Thursday, July 22 – The Maiar

12:00 PM The Valaquenta: The Maiar Ossė and Uinen

Ossė and Uinen – The Text

 “But of all the Maiar Ossė and Uinen are best known to the Children of Ilśvatar.

Ossė is a vassal of Ulmo, and he is master of the seas that wash the shores of Middle-earth. He does not go in the deeps, but loves the coasts and the isles, and rejoices in the winds of Manwė; for in storm he delights, and laughs amid the roaring of the waves. His spouse is Uinen, the Lady of the Seas, whose hair lies spread through all waters under sky. All creatures she loves that live in the salt streams, and all weeds that grow there; to her mariners cry, for she can lay calm upon the waves, restraining the wildness of Ossė. The Nśmenóreans lived long in her protection, and held her in reverence equal to the Valar.

Melkor hated the Sea, for he could not subdue it. It is said that in the making of Arda he endeavoured to draw Ossė to his allegiance, promising to him all the realm and power of Ulmo, if he would serve him. So it was that long ago there arose great tumults in the sea that wrought ruin to the lands. But Uinen, at the prayer of Aulė, restrained Ossė and brought him before Ulmo; and he was pardoned and returned to his allegiance, to which he has remained faithful. For the most part; for the delight in violence has never wholly departed from him, and at times he will rage in his wilfulness without any command from Ulmo his lord. Therefore those who dwell by the sea or go up in ships may love him, but they do not trust him.”

Ossė and Uinen – Discussion

Beren IV: 70% of the Earth's surface is water... I'm not going to talk about why Tolkien did all the things he did with Ossė and Uinen. I will note that Melkor's inability to control the waters either illustrates a lack of thought about geography by Tolkien's part or should make it obvious that Melkor should lose to start with, since he has at least 70% of the planet against him already.

A. Ossė was offered his boss’ job by Melkor. Melkor is a liar, of course, but did a Maia really think he could be promoted to a Vala, or at least a Vala’s job (and Ulmo is a primo Valar, too)? Can’t Ossė say “Ilśvatar”?

PhantomS: Osse the Uninsured Tulkas was promoted, and since Maiar are all Ainur it's not impossible. Yet Melkor cannot fulfil his promise because he is untrustworthy. Ulmo, on the other hand is a good boss (to Osse). Better to pick a good boss than try to be the boss.

Luthien Rising: untangling This reminds me very much of the power of Saruman's voice. I can imagine Melkor's voice having similar (or greater) powers.

Erather: Finger pointing? Apparently he not only could, but did.

Kimi: To a Vala's job, perhaps, if Morgoth convinced him that Eru (and the other Valar) were not particularly interested in the Sea. But Osse saw the light, and repented. I have a feeling that this is contrary to orthodox Catholic teaching about angels.

Osse: Looks like I have some 'splainin' to do You know, Ilśvatar is an elvish word, and elvish is only Ossė's second (and third) language; he could say Ilśvatar if he wanted to. Besides, Ilśvatar never told anyone that Manwė was to be in charge at the time, and Melkor was around first, after all.

B. Are there any other examples of Maiar who aspired to become a Vala? How about Maiar who joined with Melkor and were challenged to repent and reform? (rhymes with moron)

PhantomS: Sauron was under no illusion that he would become a Valar- those positions were only appointed to the leaders of the Song, including the out of tune Melkor.

Luthien Rising: Hmmm. Soron?

Erather: Umm, lessee...  Actually, I was surprised to see our least-favorite maia mentioned so early in the Sil.  But, I guess if Olorin made it, why not?

Kimi: *Ahem* So what's a mauron? :-)

If you pronounce "Sauron" as "Soron"

You risk being seen as a moron

Check out that diphthong

And don't get it wrong

Or you'll soon find out there's a war on.

Okay, it's not art. But it makes a point :-)

Squire: To give everyone a good time

To give everyone a good time

I purposely made a bad rhyme.

After piling the lore on,

My "Sauron: a moron"

Was hardly a war-worthy crime.

Luthien Rising: Mauron? Is a particularly nasty village in Bretagne, France?

Aragonvaar: Only because angels aren't attached to the material world... in the same way that Tolkien's Valar and Maiar are.  Angels are only single-minded in their goodness or badness because they are pure spirits who can influence the physical world but are not tied to it in the way Tolkien characterizes the Valar/Maiar as being.

NZ Strider: Hey, where's our Ossė? He should be here to answer this...

Valar and Maiar can fall; and, of course, Melkor could tempt Ossė to rebel with promises which he might not be able to keep.  Besides, Sauron the Maia filled Melkor's shoes later on; so why shouldn't Ossė fill Ulmo's?

NZ Strider: On Ossė as a "neutral" in the War of the Angels... Tom Shippey cites a medięval poet who composed a poem on St. Michael (who led God's troops in the celestial war against the Enemy); the poem is in the Early South English Legendary (non uidi).  According to the anonymous poet there were in this war some Angels who neither fully joined the Enemy nor wholly supported God.  Now, those who in the end did incline rather to the Enemy will meet their just reward in the place down below; but those who inclined to God (without wholeheartedly supporting God's troops) will still be accepted into Heaven, though not without a bit of (apparently: purgatorial) punishment. 

I'd like to suggest that Ossė falls into that latter category.  He almost went over to Melkor; pulled back at the last second; but never entirely (re)subordinated himself to the will of Valar (and by extension: Ilśvatar).

Osse: Sure. Tom Bombadil. Long ago he applied for the job, but the Valar were upset at the prospect of their councils being constantly disrupted by Tom's 'merry-dol's and his other strange behaviour. So they sneaked off to Valinor in the middle of the night while he slept. Don't think he ever found them.


Tolkien has made an elaborate mythic explanation here for how the beneficent Sea-god Ulmo comes to make the deadly storms of the sea: turns out it’s not him at all, it’s that wayward madcap Ossė.

Aragonvaar: Osse's boss doesn't exactly keep him on a short leash.... I don't know that the inclusion of a "storm-god" as his uncooperative subordinate makes Ulmo all that benign.

Erather: Clearly Ulmo tolerates Ossė because whenever the sea destroys something there's someone else to blame (Oh, that Ossė, run amuck again, did he?).

C. Why is there no similar, relatively benign, explanation for the wicked storms of the air, or the deadly upheavals of the earth, which are presumably Manwė’s and Aulė’s dark sides?

Aragonvaar: Earthquakes and tornadoes are presumably Melkor's fault (note that Melkor cannot subdue the sea).

PhantomS: Because it's rather obvious. SInce the Silmarillion has a lot of drownings, we gotta know who is specifically responsible.

Luthien Rising: Isn't there? I see these as Melkor's continuing battle with them.

Erather: Because they don't feel the need to finger-point.  But I sure know who to blame next time Los Angeles gets it!  Somewhat more seriously, although hurricanes and

Kimi: I agree with the suggestion that those are the fault of Morgoth or his followers.

D. Uinen seems to be the spirit of the seaweeds as well as of the sea-creatures – both plant and animal. Why or how is that relevant to her ability to calm Ossė?

Aragonvaar: Osse, as we will see in his dealings w/ the Teleri later, has something of a soft spot for creatures who must seem very fragile to him.  And storms can be problematic for underwater creatures: deepsea beasts churned up to shallower depths that they cannot survive in, for instance.  Perhaps, as the guardian of life in the sea, Uinen can beg him to chill out for the sake of the seas' inhabitants?

PhantomS: Uinen & Osse = Yavanna & Aule

Luthien Rising: Tangles of weeds will calm the waters at the edges of a lake -- to a point. But being entangled in them hardly leads to feelings of calm. *shivers*

Kimi: She calms him down by asking him to braid her hair.

NZ Strider: If Melkor can tempt Ossė, then others can talk sense to him.  He just must have been willing to listen to Uinen.

E. How did the Nśmenóreans get in here, with their reverence to Uinen? In the Quenta Silmarillion there are plenty of mariner races or peoples of Elves who might have been mentioned here. Why weren’t they?

Aragonvaar: Perhaps to emphasize how weak the position of Men is in relation to the implacable, ever-mutable Sea.  The Teleri prove to be on quite good terms w/ Osse, once they meet him, and I would guess that the same is more or less true of Cirdan and his people.  And the couple of Noldor who are "seafriends" are proteges of Ulmo himself.  Men are weaker, less in touch w/ nature, therefore less capable of coping w/ the storms (Osse)and the depths (Ulmo) of the sea, and more dependent on its benign aspect (Uinen).

PhantomS: They pay tribute to her and wish for her protection-but they hardly ever talk to her. Uinen has become, unwittingly, a sea goddess. The Elves know her on another, almost ho-hum level.

Luthien Rising: This is Tolkien's Atlantis complex coming out (for the first time in the Sil?). Others might be mariners, but it's ultimately the Atlantis story that moves Tolkien the most.

Erather: Their relationship to water had the most dramatic climax.

Kimi: The Nśmenóreans have a lot of coastline (rather like New Zealanders).

Osse: That was probably the Nśmenórean editor making a few changes to remind readers that they once had a few friends among the powers.


First Ulmo; now Ossė and Uinen: these sea-guys and -gals get all the print in the Valaquenta. Paragraph after paragraph about “the Sea, the Sea, etc…”

Luthien Rising: Feeling a bit Sea-sick, are you? I've always liked this about the Sil, personally. (Okay, "always" is a bit strong since I only read it for the first time this winter, but still.)

C.      Why does Tolkien so emphasize the spirits of the Sea and the Waters in the Valaquenta? Is this emphasis followed through in The Silmarillion?

Aragonvaar: The sea holds a peculiar fascination for him, and this is carried through in the rest of the Silm.

I should mention in passing that when I read a book about the fall of Atlantis (by the Prospero's Children author, don't remember if it was that book though) which portrayed the sea as a sentient but implacable personality utterly alien to and uninterested in human concerns, I had trouble accepting it: because Tolkien's Sea-Troika were so firmly lodged in my head.

PhantomS: The Sea is a fortress for the forces of Good-  all the mishaps seem to happen near land or on land. And the Sea is a primal force- if Melkor tried to fight Ulmo, who knows what would have happenned.

Kimi: I agree with whoever made the Atlantis connection.

Images of Uinen

Here are some images of Uinen; just as with Eönwė, I couldn’t find anything for the guy of the couple, Ossė!

D.      Why such unanimity in depicting Uinen as a spirit of water, while most of the illustrations of Ulmo emphasized his human form?

Luthien Rising: I see a lot more seaweed than water in the inspiration here -- an inevitable attraction given the inherent pattern interest in seaweed.

Kimi: Perhaps because she's a representative of the beloved benign face of the Sea.

Piled Higher and Deeper

Right up until the final decision to separate the Valaquenta from the Quenta Silmarillion, we see that Tolkien imagined Ossė and Uinen as Valar who were subordinate to Ulmo.

H. Does making them Maiar constitute a demotion?

PhantomS: Naah. Makes em more accountable.

Luthien Rising: In Tolkien's very hierarchical structure, yes, whether we like it or not.

Osse: Yes, but...

E.      Notice that Ossė goes from “rebellious” Vala to “willful” Maia. Why?

PhantomS: Like I said, it's a good job. Better to kill for the army than for kicks.

Luthien Rising: To make him more sympathetic. "Wilfulness" is more forgivable than rebellion.

Kimi: Willful is more forgiveable.

Osse: Well, I think there are probably too many Valar as it is, with not enough friction between them, or rebelliousness. Ulmo was already the only Vala who seemed to disagree with the others. To have another sea-Vala do the same thing was probably unnecessary. I do think we could possibly have done with some more trimming of their numbers though. Like about half of them.

NZ Strider: Hah!  Now you tell us! Thanks, Ossė.  Nice to have a good early morning laugh.

Extra Credit

F.      If Ossė and Uinen were at Irmo and Estė's one summer evening, and got into a marital spat, what would be the effect on the peaceful tree-shadowed lake of Lórellin?

PhantomS: a 3 volume telenovela starring Kelsey Grammer as Tulkas.

Luthien Rising: Pity the poor little waterlilies that flourished in those peaceful, presumably mirrorlike waters!

Beren IV: I suspect that Irmo and Estė could kick the troublesome Maiar out.

Kimi: Like a fountain with soap powder poured in it.

Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta


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