Tuesday, July 20 – Some More Valar

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

Yavanna – The Text

 The spouse of Aulė 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 Manwė spoke in its leaves. Kementįri, 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 Oromė! Animals do get a God - Oromė 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 Aulė, 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 Aulė 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 here. 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. Here 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 Aulė 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! Lśthien - 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?

Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta


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