Wednesday, July 21 – What are the Valar?

12:00 PM The Valaquenta: The Valar and other Pantheons

The Valar as a Pantheon – The Text

To repeat: “These are the names of the Valar and the Valier, and here is told in brief their likenesses, such as the Eldar beheld them in Aman. But fair and noble as were the forms in which they were manifest to the Children of Ilúvatar, they were but a veil upon their beauty and their power. And if little is here said of all that the Eldar once knew, that is as nothing compared with their true being, which goes back into regions and ages far beyond our thought. Among them Nine were of chief power and reverence; but one is removed from their number, and Eight remain, the Aratar, the High Ones of Arda: Manwë and Varda, Ulmo, Yavanna and Aulë, Mandos, Nienna, and Oromë. Though Manwë is their King and holds their allegiance under Eru, in majesty they are peers, surpassing beyond compare all others, whether of the Valar and the Maiar, or of any other order that Ilúvatar has sent into Eä.”


A. “…here is told in brief their likenesses…” Um, I don’t think so. Tolkien gives us almost nothing in the way of physical description of the Valar in Elven form. Why then does he say this?

Timerider: Hasty and probably ill-informed answers Likeness can mean more than appearance- he's told us enough about the main players that we can understand the events of the Silmarillion, if we keep the Valaquenta bookmarked.

Beren IV: Pantheons of, well, Valar They are described as best they can be, given how unearthly they really are.

Curious: If Tolkien were to draw the Valar, he would draw them in the water, the wind, the sun, the birds, the trees, the mountains, and all the other "ordinary" things we take for granted in the world.  And indeed he did draw them, I contend.  He drew them with his words, if not with his illustrations as well.  And here he draws them for us so that we can see them as we read his works.

B. In this concluding passage Tolkien emphasizes the Nine chief Valar (including Melkor); at the beginning, remember, he emphasizes how there are Seven Lords and Seven Queens (not including Melkor). Out of 14 (or 15) Valar, why does he distinguish 9 (or 8)? Which is the more important accounting, and why have two?

Kimi: I'm tempted to look for a connection between the eight Aratar and the seven traditional celestial bodies (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) plus Arda, giving eight bodies needing their own guardian angels. I don't think this can be sustained very well, especially since all the Valar are especially involved with Arda, but perhaps it was a tiny influence. No wonder Morgoth left in a snit, though. Perhaps he smashed up "his" planet, forming the Asteroid Belt.

Aragonvaar: Lewis pretty much does what you describe in his "Space Trilogy"... To the point where you can almost set the scene in "That Hideous Strength" where all the Powers show up to the famous 'Planets' suite of music.  But then again, they are designed specifically as guardians of various planets (Earth got Satan.  Lucky us.)

As you say, the Valar are specifically geared to This Island Earth, plus Tolkien may have shied away from mimicking his friend's Oyarsas (Oyarses?) too closely once he was aware of it.

Beren IV: He started with Sixteen, but I have to agree, the number nine seems out of place. My guess is that it was an accident.

Curious: The numbers worked out that way because it seemed right to Tolkien.  It is a little messy, so I don't think any of the Valar were "filler."

C. Other pantheons are genuine creations over time from the mythology, folklore, and religion of an entire culture; The Valar are the literary creation of J.R.R. Tolkien. Can we tell the difference between the two from the Valaquenta?

Pukel-Man: The Valar are a first-generation pantheon. One thing that strikes me about Norse and particularly Greek mythology is the sense of successive generations of deities or religions gradually becoming subsumed into an overall legendarium.  We can see how Tyr became eclipsed by Thor, or how Cronos made way for Apollo and Zeus.  Even the myths of the giants seem to point to a wilder age when the natural forces they represent reigned supreme over helpless humanity until the deities of civilisation came along to help us out with fire and farming.

Tolkien's world lacks that sense of history, for me.  The Valar seem carefully segregated into areas of influence, all minted from the same forge, with no overlap of purpose or interest.  They seem too neat to have evolved like an earthly pantheon.

Varda Elentari: In addition to the lack of history or maybe as a consequence thereof, I think Tolkien's world is strikingly lacking in depth.  It's well constructed, but the lack of succession you mentioned as compared to Greek/Roman (the only kind I know about) myth lends a certain blandness to Tolkien's Valar and the whole history of the origins of the world, I think.  The layers that other mythologies are constructed of are a large part of what makes them so fascinating to read.  It seems like Tolkien didn't put a lot of thought into the Valar and the whole beginnings of the world.  It's a little disappointing what he came up with in terms of a solid mythological-type foundation for his world, because there really was potential for it to have been so much more.

Drogo drogo: The Classical pantheon is wilder and woolier The biggest difference between Classical gods and the pantheon of the Valar is the pluralistic, polytheistic basis of Greco-Roman culture (or other ancient cultures for that matter).  Tolkien's invented universe is governed by a single design stemming from one point of origin.  Thus the system is very neat and the spheres of influence only minimally overlap.  There ultimately is only one creator, one intention, governing all.  This singularity of vision and design also reflects a very teleological conception of history.  Tolkien does not want to admit chaos into his invented world, so he has a concrete point of origin, and foretells an appointed end for all (the second music to come at the end of time).

The Classical religious landscape was much more varied because they didn't have a single vision of the cosmos.  They were much more fluid in their ability to absorb otherness, and allow even mutually incompatible theological systems to co-exist (such as the Hellenistic Greeks in Egypt adopting the ancient pharonic ways, or the Romans who worshipped whatever gods seemed to suit their political purposes at the moment).  Without a unifiying set of beliefs, morality, or sense of cosmic purpose, theirs is a much more organic pantheon of gods who exist in a time without a clear-cut beginning and end.

Perhaps in the end it is the Professor's Catholicism that prevents him from inventing a wild and wooly world in which god run amock and compete with each other or overlap in their powers and intentions.  There has to be meaning and logic in Tolkien, and ancient cultures simply refused to be pidgeonholed into such an organization.  Tolkien's is a much more stable, purposeful reality --  one I think I would rather live in than one such as Homer's in which we never know what some whacked-out deity is going to pull on us next!

NZ Strider: I think that Tolkien (with a certain amount of cheeky humour) is suggesting that conventional theories of the origin of assemblages of gods (e.g. the Greek or Phoenician or Babylonian or Norse, etc.) had gotten it all wrong; or, rather, had overlooked a key flaw in their explanations of how such a pantheon arises.

Conventional historians of religion have explained to us (at great length) that the Greek pantheon developed over the course of centuries as this or that god was added from the Near East (e.g. Apollo) or from elsewhere over the course of countless centuries.  By such irregular additions (as well as deletions as some cults fell out of favour: Diwya is attested in the 13th century B.C. as Zeus' consort; but in the later period it's always Hera whom he's married to) slowly the classical pantheon came into being. 

This sounds nice -- but it has a logical flaw.  What was the original state of affairs?  If you trace the Greeks back to a small population of proto-proto-Indo-European hunter-gatherers somewhere on the Eurasian steppes, would you expect them to be polytheists (and have a pantheon) or to be monotheists? 

Monotheism, as we all *know* (see Squire's formulation a couple threads up and Lottelita's rejoinder), requires intellectual sophistication to arise and is *definitely* a later development than polytheism.  Thus conventional historians of religion who know everything.  Therefore, our population of proto-proto-Indo-Europeans *must* have been polytheists with a pantheon of sorts.  So how'd a pantheon arise that was there at the beginning?  In other words, the conventional theory explains how a pantheon is modified, but not how one arises. 

Here's where Tolkien's imaginative solution comes in: There was indeed a pantheon at the beginning; it was the result of a single creative process and it was orderly.  Over the millennia additions, deletions, refinements, adjustments, and inventions took place -- so that each people over the course of the millennia had a different pantheon.  Yet, if one looked closely, one could see that Wodin had a lot in common with Zeus and Thor with Ares and so on.  So, was the solution this: each pantheon was a development from one and the same original pantheon? 

It's that original pantheon which Tolkien is showing us, before all the development took place as each people got farther and farther away from that first pantheon without ever quite leaving it.

Pukel-Man: But without getting too microscopic . . . how do you define a 'religion'?  Even if large-scale monotheism requires a greater level of development than large-scale polytheism, at the level of Proto-proto (isn't that a town in Western Australia?) we're talking tribes, or even families.  Is a patch of land containing twenty tribes, each of whom have their own god, a polytheistic environment, or a lot of monotheistic environments?  I'd always assumed that the pantheons as we know them developed as local and household gods and spirits were agglomerated into larger groupings by the parallel agglomeration of their worshippers.  I'm not sure any one family or tribe would worship a dozen gods equally; rather, I think they'd be more likely to worship whatever god or spirit seemed most powerful or important to them, with perhaps a few lesser deities as back-ups.  

I think you're right in that Tolkien sought to show a large pantheon that was born full-grown in a moment acording to a planned design rather than an evolved one.  I think it might have been interesting to see Tolkien show the various Vala become more or less popular among the Elves and Men of the world, in a similar fashion to the waxing and waning gods of our own history.  I suspect that as a devout Christian Tolkien's love for polytheistic pantheons was probably less than his love for heroes and 'saint' figures.

NZ Strider: Well-parried!

Aragonvaar: That is pretty much what Chesterton proposes in "Everlasting Man" actually . . . A book Tolkien references in one of his essays (On Fairy Stories, I think).

Elsewhere (this is from the "standard" volume of essays/lectures that include "On Fairy Stories" and "The Monsters and the Critics") he speculates that Thor did not "originate" as some irascible local 'personality' who passed into legend and then became deified, but rather that a local personality who passed into legend became identified w/ the thunder-god for his, well, 'thunderous' personality traits.

Not sure if that's relevant, just thought I'd bring it up since it's one of the few concrete examples of Tolkien's thoughts on mythical evolution of this kind.

Lottelita: And less than his inability to put his stamp of approval on any system in which deity was not benevolent.  Symmetry, beauty, and goodness go together -- they're neat and tidy, they invite mortals to take comfort that the universe is well-ordered and they're being looked after.  Tolkien created a symmetrical, beautiful, good, well-ordered pantheon because that's how Christians see the universe.  Eru is good as God is good; Arda was good in its conception as our world was good in its conception.  Things only got mucked up later, when individuals stepped out of the beautiful symmetry and the well-ordered design was disrupted.

Aragonvaar: Debatable... In the youthful Book of Lost Tales, he does revel in the soap-operatic/"pagan" possibilities of the Valar, and he never wholly excises them (why Tulkas is still there, why Osse still exists in the late Silm, even if demoted).  His "early" vision of the "faineant" gods (as CT calls it somewhere), who have botched the Almighty's plan for Arda is, I would argue, not inherently less "Christian" than his later conception, seen in the published Silm.

Lottelita: If you would argue, then please do!  I admit to not having read the Lost Tales, as I'm less concerned with the process in this case than the canon (which is odd, since I'm so the opposite when it comes to actual religious texts).  How are fickle, frolicsom Valar not less Christian?

Aragonvaar: Primarily because they're not "good angels"... in the way that he treats them in the published Silm.

In Catholic theology, it is detachment from the physical world that makes angels so single-minded: they choose God or self once, and never see any reason to change their minds.

As of the point that you posit beings w/ angelic powers, but tied to the physical world and usually taking physical incarnations, you open the path for them to be as fickle as well, humans.  It's unfortunate that they're failing in God's plan for the world so to speak, but it's not any more of a problem for the believer than, say, entropy in general or the human race's failure to Get W/ The Plan (not saying that's NOT a problem believers have to face, just saying that making the demiurges fellow dysfunctional servants of the Almighty doesn't seem to me a direct contradiction of Catholic theology in this case).

Timerider: Well, no. But I think this is partly because his pantheon is based, almost copied, from genuine religious traditions. If he had come up with something off the top of his head, the difference would be more pronounced.

Aragonvaar: The Valar correspond to a "mature" pantheon... They have some of the spiffed-up/rationalized/polished quality you see in some of the later, more philosophical conceptions of the Greek or Hindu pantheons.  The BoLT and other "early" texts correspond to the earlier and more chaotic "layers" of myth referenced by Pukel-man and VE.  The primary difference is that different versions of the Valar "overwrite" one other in Tolkien's mind, instead of succeeding each other, because this was a "private" mythology rather than a communal one (contrast Tolkien's approach w/ the shift in focus from one crew to another over Star Trek's history, or w/ comic book writer Ron Marz's decision to turn the existing, Silver Age Green Lantern into a villain and create a touchy feely sensitive artist type to take up the GL "mantle").  I don't share VE's and PM's enthusiasm for this "messy" aspect of mythology-it's interesting as an insight into human psychology and creativity, but annoyingly soap-operatic from a storytelling POV.  It is however worth pointing out that this aspect, too, is present in Tolkien-just not in the Silm.

NZ Strider: Hmmm...  Perhaps, rather, a "mature" pantheon resembles the Valar?  That is to say, when philosophers impose order and structure on an unruly and undisciplined pantheon, it begins to resemble, albeit never entirely, the (hypothetical!) original pantheon which was supremely orderly?  I.e. Pukel-man's "first generation" pantheon which did not evolve and has not yet been altered?

Lottelita: Yes, it seems that pantheons might start out ordered and then devolve into the gorgeous messes that actual pantheons end up being, or they might start out messy -- an amalgamation of local beliefs and practices that start bouncing around together when tribes are united into larger communities -- and then have order imposed on them.  I think I like the latter, at the moment, which is another reason Tolkien's pantheon strikes me as intuitively artificial.  No pantheon was ever created by one person, of course, so there's no getting around the problems inherent in such an effort.

Aragonvaar: My point was that.... Tolkien's pantheon did *not* start out neat and tidy-what we are seeing here is a "late" iteration of his thought, after it's been tidied up.  He would probably say that he was discarding false conceptions of the pantheon to get at the truth beneath it, just as the intellectual types responsible for what I termed "mature" pantheons were trying to do.  But the chronological movement, in terms of what he wrote and when, is generally "from" a messy, organic and fragmentary cosmology and pantheon that Lot and Pukel-man would probably find appealing, "towards" what we see in the Silm.  So Lot, PM, et al, in arguing that the Valar are an artificial pantheon not corresponding to the real evolution of such myths, are arguing from the false premise that this is all we have of his his pantheon.  Since squire has been dutifully spelling out the mechanics of each Vala's evolution in this discussion, it seems reasonable to point out that they're comparing the Valar of the published Silm to a phase of mythological development to which they do not properly correspond. I was comparing them to a phase of development to which they *do* imo correspond.

Lot: I usually hesitate to recommend the History of Middle Earth volumes to people, especially the 2 volumes that make up the Book of Lost Tales, but given your interests in general, I think you'd find them appealing.

Lottelita: *bows* I will definitely put HoME on my list!

Squire: I didn't read the entire BoLT as I was trying to stay focused on the Valaquenta. But the close reading I did of the "Coming of the Valar" section brought back to me John Garth's critical commentary on the early mythology in "Tolkien and the Great War", which I read last winter.

At the time I didn't understand what he was talking about; but he was trying to convey to a generation of Silmarillion readers just how different in tone and character the first mythology was.

Colorful, chaotic, messy, emotional. More valar, more sprites. A war god and goddess; a death goddess; a poetry god, a music god. The section on the building of Valinor, describing the houses and lifestyles of the various gods, is simply stunning, if a little weird.

Like Pukel-Man, I find the Valar in the Valaquenta, as they were finally published, a little too tidy and dry to be interesting dramatically. The comparative geneology charts were my attempt to bring this out.

I am fascinated by the material being posted here on the anthropology of polytheism, and how it might be applied to the literary development of the Valaquenta. Thanks to all of you for answering this one!

Erather: Literary creation I gave what remaining thoughts I can muster on this topic in the thread below, but I have a question for the Wise here regarding other pantheons: to what extent are they also literary creations? 

There seem to be enough writings on them (not to mention temples, statues, etc.) that there's no doubt that they were widely worshipped or reverenced in their respective cultures, but isn't it true that any texts from which we can learn what they're like are themselves literary constructs?  We have, for example, Homer and the Greek classical dramas.  But are they not reflecting the author's representation of the gods in ways roughly equivalent to, say, C. B. DeMille's Moses or Mel Gibson's Christ?  How much do we know about what people actually believed about these gods?

Sorry if this is a dumb question, I'm woefully ignorant of ancient history.  In the field that I studied, the early Middle Ages, we worry a lot about what biases are attributable to the few limited sources we have as to events.

Lottelita: It's a fair question.

Our understanding of ancient religions is a product of literary creations in part, but also of cultural artifacts that wouldn't be classified as "literature" as we now think of it.  The gods were referenced in prefaces to law books, in humble artisans' crafts, in frescoes on homeowners' walls -- in short, everywhere, not just in explicitly literary works like the Epic of Gilgamesh or Homer. 

How much do we *actually* know?  Quite a lot, actually.  A lot survives from antiquity because a) it was largely put down on stone, which lasts a lot better than paper, and b) quite a bit of the Western stuff on paper was preserved by Muslims and Christian monks.  But I have no doubt that had the library at Alexandria not burned down, we'd have all sorts of insights that would show us how silly we've all been in trying to put the pieces together.

Lottelita: They're too nice. Pantheonic deities were, without exception, fickle, flighty, and largely uninterested in the affairs of mortals -- except when they saw a pretty one they wanted to snog or an ugly one they wanted to pester (see Job for a remaining trace of this in Christianity).  They're petty.  They're mean.  They hate each other.  They ALL break the rules from time to time.  In that sense, the Valar represent an inauthentic pantheon, and bear much more similarity to the Christian council of angels.

I agree with Pukel and Varda that the pantheon is also too neat and tidy to feel real.  But, again, this smacks of a benevolent creator who is sincerely interested in beauty and balance -- and no such deity was responsible for the genesis of Nordic, Greek, or Mesopotamian pantheons.

Varda Elentari: Puke and I discussed this exact idea this morning.  An important characteristic of classical mythical gods that separates them from the modern concept of the divine is their lack of benevolance.  The Valar would never occasionaly have little spats with one another, or toy with mortals/elves just for the fun of it, or because they were bored, etc.  I think the lack of ability to be consciously malicious separates Tolkien's "gods" from the more traditional pantheon.

Beren IV: Yes; the Valar tend to generally get along with each-other and play by the rules. Most actual mythological pantheons have more human flaws.

Curious: In "On Fairy-stories" Tolkien questioned whether we really know much about the religion of the Norse, or Greeks, or others who believed in pantheons.  We read the stories and think we know what the ancients believed; Tolkien questions that, arguing that just because the gods are characters in the stories does not mean the ancients really believed Zeus was a philandering husband with a shrewish wife or Thor a dumb ox of a man.  The Silmarillion is Tolkien's attempt, I judge, to get at the truth about ancient religious beliefs.  Of course no one can know the real truth without a time machine, but Tolkien offers a complicated hypothesis which he believes is plausible.  He restores dignity to the pantheon, at the cost of some fun stories about those dumb gods, and notes that so-called pantheons and monotheism might even be able to coexist.  Several people here have given examples that support that hypothesis.

Squire: I would say otherwise that is, that the ancients humanized their mythologies to take the edge off the unbearable cruelties of life and nature. Nevertheless I imagine (no time machine at my house either) that they did believe in their deities, and that they did conceive their world's pantheons to be as complex and confusing and "lively" as their traditions taught them. Nothing about real life is so ordered or so symmetrical, and so I don't believe any human tradition ever had a pantheon as ordered or symmetrical as Tolkien's.

Thus I come back to Tolkien "simplifying" his pantheon as his own tradition develops, and in the end (The Valaquenta was never revisited after the 1958 typescript was completed) he had pared it down to the bone (as per my chart, which I made to highlight the contrast we are talking about). I would guess "dignity" is important to him; but that dignity belongs properly to God himself. To demand dignity of a natural pantheon, at the expense of "fun stories about dumb gods", is to suck the humanity out of his tale.

Of course, we do tell ourselves that this is an Elves' pantheon, don't we? And I admit these gods do fit their Elves. After all, in The Silmarillion, and in most of Lord of the Rings, but almost not at all in The Hobbit, Tolkien sucked the humanity out of the Elves as well.

Luthien Rising: lived pantheons vs. recorded pantheons I would imagine that Tolkien's pantheon could be seen as representing an ideal pulled from a living tradition -- to which Tolkien often ascribed the apparent contradictions. Such an ideal could easily be much more harmonious, much more balanced, than it would be as lived. It strikes me that the culture of the Elves, whose tradition this is meant to be, is shown by Tolkien to have valued such order and harmony and would be likely to distill lived tradition in this way.

But it's not as much fun to read as more chaotic pantheon is.

 (My son, by the way, "informs" me that it's only a "pantheon" if they all work together. If they're always working against each other, it can't be a pantheon.)

Curious: I have no expertise in these matters, and cannot comment on the beliefs of early man.  I imagine even the experts are speculating about such matters.  But it does not sound like you disagree with me; rather, it sounds like you disagree with Tolkien.

D. “[The Valar’s] names among Men are manifold,” said Tolkien, back in the introduction to the Valaquenta. Do Men really worship the Valar? There is no God of War, no God of Poetry or Music, no God of Love or Fertility.

Timerider: Well, between them the Valar we have serve these functions. Varda and Yavanna cover love and fertility, for instance. And I think men who worship war are truly worshipping Morgoth. C.S. Lewis at least believed that if you do good in, say, the name of Bob, God is still the party being served. I don't know whether Tolkien did also, but the passage seems to suggest it. Suppose someone is worshipping Vulcan (god of the forge) Don't you think that proud Aule would be more than happy to assume the worship for himself?

Aragonvaar: As I remarked in one of the Varda threads, Tolkien's religion proposes that worship should be reserved to the One, but that it is good to revere His friends and servants.  I think Tolkien believes that the Valar deserve a special level of reverence, that can, in an absence of true understanding, easily degenerate into worshipping them.  The Lewis quote cited in another response is so far as I know compatible w/ Catholic teaching of the time, and since the points on which Tolkien and Lewis differed have been generally well documented in various literary and biographical studies (and this concept is not to my knowledge one of them), I think we may take it that he regarded mistaken, well-intentioned worship of the Valar to be, well, Not A Bad Deed.  After all, he doesn't sound very judgmental when he has the hobbits conflate Galadriel and Varda in the LOTR, nor when (Silm spoilers) Balan and his people mistake Galadriel's brother for a Vala).

Kimi: I don't think Men worship the Valar, or even know much of them. What little they know is from contact with Elves. The "highest" of Men seem to revere the Valar, but on Numenor in the Good Old Days only Eru was worshipped.

Beren IV: There are several Maiar in earlier versions that fill some of these roles. Makar is the God of War (I think that defaulted to Tulkas - or Melkor). Yavanna is the goddess of Fertility. As for Music, the Music of the Ainur is what made the world. Could Eru himself be the god of Music, then (as well as of everything else)?

Images of modern Pantheons

Here and here are some pictures of groupings that have been described as “Pantheons”

E. Do you agree these are pantheons? What do we mean by the word today? Are these real-life groupings more worthy of the term than the purely imaginary Valar?

Timerider: The term carries no reverence anymore- when we worship other men, we are really worshipping ourselves.

Kimi: Modesty forbids me from commenting on the worthiness of the modern "Pantheons" :-)

Beren IV: Yes, the Valar are a pantheon. They're also a council of Angels. I really like how Tolkien did this: You can't really say that religion on Arda is mono or polytheistic. It's BOTH! :)

Piled Higher and Deeper

Here is a link to a brief summary of the Greek mythological pantheon. And here is one to the Norse group. And here is the chart of the Valar pantheon for comparison. One might assume that both of these mythologies, Southern and Northern European, were strong influences on Tolkien’s thinking about polytheistic Gods, their totemic roles, and their interrelationships.

F. Were they?

Beren IV: There is no question that the influences are there; the chief Valar being the Gods of the day and night sky, and such, and with each Vala having a sort of list of things that he or she is the patron deity of.

Hartk: Struck by similarities to Hindu Pantheon

Taken from ...

According to the tenets of Hinduism, the whole universe is pervaded by one Universal God, who is imperishable, indestructible, infinite, without form and beyond human thought. There goes neither the mind, nor the intellect nor the senses and none can truly define Him and comprehend Him. In His unmanifest state He is unknown, vast emptiness or nothingness, and since He is prior to all, no one is actually aware how He wakes up and manifests all this that we know as His creation.

For some unknown, mysterious and inexplicable reasons, He wakes Himself up, setting in process a massive chain reaction that explodes into this gigantic, dynamic, astounding and material universe, which we perceive through our senses and intellect to be this universe. Thus He who is One, beyond and transcendental, descends into the lower levels of His own creation to become many individual things, both living and non living, suffused with His tremendous energy, dormant in some, active in some other, and in varying degrees of purity and permanence evolution and involution.

Of this diversity so produced, some are divinities, some are ordinary beings, some demons and evil beings and some purely inconscient and inert. The divinities, whom we recognize in Hinduism as gods and goddesses, possess tremendous energies, higher knowledge and unified wisdom and inhabit the higher planes or worlds, free from the troubles of old age and death, playing their dutiful roles in maintaining and managing the various aspects of creation as manifestations of the one Supreme God.

Aragonvaar: I'm afraid I don't especially see a resemblance... The Valar's status in the pecking order is similar, but that's about all.

Silent Watcher: The Sumero-Babylonian Pantheon First I remark that this pantheon was a great source of inspiration for the Greek mythology.

There is a chief god ANU (heaven), god of the sky. He is the father of the "Anunnaki" the younger gods who have charge of the earth (Ainur, then Valar?) and the 'Igigi" in charge of the sky.

ENLIL is the King of the Anunnaki. He is the god ot the wind and storm and rules the fate of all things. He is also the creator of the mankind. Can we try to relate him (at a certain extent) to Manwë?

Next to ENLIL is ENKI (EA), god of the waters. He knows all things and is 'Lord of wisdom'. In the same time he is the maker of all crafts. So he is similar to Ulmo and Aulë.

NERGAL is the god who presides at the government of the dead gathered in a large subterranean cave called Aralu (Mandos?). He is the consort of the goddess ALLATU (ERESHKIGAL), supreme goddess of the underworld. Some similarities to Námo and Vairë but the latter seems wiser than Allatu.

ISHTAR (Inanna-Astarté) is the chief goddess 'Queen of heaven'. She is associated to the Evening Star and she is the goddess of the fertility and the vegetation. She made also a journey to the underworld. So she has many features of Varda, Yavanna and Nienna.

Of course it's a over-oversimplified view of this pantheon but I think this parallel is valid especially if you consider the number of Semitic roots in the work of Tolkien.

Extra Credit

G. Who should play the Valar in a Silmarillion movie directed by Peter Jackson? You have to say why, no just typing in names of favorite actors without a thought in the world. Who would you cut from the script? Who would you replace Jackson with as director, if he died in a dispute with his barber?

Timerider: The actors I'll leave to the director, he did a good job last time, better than I would have. As for a replacement director (Valinor forbid) might I suggest Alfonso Cuaron? He works best in the dark- I think he could handle the dreary and depressing nature of most of the Silmarillion, without losing the interest and concern of the audience.

Aragonvaar: I don't know who I want directing the Silm.  I think it's too subtle and too overtly "moral" for PJ, plus his wife would kill him if he tries it.  I found Cuaron's Harry Potter movie to be trite, overwrought, and incredibly twee, so I don't want him either.  I think Bryan Singer (X-Men) has a good track record of going into somebody else's mythology cold and getting the hang of it; Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy) has a knack for mythical imagery, a decent gift for psychology and would probably be reasonably open-minded about the religious stuff.

Casting the Valar:

Ulmo: Oded Fehr (heck, he was even in the Israeli navy!)  handsome, cryptic, honorable, and has the voice for it.

Manwe: Jeremy Northam (nice voice; gentle, thoughtful manner; good-looking in a timeless way)

Varda: Phoebe Cates (competent and good-looking actress who fits my notion of the character).

Orome: Hugh Jackman (Wolverine.  Van Helsing. Nuff Said.)

Melkor: Russell Crowe (because he always strikes me as charismatic but unspeakably self-centered).  Or maybe Ralph Fiennes, for the same reason.

Aule: Avery Brooks.  I picture Aule as very physically capable-looking, nasty when he's angry but otherwise jovial.  And I just think Brooks would do the whole Abraham&Isaac routine w/ the Dwarves really really well.

Nessa: Keira Knightley-attractive, highly physical young actress.

Yavanna: Angela Bassett.  A good-looking, "earth-mother" type woman w/ the acting chops for the "angry on behalf of trees" bit.

Namo: Terence Stamp.  Austere handsome older man w/ integrity.

Irmo: Johnny Depp.  Who else embodies "creativity" so well?

No thoughts on the others.

Penthe: OT-ish - Terrific casting choices We're trying to cast an imaginary remake of The Great Gatsby at our place at the moment. Any hints?

Aragonvaar: OT...well... I'd have to check the book but...

How about Northam as Nick (Would do the parallel tracks of apparent detachment and actual entanglement rather well, I think) and Nana Visitor as Daisy (might be a bit "old" for the part but she's good at being strong-willed and brittle, and has tremendous screen presence).  Knightley's also pretty good at that kind of thing, but more "outdoorsy" than I always imagined Daisy as being.

No ideas on Gatsby himself.  I'd say Depp, but you never know where he's gonna take a character, which usually works for his projects (and would work for the protean and enigmatic Irmo), but might be less than ideal in a Gatsby.

N.E. Brigand: You may already... have provided an answer with your Valar casting:  Hugh Jackman.  A man who can be perfect in such disparate roles as The X-Men's Wolverine and Leopold from Kate and... can probably do anything.

By the way, I notice a couple Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine actors in your lists.  I've always thought Michael Dorn could do great things besides Worf but haven't seen anything he's done sans makeup.

Penthe: Hugh Jackman Yes, I agree! Thanks for indulging me.

Aragonvaar: my pleasure :)

Erather: Hard to improve on the young Redford, but Hugh Jackman would do quite nicely.

Aragonvaar: My parents Tell me Dorn was in... Hill Street Blues briefly.   I haven't seen the show myself to know :)

Beren IV: See my new thread [on a Silmarillion movie].

Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta


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