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. Here is the Ainulindale text, highlighted to show roughly what is included in the Valaquenta for comparison.
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.
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.
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”. Here is a chart of the evolution of this opening passage.
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?
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.
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