Friday, July 23 – The Enemies

6:00 PM The Valaquenta: Snoozer or Loser?

And finally, tonight we say farewell to the Valaquenta. Ah, the Valaquenta: Why is it here, what does it mean?

Conclusion – The Text


The Valaquenta – Concluding Discussion

"[M]y father came to conceive The Silmarillion as a compilation, a compendious narrative, made long afterwards from sources of great diversity (poems, and annals, and oral tales) that had survived in agelong tradition; and this conception has indeed its parallel in the actual history of the book, for a great deal of earlier prose and poetry does underlie it, and it is to some extent a compendium in fact and not only in theory. To this may be ascribed the varying speed of the narrative and fullness of detail in different parts...

In the case of the Valaquenta, for instance, we have to assume that while it contains much that must go back to the earliest days of the Eldar in Valinor, it was remodeled in later times; and thus explain its continual shifting of tense and viewpoint, so that the divine powers seem now present and active in the world, now remote, a vanished order known only to memory." --from "The Silmarillion", foreword by editor Christopher Tolkien, 1977.

A.      What does Christopher Tolkien mean here? How or where does the Valaquenta "vary in tense and viewpoint"? Do the texts we have read this week seem to have made the Valar “present and active in the world” for you – or “remote, a vanished order”?

[No answers]

 “I am sorry if this all seems dreary and ‘pompose’. But so do all attempts to ‘explain’ the images and events of a mythology. Naturally the stories come first. But it is, I suppose, some test of the consistency of a mythology as such, if it is capable of some sort of rational or rationalized explanation.” –J.R.R.Tolkien, letter no. 200, June 1957.

B. By now we’ve seen some of the work Tolkien put into The Silmarillion, revising and revising for 40 years. Here Tolkien himself seems to harbor some doubt. Does his mythology benefit proportionally to the immense labor he put into “rationalizing” it? Do you agree with Tolkien that a mythology should be consistent and capable of rational explanation?

[No answers]

C. What moments in The Lord of the Rings would you rethink now that you know a bit more about the Valar and what their powers, realms and folk are?

Bigidiot: weird drawing I dunno if it's strictly from the Valaquenta but I think the most obvious example is the winds changing at the battle of the Pellenor (Manwe).  The clouds parting to reveal that star to Sam when he's in despair in Mordor (Varda & Manwe).  Those two examples stand out but I'm sure there's more good ones.

Squire: At the same point in the story, Sam "prays" for a little light and water. As you say, he gets the glimpse of the star due to the winds pushing the clouds aside, and then he finds that one last little creek of water in desert Mordor.

He thanks the Lady Galadriel; in the world of LotR she is the closest thing we have to a guardian angel (note Jackson's use of her in the third film).

But I can't read that section anymore without thinking of, as you say, Manwe and Varda, but also Ulmo.

Curious: Precisely! those are only the more obvious examples.  I can't read any of the chapters of LotR anymore without thinking about the Valar, and it is the Valaquenta that set me thinking.

Squire: Feel free to write up a close reading of LotR along those lines. I would peruse it with interest and most likely, agreement.

The key, as you've noted, is that Tolkien had these Powers deeply set in his mind before he wrote a word of LotR. It is natural that he would focus on aspects of his characters' experiences that resonated with those he regarded as central to his imagined universe: Wind, Stars, Water, Creativity, Plants, Judgement, Storytelling, Visions, Healing, Pity, Heroism, Dance, Horses, Renewal.

Curious: And Chaos.

Squire: Now, now He Who Must Not Be Named is no longer counted among the Valar, and we were talking about the Valar, weren't we?

When you finish your close reading on the Valar, I would of course expect Volume 2 (about another 300 pages, I would guess) on Chaos (or Evil) in Lord of the Rings.

Curious: Manwe, Varda, and Ulmo, or as you might put it, Wind, Stars, and Water, are the three Valar who seem directly involved in LotR.  But the others alert us to what Tolkien considered Important Themes.

Curious: A Key to the Code. The Valaquenta enlightened my reading of LotR more than any other chapter in The Silmarillion, because it told me where to look for the presence of the Valar.  Suddenly those shifts in the wind were not so arbitrary, the birds along the Anduin were not just there for the water, the Hills of Sight and Hearing were not just hills, the fog along the Brandywine and the Anduin was not just fog, the star Sam sees is not just a star; suddenly the Valar are everywhere.  I am not yet sure whether the same is true of The Silmarillion, or whether the Valar are absent because they have turned their backs on the Noldor.  However in some ways the Valar are more directly present in The Sil, as when they shape the world, rescue the elves, and govern Valinor.  Still, I believe Tolkien wrote this chapter as much as a key to LotR as for an introduction to The Sil.

N.E. Brigand: Nice point about the fog in the LotR! I'd never thought of that before (and I missed the LotR chapter discussions here).

Pukel-Man: I don't know. I do like your theories about this and I can certainly see where the influence of the winds, in particular, could be ascribed to Manwe.  But I'm not sure I'd go so far as you when it comes to attributing some of these things directly to the Valar.  The significance of the star Sam sees is not in any way dependent on an understanding of Varda, for example.  Some of these motifs are fairly universal, and even those which are fairly specific to Tolkien need not be intended as direct references to Valar intervention.  Tolkien saw some things, like starlight and the sea and the cry of the gull, as noble or 'good', and he saw other things as low or 'bad'.  That he attributed the things he liked to his 'angels' and also used these themes in his only real novel need not necessarily be linked, IMO.  I'm not sure I'd conclude that the Valar are 'everywhere' in LOTR; rather, I'd say that some of the things that Tolkien thought of as beautiful or 'angelic' enough to ascribe to them are present in the novel also.

Curious: But that's the beauty of it. "The significance of the star Sam sees is not in any way dependent on an understanding of Varda."

Exactly!  Understanding LotR in no way depends upon an understanding of the Valar.  But we know that Tolkien was aware of Varda, and her connection to the stars, when he wrote LotR.  And now that we have The Silmarillion, we can be aware of it too, if we like.

Pukel-man: Yes . . I agree that one of the great things about the book is the way magic, divine intervention, and other 'spiritual' events are usually explicable in some more mundane way as well.  All I'm saying is that I don't think I can be as confident as you about ascribing *all* of these things to direct Valar intervention; though Tolkien was a meticulous writer I could well believe that some of the book's moments of spirituality were heartfelt and intinctively written rather than contrived.  I think it more likely that his conception of the gods came after his love of the stars or of trees or of waters, and that he wrote with those loves in his mind rather than his pantheon.

But none of us really knows, I guess, and it's probably not a very useful distinction in any event.

Curious: I don't understand why a moments of spirituality should be considered any less heartfelt and intinctively written because Tolkien had already conceived of Manwe and Ulmo and Varda and their connection to wind and water and starlight.  Of course his conception of the Valar came after his love of the wind or water or stars, but we do know his conception came well before he wrote LotR.  I'm sorry if it taints LotR for you, and I don't see why it must.

Curious: Note squire's comment below.

D. Is the Valaquenta just a laundry list or reference work, written down more for the author’s own use than for any reader? Are there any real-life counterparts in world mythological or religious literature of this kind of god-by-god account?

[No answers]

E. Is the Valaquenta even needed in The Silmarillion? Why does it get such a prominent position (Part II)? Why didn’t J.R.R. Tolkien make it an appendix, since it so closely resembles the kind of material found in the Lord of the Rings appendices?

N.E. Brigand: Why not an appendix? Probably because the characters are too central and yet not well-enough explained in the main text of the Sil.  Balancing the implied and the known was a big challenge for JRRT--witness the LotR, where he wanted to integrate the tale of Aragorn and Arwen but couldn't.

Erather: Re Aragorn & Arwen's story: He could have done more than he did, IMO.  True, all the lovely backstory and ending couldn't have worked into the text, but he could have been a little clearer that there was a relationship.  As it is, you need a microscope.  I doubt anyone picks up the three or four teeny hints on a first read, and then Arwen turns up in Minas Tirith and you have no idea who she is!

Penthe: But you know straight away the second time you read it. Somehow I think Tolkien knew that at least some of his readers would want to read it all more than once. Or there would be no appendices and so on at all.

So he really needed geeks like us in order to just make sense of the main narrative of LOTR let alone everything else.

F. Is there any literary quality to the Valaquenta? Any poetry? Please cite specific examples.

Beren IV: Tolkien himself said that the main reason for doing this was to make a cool story... To the first set of questions: The Silmarillion obviously began as a hobby for Tolkien. He said so himself. At some point it became more than that, in a large part because he was getting published, but deep down I still suspect that a hobby is what it was. He never finished the Sil - obviously not finally content with it, and to me at least some reasons are obvious; it is internally inconsistent, and has several inconsistencies with LotR.

Images of the Valinorean Pantheon

Hah! I did find one group portrait. Although it is not a dramatic illustration, it does portray the Valar in a new light.

G. Can you identify each Vala or Valie? Answers in the hidden spoiler box.

Bigidiot: That picture's pretty funny.  I guess it just goes to show how amazingly versatile these stories are that they can be imagined in so many different ways and by different cultures.

You did a good job this week coming up with interesting questions for what I consider to be one of the less exciting parts of the Sil.  Interesting links too.  Thank you.

Squire: Thanks for your nice words about this week, bigidiot, I enjoyed your contributions.

Beren IV: Tulkas, Oromë, Aulë, and Melkor are all pretty obvious. Given them, it's reasonably easy to figure out which one is Yavanna, for instance, and Manwë is not that hard either given who Melkor is. However, I don't think that these Valar are trying to look very distinctive!

Piled Higher and Deeper

Six years after writing the above commentary on The Silmarillion, Christopher Tolkien explained in far more depth his father’s thoughts on, and his own editorial approach to, publishing The Silmarillion. Here, in eloquent and persuasive detail, is his foreword to the first volume of The History of Middle-earth, “The Book of Lost Tales 1” (Houghton Mifflin, 1983). I include this long but interesting essay at the end of my Valaquenta discussion, in the hope that it will inform our thinking on the main Silmarillion, which we are to dive into on Monday.

H. What is C. Tolkien saying with his tight-lipped “This I now think to have been an error” comment on the ‘standalone’ 1977 publication of The Silmarillion?

Lottelita: Since you linked to it (darling you!), I'll comment on Christopher's foreword, which I've not read before.  I take special interest in his explanation of the "three options" for the Sil:

“I could accept the nature of the work as it stood, and, to quote my Foreword to the book, ‘attempt to present the diversity of the materials – to show ‘The Silmarillion’ as in truth a continuing and evolving creation extending over more than half a century’; and that, as I have said in Unfinished Tales (p. 1), would have entailed ‘a complex of divergent texts interlinked by commentary’ – a far larger undertaking than those words suggest.”

Am I the only one who is utterly tantalized by this option?  Who still hopes that it may come to pass?  In addition to HoME, we might have HoS (or, more in parallel, the History of Arda)? 

I've always enjoyed the Sil, but I've never really engaged with it on the same level as LOTR, because I know it's not the Professor's work, in the end; Christopher did a lot more than "edit" the Silmarillion -- he took notes and tales and scraps and stories and forged a narrative.  He is the author of the Sil, then, I'd argue, and it should be his name on the cover instead of his father's -- or, at least, their names should be there together.

As for his admission that the standalone publication of the Sil was "an error" ... well, he has been mightily criticized for it, hasn't he?  As a guy whose life work has been picking up where his father left off, he's expected, I think, to feel a little disappointed when his efforts are underappreciated by rabble like me. 

I don't know that I see the practical difference, though, between releasing the Sil as "volume 4" of LOTR and releasing it on its own -- it's not like droves of people are reading the Sil without having read LOTR first.  And bundling the two together would only further misrepresent the book as JRRT's literary accomplishment -- when it is very much Christopher's.

Squire: Linked, shminked I typed it in and put it on my site.

Lotte, you really should investigate HoME. It is the HoS. That's what I've been working from in my Valaquenta backstory, and Valaquenta is just the beginning of the Sil.

More to the point, I fear you've fallen into the very trap C. Tolkien is lamenting in his piece here. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the Silmarillion, very much as you read it in the hardback edition of 1977. But he wrote it in many different pieces, over many years, and the pieces had to be fit together. A little glue at the edges: that's what C. Tolkien did. In HoMe he admits to, and apologizes for, every editorial intrusion, and there really aren't that many.

What I read as C. Tolkien's admission of error, is that he did not publish Silmarillion more as the 'academic' edition that HoME is, in all its messy annotated annotatedness. It would have made clear why certain sections don't cohere, and why the tone changes so much. It might also have made it harder for the casual reader (as opposed to the geek who likes reading all three versions of the Hunt for the Ring in Unfinished Tales). So he opted for the artificially seamless look.

But when you go through, if you go through, HoME, you'll be stunned at how old The Silmarillion is, and how much of it goes back almost unchanged to 1937 at least.

Lottelita: But doesn't CT say that he had lots of pieces to choose from, and different versions of said pieces?  That was the impression I got from the foreword.  He chose the most readable ones, which may or may not have represented JRRT's final authorial intent.

*bumps HoME up on reading list*

N.E. Brigand: I think he chose...the most recent prose versions except where they were notably at odds with the rest of the text (for example, in some late writings JRRT considered having the world be created round and the Sun and the Moon not be created as the last fruit of the destroyed Trees--this was to align the myth with scientific fact:  probably a mistake, but there was the problem that he'd written too much material linking then to now, linking myth to (feigned) history).  I think, at the time of his death, that JRRT had a definite outline for what material would be included in the Sil, and that CT followed the plan.  However, some of the stories had been much more recently updated that others.

In addition, however, there are sometimes poetic versions of the same tales, that from my limited experience with the HoME, are often better than the prose we get in the Sil.

There is also material in the HoME, like discussions of the origins of orcs, or of the marriage of elves, or the long conversation between Finrod and the human woman Andreth, that are fascinating but didn't fit in the general narrative structure of the Sil.

Finally, there are the partially finished stories, that CT didn't include in the Sil but left for the UT and the HoME.  For example, the UT's longer but very incomplete version of the coming of Tuor to Gondolin, with the description of each of the seven gates, is much more interesting (on the material it covers) than the finished tale of Tuor that appears in the Sil, but CT acted as editor rather than author and didn't write his own ending.

The Sil is such a tantalizing, dissatisfying work.  Oh, that Tolkien had been able to give it the treatment he gave the LotR!  But it was possibly an impossible project, needing many thousands of pages.  Maybe if he could have been held to a deadline:  if within five years after the LotR he had to publish the three most interesting tales from the Sil in fleshed-out form, and then maybe within the constraints of published canon he would have been less able to spend time experimenting.  Maybe.  But who could do that?

Aragonvaar: Silm is primarily a cut-and-paste from the "latest" drafts... of the different stories available, using older versions where necessary and compatible.  Occasionally deleting stuff CT felt wouldn't work, sometimes trivial (there's an Elvish lord of Gondolin named Rog mentioned in a list of the fallen in the draft version, he deleted that guy being reasonabily sure that the name would have been for dropped for being incompatible w/ the Elvish tongues as they'd evolved), sometimes not trivial (did you know that in the draft used for the Music of the Ainur, Eru weeps as he raises His hand to signal the third theme?)

There's only one place where CT, after consulting w/ his Silm editorial collaborator Gabriel Guy Kay, ended up writing actual new material.  I'm not gonna say where, because it will be interesting to see if anyone spots it, but it's a place where the old versions, outlined in HoME, were clearly incompatible w/ the later, more sophisticated conceptions, and where Tolkien had pretty obviously decided that he couldn't let the old versions stand but never came up w/ a proper replacement.  CT was apparently profoundly guilt-ridden about this, and "confessed" up to it in the HoME.  Personally, I think that if he had simply asterisked the version he wrote, and given an afterword explaining what had been done and why, w/ quotes from the relevant texts, it would've been a perfectly acceptable solution.  IMO

Lucia: Sil framework Not knowing anything about that publication (I guess it is the one we are reading) or having any other point of information other than the essay itself, I'm understanding C. Tolkien to be expressing regret that the Sil was not clearly linked in some framework to LotR. His mention of the books that Bilbo gave to Frodo seemed to be part of the link that he was wishing was clearly forged in the Sil.  I have to admit, it does help create an additional emotional link to think that this is a copy of a text that Frodo read and studied. That immediately brings up the real Missing Piece for me which is isn't it too bad that there isn't any mention of hobbits in the creation story? How hard would it have been for the Elves to have had *some* awareness of the hobbits and therefore some curiosity and observation about them? How much more personally engaging would the stories have been for Frodo et. al. if there was even a tidbit about their connection to The Big Picture?  The dwarfs got Aule. Could Yavanna have had something to do with Hobbit creation? or maybe have them mentioned as one of the Children? Anyway, I can see what C. Tolkien is talking about. I think it would have been an improvement to link the Sil a little more clearly to LotR.

N.E. Brigand: Actually I think CT was... regretting that he didn't publish the Sil in a form more like the HoME, which is transparently a collection of different texts with different dates.  I don't think CT necessarily wished he had "invented" a framing device that JRRT hadn't himself created.

Of course the Sil wouldn't have been a publishing hit in the HoME format, so CT may have been lamenting that publishing the Sil as he did was "selling-out."

However, the Sil, despite its dry stretches and inconsistencies, is at least a decent summary of Tolkien's mythology.  And now we have both the Sil and the HoME, so no harm done, I think.

Luthien Rising: Hobbits in the Sil [skip this if you've not read further] I don't actually see a problem with the absence of hobbits in the Sil proper. These are not recent history but myth and legend (from the Elves' perspective), and the hobbits seem to be a people who would not have come to the Elves' attention before the Third Age or shortly before at most, and who seem quite unimportant until the event of LOTR. The Ents don't appear here either, and M-e is imagined fully enough that one could extend it to include other creatures and peoples not included in Tolkien's own writings.

Extra Credit

After a tragic accident involving my irate boss and a time sheet, I pass on and wake up in The Halls of Mandos! It turns out that Tolkien accurately perceived the nature of the Universe, and the Valar really do exist! Námo walks up to me, looking remarkably like an Oxford professor of philology whose name you’d recognize in a second, and he is perusing this week’s Reading Room discussion threads.

I. Am I in big trouble?

Beren IV: That depends on whether the Catholic theology still holds. Note that the Sil is not consistent with the Bible in places. If Christianity is still true, then yes, you're in trouble, since you're not Christian. On the other hand, if it's *just* the Sil, then I doubt it. Said Oxford professor was obviously playing games when he said that the real cosmology is just a fantasy, anyway, so I doubt he expected you to believe it!

An seileachan: are you in trouble? depends on who you ask doesn't it? :-)

Did Tolkien agree with Lewis that some "pagans" (that's not a direct quote, I just don't know the term Lewis used) could be worshiping the true God without knowing it? That if they strove to live a moral and ethical life according to their own understandings and beliefs, in reality, they belonged to God? Like the soldier who worshipped Tash in "The Last Battle"?

Yet that is heresy, according to some Christians. So pick your Christian.

Or ask another kind of authority.

Or trust that, if there is a God, he understands it all and takes everything into account.

My personal preference, there.


a.s. (of course, if you were asking a question about the logical defensibility of your previous arguments or presentations, well, never mind, I don't know that answer. They sounded good to me! I've been known to answer rhetorical questions in the past... grin)

Lucia: You know how much *fun* a Learning Experience is whilst on Fallen Earth, imagine the blast of being corrected by Powers in their full glory. You might survive it.....:)

J. Will Nienna get me out of this? (Thinks sorrowfully back to ill-advised Garden Party joke.)

Beren IV: Nienna just won't comfort you.

C.      What lies beyond the Halls of Mandos for mortal skeptics like Ted Sandyman and poor squire?

Beren IV: That is the subject of a whole nother essay that I will address at a later time. Put simply, I don't think that 'going beyond the world' is necessarily as permanent as it might seem, since behavior regarding the Lùthien incident would require the Valar and/or Illùvitar to be either fatalistic or callous otherwise, and I don't really think that either are truly that...

Lucia: Well, if Ted Sandyman is the company you keep, I'd say your gonna get a Wake Up Call in the Hall! which leads me to : [see answer to I., above]

Discussion Guide and Full Text of the Valaquenta

Key to Sammie’s Valar: Top Row: Tulkas, Nessa, Oromë.
Second Row: Alue, Yavanna, Vairë, Námo, Irmo, Estë, Vána.
Bottom Row: Nienna, Ulmo, Varda, Manwë. Lastly is Melkor.


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