Monday, July 19 – Some Valar

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: Jupiter, 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

Here 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

Here 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.

Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta


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