sure what that signifies, but it's interesting.

Curious: Perhaps Aulë retreated to Valinor because it would be perilous for land-dwellers if the land were as restless as the waters.  Melkor, on the other hand, loves tumults and disorders.

Aulë is the God of both Artists and Artisans – of both designers/creators and mechanics/makers.

A. Is Tolkien dreaming here, to combine the two passions in one God?

Luthien Rising: Oooh -- an RR pants thread! Not at all! This is the individual craftsman whose workshop is attached to his house; the sole proprietor. It is craft and art unified: art that is useful, craft that is artful not only functional. (On the other hand, I'm less sure that this is all artists -- I don't see fabric works or songwriting in this description, for example, either literally or by clear extension.)

Erather: God of the Pre-Raphaelites No, this is the ideal unity of art and craft promoted by Rossetti, Morris, & co.  Their movement was still in full cry in Tolkien's youth, and although I haven't seen any mention of his opinion of them, their philosophy seems quite compatible with his.

Penthe: Passion and well-fitting trousers No. Art & work always go together. Anyone who tells you otherwise is falling into the one of the traps of being pretentious, lazy, or plain ignorant. There is hard work in all arts (even those Aule isn't patron of), and there is creativity even in labour. But, yes, this link was important to Tolkien, I think. Dwarves, of course.

Beren IV: Dreams of Envy Why should he be dreaming? Why cannot one individual enjoy two very related skills?

NZ Strider: A quick thought or two... Where is the problem?  Think of Smith in "Smith of Wootton Major" -- he is both a talented craftsman and an excellent singer; he combines the craftsman's skilled hands with the artist's sensitivity to beauty.  Where is the conflict? 

     Think also of Owen Barfield's theory of "Original Semantic Unity" -- it may be relevant here...  "Artist" and "Artisan" share the same root, Latin "ars" -- which can mean both a technical skill as well as an aesthetic art.  And our word "poet" -- it comes from Greek "poiéO," "to make (any object)."  A "poíEma" is a object which has been made; amongst other things also a "poem." 

      So, by Barfield's theory, all of these things -- artisanship and artistry -- was originally conceived of as one single thing.  It is only we with our splintered language who see two things.

B. Why does Tolkien so stress the comparison between Aulë and Melkor? What was Melkor “jealous” of?

Luthien Rising: Because Melkor's craft is devoid of art and is no longer the full property of its maker; others make things for him. (This is factory work, not artisan work. And Tolkien wouldn't like this, but it is also alienated labour.)

Erather: Melkor desperately seeks to be creative.  Aulë appears to succeed, whereas Melkor seems only to be able to destroy.  That must be infuriating.

Penthe: Melkor, what a prat. Jealous of Aule having both creativity and satisfaction in his work? He got the girl?

Beren IV: Dwarves, maybe? :) I still think that Tolkien is having trouble reconciling the versions of the story.

NZ Strider: Why was Cain jealous of Abel?  Ilúvatar accepted Aulë's Dwarves and sent the Flame Imperishable into them to make them alive.  Melkor, meanwhile, went searching for the Flame Imperishable so that he too might make new things of his own -- but he never found it.  Of course he got jealous. 

C. Melkor here seems consumed by envy, although he like Aulë is a creative soul. Is it common for creators to “envy” the works of others, in your experience?

Erather: Unfortunately, yes.  I've spent a lot of my life with scientists, and somewhat less with artists.  Scientists seem to me much better able to respect and admire the work of their colleagues, whereas artists can be quite petty with each other.  Maybe it's the relative lack of grant money for art.

Linkinparkelf: Scientists vs artists I've had occasion to be both and work with both and I've seen pettiness in people in both fields; though I've experienced far greater empathy, kindness and creative joy amongst artists.

Beren IV: Speaking AS a scientist I've seen it both ways, and many scientists are artists as well.

I've seen bickering as well as collegueship.

Penthe: In my personal experience, yes. I am filled with the green-eyed monster. I am jealous of all of you when you make good posts! (not really, but a bit). But others, like Aule, just enjoy the creativity of others, and work to share it or create together.

Beren IV: Yes. 

D. If Aulë is God of the earth, why are tunnels and underground spaces so scary, in Tolkien’s works?

Luthien Rising: Melkor took them over. And they aren't earth, they are airspaces inside earth. So they're just sort of wrong.

Erather: I sometimes think Tolkien has mixed feelings about Aulë.  Craft is good, technology is dubious to bad, but the line separating them can be fuzzy.  But then, you could always resort to Freudian explanations, too.

Penthe: Melkor, Melkor, Melkor. What a pain in the...pants.

Beren IV: They're filled with the spawn of darkness.

Curious: Not all tunnels are scary.  Hobbits live in them, after all.  And so do dwarves.  It is Morgoth's taint that makes them scary. 

Images of Aulë

<a href="">Here</a> is a link to some images of Aulë. It’s a sparse lot, compared to the more “charismatic”, or should I say “aristocratic”, Gods we have seen so far.

E. What does it say that so few artists seem to respond to their own God, as Tolkien would have him be? Do artists know that Aulë the Smith is “their” God?

Luthien Rising: Maybe Aule will appear more when it isn't painters who are making art: Aule will appear adorning metal trays and pottery bowls and beaded bags.

Bigidiot: if these paintings are the best people can do to depict images of the gods of Middle Earth I sure hope noone tries to put the Sil into a film anytime soon.  I want to stress I'm not just saying the five here for Aule but all the pictures for the Valar.  I haven't seen one good painting to represent the majesty of Tolkien's vision.  Oh well.

Erather: Perhaps they're devotees of "pure art" and less respectful of all this craft stuff.

Penthe: He seems to me to be the patron of only particular arts. Dwarves reverence him (as they should), and the Noldor did too. However, sometimes the pupil needs to learn from the teacher and move on, rather than following and not achieving independence.

Beren IV: I have to agree that I don't want to see the Sil made a motion picture anytime soon, unless there are a lot of different Sil motion pictures with many different Sil interpretations.   

Piled Higher and Deeper

On first conceiving Aulë, Tolkien wrote a rich <a href=""> description</a> in his opening chapter of The Book of Lost Tales. As with some others here, he radically pared it down in his Silmarillion until the Valaquenta was re-conceived.

F. What is purpose of the expanded passage in the Valaquenta?

Kimi: "tillage too and husbandry was his delight as much as tongues and alphabets, or broideries and painting."

The Aule of BoLT 1 has a much bigger job! And has much more in common with his spouse: a gardener matched with the guardian spirit of plants. His demesne also included textiles, which I don't associate the later Aule with.

I wonder why JRRT lessened Aule's reach, and (IMHO) created more tension between Aule and Yavanna.

Beren IV: Just more of the history... 

Extra Credit

G. When Aulë bends over at his forge, smithing some vast work, do his pants hang so low in back that he moons his apprentices? Does Aulë shower nearly as often as he should? Would you date Aulë?

Luthien Rising: Aulë has Perfect Pants, engineered to fit regardless of body position. And the Valar are always clean. And yes, I'd date him -- can you imagine the birthday presents?

Penthe: His supernatural bottom only shows above his trousers when he is fixing his V8 supercar. So his apprenctices should be safe from the sight for a few millenia. Dating? No.

Kimi: Oh, and about his trousers: Aule invented lycra in its purest form.

Beren IV: Does Aulë even have apprentices? And no, I would not date him. Luthien might, but I'm Beren. 

<a href="">Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>

6:00 AM The Valaquenta: Yavanna, Goddess of Plants

Yavanna – The Text

 The spouse of Aulë is Yavanna, the Giver of Fruits. She is the lover of all things that grow in the earth, and all their countless forms she holds in her mind, from the trees like towers in forests long ago to the moss upon stones or the small and secret things in the mould. In reverence Yavanna is next to Varda among the Queens of the Valar. In the form of a woman she is tall, and robed in green; but at times she takes other shapes. Some there are who have seen her standing like a tree under heaven, crowned with the Sun; and from all its branches there spilled a golden dew upon the barren earth, and it grew green with corn; but the roots of the tree were in the waters of Ulmo, and the winds of Manwë spoke in its leaves. Kementári, Queen of the Earth, she is surnamed in the Eldarin tongue.”

Yavanna – Discussion

A. Why do the plants get a Goddess, and not the animals?

Aragonvaar: Here comes "little" Miss Tree-hugger... Dunno, maybe Tolkien associates plants w/ feminine fertility/nurturing archetypes, and animals less so.  We will see a reference to Yavanna "co-designing" animals w/ Manwe later in the Silm. though.

Hartk: She can be a bit of a snit... We'll get to this later, but another side of her personality comes out when she throws a fit before she is allowed to create shepherds for the trees.

Penthe: shhhhhh, don't spoil it!

Luthien Rising: *insert clever subject line here* Because the animals have some degree of free will and consciousness; the plants don't.

Lottelita: Ouch! Harsh feminist answer to A, there, Lu!  Did you mean it to be, or did your bra catch fire on accident?

I think it's a great read, though.

Luthien Rising: is it really? I thought the point was that plants get *someone* but animals get nobody. 'Course, I could be wrong.

Lottelita: Ahhhh I thought you were suggesting that voiceless plants were represented rightly by the oppressed, "voiceless" gender.  Looks like I'm the one who needs to put down the Judith Butler.

Beren IV: No and yes "Because the animals have some degree of free will and consciousness; the plants don't."

I would not be so sure about that. Plants do signal one-another.

"Natural---artificial is a continuum, and it meets in the centre where the artificial is made of the natural and the natural is itself made in the beginning. It also represents two forms of making: nurturing and reforming."

I fully agree.

Drogo drogo: I think that I shall never see a Vala as lovely as a.... Tolkien, as we can tell from his writings, was very fond of trees and growing things, so he probably wanted to give them their own divine protector.  The nature/fertility goddess is also a very common figure in mythology, and often includes both the bounty of the flora and the reproduction of the fauna as well.

Penthe: Trees & Plants Because plants can't look after themselves, very well. Animals have quite a lot of agency in Tolkien's various universes. Even the non-divine ones talk amongst themselves and have opinions about things. Many are definably good or evil (crebain and so on). Clearly, plants don't have this, so they need a minder.

Especially the poor, victimised ones in my garden :-(.

Beren IV: Animals get Oromë! Animals do get a God - Oromë the Hunter.

Luthien Rising: well, there you go The guys get to run with the animals and the women have to stay home and pick weeds. (Can you tell I haven't exactly got a green thumb? I do have a goldfish, though.)

Curious: Middle-earth is short of animals. There are birds and domestic animals, horses and the deer and kine of the hunt, oliphaunts and bears and monsters, squirrels and coneys, flies and neekerbreekers.  But there should be great herds of animals in the deserted lands of Middle-earth.  If they are there, Tolkien does not mention them.  Perhaps this is because man displaced wild herds of animals long ago in Europe.  Tolkien seemed to be in love with trees, birds, and horses in that order; other animals seem to be an afterthought.

Squire: I had the same perception and that was part of the point of my question. I think it comes from Tolkien himself.

The idea that Orome is the 'god' of animals as Yavanna is for plants doesn't work for me, because hunting regards animals for their usefulness to man, rather than their value in themselves. What I missed, so to speak, was a shepherd god or something.

Tolkien really has little regard for the dumb beasts, Bill the Pony aside.

I did notice that Orome goes from hunting anything that moves in the early drafts, to just hunting 'bad' creatures in the final published version! But that is part of Tolkien's ongoing recasting of the later (and published) Silmarillion into a rigid Morgoth/antiMorgoth structure.

B. Why is Yavanna the spouse of Aulë, God both of the earth and of artifice? Is she his opposite/balancer (natural vs. artificial), or his helpmate/supplement (earth/fertility)?

Aragonvaar: Both. It is also interesting that Tolkien doesn't see the earth per se as feminine, but rather the things that live upon in and depend upon it.

Luthien Rising: Natural---artificial is a continuum, and it meets in the centre where the artificial is made of the natural and the natural is itself made in the beginning. It also represents two forms of making: nurturing and reforming.

Drogo drogo: They are the original odd couple, a means of counter-balancing the lifeless part of the earth (rock and stones and metal) and the living parts the dwell upon it.  They have a rather odd relationship (they are the only Valar who seem to bicker with each other), but there is an interesting logic to it.  It's like Gimli and Legolas being friends in LOTR terms.

Beren IV: I am inclined to say the latter, although it has some of the former as well. Recall that Aulë did create a race of living things, the Dwarves, by the way.

C. “Small and secret things in the mould”: Isn’t this a rather scientific distinction that Tolkien is making? Did any other pre-modern pantheistic cultures recognize the worth (or even existence) of microscopic life, and assign a God to them? Why does he feel compelled to include them here?

Annael: One wonders if Tolkien had read the quote from JBS Haldane, the biologist and evolutionist who was once asked what he could infer about God from his work. He supposedly replied "The Creator, if He exists, has an inordinate fondness for beetles."

Erather: Maybe the beetle Vala was one of the tone-deaf ones.

Beren IV: 350,000 species! And there is probably a species of parasitic nematode for every one of those species of bettles! ;)

Aragonvaar: I assume it's another form of the fertility symbolism referenced above.

Luthien Rising: Perhaps to give a continuity not only with Christianity (as in many aspects) but also with modern knowledge? (This is more medieval knowledge, though -- the animicule and all that.)

Drogo drogo: Tolkien is a writer of the twentieth-century, as much as he lives in the Anglo-Saxon past.  That's one of the few nods to the century in which he's living.  Bacteria and algae need loving too!

Beren IV: Maybe he is. Somebody has to do it, and Tolkien certainly knew about microbes.

Also, recall: The Valequenta is an Elvish myth. The Elves may know more about microbiology than Humans would under the same circumstances.

Images of Yavanna

A gallery of illustrations of Yavanna is linked <a href="">here</a>. Only one even suggests that Yavanna “takes other shapes.”

Luthien Rising: RR's is still the best. It shows the shaping itself -- that Yavanna is both spirit and being. RR, you really ought to do Varda!

D. How easily does human form transmute into tree-form? Would showing Yavanna as a tree present the same issues that illustrators struggle with in rendering the Ents?

Aragonvaar: Yeah, I guess.  Dunno much about the visual arts.

Luthien Rising: No, I don't think it would. Yavanna-as-world-tree is all arms and legs, fingers and toes; surely these can show a continuum of tree to woman? The Ents have much less of the continuum about them, and it may be that that makes them so difficult to draw.

Drogo drogo: She does pose the same trouble to artists as the Ents and even more because she is to be another one of the immortal beauties like Varda.  It is hard to imagine a tree goddess!

Bigidiot: govar and janin's paintings some of these paintings ain't so bad.  I think you either gotta go the rout of a really beautiful humanoid form or else something really ethereal and strange looking but you can't waffle around in between and that's what so many people have tried to do.

Kimi: I really like ringers reprise's Yavanna. She's beautiful, without having that teenage-fantasy look that some artists would give her.

Beren IV: Like the other Valar, I think Yavanna can probably take basically whatever form she wants. A voluptuous, "motherly" humanoid female, a tree, or just about anything else.

Piled Higher and Deeper

The Valaquenta has its roots in Tolkien’s original sketches of his mythology back in the years after World War I, and he revised the material repeatedly over the years. <a href="">Here</a> is a chart of the evolution of Yavanna.

E. What changes do you see in Tolkien’s conception of Yavanna?

Aragonvaar: the name and some of the specific accomplishments change, but this is one, like Ulmo, stayed relatively constant in Tolkien's mind over the years.

Luthien Rising: Hmmm... "Bosom" didn't last long, now, did it! Too bad -- it connects human nurturance with the nurturance of vegetation. The biggest change, of course, is the addition of the world tree image: in the earlier drafts, Yavanna is lover and nurturer of vegetation; when the world tree is introduced, she also is vegetation.

Kimi: Tolkien's description of Yavanna is much richer in the latest version. Perhaps this is partly because the Ents walked into LOTR, leading him to think of an explanation for their origin. And perhaps his own love of trees grew with the years.

Extra Credit

F. Is Yavanna always taking tree-form just when Aulë gets home from work?

Aragonvaar: I think she prefers to surprise him w/ new and different shapes, myself ;)  Trees would get obvious after a while.

Luthien Rising: Not if she can't get her after-work grape or oats-and-hops product! Lúthien - who never misses hers

Drogo drogo: I think Yavanna "trees out" whenever Aule is around just to make him grumpier.

Beren IV: Why should she?

<a href="">Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>

12:00 PM The Valaquenta: Námo of the Fëanturi, God of Death

The Fëanturi: Námo – The Text

 “The Fëanturi, masters of spirits, are brethren, and they are called most often Mandos and Lórien. Yet these are rightly the names of the places of their dwelling, and their true names are Námo and Irmo.

Námo the elder dwells in Mandos, which is westward in Valinor. He is the keeper of the Houses of the Dead, and the summoner of the spirits of the slain. He forgets nothing; and he knows all things that shall be, save only those that lie still in the freedom of Ilúvatar. He is the Doomsman of the Valar; but he pronounces his dooms and his Judgements only at the bidding of Manwë.

Námo – Discussion

Curious: I've always liked Mandos. And the Children of Iluvatar do interact with him quite a bit, particularly in The Silmarillion.  Despite his fierce image, he does relent from time to time.  He is at worst a jail keeper or the master of Niggle's workhouse, but I prefer to think of him as the keeper of a Zen retreat, where tired spirits go to meditate, often for the rest of eternity.

Squire: Zen retreat? I guess I know what you mean.

But I find Namo a little sterner than a meditative master: he is a pitiless judge most of the time. And the Elvish 'souls' who stay in his halls are either those whose heinous crimes forbid them from ever being reborn as they should be; or those who have chosen not to be reborn, which seems to be frowned upon.

If I understand the scheme, the Halls of Mandos are a temporary holding pen for rest and recuperation before re-birth; or a purgatory for repentance before being judged and re-born. But the permanent residents are not considered good people ipso facto, and a permanent residence is not a good thing. More of a jail than a retreat.

Curious: I disagree. Most elvish souls are too wounded to be reborn, and there is nothing wrong with that, as far as I can tell.  Feanor's mother's choice was frowned upon, but she was very definitely an exception to the rule, having committed the elvish equivalent of suicide.  Furthermore, she did find healing in the Halls of Mandos; which shows that it is a place for healing.  And Zen masters can be strict, after all.

A. Why does Tolkien make a big deal of their “real” names? Throughout The Silmarillion these two are in fact called Mandos and Lórien.

Aragonvaar: Mr. Nice Guy. It gives them a mysterious quality, also suggests that their "realms" in Aman are extensions of their personalities to a degree that is not true of the others.

Drogo drogo: Quick answers As with any myth, there are multiple names attached to the same "deities," and Tolkien is very careful with his names.  Mandos and Lorien are names applied to the Valar based on where they dwell, a substitution such as the "White House" for the US president, or "Whitehall" for the UK prime minister.

Beren IV: Vairë - Goddess of Time It's just a myth, I agree. Their places are so much extensions of themselves that their places take on after themselves, and they are hardly ever seen not in their places.

B. Námo knows all that is to be, except what he doesn’t: those things still in the freedom of Ilúvatar. What the heck does that mean?

Finrod Felagund 5: Namo, Eru, and Manwe I think that (I'm going to call him Mandos through this) Mandos's knowing all that will be except....has to do with him knowing all that Iluvatar has already decided.  When it comes to what HAS already been decided by Iluvatar, Mandos knows it all, he knows the entire plan.  But for the things that Iluvatar is unsure about, or hasn't really come to yet; Mandos doesn't have a clue.  And really, how can he know ANYTHING before Iluvatar?

Aragonvaar: Only Eru knows *exactly* where every act of free will leads.  The Valar can guess in broad terms, and they can enforce their will as fate upon everything except Men.  Maybe Namo has some special insight into the consequences of actions, or special willpower in enforcing the decrees of fate.

Drogo drogo: Well, he's the Creator, and can have some leeway in his design!  Inventor of the universe's perogative.

Luthien Rising: I love these two ... This goes back to the Ainulindale: Eru gave certain knowledge to the Ainur, but not other knowledge. For example, he let them know that the Children of Ilúvatar would be, but not where and when they would be. The "freedom" of Ilúvatar is that realm of knowledge which Ilúvatar is still free to give out at will; it is not already given into the power of the Ainur.

Beren IV: We already know: Illuvitar did not let the Valar know what would happen after the Rise of Men. This includes even Namo.

C. He pronounces his dooms and judgements, but only at Manwë’s bidding. Again, what the heck does that mean?

Finrod Felagund 5: In the case of Mandos not giving his dooms without the approval of Manwe, that has to do with Mandos perhaps saying too much.  As they say in "Back to the Future" "No one should know TOO much about their own future."  I think in the case of Mandos saying too much, he's giving too much away to the other Valar, Maiar, and Elves.  It seems that only Manwe knows the things that Mandos will say, and perhaps Mandos knows somethings that even Manwe doesn't know.

Aragonvaar: Like FF said, it's not always good to know the future.  Or possibly, Manwe only lets him pronounce doom when he's sure of his conclusion, or as the "enforcer" in some sense of Valarin will, he can "fix" future events to a degree, a "fixing" Manwe would have to endorse.

Stanislaus Bocian: Mandos' Dooms His dooms are not prophecies, but judgements, as the Doom of the Noldor, or of Luthien, or of Miriel.

According to Oxford Dictionary

"doom 1: 1. A statute, law, enactment; gen. an ordinance, decree. Obs. exc. Hist. 2. A judgement or decision, esp. one formally pronounced; a sentence; mostly in adverse sense, condemnation, sentence of punishment. †3. Personal or private judgement, opinion. as to my doom: in my opinion. Obs. †b. The faculty of judging; judgement, discrimination, discernment. Obs. 4. Fate, lot, irrevocable destiny. (Usually of adverse fate; rarely in good sense.) b. Final fate, destruction, ruin, death. 5. The action or process of judging (as in a court of law); judgement, trial. arch. 6. The last or great Judgement at the end of the world; also, a pictorial representation of this. arch. (Now chiefly in phr. crack of doom.)"

Mandos judges only on the request of Manwe, because he isn't the ruler, and has no authority to judge by himself. Formerly in monarchies judges judged in the name of the king. In Poland, which was an electionary monarchy, all courts didn't function after the death of the king and the election of the new - because their authority was only delegated.

Drogo drogo: Mandos serves as Manwe's herald to an extent, and not everything should be heard or known by all.  Mandos should therefore keep quiet about things that Manwe doesn't want him to reveal.

Luthien Rising: He's not allowed to judge unless told it's time to judge. The doom is his to determine at that time.

Beren IV: Manwë lets the secret out, and Namo is very loyal to him.

Vairë – The Text

 Vairë the Weaver is his spouse, who weaves all things that have ever been in Time into her storied webs, and the halls of Mandos that ever widen as the ages pass are clothed with them.

Vairë – Discussion

Vairë appears to be the Goddess of History: “storied webs” is poetic-talk for historical or narrative tapestries. When I first read that Mandos’ spouse was a weaver, I assumed she would be an analog of the Grecian Fates, or the Norse Norns, who wove the Future: the Greeks and Scandinavians saw the future, or fate, as a complex web of events and contingency, and imagined three weaver goddesses threading all lives together into a compulsory future. Yet Tolkien takes the opposite tack: Vairë only records the past in her weavings, while Námo her husband knows all the future.

D. Why does Tolkien invert the standard Indo-European mythos for his “weaver” goddess? 

Aragonvaar: When you linked the tapestry of the fates to a "compulsory future", you pretty much gave the answer away: Weaving is a complex art requiring alot of preparation and forethought; for Tolkien, free will is an important and unpredictable component of the future, hence the "tapestry of fate" metaphor is not compatible w/ his philosophy in the way that it is for his pagan forebears.

Drogo drogo: Tolkien does like to play with common mythic elements and deity/Fate figures from other religions.  Vaire is also the storyteller figure, another common figure from mythology.

Luthien Rising: Because he is himself weaving a past. She is secretly his goddess. (Catholics may slap me now. Ouch.)

Beren IV: Do you think it was even deliberate? I'm not even certain it was.

E. Vairë never is mentioned in the narrative of the Quenta Silmarillion. Why then does she exist in the Valaquenta? Are her tapestries essentially lobby decoration for the amusement and consideration of the long-suffering souls who endlessly wait in the halls of Mandos, listening to the Muzak of the Gods? Why does Heaven keep a record of all of Time’s events, courtesy of Vairë?

Aragonvaar: Mandos is apparently a place to meditate on the past, as a preparation for making that leap beyond the circles of the world (for men) or being reembodied (Elves Dwarves) in the future.  It is purgatorial or therapeutic, not infernal in either the Christian or Roman sense.  Her tapestries are probably helpful in the process of meditation.

Drogo drogo: She's the official record-keeper of Arda, in a sense.  Tolkien is a lover of the past as immoralized in song and tale, so her weaving takes on great significance as the turning of the past into art.

Luthien Rising: To go all deconstructive on this, Vairë's existence on the margins of Arda and in a tiny corner of Tolkien's text shows just how important she is to all that text. This is magnified by the fact that she is precisely about textuality. It is through Vairë that we are ensured that all deeds will retain value, that all persons will be recognized, that our lives will have context.

Pukel Man: Why isn't Vaire in the Sil? Authorial shyness?

NZ Strider: I suppose it's because she does not act, but merely records.  After all, Homer is never mentioned in the Iliad.  ;-)

Beren IV: An oversight, probably - or, at least, Vairë does not take a decisive role. She's the storyteller, if you will - although only the Valar may be able to see.

F. The halls of Mandos “ever widen” as time passes. What does that mean?

Finrod Felagund 5: The Halls of Mandos widen because more spirits are always coming over.  We know that the spirits of Men DO spend some time at the Halls of Mandos before their journey to where no one knows (Perhaps Manwe and Mandos alone of the Valar have an idea of where men go after they die).  The spirits of Elves also stay there, but that is only if they can't be reborn.

Aragonvaar: Well, people keep coming there...he's gotta keep expanding.

Drogo drogo: Lots of souls means you need lots of additions.  There must be many little Maia work crews adding wings to that place.  This is one of those things that really defy understanding in physical terms.

Luthien Rising: Well, if the Valar can clothe themselves in bodies at will, then surely their habitations are also infinitely adjustable. And as time passes, the tapestries of Vairë extend and the halls of Mandos fill with more of the spirits of the dead.

Beren IV: More dead people, bigger halls.

G. Námo “forgets nothing.” What does he need Vairë’s “storied webs” for then?

Finrod Felagund 5: The question about Vaire and her weaving is answered with the fact that she doesn't weave for Mandos.  She is working more for the other inhabitants of Valinor; the other Valar, Maiar, and Elves who DON'T remember everything that happened.  It is more for posterity.

Aragonvaar: For a different perspective.  Mandos is a very "just the facts" kind of person, as we will see in his debate w/ Ulmo over the plea of Earendil, and in a couple of other places.  Vaire and her work may help him see the romantic or heroic side of a situation where he sees only its morality or lack thereof.

Drogo drogo: Namo knows all, but keeps them to himself.  Vaire turns the past into art.

Luthien Rising: He doesn't. They are for the Elves and the other Valar.

Beren IV: Does he?

Piled Higher and Deeper

The Valaquenta has its roots in Tolkien’s original sketches of his mythology back in the years after World War I, and he revised the material repeatedly over the years. <a href="">Here</a> is a chart of the evolution of Námo and Vairë.

H. What changes do you see in Tolkien’s conception of Námo and Vairë?

Aragonvaar: They evolved from being mere gothic "Spooks" or "spawn of Loki" types to dignified and honorable people on their own terms.

Luthien Rising: I wonder why the concept of Vairë came in when it did? That strikes me as the most interesting question here, but I've got no thoughts on it.

Beren IV: Apart from Vairë getting added, so are the actual names of Mandos and Lorien.

Extra Credit

I. Does Námo ever think that Morgoth would probably give him far more independence in dooming people than Manwë does?

Finrod Felagund 5: As for extra credit, Melkor would LOVE to have Mandos on his side.  He'd love to know what was coming.  However, if you told Melkor that he'd eventually lose, would he repent?  Eventually Melkor would tire of Mandos and try to have him killed or something, and that would be impossible considering that Mandos is a Vala.  Mandos wouldn't care to work with Melkor, because it just wouldn't be his thing.  He's not evil, he doesn't delight in the torture of others and the destruction of everything.

Luthien Rising: Um, no? What I want to know is, if Námo knows everything, does Vairë ever try to sneak lies into her tapestries just to get his attention?

Beren IV: Does it matter? Namo is clearly loyal to Manwë alone.

<a href="">Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>

12:00 PM The Valaquenta: Irmo of the Fëanturi, God of Dreams

The Fëanturi: Irmo – The Text

 Irmo the younger is the master of visions and dreams. In Lórien are his gardens in the land of the Valar, and they are the fairest of all places in the world, filled with many spirits.

Irmo – Discussion

Kimi: Irmo the younger

In what sense is he younger? Were some of the Ainur created after others? Is this an artifact from a time when there were generations of Ainur, with some being born as offspring of the elder?

Luthien Rising: young Ainur I suspect that this is an example of the inability of creatures forced to live in time to stop conceiving of greater beings outside their own terms. We have to clothe them and give them age in order to really conceive them.

Luthien Rising: wanderings through thoughts of Lorien Funny -- I realize now that Lorien never made as much of an impression on me as some of the others. I wonder if that says more about the Sil or about me?

A. How are dreams and visions connected in Tolkien? How are they connected in “real life”?

Aragonvaar: Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream... They can both be expressions of the creative impulse, the will to make things happen: "I have a dream/he had a vision."

Bigidiot: Tolkien's visions I think a guy with an imagination as powerful as Tolkien must have had some intense visions now and then throughout his life.  There's lots of kinds of mushrooms that grown in English fields and going mushroom picking was one of Tolkien's favorite hobbies anyhow

Beren IV: Complex ideas Dreams do prophesize the future, or show things far away, at times, in LotR. Dreams are obviously important in Tolkien, but he doesn't appear to have any rules for them. In the real world, dreams seem to be how the upper brain reacts to random signals from the lower brain. A statistical sample of dreams could thus tell something about how somebody's mind works, but individually, they don't mean a whole lot.

Luthien Rising: Some would say, I think, that this is another continuum: that sleeping dreams and waking daydreams and waking visions are not really different kinds, just different degrees.

B. Is Irmo the God of foresight (i.e. visions) – even though we are told that Námo (the Death God) is the foresighted one?

Aragonvaar: He's not in charge of *that* kind of vision, primarily: see above.

Beren IV: Is Irmo the god of forsight or the god of inspiration?

Luthien Rising: But visions are not always foresight, are they? They can also be visions of past events or of the present elsewhere or of futures that simply might be.

C. The gardens of Lórien are the “fairest places” in the world. How does that relate to dreams and visions?

Aragonvaar: Dunno.  Makes sense though.

Beren IV: They're dreamlands, where one dreams of, where the beauty is so great that it cannot possibly be real...

Estë – The Text

<font face=Times New Roman size=2> Estë the gentle, healer of hurts and of weariness, is his spouse. Grey is her raiment; and rest is her gift. She walks not by day, but sleeps upon an island in the tree-shadowed lake of Lórellin. From the fountains of Irmo and Estë all those who dwell in Valinor draw refreshment; and often the Valar come themselves to Lórien and there find repose and easing of the burden of Arda.

Estë – Discussion

D. Now that you’ve met Estë, Goddess of Healing and Rest, do any parts of Lord of the Rings take on new meaning?

Erather: As for Este, I assume you're suggesting that Gandalf should introduce Frodo to her.

Beren IV: How Frodo gets rested in various places and restores his strength? Well somebody had to do it. That said, I think that meeting Estë may be the only way to finally cure Frodo's wound, and perhaps replace his lost finger while they're at it! :)

Luthien Rising: Well, it certainly made *Loth*lorien seem like just an echo of Lorien.

E. The Valar themselves come to Lórien for its healing and refreshing effects. In what other ways might the Valar serve their fellows with their gifts and powers? Are they obliged to do so?

Aragonvaar: "obliged" might be a bad way of putting it.  Of course they put their gifts at each other's service, I have the feeling they delight in it, but "obligation" implies an absence of charity and an emphasis on strict justice that simply doesn't seem typical of their dealings w/ each other.

Beren IV: Aulë makes armor for the War of the Powers in the Book of Lost Tales, at least (I don't remember for the Sil itself). Varda makes light...

The Fëanturi – Discussion

F. Why are the God of Dreams and the God of Death linked as brothers, The Fëanturi, in Tolkien’s mythology?

Aragonvaar: Namo's province is Fate, not death; Irmo's province is the primal creative impulse, not just dreams.  Creativity drives Fate, Fate drives Creativity.

Estelwyn: The Dreamtime Your idea of dreams/visions as an expression of the "creative implulse" reminds me of how the Koori (Australian Aboriginal) creation stories are set in The Dreamtime.  I don't know much detail about this (I think there was isnging involved too?) so it's an incomplete thought, but there seems a connection here (I just can't quite get hold of it).  Maybe somone who knows more about The Dreamtime can help?

 Aragonvaar: I've seen some conflicting mentions of the Dreamtime... Some mentions as a "period of creation" that actually corresponds to the era before the Valar withdrew to Aman rather handily, some as a state of mind to which mystics can still transcend during "walkabout" or other experiences.  I don't know which is accurate, but it's certainly food for thought.

Erather: Death and dreams

To die to sleep,

To sleep, perchance to dream; Aye, there's the rub,

For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil

Must give us pause.

Who says they're not brothers?

Beren IV: A throwback. In BoLT, all the Valar have fraternal relationships with each-other.

Luthien Rising: Interesting question. Perhaps it's a wished-for continuum: that our better dreams should be a vision of what death will be like (rather than the darkness, the nothingness, of dreamless sleep).

Stanislaus Bocian: Sleep and Death Hypnos (both Sleep and Dream) is brother of Thanatos (Death) in the Greek mythology.


Iliad, translation by Pope, Book XIV:


Then taking wing from Athos' lofty steep,

She speeds to Lemnos o'er the rolling deep,

And seeks the cave of Death's half-brother, Sleep. "


Iliad, translated by Lang, Book XVI:


"Then Zeus

that gathereth the clouds spake to Apollo: "Prithee, dear Phoebus, go

take Sarpedon out of range of darts, and cleanse the black blood from

him, and thereafter bear him far away, and bathe him in the streams of

the river, and anoint him with ambrosia, and clothe him in garments that

wax not old, and send him to be wafted by fleet convoy, by the twin

brethren Sleep and Death, that quickly will set him in the rich land of

wide Lykia. There will his kinsmen and clansmen give him burial, with

barrow and pillar, for such is the due of the dead."


Aeneid translated by Dryden Book VI:


"Just in the gate and in the jaws of hell,

Revengeful Cares and sullen Sorrows dwell,

And pale Diseases, and repining Age,

Want, Fear, and Famine's unresisted rage;

Here Toils, and Death, and Death's half-brother, Sleep,

Forms terrible to view, their sentry keep;  "


Ibant obscuri sola sub nocte per umbram

perque domos Ditis uacuas et inania regna:

quale per incertam lunam sub luce maligna               270

est iter in siluis, ubi caelum condidit umbra

Iuppiter, et rebus nox abstulit atra colorem.

uestibulum ante ipsum primisque in faucibus Orci

Luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae,

pallentesque habitant Morbi tristisque Senectus,               275

et Metus et malesuada Fames ac turpis Egestas,

terribiles uisu formae, Letumque Labosque;

tum consanguineus Leti Sopor et mala mentis

Gaudia, mortiferumque aduerso in limine Bellum,

ferreique Eumenidum thalami et Discordia demens               280

uipereum crinem uittis innexa cruentis.


Link:  Aeneid 

G. Death’s wife is Memory; and The Dreamer’s wife is Healing. Do these marriages make sense? Would it make any difference if they swapped wives?

Aragonvaar: Namo and Vaire are conservative/preservative in function, whereas Irmo and Este are constructive in function.

Beren IV: It's Prophecy married to History and Dreams married to Rest. Put that way, it's much more reasonable.

Luthien Rising: (This isn't the last question?) Well, it's nicer to think that we can heal in repose during our lifetimes rather than have to wait for death. And some things are better forgotten -- for a while.

Images of the Fëanturi

<a href="">Here</a> are some images of the Fëanturi and their spouses.

 H. Is there something about Lórien that resists art (enlarging won’t help here)?

Aragonvaar: yah think? :D

Beren IV: How are you supposed to draw the lord of Dreams? I also think that the pic by Espeleta does not look at all like what I picture.

Luthien Rising: Interesting -- there oughtn't to be. Haven't we all found solace in some sort of garden? Maybe it's just the wrong artists trying this one?

Piled Higher and Deeper

The Valaquenta has its roots in Tolkien’s original sketches of his mythology back in the years after World War I, and he revised the material repeatedly over the years. <a href="">Here</a> is a chart of the evolution of Irmo and Estë.

I. What changes do you see in Tolkien’s conception of Irmo and Estë?

Aragonvaar: Don't remember.  Haven't been following these charts, as I'm not sure if they'll load properly on my comp.  Been relying on my memories of the Lost Tales.

Kimi: Este gets upgraded as the mythology develops. She goes from being "pale" (anemic? Needs a holiday?) to being a healer, with her own fountains. I wonder if the fountains of Lorien have any connection with Ulmo.

I imagine these two with "The Dance of the Blessed Spirits" playing in the background.

Beren IV: More and more details, as well as name changes. As usual, the wife isn't mentioned in the first version.

Extra Credit

J. Are nightmares just Irmo in a bad mood from too much spicy food?

Aragonvaar: They're Irmo telling you that Taco Bell burritos are uncreative  :)

Beren IV: I get the feeling that Irmo isn't the only one who does dreams. Even then, maybe they aren't supposed to be nightmares - just thrillers - but mortals can't tell the difference! :)

Luthien Rising: No -- they're only nightmares because we are afraid of them. If we ceased to fear, they would cease to be nightmares. (And spicy food makes people happy.)

<a href="">Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>

6:00 PM The Valaquenta: Nienna, Goddess of Sorrow

Nienna – The Text

 Mightier than Estë is Nienna, sister of the Fëanturi; she dwells alone. She is acquainted with grief, and mourns for every wound that Arda has suffered in the marring of Melkor. So great was her sorrow, as the Music unfolded, that her song turned to lamentation long before its end, and the sound of mourning was woven into the themes of the World before it began. But she does not weep for herself; and those who hearken to her learn pity, and endurance in hope. Her halls are west of West, upon the borders of the world; and she comes seldom to the city of Valimar where all is glad. She goes rather to the halls of Mandos, which are near to her own; and all those who wait in Mandos cry to her, for she brings strength to the spirit and turns sorrow to wisdom. The windows of her house look outward from the walls of the world.”

Nienna – Discussion

Curious: Sad songs, they say so much. Nienna does not cry for herself, so she would not be a bore.  Instead she would be like the saddest music in the world, or the saddest movie; and if you could bring yourself to visit her, it would be a profound cathartic and healing experience.  Note that she is mightier than Este, for who can heal before they grieve?  I feel sure Nienna will play a part in Frodo's healing.

A. Nienna, like Ulmo, dwells alone without a spouse. Any connection?

Lucia: sorrow and wisdom I wonder if she creates enough tears to connect with Ulmo through the water...:)

Erather: Weep and you weep alone. No, Nienna dwells alone because such intense mourning doesn't bode well for a congenial marriage.  But it seems Olorin hangs out with her quite a lot...

Kimi: Nienna thoughts Nienna has no spouse because she's concerned with all living beings rather than desiring a special relationship with any one.

Beren IV: Gloom and Doom, indeed! Both of them are otherwise pretty solitary, it would appear. And no, I don't think that Olorin is very interested in the opposite sex.

Luthien Rising: what erather said We experience sorrow most fully when it we are alone.

Aragonvaar: The Bachelor/Bachelorette Valar of "challenge" Ulmo, Nienna, and Melkor are all spouseless, and Tulkas only married after he came to Arda.  I belive these four were originally meant by Eru to personify "challenge", the idea that conventional thinking and conventional sentiments aren't always enough, a source of stimulus and "friction" (in the good sense; as a physical phenomenon, friction is necessary to life and movement) to the other Ainur.  Melkor turned his powers to destructive/counterproductive pursuits, Tulkas proved too "primal" to be good for Arda w/o a balancing "gentle" principle (ie Nessa).  That leaves the "softer", subtler nonconformists: Ulmo and Nienna.

B. In three different phrases Tolkien suggests how sadness can give strength. Is he right? Does sorrow rate a mighty Goddess?

Lucia: I dont think he is saying that sadness gives strength. I think he is saying that one can learn wisdom, compassion and become stronger through sorrow and suffering.  She is a healer who helps people endure their suffering (she can feel it all, there is no suffering that is too great for her to be with), survive it and transform it into something useful. Yes, she rates as a mighty Goddess.

Erather: That which does not kill us makes us strong.  Yes, there is enough sorrow in the world to keep a very mighty goddess busy.

Kimi: Nienna's sorrow has a special quality: there's no element of self-pity. Such intense sorrow completely for others is not common among us mortals. Nienna has great powers of empathy, so that she feels the sorrows of others. Perhaps it is in part the awareness that she is sharing their sorrows that makes Nienna give strength to the sorrowful.

Beren IV: Well, it's healing, but of a different sort. Estë is physical healing; Nienna is emotional healing, acceptance, and so on.

C. ”Turns sorrow to wisdom” rings a Lord of the Rings bell to me. Where? Why?

Lucia: There is such a tone of sadness that always is present in LotR.  I think it comes from the destruction caused by evil, from the steady observations of how things are weaker, ruined or lost from the older days, from the suffering of the characters, from the ending of the age and the departing Elves and wizards. Not to mention the intense poignancy of Frodo's westward journey.  I think it is a fundamental need of human nature to find meaning in our suffering and thus we create stories in which the suffering has a clear purpose and positive outcome.  Tolkien, a consummate storyteller, does his job well.

FantasyFan: turns sorrow to wisdom I think what you may have been remembering is what is Aragorn says to Pippin of Merry, while he is lying in the houses of healing.

"‘Do not be afraid,’ said Aragorn.  ‘I came in time, and I have called him back.  He is weary now, and grieved, and he has taken a hurt like the Lady Éowyn, daring to smite that deadly thing.  But these evils can be amended, so strong and gay a spirit is in him.  His grief he will not forget; but it will not darken his heart, it will teach him wisdom.’"

Interestingly, Aragorn is said to embody the characteristics of wisdom and mercy (said to Saruman) and he also speaks of his perception of Eowyn with sorrow and pity.  The Ents also have their own sorrow and wisdom.  But I think for me it is Gandalf, his face lined with care and wisdom, who most clearly embodies this combination:

"A deadly sword, a healing hand,

a back that bent beneath its load;

a trumpet-voice, a burning brand,

a weary pilgrim on the road.


A lord of wisdom throned he sat,

swift in anger, quick to laugh;

an old man in a battered hat

who leaned upon a thorny staff."

          Ransom: That poem chokes me up everytime

Kimi: Nienna's description brings to mind the "Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief". One of the titles of the BVM is "Our Lady of Sorrows", so perhaps Nienna shows one aspect of Mary.

Beren IV: Been pointed out. Also, "It was pity that stayed Bilbo's hand!"

D. Nienna is the sister of the Fëanturi brethren – why is she not one the Fëanturi? Is it a guy thing?

Beren IV: Another throwback, I think.

Aragonvaar: Nienna isn't about freedom from grief but about accepting it and transmuting it into something positive.  It is reasonable that she be sister to creativity and Fate, sister-in-law to Healing and Memory.

Images of Nienna

<a href="">Here</a> are some images of Nienna.

 E. How to illustrate sorrow? Are there any still images (painting or sculpture) you’ve seen that convey the quality of grief and pity that Tolkien ascribes to Nienna (post or link, if you can)?

Kimi: Depicting sorrow is hard. Let's face it: red, swollen eyes and nose, fluids less romantic than tears... you get the picture. Valar probably don't suffer from those things, though.

Here's a detail from a fresco that I found a powerful expression of grief and loss "in the flesh", though I'm afraid that the reproduction doesn't do it justice.

Beren IV: Not sure if I know; the pictures do a reasonable job, though.

Luthien Rising: I'm not sure that sorrow of this degree can be illustrated -- at least not by showing the one who sorrows. It is deep within that it is felt; tears are only superficial and can show many degrees of sadness. I suspect that great sorrow is best illustrated abstractly.

Piled Higher and Deeper

Nienna has always been among the Valar, but Tolkien’s “placement” of her has varied quite a bit. <a href="">Here</a> is a chart of the evolution of Nienna.

F. What changes do you see in Tolkien’s conception of Nienna, as reflected in her different placements in the “family”?

Beren IV: She moves around, doesn't she ;) That she's always in the same bunch as either Mandos or Vairë does mean something, which I think is pretty obvious.

Luthien Rising: This really is interesting. I do think that she ended up in the right place: we cannot help but connect deep grief with death, because it is death that makes us most alone. But in doing so Tolkien left us without a goddess of death -- indeed, we have a keeper of the houses of the dead, but not really a god or goddess of death itself.

Extra Credit

You’re just a working Noldo, tired from a long week of singing and pottery making. You have been invited to Nienna’s annual garden party on the borders of the world. Her crying-jags are legendary, and that’s when she’s happy -- too bad she’s never happy. And let’s hope she hasn’t invited her drag of a brother Mandos and his boring PhD-for-Dull wife, but let’s face it, she always does.

G. How would you beg out of a garden party of the Gods of Gloom and Doom?

Erather: Plead a previous engagement at chez Tulkas.

Kimi: I'd be washing my hair that day.

Beren IV: Honestly, I don't think I'd find Vairë all that boring...

Squire: Sure, Vairë's the best of the three I like history, too. I might find someone who knows all of history, and has illustrated it in weavings, a little intimidating -- not to mention that anyone who could stand to be married to Mandos must have some kind of weird personality disorder -- but mostly I was just having fun at the expense of the Ph.D.'s among us.

Luthien Rising: A really bad headache? Unbearable joy? A necessary trip to the far end of Middle-earth to battle the forces of evil?

Aragonvaar: Depending on my mood, I might actually want to go to Nienna's party!

<a href="">Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>

6:00 PM The Valaquenta: Tulkas, God of Strength

Tulkas – The Text

 “Greatest in strength and deeds of prowess is Tulkas, who is surnamed Astaldo, the Valiant. He came last to Arda, to aid the Valar in the first battles with Melkor. He delights in wrestling and in contests of strength; and he rides no steed, for he can outrun all things that go on feet, and he is tireless. His hair and beard are golden, and his flesh ruddy; his weapons are his hands. He has little heed for either the past or the future, and is of no avail as a counsellor, but is a hardy friend.

Tulkas – Discussion

Kimi: Tulkas and Nessa seem far less ethereal than most of the Elves that we see in LOTR. They seem more earthy, to use a term that may be appropriate on more than one level.

Curious: Tulkas is increasingly irrelevant as the Valar, over time, turn from direct action to wise counsel.  However according to one account (not included in this version of The Silmarillion) he still has one more role to play at the end of time, in the Final Battle.

Still, I wonder whether Tulkas and the other Valar are capable of sending avatars and representatives to Middle-earth, or channeling their spirit through the Children of Iluvatar.  How else would Men be familiar with them?  Orome seems to lend Theoden strength on the Pelennor Fields.  Might Tulkas lend his strength to Helm Hammerhand, Bullroarer Took, Beorn, and other legendary warriors who seem to have a bit of Tulkas in them?

Squire: Very nice point, Curious! Tulkas as the protypical Hero of Tolkien's works: I like that a lot more than the bosom buddy with the golden hair and the bad advice.

Oh well, too bad it's so late in the week. We're off the page. Here I am archiving these things, and you weigh in with an excellent point! I hope you will continue to show us links between the Valar and the events of LotR. It would be a thread in itself, and a rich one indeed.

I refrained from pushing it (I invited people several times to indulge, but didn't get much back in the way of specifics), because I feared LotR might take over a Silmarillion discussion.

Nevertheless I would find much to think about in both the presence of the Valar, as we now know them, in the LotR; and also the plain fact that Tolkien deliberately omitted them from his epic. They are there, as you note well; but they are not there, too. The reader needs them not. Should he have enriched his story with them (subtly now, to be sure)?

Or is the Third Age story deliberately ambiguous because the Valar have withdrawn from the foreground; and Tolkien wished to highlight the contrast between Faerie and the Mortal Lands (as we have discussed), rather than insert his older, more baldly mythological, and frankly more unbelievable, Valinorean structures into a heroic romance?

Curious: I wonder indeed. At one point before publication Tolkien considered it absolutely vital that The Silmarillion be published before LotR; so much so that he delivered an ultimatum, and his publisher turned him down.  Only when a second publisher got cold feet did he reluctantly accept that LotR would have to be published first.  Then after LotR became a success it was Tolkien who had cold feet and delayed the publication of The Silmarillion, in part because he realized that the far-off background of The Silmarillion was no small part of the magic of LotR, but to walk into that background might spoil the magic.

Tolkien once said that it was often best to leave things unexplained in a story, especially if an explanation existed.  He must have had two conflicting desires: one to explain everything, and the other to explain nothing.  I think, in the end, he realized he could never quite finish The Silmarillion, but he certainly saved everything for Christopher Tolkien, and hoped that somehow it would all get published; which, remarkably, it has

A. Is Tulkas a God of War, or of Athletics?

Drogo drogo: Tulkas as the god of physicality Well, to paraphrase Anold Schwartzenegger who was paraphrasing his own parody on SNL, Tulkas is definitely NOT the "god" of girlie men!  He really doesn't seem to be a patron of any one particular aspect of Arda, though, coming as late as he does into the game.  We could probably be safe saying he's the patron of athletics or better yet, the patron of the body itself.  Why not say he's the god of physicality?

Erather: When do we get to the laughing part? War appears indistinguishable from sport to this guy.  I'll back him for the decathlon, though.

Squire: Don't be shy, erather

I ignored the laughing part.

But you don't have to.

Notice how the laughing part is picked up in the Orome passage, by the way.

Ho, ho, ho, hahahaha!!

Erather: Sad that the most vivid description of Tulkas is found in the paragraph ostensibly devoted to Orome!  Wonder why Tolkien did that... the compelling image of Tulkas laughing in the face of Melkor completely outshines a lot of the more mundane descriptions, even though they had lots of good adjectives.

Beren IV: Whistles at the work in progress He's the God of Heroism, which might be said to include both.

NZ Strider: Quick thoughts... Where is the difference between war and the ritualised combat of the playing fields?  The two go together; and we all know where the Battle of Waterloo was won.  Besides, remember "Original Semantic Unity": "ágOn" in Greek is both a battle and sport-match.  We who have changed all the words see them as war and sport as two things; our ancestors may have seen them as one.

Aragonvaar: The jolliest war-god.... Tulkas's attribute is courage; his distrust of Melkor is probably rooted in his instinctive recognition of the latter's cowardice. 

Tulkas grew out of a fairly generic bloodthirsty Tyr/Mars wannabe in the BoLT, if memory serves.  I find this big-hearted lunk a fascinating contrast to most wargods.

Interestingly, Tolkien eschews any suggestion of an "intellectual" component to the war-god(s): there is no goddess of military theory, ala Minerva, and although Nessa has a somewhat "Diana-like" quality, she is no ruthless virgin huntress.

Aragonvaar: Forgot to add...(w/ a question) That C. S. Lewis "baptized" the Mars-myth in almost the complete opposite direction from Tolkien: his Malacandra (Mars) is sort of like a benevolent version of a Basil Rathbone villain (the kind you see in movies like Mark of Zorro w/ Tyrone Power): he's incisive in his thought processes; generous in a detached and understated way; bracing; coldly intense and possessed of a very dry sense of humor.

Any thoughts on this interesting dichotomoy between the way these two friends envision a "benign" wargod?

B. Does the term Big Dumb Hunk creep unbidden into your mind as you ponder this ancient and holy text?

Drogo drogo: Uh, yes, but I was thinking more of a Hercules figure than the Incredible Hulk.

Erather: He might be great fun at a party, but don't get him drunk.

Beren IV: I also agree that he's more of a Heracles-like figure - got more smarts than you might guess, but not as much as some of the other Valar - sort of idea.

NZ Strider: Nah, not really.  Tulkas after all was *not* taken in by Melkor when Melkor acted contrite.  So, I give him some credit for perspicacity.  In a word (so to speak!) he saw right through Melkor.

Luthien Rising: (mmm ... brad pitt ...) This really is odd. I honestly couldn't figure out what Tulkas was doing there. Though I suppose you could say that it's nice to have a god of war who isn't all anger and fire.

Modtheow: The Incredible Tulk I have somewhat disjointed associations with Tulkas, and I’m not sure that they connect into any coherent idea, but when I read about Tulkas I can’t help thinking of the Middle English word “tulk” which is usually translated as “man” or “knight” and which comes from the Old Norse word “tulkr” which means something like “spokesman.”  By some weird path of association, I then think of the Green Knight (the word “tulk” is used several times in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) – the Green Knight is a physically huge, handsome, and powerful being who likes a laugh.  The fact that Tulkas can wrestle also makes me think of Chaucer’s Miller, who is not a noble character by any means, but he is someone who is strong (he can break down doors by running at them with his head), who likes to laugh, and who always wins the prize at wrestling.   The Miller would enjoy the fact that Tulkas got tired out on his wedding night (eh? eh? know what I mean?).  The fact that Tulkas’s weapons are his hands reminds me of another medieval strongman, Beowulf, who has the strength of 30 men in his handgrip.  All of these images may simply amount to what others have already said: Tulkas is a god of physicality.

                      Pukel-Man: Thanks for that. Very interesting.

C. Why does Tulkas rate the actual beginnings of a physical description?

Drogo drogo: His physicality is his most important aspect, since he is not associated with some of the primal natural forces of Arda.

Erather: Because he's more consistent in his fleshly attire, lacking any other.

Kimi: Tulkas seems to delight in physicality and all that goes with it. He seems more a Hero than a god.

Beren IV: Tulkas is more of a physical being than any of the others!

NZ Strider: He rates a physical description because he is above all a physical actor.

Luthien Rising: I think it's hard to have physicality the basis of a character's being without moving into description.

D. Greatest in strength: does this mean he is “stronger” than Manwë, or Aulë, or Ulmo? What is “strength” to a God?

Drogo drogo: He is the greatest in terms of bodily strength in his incarnated form.  Manwe and the others have greater spiritual strength and greater bonds to nature (air, water, earth, etc.).  Tulkas, though, has all of his energy channeled into his physicality, so can hogtie Melkor better than any of them.

Erather: We're looking at muscles here, not thunderbolt hurling.  That's a different event.  I think the key word here is "strength" as opposed to "power".  Power is what Manwë, Aulë, and Ulmo have (as well as brains).

Beren IV: Something that Tolkien hadn't thought out ;) Basically, this means that the physical forms that Tulkas can manifest are more physically powerful than what the other Valar can do, even though the other Valar may be able to do things through other means that are greater than Tulkas.

NZ Strider: What is strength to a Vala?  Good question; I have no idea.  Original Semantic Unity should cover whatever it was for a Vala as well as what it is for us mortals.

Luthien Rising: He doesn't choose to use his energy on creative activity or knowledge; he chooses to express it physically. Maybe they each have just so much energy?

E. Tulkas “came last to Arda”. Could other Valar still be waiting to come to Arda?

Drogo drogo: There are probably other Ainur who look down, but I sense that Eru would not let any others come down.  The Valar and Maiar were the ones to govern Arda for the duration of the experiment, and Tulkas was sent down as a one-time emergency aid to Manwe.

Beren IV: Another holdover, I think. Perhaps Tulkas decided last in the Timeless Halls? I tend to envision all of the Valar as being physically in Arda from time zero, so that would mean last to join from the outside.

NZ Strider: Yes.

Luthien Rising: They choose to come into Arda, so I suppose they could choose at any time.

F. Tulkas is a “hardy friend” despite his useless advice. Sounds good, but “hardy friend” to whom? To you and me? Anyone who beats him at arm-wrestling?

Drogo drogo: He's a man's man.  Gung-ho, but not too bright.  Maybe it's because he laughs too much...

Erather: Anyone that strong gets to pick his friends.  If he only befriends folks who can beat him at arm-wrestling, he's going to be a lonely guy.

Beren IV: Ally? ;)

NZ Strider: A "hardy friend"?  We could all use a hardy friend.  Besides, Tulkas seems a good sport -- if he beat you at arm-wrestling, he'd agree to play draughts with you because he knew you'd beat him at that and even up the score.

Luthien Rising: Got a bit of an issue with Tulkas, do you?  ;-)

Nessa – The Text

 His spouse is Nessa, the sister of Oromë, and she also is lithe and fleetfooted. Deer she loves, and they follow her train whenever she goes in the wild; but she can outrun them, swift as an arrow with the wind in her hair. In dancing she delights, and she dances in Valimar on lawns of never-fading green.

Nessa – Discussion

G. Nessa seems to be the Goddess of the Dance, if anything, although she also seems the Goddess of the 400-meter dash. How does her power, or her attributes, relate to Tulkas?

Drogo drogo: Nessa is a kind of Diana figure, a very physical, athletic deity.  She's thus a good complement to Tulkas.

Erather: Very compatible.  At least she'll be able to keep up with him.

Kimi: Nessa, as the most energetic of the female Valar, does seem an appropriate spouse for Tulkas. These two both enjoy their "embodiments", so I suppose it's natural that they are the two who appear to have a rather enthusiastic marital relationship.

Nessa appears only once in The Silmarillion. Early on, she weds Tulkas, and dances for the Valar’s entertainment; and the implication is that Tulkas, worn out from his wedding night with Nessa (say no more, nudge, nudge, wink, wink), sleeps and neglects his guard so that Melkor slips back onto Middle-earth.

Beren IV: She's the Goddess of movement, which includes dance, running, flight, etc.

Luthien Rising: Speed, strength, agility -- all different expressions of physicality, really. In a sense, though, matching the "dumb" physicality of Tulkas with the elegant physicality of Nessa might suggest that we need to value Tulkas's physicality more highly than some of us are perhaps inclined to do. It's our bad, not Tolkien's.

 Aragonvaar: Nessa and Tulkas to some extent fit a "hawk and dove" romantic archetype that underlies some of my favorite anime series: Mospeada, for one.  The idea is that mere combative courage is vicious or meaningless w/o someone to protect or fight for, and mere gentleness and playfulness are doomed, in this harsh and complicated world, unless allied w/ the kind of courage cited above.  Tolkien makes Nessa physically athletic partly to make her a better match for Tulkas, partly to emphasize that "playfulness" and noncombativeness does not equal passiveness.

H. Why doesn’t Nessa get more to do than this rather hot but discreditable deed? Is Nessa nessasary?

Drogo drogo: As for whether she is necessary, she's a means to integrate this big thug into the fold of Valinor.  When he's not fighting, he needs some other activity to burn off all that energy.

Erather: Whenever we find ourselves wondering what the Valar do as the millennia pass, we can imagine Nessa's providing the entertainment.  Sounds worthwile to me.

Beren IV: I do not remember that event. I will wait until we reach that part of the story before commenting. I think that a "work-in-progress"-type grain of salt might be needed :)

Luthien Rising: Necessary? Yes, but not conducive to narrative. We see those characters most whose natures lend themselves to heroic narrative.

Images of Tulkas and Nessa

<a href="">Here</a> are some images of Tulkas and Nessa.

I. Any comments? What’s up with Dan Govar, anyway?

Beren IV: What's wrong with him?

NZ Strider: Govar went for a brawny Thor as the model for Tulkas.  I'm not sure I like the armour which Govar chose though -- it seems more "modern" than "historic."

Luthien Rising: Boy, some people really like muscles, don't they! I've always gone for the skinny type, myself.

Piled Higher and Deeper

The Valaquenta has its roots in Tolkien’s original sketches of his mythology back in the years after World War I, and he revised the material repeatedly over the years. <a href="">Here</a> is a chart of the evolution of Tulkas and Nessa.

J. Why did Tolkien “clean up” Tulkas in his final draft?

Erather: Because the image of this great bronze divinity unclad might inspire too much slash.

Kimi: *Is shocked* Tulkas was into naked wrestling? I must've read that, but erased the vision from my mind. I wonder if Christopher edited a few words out of that description for publication, or if JRRT himself decided to draw a veil over... never mind.

Beren IV: Getting more devoutly Catholic, possibly. I think it hurts the characterization, personally - but then I'm not Catholic.

Luthien Rising: Tulkas's nakedness is just so Greek Gymnasium -- maybe just too much. I see the various illustrators haven't read those earlier versions ...

Modtheow: And maybe Tolkien put Tulkas’s clothes back on in his later version because a naked wrestling Tulkas might look too much like a Greek god.  Anyway, I’d like to know more about his great love for Fionwe, son of Manwe (now how did I get on that tangent?).

Extra Credit

You are Brad Pitt’s agent. Brad is offered the part of Tulkas in Peter Jackson’s new movie, The Silmarillion. You hear that that kid from the New Zealand whale movie is playing Nessa, and you’re a dubious agent. You read The Silmarillion script—at least you have your assistant do it—and she’s given you the scoop; and now you’re an unhappy agent. The money is excellent.

K. What do you advise Brad to do?

Erather: Sounds perfect to me, Achilles with a better attitude.  Back to the gym, Brad.

Beren IV: Kill this project as soon as it starts! Peter Jackson did a wonderful job with the Lord of the Rings, and I sincerely hope that he does The Hobbit, too - but I don't want him to so much as TOUCH the Sil! :)

NZ Strider: I'd advise Brad to take acting lessons.

Luthien Rising: (I'm Brad Pitt's agent? That would help my debtload some!) I'd first check out the rumour mill for who else was taking up cameos in The Sil: The Movie. Then I'd advise Brad to bulk up and ask for really skimpy costumes :-)

Lottelita: Costumes that you, as his agent would be in prime position to vet.

"Hmmm, I think the skirt should be a little shorter, Pittsy.  Here, lemme hold it up a bit and show you what I'm thinking."

Aragonvaar: I'd give Pretty Boy a pair of galoshes and send him on a one way trip to Ulmo, then go to work for Jeremy Northam instead. I'd rather be an agent to someone who can act, sing, and read semi-complicated books as well as look good.  :P

<a href="">Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>

12:00 AM The Valaquenta: Oromë, God of the Hunt

Oromë – The Text

 “Oromë is a mighty lord. If he is less strong than Tulkas, he is more dreadful in anger; whereas Tulkas laughs ever, in sport or in war, and even in the face of Melkor he laughed in battles before the Elves were born. Oromë loved the lands of Middle-earth, and he left them unwillingly and came last to Valinor; and often of old he passed back east over the mountains and returned with his host to the hills and the plains. He is a hunter of monsters and fell beasts, and he delights in horses and in hounds; and all trees he loves, for which reason he is called Aldaron, and by the Sindar Tauron, the Lord of Forests. Nahar is the name of his horse, white in the sun, and shining silver at night. The Valaróma is the name of his great horn, the sound of which is like the upgoing of the Sun in scarlet, or the sheer lightning cleaving the clouds. Above all the horns of his host it was heard in the woods that Yavanna brought forth in Valinor; for there Oromë would train his folk and his beasts for the pursuit of the evil creatures of Melkor.”

Oromë – Discussion

Curious: Was Orome present in Theoden and in Fingolfin, during there respective charges in LotR and The Silmarillion, when they were compared to him?  I can't help feeling that he was, which opens a wide door to the Valar being involved in Middle-earth even though they are not present.  Sauron did a similar trick with the Witch-king at the gates of Minas Tirith, and Morgoth did a similar trick with Glaurung vs. Turin.  Ulmo did a similar trick with Tuor in Gondolin.  The Valar do not have to visit Middle-earth to channel themselves through one of their faithful servants.  Which means that although they no longer visit in person, they may have a far greater presence than most readers think.  We should look for the Valar in the rest of The Silmarillion, even where they are not named.  This chapter gives us the list of clues.

A. Oromë is the God of the Hunt, a traditionally aristocratic role. What does this say about the Elves’ society in these tales?

Penthe: complementary couples in creation Elves see the Valar as an elite? They're not really your mucking in for a round of hearty drinking songs kind of mob, are they?

Beren IV: Hunting Elves Elves like to hunt? That we know - Thranduil takes his friends hunting. I tend to see Elves as semi-nomadic, and hunting is a big part of their lives. Lordship isn't necessarily the think to think of, here.

NZ Strider: Some quick thoughts... Oromë's hunt puts me in mind of various legends of a spectral hunt, e.g. that by Wodin in Germanic legend.  I like to think of him rounding up the wild kine (aurochs or whatever they were) on the great plains of Rhûn... 

Is the hunt really so aristocratic?  Can't it be a communal activity?  I'm thinking more of smaller, tribal socities when the community would send out a party of men whose job it was, in coöperation, to bring down game (say, an auroch) which a single man could not possibly hope to seize on his own.  Can't it be that kind of a hunt?

Luthien Rising: (Posted before reading Penthe below ...) I'm not sure it says anything about aristocracy, because before the hunt was aristocratic it was necessary.

B. Ulmo and Oromë both dislike being in the social center of the Valar, in Valinor, but prefer their own domains. Is this a meaningful parallel? Does anger have anything to do with it?

Penthe: Anger, and in Orome's case, grief. Lots of grieving going on here. Maybe an attachment to the less predictable and less perfect realms also suggests to us that these characters are less into doom and judgement and telling others what to do. Manwe and Mandos don't like surprises, but someone into hunting and fond of animals would seem to appreciate strands of being other than his own much more.

Beren IV: They're both wild nature-deities, one of the sea, one of the land. They're wild; they're not civilized, good as they may be.

NZ Strider: Oromë is a little like Ulmo, but not quite.  Both prefer not so much their own domains, but are unwilling to give up Middle-earth and the active fight against Melkor.  Of course Oromë does in the end.

Luthien Rising: I don't think they are away in similar ways. Oromë seems to be trying to be near the Elves, no? That's quite different from Ulmo's restless solitariness.


Having heard of the “trumpets of Manwë” (they’re loud) and the “great horns, the Ulumúri” of Ulmo (they’re unforgettable), now we cower before the great hunting horn Valaróma.

C. The horn’s sound is described with visual images…why doesn’t Tolkien use similes of sounds? What natural force does it represent?

Penthe: This sound is bigger than sound. It creates a wall of sound that encompasses all other senses. This feeling over being overwhelmed by sound and light together is such a violent but beautiful way of describing something marvellous and strange.

Kimi: I love your answer to C! A sound bigger than sound. Marvellous!

Ataahua: Regarding being overwhelmed by sight and sound, I'm reminded of the time that my local rugby football team, Taranaki, defended the Ranfurly Shield at home.  Think of the most parochial sports competition possible, with the most worth-shedding-blood-over trophy, and you get the idea.  Also consider that it had been about 30 years since Taranaki had last held the shield.

I was standing on the sideline (so near the centre of the stadium) when the team ran onto the field and the roar of the crowd reach such an indescribable volume and pitch that I felt I was standing behind the engines of an international aircraft primed for takeoff.  The noise actually got to such a point that my vision started to shudder - it had become sound that was bigger than sound, and was affecting more than just the aural senses.

Something similar for Orome's horn, perhaps?

Beren IV: Thunder, obviously!

NZ Strider: It is, as you say, striking that Tolkien uses a visual image to describe the sound -- but precisely that juxtaposition may have appealed to Tolkien. 

Vána – The Text

 “The spouse of Oromë is Vána, the Ever-young; she is the younger sister of Yavanna. All flowers spring as she passes and open if she glances upon them; and all birds sing at her coming.”

Vána – Discussion

D. What is Vána the Goddess of? (I happen to know, because I have the Study Guide, that she is sort of the Goddess of Spring and Flowers. Is that clear to you?) In what way is she the “younger sister” of Yavanna?

Beren IV: Beauty, what else? I don't know why your Study Guide doesn't catch on to that!

The sister thing is another one of those things where Tolkien hadn't finally worked out all the details to make everything internally consistent.

Luthien Rising: Yavanna's trees are "superior" or greater than Vána's pretty but more transitory flowers and birdsongs.

E. Why is she married to Oromë? Do their qualities complement each other?

Beren IV: The huntsman of nature, the beauty of nature... Do they not complement each other?

Luthien Rising: I think they are similar in that both are dependent on others' creations, especially Yavanna's forests.

F. Vána never appears again in The Silmarillion. Why is Vána here? What are we supposed to make of her?

Penthe: With regards to Vana, Tolkien seems to find it important that marriage is between equals who complement each other, rather than having a lot in common. Enough in common, but lots different too. Vana is the softer face of all of nature, not just plants, but not the face of hunting and eating and biting, either. Orome seems to have a lot to do with, say, the teeth and claws - Vana has more to do with Bambi.

Beren IV: I do not understand why these Goddesses need to appear in the Quenta Silmarillion to not be important. They never play a significant role in those tales, but they may be otherwise quite significant in other aspects. the Quenta Silmarillion is the Account of the Silmarils, and while it covers all the major events of the history of the Elves up until the War of Wrath, it's not the only tale they experienced.

Luthien Rising: She's another of the Valar whose characteristics don't lend to narrative action. Why is she here? I suspect simply to make the numbers right.

Pictures of Oromë and Vána

<a href="">Here</a> are the only images I could find. Just a few, but nice.

G. Re-read the description of him and his equipage, and tell me: does Oromë seem a little “realistic” for the God of the Hunt, as two of these artists have rendered him? Is Ezpeleta completely whacked, or does she get it?

Beren IV: I think that Ezpeleta is closer than the other two, but there are some things that I envision differently.

NZ Strider: I have never understood how Ezpeleta's mind works.  --  I prefer the "realistic" images of the Valar; if Oromë hunted with the Elves, then I imagine him doing so in a shape like unto theirs.  I always imagine the Valar appearing not as frighteningly gigantic or unearthly figures, but rather in the manner of the Children of Ilúvatar so as not to frighten them and so as to interact with them in a form to which they have uncomplicated conceptual access.  This is a fancy way of saying that the Valar appear to the children in the children's image; and there is good precedent for this procedure, of course.

Luthien Rising: I'm quite certain that if Oromë didn't wear clothes Tolkien would have mentioned it. I imagine Oromë as really rather Elf-like.

Piled Higher and Deeper

The Valaquenta has its roots in Tolkien’s original sketches of his mythology back in the years after World War I, and he revised the material repeatedly over the years. <a href="">Here</a>  is a chart of the evolution of Oromë and Vána.

H. What changes do you see in Tolkien’s conceptions of them?

Kimi: Orome was the son of Aule and Yavanna in the earliest (ahem) conception, so perhaps he inherited his tree-love from his mother. Then again, as he married Yavanna's "sister" in all the later versions, it's perhaps best not to explore the Yavanna-as-mother thread.

I notice that Orome is "cleaned up" in the published version to make it clear that he only hunts monsters and fell beasts, not cute little dear or (Eru forbid!) sentient foxes.

Beren IV: 1) Oromë goes from being an especially important Maia to being one of the major Valar.

2) Vana is identified as the Goddess of beauty in the first version, but then that gets downplayed...

Extra credit

Oromë loves the great forest trees. So does Yavanna, who made the immortal woods he roams in for months at a time. But Oromë is married to little Vána, Yavanna’s younger sister, who’s into birdies and pretty flowers.

I. Where am I going with this?

Beren IV: Not sure, and not sure I want to know.

Luthien Rising: You really shouldn't make the students do your work for you :-)

But where you are going, in any case, is that he's too dependent on Yavanna to be her husband.

<a href="">Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>

Wednesday, July 21 – What are the Valar?

6:00 AM The Valaquenta: Why a Pantheon?

The Valar as a Pantheon – The Text

 “These are the names of the Valar and the Valier, and here is told in brief their likenesses, such as the Eldar beheld them in Aman. But fair and noble as were the forms in which they were manifest to the Children of Ilúvatar, they were but a veil upon their beauty and their power. And if little is here said of all that the Eldar once knew, that is as nothing compared with their true being, which goes back into regions and ages far beyond our thought. Among them Nine were of chief power and reverence; but one is removed from their number, and Eight remain, the Aratar, the High Ones of Arda: Manwë and Varda, Ulmo, Yavanna and Aulë, Mandos, Nienna, and Oromë. Though Manwë is their King and holds their allegiance under Eru, in majesty they are peers, surpassing beyond compare all others, whether of the Valar and the Maiar, or of any other order that Ilúvatar has sent into Eä.”

Professor T. explains it all for you

“The cycles begin with a cosmogonical myth: the Music of the Ainur. God and the Valar (or powers: Englished as gods) are revealed. These latter are as we should say angelic powers, whose function is to exercise delegated authority in their spheres (of rule and government, not creation, making or re-making). They are 'divine', that is, were originally 'outside' and existed 'before' the making of the world. Their power and wisdom is derived from their Knowledge of the cosmogonical drama, which they perceived first as a drama (that is as in a fashion we perceive a story composed by some-one else), and later as a 'reality'. On the side of mere narrative device, this is, of course, meant to provide beings of the same order of beauty, power, and majesty as the 'gods' of higher mythology, which can yet be accepted – well, shall we say baldly, by a mind that believes in the Blessed Trinity.” (Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, p. 284)

Why a Pantheon? Eru, the Valar, and Middle-earth

Tolkien seems to want both: a monotheistic world as in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, and a polytheistic pantheon of Gods as in the earlier pagan or mythic tradition.

A. Can he have it? Is there a conflict here?

Drogo drogo: Early a.m. ramblings about religion It's answering questions like these so early that make me regret having switched to decaf! :)

Tolkien's letter makes it clear that he is trying to have his cake and eat it to--that he is trying to create a mythology with a varied pantheon on par with that of Nordic or other ancient religions, but yet keep a Christian superstructure over the entire legendarium.  We should remember that Tolkien was immersed in Anglo-Saxon literature such as Beowulf, in which pagan elements were still present, but subsumed into Christian thought.  For its first millennium or more, Christianity often sought to absorb aspects of pagan thought in order to bring a population used to many gods into the fold of the monotheists.  Even in the much earlier days of Constantine there was a tremendous intermingling of the ancient gods and the new Trinity (early representations of Christ were derived from the traditional depictions of Jupiter, and the cult of the Virgin grew out of the fertility goddess rituals).  Thus having a Christian universe with a pantheon of pagan-looking demigods is not such a radical stretch of mind for a man who immersed himself in historical religious thought of ancient cultures.

Eowynthegreat: Wow! uh, what they said!

Pukel-Man: Within the Tolkien legendarium I'd say there is a tension between the poly- and mono-theistic ideas.  The Valar are, as somebody has already said, a committee rather than a true pantheon because none of the gods, not even Manwe, has authority to make full use of their powers.  They're neutered by their service and their ignorance of Eru's will.  As characters I find them interesting and colourful but as gods they disappoint me; they're rather dull compared to the wilful, independent pantheons of Greek or Norse mythology.

Drogo drogo: They are middle management The Valar are indeed very limited when compared to the gods of Nordic and Classical civilization, and they have very specific spheres of powers.  They really are mid level managers who know as much as they need to do their jobs, but don't have much authority to take initiative.  Manwe has what he knows of Eru's mind to guide him, but in many ways that doesn't protect him from Morgoth's deceits.  Eru, after all, has to change the world for the Valar when Ar-Pharazon lands with his marauders; they need to refer this issue to the top when the going gets rough.

Aragonvaar: A world run by committee... What he describes in the Music of the Ainur is not strictly compatible w/ a literal or near-literal reading Genesis.  But there are interpretations that could reconcile  the two creation stories-I hesitate to try to spell them out right now-it would take a while.  I don't believe that the reconciliation of polytheism and monotheism is that important to Tolkien, except at a literary or aesthetic level.  What is important to him, and what the Christian mainstream of his time usually overlooked, was the idea that subcreation-the creative impulse of created beings-is a valid and important phenomenon, endorsed by the Creator and pleasing to Him when well-used.  For further reading in this school of "theology of creativity" and how it might relate to the professional artist, I recommend D. L. Sayers' "Mind of the Maker", a book Tolkien and Lewis both found fascinating and close to their own theories on the subject.

In the Victorian period, there was a certain amount of fantasizing by poets and so on about how much more "fun" a pantheon would be than just one plain old God: some of the Valar's more "bureaucratic" moments almost look like Tolkien is satirizing the idea.

Erather: Eru's management style, cont'd The God of Judeo-Christian theology has a highly centralized management style: He is omnipotent and omniscient.  Many human cultures, perceiving the extreme complexity of life, the universe, and everything, are a little leery of thinking that a single Power, however mighty, can really manage it all, and attempt to derive some means of delegating responsibility.  Tolkien succeeds brilliantly, constructing a pantheon that features the same centralized overarching God, but then adds several tiers of management (Valar, maiar, etc.) to help with the details.  These management tiers are represented as having more power, authority, and responsibility than biblical angels and archangels, who seem to function mainly as messengers and agents, with little independent initiative.

The Valar are, in many respects, far more attractive than the gods in older pantheons.  They are reasonable, mostly cooperative, responsible, and often loving toward the Children.  Having just been reading the Iliad for the first time, I'm appalled by its quarrelsome, egotistical, and irresponsible gods whose jealousies and rivalries lead to widespread death and destruction among mortals.  What a contrast to Tolkien's model!

Lottelita: I don't see any conflict in Tolkien's attempt to have a polytheistic council of quasi-deities and an overdeity/creator (Eru) who can be viewed as another presentation of the Judeo-Christian God, because early Jews didn't, either.  Whether Satan started out as an angel or one of a council of deities, depends on whom you ask and which version of the Bible you're reading.

Annael: general musings on gods . . . In Taoism "God" is replaced with the concept of the Tao, which is never clearly defined because the basic premise of Taoism is that we are incapable of understanding the totality of the Tao. It's like trying to understand infinity. Many people find this too dry, too distant; what comfort or help is there, really, in shrugging your shoulders and going "who knows?" when what one really wants are some answers, something to believe in, something to live by?

Having several gods, or several aspects of God, brings God closer to human understanding. We cannot really comprehend God, but we can comprehend Jesus. We can comprehend Mary. We can comprehend saints. A pantheon of gods serves the purpose of making Deity something we can relate to personally. Perhaps it was comforting to primitive peoples, when thunder rolls across the sky, to think of Thor or the Thunderbird or Zeus up there hurling lightning bolts at some avatar of evil. It's still comforting, when bad things happen, to believe that Mary or Jesus is personally listening to one's prayers. We want to imagine a face when we think of the divine.

Beren IV: Paradoxes of Tolkien's religios beliefs Yes and no. From an intrinsic standpoint, the answer is yes, he can have his pantheon and his monotheistic God too. However, he has his pantheon take a very "hands-off" approach (much as Illùvitar himself does), and I think that the degree of non-interference by the Valar strains some credibility, especially in the area of why the Valar are there in the first place.


In the Christian tradition, Satan the fallen angel is the lord of a fiery hell, the underworld for dead sinners. But in most pagan myths, the Lord of the Underworld for dead mortals is not evil, he just has a rather grim job. There is no Enemy in polytheistic religions, because there is no One God to be an Enemy to.

B. How does Melkor/Morgoth, The Enemy, fit into Tolkien’s polytheistic concept, compared to Mandos, Lord of the Dead?

Drogo drogo: Mandos is the keeper of the prophesies and laws, so he is doing what Eru appointed him to do.  Melkor sets up the closest things to hell in Arda, Utumno and Angband, but they are distinct from the "underworld" where souls go into waiting.

Eowynthegreat: For real, they said it all.

Aragonvaar: It is incorrect to state that polytheism precludes an Enemy: Tolkien's favorite of pre-Christian mythologies was the Norse, in which the flawed but likable (by Norse standards) Valhallans are at war w/ the far more vicious and unsympathetic Frost Giants.  Who will ultimately win, but, in the mind of the Norsemen, that was no reason to side against Valhalla.

Satan is not, strictly speaking, the lord of hell, except in being its first and most powerful resident.  Hell is a state of rejection of/hatred towards God, and by extension all His works, including oneself.  The inhabitants of hell torture one another because they are consumed w/ hatred and spite, not because of any supernatural mandate or regulations dictating what they are to do so.  Melkor has no connection w/ the afterlife during his sojourn in Arda, and his acitivities later, after being driven beyond the world, are unknown.  Mandos is a mere bureaucrat of the afterlife, a more theologically refined counterpart to the sinister but nondemonic "Grim Reaper" of medieval legend or the Azrael (Angel of Death) of Jewish thought.

Erather: It is necessary, of course, to account for the presence of evil in the world: bad things do happen, often to good people.  So, we have Melkor, who started out as a brilliant nonconformist with ambitions to make independent music and creations, and through frustration and shame became embittered and set on a path of destructiveness.

Tolkien's view of death is exceptionally benign.  The halls of Mandos do not seem particularly unpleasant (probably more boring than anything else), and the judgements of Manwë and the dooms of Mandos seem reasonable and just.  There is sadness and loss due to the destructiveness of Melkor, but Melkor's main connection with death appears to be just that he causes a lot of it: he becomes a major supplier to Mandos!

Beren IV: Ah, one of the great paradoxes of religions that believe in a good afterlife! As a Catholic, Tolkien believes that death is not an ending but a transition into something better, but if the form after death is good, then why is death itself evil? Theologeans have come up with any number of answers to this, but this paradox presents a serious challenge.

Melkor is not a god of Death. He is a god of Evil, as well as some other things. Mandos just governs the dead and sees that they go where they belong. Melkor is obviously the Enemy, but just what you dislike about him so much depends on your outlook. For Tolkien, it was more the corruptive aspect, probably.

C. Why are humans so attracted to a polytheistic vision of the universe? What does the development of a monotheistic religion say about a culture? Did the Elves have any problem knowing that Manwë had a boss?

Drogo drogo: Ay carramba, I'll get my friend the anthropologist to post her doctoral dissertation on that!  Ancient religions saw the various elements of nature as distinct, sometimes clashing, powers, hence polytheism is not a completely strange concept.  Monotheism was a very difficult concept for many to swallow--look at Akhenaten in Ancient Egypt and how short-lived his attempt to abolisth the Egyptian pantheon was!  As I mentioned above, one of the ways Christianity succeeded in the late Roman Empire was by absorbing some traces of the earlier religion so that the transition from many gods to one God (with three aspects, etc.) was not such a jolt to the system. 

Within the context of the legendarium, we could say that the Elves accept this as a quasi-feudal system in which the Elves are the "vassals" of the Valar (mainly in being granted land by them in Aman) and then they see that Manwe is the vassal of the highest power.

Eowynthegreat: Why are polytheistic religions appealing? I would argue (from the point of faith) that it is written on the human heart in that whether people know it or not, they have an inate longing for God's order and that unknowing they create themselves what they can find closest to what they 'see in their dreams,' as it were.

Pukel-Man: I take a mundane view of religion. I think polytheism tends to evolve in fractured cultures while monotheism occurs in centralised or unified cultures.  Certainly the introduction of Christianity into various areas of the world tended to occur under a strong leader (or at least a leader who sought strength) who saw the merits of telling people there's only ONE god, and he says you have to obey ME.

Aragonvaar: I would say that the human race finds monotheism and polytheism attractive for different reasons; Tolkien and Lewis would probably say that both longings represent different truths about the state of the universe, and the angels and saints of Catholic and Anglo-Catholic theology are a more "correct" statement of the truth underlying polytheism.

Lottelita: Ask not, "Why Polytheism?" Because polytheism is, over the course of human history, the overwhelming rule.  If not for Constantine, monotheism would continue to be a tiny exception.  Better to assume that polytheism (and henotheism) is the default -- indeed, even early Judaism was more henotheistic than monotheistic. 

Polytheistic religions tend to identify nature's forces with different deities.  From

The belief in multiple gods is probably the result of an earlier belief in vaguely defined spirits, demons and other supernatural forces. These belief systems are similar to animism, ancestor worship and totemism. However, in polytheism, these supernatural forces are personified and organized into a cosmic family. This "family" becomes the nucleus of a particular culture's belief system. The family of gods was used to explain natural phenomena and to establish a culture's role in the universe. Typically, the number of gods would expand as the culture's belief system developed, eventually resulting in a hierarchical system of deities. Over time, the lesser gods would diminish in stature or vanish altogether.

I like the idea that polytheism arises out of ancestor-worship and animism.

93143: the idea of God Has anyone read Chesterton's "The Everlasting Man"?  He seems to feel that polytheism grows out of monotheism - or sometimes by pooling of monotheisms - as civilization grows. Monotheism is more natural to really primitive human thought, but the idea of the Absolute is "too large to be managed", and people let go of it.  He says, if I recall correctly, that such things as animism and totemism are probably seen in modern tribes as a degeneration of polytheism rather than a precursor (they've been around for as long as we have, after all).

The idea that monotheism comes first, and later recedes behind polytheism, is treated in Part 1 Chapter 4, with examples, of which this is one:

"There is a striking example in a tale taken down word for word from a Red Indian in California, which starts out with hearty legendary and literary relish: 'The sun is the father and ruler of the heavens. He is the big chief. The moon is his wife and the stars are their children'; and so on through a most ingenious and complicated story, in the middle of which is a sudden parenthesis saying that sun and moon have to do something because 'It is ordered that way by the Great Spirit Who lives above the place of all.'"

This actually sounds a lot like Tolkien's setup...

Another quote from the same source illustrates the difference in concept between God and the gods:

"It is in a saying I once heard from some Hindu tradition; that gods as well as men are only the dreams of Brahma; and will perish when Brahma wakes."

I am ill educated on the subject of Hinduism, but this is roughly the gap between Eru and the Valar, though the creative function is different.

To take another angle, perhaps the Valar, like angels in the posted reference, are there as sort of a buffer, not because God can't handle His creation alone but because it can't handle Him.

Lottelita: "The Everlasting Man" is an explicitly Christian work, so I'd take its value with a grain of salt -- it's apologetics, not anthropology.  (Very good apologetics, mind you, and Lewis was a fan of the book.)

Hinduism is in an interesting terrotory between polytheism and monotheism.  While its Gods and Goddesses bear strong resemblance to the Greek/Roman and Mesopotamian deities (and have a common origin, it is theorized), later theology said the multitudinous deities were all merely avatars, or manifestations, of Vishnu, the overgod.  It's no so easy to define this as monotheistic or polytheistic, and it's quite different from Tolkien, where the Valar are creatures distinct from Eru.

I love the "buffer" idea.  Eru is a very distant God, indeed, which is also a Christian sort of thing; the God of early Judaism was much closer, much more anthropomorphic, than the God of Christianity, who used Jesus as his intermediary.

Aragonvaar: Perhaps, but what he describes is a commonsensical and intuitively plausible hypothesis...

pertaining to extremely small, primitive and primordial social units of the prehistoric era, the kind we have the least evidence on.  Most arguments for polytheism at that timeframe/social level come from (so far as I know) the polytheism of modern "primitives" which is not exactly reliable, since we are not equipped to determine whether the modern "primitives" have always been in the exact same cultural state.  It's an argument from an analogy whose validity we cannot verify.

A similar argument from a similarly flawed analogy can be made from the world of comic books: the earliest forms were solo superheroes w/ 'ordinary' sidekicks, then a variety of reasons including the "stunt value" of crossovers and various publishers getting bought out by DC and Marvel, led to the idea that they all coexisted in the same universe and were ludicrously powerful together.

I believe that any attempt to use anthropologyto prove that monotheism, polytheism, or henotheism as being the "original" state of human religious belief is doomed to failure.  For the reasons listed above.

Lottelita: Indeed. I always hated it when my professors would offer up, say, modern Inuits as a supposed example of the kind of lifestyle and belief systems we imagine were prevalent in pre-history.  It's plausible, but it seems deeply condescending -- "These people's tools are no more complex than paleolithic ones, so their minds must be static, as well."

Aragonvaar: Yeah, we can't know what social changes or experiments such cultures have made over the years.... what might have driven their tech-levels up or down so to speak.

"Such and such culture has never changed its mind about anything since the beginning of the human species" seems an unlikely proposition, given the human species in general ;)

Curious: Please try to refrain from long subject headings, especially when you get out here on the end of a thread.  I was unable to respond to the thread about Lorien at all because it got pushed off the board.

Aragonvaar: Sorry about that :/

93143: an intermediary I'm not sure what you mean here...  I disagree that the God of Christianity is distant.

I'm not sure what the common people under Moses thought, but there was a law against making images of God (probably for good reason).  He was distant, in a way - everything exists because He causes it to, but however close the relationship, it was relatively one-way until Jesus showed up.  Christians don't see Jesus as an intermediary separate from God; He is literally God and man at the same time, bridging the gap that existed in pre-Christian times.

Of course, we are still shielded from the direct perception of God as God - all we see is the man.  I heard it said once that if an ordinary man perceived even an angel directly, he would die.  Very possibly that sort of thing didn't occur to the early Jews, although (perhaps under the influence of the prohibition of idols) they seem to have progressed rather rapidly to the idea that seeing the face of God meant death...

Lottelita: Well, here we get into the difference between doctrine and text. I don't know that Jesus ever once claims to be God.  The Gospel in which he most fervently claims divinity is John, and even then he makes quite clear distinctions between himself and the Father, regardless of what John's prologue may claim about his oneness with God.  The doctrinal belief that Jesus WAS God, the idea of the unity of the trinity, wasn't there until (IIRC) Nicea, hundreds of years after Christ's death.

My point about God's increasing distance from people is this: In Genesis, God walks through the Garden of Eden.  He eats a meal with mortals.  On Sinai, Moses sees God's face.  That's an anthropomorphic God (he has a body, he has a face) who is down there on the ground right next to the mortals.  But by the time the New Testament was written, thousands of years later, it's not God who's walking around among the people, it's his son/emissary, Jesus. 

Why doesn't God just come down himself?  Why send a middle-man?  Was it Platonic influence -- Plato, who spoke of the perfection of deity and the unattainable forms?  Philosophy was putting deity farther and farther from mortals.  And so was newly-monotheistic Judaism, such as it was -- no longer did they worship Yahweh, community deity, but God, the creator of the universe.  Would the creator of the universe come down to earth?  No, he wouldn't trouble himself.  He was so powerful that he *couldn't* do it, without killing all who beheld him.

I wonder if it's a necessary condition that as deity gets more powerful and eventually reaches omnipotence, it gets farther and farther from mortals.  An omnipotent God needs intermediaries -- angels, "sons," etc. -- in order to directly influence the physical world.

Lottelita: And plenty of Christians don't believe in the trinity or their inherent unity.  Jehovah's Witnesses, for example.

93143: stretching the forum subject This is getting off topic.  Would you like to continue by e-mail?

I don't know if the board will support an extended discussion on Arius vs. Athanasius and related topics...

93143: on the other hand ...there appears to be a fair bit of technical religious discussion going on in these threads.  I must catch up on it.  What do you think?

Lottelita: I think we've strayed enough for the boards.  I'd love to hear from you via email. 

You'll also find me much less argumentative when I don't have an audience.  ;-)

Curious: Tolkien read Chesterton, that I know, so without judging the anthropological validity of Chesterton's theory, it sounds very much like something Tolkien would believe.  Indeed it sounds like some of the things he said in "On Fairy-stories." 

It seems to me Tolkien was so committed to The Silmarillion because he was searching for what early religion was really like, and not just making up an elaborate fiction.  In a sense, he believed this stuff, so he wanted to get it right.

Beren IV: A polytheistic framework allows for more conflicts between the different powers, and, honestly, a monotheistic concept has some credibility problems. How, for instance, do you have an all-knowing and all-powerful and all-good God who allows Evil? Again, theologeans have proposed many answers. However, one way to get around it is to have a system with multiple powers who are not themselves all-powerful, striving against each-other, and of which Evil is one of these powers. The All-good God in the background also works if said all-good almighty has a plan for something other than just immediate joy in mind.

Images of the Valinorean Pantheon

Nope. Couldn’t find one. Feel free to look, and I’d love to see anything you find.

D. Why have the wonderful fantasy and fan artists we’ve been meeting this week chosen not to tackle the Valar as a group? Does it have anything to do with The Silmarillion itself? Are there no group scenes sufficiently described to merit an artist’s attention?

Beren IV: First reason: There are fifteen of them.

Second reason: Some of the Valar are much more easy to envision how to draw than others, and so are very difficult to put on paper on the same picture. Some of the Valar are difficult to imagine other than abstractly, and some seem so physical that to draw them abstractly doesn't seem to do justice to them.

Piled Higher and Deeper

Here are some links to further information about <a href="">angels</a>  in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and about <a href="">saints</a>  in the Catholic religion.

E. How do Tolkien’s Valar resemble, or differ from, either of these groups of holy spirit-beings that live under the God of Tolkien’s own religion?

Drogo drogo: Thanks for the angels link, I'll have to look at that later on.

Aragonvaar: For the record, a "saint", in Catholic thought, is a human who has reached God in the afterlife and whose bodily resurrection at the end of time will be beautiful and glorious, an angel is a spiritual creature w/ no body, no means of getting its own, possessing extraordinary powers and a rather peculiar mindset that makes them, good or evil, rather more alien to the human race than most scifi aliens!  A good, dead human, is NOT an angel in this theology, whatever "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Touched by an Angel" may claim.  Tolkien's Valar and C. S. Lewis's eldils are described by them as a specialized kind of angelic or quasi-angelic being that is more closely tied to the physical world and more limited in its perceptions than the classical angel.

93143: Notes on the Catholic view of angels (subtle points; correct me if you know better):

The Catholic Church doesn't actually teach the idea of guardian angels officially; it's just fairly universally held.  That nine choirs thing is likewise not official; it's just an interpretation.  In addition, angels were not created solely for our benefit; ultimately they exist for more or less the same reason we do.

Beren IV: The Valar are clearly Angels, not Saints. They're spirits and never have been people. Beren and Lùthien, by contrast, are Saints.

Extra Credit

F. How much would a collectible set of Valar action figures available with Happy Meals for Kids at McDonalds help a Silmarillion movie?

Drogo drogo: As for Happy Meals, I can see Valar action figures with kids who want Nienna to cover the baddies with her tears and Manwe to sit far away and use his super hearing... well, that's a bit blasphemous, in a manner of speaking!

Beren IV: Please don't go there. This is exactly the reason why I do not want there to be a Silmarillion movie.

<a href="">Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>

12:00 PM The Valaquenta: The Valar and other Pantheons

The Valar as a Pantheon – The Text

To repeat: “These are the names of the Valar and the Valier, and here is told in brief their likenesses, such as the Eldar beheld them in Aman. But fair and noble as were the forms in which they were manifest to the Children of Ilúvatar, they were but a veil upon their beauty and their power. And if little is here said of all that the Eldar once knew, that is as nothing compared with their true being, which goes back into regions and ages far beyond our thought. Among them Nine were of chief power and reverence; but one is removed from their number, and Eight remain, the Aratar, the High Ones of Arda: Manwë and Varda, Ulmo, Yavanna and Aulë, Mandos, Nienna, and Oromë. Though Manwë is their King and holds their allegiance under Eru, in majesty they are peers, surpassing beyond compare all others, whether of the Valar and the Maiar, or of any other order that Ilúvatar has sent into Eä.”


A. “…here is told in brief their likenesses…” Um, I don’t think so. Tolkien gives us almost nothing in the way of physical description of the Valar in Elven form. Why then does he say this?

Timerider: Hasty and probably ill-informed answers Likeness can mean more than appearance- he's told us enough about the main players that we can understand the events of the Silmarillion, if we keep the Valaquenta bookmarked.

Beren IV: Pantheons of, well, Valar They are described as best they can be, given how unearthly they really are.

Curious: If Tolkien were to draw the Valar, he would draw them in the water, the wind, the sun, the birds, the trees, the mountains, and all the other "ordinary" things we take for granted in the world.  And indeed he did draw them, I contend.  He drew them with his words, if not with his illustrations as well.  And here he draws them for us so that we can see them as we read his works.

B. In this concluding passage Tolkien emphasizes the Nine chief Valar (including Melkor); at the beginning, remember, he emphasizes how there are Seven Lords and Seven Queens (not including Melkor). Out of 14 (or 15) Valar, why does he distinguish 9 (or 8)? Which is the more important accounting, and why have two?

Kimi: I'm tempted to look for a connection between the eight Aratar and the seven traditional celestial bodies (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) plus Arda, giving eight bodies needing their own guardian angels. I don't think this can be sustained very well, especially since all the Valar are especially involved with Arda, but perhaps it was a tiny influence. No wonder Morgoth left in a snit, though. Perhaps he smashed up "his" planet, forming the Asteroid Belt.

Aragonvaar: Lewis pretty much does what you describe in his "Space Trilogy"... To the point where you can almost set the scene in "That Hideous Strength" where all the Powers show up to the famous 'Planets' suite of music.  But then again, they are designed specifically as guardians of various planets (Earth got Satan.  Lucky us.)

As you say, the Valar are specifically geared to This Island Earth, plus Tolkien may have shied away from mimicking his friend's Oyarsas (Oyarses?) too closely once he was aware of it.

Beren IV: He started with Sixteen, but I have to agree, the number nine seems out of place. My guess is that it was an accident.

Curious: The numbers worked out that way because it seemed right to Tolkien.  It is a little messy, so I don't think any of the Valar were "filler."

C. Other pantheons are genuine creations over time from the mythology, folklore, and religion of an entire culture; The Valar are the literary creation of J.R.R. Tolkien. Can we tell the difference between the two from the Valaquenta?

Pukel-Man: The Valar are a first-generation pantheon. One thing that strikes me about Norse and particularly Greek mythology is the sense of successive generations of deities or religions gradually becoming subsumed into an overall legendarium.  We can see how Tyr became eclipsed by Thor, or how Cronos made way for Apollo and Zeus.  Even the myths of the giants seem to point to a wilder age when the natural forces they represent reigned supreme over helpless humanity until the deities of civilisation came along to help us out with fire and farming.

Tolkien's world lacks that sense of history, for me.  The Valar seem carefully segregated into areas of influence, all minted from the same forge, with no overlap of purpose or interest.  They seem too neat to have evolved like an earthly pantheon.

Varda Elentari: In addition to the lack of history or maybe as a consequence thereof, I think Tolkien's world is strikingly lacking in depth.  It's well constructed, but the lack of succession you mentioned as compared to Greek/Roman (the only kind I know about) myth lends a certain blandness to Tolkien's Valar and the whole history of the origins of the world, I think.  The layers that other mythologies are constructed of are a large part of what makes them so fascinating to read.  It seems like Tolkien didn't put a lot of thought into the Valar and the whole beginnings of the world.  It's a little disappointing what he came up with in terms of a solid mythological-type foundation for his world, because there really was potential for it to have been so much more.

Drogo drogo: The Classical pantheon is wilder and woolier The biggest difference between Classical gods and the pantheon of the Valar is the pluralistic, polytheistic basis of Greco-Roman culture (or other ancient cultures for that matter).  Tolkien's invented universe is governed by a single design stemming from one point of origin.  Thus the system is very neat and the spheres of influence only minimally overlap.  There ultimately is only one creator, one intention, governing all.  This singularity of vision and design also reflects a very teleological conception of history.  Tolkien does not want to admit chaos into his invented world, so he has a concrete point of origin, and foretells an appointed end for all (the second music to come at the end of time).

The Classical religious landscape was much more varied because they didn't have a single vision of the cosmos.  They were much more fluid in their ability to absorb otherness, and allow even mutually incompatible theological systems to co-exist (such as the Hellenistic Greeks in Egypt adopting the ancient pharonic ways, or the Romans who worshipped whatever gods seemed to suit their political purposes at the moment).  Without a unifiying set of beliefs, morality, or sense of cosmic purpose, theirs is a much more organic pantheon of gods who exist in a time without a clear-cut beginning and end.

Perhaps in the end it is the Professor's Catholicism that prevents him from inventing a wild and wooly world in which god run amock and compete with each other or overlap in their powers and intentions.  There has to be meaning and logic in Tolkien, and ancient cultures simply refused to be pidgeonholed into such an organization.  Tolkien's is a much more stable, purposeful reality --  one I think I would rather live in than one such as Homer's in which we never know what some whacked-out deity is going to pull on us next!

NZ Strider: I think that Tolkien (with a certain amount of cheeky humour) is suggesting that conventional theories of the origin of assemblages of gods (e.g. the Greek or Phoenician or Babylonian or Norse, etc.) had gotten it all wrong; or, rather, had overlooked a key flaw in their explanations of how such a pantheon arises.

Conventional historians of religion have explained to us (at great length) that the Greek pantheon developed over the course of centuries as this or that god was added from the Near East (e.g. Apollo) or from elsewhere over the course of countless centuries.  By such irregular additions (as well as deletions as some cults fell out of favour: Diwya is attested in the 13th century B.C. as Zeus' consort; but in the later period it's always Hera whom he's married to) slowly the classical pantheon came into being. 

This sounds nice -- but it has a logical flaw.  What was the original state of affairs?  If you trace the Greeks back to a small population of proto-proto-Indo-European hunter-gatherers somewhere on the Eurasian steppes, would you expect them to be polytheists (and have a pantheon) or to be monotheists? 

Monotheism, as we all *know* (see Squire's formulation a couple threads up and Lottelita's rejoinder), requires intellectual sophistication to arise and is *definitely* a later development than polytheism.  Thus conventional historians of religion who know everything.  Therefore, our population of proto-proto-Indo-Europeans *must* have been polytheists with a pantheon of sorts.  So how'd a pantheon arise that was there at the beginning?  In other words, the conventional theory explains how a pantheon is modified, but not how one arises. 

Here's where Tolkien's imaginative solution comes in: There was indeed a pantheon at the beginning; it was the result of a single creative process and it was orderly.  Over the millennia additions, deletions, refinements, adjustments, and inventions took place -- so that each people over the course of the millennia had a different pantheon.  Yet, if one looked closely, one could see that Wodin had a lot in common with Zeus and Thor with Ares and so on.  So, was the solution this: each pantheon was a development from one and the same original pantheon? 

It's that original pantheon which Tolkien is showing us, before all the development took place as each people got farther and farther away from that first pantheon without ever quite leaving it.

Pukel-Man: But without getting too microscopic . . . how do you define a 'religion'?  Even if large-scale monotheism requires a greater level of development than large-scale polytheism, at the level of Proto-proto (isn't that a town in Western Australia?) we're talking tribes, or even families.  Is a patch of land containing twenty tribes, each of whom have their own god, a polytheistic environment, or a lot of monotheistic environments?  I'd always assumed that the pantheons as we know them developed as local and household gods and spirits were agglomerated into larger groupings by the parallel agglomeration of their worshippers.  I'm not sure any one family or tribe would worship a dozen gods equally; rather, I think they'd be more likely to worship whatever god or spirit seemed most powerful or important to them, with perhaps a few lesser deities as back-ups.  

I think you're right in that Tolkien sought to show a large pantheon that was born full-grown in a moment acording to a planned design rather than an evolved one.  I think it might have been interesting to see Tolkien show the various Vala become more or less popular among the Elves and Men of the world, in a similar fashion to the waxing and waning gods of our own history.  I suspect that as a devout Christian Tolkien's love for polytheistic pantheons was probably less than his love for heroes and 'saint' figures.

NZ Strider: Well-parried!

Aragonvaar: That is pretty much what Chesterton proposes in "Everlasting Man" actually . . . A book Tolkien references in one of his essays (On Fairy Stories, I think).

Elsewhere (this is from the "standard" volume of essays/lectures that include "On Fairy Stories" and "The Monsters and the Critics") he speculates that Thor did not "originate" as some irascible local 'personality' who passed into legend and then became deified, but rather that a local personality who passed into legend became identified w/ the thunder-god for his, well, 'thunderous' personality traits.

Not sure if that's relevant, just thought I'd bring it up since it's one of the few concrete examples of Tolkien's thoughts on mythical evolution of this kind.

Lottelita: And less than his inability to put his stamp of approval on any system in which deity was not benevolent.  Symmetry, beauty, and goodness go together -- they're neat and tidy, they invite mortals to take comfort that the universe is well-ordered and they're being looked after.  Tolkien created a symmetrical, beautiful, good, well-ordered pantheon because that's how Christians see the universe.  Eru is good as God is good; Arda was good in its conception as our world was good in its conception.  Things only got mucked up later, when individuals stepped out of the beautiful symmetry and the well-ordered design was disrupted.

Aragonvaar: Debatable... In the youthful Book of Lost Tales, he does revel in the soap-operatic/"pagan" possibilities of the Valar, and he never wholly excises them (why Tulkas is still there, why Osse still exists in the late Silm, even if demoted).  His "early" vision of the "faineant" gods (as CT calls it somewhere), who have botched the Almighty's plan for Arda is, I would argue, not inherently less "Christian" than his later conception, seen in the published Silm.

Lottelita: If you would argue, then please do!  I admit to not having read the Lost Tales, as I'm less concerned with the process in this case than the canon (which is odd, since I'm so the opposite when it comes to actual religious texts).  How are fickle, frolicsom Valar not less Christian?

Aragonvaar: Primarily because they're not "good angels"... in the way that he treats them in the published Silm.

In Catholic theology, it is detachment from the physical world that makes angels so single-minded: they choose God or self once, and never see any reason to change their minds.

As of the point that you posit beings w/ angelic powers, but tied to the physical world and usually taking physical incarnations, you open the path for them to be as fickle as well, humans.  It's unfortunate that they're failing in God's plan for the world so to speak, but it's not any more of a problem for the believer than, say, entropy in general or the human race's failure to Get W/ The Plan (not saying that's NOT a problem believers have to face, just saying that making the demiurges fellow dysfunctional servants of the Almighty doesn't seem to me a direct contradiction of Catholic theology in this case).

Timerider: Well, no. But I think this is partly because his pantheon is based, almost copied, from genuine religious traditions. If he had come up with something off the top of his head, the difference would be more pronounced.

Aragonvaar: The Valar correspond to a "mature" pantheon... They have some of the spiffed-up/rationalized/polished quality you see in some of the later, more philosophical conceptions of the Greek or Hindu pantheons.  The BoLT and other "early" texts correspond to the earlier and more chaotic "layers" of myth referenced by Pukel-man and VE.  The primary difference is that different versions of the Valar "overwrite" one other in Tolkien's mind, instead of succeeding each other, because this was a "private" mythology rather than a communal one (contrast Tolkien's approach w/ the shift in focus from one crew to another over Star Trek's history, or w/ comic book writer Ron Marz's decision to turn the existing, Silver Age Green Lantern into a villain and create a touchy feely sensitive artist type to take up the GL "mantle").  I don't share VE's and PM's enthusiasm for this "messy" aspect of mythology-it's interesting as an insight into human psychology and creativity, but annoyingly soap-operatic from a storytelling POV.  It is however worth pointing out that this aspect, too, is present in Tolkien-just not in the Silm.

NZ Strider: Hmmm...  Perhaps, rather, a "mature" pantheon resembles the Valar?  That is to say, when philosophers impose order and structure on an unruly and undisciplined pantheon, it begins to resemble, albeit never entirely, the (hypothetical!) original pantheon which was supremely orderly?  I.e. Pukel-man's "first generation" pantheon which did not evolve and has not yet been altered?

Lottelita: Yes, it seems that pantheons might start out ordered and then devolve into the gorgeous messes that actual pantheons end up being, or they might start out messy -- an amalgamation of local beliefs and practices that start bouncing around together when tribes are united into larger communities -- and then have order imposed on them.  I think I like the latter, at the moment, which is another reason Tolkien's pantheon strikes me as intuitively artificial.  No pantheon was ever created by one person, of course, so there's no getting around the problems inherent in such an effort.

Aragonvaar: My point was that.... Tolkien's pantheon did *not* start out neat and tidy-what we are seeing here is a "late" iteration of his thought, after it's been tidied up.  He would probably say that he was discarding false conceptions of the pantheon to get at the truth beneath it, just as the intellectual types responsible for what I termed "mature" pantheons were trying to do.  But the chronological movement, in terms of what he wrote and when, is generally "from" a messy, organic and fragmentary cosmology and pantheon that Lot and Pukel-man would probably find appealing, "towards" what we see in the Silm.  So Lot, PM, et al, in arguing that the Valar are an artificial pantheon not corresponding to the real evolution of such myths, are arguing from the false premise that this is all we have of his his pantheon.  Since squire has been dutifully spelling out the mechanics of each Vala's evolution in this discussion, it seems reasonable to point out that they're comparing the Valar of the published Silm to a phase of mythological development to which they do not properly correspond. I was comparing them to a phase of development to which they *do* imo correspond.

Lot: I usually hesitate to recommend the History of Middle Earth volumes to people, especially the 2 volumes that make up the Book of Lost Tales, but given your interests in general, I think you'd find them appealing.

Lottelita: *bows* I will definitely put HoME on my list!

Squire: I didn't read the entire BoLT as I was trying to stay focused on the Valaquenta. But the close reading I did of the "Coming of the Valar" section brought back to me John Garth's critical commentary on the early mythology in "Tolkien and the Great War", which I read last winter.

At the time I didn't understand what he was talking about; but he was trying to convey to a generation of Silmarillion readers just how different in tone and character the first mythology was.

Colorful, chaotic, messy, emotional. More valar, more sprites. A war god and goddess; a death goddess; a poetry god, a music god. The section on the building of Valinor, describing the houses and lifestyles of the various gods, is simply stunning, if a little weird.

Like Pukel-Man, I find the Valar in the Valaquenta, as they were finally published, a little too tidy and dry to be interesting dramatically. The comparative geneology charts were my attempt to bring this out.

I am fascinated by the material being posted here on the anthropology of polytheism, and how it might be applied to the literary development of the Valaquenta. Thanks to all of you for answering this one!

Erather: Literary creation I gave what remaining thoughts I can muster on this topic in the thread below, but I have a question for the Wise here regarding other pantheons: to what extent are they also literary creations? 

There seem to be enough writings on them (not to mention temples, statues, etc.) that there's no doubt that they were widely worshipped or reverenced in their respective cultures, but isn't it true that any texts from which we can learn what they're like are themselves literary constructs?  We have, for example, Homer and the Greek classical dramas.  But are they not reflecting the author's representation of the gods in ways roughly equivalent to, say, C. B. DeMille's Moses or Mel Gibson's Christ?  How much do we know about what people actually believed about these gods?

Sorry if this is a dumb question, I'm woefully ignorant of ancient history.  In the field that I studied, the early Middle Ages, we worry a lot about what biases are attributable to the few limited sources we have as to events.

Lottelita: It's a fair question.

Our understanding of ancient religions is a product of literary creations in part, but also of cultural artifacts that wouldn't be classified as "literature" as we now think of it.  The gods were referenced in prefaces to law books, in humble artisans' crafts, in frescoes on homeowners' walls -- in short, everywhere, not just in explicitly literary works like the Epic of Gilgamesh or Homer. 

How much do we *actually* know?  Quite a lot, actually.  A lot survives from antiquity because a) it was largely put down on stone, which lasts a lot better than paper, and b) quite a bit of the Western stuff on paper was preserved by Muslims and Christian monks.  But I have no doubt that had the library at Alexandria not burned down, we'd have all sorts of insights that would show us how silly we've all been in trying to put the pieces together.

Lottelita: They're too nice. Pantheonic deities were, without exception, fickle, flighty, and largely uninterested in the affairs of mortals -- except when they saw a pretty one they wanted to snog or an ugly one they wanted to pester (see Job for a remaining trace of this in Christianity).  They're petty.  They're mean.  They hate each other.  They ALL break the rules from time to time.  In that sense, the Valar represent an inauthentic pantheon, and bear much more similarity to the Christian council of angels.

I agree with Pukel and Varda that the pantheon is also too neat and tidy to feel real.  But, again, this smacks of a benevolent creator who is sincerely interested in beauty and balance -- and no such deity was responsible for the genesis of Nordic, Greek, or Mesopotamian pantheons.

Varda Elentari: Puke and I discussed this exact idea this morning.  An important characteristic of classical mythical gods that separates them from the modern concept of the divine is their lack of benevolance.  The Valar would never occasionaly have little spats with one another, or toy with mortals/elves just for the fun of it, or because they were bored, etc.  I think the lack of ability to be consciously malicious separates Tolkien's "gods" from the more traditional pantheon.

Beren IV: Yes; the Valar tend to generally get along with each-other and play by the rules. Most actual mythological pantheons have more human flaws.

Curious: In "On Fairy-stories" Tolkien questioned whether we really know much about the religion of the Norse, or Greeks, or others who believed in pantheons.  We read the stories and think we know what the ancients believed; Tolkien questions that, arguing that just because the gods are characters in the stories does not mean the ancients really believed Zeus was a philandering husband with a shrewish wife or Thor a dumb ox of a man.  The Silmarillion is Tolkien's attempt, I judge, to get at the truth about ancient religious beliefs.  Of course no one can know the real truth without a time machine, but Tolkien offers a complicated hypothesis which he believes is plausible.  He restores dignity to the pantheon, at the cost of some fun stories about those dumb gods, and notes that so-called pantheons and monotheism might even be able to coexist.  Several people here have given examples that support that hypothesis.

Squire: I would say otherwise that is, that the ancients humanized their mythologies to take the edge off the unbearable cruelties of life and nature. Nevertheless I imagine (no time machine at my house either) that they did believe in their deities, and that they did conceive their world's pantheons to be as complex and confusing and "lively" as their traditions taught them. Nothing about real life is so ordered or so symmetrical, and so I don't believe any human tradition ever had a pantheon as ordered or symmetrical as Tolkien's.

Thus I come back to Tolkien "simplifying" his pantheon as his own tradition develops, and in the end (The Valaquenta was never revisited after the 1958 typescript was completed) he had pared it down to the bone (as per my chart, which I made to highlight the contrast we are talking about). I would guess "dignity" is important to him; but that dignity belongs properly to God himself. To demand dignity of a natural pantheon, at the expense of "fun stories about dumb gods", is to suck the humanity out of his tale.

Of course, we do tell ourselves that this is an Elves' pantheon, don't we? And I admit these gods do fit their Elves. After all, in The Silmarillion, and in most of Lord of the Rings, but almost not at all in The Hobbit, Tolkien sucked the humanity out of the Elves as well.

Luthien Rising: lived pantheons vs. recorded pantheons I would imagine that Tolkien's pantheon could be seen as representing an ideal pulled from a living tradition -- to which Tolkien often ascribed the apparent contradictions. Such an ideal could easily be much more harmonious, much more balanced, than it would be as lived. It strikes me that the culture of the Elves, whose tradition this is meant to be, is shown by Tolkien to have valued such order and harmony and would be likely to distill lived tradition in this way.

But it's not as much fun to read as more chaotic pantheon is.

 (My son, by the way, "informs" me that it's only a "pantheon" if they all work together. If they're always working against each other, it can't be a pantheon.)

Curious: I have no expertise in these matters, and cannot comment on the beliefs of early man.  I imagine even the experts are speculating about such matters.  But it does not sound like you disagree with me; rather, it sounds like you disagree with Tolkien.

D. “[The Valar’s] names among Men are manifold,” said Tolkien, back in the introduction to the Valaquenta. Do Men really worship the Valar? There is no God of War, no God of Poetry or Music, no God of Love or Fertility.

Timerider: Well, between them the Valar we have serve these functions. Varda and Yavanna cover love and fertility, for instance. And I think men who worship war are truly worshipping Morgoth. C.S. Lewis at least believed that if you do good in, say, the name of Bob, God is still the party being served. I don't know whether Tolkien did also, but the passage seems to suggest it. Suppose someone is worshipping Vulcan (god of the forge) Don't you think that proud Aule would be more than happy to assume the worship for himself?

Aragonvaar: As I remarked in one of the Varda threads, Tolkien's religion proposes that worship should be reserved to the One, but that it is good to revere His friends and servants.  I think Tolkien believes that the Valar deserve a special level of reverence, that can, in an absence of true understanding, easily degenerate into worshipping them.  The Lewis quote cited in another response is so far as I know compatible w/ Catholic teaching of the time, and since the points on which Tolkien and Lewis differed have been generally well documented in various literary and biographical studies (and this concept is not to my knowledge one of them), I think we may take it that he regarded mistaken, well-intentioned worship of the Valar to be, well, Not A Bad Deed.  After all, he doesn't sound very judgmental when he has the hobbits conflate Galadriel and Varda in the LOTR, nor when (Silm spoilers) Balan and his people mistake Galadriel's brother for a Vala).

Kimi: I don't think Men worship the Valar, or even know much of them. What little they know is from contact with Elves. The "highest" of Men seem to revere the Valar, but on Numenor in the Good Old Days only Eru was worshipped.

Beren IV: There are several Maiar in earlier versions that fill some of these roles. Makar is the God of War (I think that defaulted to Tulkas - or Melkor). Yavanna is the goddess of Fertility. As for Music, the Music of the Ainur is what made the world. Could Eru himself be the god of Music, then (as well as of everything else)?

Images of modern Pantheons

<a href="">Here</a> and <a href="">here</a> are some pictures of groupings that have been described as “Pantheons”

E. Do you agree these are pantheons? What do we mean by the word today? Are these real-life groupings more worthy of the term than the purely imaginary Valar?

Timerider: The term carries no reverence anymore- when we worship other men, we are really worshipping ourselves.

Kimi: Modesty forbids me from commenting on the worthiness of the modern "Pantheons" :-)

Beren IV: Yes, the Valar are a pantheon. They're also a council of Angels. I really like how Tolkien did this: You can't really say that religion on Arda is mono or polytheistic. It's BOTH! :)

Piled Higher and Deeper

<a href="">Here</a>  is a link to a brief summary of the Greek mythological pantheon. And <a href="">here</a>  is one to the Norse group. And <a href="">here</a> is the chart of the Valar pantheon for comparison. One might assume that both of these mythologies, Southern and Northern European, were strong influences on Tolkien’s thinking about polytheistic Gods, their totemic roles, and their interrelationships.

F. Were they?

Beren IV: There is no question that the influences are there; the chief Valar being the Gods of the day and night sky, and such, and with each Vala having a sort of list of things that he or she is the patron deity of.

Hartk: Struck by similarities to Hindu Pantheon

Taken from ...

According to the tenets of Hinduism, the whole universe is pervaded by one Universal God, who is imperishable, indestructible, infinite, without form and beyond human thought. There goes neither the mind, nor the intellect nor the senses and none can truly define Him and comprehend Him. In His unmanifest state He is unknown, vast emptiness or nothingness, and since He is prior to all, no one is actually aware how He wakes up and manifests all this that we know as His creation.

For some unknown, mysterious and inexplicable reasons, He wakes Himself up, setting in process a massive chain reaction that explodes into this gigantic, dynamic, astounding and material universe, which we perceive through our senses and intellect to be this universe. Thus He who is One, beyond and transcendental, descends into the lower levels of His own creation to become many individual things, both living and non living, suffused with His tremendous energy, dormant in some, active in some other, and in varying degrees of purity and permanence evolution and involution.

Of this diversity so produced, some are divinities, some are ordinary beings, some demons and evil beings and some purely inconscient and inert. The divinities, whom we recognize in Hinduism as gods and goddesses, possess tremendous energies, higher knowledge and unified wisdom and inhabit the higher planes or worlds, free from the troubles of old age and death, playing their dutiful roles in maintaining and managing the various aspects of creation as manifestations of the one Supreme God.

Aragonvaar: I'm afraid I don't especially see a resemblance... The Valar's status in the pecking order is similar, but that's about all.

Silent Watcher: The Sumero-Babylonian Pantheon First I remark that this pantheon was a great source of inspiration for the Greek mythology.

There is a chief god ANU (heaven), god of the sky. He is the father of the "Anunnaki" the younger gods who have charge of the earth (Ainur, then Valar?) and the 'Igigi" in charge of the sky.

ENLIL is the King of the Anunnaki. He is the god ot the wind and storm and rules the fate of all things. He is also the creator of the mankind. Can we try to relate him (at a certain extent) to Manwë?

Next to ENLIL is ENKI (EA), god of the waters. He knows all things and is 'Lord of wisdom'. In the same time he is the maker of all crafts. So he is similar to Ulmo and Aulë.

NERGAL is the god who presides at the government of the dead gathered in a large subterranean cave called Aralu (Mandos?). He is the consort of the goddess ALLATU (ERESHKIGAL), supreme goddess of the underworld. Some similarities to Námo and Vairë but the latter seems wiser than Allatu.

ISHTAR (Inanna-Astarté) is the chief goddess 'Queen of heaven'. She is associated to the Evening Star and she is the goddess of the fertility and the vegetation. She made also a journey to the underworld. So she has many features of Varda, Yavanna and Nienna.

Of course it's a over-oversimplified view of this pantheon but I think this parallel is valid especially if you consider the number of Semitic roots in the work of Tolkien.

Extra Credit

G. Who should play the Valar in a Silmarillion movie directed by Peter Jackson? You have to say why, no just typing in names of favorite actors without a thought in the world. Who would you cut from the script? Who would you replace Jackson with as director, if he died in a dispute with his barber?

Timerider: The actors I'll leave to the director, he did a good job last time, better than I would have. As for a replacement director (Valinor forbid) might I suggest Alfonso Cuaron? He works best in the dark- I think he could handle the dreary and depressing nature of most of the Silmarillion, without losing the interest and concern of the audience.

Aragonvaar: I don't know who I want directing the Silm.  I think it's too subtle and too overtly "moral" for PJ, plus his wife would kill him if he tries it.  I found Cuaron's Harry Potter movie to be trite, overwrought, and incredibly twee, so I don't want him either.  I think Bryan Singer (X-Men) has a good track record of going into somebody else's mythology cold and getting the hang of it; Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy) has a knack for mythical imagery, a decent gift for psychology and would probably be reasonably open-minded about the religious stuff.

Casting the Valar:

Ulmo: Oded Fehr (heck, he was even in the Israeli navy!)  handsome, cryptic, honorable, and has the voice for it.

Manwe: Jeremy Northam (nice voice; gentle, thoughtful manner; good-looking in a timeless way)

Varda: Phoebe Cates (competent and good-looking actress who fits my notion of the character).

Orome: Hugh Jackman (Wolverine.  Van Helsing. Nuff Said.)

Melkor: Russell Crowe (because he always strikes me as charismatic but unspeakably self-centered).  Or maybe Ralph Fiennes, for the same reason.

Aule: Avery Brooks.  I picture Aule as very physically capable-looking, nasty when he's angry but otherwise jovial.  And I just think Brooks would do the whole Abraham&Isaac routine w/ the Dwarves really really well.

Nessa: Keira Knightley-attractive, highly physical young actress.

Yavanna: Angela Bassett.  A good-looking, "earth-mother" type woman w/ the acting chops for the "angry on behalf of trees" bit.

Namo: Terence Stamp.  Austere handsome older man w/ integrity.

Irmo: Johnny Depp.  Who else embodies "creativity" so well?

No thoughts on the others.

Penthe: OT-ish - Terrific casting choices We're trying to cast an imaginary remake of The Great Gatsby at our place at the moment. Any hints?

Aragonvaar: OT...well... I'd have to check the book but...

How about Northam as Nick (Would do the parallel tracks of apparent detachment and actual entanglement rather well, I think) and Nana Visitor as Daisy (might be a bit "old" for the part but she's good at being strong-willed and brittle, and has tremendous screen presence).  Knightley's also pretty good at that kind of thing, but more "outdoorsy" than I always imagined Daisy as being.

No ideas on Gatsby himself.  I'd say Depp, but you never know where he's gonna take a character, which usually works for his projects (and would work for the protean and enigmatic Irmo), but might be less than ideal in a Gatsby.

N.E. Brigand: You may already... have provided an answer with your Valar casting:  Hugh Jackman.  A man who can be perfect in such disparate roles as The X-Men's Wolverine and Leopold from Kate and... can probably do anything.

By the way, I notice a couple Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine actors in your lists.  I've always thought Michael Dorn could do great things besides Worf but haven't seen anything he's done sans makeup.

Penthe: Hugh Jackman Yes, I agree! Thanks for indulging me.

Aragonvaar: my pleasure :)

Erather: Hard to improve on the young Redford, but Hugh Jackman would do quite nicely.

Aragonvaar: My parents Tell me Dorn was in... Hill Street Blues briefly.   I haven't seen the show myself to know :)

Beren IV: See my new thread [on a Silmarillion movie].

<a href="">Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>

6:00 PM The Valaquenta: The Valar in The Silmarillion

The Valar as a Pantheon – The Text

To repeat again: “These are the names of the Valar and the Valier, and here is told in brief their likenesses, such as the Eldar beheld them in Aman. But fair and noble as were the forms in which they were manifest to the Children of Ilúvatar, they were but a veil upon their beauty and their power. And if little is here said of all that the Eldar once knew, that is as nothing compared with their true being, which goes back into regions and ages far beyond our thought. Among them Nine were of chief power and reverence; but one is removed from their number, and Eight remain, the Aratar, the High Ones of Arda: Manwë and Varda, Ulmo, Yavanna and Aulë, Mandos, Nienna, and Oromë. Though Manwë is their King and holds their allegiance under Eru, in majesty they are peers, surpassing beyond compare all others, whether of the Valar and the Maiar, or of any other order that Ilúvatar has sent into Eä.”

The Valar and The Silmarillion

A. Where do the Valar fit into The Silmarillion? Do the Elves truly meet and know the Valar? How much do the Valar directly affect the Elves’ lives? Would the Silmarillion work as a narrative if the Elves and Valar never directly met?

Varda Elentari: Obviously the Valar represent Tolkien's attempt to create some sort of legitimate history and mythology to be the foundation of his world.  But I think it was something that he didn't really follow through with completely.  Aside from having created this and that or being responsible for this and that, the Valar seem essentially unnecessary and very distanced from all that goes on in Middle Earth.  I don't feel that they fit at all into Tolkien's later works, aside from an odd reference. Like you asked, I occasionally wonder why Tolkien neglected to include the Valar in his other books, and even in the majority of the Sil. Did he want to keep his stories from resembling mythology?  Maybe he just got lazy?  I can never really figure it out, because when I read his writing I see a lot of potential for the inclusion of the Valar in various places.  So where are they?

Beren IV: The Valar are important I think the Valar need to be there. Melkor is a Vala, and the futility of the War of the Elves against him is really only made obvious when one stops to consider that these are beings really only one step above mortals trying to fight a God. Of course, legenary heroes (Fingolfin, Beren, Lùthien) can do things to said God, but they can't vanquish him. In order for good to triumph in the end, the Valar have to act, even if they act indirectly.

Perhaps from reading earlier versions of the Sil, I generally envision that while Fionwë may have been the standard-bearer, the Valar were right behind him, and they took the gloves off when it actually came to fighting Melkor himself.

B. Where do the Valar fit into Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit? Are they necessary or helpful in appreciating these later works?

Beren IV: They help a great deal, since it is now possible to envision where all of these wonderful creatures come from, as well as give some explanation of why "magic" (broad definition) works the way that it does, and for whom. In The Hobbit, they're less necessary, but in LotR, there are things that the Valar have to be there in the distance for, and some things (all those little coincidences involving the Ring) in which even Illùvitar needs to be invoked.

Entwife Wandlimb: the distancing of Eru I think the Valar impose distance between the peoples of ME and Eru.  Instead of Eru caring for man so much that he comes down to be one of them, we have the Valar.  Instead of Eru dressing the lilies of the field in their splendor, we have Yavanna.  Instead of Eru mourning and crying in sympathy for his creations, we have Nienna.  Instead of Eru writing down everything in his book, we have Vairë.  Instead of Eru healing our bodies and souls, we have Estë.  Istead of -- well, you get my point.

I think I’ve always been a little frustrated by the distance of Eru in LotR and now I think I know why.

          Celeborn’s Mirror: delightful, and love your footer

Aragonvaar: Actually... Tolkien in one of his spinoff texts (intended as part of Silm; not published as such) deals w/ a philosophical debate between a human wisewoman and one of Galadriel's brothers (he's one of the "Fin-"s that make n00bs and Silm. nonfinishers scream in pain, so I'm not naming him ;).  The debate leads ultimately to the idea that the world can never be put right (or start to be put right) until Eru enters it Himself (heavy-handed foreshadowing of the Incarnation).  This about blows the Elf's mind, btw :)

So the distance is intended as a factor of this being an "Old Testament" era world populated by very pious and well-meaning pagans; rather than by the idea that Eru is "emotionally" distant from Arda.

Entwife Wandlimb: "very pious and well-meaning pagans" Thanks for the spin-off recap, and for sparing me another screaming session (it begins to grate on my family). ;-)

this being an "Old Testament" era world populated by very pious and well-meaning pagans

Is this how you would characterize all of the heroic characters of LotR?  What comes to mind is Denethor's comment that "we will burn like pagan kings of old" (or something like that).  I wouldn't think Tolkien would describe Frodo or Aragorn as pagan.

Aragonvaar: In this context... using "pagan" as a shorthand for "not member of the chosen people."  The Old Testament features non-Jews who accept Yahweh, but that doesn't make them members of the Chosen people.

Entwife Wandlimb: Ah, "gentiles" -- now I follow you.  Thanks.

Aragonvaar: Yeah, meant gentiles.  Brain fart, sorry :)

Curious: The Valar are everywhere and nowhere. Many readers have noted Tolkien's tendency to repeat certain themes in LotR that originated in The Silmarillion.  Shelob is a lesser Ungoliant, Sauron a lesser Morgoth, Galadriel a lesser Melian, who in turn is a lesser Varda or possibly a lesser Este, the lady in Valinor's garden of Lorien.  Lotholorien is a reflection of Doriath in Beleriand and Lorien in Valinor.  Gandalf is Manwe's steward, but also reflects Nienna's pity.  The White Tree in Minas Tirith comes from a long line of White Trees based on the original in Valinor, of which the Moon is a fruit.  Aragorn is a tall throwback to the Sea-kings of old, i.e. Elendil, who himself was a tall throwback to the heroes of the First Age, Earendil and Tuor and Beren.  I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

In the past I have talked about Tolkien borrowing from his own unpublished works, as if it were an excusable form of plagiarism, but I now believe Tolkien did not do this because of a lack of imagination, but as part of a deliberate theme that everything in the Third Age is a reflection of similar things in the Second Age, which in turn reflect the First Age, which in turn reflect the ages before the Sun, which in turn reflect the age before Valinor, which in turn reflect the age before the toppling of the lamps, which in turn reflect the age before Eru said "Ea."  Each age is a reflection of the age before, and there is nothing in the present which cannot be traced back into history, right back to the beginning of time and even before time.  We see this in the theme of light, starting with Eru's light in the darkness of the Void, then the two lamps, then the two trees, then the Silmarils, then Earendil's star and the Sun and Moon, then the vial of Galadriel.  Each light is a piece of a far older light, each lamp a smaller version of a far older lamp.  That light can also be seen in faces; elf-friends have a spark in their eyes, High Elves have the glow of Valinor in their faces, Varda's face reflect the light of Eru Himself. 

Tolkien quite deliberately repeats himself, because this is one way in which the Valar appear in Middle-earth; we see their likenesses in various heroes and, in the case of Morgoth, in various villains and monsters.  That is not just coincidence.  I believe the Valar channel themselves through their willing servants.  But the Valar do not just appear in the faces of heroes and heroines, they also appear in nature, in wind and water and stars and trees.  Again, they are everywhere and nowhere; those who look for them see them everywhere, but the story still makes sense to those who have never read The Silmarillion and don't know what to look for.

Luthien Rising: I really like this--- One of the interesting things it does is suggest a cyclical history working inside a (putatively) end-directed history. I wonder, though, how Tolkien would have seen the lessening of each cycle over time. Certainly he suggested in one place (I think it was in one of his letters?) that each age becomes shorter as we move toward the present, but do the heroes continue to diminish -- and the evils too?

Curious: The evils become more boring. The evils of the Robot Age, as Tolkien called it in "On Fairy-stories," are just as horrible as dragons -- but far less beautiful and magical. 

Still, beauty and magic, both the good and evil kind, do survive, although they become harder to find.  Perhaps they survive only in our thoughts, as we dream of elves and balrogs, or as Jackson films them for us.  Or perhaps they survive in our souls.  Perhaps they survive in the depths of the ocean, or in the vast depths of space, which can be both beautiful and terrible.  One day all of Earth may become part of one vast suburb, with all the mundane good and evil found in a suburb.  But we are still a very small speck in the universe.

C. Why do some of the Gods, and especially the Goddesses, never really appear again in the books that Tolkien wrote, especially The Silmarillion that the Valaquenta introduces?

Beren IV: Tolkien's work in progress needs some revision.

D. The Elves are creations of Ilúvatar himself. The Valar had no part in their making, and are drawn to Arda by their curiosity and love for these people who are to inhabit the world they have made. Are the Valar "playing" at being Elves by wearing their bodies and mimicking their ways of life: feasting, living in halls, etc.?

Beren IV: Well, I suppose they are, but the Valar are doing things other than just playing Elves. They're still making the world, and continuing to make it. Every flood washes sediment down to the beach. Every earthquake piles the mountains higher.

E. “…any other order that Ilúvatar has sent into Eä.” Huh? What other orders? Any thoughts on this one?

Curious: And yes, the reference to "any other order" is the last remnant of spirits other than the Valar and Maiar.  Some have seen it as a clue to Bombadil's nature, although I tend to agree with you that in the latest version all the miscellaneous spirits are Maiar, which would mean that Bombadil is also a Maia. [this post taken from previous thread, as it seems to address this question]

Beren IV: This seems to imply that there are other beings in Eä besides the Elves, Men, Valar, Maiar, and those things made by the Valar and Maiar. I can think of a number of other spirits that may be none of those (e.g. Ungoliant, Tom Bombadil), but then, they could also just be an odd type of Maia.

Piled Higher and Deeper

Plato <a href="">argued</a> that the elite of his ideal Republic should not be taught the mythological stories of the Homeric/Greek pantheon, because the gods were flawed, showing tendencies to both good and evil. He concluded that a true God can only be perfect, and once all the gods are perfect, distinctions between them become meaningless. Some commentators use this argument to state that any sufficiently intellectual theology forbids polytheism.

F. How does this argument apply to the rather intellectual, or at least literary, polytheistic theology of The Silmarillion?

Pukel-Man: F: Perfect gods I think Tolkien's 'pantheon' is a poetic creation rather than a truly theological one.  The descriptions of the Valar as 'middle management' in Eru's grand scheme leave me cold.  Are they gods?  I don't think so.  There is no need for them to be perfect because they are not the highest power; they are victims of Eru's hidden agenda just as much as any Elf or Man.  Ultimately I think the Valar are Tolkien's exercise in polytheistic character creation; full of colour and beauty but ultimately not meaningful in any theological sense.  The contrived Manwe-Eru relationship is, I judge, simply a justification for the existence of a 'Zeus' in a Christian man's fantasy world.  I have to say, though I admire and respect the synthesis of poly- and mono-theism that Tolkien achieved, the Valar represent some of the least interesting and engaging aspects of his legendarium.  Lacking the dynamic capriciousness (and thus the story potential) of Greek or Norse gods, and diluting the awe that might otherwise be ascribed to a single deity, the Valar seem to fall between two stools.  I'm not entirely sure they work, really; the only one that's ever really intrigued me is Tulkas, and I think that's because he seems the most accessible of them.

Curious: But they are everywhere in LotR, if you know where to look, and trust what you see.  Manwe in the wind and eagles, Varda in the light, Ulmo in the water, Orome in Theoden's charge, Nienna in Gandalf's pity, plus Maiar and other spirits everywhere.  LotR is a pantheistic world, with a spirit associated with every rock and stream and hill, and the Valar behind every shift in the wind and beam of sunlight.

Penthe: Yes, the work resonates with them. I couldn't agree more. Their characters (as evidenced by the actions they take, and relationships they form) might be absent, but the flavour of them is everywhere. They are, oddly, quite local too, given their actual absence from Middle Earth. You can feel Manwe and Ulmo at Henneth Annun, you can feel Ulmo all the way down the Anduin, and even in the pleasure that the various Hobbits feel when finding water (or bathing their feet in it).

I didn't miss the Valar in LOTR before I read the Sil, but now I find them everywhere in it. And Nienna touches everything with her selfless sorrow. Everything!

However, I do see where Pukel-man and Varda Elentari are coming from. I adored the Norse stories when I was a kid, because the Gods pretty much acted like kids do. I mean, letting everyone chuck spears at you because you are invincible? So playground.

Lottelita: "Any sufficiently intellectual theology forbids polytheism." Excuse my while my eyes roll right out of my head.  Three cheers for asserting our superiority over those primitive pagans by calling then insufficiently intellectual!

I think the sum of the Valar/Eru pantheon is "perfection" in the Socratic sense.  They are perfectly good and perfectly wise.  This certainly cannot be said of other pantheons, who neither had complete knowledge of the world nor completely (or even slightly) benevolent intentions towards it.  This is another instance in which Tolkien pretends to offer a pantheon as a nod to ancient tradition, but instead infuses his pantheon with monotheistic, Christian philosophy.  Brilliant, imho.

An seileachan: why the Valar are more like angels than gods... I think the sum of the Valar/Eru pantheon is "perfection" in the Socratic sense.  They are perfectly good and perfectly wise.  This certainly cannot be said of other pantheons, who neither had complete knowledge of the world nor completely (or even slightly) benevolent intentions towards it

OK, I'm no scholar, but it appears to me that the ancient real (if you will) pantheons of say, Greece, were simply ways humans tried to explain the powers at work in the world. That's why the gods are capricious, so often, and good and strong but also weak and petty. They are like all natural forces in the world, and ancient people could recognize that forces work both in regularity and in apparent chaos, and sometimes, at the same time! So the gods they made up to be in charge of these things, were multifaceted.

But angels, angels (while they can be fallen) are our guardians, not the powers behind the natural powers of the world.

Tolkiens gods (the Valar) are poetic, and he certainly covered all the traditional areas thought to be controlled by gods (elemental forces, nature, death, sleep/dreams, etc). But they were made BACKWARDS: they are poetic inspirations for which he then fills in the details, not gods made up by real people observing the forces at work in the real world and giving these characteristics to their gods. That is why, in my opinion, they seem sort of, well, contrived.

my thoughts only, and remember, my major was nursing, not fine arts or theology!


Penthe: Hey, Lotte, the English keep telling us you .... Americans don't understand irony!You're spoiling my cheap, ignorant nationalistic stereotypes!

Lottelita: Irony? Isn't that something Alanis Morissette made up for one of her songs?

                      N.E. Brigand: Yeah, it's a Canadian thing.  

NZ Strider: *chuckles*  Hmmm...  Can't resist stirring the pot... Be it noted that Monotheism generally (always?) postdates Polytheism; and tends to be a development from the latter.  And a degree of intellectual sophistication brings about the development: cf. e.g. Zorastrianism; or even Judaism in which, to give it a fancy name, Henotheism developed into Monotheism through the systematic application of intellectual rigour.  In Platonic philosophy (as well as in those systems derived from it) the essentially monotheistic theology propounded is a purely intellectual product which perhaps for precisely this reason never caught on beyond the sheltered groves of the Academy. 

So, there's my contribution to controversy!  Have at!  ;-)

Annael: and how would you say mysticism, or the esoteric approach, fits in? As one person puts it, ". . . the basis or foundation of all religions is the same.  There is a basic esoteric truth usually lived and taught by one man during his lifetime.  Frequently his students and successors take this basic wisdom and make a religion out of it. The general rule is that the maintenance of social, political and economic hierarchies and bureaucracies become more important than the original truths, and the world acquires another exoteric religion."

But every exoteric religion then develops a mystical branch: the Sufis for Islam, the Kabbalists for Judaism, the Zen Buddhists, the gnostic Christians. Is this a chicken-and-egg question?

Squire: Could anyone define 'henotheism' please I mean, I could look it up. But it is getting thrown around here rather casually, so I'd like to hear from someone here who's using it like it means something.

Stanislaus Bocian: Henotheism Oxford English Dictionary henotheism

The belief in one god as the deity of the individual, family, or tribe, without asserting that he is the only God: considered as a stage of religious belief between polytheism and monotheism. See quotes. So "henotheist, one who worships according to henotheism. henothe"istic a.

Annael: I like the definition "professing a monotheistic belief while essentially practicing polytheism."

Lottelita: I had it explained to me as "belief in many gods, but worship of only one."

NZ Strider: Just to add, the traditional explanation of why a people might opt for Henotheism is this: a people agrees to worship (at least officially: cf. Joshua's speech on the occasion of the Parliament at Shechem: Josh. XXIV) one single god from whom it then expects, as a quid pro quo, to receive increased and potentially exclusive aid.  I.e. we worship only you; you help only us.  The implied bet is that constant and exclusive support from one god will be better than the mutable support of many gods who all have many peoples to look after.

Pukel-man: Playing the divine stock market . . . I can't help but feel religion was more fun in the old days; sort of like picking a football team.

Lottelita: Was it intellectual rigor, or increasing self-importance that led the Hebrews to change their patron deity, one among a council of gods, into the creator of the universe and the sole existent God? 

If you go in for the Documentary Hypothesis (which I do, in one form or another), then you accept the idea that the Hebrew Bible was written by lots of different people, each with his own agenda, writing in and for his own time.  Later, the collection of texts was edited together in order to suggest that they're all part of a continuous, consistent narrative, a narrative in which God is not only the patron deity of the Hebrews, he's the creator of the universe and then *at least* the most powerful God.  From there, it's a very short trip to claiming that our God is the only god, perhaps because, as one Psalm suggests, he killed the weaker ones off. 

So why the move?  Was it increasing intellectualism?  Or was it social pressure -- in which Judah was jockeying for power in the region, and wanted to set themselves apart from and *above* the neighboring kingdoms?  What's a better way to solidify national resolve in the face of marauding Assyrians than to say, "Hey, their gods are crap!  Ours is the best -- maybe the only real one!"

That, anyway, would be the Documentary Hypothesis-based rebuttle to your suggestion that monotheism was the product of an advance in intellectualism.  But you know those anthropologists -- always trying to place everything in its sociopolitical context.  ;-)

NZ Strider: Oooh!  I stirred something up!  ;-) Hmmm...  What increasing self-importance, and in which region? 

The old Documentary Hypothesis (J, E, P, & D), by the way, is in tatters these days; sure, there are a couple diehard believers left, and textbooks always lag behind, but "J" and "E" don't exist these days; and a few have even doubted the existence of "P" (I still believe in "P" for what it's worth), while "D" surely got a lot of editing in its turn as well. 

But the question really does arise, when did the leap to monotheism take place; and some these days would actually put it in the period of the Babylonian Exile (granted, with a bit of good henotheistic work done by Josiah as preparation) when the texts were thoroughly edited, but when the Judahites lay in a state of near complete powerlessness -- i.e. when they had no importance whatsoever. 

During this period scholars like Ezekiel subjected much of the Israelites' traditions to systematic review; and "P" (at least in vocabulary, style, and precept, if not with absolute certainty in date) stands close to Ezekiel (though it could be a century or so later).  "P", at any rate, is definitely the late product of a full-scale review of the Israelites' religion -- an impressive piece of intellectual rigour: the near-Linnean systematisation of sacrifice in Leviticus; the injection of the latest scientific (yes!) concepts into a creation story which then proceeds in an orderly step-by-step fashion according to the seven-day week; the architectural design of the Tabernacle -- all very impressive!  And it's here, in this intellectual climate, that monotheism is established. 

So, is monotheism in this particular case far more an intellectual reaction to political powerlessness in a time of statelessness?  I.e. an intellectually inspired theological clawing back of what had been lost politically as a people's priests put forth all their intellectual power to produce a means with which to lead that people out of a state of utter helplessness?

Spoiler Message: 

"I'm enjoying this; but we probably shouldn't carry this too much farther lest we get way off-topic.  Respond if you want to -- and you can have the last word!  ;-)"

Lottelita: Tatters, shmatters. I suppose it depends on how you define "documentary hypothesis."  Given that most observant Judeo-Christains would have their minds blown by the idea that it wasn't dear old Moses behind the Pentateuch, I'd say the respective cohesions of J and E, or the timing of D, is small potatoes.  I know my favorite religion professor is one who puts redaction in the Exilic period, though I never did get to hear his full spiel on why.

I don't mind the Exilic timing at all, because that sociopolitical explanation is every bit as plausible as the Josaian one.  What I was objecting to was your assertion that monotheism arose as a result of a people growing more intellectually sophisticated, as though there's something more complex and clever about monotheism, as if you'd have to be brainier to come up with the idea.  I've been so brainwashed by my culturally-relativistic college education that I am appalled -- absolutely APPALLED! -- at such assertions.  Flabbergasted!  Shocked!  Flummoxed, I say!

Aragonvaar: That would depend on your definition of "behind", I suppose. My impression is that only the hardest of fundamentalist hardcores (or simple believers who have a perfectly valid desire to not intellectualize everything) would oppose, say, the idea that the Pentateuch has its roots in Moses's teachings and era, but was committed to papyrus, w/ editorizing, sometime later.

Aragonvaar: BTW, if you're going to half-jokingly accuse NZS of condenscension by implication... You might be more convincing about it if you didn't toss around patronizing remarks about "dear old Moses" and the people who take him seriously as an author ;)

Pot.  Kettle.

Lottelita: Touche! If I ever claim not to be a patronizing jerk, everyone has full rights to smack me around.  Apologies.

Aragonvaar: Heh.  That's what i like about you :) Quick to see what the party's getting at :)

No harm done, I just thought I'd rib about it a bit.

Squire: I love it when you guys talk dirty like this! 

Beren IV: Are the Valar perfect? Honestly, I don't think they are. Some of the Valar - Manwë and Nàmo in particular - could be argued to be a little too stringently "to the letter" about some of Illùvitar's laws. Melkor of course is supposed to be defiant, but anybody living in Arda would probably say that he's *too* defiant!

Extra Credit

Disney commissioned Gerald Scarfe to conceptualize its Hercules cartoon, but in production they radically simplified, or “Disneyfied” (some would say <a href="">BUTCHERED</a>) Scarfe’s acid vision.

Entwife Wandlimb: Wow!  Amazing to see the concept illustrations.  I do think Hera was butchered, and Hades lessened.  Thanks for the pics!

Aragonvaar: Re: Hades: can't agree... Scarfe's is a preproduction design, whereas the final version is designed to harmonize w/ James Wood's brilliantly slimy, satirical vocal performance in the role.  Slap a voice track under the Disney Hades, choose a still that shows off his teeth to more advantage, and I assure you, you WILL find him the equal in menace, and the superior in wit, of Scarfe's version :D

That's the real danger of an animated Silm: a flashy but inappropriate voice performer totally derailing the project.

Squire: I loved James Woods' performance But what appeals to me about Scarfe's drawings is their very flatness. He is pure line. To have honored his lines, they would have had to have the film stay flat to the screen, in a very stylized way that I think would have been fantastic, and hugely creative.

In such a style, the voice performance would have been more isolated from the drawings, but that does not mean Woods could not have created the same character.

Lottlita: I assume, also, that the flatness of the conceptual designs was meant as a nod to the artwork of the time.

G. Which illustrator or cartoonist would you base an animated Silmarillion movie on (post or link to an example of their work if you can)? How would you feel about your illustrator being Disneyfied?

Lottelita: With that [Scarfe’s flatness as period reference, previous question] in mind, what style of art would be appropriate for the Sil?  From what culture does it draw most heavily?

Curious: Tolkien liked Pauline Baynes.

Entwife Wandlimb: a couple of links from amazon and a ? Here's a couple of covers he did for Tolkien's works:

Bilbo's Last Song

Farmer Giles of Ham

He was also the illustrator for the Narnia books I grew up with.

 (I don't really care for his style, myself, but I like some more than others.)

I had never heard of "Bilbo's Last Song."  Anyone familiar with it?

N.E. Brigand: Isn't PB a "she?" "Pauline?"

Most of her drawings for Giles and Smith of Wootton Major are black-and-white line drawings.  It would be fascinating to see an animated film in that style, although I'm not sure it's appropriate for the more serious material in The Silmarillion.

Tolkien gave "Bilbo's Last Song" to his secretary around 1970, I think.  Published some time later.  Just one poem, I believe.

Incidentally, if anyone is thinking of purchasing Farmer Giles of Ham, you may find the 50th anniversary edition, to which Wanda has linked, to be a worthwhile purchase.  It's like a smaller-scale version of The Annotated Hobbit, with copious explanatory notes, a new map by Pauline Baynes, an earlier and notably different draft version of Giles, and the text of an early-abandoned sequel.

Squire: Wow. And I was just going to work from my faithful "Tolkien Reader" edition from the 1960s B.C.

As a discussion leader for Giles next month, can I ignore this one? "notably different draft", you say? Map? hmmmm.... it's a toughie.

What do the folks at home say? Straight Farmer Giles discussion from the canonical text only -- or bells and whistles out the wazoo?

N.E. Brigand: Are *you* capable... of leading a non-bells and whistles discussion?

Here's a little more about this edition, to help you decide.

The biggest difference in the earlier Giles draft, IIRC, is that it's more of a straight children's tale without the pretense of being a found bit of mock-history.  The basic plot is the same.  (No rope at the Parson's suggestion and no Twelve Likely Lads, I think.)

The map is a nicety, especially for those of us who don't know Oxford and thereabouts.  It's not very detailed and includes only the places mentioned in the text, which casual readers might not realize are real locales.  Of course, Tolkien didn't think a map was necessary.

The sequel is very abortive (much shorter than say, The Return of the Shadow) with a few hints as to how it might have developed.

The notes are nice but less copious than those in The Annotated Hobbit.  Because the anniversary edition uses a facsimile of the original book, the notes are not inserted in the text but referred to by page in an appendix.

There is the added cost, but perhaps the book can be found in local libraries?

Kimi: I've got the 50th anniversary edition, but my discussion will be plainsong to your opera. Actually, it'll be nursery rhyme in comparison to this week's.

I think you'll be fine with the plain text.

NZ Strider: If you do buy it, the really nice thing about it are the sweet illustrations by Pauline Baynes.  Without them, I wouldn't have picked the book up. 

Still, I think that you'll do just fine leading the discussion on the basis of the final text (which is a vast improvement on the initial draft anyway).  And the projected sequel never got beyond two or three pages...

But, just for you, some bells and whistles:

Squire: Thanks, NZ!  *ding-dong, toot-toot!!*

Entwife Wandlimb: lead or peanut butter? Or do you mean Pauline?  Ah, yes, most likely a she.

Clearly, that 3 hour meeting I attended on Tuesday on what book of the Bible to study this fall was way too long (it was suggested that we avoid a Pauline book).

Hmm.  Maybe I'll make a PB&J now, after adding the Annotated Hobbit to my wish list.  (Not sure about the Annotated FGoH.  It's been a while since I've read it.  I do look forward to the discussion of that one.)

N.E. Brigand: Pork-bellies. About two years ago, on Jeopardy's all-time champions "Million Dollar Masters" tournament, one of the contestants, Bob Harris, trying to answer (or question) what PB meant in the stock-market world, guessed "lead."

Lottlita: The FGoH drawing is lovely! Almost like a medieval woodcut.  I'm not sure I'd choose that for the Sil, though ... seems to earthy.

Curious: Bilbo's Last Song is lovely. It is an excuse for extensive illustrations -- the song itself is short, and easily found on the internet.  But Baynes uses the book to illustrate both "The Grey Havens" from LotR and the entire story of The Hobbit.  Her illustrations for Smith of Wootton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham are delightful, but her illustrations for Bilbo's Last Song are far more extensive.

She is probably better known as the illustrator for the entire Narnia series -- Tolkien recommended her to Lewis.  I think Tolkien liked her because the illustrations were vaguely medieval in character.

Kimi: Yes, I'm very fond of it. It has a lovely wistful quality, and the illustrations are delightful.

At the funeral of NZ sailor Sir Peter Blake (killed at a tragically young age), his daughter read this poem. There was not a dry eye in the house.

Erather: Not sure she'd be right for the Sil. Her illustrations for SoWM and FGoH are delightful, but their lightheartedness goes well with those little fables.  Sil is about 3 stages more serious, and needs something a little more heroic, IMO.  I'd lean toward John Howe, myself.

Squire: Howe is great, but doesn't do character Neither does Alan Lee. That's why they were so good for the film: they do great 'environment', giving the actors the proper background.

Let's face it, Tolkien doesn't do 'character' so well either, which is why, in my opinion, most Tolkien illustrators focus on place or action rather than people.

I used Scarfe as a leading example in my question because he is a caricaturist -- I like the Valar illustrations that I found, where the Vala is characterized strongly, even extremely. That's why I respond to Ezpeleta or Govar rather than Janin, for instance, as much as I admire Janin's talent as an artist, and disagree with Ezpeleta's taste.

I think an animated Silmarillion would demand a strong graphic style, rather than illustrated 'realism', because you're going nowhere showing the Valar as 'realistic' beings.

I agree that Baynes is a little too twee to pull off the Silmarillion, but I think she at least shows us the proper direction. John Howe goes in the opposite direction, and I think it is the wrong direction for this problem.

H. Who would voice the Valar in your Disney or Dreamworks-quality commercial cartoon movie? You have to say what characteristic of each Vala or Valie inspires your choices. Is this an easier problem than the earlier one of casting for a live-action film?

Beren IV: Not familiar enough with Disney and their animated productions to answer these. I would be more comfortable with having the Valar be animated somehow than be physically played by actors, though, if there were to be made a movie.


<a href="">Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>

Thursday, July 22 – The Maiar

6:00 AM The Valaquenta: The Maiar Ilmarë and Eönwë

The Maiar – The Text

 “With the Valar came other spirits whose being also began before the World, of the same order as the Valar but of less degree. These are the Maiar, the people of the Valar, and their servants and helpers. Their number is not known to the Elves, and few have names in any of the tongues of the Children of Ilúvatar; for though it is otherwise in Aman, in Middle-earth the Maiar have seldom appeared in form visible to Elves and Men.”

The Maiar – Discussion

Beren IV: Big Inconsistency Ainur exist both inside and outside of time. Since they exist outside of time, it is meaningless to say that an Ainu has been killed, since its time of death is a particular moment in time, and even after its 'death', the Ainu still exists, because it also exists outside of time. So what does it mean to 'kill' an Ainu?

Second, in LotR, there are several Maiar (e.g. Sauron) who are younger than some of the other parts of the world, like those "nameless things" that gnaw at the roots of the world. But if Sauron is older than time, how is this possible? Is this a genuine inconsistency between the Sil and LotR? Are Maiar in the Sil contained exclusively within the world, as would make more sense?


The Maia seem to be a catchall category for “other” spiritual beings that originate outside of Arda.

A. Is there any creature or extra-natural phenomenon in Tolkien’s stories that cannot be explained by saying it is a “Maia”? Was that Tolkien’s intent?

An seileachan: --Yes, if we think of all other spirits as Maiar, of course, that leaves Bombadil and the "river sprite" as probable Maiar...unless Eru created other spirits  not recorded in the Silmarillion? Is that a possibility, that the authors of the Silmarillion (to follow the script) did not know all the spirits, only those they were told about by the Valar?

Drogo drogo: I am the Mouth of Manwe The question of what are the so-called "spirits" that are sometimes mentioned in Tolkien is a pretty thorny one.  We could say that the Maiar might be a catch-all category for all spiritual essences, but it is still very complicated.  Perhaps there is some hierarchy of Ainur that is not fully explained, or Tolkien had his limits, creative as he in inventing new realities.  The evolution of the Maiar over time shows that Tolkien wanted to simplify the ranks of sub-spirits in his pantheon, but there might have been other categories he had in mind that he never outlined in writing.

Beren IV: Easy: Dragons.

B. Wouldn’t the Elves have met a heck of lot of Maiar by name during the long period of time they were in Valinor and regularly visited and learned from the Valar and (presumably) the Valar’s people?

An seileachan: they called all their servants "Bridget" like the rich New Yorkers at the turn of the 20th century, so got them all mixed up?

two thoughts, for what they're worth (and yes, I am intimidated by the company I'm keeping here, but carrying on regardless!)

--did Tolkien's exposure to the servant class in his ordinary life, influence his picture of "servants and helpers" in his writing? Are servants and helpers, unless in a high exposure role like herald bearer, kind of anonymous to the Elves in this way? Or unless they are sent to the Elves with specific purpose as Valar-helpers?

Penthe: Servants and service This is a very interesting point, but did Tolkien really have much exposure to servants as a given in his early life?

You've given me a good reminder that the way we read this book is, in very particular ways, not in the same cultural realm of its creation. Thanks for that.

In agreement with you - as we've discussed several times over recent months, the Elves don't ever seem to explain how food appears on the table or exactly who chops the firewood for Elrond's great hall (wretched fire is always going, and it takes a lot of firewood for that - in fact, now I think of it, no wonder Rivendell is surrounded by a wasteland, the Elves have chopped down all the trees to keep them warm while singing songs about how much they love the forests. Hypocrites ;D .)

Sorry, I just meant to say, good point. Ta.

An seileachan: I think so, yes Although his nuclear family was poor after his dad died, his extended family and others of his station in life, had household servants as a matter of course. I don't mean a houseful of servants, but one or two. Also, when he got to university, I believe his college would have had whatever those servants who cleaned your room and waited on you were called (?scouts? I'm American, not sure of the terminology). And certainly, as an officer in the service, he was used to having subordinates, including the "batmen" but also stewards, etc.

In other words, I just think that for a man of Tolkien's educated class and time, servants were frequently seen and a usual fact of life. It could be he just didn't fill in much detail here, but maybe it's also true he simply viewed servants in a certain role and never felt the need to explain in great detail, who they were or what they did. I do NOT mean to imply any prejudice or disdain. I'm trying to say that servants were more common and ordinary in his time, than they are at least in modern American middle and upper middle class homes.

Just a thought. Thank you for your comment. :-)

Drogo drogo: These are probably the Maiar who stood out among the Elves.  The Valaquenta is a kind of Homeric list of major and minor deities, but even that has its limits.  I suppose Joe Bob and Billy Sue Maia might be mentioned in some uncut fragment of the Valaquenta preserved in Tol Eressea, but their fame never spread to the mortal lands.

Ilmarë and Eönwë – The Text

 “Chief among the Maiar of Valinor whose names are remembered in the histories of the Elder Days are Ilmarë, the handmaid of Varda, and Eönwë, the banner-bearer and herald of Manwë, whose might in arms is surpassed by none in Arda.”

Ilmarë and Eönwë – Discussion

Eönwë we meet, briefly, in The Silmarillion. Ilmarë we do not.

C.      If these are the chief Maiar who are remembered, why are they remembered so very badly?

Drogo drogo: We could argue that this is only one text, but there are other accounts or songs that discuss these Maiar in more detail.  Again, the Valaquenta is like the listing of the combatants in The Iliad, and many great figures are only mentioned in passing (though their tales might be told in other, later epics).


”I am a herald and an ambassador, and may not be assailed!” claimed the Mouth of Sauron in Lord of the Rings. Heralds traditionally are unarmed, yet Eönwë is also the mightiest soldier.

D.      Why the double-duty for one noble Maia?

Drogo drogo: Eonwe is Manwe's press secretary and chief general all bundled into one.  Manwe himself, like Morgoth or Sauron later, doesn't go into battle, but he does through Eonwe.  I wonder if Sauron was mocking Eonwe (who humilated him once) by having one of his Black Numenoreans become nothing more than the Mouth of Sauron and represent him to others. 

Images of Ilmarë

<a href="">Here</a> are a couple of images of Ilmarë; I couldn’t find anything for Eönwë, which frankly surprised me.

G. How do the artists approach a character the book never describes? Frankly, are we sure my sources didn’t misidentify some more Varda renderings?

[No answer]

Piled Higher and Deeper

Tolkien’s original mythology featured a plethora of subsidiary spirits, as he tried to reconcile traditional fairies, sprites, and elves with his new conceptions. The chief Valar had children, and subordinate Valar. He maintained <a href="">this</a> until after the completion of The Lord of the Rings, when he abandoned the “many lesser spirits, both great and small” idea for the “Maiar” idea, which he used to simplify the pantheon radically, consigning the secondary Valar to the Maiar.

E.      Is the concept of the Valar stronger or weaker, now that they number exactly 14, and do not have children or lesser Valar, only Maiar?

Drogo drogo: Tolkien did not want to dilute the ruling pantheon, perhaps, so he limited the number of the Valar proper.

Beren IV: Stronger, in my opinion. How is a being that is quintessentially spirit, like a Vala, going to mingle sperm with egg to produce offspring?

Extra Credit

F.      What is the difference between these two statements: "Tom Bombadil was a Maia" and "Tom Bombadil was not a Maia, but rather a spirit of Ilúvatar incorporated on Arda"?

Drogo drogo: It depends on whether there are other types of Ainur who came down other than the Valar and Maiar.  He might be a rogue spirit, something like Shelob, who doesn't belong to the ranks that formed once the Ainur we know as the Valar decided to go down into Eru's experiment.  The real question, though, is whether spirit Tom had wings!

Incidentally, I am leaving town on a business trip today and wanted to say thanks for a fascinating discussion this week.  The tables with various iterations of the text and the illustrations really added new dimensions to what otherwise would have been a litany of names and introductions.

Beren IV: Basically, it says what Tom is made out of. If he is a Maia, then he is made of the Flame Imperishible, which exists both within and without of the world. If he isn't then he is probably a part of the world, and not something at least partially beyond it.

<a href="">Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>

12:00 PM The Valaquenta: The Maiar Ossë and Uinen

Ossë and Uinen – The Text

 “But of all the Maiar Ossë and Uinen are best known to the Children of Ilúvatar.

Ossë is a vassal of Ulmo, and he is master of the seas that wash the shores of Middle-earth. He does not go in the deeps, but loves the coasts and the isles, and rejoices in the winds of Manwë; for in storm he delights, and laughs amid the roaring of the waves. His spouse is Uinen, the Lady of the Seas, whose hair lies spread through all waters under sky. All creatures she loves that live in the salt streams, and all weeds that grow there; to her mariners cry, for she can lay calm upon the waves, restraining the wildness of Ossë. The Númenóreans lived long in her protection, and held her in reverence equal to the Valar.

Melkor hated the Sea, for he could not subdue it. It is said that in the making of Arda he endeavoured to draw Ossë to his allegiance, promising to him all the realm and power of Ulmo, if he would serve him. So it was that long ago there arose great tumults in the sea that wrought ruin to the lands. But Uinen, at the prayer of Aulë, restrained Ossë and brought him before Ulmo; and he was pardoned and returned to his allegiance, to which he has remained faithful. For the most part; for the delight in violence has never wholly departed from him, and at times he will rage in his wilfulness without any command from Ulmo his lord. Therefore those who dwell by the sea or go up in ships may love him, but they do not trust him.”

Ossë and Uinen – Discussion

Beren IV: 70% of the Earth's surface is water... I'm not going to talk about why Tolkien did all the things he did with Ossë and Uinen. I will note that Melkor's inability to control the waters either illustrates a lack of thought about geography by Tolkien's part or should make it obvious that Melkor should lose to start with, since he has at least 70% of the planet against him already.

A. Ossë was offered his boss’ job by Melkor. Melkor is a liar, of course, but did a Maia really think he could be promoted to a Vala, or at least a Vala’s job (and Ulmo is a primo Valar, too)? Can’t Ossë say “Ilúvatar”?

PhantomS: Osse the Uninsured Tulkas was promoted, and since Maiar are all Ainur it's not impossible. Yet Melkor cannot fulfil his promise because he is untrustworthy. Ulmo, on the other hand is a good boss (to Osse). Better to pick a good boss than try to be the boss.

Luthien Rising: untangling This reminds me very much of the power of Saruman's voice. I can imagine Melkor's voice having similar (or greater) powers.

Erather: Finger pointing? Apparently he not only could, but did.

Kimi: To a Vala's job, perhaps, if Morgoth convinced him that Eru (and the other Valar) were not particularly interested in the Sea. But Osse saw the light, and repented. I have a feeling that this is contrary to orthodox Catholic teaching about angels.

Osse: Looks like I have some 'splainin' to do You know, Ilúvatar is an elvish word, and elvish is only Ossë's second (and third) language; he could say Ilúvatar if he wanted to. Besides, Ilúvatar never told anyone that Manwë was to be in charge at the time, and Melkor was around first, after all.

B. Are there any other examples of Maiar who aspired to become a Vala? How about Maiar who joined with Melkor and were challenged to repent and reform? (rhymes with moron)

PhantomS: Sauron was under no illusion that he would become a Valar- those positions were only appointed to the leaders of the Song, including the out of tune Melkor.

Luthien Rising: Hmmm. Soron?

Erather: Umm, lessee...  Actually, I was surprised to see our least-favorite maia mentioned so early in the Sil.  But, I guess if Olorin made it, why not?

Kimi: *Ahem* So what's a mauron? :-)

If you pronounce "Sauron" as "Soron"

You risk being seen as a moron

Check out that diphthong

And don't get it wrong

Or you'll soon find out there's a war on.

Okay, it's not art. But it makes a point :-)

Squire: To give everyone a good time

To give everyone a good time

I purposely made a bad rhyme.

After piling the lore on,

My "Sauron: a moron"

Was hardly a war-worthy crime.

Luthien Rising: Mauron? Is a particularly nasty village in Bretagne, France?

Aragonvaar: Only because angels aren't attached to the material world... in the same way that Tolkien's Valar and Maiar are.  Angels are only single-minded in their goodness or badness because they are pure spirits who can influence the physical world but are not tied to it in the way Tolkien characterizes the Valar/Maiar as being.

NZ Strider: Hey, where's our Ossë? He should be here to answer this...

Valar and Maiar can fall; and, of course, Melkor could tempt Ossë to rebel with promises which he might not be able to keep.  Besides, Sauron the Maia filled Melkor's shoes later on; so why shouldn't Ossë fill Ulmo's?

NZ Strider: On Ossë as a "neutral" in the War of the Angels... Tom Shippey cites a mediæval poet who composed a poem on St. Michael (who led God's troops in the celestial war against the Enemy); the poem is in the Early South English Legendary (non uidi).  According to the anonymous poet there were in this war some Angels who neither fully joined the Enemy nor wholly supported God.  Now, those who in the end did incline rather to the Enemy will meet their just reward in the place down below; but those who inclined to God (without wholeheartedly supporting God's troops) will still be accepted into Heaven, though not without a bit of (apparently: purgatorial) punishment. 

I'd like to suggest that Ossë falls into that latter category.  He almost went over to Melkor; pulled back at the last second; but never entirely (re)subordinated himself to the will of Valar (and by extension: Ilúvatar).

Osse: Sure. Tom Bombadil. Long ago he applied for the job, but the Valar were upset at the prospect of their councils being constantly disrupted by Tom's 'merry-dol's and his other strange behaviour. So they sneaked off to Valinor in the middle of the night while he slept. Don't think he ever found them.


Tolkien has made an elaborate mythic explanation here for how the beneficent Sea-god Ulmo comes to make the deadly storms of the sea: turns out it’s not him at all, it’s that wayward madcap Ossë.

Aragonvaar: Osse's boss doesn't exactly keep him on a short leash.... I don't know that the inclusion of a "storm-god" as his uncooperative subordinate makes Ulmo all that benign.

Erather: Clearly Ulmo tolerates Ossë because whenever the sea destroys something there's someone else to blame (Oh, that Ossë, run amuck again, did he?).

C. Why is there no similar, relatively benign, explanation for the wicked storms of the air, or the deadly upheavals of the earth, which are presumably Manwë’s and Aulë’s dark sides?

Aragonvaar: Earthquakes and tornadoes are presumably Melkor's fault (note that Melkor cannot subdue the sea).

PhantomS: Because it's rather obvious. SInce the Silmarillion has a lot of drownings, we gotta know who is specifically responsible.

Luthien Rising: Isn't there? I see these as Melkor's continuing battle with them.

Erather: Because they don't feel the need to finger-point.  But I sure know who to blame next time Los Angeles gets it!  Somewhat more seriously, although hurricanes and

Kimi: I agree with the suggestion that those are the fault of Morgoth or his followers.

D. Uinen seems to be the spirit of the seaweeds as well as of the sea-creatures – both plant and animal. Why or how is that relevant to her ability to calm Ossë?

Aragonvaar: Osse, as we will see in his dealings w/ the Teleri later, has something of a soft spot for creatures who must seem very fragile to him.  And storms can be problematic for underwater creatures: deepsea beasts churned up to shallower depths that they cannot survive in, for instance.  Perhaps, as the guardian of life in the sea, Uinen can beg him to chill out for the sake of the seas' inhabitants?

PhantomS: Uinen & Osse = Yavanna & Aule

Luthien Rising: Tangles of weeds will calm the waters at the edges of a lake -- to a point. But being entangled in them hardly leads to feelings of calm. *shivers*

Kimi: She calms him down by asking him to braid her hair.

NZ Strider: If Melkor can tempt Ossë, then others can talk sense to him.  He just must have been willing to listen to Uinen.

E. How did the Númenóreans get in here, with their reverence to Uinen? In the Quenta Silmarillion there are plenty of mariner races or peoples of Elves who might have been mentioned here. Why weren’t they?

Aragonvaar: Perhaps to emphasize how weak the position of Men is in relation to the implacable, ever-mutable Sea.  The Teleri prove to be on quite good terms w/ Osse, once they meet him, and I would guess that the same is more or less true of Cirdan and his people.  And the couple of Noldor who are "seafriends" are proteges of Ulmo himself.  Men are weaker, less in touch w/ nature, therefore less capable of coping w/ the storms (Osse)and the depths (Ulmo) of the sea, and more dependent on its benign aspect (Uinen).

PhantomS: They pay tribute to her and wish for her protection-but they hardly ever talk to her. Uinen has become, unwittingly, a sea goddess. The Elves know her on another, almost ho-hum level.

Luthien Rising: This is Tolkien's Atlantis complex coming out (for the first time in the Sil?). Others might be mariners, but it's ultimately the Atlantis story that moves Tolkien the most.

Erather: Their relationship to water had the most dramatic climax.

Kimi: The Númenóreans have a lot of coastline (rather like New Zealanders).

Osse: That was probably the Númenórean editor making a few changes to remind readers that they once had a few friends among the powers.


First Ulmo; now Ossë and Uinen: these sea-guys and -gals get all the print in the Valaquenta. Paragraph after paragraph about “the Sea, the Sea, etc…”

Luthien Rising: Feeling a bit Sea-sick, are you? I've always liked this about the Sil, personally. (Okay, "always" is a bit strong since I only read it for the first time this winter, but still.)

G.     Why does Tolkien so emphasize the spirits of the Sea and the Waters in the Valaquenta? Is this emphasis followed through in The Silmarillion?

Aragonvaar: The sea holds a peculiar fascination for him, and this is carried through in the rest of the Silm.

I should mention in passing that when I read a book about the fall of Atlantis (by the Prospero's Children author, don't remember if it was that book though) which portrayed the sea as a sentient but implacable personality utterly alien to and uninterested in human concerns, I had trouble accepting it: because Tolkien's Sea-Troika were so firmly lodged in my head.

PhantomS: The Sea is a fortress for the forces of Good-  all the mishaps seem to happen near land or on land. And the Sea is a primal force- if Melkor tried to fight Ulmo, who knows what would have happenned.

Kimi: I agree with whoever made the Atlantis connection.

Images of Uinen

<a href="">Here</a>  are some images of Uinen; just as with Eönwë, I couldn’t find anything for the guy of the couple, Ossë!

H.      Why such unanimity in depicting Uinen as a spirit of water, while most of the illustrations of Ulmo emphasized his human form?

Luthien Rising: I see a lot more seaweed than water in the inspiration here -- an inevitable attraction given the inherent pattern interest in seaweed.

Kimi: Perhaps because she's a representative of the beloved benign face of the Sea.

Piled Higher and Deeper

Right up until the final decision to separate the Valaquenta from the Quenta Silmarillion, we <a href="">see</a> that Tolkien imagined Ossë and Uinen as Valar who were subordinate to Ulmo.

H. Does making them Maiar constitute a demotion?

PhantomS: Naah. Makes em more accountable.

Luthien Rising: In Tolkien's very hierarchical structure, yes, whether we like it or not.

Osse: Yes, but...

I.         Notice that Ossë goes from “rebellious” Vala to “willful” Maia. Why?

PhantomS: Like I said, it's a good job. Better to kill for the army than for kicks.

Luthien Rising: To make him more sympathetic. "Wilfulness" is more forgivable than rebellion.

Kimi: Willful is more forgiveable.

Osse: Well, I think there are probably too many Valar as it is, with not enough friction between them, or rebelliousness. Ulmo was already the only Vala who seemed to disagree with the others. To have another sea-Vala do the same thing was probably unnecessary. I do think we could possibly have done with some more trimming of their numbers though. Like about half of them.

NZ Strider: Hah!  Now you tell us! Thanks, Ossë.  Nice to have a good early morning laugh.

Extra Credit

J.       If Ossë and Uinen were at Irmo and Estë's one summer evening, and got into a marital spat, what would be the effect on the peaceful tree-shadowed lake of Lórellin?

PhantomS: a 3 volume telenovela starring Kelsey Grammer as Tulkas.

Luthien Rising: Pity the poor little waterlilies that flourished in those peaceful, presumably mirrorlike waters!

Beren IV: I suspect that Irmo and Estë could kick the troublesome Maiar out.

Kimi: Like a fountain with soap powder poured in it.

<a href="">Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>

6:00 PM The Valaquenta: The Maiar Melian and Olórin

Melian and Olórin – The Text

 “Melian was the name of a Maia who served both Vána and Estë; she dwelt long in Lórien, tending the trees that flower in the gardens of Irmo, ere she came to Middle-earth. Nightingales sang about her wherever she went.

Wisest of the Maiar was Olórin. He too dwelt in Lórien, but his ways took him often to the house of Nienna, and of her he learned pity and patience.

Of Melian much is told in the Quenta Silmarillion. But of Olórin that tale does not speak; for though he loved the Elves, he walked among them unseen, or in form as one of them, and they did not know whence came the fair visions or the promptings of wisdom that he put into their hearts. In later days he was the friend of all the Children of Ilúvatar, and took pity on their sorrows; and those who listened to him awoke from despair and put away the imaginations of darkness.”

Melian and Olórin – Discussion

A. Melian is a major figure in The Silmarillion, wife of Thingol and mother of Lúthien. Is she the only Maia to “marry” an Elf? How is that possible in Tolkien’s cosmology?

Hills: melian/olorin Yes, she is. How is the union of an Elf and a Maia not possible in Tolkien's world? It's more possible than a man and an elf, as both elves and maia virtually live forever (elves until the world ends). elves and maia can also both live in the undying lands. the only thing that doesn't quite fit is that Melian is of a divine race, and thingol isn't. Also, does anyone, as far as the elves go, get "married" in Tolkien's world? usually, he just says that they dwell together. I'm pretty sure that this is what he said of melian and thingol, although I could be wrong. so if melian and thingol were just dwelling together, not married, then there is nothing wrong with this either.

N.E. Brigand: Marriage. Tolkien's elves marry.  I think in Morgoth's Ring that Tolkien got around to explaining elven marriage, which is relatively unceremonious but deeply serious.  No elvish divorces.  Even in the Sil, aren't there references to a male elf "taking [a female elf] to wife?"

Penthe: UUT - no evidence Melian ideas In the back of my mind, unexamined and unremarked upon, is the idea that Melian's choice is rather like Luthien's, a kind of foreshadowing. So she has to keep the Elf-like attributes she has chosen to take on forever. Hence her ongoing life in Middle Earth, instead of popping home to visit the rellies and so on.

As I said, this is an unexamined feeling. But I believe it. So tread softly....And Squire, I know it's not REAL.

Ceorl: a gentle observation ;-) It would appear that Melian's freedom to travel was not restricted by her choice as after the ruin of Doriath she returned to Valinor.

I think that while Thingol lived she was indeed enamoured of ME and tied to it, however when he was killed her grief was to great and it's appeal faded.

Erather: Tolkien on marriage from "Laws and Customs of the Eldar" quoted in the document linked below:

"Marriage is chiefly of the body, for it is achieved by bodily union, and its first operation is the begetting of the bodies of children, even though it endures beyond this and has other operations. And the union of bodies in marriage is unique, and no other union resembles it."

"It was the act of bodily union that achieved was at all times lawful for any of the Eldar, both being unwed, to marry thus of free consent one to the other without ceremony or witness... in flight and exile and wandering, such marriages were often made."

So, if Melian had assumed an elf body, and elected to stay thus confined until Thingol was dead, I don't see any problem here.

<Tolkien on elf sex>

Hills: you're right i had completely forgotten about the LACOE essay. so, elves do marry, however, i kind of disagree about melian retaining her elven form after thingol dies, though you are entitled to your opinion. im going to see if i can find something on that...

Beren IV: Bodily versus spiritual acts Also pretty easy. Melian is a spirit, and Thingol is a bodily creature, so Melian and Thingol can't really have children that would be half of Melian and half of Thingol. Melian, however, does have to manifest a body, and I am to gather that the body that she manifests is that of a female Elf. That body functions in all ways like a normal Elven body, except that it serves as the vessel for a Maia. Thus, she can have children - but Lùthien (and her brothers, if she has any; in BoLT, she does) is an Elf like any other, or is at least concieved and born that way.

NZ Strider: A quick thought or two Melian is, in fact, the only Maia to bear a child.  This is an interesting problem for several reasons. 

The first -- how does a being of spirit couple with a bodily being? -- can be answered in the way in which Beren IV suggests, i.e. by Melian generating a body which is capable of reproducing.  The second is more interesting...

In Tolkien's earliest drafts in The Book of Lost Tales Valar and Maiar repeatedly have children.  Tolkien, however, eventually edited all of that out; Valar and Maiar thereafter remain childless.  Tolkien's altering of a pantheon originally conceived of as "pagan" to what amounts to an assemblage of Angels probably required this. 

Yet he left one exception: Melian.  Was there something different about Melian?  Some special dispensation from Eru?  Finally, the one time an Ainu does reproduce, it is with one of the Children of Ilúvatar.  I have always wondered if the following verse in Genesis was at the back of his mind when he decided to leave Melian's coupling with Thingol in:

"The sons of God (or: of the gods [?]) saw the daughters of men, that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose."  (Gen. VI 2)

Of course, in Tolkien it is a female Ainu who marries a male Elf, yet, still...

Erather: How do you feel about Beren IV's theory that Melian was able to reproduce because she inhabited an otherwise normal elf body, and hence Luthien was "full-blooded elf" rather than part maia?  That is what I had been assuming. It makes a lot of sense, particularly in view of all the discussions of the implications of Olorin inhabiting a body as Gandalf.

If this is the case, then there could have been more interbreedings -- we have to assume that adopting a physical body was so limiting for most maia that they didn't do it except under very extraordinary circumstances.

NZ Strider: I mostly agree -- the only thing which makes me wonder is that Tolkien edited out so many other offspring of Valar and Maiar.  Did Melian's coupling with Thingol just get left in because her begetting Luthien was a necessary element of the story?  Or, as you say, taking on a body which was actually capable of reproduction was either too limiting or too great a strain for most Maiar to do it.  I don't know.

B. We know Olórin becomes Gandalf. Is that the only reason Tolkien includes him here? He never appears again in The Silmarillion (visibly, anyway). Did Olórin even “exist” before Lord of the Rings?

Hills: Yeah, I'm pretty sure Olorin existed before LOTR, as much of the Silmarillion material was written before even the Hobbit was started. However, we don't know if Olorin became Gandalf or Gandalf became Olorin. Olorin may only appear in the Silmarillion once, but he plays a much larger role in the Unfinished Tales. This tells of the council in which the Valar decide that they must send missionaries to ME.

N.E. Brigand: Don't you answer... your own question, "Did Olórin even 'exist' before Lord of the Rings," with the history of the development of the "Valaquenta?"  Apparently Olorin did not exist, at least on paper, before 1951.  Does anyone know at what point Gandalf's "Olorin" reference crept into the LotR?  Why did Tolkien include that name in the LotR?  Just further "depth?"  As a hopeful cross-connection to The Silmarillion, which for a time he (impossibly) hoped to publish in conjuction with the LotR?  Most intriguing.  I wonder if the comment about Olorin--"he walked among them unseen, or in form as one of them"--grew out of the name "Gandalf," that is, "staff-elf," that Tolkien had snatched from the "Dvergatal" ("dwarves' tally") in the Voluspa when he was writing The Hobbit.

Did Melian too, as appears from the chart, not appear before 1951?  Or just not in the Valaquenta?  Was she always Luthien's mother in Tolkien's legendarium?

Squire: I don't know Of course he doesn't appear in the chart, but the chart is simply the Valaquenta texts.

What I didn't do was an index search of the HoME series, to see if he shows up in some story, or more frighteningly, in one of those notes, somewhere in Tolkien's earlier works.

I also don't know when the Unfinished Tale was written, where Olorin makes a real star turn; but my gut tells me it was after LotR.

My personal feeling is that Tolkien added the name to the LotR text after thinking a bit about Gandalf (as Pippin/Tolkien puts it, "Who was Gandalf?") -- and then went and added him, really just as a name and a spiritual quality, to the new "Maiar" section while revising Silmarillion for parallel publication with LotR in the early 50s. The UT piece and the Valaquenta piece are linked in my mind.

But I don't know. And maybe someone here does.

Luthien Rising: On the wisest of Maia Well, there *is* The Hobbit, of course, though it's not at all clear to me that Tolkien knew at that time that Gandalf was a Maia (but I missed most of The Hobbit discussion here, so I'm likely wrong about that). Yes, I *do* think that's precisely why Olórin appears here; if he didn't, we'd be wondering where he was.

Entwife Wandlimb: When I am an old man, I shall wear grey We do?!?  I don't.  I haven't read ahead.  I am barely hanging in here.  How do "we" know?  And then who is Radagast and Saruman?

An seileachan: I'm wearing purple, now, so I'll answer... ;-) good parody!

In TTT, in the chapter "Window on the West", when Faramir is explaining to Frodo about the Grey Pilgrim who had visited Minis Tirith, he tells Frodo the other names the Pilgrim gave himself. One of them was "...Olorin I was in my youth in the West that is forgotten..."

Frodo recognizes him by his Elven name Mithrandir, and tells Faramir he was lost in Moria.

I'm not sure this is the only reference in LOTR, but the only one I'm aware of.

An seileachan: um, never mind. I think I answered the wrong question. :-) I think you already knew that Olorin was in LOTR, but not that he didn't appear in the rest of the Sil. To which I have no answer. Or to which I already have the same answer. Or also didn't know.

Going to slink out quietly...

Still love your parody...

Entwife Wandlimb: no, you were right! I hadn't made the connection between Gandalf and Olorin. Thanks!

And, I'm glad you liked the parody!

N.E. Brigand: As for Radagast and Saruman... to my knowledge they are not mentioned in the Sil, but their Valinorean incarnations turn up in the section on the "Istari" in Unfinished Tales, which is, however, brief and unfinished.  The two blue wizards also get a mention there.

Beren IV: Tolkien may have had ideas. The Sil was written fairly close in time to LotR, although a little before, and Tolkien may have known about this already.

NZ Strider: Yes; and No.

C. Looking ahead, are there any examples of “fair visions” or “promptings of wisdom” that any Elves experience in The Silmarillion that we might credit to Olórin, based on this passage? If you haven’t read Silmarillion yet, maybe keep this in mind as you do.

Hills: There are some that are directly related to Melian, but none that are explicitly Olorin. Some of them might be from him, but since there were many Maia, we can only speculate.

Beren IV: An awful lot of the Elves don't act very wise in the Sil. In fact, one could argue that Lùthien herself is the wisest of the bunch, despite what happens to her, and if she has any special knowledge, she would have gotten it from her mother, not  Olórin.

Curious: This gives me a chance to ask about Lorien. I was too late to ask this in the thread about Lorien.

Olorin gave people "fair visions."  Later we will learn that Ulmo sent people dreams.  What part did Lorien, the master of visions of dreams, play when other Valar and Maiar sent people visions and dreams?  Was he the Ma Bell of visions and dreams, some sort of divine switchboard?  Did even Ulmo call upon him for assistance?  Or did he just have primary responsibility, while other Ainur dabbled in dreams and visions from time to time? 

I can't imagine Ulmo asking for permission or assistance from Lorien before sending dreams or visions.  Olorin, though, might well ask for permission or assistance.  Still, I am sure they aren't the only two Ainur to dabble in dreams and visions, and it makes me wonder about Lorien's role in this favored form of divine communication.  Did Lorien play any part in Frodo's dreams?  In Faramir's?  In Sam's visions of Frodo and Gollum?  What about Galadriel's mirror?

I don't have any answers because Tolkien never explains.  The visions and dreams certainly happen, and Lorien presumably has some part in some of them, but we never learn what part or how many of them.  One thing seems likely though; Este and Lorien presumably worked together to send Frodo his healing dreams that he couldn't remember.


Both Melian and Olórin live among the Elves, as if they were Elves themselves; yet Olórin is in disguise and unknown for what he is, while Melian reveals her true identity.

D. Why does Tolkien pair these two Maiar, with their very different incarnations and roles in the cosmogony, in this passage?

Hills: Because they were the only two Maia (i think) that had a direct interaction with the peoples of ME, and they also were the only two Maia mentioned that dwelt in Lorien. It seems natural that they would be somewhat "paired together".

Luthien Rising: It strikes me simply that if he wanted to include Olórin (which it seems, in 1951, he first did), he didn't want to make that inclusion stand out too much and so included another M-e-bound Maia as well.

Curious: Melian and Olórin both became flesh, and therefore appreciated the fate of elves and men, respectively, in a way the other Ainur could not.  This prefigures the story of Christ, Eru made flesh.  The glitch is that other Maiar might also have taken on physical bodies.  We have the Great Eagles, the Ents, and on the dark side Ungoliant and the Balrogs and Morgoth himself.  It is all a bit messy and unexplained, especially after Tolkien decided that the Ainur shouldn't normally have children.

Images of Olórin and Melian

<a href="">Picture</a> time. Oddly enough, very few illustrators have taken on the wisest and most compassionate spirit in Valinor, as opposed to the Grey Pilgrim of Lord of the Rings.

Luthien Rising: I don't find it odd; the pictures of the Grey Pilgrim stem from LOTR, not from the lesser-known Sil.

E. Given zero description and zero appearances except as Gandalf, how does one illustrate Olórin?

Luthien Rising: As more Elf-like than Gandalf ever appears. (But what does an "elderly" Elf look like?)

Beren IV: NO PICTURES!! Broken link...

Squire: The Picture Link restored! sorry...

Luthien Rising: what's up with Govar? That Melian doesn't match any criteria for beauty for any culture I've ever been exposed to. Yow. If the mother of the most beautiful woman who ever lived looked like that, then Thingol must have been devastatingly handsome.

Piled Higher and Deeper

The Valaquenta has its roots in Tolkien’s original sketches of his mythology back in the years after World War I, and he revised the material repeatedly over the years. <a href="">Here</a> is a chart of the evolution of Olórin and Melian.

F. What changes do you see in Tolkien’s conception of Olórin and Melian?

N.E. Brigand: Did Melian too, as appears from the chart, not appear before 1951?  Or just not in the Valaquenta?  Was she always Luthien's mother in Tolkien's legendarium?

Squire: I'm even more vague on Melian. But I would tend to leave investigating her for her discussion week with Daughter of Nienna, August 9th, folks, don't miss it!

Beren IV: You left out Melian in the Book of Lost Tales. There, she is a sprite that escaped from Lórien before the First Age. Tolkien does not say that she is a Maia.

Extra Credit

G. What did Olórin most object to when he visited Middle-earth: a) The old man's body. b) The old man's body odor. c) The old man's bushy eyebrows sticking out past a wide-brimmed hat. d) Can no longer walk unseen among bathing elfmaidens, or in form as one of them.

Hills: old man's body.

Luthien Rising: The body odour; hence his delight in the discovery of fragrant pipe-weed.

Entwife Wandlimb: e) None of the above.  All outweighed by the benefits:

"When I am an old man, I shall wear grey

with a blue hat that doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.

And I shall spend my gold on pipes and pickles

and fireworks, and say we've no money for ponies.

I shall ride eagles when I am tired

and blow green smokes-rings and open secret doors

and give out magical diamond studs

and make up for the sobriety of my youth.

I shall go out in black boots in the snow

and make marks on other people's doors

and learn to spit."

Beren IV: I am going to guess (a), although being as wise as he was, I think Olórin may have seen through it. I definitely do not think (d), since Gandalf never really gave me the impression of being an at all sexual being. Besides, if the Ainur are able to choose their forms, then I would expect that a normally male maiar masquerading as a female elf would quickly find that she was feeling female, rather than male, impulses. It might be interesting for a change, though!

<a href="">Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>

Friday, July 23 – The Enemies

6:00 AM The Valaquenta: Melkor, the Enemy

TGIF, eh? Well, while the slackers on Main flirt and get sloshed and push each other into the virtual pool, and generally make fools of themselves, we get to talk…  um…. to talk about….   Excuse me.

*returns soaking wet with drink in hand*

…we get to talk about the real attraction in any story: the villains! Who leaves bigger toothmarks in Tolkien’s gorgeous scenery, Melkor, his evil twin Morgoth, or Sauron?

Melkor – The Text

 “Of the Enemies

Last of all is set the name of Melkor, He who arises in Might. But that name he has forfeited; and the Noldor, who among the Elves suffered most from his malice, will not utter it, and they name him Morgoth, the Dark Enemy of the World. Great might was given to him by Ilúvatar, and he was coeval with Manwë. In the powers and knowledge of all the other Valar he had part, but he turned them to evil purposes, and squandered his strength in violence and tyranny. For he coveted Arda and all that was in it, desiring the kingship of Manwë and dominion over the realms of his peers.

From splendour he fell through arrogance to contempt for all things save himself, a spirit wasteful and pitiless. Understanding he turned to subtlety in perverting to his own will all that he would use, until he became a liar without shame. He began with the desire of Light, but when he could not possess it for himself alone, he descended through fire and wrath into a great burning, down into Darkness. And darkness he used most in his evil works upon Arda, and filled it with fear for all living things.

Melkor – Discussion

A.      Melkor was coeval with Manwë, and probably superior. He had a part of all the powers of the other Valar, unlike any of the others. So what role did Ilúvatar/Tolkien have in mind for him, if not to be the ideal Satan-figure? What other position in the universe could Melkor possibly have filled?

Aragonvaar: I believe that Eru saw Melkor's role as being to challenge and stimulate the other Ainur to perfect their craft, often in disagreement w/ them, but not in defiance of Eru's will thereby.  A devil's advocate, not a devil.  Melkor's original role might have been consisted in constructive criticism and throwing out legitimate artistic challenges, leading his borthers ansd sisters forward in a kind of burst of creative "adrenaline".  He earns Eru's wrath when he puts his own will before the artistic good of the whole: in the music,it's almost if he starts out doing jazz-like improvisations, and then, as the Ainur and Eru's succeeding themes successfully assimilate his riffs, his attempts to "dominate" degenerate into mere destructive "noise": he's become more interested in "winning" than in producing something good.

I think Nienna, Ulmo, and Tulkas are softer expressions of this "stimulative" or "challenging" theme in Eru's thought.  They try to fill Melkor's shoes as as best they can, but none of them are a perfect fit.

Hills: no milton... I think that Tolkien from the beginning knew he was going to  be "evil". After all, he wouldn't have a plot w/o him. Iluvatar, on the other hand, might have given Melkor some of all the powers so he could be a balencing force. Since Melkor has some understanding of all the Valar, in the event of a fight/catastrophe he can see it from all people's POV. However, Tolkien does say that nothing is hidden from Iluvatar. Maybe he knew that Melkor would be evil. He did make the Ainur, after all, "they were the offspring off his thought".

Erather: A few comments The god of atonal music?  of independent thinking?  of teenagers?

As we discussed in the first chapter, Melkor introduces chaos into the orderly creation, the element of randomness and accident that enables things like genetics to work well over the eons.  He is a consequence of Eru's decision to allow free will in the world, and the proof of it.

Beren IV: The Chaos to oppose Manwë's Order Arda is originally created with perfect symmetry, and despite that what is on it is beautiful, it is not complex enough, and would become a drab, uninteresting place. Melkor's purpose is to spice it up a little - and he does just that. He's supposed to be the adversary of the other Valar - but he took it farther than the other Valar wanted him to!


In this passage, Tolkien repeatedly inverts a clause, then resolves it with a following clause in proper order. He presents Melkor’s fall in a very structured triple declamation, starting from Splendour, Understanding, Desire of Light, and giving three points in the path downwards from each. “He” is the subject of seven sentences in a row, yet the rhythm stays lively.

B. Does this formal rhetoric move you? To fear? To anger? To pity?

Luthien Rising: Melkor, Blake and Tolkien Honestly? For me it actually removes emotion from the passage.

Erather: To admiration of Tolkien's verbal skills.  Not much emotion, I'm afraid.

Beren IV: Not particularly

C. Could Melkor have stayed good? Would Manwë then have rebelled, or Ulmo, or Aulë? If Melkor had stayed good, given his extraordinary powers, could any other Vala have made as spectacular or successful a rebellion as he did?

An seileachan: *runs to look up "inverted clauses"... Could Melkor have stayed good?

Yes, Oh God, yes; otherwise, there is no free will, is there? If even the highest order of created entity has no choice but to a pre-determined path, then I, a mere mortal sinner, am doomed, aren't I? If he's running down some deeply rutted path of evil which he NEVER had the chance to not take, then good heavens, what about my path?

I don't know how to argue free-will logically, so am just speaking from my heart and soul here, squire. Hope someone else can defend free will for Melkor.

Else really, I am prone to despair.

Luthien Rising: Yes, theologically speaking (within Tolkien's structure), he could have stayed good. But this is also narrative, which requires a fall. And somewhere, somehow, an explanation of the source of evil is needed (Varda would have been an interesting choice for an alternative, though).

Aragonvaar: A fallen Manwe would in some respects have been worse than a fallen Melkor.  Mr. Tough Love/Constructive Critic goes bad, you halfway expect it.  If Mr. Nice Guy goes bad, the center cannot hold.  Manwe would've taken alot more Ainur w/ him if he'd fallen.

Hills: No, I think it was in his nature as an Ainu.

Erather: Yes, Melkor could have stayed good, but the world would be a much more boring place.  I really don't see any of the other Valar really rebelling, although they may act a little fractious now and then.

Beren IV: I think that if Melkor had rebelled, but not in an evil way, then the world might have been a much nicer place, although the other Valar might have gotten fed up with the plan. Aulë might have done something sad. I don't think that any save Melkor could have been that successful, though.

If Melkor had not rebelled at all, then Illùvitar would have put a stop to this complete absense of a mess and instructed someone to mess it up in a good way.

D. How does Tolkien relate Firelight to the Light of Ilúvatar? How does he relate Fire to Darkness? If Manwë, Ulmo, and Aulë are the Gods of Air, Water and Earth, is Melkor the God of Fire?

Hills: No, b/c most often fire (in the Silm.) is spoken in relation to the "Flame Imperishable" or the "Secret Fire" which is, in essence, good; the Flame Imperishable (the ability to make life) dwells only with Iluvatar--Melkor doesn;t have it, so he can only create things in mockery of life, such as the orcs, goblins, and trolls. Sometimes, however, fire is spoken of in the evil form: when Gandalf is fighting the Balrog in Moria he calls it "flame of Udun".

It is conceivable to say Melkor is the god of Fire as he greatly desires the Secret Fire and he also used fire a lot in Utumno and Angband, but I personally don't believe this.

Erather: Light = good and darkness = evil.  Fire provides light, but is also destructive.  I think fire per se is neutral.  Falling through fire could have been purgative, but having irrevocably chosen darkness Melkor will latch on to its destructive nature and use it as a tool in his war against everyone else.

Beren IV: I normally see Aulë as Fire, Yavanna as Earth, Varda as Light, and Melkor as Darkness.

Images of Melkor or Morgoth

Not a few illustrators have taken on the Great Enemy. Here are two links to some of the results. <a href="">First</a> there is Melkor, the super-talented brother to Manwë. Was he handsome and well favored in the beginning? <a href="">Second</a> is Morgoth, who is utterly and visibly corrupt.

E. Do you think Morgoth should physically resemble Melkor in any way?

Luthien Rising: Only if the artist is constructing a narrative series of works.

Beren IV: I normally see Melkor with angel-wings. As Melkor, his wings are white, and he has a hansome (if terribly powerful) appearance. As Morgoth, his wings are black, tattered, and yes, he's covered in armor.

Piled Higher and Deeper

<a href="">Here</a> is the passage from Milton’s Paradise Lost in which God explains to Jesus how Man’s fall from grace was his own fault, though God foresaw it. Yes, the classic “Free will” debate, rendered into 17th century epic blank verse.

F. Does this argument apply to Melkor? Could you imagine Ilúvatar giving this explanation to Manwë?

Beren IV: I'm not going to touch Milton. I don't like Milton, and don't read him.

G. Any literary or other similarities between <a href="">Tolkien and Milton</a>? Would Tolkien appreciate this comparison?

Luthien Rising: Actually, the really interesting bit in your mix is Blake, whose reinterpretation of Milton would likely not have appealed to Tolkien. But Blake's Satan-as-Romantic-hero is hard to escape since the 19th century. (See how physically attractive his Satan is? See how handsome Melkor is? Hear the seduction in Saruman's voice?)

Aragonvaar: W/o reviewing the Milton, I'd have to say... Probably not.  I seem to recall Tolkien being rather derogatory about Milton's theology somewhere, and certainly authors who were influential in his thinking or theologically and temperamentally similar were, eg:

Chesterton on Milton (paraphrase): "People always wonder why the staunchly religious Milton portrays the Devil so sympathetically.  I think it was because he was very like the Devil himself."  Ie, Milton was a person of considerable intellectual gifts, unbending will, and vast arrogance.

NZ Strider: Milton, thou should'st be living in this hour! I doubt that Tolkien and Milton would have liked each other personally: certainly neither would have approved of the other's religious views very much; and Tolkien could never have defended regicides in the way in which Milton did. 

However, that does not mean that Tolkien did not learn from Milton; and, in fact, Paradise Lost seems to have had influence on Tolkien.  Milton's Satan and Tolkien's Melkor have a few things in common, certainly.  Satan and Melkor are both aware that they have greater abilities than the other Angels/Ainur; and both are very jealous of that status.  When each however sees that his ambition goes beyond what he can actually achieve, the rebellion begins.  In Paradise Lost God's begetting of a Son touches off the rebellion: Satan realises that he is not the centrepiece of God's plan.  Envious of God's ability to do such a thing, jealous of his own now threatened status, and generally pre-occupied with himself, Satan rebels.  Persuading other Angels to join him, he orders and arranges in Heaven a sort of "counter-movement" to God's régime. 

In Tolkien's mythology Melkor too is prideful.  His abilities exceed those of the other Ainur, and yet fall short of his ambition.  Melkor desires to create on his own, to do something which only Ilúvatar can do.  Melkor too is pre-occupied with himself and becomes frustrated when he cannot create.  When the Ainur sing before Ilúvatar, Melkor introduces his own thoughts, his own themes into the music -- against those of Ilúvatar. 

In both Tolkien and Milton the chief failing of the Enemy seems to be this: he becomes more concerned with his own status and his own desires than with the purposes of God/Ilúvatar.

At any rate, there are enough other resemblances between Paradise Lost and Tolkien's works to show that Tolkien had read Milton thoroughly.  For example, both Milton and Tolkien explain Satan's/Melkor's ability to deceive Angels/the Valar with the inability of perfectly good beings to see through deception:

E.g. Paradise Lost, III 686-689:

"And oft though wisdom wake, suspicion sleeps

At wisdom's gate, and to simplicity

Resigns her charge, while goodness thinks no ill

Where no ill seems..."

The same idea lies behind Manwë's naïve pardoning of Melkor (e.g. "for Manwë was free from evil and could not comprehend it" -- in "Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor").  (This "borrowing" from Milton is all the more conspicuous as it contradicts a central thesis of The Lord of the Rings: there, one of the chief things which distinguishes the "good guys" from the "bad guys" is that the former can imagine becoming evil, but the latter cannot imagine becoming good; in fact, Sauron is blind to the "good guys'" plan to destroy the Ring rather than to use it precisely because he is incapable of conceiving how the "good guys" might think.  The situation is plainly reversed!) 

Another relatively clear "borrowing" from Milton is the setting of Sauron's realm.  After Satan in Paradise Lost crawls out of the lake of fire, he and his minions travel to a nearby volcano.  They use the volcano as a forge and draw ores from it; and so build Pandemonium.  Sauron, too, builds his stronghold next to a volcano which he uses a forge.

Extra Credit

H. If Melkor was a 'South Park" guest character, would Saddam Hussein dump Satan for him?

Luthien Rising: No, but Morgoth would be pretty tempting. I think he'd dump them all for Grima Wormtongue, though.

Now -- where's that elf with my Cosmopolitan and sunscreen?

Beren IV: I'll let Lùthien Rising handle this.

<a href="">Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>

12:00 PM The Valaquenta: The Balrogs, Demons of Terror

The Demons – The Text

 “Yet so great was the power of his [Melkor’s] uprising that in ages forgotten he contended with Manwë and all the Valar, and through long years in Arda held dominion over most of the lands of the Earth. But he was not alone. For of the Maiar many were drawn to his splendour in the days of his greatness, and remained in that allegiance down into his darkness; and others he corrupted afterwards to his service with lies and treacherous gifts. Dreadful among these spirits were the Valaraukar, the scourges of fire that in Middle-earth were called the Balrogs, demons of terror.”

The Demons – Discussion

NZ Strider: Oh boy, Balrogs! Just one or two comments as the actual questions by now have been answered:

The inspiration for Balrogs was Surt and the sons of Muspell, the fire-demons who will appear at Ragnarok in Norse mythology.  Tolkien actually wrote two interesting academic articles about a trace which these Germanic fire-demons might have left behind in Old English poetry; so even in his day-job he was worried about just what exactly these creatures were like. 

Then, as Tolkien proceeded with his legendarium, Balrogs got steadily less numerous (thousands attacked Gondolin in The Book of Lost Tales; but Tolkien's final decision was that there had never existed more than seven) as well as more fearsome.  The early Balrogs get killed by the dozen in the battles recounted in The Book of Lost Tales; yet Gandalf, a fellow-Maia, needed to hack away at the Balrog in Moria for several days before he finally killed it.

Spoiler Message: 

"And, incidentally, Balrogs' wings are metaphorical, yet they can fly with them anyway."

A. Did Melkor ever have Maia of his own, as the other Valar do? He seems to have poached them all from the other Valar.

Beren IV: A previously unheard theory on Balrog wings I tend to see Maiar from more of an LotR type prospective, where Maiar would be spirits that are reflections of their respective Valar themselves, although they could be corrupted (Aulë's Maiar seem particularly corruptable). I expect that the Balrogs really are Melkor's own Maiar.

B. When were the “days of his greatness” that would attract Maiar to his splendour? Were those Maiar good?

Beren IV: Presumably before Melkor was truly Evil.

C. How do you corrupt a spirit of Ilúvatar? Aren’t they incorruptible by definition?

Beren IV: If they are incorruptible, then how can they fall from grace voluntarily?

Images of Balrogs

OK, seventh inning stretch. <a href="">Here</a> are tons of Balrog pictures to enjoy. No questions.

Luthien Rising: The balrogs all look like Yellow cars?

I'll check again after Fiesta :-)

Squire: Can nothing stop this dark curse? Here are the Balrog pictures!

very sorry; end of week; shouldn't have grabbed that drink so early in the day.

Thanks, Luthien!

Luthien Rising: psst... I don't recall your original schedule, but Altaira and the other admins have given me the go-ahead to do a weekend post during the Sil discussion for first-time-reader type questions. I can post the first one (and it will be just one thread, always started on a weekend) either tomorrow morning or late tomorrow night. Do you have a preference that fits your schedule?

Squire: The last rocket... goes up at midnight tonight: Open discussion.

Fisher: In all of those pictures the Balrog has....naaaahh.

Penthe: Balrog images You know, I always pictured more of a simultaneously glowing and inky blot with ember like eyes, shifting and burning as the Balrog moved, like a nearly burnt out fire when the breeze begins to fan the coals back into flame.

The horror of such an unembodied creature wielding whip and sword has always frightened me much more than the notion of a horned, (naaah-ed), creature of muscle and bone and skin.

A creature of both darkness and fire who can hold onto his enemy as if he had arms and claws that cannot be discerned visually.

Those Balrogs in the pictures are certainly frightening, but not nearly frightening enough.

I try to avoid pictures of LOTR. The someone went and made a movie out of it. Selfish!!!! That's all it is, selfishness. *walks off muttering again*

 (In reply to Luthien Rising, Balrogs are well known to use yellow cars to increase their visibility on the roads. Being the epitome of blackness, they had suffered many terrible traffic accidents until Sauron forced them to adopt this simple safety method ;-)

Entwife Wandlimb: Frightening description! Your description of his description creeped me out.

So, are you not a fan of the movi -- naah.

Penthe: movie with ....naaah Actually, I liked the movies a lot. But not as much as you and the others on the movie board! But I love lurking and listening to all you have to say.

I just keep reminding myself that it's Peter Jackson's vision, not mine.

Piled Higher and Deeper

As we have already seen, Tolkien greatly expanded and modified the Valaquenta section of The Silmarillion in the years after Lord of the Rings was written and published. <a href="">Here</a> is a chart of the evolution of The Enemies.

F. The Balrogs, and Sauron, appear in the 1920s and 1930s drafts of The Silmarillion. Why does Tolkien only add them to the introductory section about The Valar in the 1950s?

Beren IV: Balrogs get a lot more important in later versions of the Sil. In the early versions, yeah they're demons, but nothing like what they are in the later versions, let alone LotR.

Extra Credit

D. Did Balrogs have… naahhhh

Beren IV: They have wing-like appendages, but I'm not sure that those appendages are primarily used for flight. I suspect that their primary function is one of these: (1) they are a weapon, much like the Black Breath of the Naz. (2) They represent something which spreads out darkness, and helps them resist the counterspells of Elves or good Maiar. (3)  They act as a source/amplification organs for the Balrog's own magical powers.

Can they also be used to fly? Well, that evolves from one version of the story to the next. In the early versions, these appendages don't even exist. In Morgoth's Ring, they almost certainly do fly. In LotR, well, if they can be used to fly, then Balrogs do not fly very well, or else one would have expect Durin's Bane to fly right over Gandalf on the bridge and attack the people on the other side. I do not buy the argument that since the thing fell into the chasm that it couldn't fly; it had gotten hit by Gandalf's Maia-breaking banishing spell (which required Gandalf sacrificing his staff to cast). It would not have mattered if the Balrog could normally just teleport.

<a href="">Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>

12:00 PM The Valaquenta: Sauron, the Enemy’s servant

Sauron – The Text

 “Among those of his servants that have names the greatest was that spirit whom the Eldar called Sauron, or Gorthaur the Cruel. In his beginning he was of the Maiar of Aulë, and he remained mighty in the lore of that people. In all the deeds of Melkor the Morgoth upon Arda, in his vast works and in the deceits of his cunning, Sauron had a part, and was only less evil than his master in that for long he served another and not himself. But in after years he rose like a shadow of Morgoth and a ghost of his malice, and walked behind him on the same ruinous path down into the Void.”

Sauron – Discussion

A. Sauron was originally of the Maiar of Aulë; so too was Saruman. Is this a bum rap on Aulë, or what?

Hills: necromancer Yeah, unfortunately. I've never personally like Aule anyways. It seems like he makes lots of bad choices, such as making the dwarves, etc.

Luthien Rising: Aulë's folk This is the problem of the thin line between craft and manufacturer -- the question of motives and methods than can turn good subcreation into evil miscreation. Even Aulë eventually treads very nearly over that line [stopping here to avoid spoilers]; it is that much less surprising that lesser beings aligned to him would cross that line and change their allegiance.

Bythedar: Aule's legacy Finally able to chime in this week!

Aule himself was guilty of a little free-lancing in the beginning when he made the dwarves.  Perhaps it is just the fact that they are Ainur that like to create and build.  Being crafty, they often build first before thinking about if they should build.  Perhaps Tolkien's way of taking a jab at modern 'progress'?

Aragonvaar: "Craft" leads to either great humility or great arrogance... Aule gets forgiven for a transgressive creation because his motives were loving and creative, if misguided and because he was willing to accept criticism.  Sauron and Saruman, and Feanor and Celebrimbor end as they do because because all or part of Aule's extenuating circs are not true of them.

Bigidiot: Sauron only has to fight Gandalf It sure seems to be, huh.  So what is it about Aule's powers that Tolkien finds so dangerous?  The desire to subcreate?  I guess that is similar to Melkor's initial downfall.

Mapalon: On Tolkien/Aule Subcreation The idea of Tolkien finding a threat of Evil in the Aulean tendency to Subcreate fascinates me. Looking at Sarumans and Sauron's fall, and even more at Aule's almost-fall (when he created the Dwarves without Illuvatars permission), we can see the dangers inherent in the desire to subcreate; and yet, from his very theory of Subcreation is evident, Tolkien is one of the masters of the Subcreation, and probably (we would all agree, I think) one of the greatest sub-creators the world has ever seen. The ingredient, the potential for evil in the creative urge was probably not lost on Tolkien, who understood in this Fallen world the potential in himself. I think I remember reading in a Carpenter Biography of Tolkiens fits of depression every time he was unable to attend Church and recieve Communion; Knowing his Christianity, and feeling himself to be a Sinner in a fallen (perhaps Morgoth-tainted) world in need of salvation, perhaps he felt himself in danger of misusing his 'craft' in a way not in align with God's plan, and wanted God's sanction as much as possible.

That was Sarumans/Melkors/Sauron's mistake; not acting by, and against, God's Plan.

Curious: And the Noldor subcreate The Noldor sometimes seem to have more in common with the dwarves than with other elves, and Feanor and Celebrimbor both fell into folly through subcreation.

Beren IV: Tolkien shoots up his own cosmology... I agree that there is a fine line between craft and assembly line, which is what Tolkien was being didactic about.

Notice, also, that of the three kindreds of Elves, the one that does the most bad in the world is the one chosen by Aulë...

B. What does “he remained mighty in the lore of that people” mean to you? Did Saruman know and admire Sauron back in the good old days?

Hills: No, I think that the lore of that people was the making of crafts, like the Noldor. however, if this is true, then why did he need Celebrimbor to teach him how to make rings?

Bythedar: I'm sure that Saruman knew Sauron back in the day, and in some way was jealous of his ability.  Jut my UUT :)

Bigidiot: I think it just means that among Aule's Maiar they still respect that Sauron was able to become the most powerful Maia even if they don't like the choice.

Beren IV: I think they all did, probably.

C. Sauron “had a part” in all the evil “vast works” of Morgoth on Arda. Is this supported by the stories in The Silmarillion?

Hills: Not necessarily, but possible.

Bythedar: Yes, it is supported.  Werewolves, vampires, Tol Sirion's fall, etc.  All these things Sauron had a hand in.

Bigidiot: Yeah, especially the conflict in the tower with Beren and Luthien

Beren IV: Not much, but I expect that after Morgoth lost one Silmaril, he realized in some corner of his spirit that sooner or later the Valar were going to depose him, and so he decided to train a replacment.

D. By this reading, is the Sauron of “after years”, The Dark Lord of the Rings, the equal of Morgoth?

Hills: I don't think that he was quite equal of Morgoth, but the Sauron of "after years" was indeed the necromancer and then Sauron in Barad-dur with the ring.

Luthien Rising: Interesting question. He's the equal, I think, of Morgoth, but not of Melkor. (That probably makes no sense, though.)

Squire: Your answer to D. is addressed in that essay you bookmarked, by the way... [below, in Piled Higher and Deeper]

Bythedar: Absolutely not.  He was defeated by Men and Elves not once, but three times!  This is something that they could NEVER do with Morgoth.  Morgoth was only cast down with help from the West.  Sauron was definitely the lesser.

Bigidiot: I don't think he's the equal of Morgoth but I do think he has the same if not more dangerous ratio of power to the opposing forces of the third age that Morgoth had to those opposing him in the first.  Morgoth had to contend with all the Valar, the Valar's uncorrupted Maia and elves and uncorrupted men.  Gandalf is the only supernatural being Sauron is pitted against, and has the bonus of fighting an ailing army of men.

Aragonvaar: Tolkien says in some of the very late HoME that Sauron was greater at his prime than Morgoth was at the end of the First Age, because Morgoth had poured much of his native strength into his "tools", his "minions" and because he had become a mere nihilist.  Tolkien argued in the same essay, that for a long time, Sauron was not wholly evil "unless as such reformers and progressives who insist on their own programme above all else" are evil.  This interpretation of Sauron is, I would say, more compelling and arguably more topical than the arcane psychological twistings of an artist turned destroyer, which is the chief representation of Morgoth. [Squire’s Note: this essay is the subject of Piled Higher and Deeper, below]

Beren IV: Tolkien seemingly contradicts himself here, based on his own religious conviction that evil must necessarily destroy itself, and Sauron, being less evil than Melkor, must destroy himself not as quickly.

Personally, I think this is hogwash. I have no problems with Tolkien having been Catholic, and I have no problems with Catholics in general. Since his religion was the source of much of his inspiration, I am glad that Tolkien had it. However, I think that this is one case in which he is extrapolating too far.

Images of Sauron

<a href="">Here</a> is our portfolio for Sauron. Since he’s such a superstar in The Lord of the Rings, it was hard to find anyone who wanted to draw the early Sauron from the First Age, and I’m not sure all of these are from The Silmarillion.

E. How would you distinguish Sauron from Morgoth in these illustrations if I told you that one of them was actually of Morgoth? Just pulling your chain, ha ha!   …but you have to answer the question anyway.

Hills: well, if the pictures were more detailed and closer, then morgoth would be the one with black hands, since he handled the Silmarils and was burned. though, did Sauron also have black hands in LOTR, when someone described the four fingers on his Black hand? although, that could just be a literary device, or metaphorical/personified adjective...

Luthien Rising: I'm certain you said we were allowed to skip questions! But the anser is, no. I imagine that Sauron has at all stages modelled himself on Melkor/Morgoth and is distinguishable only in his relative lack of charisma.

Bythedar: Meltairi's picture strikes me the most.  I always pictured (and it is supported in the text) that Sauron was "looked fair and felt foul".  He would not be dark and forboding like Morgoth at this point in time, but fair, beautiful and terrifying.

Beren IV: I agree that Sauron tends to model himself after Morgoth quite a bit. I'm not really sure I have a good picture of what Sauron looked like - he had many forms, apparently. But none of them do I think had Fallen Angel wings, so that way could tell them apart. Morgoth's crown also has slots for Silmarils, and I picture Silmarils as being rather visible objects.

Piled Higher and Deeper

Tolkien wrote an interesting <a href="">essay</a> on the differences between Morgoth and Sauron.

Luthien Rising: And someday I'll have time to read it! *bookmarks for later*

F. Is Tolkien’s discussion of Sauron in this essay relevant to the Sauron that we meet in the Silmarillion?

Bythedar: I would say that this discussion of Sauron really does'nt apply to the First Age, as he has not yet aserted himself on the world stage.  He is still a follower, not a driver of policy.  I do find it very interesting that the Prof would say that Sauron in the Second Age was actually more powerful than Morgoth was at the end of the First Age.  In reading the Silmarillion, I just don't see it.  But, it IS the Prof speaking, and it is his world, afterall.....

N.E. Brigand: Morgoth v. Sauron

Here's where you can see what Tolkien meant:  at the end of the First Age, Morgoth cringes in his deepest hall; at the end of the Second Age, Sauron comes out to fight.

Beren IV: We shall see when we get to the Lúthien chapter.

G. Is Sauron actually an “improved” Morgoth, as far as being a dramatic villain character in Tolkien’s stories is concerned?

Bythedar: I think Morgoth is more developed.  He has more of a presence.  In LOTR, he is just out there somewhere.  We never see him.  Morgoth is present, clear and vibrant.  He actually comes out to do battle with Fingolfin, which is my favorited part of the whole mythology!  But, that is my bias speaking :)

Beren IV: See above. No, I think that the War of the Ring is a loud *echo* of the War of the Jewels, not that the War of the Jewels is a premonition of the War of the Ring to come.

Extra Credit

From the text we see that Mr. S. Gorthaur is talented and technically skilled, loyal and ambitious, very detail-oriented while still keeping the big picture in mind. After a calamitous disaster resulting in the loss of upper management, he single-handedly rebuilt the enterprise while preserving the founder’s business plan.

H. Doesn’t Sauron deserve a performance bonus and a golden parachute rather than exile to the Void?

Luthien Rising: "Deserves" is different from "will get". Shareholders and the appointed board of directors will happily give them to him, regardless of my personal opinions on selfish capitalist industrialist entrepreneurs. But new governance regulations just might get him nabbed. Then they can hire someone who "thinks outside the box" to "reengineer" the company into the "new open business environment of today".

Bythedar: Hmm.  Sauron...Enron...Sauron...Enron...coincidence?

Beren IV: If Melkor were still calling the shots, I'm sure he would get something! I do see Morgoth as not being necessarily hard on his lieutenants - especially if those lieutenants like doing things that Morgoth likes to have happen, like painful executions of beautiful elf-maidens...

<a href="">Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>

6:00 PM The Valaquenta: Snoozer or Loser?

And finally, tonight we say farewell to the Valaquenta. Ah, the Valaquenta: Why is it here, what does it mean?

Conclusion – The Text


The Valaquenta – Concluding Discussion

"[M]y father came to conceive The Silmarillion as a compilation, a compendious narrative, made long afterwards from sources of great diversity (poems, and annals, and oral tales) that had survived in agelong tradition; and this conception has indeed its parallel in the actual history of the book, for a great deal of earlier prose and poetry does underlie it, and it is to some extent a compendium in fact and not only in theory. To this may be ascribed the varying speed of the narrative and fullness of detail in different parts...

In the case of the Valaquenta, for instance, we have to assume that while it contains much that must go back to the earliest days of the Eldar in Valinor, it was remodeled in later times; and thus explain its continual shifting of tense and viewpoint, so that the divine powers seem now present and active in the world, now remote, a vanished order known only to memory." --from "The Silmarillion", foreword by editor Christopher Tolkien, 1977.

A.      What does Christopher Tolkien mean here? How or where does the Valaquenta "vary in tense and viewpoint"? Do the texts we have read this week seem to have made the Valar “present and active in the world” for you – or “remote, a vanished order”?

[No answers]

 “I am sorry if this all seems dreary and ‘pompose’. But so do all attempts to ‘explain’ the images and events of a mythology. Naturally the stories come first. But it is, I suppose, some test of the consistency of a mythology as such, if it is capable of some sort of rational or rationalized explanation.” –J.R.R.Tolkien, letter no. 200, June 1957.

B. By now we’ve seen some of the work Tolkien put into The Silmarillion, revising and revising for 40 years. Here Tolkien himself seems to harbor some doubt. Does his mythology benefit proportionally to the immense labor he put into “rationalizing” it? Do you agree with Tolkien that a mythology should be consistent and capable of rational explanation?

[No answers]

C. What moments in The Lord of the Rings would you rethink now that you know a bit more about the Valar and what their powers, realms and folk are?

Bigidiot: weird drawing I dunno if it's strictly from the Valaquenta but I think the most obvious example is the winds changing at the battle of the Pellenor (Manwe).  The clouds parting to reveal that star to Sam when he's in despair in Mordor (Varda & Manwe).  Those two examples stand out but I'm sure there's more good ones.

Squire: At the same point in the story, Sam "prays" for a little light and water. As you say, he gets the glimpse of the star due to the winds pushing the clouds aside, and then he finds that one last little creek of water in desert Mordor.

He thanks the Lady Galadriel; in the world of LotR she is the closest thing we have to a guardian angel (note Jackson's use of her in the third film).

But I can't read that section anymore without thinking of, as you say, Manwe and Varda, but also Ulmo.

Curious: Precisely! those are only the more obvious examples.  I can't read any of the chapters of LotR anymore without thinking about the Valar, and it is the Valaquenta that set me thinking.

Squire: Feel free to write up a close reading of LotR along those lines. I would peruse it with interest and most likely, agreement.

The key, as you've noted, is that Tolkien had these Powers deeply set in his mind before he wrote a word of LotR. It is natural that he would focus on aspects of his characters' experiences that resonated with those he regarded as central to his imagined universe: Wind, Stars, Water, Creativity, Plants, Judgement, Storytelling, Visions, Healing, Pity, Heroism, Dance, Horses, Renewal.

Curious: And Chaos.

Squire: Now, now He Who Must Not Be Named is no longer counted among the Valar, and we were talking about the Valar, weren't we?

When you finish your close reading on the Valar, I would of course expect Volume 2 (about another 300 pages, I would guess) on Chaos (or Evil) in Lord of the Rings.

Curious: Manwe, Varda, and Ulmo, or as you might put it, Wind, Stars, and Water, are the three Valar who seem directly involved in LotR.  But the others alert us to what Tolkien considered Important Themes.

Curious: A Key to the Code. The Valaquenta enlightened my reading of LotR more than any other chapter in The Silmarillion, because it told me where to look for the presence of the Valar.  Suddenly those shifts in the wind were not so arbitrary, the birds along the Anduin were not just there for the water, the Hills of Sight and Hearing were not just hills, the fog along the Brandywine and the Anduin was not just fog, the star Sam sees is not just a star; suddenly the Valar are everywhere.  I am not yet sure whether the same is true of The Silmarillion, or whether the Valar are absent because they have turned their backs on the Noldor.  However in some ways the Valar are more directly present in The Sil, as when they shape the world, rescue the elves, and govern Valinor.  Still, I believe Tolkien wrote this chapter as much as a key to LotR as for an introduction to The Sil.

N.E. Brigand: Nice point about the fog in the LotR! I'd never thought of that before (and I missed the LotR chapter discussions here).

Pukel-Man: I don't know. I do like your theories about this and I can certainly see where the influence of the winds, in particular, could be ascribed to Manwe.  But I'm not sure I'd go so far as you when it comes to attributing some of these things directly to the Valar.  The significance of the star Sam sees is not in any way dependent on an understanding of Varda, for example.  Some of these motifs are fairly universal, and even those which are fairly specific to Tolkien need not be intended as direct references to Valar intervention.  Tolkien saw some things, like starlight and the sea and the cry of the gull, as noble or 'good', and he saw other things as low or 'bad'.  That he attributed the things he liked to his 'angels' and also used these themes in his only real novel need not necessarily be linked, IMO.  I'm not sure I'd conclude that the Valar are 'everywhere' in LOTR; rather, I'd say that some of the things that Tolkien thought of as beautiful or 'angelic' enough to ascribe to them are present in the novel also.

Curious: But that's the beauty of it. "The significance of the star Sam sees is not in any way dependent on an understanding of Varda."

Exactly!  Understanding LotR in no way depends upon an understanding of the Valar.  But we know that Tolkien was aware of Varda, and her connection to the stars, when he wrote LotR.  And now that we have The Silmarillion, we can be aware of it too, if we like.

Pukel-man: Yes . . I agree that one of the great things about the book is the way magic, divine intervention, and other 'spiritual' events are usually explicable in some more mundane way as well.  All I'm saying is that I don't think I can be as confident as you about ascribing *all* of these things to direct Valar intervention; though Tolkien was a meticulous writer I could well believe that some of the book's moments of spirituality were heartfelt and intinctively written rather than contrived.  I think it more likely that his conception of the gods came after his love of the stars or of trees or of waters, and that he wrote with those loves in his mind rather than his pantheon.

But none of us really knows, I guess, and it's probably not a very useful distinction in any event.

Curious: I don't understand why a moments of spirituality should be considered any less heartfelt and intinctively written because Tolkien had already conceived of Manwe and Ulmo and Varda and their connection to wind and water and starlight.  Of course his conception of the Valar came after his love of the wind or water or stars, but we do know his conception came well before he wrote LotR.  I'm sorry if it taints LotR for you, and I don't see why it must.

Curious: Note squire's comment below: [link here to “At the same point in the story, Sam”, above]

D. Is the Valaquenta just a laundry list or reference work, written down more for the author’s own use than for any reader? Are there any real-life counterparts in world mythological or religious literature of this kind of god-by-god account?

[No answers]

E. Is the Valaquenta even needed in The Silmarillion? Why does it get such a prominent position (Part II)? Why didn’t J.R.R. Tolkien make it an appendix, since it so closely resembles the kind of material found in the Lord of the Rings appendices?

N.E. Brigand: Why not an appendix? Probably because the characters are too central and yet not well-enough explained in the main text of the Sil.  Balancing the implied and the known was a big challenge for JRRT--witness the LotR, where he wanted to integrate the tale of Aragorn and Arwen but couldn't.

Erather: Re Aragorn & Arwen's story: He could have done more than he did, IMO.  True, all the lovely backstory and ending couldn't have worked into the text, but he could have been a little clearer that there was a relationship.  As it is, you need a microscope.  I doubt anyone picks up the three or four teeny hints on a first read, and then Arwen turns up in Minas Tirith and you have no idea who she is!

Penthe: But you know straight away the second time you read it. Somehow I think Tolkien knew that at least some of his readers would want to read it all more than once. Or there would be no appendices and so on at all.

So he really needed geeks like us in order to just make sense of the main narrative of LOTR let alone everything else.

F. Is there any literary quality to the Valaquenta? Any poetry? Please cite specific examples.

Beren IV: Tolkien himself said that the main reason for doing this was to make a cool story... To the first set of questions: The Silmarillion obviously began as a hobby for Tolkien. He said so himself. At some point it became more than that, in a large part because he was getting published, but deep down I still suspect that a hobby is what it was. He never finished the Sil - obviously not finally content with it, and to me at least some reasons are obvious; it is internally inconsistent, and has several inconsistencies with LotR.

Images of the Valinorean Pantheon

Hah! I did find <a href="">one</a> group portrait. Although it is not a dramatic illustration, it does portray the Valar in a new light.

G. Can you identify each Vala or Valie? Answers in the hidden spoiler box.

Bigidiot: That picture's pretty funny.  I guess it just goes to show how amazingly versatile these stories are that they can be imagined in so many different ways and by different cultures.

You did a good job this week coming up with interesting questions for what I consider to be one of the less exciting parts of the Sil.  Interesting links too.  Thank you.

Squire: Thanks for your nice words about this week, bigidiot, I enjoyed your contributions.

Beren IV: Tulkas, Oromë, Aulë, and Melkor are all pretty obvious. Given them, it's reasonably easy to figure out which one is Yavanna, for instance, and Manwë is not that hard either given who Melkor is. However, I don't think that these Valar are trying to look very distinctive!

Piled Higher and Deeper

Six years after writing the above commentary on The Silmarillion, Christopher Tolkien explained in far more depth his father’s thoughts on, and his own editorial approach to, publishing The Silmarillion. <a href="">Here</a>, in eloquent and persuasive detail, is his foreword to the first volume of The History of Middle-earth, “The Book of Lost Tales 1” (Houghton Mifflin, 1983). I include this long but interesting essay at the end of my Valaquenta discussion, in the hope that it will inform our thinking on the main Silmarillion, which we are to dive into on Monday.

H. What is C. Tolkien saying with his tight-lipped “This I now think to have been an error” comment on the ‘standalone’ 1977 publication of The Silmarillion?

Lottelita: Since you linked to it (darling you!), I'll comment on Christopher's foreword, which I've not read before.  I take special interest in his explanation of the "three options" for the Sil:

“I could accept the nature of the work as it stood, and, to quote my Foreword to the book, ‘attempt to present the diversity of the materials – to show ‘The Silmarillion’ as in truth a continuing and evolving creation extending over more than half a century’; and that, as I have said in Unfinished Tales (p. 1), would have entailed ‘a complex of divergent texts interlinked by commentary’ – a far larger undertaking than those words suggest.”

Am I the only one who is utterly tantalized by this option?  Who still hopes that it may come to pass?  In addition to HoME, we might have HoS (or, more in parallel, the History of Arda)? 

I've always enjoyed the Sil, but I've never really engaged with it on the same level as LOTR, because I know it's not the Professor's work, in the end; Christopher did a lot more than "edit" the Silmarillion -- he took notes and tales and scraps and stories and forged a narrative.  He is the author of the Sil, then, I'd argue, and it should be his name on the cover instead of his father's -- or, at least, their names should be there together.

As for his admission that the standalone publication of the Sil was "an error" ... well, he has been mightily criticized for it, hasn't he?  As a guy whose life work has been picking up where his father left off, he's expected, I think, to feel a little disappointed when his efforts are underappreciated by rabble like me. 

I don't know that I see the practical difference, though, between releasing the Sil as "volume 4" of LOTR and releasing it on its own -- it's not like droves of people are reading the Sil without having read LOTR first.  And bundling the two together would only further misrepresent the book as JRRT's literary accomplishment -- when it is very much Christopher's.

Squire: Linked, shminked I typed it in and put it on my site.

Lotte, you really should investigate HoME. It is the HoS. That's what I've been working from in my Valaquenta backstory, and Valaquenta is just the beginning of the Sil.

More to the point, I fear you've fallen into the very trap C. Tolkien is lamenting in his piece here. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the Silmarillion, very much as you read it in the hardback edition of 1977. But he wrote it in many different pieces, over many years, and the pieces had to be fit together. A little glue at the edges: that's what C. Tolkien did. In HoMe he admits to, and apologizes for, every editorial intrusion, and there really aren't that many.

What I read as C. Tolkien's admission of error, is that he did not publish Silmarillion more as the 'academic' edition that HoME is, in all its messy annotated annotatedness. It would have made clear why certain sections don't cohere, and why the tone changes so much. It might also have made it harder for the casual reader (as opposed to the geek who likes reading all three versions of the Hunt for the Ring in Unfinished Tales). So he opted for the artificially seamless look.

But when you go through, if you go through, HoME, you'll be stunned at how old The Silmarillion is, and how much of it goes back almost unchanged to 1937 at least.

Lottelita: But doesn't CT say that he had lots of pieces to choose from, and different versions of said pieces?  That was the impression I got from the foreword.  He chose the most readable ones, which may or may not have represented JRRT's final authorial intent.

*bumps HoME up on reading list*

N.E. Brigand: I think he chose...the most recent prose versions except where they were notably at odds with the rest of the text (for example, in some late writings JRRT considered having the world be created round and the Sun and the Moon not be created as the last fruit of the destroyed Trees--this was to align the myth with scientific fact:  probably a mistake, but there was the problem that he'd written too much material linking then to now, linking myth to (feigned) history).  I think, at the time of his death, that JRRT had a definite outline for what material would be included in the Sil, and that CT followed the plan.  However, some of the stories had been much more recently updated that others.

In addition, however, there are sometimes poetic versions of the same tales, that from my limited experience with the HoME, are often better than the prose we get in the Sil.

There is also material in the HoME, like discussions of the origins of orcs, or of the marriage of elves, or the long conversation between Finrod and the human woman Andreth, that are fascinating but didn't fit in the general narrative structure of the Sil.

Finally, there are the partially finished stories, that CT didn't include in the Sil but left for the UT and the HoME.  For example, the UT's longer but very incomplete version of the coming of Tuor to Gondolin, with the description of each of the seven gates, is much more interesting (on the material it covers) than the finished tale of Tuor that appears in the Sil, but CT acted as editor rather than author and didn't write his own ending.

The Sil is such a tantalizing, dissatisfying work.  Oh, that Tolkien had been able to give it the treatment he gave the LotR!  But it was possibly an impossible project, needing many thousands of pages.  Maybe if he could have been held to a deadline:  if within five years after the LotR he had to publish the three most interesting tales from the Sil in fleshed-out form, and then maybe within the constraints of published canon he would have been less able to spend time experimenting.  Maybe.  But who could do that?

Aragonvaar: Silm is primarily a cut-and-paste from the "latest" drafts... of the different stories available, using older versions where necessary and compatible.  Occasionally deleting stuff CT felt wouldn't work, sometimes trivial (there's an Elvish lord of Gondolin named Rog mentioned in a list of the fallen in the draft version, he deleted that guy being reasonabily sure that the name would have been for dropped for being incompatible w/ the Elvish tongues as they'd evolved), sometimes not trivial (did you know that in the draft used for the Music of the Ainur, Eru weeps as he raises His hand to signal the third theme?)

There's only one place where CT, after consulting w/ his Silm editorial collaborator Gabriel Guy Kay, ended up writing actual new material.  I'm not gonna say where, because it will be interesting to see if anyone spots it, but it's a place where the old versions, outlined in HoME, were clearly incompatible w/ the later, more sophisticated conceptions, and where Tolkien had pretty obviously decided that he couldn't let the old versions stand but never came up w/ a proper replacement.  CT was apparently profoundly guilt-ridden about this, and "confessed" up to it in the HoME.  Personally, I think that if he had simply asterisked the version he wrote, and given an afterword explaining what had been done and why, w/ quotes from the relevant texts, it would've been a perfectly acceptable solution.  IMO

Lucia: Sil framework Not knowing anything about that publication (I guess it is the one we are reading) or having any other point of information other than the essay itself, I'm understanding C. Tolkien to be expressing regret that the Sil was not clearly linked in some framework to LotR. His mention of the books that Bilbo gave to Frodo seemed to be part of the link that he was wishing was clearly forged in the Sil.  I have to admit, it does help create an additional emotional link to think that this is a copy of a text that Frodo read and studied. That immediately brings up the real Missing Piece for me which is isn't it too bad that there isn't any mention of hobbits in the creation story? How hard would it have been for the Elves to have had *some* awareness of the hobbits and therefore some curiosity and observation about them? How much more personally engaging would the stories have been for Frodo et. al. if there was even a tidbit about their connection to The Big Picture?  The dwarfs got Aule. Could Yavanna have had something to do with Hobbit creation? or maybe have them mentioned as one of the Children? Anyway, I can see what C. Tolkien is talking about. I think it would have been an improvement to link the Sil a little more clearly to LotR.

N.E. Brigand: Actually I think CT was... regretting that he didn't publish the Sil in a form more like the HoME, which is transparently a collection of different texts with different dates.  I don't think CT necessarily wished he had "invented" a framing device that JRRT hadn't himself created.

Of course the Sil wouldn't have been a publishing hit in the HoME format, so CT may have been lamenting that publishing the Sil as he did was "selling-out."

However, the Sil, despite its dry stretches and inconsistencies, is at least a decent summary of Tolkien's mythology.  And now we have both the Sil and the HoME, so no harm done, I think.

Luthien Rising: Hobbits in the Sil [skip this if you've not read further] I don't actually see a problem with the absence of hobbits in the Sil proper. These are not recent history but myth and legend (from the Elves' perspective), and the hobbits seem to be a people who would not have come to the Elves' attention before the Third Age or shortly before at most, and who seem quite unimportant until the event of LOTR. The Ents don't appear here either, and M-e is imagined fully enough that one could extend it to include other creatures and peoples not included in Tolkien's own writings.

Extra Credit

After a tragic accident involving my irate boss and a time sheet, I pass on and wake up in The Halls of Mandos! It turns out that Tolkien accurately perceived the nature of the Universe, and the Valar really do exist! Námo walks up to me, looking remarkably like an Oxford professor of philology whose name you’d recognize in a second, and he is perusing this week’s Reading Room discussion threads.

I. Am I in big trouble?

Beren IV: That depends on whether the Catholic theology still holds. Note that the Sil is not consistent with the Bible in places. If Christianity is still true, then yes, you're in trouble, since you're not Christian. On the other hand, if it's *just* the Sil, then I doubt it. Said Oxford professor was obviously playing games when he said that the real cosmology is just a fantasy, anyway, so I doubt he expected you to believe it!

An seileachan: are you in trouble? depends on who you ask doesn't it? :-)

Did Tolkien agree with Lewis that some "pagans" (that's not a direct quote, I just don't know the term Lewis used) could be worshiping the true God without knowing it? That if they strove to live a moral and ethical life according to their own understandings and beliefs, in reality, they belonged to God? Like the soldier who worshipped Tash in "The Last Battle"?

Yet that is heresy, according to some Christians. So pick your Christian.

Or ask another kind of authority.

Or trust that, if there is a God, he understands it all and takes everything into account.

My personal preference, there.


a.s. (of course, if you were asking a question about the logical defensibility of your previous arguments or presentations, well, never mind, I don't know that answer. They sounded good to me! I've been known to answer rhetorical questions in the past... grin)

Lucia: You know how much *fun* a Learning Experience is whilst on Fallen Earth, imagine the blast of being corrected by Powers in their full glory. You might survive it.....:)

J. Will Nienna get me out of this? (Thinks sorrowfully back to ill-advised Garden Party joke.)

Beren IV: Nienna just won't comfort you.

K.      What lies beyond the Halls of Mandos for mortal skeptics like Ted Sandyman and poor squire?

Beren IV: That is the subject of a whole nother essay that I will address at a later time. Put simply, I don't think that 'going beyond the world' is necessarily as permanent as it might seem, since behavior regarding the Lùthien incident would require the Valar and/or Illùvitar to be either fatalistic or callous otherwise, and I don't really think that either are truly that...

Lucia: Well, if Ted Sandyman is the company you keep, I'd say your gonna get a Wake Up Call in the Hall! which leads me to : [see answer to I., above]

<a href="">Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>

Key to Sammie’s Valar: Top Row: Tulkas, Nessa, Oromë.
Second Row: Alue, Yavanna, Vairë, Námo, Irmo, Estë, Vána.
Bottom Row: Nienna, Ulmo, Varda, Manwë. Lastly is Melkor.

Saturday, July 24 – Open Discussion

12:00 AM Ave atque Valequenta: Open Discussion

Postcard from Valinor

Well, a brief summary is perhaps in order -- even if my notes, as they say, are not.

I was interested to see how the Wednesday discussions of the Valar as a group or a pantheon far outstripped the earlier and later god-by-god chats.

The gods generated plenty of responses to my questions, but got fewer secondary threads; people didn't seem to want to pursue the topics, or else felt everyone's reactions were so personal that they could not be challenged. Perhaps everyone felt that the Valar as individuals are simply too thinly written to justify strong opinions; nor could seeing that Tolkien himself had repeatedly changed his mind about their natures have helped people make up their own minds.

Nevertheless I was pleased to see the insights and new directions that the answers revealed.

People seemed to think that Manwe was remote, distant, hard to know; whereas Varda emerged as a far stronger spirit than I at least had ever realized. The material on her relationship to the Virgin Mary was fascinating.

Ulmo proved a big hit -- I think because his personality is pretty distinct (the ultimate compassionate loner), and his involvement with Middle-earth in both The Silmarillion and LotR is clear and compelling stuff.

Aule, on the other hand, received the least discussion, which didn't surprise me but confirms my disappointment that Tolkien does not make more of him. For all of his power and talent, he seems to fall between the two stools of Smith or Earthworker, and Creative Artist. Perhaps more will come out when we revisit him in future chapters.

Yavanna generated a lot of chat, but little substance; possibly because her nature actually seems pretty clear. Hartk noted that she gets snarky with Manwe later on, so we can all look forward to that.

Namo (Mandos) again generated little heat; but I myself was fascinated by the near-consensus that Vaire the Weaver does not appear again in the book because, as the recorder of history, she is a standin for the author!

Irmo (Lorien) and Este seem pretty straightforward to everybody. Thanks Stanislaus Bocian for your Iliad and Aeneid quotes linking the Greek gods of Sleep/Dreams and Death!

Everyone likes Tulkas, it seems, and people don't consider him nearly as dumb/useless as I did. Quite rightly his sheer physicality was noted and approved. Nessa, all agreed, fits him like a glove in more ways than one.

Orome. Not much sizzle here. Vana, even less so, although some thought she was an appropriate partner if you accept the Valar's propensity to pair off as complements.

Now, as I said, the Valar-as-a-collective discussions spread out a lot more, and tended off topic a little. Possibly people are more at home discussing the concepts of divinity, polytheism, literary creation, etc. where the specifics of the individual gods are less important.

The feeling I got from it all was that the participants felt quite comfortable with the Valar as a pantheon of angelic spirits created by The One God, and delegated with directive rather than creative duties. However, there was a strong undercurrent that the results are a little dry, since they are only intermediaries.

In a similar vein, the comparison between the Valar, and the real polytheistic mythologies of Earth, yielded either the idea that Man's early pantheons were perhaps as simple as the Valar (thus true to Tolkien's conceit that his world is from Earth's prehistory), and only became complex and chaotic after millennia of myth-making; or the opposite idea that Tolkien deliberately and unrealistically simplified his pantheon to appeal to his own instincts for tidiness, or to conform to his Catholic disposition to keep his 'gods' in line under God.

I personally tend to look at the Valaquenta, and the Silmarillion, from a literary point of view: is it a good story? and to the degree that the Valar attempt to resemble divinities at the expense of human qualities, I lose a lot of enthusiasm, despite the fascinating complexity of the imagined universe we face here. Pukel-Man put my unspoken position rather well in his comment.

Yesterday we covered the Maiar. No surprise to me that Eonwe and Ilmare got short shrift. There's no there there. Osse seems like everybody's crazy younger brother; like him, but keep your distance. Uinen is harder, again the lack of description is painful. Melian yielded some nice stuff on the nature of Elvish bodies and spirits, and what marriage is to them, or to the Maiar; and for Olorin, well let's just agree we all prefer Gandalf.

As of this writing, Friday's Enemies threads and the Conclusion are still too much in play for me to sum them up, but I'm sure they will generate some interesting comments. Melkor, as always, remains an enigma. I hope to publish the complete discussion for reference later.

The pictures, I was interested to see, seemed to generate a unanimous reaction that the Valar are not easy to illustrate. Despite Tolkien's clear statement that they walk the earth, and inhabit Elven-form bodies as easily as they assume more grand and symbolic forms, no one seemed happy with actually seeing this. Not that these artists are the final authorities, of course. But the objections seemed deep-seated, and were repeated in the film discussions.

The literary or research appendices yielded scant feedback, possibly because our respondents are always pressed for time when on TORn, and this material demands a little study. I hope that people will take the time to read some of it (I like the Plato dialog, Lotte), and get back to us with some responses.

Some great side threads developed on history of religion, resulting in some remarkable solos by NZ Strider, Lottelita, aragonvaar and 93143. Stanislaus Bocian, hills, hartk, Silent Watcher all pitched in some solid bits of erudition; and Curious played clean-up in his usual stellar way.

Beren IV started a secessionist thread on the idea of a Silmarillion movie, inspired I hope by my casting questions, which were meant to give people another angle for grabbing onto these slippery gods. I don't think the Silmarillion is particularly well suited to film adaptation, myself.

Some core contributors diligently put up with any amount of inanity in their loyal attention to the subject at hand: Luthien Rising, Beren IV, drogo drogo, Penthe, Kimi, lucia, erather, an seileachan. All made repeated passes through all my topic questions. Many other contributors like Entwife Wandlimb, N.E. Brigand, Ceorl, Menelywn, linkinparkelf, Timerider, hartk, bigidiot, came by and pitched in, and I mean no offense if I cannot name you all. I trust there were lurkers -- my hope was to draw you out and hear your voices in the (intimidating? Reading Room. Perhaps I did without knowing it. I hope we all had a good time, and learned a little more about The Silmarillion this week than we knew before. I know I did. Thanks, everybody, it was fun to put this together, hope you all enjoyed it!

Ave atque Valequenta

That’s sort of an Elvish-Latin pun, roughly: “Hail, tale, and farewale.”

You’re on your own. Have a nice weekend, and thanks for all your contributions. It was fun to put this together, hope you all enjoyed it. A full summary will be published, but probably not until next week.

Aragonvaar: Aule's Big Moment is still to a little anecdote that I think brings out Tolkien's views on creativity-sins of creativity and how they compare to sins *against* creativity-in very interesting.  I look forward to that one.

I want to say thanks for the research, squire: I haven't relied on it too heavily for several reasons, but I think it's been helpful in clarifying for people who don't know the post-humous works that well, that there's more to Tolkien's mythology than what we see here.

Kimi: I lack sufficient superlatives to express how stunning this week's discussion was. You're amazing, squire. And I mean that in a good way :-)

Thanks so much everyone else who contributed. I had a great time - and had I not lost my phone connection for an entire twenty-four hours I'd've been able to post a bit more. I read every single post, though, and enjoyed them all.

Thanks, everyone, for reminding me why I hang out here :-)

Beren IV: The Good Melkor and Good Dragons? Something which I don't think gets enough attention is the idea that the early Melkor was rebellious but not evil. For instance, in the Book of Lost Tales, instead of attacking with his Balrogs to destroy the lamps of the Valar, he instead offers to make the pillars upon which they are situated - but he makes them of ice, and the lamps melt the ice, and flods most of the early lands. It's a harmless prank - the only things existing at this time are Valar, anyway, and they aren't harmed by a little flooding the way that mortals would be.

At some point, Melkor does go bad, of course, but when do you think that really is, and what do you suppose caused it? Might it be some enormous practical joke, perhaps reminiscent of what I just described, taken the wrong way?

Another note: It is a common thread in conventional Tolkien-style fantasy (i.e. using Tolkien's races, but not his world) to have the Elves be the race that precludes Men and have the Dragons preclude the Elves in much the same way. In such fantasies, there usually are both good Dragons and bad Dragons.

What I am about to suggest is pure fantacizing on my part and there is no evidence of this anywhere in Tolkien, BUT...

What do you think of the idea that Melkor created Dragons *before* turning evil and that some of his Dragons went evil with him, and some of the others stayed behind?

Lucia: behind where? Stayed "behind" as in Valinor or ME? One of the other beasts that get aluded to but never really discussed? Is that what you are thinking? Maybe thats who the blue wizards are....:)

*always ready for a wild thought*

Luthien Rising: Hmmm ... (with a note to squire) The early Melkor as Bart Simpson figure? Or a previously unrecognized Tolkienian influence on The Simpsons?

Thanks, Squire, for all your work on this discussion. It did indeed make a particularly interesting complement to the manuscript on The Simpsons that was my main reading material this week!

Curious: Wow, what a hard act to follow! You have almost convinced me to break down and read all those different versions of The Silmarillion.  Almost.  Let's finish this version first.

Thank you for a wonderful job that left me breathless from wonder and, er, fatigue (*pant, pant* ;-)).  I did not answer even a tenth of the questions posed, but others did, and I certainly enjoyed reading your questions and their answers.

Lucia: *mostly just thrilled that I got mentioned* Very engaging, Squire! I especially liked the creative process comparison timeline pages. And the extra credit questions, of course. Thanks for all the time you put into this.

Nerdanel 50: pssst, lucia I am once again on the road and will not have internet access on Sunday. I'll be in Boston--not long enough for the Moot and LotR exhibit, but long enough to get all caught up in the Democratic Convention snarls. I'll probably be at an anti-war and anti-occupation demonstration on Sunday; protesters are being restricted to a "free speech" zone surrounded by razor wire under some abandoned elevated tracks outside the convention center--pretty liberating, don't you think?

Erather: A little question, and a big one Little:  why did Curumo not get a mention along with Olorin, do you think?  Many of you think that Olorin was retrofitted here because of his role in LotR; although Curumo's role is smaller, you'd think he might have at least gotten mentioned.

Big: squire, not only were your discussions brilliant, your web site is a treasure trove.  You are going to leave it around for a while, aren't you?  How about a nice front page with indexes to the marvels therein?

Squire: "Where have you gone, Istar Curumo? Heaven holds more hope for those in grey" I believe that the addition of Olorin into the Maia section of The Valaquenta follows directly from his invention/inclusion in The Lord of the Rings as Gandalf's original identity.

We know of Curumo from the Unfinished Tale that Christopher Tolkien published after Tolkien's death; when that particular tale was written is not known, I believe. We might guess that J.R.R. Tolkien did not include "Curumo" or the other Maian (possessive form?) names of the Istari in his Valaquenta, because he knew his "Unfinished Tale" would not be published, and hence the names in The Valaquenta would have no meaning to his Silmarillion/LotR readers.

Thanks for your interest, I am working on an index and compilation of this week's thread.

Entwife Wandlimb: A personal question, if I may...

“I personally tend to look at the Valaquenta, and the Silmarillion, from a literary point of view: is it a good story? and to the degree that the Valar attempt to resemble divinities at the expense of human qualities, I lose a lot of enthusiasm, despite the fascinating complexity of the imagined universe we face here. Pukel-Man put my unspoken position rather well in his comment.”

Am I right to say that you don't really like this chapter of the Silm?  Just wondering why you chose it?

I too am in awe of your discussion!  And I strongly second erather's request that you leave up your great pages as long as possible (otherwise I'll have to delete a bunch of bookmarks!).

Thanks, again!

Squire: Oh, does it show? Yes, I have always been very ambiguous in my feelings about The Sil, as some here may remember: "Like getting teeth pulled", etc.

Nevertheless, I agree with many here on TORn who point out the amazing positive power of listening to other minds on Tolkien issues. I wanted to lead a Silmarillion discussion to learn what other people might see that I didn't.

True, I opened topics with my "politics" on display, from skepticism to outright mockery, but I felt that might help spur discussion on a text which, it is clear from comments I've seen in my year on this site, defeats or baffles many interested readers. Without exactly picking a fight with Sil fans, I wanted to rouse them up into a hearty, and interesting, defense of the material.

Finally, The Valaquenta is a text about the text -- it introduces characters for the story, and is more "factual" in its meaning. I am not a lit crit person by any means, and I did not feel qualified to tackle the actual Silmarillion story chapters with the attention and "belief" I should imagine was called for.

Entwife Wandlimb: one answer leads to another question I didn't think your feelings for the Silm. were obvious.  I hadn't imagined that you would put so much effort into something that you were so ambivalent about.  Now I can see you are motivated by the discussion itself -- the desire to understand the passion of others that is a mystery to you.

It remains a mystery to me, too.  I am hoping it is a bit like watching Band of Brothers.  When you watch the first episode, there's about a dozen young men with short hair in green uniforms who mean nothing to you.  You grow tired of trying to sort them out, yet the story of the group grabs you.  After watching the whole series, I went back and watched the first one.  All of the characters were like old friends, and it was so amazing to see them back at the beginning.  Maybe the Valaquenta will be like that -- something I appreciate more after I read the whole book.

Yet, I think the biggest problem I have with the chapter is that I am uncomfortable with the Christian metaphors.  Make it all fantasy or a tight alagory, but mixing demigods with monotheism doesn't really work for me.  So, maybe I'll never like it, just understand it.

As long as you are giving answers to rather nosy questions, what did you learn of what other people see in the Silm. that you didn't before?  Do you like it more now than you did before the discussion?

Curious: If I may butt in, I can't imagine reading The Silmarillion if LotR had never been written or published.  Although there are passages of The Silmarillion that make great quotes -- like Fingolfin's battle with Morgoth, for example -- for me the chief pleasure is the light The Silmarillion sheds on LotR, and the hidden depths that are revealed when I reread LotR.

Penthe: Totally agree. Except I do really like the story of Beren & Luthien. I read that more than any other bit of the Sil. I would have borrowed that from the library any day.

Curious: Have you read the Lay of Luthien in The Lays of Beleriand?  If not, it sounds like you should.

Penthe: No, I haven't, but I will now. Thanks

Squire: Let me get back to you on that one It's a fair question. But I need to review again what went down this week, and think about it for a while.

I will say the effort came as much from a desire to try my hand at teaching some difficult material in a new medium, as from a desire to understand other people's 'passion'. There was quite a debate a few months ago, when the RR decided to attempt The Silmarillion this summer and fall, over how many people would in fact participate, given the book's relative difficulty and obscurity among many of the LotR fans on TORn.

I took that as a challenge, and attempted to approach the text from as many different directions as html (had to learn it!) and my own personality could sustain, in the hope that at least one of the dimensions would attract and stimulate thought and response from new readers who might perhaps be intimidated by our traditional lit crit Reading Room regulars.

I always hate it when I read intimations in Movie and Main that the RR is hard to visit.

Piscean Maid: Not hard to visit very entertaining, as a matter of fact, but you must admit the intelligence level in this room is, for the most part, almost frighteningly high and that there are those few who will challenge, literally, your every word.

For those of us whose ideas are half-formed, at best, and who use a casual form of expression, the thought that someone might step in to ask, "Why did you say X?", and the answer is, "Because it's the only word that came to mind as I was dashing this off," well ...

But perhaps I'm speaking only for myself. My weenie-whiney "I'm just a dumb blonde"  self. :-)

Congratulations, by the way, on the outstanding job you did this past week. And you just learned html?! Amazing. Dare I say, in my best dudette voice, "Awesome, dude." :-)

N.E. Brigand: What a week! I haven't even had a chance to read it all (pretty busy at work this week) and I look forward to looking back on these discussions later.

Squire, your work was tremendous!  I never would have thought so much could come from this rather dry chapter.  I wonder what the Sil could have been like, if only Tolkien had a helpful inquisitor like you at his side.

Nerdanel 50: Great, great job-- at least through Tuesday when I lost contact with the internet. I may have to take a sabbatical to catch up with Silmarillion discussion--it has all been so rich!

NZ Strider: Thanks, Squire, for all the work which you put into this.  It was a fantastic discussion of Tolkien's "pantheon" in all its ramifications.  Well done!

Athena daughter of Zeus: Drat missed the whole thing. But just looking at some of the threads, looks like you did alot of research.

I personally would've been counted as a lurker, I just enjoy sitting back and watch in the Big Scary Reading Room. I'm a big chicken. Ah well.

Beren IV: Yes, THANKS, SQUIRE!! In all the excitement of this week's discussions, I forgot to thank the preparer! Thank you very much, Squire!

Penthe: Thanks very much Squire. You've set a very high standard. And you teased out a lot of questions that will have impact later on, I reckon.

On a personal note - you are so a lit crit person. Just because you don't use the tools that are popular in certain academies at the moment does not for a minute reduce your natural talent and ability. So live with it! hahahahahah...

Stanislaus Bocian: Corrections to Valaquenta in History of Middle Earth In "History of Middle Earth" vol. 10 "Morgoth Ring" Christopher Tolkien had written about a few corrections he wanted to make in the published version of Valaquenta.


"The history of the phrase 'With Manwe dwells Varda' (The Silmarillion p. 26) is curious. QS par. 4 has 'With him dwells as wife Varda... -, by emendation to LQ 1 it became With him in Arda dwells as spouse Varda ...'; and in Vq it is 'With Manwe now dwells as spouse Varda...' In 1975, when the main work on the text of the published Silmarillion was done, being then much less clear than I have since become about certain dates and textual relations (and ignorant of the existence of some texts), I did not see that this 'now' could have any significance, and moreover it contributed to the problem of tense in the Valaquenta, which is discussed below; I therefore omitted it. It is however undoubtedly significant. In AAm it is said (p. 49, par. 3): 'Varda was Manwe s spouse from the beginning, in contrast to the later C 'union' of Yavanna and Aule 'in Ea' (on which see under par. 5 below). But the typescript text of AAm was emended (p. 69, par. 3) to 'Varda was Manwe's spouse from the beginning of Arda', which shows that some complex conception was present (though never definitively expressed) concerning the time of the 'union' of the great spirits. "


" (Yavanna) Here again, as with Varda (par. 4 above), I wrongly changed the text concerning Yavanna's union with Aule. Both Vq texts have 'The spouse of Aule in Arda is Yavanna', and the words 'in Arda' are certainly significant (see V.120). "


"(Mandos) The editorial change of 'northward' to 'westward' in 'Namo the elder dwells in Mandos, which is northward in Valinor' in the published text (p. 28) is a regrettable error, which I have explained in I.82. (Lost Tales vol. 1) "


"After the words 'for the pursuit of the evil creatures of Melkor' (The Silmarillion p. 29) the Vq texts have 'But the Valaroma is not blown, and Nahar runs no more upon the Middle-earth since the change of the world and the waning of the Elves, whom he loved.' This sentence goes back through the versions to QS (though the Valaroma does not appear in it till LQ 2 and Nahar not till Vq), and I regret its exclusion from The Silmarillion. "


"The words in the published text (p. 30) concerning Eonwe, 'whose might in arms is surpassed by none in

Arda', were an editorial addition, made in order to prepare for his leadership of the hosts of the West at the Great Battle (The Silmarillion pp. 251 - 2)."


"At the end of the account of Olorin is scribbled on the typescript Vq 1: 'He was humble in the Land of the Blessed; and in Middle-earth he sought no renown. His triumph was in the uprising of the fallen, and his joy was in the renewal of hope.' This appears in Vq 2, but my father subsequently placed inverted commas round it. It was wrongly omitted from The Silmarillion."


I would like to see a new edition of Silmarillion, with all those corrections , which Christopher Tolkien noted in the Home.

Squire: Yes, indeed there's no end to the fun to be had reading the HoME.

I did choose, CT-like, radically to simplify some of the textual quotes that I put into my "comparative" charts of the development of the Valaquenta. They were intended to awaken new readers to the issue, and inspire thought and interest, not recount the whole complicated textual history. Rather than include notes about notes, such as those just cited, I went with, essentially, the 'mainstream' texts from each major re-writing. Notice that I always identified The Valaquenta as simply another, and the last, typescript, dating from the late 1950s, in a series of manuscripts and typescripts, all of which have now been published for comparison.

But Stanislaus Bocian cannot be fooled. Thanks for bringing these things up! Christopher Tolkien used HoME to 'make up' for a lot of editorial changes that he made in 1973-77. Notice that he admits he didn't know of all of his father's extant texts while preparing The Silmarillion; and that he changed things he now wishes he hadn't.

In fact 'Morgoth's Ring' is such an interesting book compared to the earlier HoME series, mostly because it contains the "notes" to the 1977 Silmarillion that explain the inconsistencies in the published text that so many have read, and that we are primarily discussing here this summer.

This excellent post, makes the same point that my overblown note (NDQ thread, above) on "Arda" does:

The Silmarillion of 1977 is a published work, and may or may not be considered 'canon', but it was always just an uncompleted manuscript or typescript collection, dating in sections from the 20s to the 60s. If Christopher Tolkien chose to publish the version where Arda is a flat Earth, fairness demands a kind of footnote pointing out that for the last 15 years of JRR Tolkien's life, in the author's mind Arda was the Solar System containing a round Earth. Yup, in shorthand, and in fairness to simple questions, Arda may be considered the Earth for purposes of understanding the published Silmarillion. But Christopher Tolkien's choices in the mid-70s often made simple and bald what remains complex and indeterminate, because the actual author never completed or made consistent his story.

Luthien Rising: "Expanded" edition of Silmarillion -- this fall! There's no indication in the advance publicity material I've seen of what is expanded in it, and the sales rep I talked to in June didn't know either. (Plus I was trying not to fall over with delight --on top of wine and champagne -- in front of a client!)

I can't seem to find the link I had for it originally, but there was a news item on the home page in June.

Curious: Well, from what I can tell it is still the Second Edition text, not a Third Edition incorporating substantive changes.  It is corrected and expanded by numerous illustrations, but I wouldn't get my hopes up for a completely new edition.  But perhaps the Halls of Mandos will now lie in the north of Aman instead of the west.  See link below.

Luthien Rising: ah, well more money left for HoME and the next EE and the other Shippey and ...

Squire: curb your enthusiasm "Certainty of expense, small chance of improvements -- what are we waiting for?"

Arevanye: Just wanted to add This haiku--(couldn't resist):

The Valequenta:

No longer just a laundry

list of gods.  Thanks, squire!

 (Ok, I agonized over whether 'squire' should properly be accounted one or two beats.  I think it should be two, but I can't figure out another way to make the line work.  Anyway, you get the picture.  Thanks for a great week.)

Celeborn’s Mirror: Nice job, and thanks for the links to pictures!  It was very interesting to get a look at what visual artists picture.  I, on the other hand, am completely an aural person... no pictures in my head!

Drogo drogo: Danke beaucoup for this week Catching up on the threads I missed... thanks for the erudition and entertainment.

Entmaiden: Thanks, squire, really top-notch discussion I think this week will be important for anyone who's new to the Sil and participating in these discussions.  You've helped build a nice organization chart we can all refer back to as we get to know these creatures better.

Modtheow: Thanks so much... but if this keeps up, I'll have to quit my job just to keep up with the discussions.  I feel like I've been through an enlightening, entertaining, and intensive summer school course, complete with slides and handouts and extra readings!  Don't get me wrong, this "grade-grubbing wonk" really likes that -- I just wish I had been here for the last half of the week. (And I so agree with Penthe -- I'm laughing right along with her.)

Thanks, Squire!

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I introduce:

My esteemed colleague, the ever-inquisitive and disquisitive Curious, and his discussion of Chapter I of the Quenta Silmarillion, “Of The Beginning Of Days!”

Take it away, Curious!

<a href="">Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta</a>