Tuesday, July 20 – Some More Valar

6:00 PM The Valaquenta: Tulkas, God of Strength

Tulkas – The Text

 “Greatest in strength and deeds of prowess is Tulkas, who is surnamed Astaldo, the Valiant. He came last to Arda, to aid the Valar in the first battles with Melkor. He delights in wrestling and in contests of strength; and he rides no steed, for he can outrun all things that go on feet, and he is tireless. His hair and beard are golden, and his flesh ruddy; his weapons are his hands. He has little heed for either the past or the future, and is of no avail as a counsellor, but is a hardy friend.

Tulkas – Discussion

Kimi: Tulkas and Nessa seem far less ethereal than most of the Elves that we see in LOTR. They seem more earthy, to use a term that may be appropriate on more than one level.

Curious: Tulkas is increasingly irrelevant as the Valar, over time, turn from direct action to wise counsel.  However according to one account (not included in this version of The Silmarillion) he still has one more role to play at the end of time, in the Final Battle.

Still, I wonder whether Tulkas and the other Valar are capable of sending avatars and representatives to Middle-earth, or channeling their spirit through the Children of Iluvatar.  How else would Men be familiar with them?  Orome seems to lend Theoden strength on the Pelennor Fields.  Might Tulkas lend his strength to Helm Hammerhand, Bullroarer Took, Beorn, and other legendary warriors who seem to have a bit of Tulkas in them?

Squire: Very nice point, Curious! Tulkas as the protypical Hero of Tolkien's works: I like that a lot more than the bosom buddy with the golden hair and the bad advice.

Oh well, too bad it's so late in the week. We're off the page. Here I am archiving these things, and you weigh in with an excellent point! I hope you will continue to show us links between the Valar and the events of LotR. It would be a thread in itself, and a rich one indeed.

I refrained from pushing it (I invited people several times to indulge, but didn't get much back in the way of specifics), because I feared LotR might take over a Silmarillion discussion.

Nevertheless I would find much to think about in both the presence of the Valar, as we now know them, in the LotR; and also the plain fact that Tolkien deliberately omitted them from his epic. They are there, as you note well; but they are not there, too. The reader needs them not. Should he have enriched his story with them (subtly now, to be sure)?

Or is the Third Age story deliberately ambiguous because the Valar have withdrawn from the foreground; and Tolkien wished to highlight the contrast between Faerie and the Mortal Lands (as we have discussed), rather than insert his older, more baldly mythological, and frankly more unbelievable, Valinorean structures into a heroic romance?

Curious: I wonder indeed. At one point before publication Tolkien considered it absolutely vital that The Silmarillion be published before LotR; so much so that he delivered an ultimatum, and his publisher turned him down.  Only when a second publisher got cold feet did he reluctantly accept that LotR would have to be published first.  Then after LotR became a success it was Tolkien who had cold feet and delayed the publication of The Silmarillion, in part because he realized that the far-off background of The Silmarillion was no small part of the magic of LotR, but to walk into that background might spoil the magic.

Tolkien once said that it was often best to leave things unexplained in a story, especially if an explanation existed.  He must have had two conflicting desires: one to explain everything, and the other to explain nothing.  I think, in the end, he realized he could never quite finish The Silmarillion, but he certainly saved everything for Christopher Tolkien, and hoped that somehow it would all get published; which, remarkably, it has

A. Is Tulkas a God of War, or of Athletics?

Drogo drogo: Tulkas as the god of physicality Well, to paraphrase Anold Schwartzenegger who was paraphrasing his own parody on SNL, Tulkas is definitely NOT the "god" of girlie men!  He really doesn't seem to be a patron of any one particular aspect of Arda, though, coming as late as he does into the game.  We could probably be safe saying he's the patron of athletics or better yet, the patron of the body itself.  Why not say he's the god of physicality?

Erather: When do we get to the laughing part? War appears indistinguishable from sport to this guy.  I'll back him for the decathlon, though.

Squire: Don't be shy, erather

I ignored the laughing part.

But you don't have to.

Notice how the laughing part is picked up in the Orome passage, by the way.

Ho, ho, ho, hahahaha!!

Erather: Sad that the most vivid description of Tulkas is found in the paragraph ostensibly devoted to Orome!  Wonder why Tolkien did that... the compelling image of Tulkas laughing in the face of Melkor completely outshines a lot of the more mundane descriptions, even though they had lots of good adjectives.

Beren IV: Whistles at the work in progress He's the God of Heroism, which might be said to include both.

NZ Strider: Quick thoughts... Where is the difference between war and the ritualised combat of the playing fields?  The two go together; and we all know where the Battle of Waterloo was won.  Besides, remember "Original Semantic Unity": "ágOn" in Greek is both a battle and sport-match.  We who have changed all the words see them as war and sport as two things; our ancestors may have seen them as one.

Aragonvaar: The jolliest war-god.... Tulkas's attribute is courage; his distrust of Melkor is probably rooted in his instinctive recognition of the latter's cowardice. 

Tulkas grew out of a fairly generic bloodthirsty Tyr/Mars wannabe in the BoLT, if memory serves.  I find this big-hearted lunk a fascinating contrast to most wargods.

Interestingly, Tolkien eschews any suggestion of an "intellectual" component to the war-god(s): there is no goddess of military theory, ala Minerva, and although Nessa has a somewhat "Diana-like" quality, she is no ruthless virgin huntress.

Aragonvaar: Forgot to add...(w/ a question) That C. S. Lewis "baptized" the Mars-myth in almost the complete opposite direction from Tolkien: his Malacandra (Mars) is sort of like a benevolent version of a Basil Rathbone villain (the kind you see in movies like Mark of Zorro w/ Tyrone Power): he's incisive in his thought processes; generous in a detached and understated way; bracing; coldly intense and possessed of a very dry sense of humor.

Any thoughts on this interesting dichotomoy between the way these two friends envision a "benign" wargod?

B. Does the term Big Dumb Hunk creep unbidden into your mind as you ponder this ancient and holy text?

Drogo drogo: Uh, yes, but I was thinking more of a Hercules figure than the Incredible Hulk.

Erather: He might be great fun at a party, but don't get him drunk.

Beren IV: I also agree that he's more of a Heracles-like figure - got more smarts than you might guess, but not as much as some of the other Valar - sort of idea.

NZ Strider: Nah, not really.  Tulkas after all was *not* taken in by Melkor when Melkor acted contrite.  So, I give him some credit for perspicacity.  In a word (so to speak!) he saw right through Melkor.

Luthien Rising: (mmm ... brad pitt ...) This really is odd. I honestly couldn't figure out what Tulkas was doing there. Though I suppose you could say that it's nice to have a god of war who isn't all anger and fire.

Modtheow: The Incredible Tulk I have somewhat disjointed associations with Tulkas, and I’m not sure that they connect into any coherent idea, but when I read about Tulkas I can’t help thinking of the Middle English word “tulk” which is usually translated as “man” or “knight” and which comes from the Old Norse word “tulkr” which means something like “spokesman.”  By some weird path of association, I then think of the Green Knight (the word “tulk” is used several times in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) – the Green Knight is a physically huge, handsome, and powerful being who likes a laugh.  The fact that Tulkas can wrestle also makes me think of Chaucer’s Miller, who is not a noble character by any means, but he is someone who is strong (he can break down doors by running at them with his head), who likes to laugh, and who always wins the prize at wrestling.   The Miller would enjoy the fact that Tulkas got tired out on his wedding night (eh? eh? know what I mean?).  The fact that Tulkas’s weapons are his hands reminds me of another medieval strongman, Beowulf, who has the strength of 30 men in his handgrip.  All of these images may simply amount to what others have already said: Tulkas is a god of physicality.

                      Pukel-Man: Thanks for that. Very interesting.

C. Why does Tulkas rate the actual beginnings of a physical description?

Drogo drogo: His physicality is his most important aspect, since he is not associated with some of the primal natural forces of Arda.

Erather: Because he's more consistent in his fleshly attire, lacking any other.

Kimi: Tulkas seems to delight in physicality and all that goes with it. He seems more a Hero than a god.

Beren IV: Tulkas is more of a physical being than any of the others!

NZ Strider: He rates a physical description because he is above all a physical actor.

Luthien Rising: I think it's hard to have physicality the basis of a character's being without moving into description.

D. Greatest in strength: does this mean he is “stronger” than Manwë, or Aulë, or Ulmo? What is “strength” to a God?

Drogo drogo: He is the greatest in terms of bodily strength in his incarnated form.  Manwe and the others have greater spiritual strength and greater bonds to nature (air, water, earth, etc.).  Tulkas, though, has all of his energy channeled into his physicality, so can hogtie Melkor better than any of them.

Erather: We're looking at muscles here, not thunderbolt hurling.  That's a different event.  I think the key word here is "strength" as opposed to "power".  Power is what Manwë, Aulë, and Ulmo have (as well as brains).

Beren IV: Something that Tolkien hadn't thought out ;) Basically, this means that the physical forms that Tulkas can manifest are more physically powerful than what the other Valar can do, even though the other Valar may be able to do things through other means that are greater than Tulkas.

NZ Strider: What is strength to a Vala?  Good question; I have no idea.  Original Semantic Unity should cover whatever it was for a Vala as well as what it is for us mortals.

Luthien Rising: He doesn't choose to use his energy on creative activity or knowledge; he chooses to express it physically. Maybe they each have just so much energy?

E. Tulkas “came last to Arda”. Could other Valar still be waiting to come to Arda?

Drogo drogo: There are probably other Ainur who look down, but I sense that Eru would not let any others come down.  The Valar and Maiar were the ones to govern Arda for the duration of the experiment, and Tulkas was sent down as a one-time emergency aid to Manwe.

Beren IV: Another holdover, I think. Perhaps Tulkas decided last in the Timeless Halls? I tend to envision all of the Valar as being physically in Arda from time zero, so that would mean last to join from the outside.

NZ Strider: Yes.

Luthien Rising: They choose to come into Arda, so I suppose they could choose at any time.

F. Tulkas is a “hardy friend” despite his useless advice. Sounds good, but “hardy friend” to whom? To you and me? Anyone who beats him at arm-wrestling?

Drogo drogo: He's a man's man.  Gung-ho, but not too bright.  Maybe it's because he laughs too much...

Erather: Anyone that strong gets to pick his friends.  If he only befriends folks who can beat him at arm-wrestling, he's going to be a lonely guy.

Beren IV: Ally? ;)

NZ Strider: A "hardy friend"?  We could all use a hardy friend.  Besides, Tulkas seems a good sport -- if he beat you at arm-wrestling, he'd agree to play draughts with you because he knew you'd beat him at that and even up the score.

Luthien Rising: Got a bit of an issue with Tulkas, do you?  ;-)

Nessa – The Text

 His spouse is Nessa, the sister of Oromë, and she also is lithe and fleetfooted. Deer she loves, and they follow her train whenever she goes in the wild; but she can outrun them, swift as an arrow with the wind in her hair. In dancing she delights, and she dances in Valimar on lawns of never-fading green.

Nessa – Discussion

G. Nessa seems to be the Goddess of the Dance, if anything, although she also seems the Goddess of the 400-meter dash. How does her power, or her attributes, relate to Tulkas?

Drogo drogo: Nessa is a kind of Diana figure, a very physical, athletic deity.  She's thus a good complement to Tulkas.

Erather: Very compatible.  At least she'll be able to keep up with him.

Kimi: Nessa, as the most energetic of the female Valar, does seem an appropriate spouse for Tulkas. These two both enjoy their "embodiments", so I suppose it's natural that they are the two who appear to have a rather enthusiastic marital relationship.

Beren IV: She's the Goddess of movement, which includes dance, running, flight, etc.

Luthien Rising: Speed, strength, agility -- all different expressions of physicality, really. In a sense, though, matching the "dumb" physicality of Tulkas with the elegant physicality of Nessa might suggest that we need to value Tulkas's physicality more highly than some of us are perhaps inclined to do. It's our bad, not Tolkien's.

 Aragonvaar: Nessa and Tulkas to some extent fit a "hawk and dove" romantic archetype that underlies some of my favorite anime series: Mospeada, for one.  The idea is that mere combative courage is vicious or meaningless w/o someone to protect or fight for, and mere gentleness and playfulness are doomed, in this harsh and complicated world, unless allied w/ the kind of courage cited above.  Tolkien makes Nessa physically athletic partly to make her a better match for Tulkas, partly to emphasize that "playfulness" and noncombativeness does not equal passiveness.

Nessa appears only once in The Silmarillion. Early on, she weds Tulkas, and dances for the Valar’s entertainment; and the implication is that Tulkas, worn out from his wedding night with Nessa (say no more, nudge, nudge, wink, wink), sleeps and neglects his guard so that Melkor slips back onto Middle-earth.

H. Why doesn’t Nessa get more to do than this rather hot but discreditable deed? Is Nessa nessasary?

Drogo drogo: As for whether she is necessary, she's a means to integrate this big thug into the fold of Valinor.  When he's not fighting, he needs some other activity to burn off all that energy.

Erather: Whenever we find ourselves wondering what the Valar do as the millennia pass, we can imagine Nessa's providing the entertainment.  Sounds worthwile to me.

Beren IV: I do not remember that event. I will wait until we reach that part of the story before commenting. I think that a "work-in-progress"-type grain of salt might be needed :)

Luthien Rising: Necessary? Yes, but not conducive to narrative. We see those characters most whose natures lend themselves to heroic narrative.

Images of Tulkas and Nessa

Here are some images of Tulkas and Nessa.

I. Any comments? What’s up with Dan Govar, anyway?

Beren IV: What's wrong with him?

NZ Strider: Govar went for a brawny Thor as the model for Tulkas.  I'm not sure I like the armour which Govar chose though -- it seems more "modern" than "historic."

Luthien Rising: Boy, some people really like muscles, don't they! I've always gone for the skinny type, myself.

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 Tulkas and Nessa.

J. Why did Tolkien “clean up” Tulkas in his final draft?

Erather: Because the image of this great bronze divinity unclad might inspire too much slash.

Kimi: *Is shocked* Tulkas was into naked wrestling? I must've read that, but erased the vision from my mind. I wonder if Christopher edited a few words out of that description for publication, or if JRRT himself decided to draw a veil over... never mind.

Beren IV: Getting more devoutly Catholic, possibly. I think it hurts the characterization, personally - but then I'm not Catholic.

Luthien Rising: Tulkas's nakedness is just so Greek Gymnasium -- maybe just too much. I see the various illustrators haven't read those earlier versions ...

Modtheow: And maybe Tolkien put Tulkas’s clothes back on in his later version because a naked wrestling Tulkas might look too much like a Greek god.  Anyway, I’d like to know more about his great love for Fionwe, son of Manwe (now how did I get on that tangent?).

Extra Credit

You are Brad Pitt’s agent. Brad is offered the part of Tulkas in Peter Jackson’s new movie, The Silmarillion. You hear that that kid from the New Zealand whale movie is playing Nessa, and you’re a dubious agent. You read The Silmarillion script—at least you have your assistant do it—and she’s given you the scoop; and now you’re an unhappy agent. The money is excellent.

K. What do you advise Brad to do?

Erather: Sounds perfect to me, Achilles with a better attitude.  Back to the gym, Brad.

Beren IV: Kill this project as soon as it starts! Peter Jackson did a wonderful job with the Lord of the Rings, and I sincerely hope that he does The Hobbit, too - but I don't want him to so much as TOUCH the Sil! :)

NZ Strider: I'd advise Brad to take acting lessons.

Luthien Rising: (I'm Brad Pitt's agent? That would help my debtload some!) I'd first check out the rumour mill for who else was taking up cameos in The Sil: The Movie. Then I'd advise Brad to bulk up and ask for really skimpy costumes :-)

Lottelita: Costumes that you, as his agent would be in prime position to vet.

"Hmmm, I think the skirt should be a little shorter, Pittsy.  Here, lemme hold it up a bit and show you what I'm thinking."

Aragonvaar: I'd give Pretty Boy a pair of galoshes and send him on a one way trip to Ulmo, then go to work for Jeremy Northam instead. I'd rather be an agent to someone who can act, sing, and read semi-complicated books as well as look good.  :P

Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta


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