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

Here  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 illustrations 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 text, 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".

Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta


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