Thursday, July 22 – The Maiar

6:00 AM The Valaquenta: The Maiar Ilmarë and Eönwë

The Maiar – The Text

 “With the Valar came other spirits whose being also began before the World, of the same order as the Valar but of less degree. These are the Maiar, the people of the Valar, and their servants and helpers. Their number is not known to the Elves, and few have names in any of the tongues of the Children of Ilúvatar; for though it is otherwise in Aman, in Middle-earth the Maiar have seldom appeared in form visible to Elves and Men.”

The Maiar – Discussion

Beren IV: Big Inconsistency Ainur exist both inside and outside of time. Since they exist outside of time, it is meaningless to say that an Ainu has been killed, since its time of death is a particular moment in time, and even after its 'death', the Ainu still exists, because it also exists outside of time. So what does it mean to 'kill' an Ainu?

Second, in LotR, there are several Maiar (e.g. Sauron) who are younger than some of the other parts of the world, like those "nameless things" that gnaw at the roots of the world. But if Sauron is older than time, how is this possible? Is this a genuine inconsistency between the Sil and LotR? Are Maiar in the Sil contained exclusively within the world, as would make more sense?


The Maia seem to be a catchall category for “other” spiritual beings that originate outside of Arda.

A. Is there any creature or extra-natural phenomenon in Tolkien’s stories that cannot be explained by saying it is a “Maia”? Was that Tolkien’s intent?

An seileachan: --Yes, if we think of all other spirits as Maiar, of course, that leaves Bombadil and the "river sprite" as probable Maiar...unless Eru created other spirits  not recorded in the Silmarillion? Is that a possibility, that the authors of the Silmarillion (to follow the script) did not know all the spirits, only those they were told about by the Valar?

Drogo drogo: I am the Mouth of Manwe The question of what are the so-called "spirits" that are sometimes mentioned in Tolkien is a pretty thorny one.  We could say that the Maiar might be a catch-all category for all spiritual essences, but it is still very complicated.  Perhaps there is some hierarchy of Ainur that is not fully explained, or Tolkien had his limits, creative as he in inventing new realities.  The evolution of the Maiar over time shows that Tolkien wanted to simplify the ranks of sub-spirits in his pantheon, but there might have been other categories he had in mind that he never outlined in writing.

Beren IV: Easy: Dragons.

B. Wouldn’t the Elves have met a heck of lot of Maiar by name during the long period of time they were in Valinor and regularly visited and learned from the Valar and (presumably) the Valar’s people?

An seileachan: they called all their servants "Bridget" like the rich New Yorkers at the turn of the 20th century, so got them all mixed up?

two thoughts, for what they're worth (and yes, I am intimidated by the company I'm keeping here, but carrying on regardless!)

--did Tolkien's exposure to the servant class in his ordinary life, influence his picture of "servants and helpers" in his writing? Are servants and helpers, unless in a high exposure role like herald bearer, kind of anonymous to the Elves in this way? Or unless they are sent to the Elves with specific purpose as Valar-helpers?

Penthe: Servants and service This is a very interesting point, but did Tolkien really have much exposure to servants as a given in his early life?

You've given me a good reminder that the way we read this book is, in very particular ways, not in the same cultural realm of its creation. Thanks for that.

In agreement with you - as we've discussed several times over recent months, the Elves don't ever seem to explain how food appears on the table or exactly who chops the firewood for Elrond's great hall (wretched fire is always going, and it takes a lot of firewood for that - in fact, now I think of it, no wonder Rivendell is surrounded by a wasteland, the Elves have chopped down all the trees to keep them warm while singing songs about how much they love the forests. Hypocrites ;D .)

Sorry, I just meant to say, good point. Ta.

An seileachan: I think so, yes Although his nuclear family was poor after his dad died, his extended family and others of his station in life, had household servants as a matter of course. I don't mean a houseful of servants, but one or two. Also, when he got to university, I believe his college would have had whatever those servants who cleaned your room and waited on you were called (?scouts? I'm American, not sure of the terminology). And certainly, as an officer in the service, he was used to having subordinates, including the "batmen" but also stewards, etc.

In other words, I just think that for a man of Tolkien's educated class and time, servants were frequently seen and a usual fact of life. It could be he just didn't fill in much detail here, but maybe it's also true he simply viewed servants in a certain role and never felt the need to explain in great detail, who they were or what they did. I do NOT mean to imply any prejudice or disdain. I'm trying to say that servants were more common and ordinary in his time, than they are at least in modern American middle and upper middle class homes.

Just a thought. Thank you for your comment. :-)

Drogo drogo: These are probably the Maiar who stood out among the Elves.  The Valaquenta is a kind of Homeric list of major and minor deities, but even that has its limits.  I suppose Joe Bob and Billy Sue Maia might be mentioned in some uncut fragment of the Valaquenta preserved in Tol Eressea, but their fame never spread to the mortal lands.

Ilmarë and Eönwë – The Text

 “Chief among the Maiar of Valinor whose names are remembered in the histories of the Elder Days are Ilmarë, the handmaid of Varda, and Eönwë, the banner-bearer and herald of Manwë, whose might in arms is surpassed by none in Arda.”

Ilmarë and Eönwë – Discussion

Eönwë we meet, briefly, in The Silmarillion. Ilmarë we do not.

C.      If these are the chief Maiar who are remembered, why are they remembered so very badly?

Drogo drogo: We could argue that this is only one text, but there are other accounts or songs that discuss these Maiar in more detail.  Again, the Valaquenta is like the listing of the combatants in The Iliad, and many great figures are only mentioned in passing (though their tales might be told in other, later epics).


”I am a herald and an ambassador, and may not be assailed!” claimed the Mouth of Sauron in Lord of the Rings. Heralds traditionally are unarmed, yet Eönwë is also the mightiest soldier.

D.      Why the double-duty for one noble Maia?

Drogo drogo: Eonwe is Manwe's press secretary and chief general all bundled into one.  Manwe himself, like Morgoth or Sauron later, doesn't go into battle, but he does through Eonwe.  I wonder if Sauron was mocking Eonwe (who humilated him once) by having one of his Black Numenoreans become nothing more than the Mouth of Sauron and represent him to others. 

Images of Ilmarë

Here are a couple of images of Ilmarë; I couldn’t find anything for Eönwë, which frankly surprised me.

G. How do the artists approach a character the book never describes? Frankly, are we sure my sources didn’t misidentify some more Varda renderings?

[No answer]

Piled Higher and Deeper

Tolkien’s original mythology featured a plethora of subsidiary spirits, as he tried to reconcile traditional fairies, sprites, and elves with his new conceptions. The chief Valar had children, and subordinate Valar. He maintained this until after the completion of The Lord of the Rings, when he abandoned the “many lesser spirits, both great and small” idea for the “Maiar” idea, which he used to simplify the pantheon radically, consigning the secondary Valar to the Maiar.

E.      Is the concept of the Valar stronger or weaker, now that they number exactly 14, and do not have children or lesser Valar, only Maiar?

Drogo drogo: Tolkien did not want to dilute the ruling pantheon, perhaps, so he limited the number of the Valar proper.

Beren IV: Stronger, in my opinion. How is a being that is quintessentially spirit, like a Vala, going to mingle sperm with egg to produce offspring?

Extra Credit

F.      What is the difference between these two statements: "Tom Bombadil was a Maia" and "Tom Bombadil was not a Maia, but rather a spirit of Ilúvatar incorporated on Arda"?

Drogo drogo: It depends on whether there are other types of Ainur who came down other than the Valar and Maiar.  He might be a rogue spirit, something like Shelob, who doesn't belong to the ranks that formed once the Ainur we know as the Valar decided to go down into Eru's experiment.  The real question, though, is whether spirit Tom had wings!

Incidentally, I am leaving town on a business trip today and wanted to say thanks for a fascinating discussion this week.  The tables with various iterations of the text and the illustrations really added new dimensions to what otherwise would have been a litany of names and introductions.

Beren IV: Basically, it says what Tom is made out of. If he is a Maia, then he is made of the Flame Imperishible, which exists both within and without of the world. If he isn't then he is probably a part of the world, and not something at least partially beyond it.

Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta


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