Monday, July 19 Some Valar

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

Varda The Text

With Manw dwells Varda, Lady of the Stars, who knows all the regions of E. Too great is her beauty to be declared in the words of Men or of Elves; for the light of Ilvatar lives still in her face. In light is her power and her joy. Out of the deeps of E she came to the aid of Manw; 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 Ilvatar created the Ainur - and she saw him for the slime he was and spurned him. Is that whats 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 Manw keep Melkor in line. Where does that leave little brother Manw?

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 Manw is roughly Melkor's equal, he can't be sure of keeping Manw 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. Manw and Varda together can overpower Melkor, but Manw 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

Here and here 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

Here 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?

Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta


     Home           Previous: Manwe    Next: Manwe & Varda