Postcard from Valinor
Well, a brief summary is perhaps in order -- even if my notes, as they say, are not.
I was interested to see how the Wednesday discussions of the Valar as a group or a pantheon far outstripped the earlier and later god-by-god chats.
The gods generated plenty of responses to my questions, but got fewer secondary threads; people didn't seem to want to pursue the topics, or else felt everyone's reactions were so personal that they could not be challenged. Perhaps everyone felt that the Valar as individuals are simply too thinly written to justify strong opinions; nor could seeing that Tolkien himself had repeatedly changed his mind about their natures have helped people make up their own minds.
Nevertheless I was pleased to see the insights and new directions that the answers revealed.
People seemed to think that Manwe was remote, distant, hard to know; whereas Varda emerged as a far stronger spirit than I at least had ever realized. The material on her relationship to the Virgin Mary was fascinating.
Ulmo proved a big hit -- I think because his personality is pretty distinct (the ultimate compassionate loner), and his involvement with Middle-earth in both The Silmarillion and LotR is clear and compelling stuff.
Aule, on the other hand, received the least discussion, which didn't surprise me but confirms my disappointment that Tolkien does not make more of him. For all of his power and talent, he seems to fall between the two stools of Smith or Earthworker, and Creative Artist. Perhaps more will come out when we revisit him in future chapters.
Yavanna generated a lot of chat, but little substance; possibly because her nature actually seems pretty clear. Hartk noted that she gets snarky with Manwe later on, so we can all look forward to that.
Namo (Mandos) again generated little heat; but I myself was fascinated by the near-consensus that Vaire the Weaver does not appear again in the book because, as the recorder of history, she is a standin for the author!
Irmo (Lorien) and Este seem pretty straightforward to everybody. Thanks Stanislaus Bocian for your Iliad and Aeneid quotes linking the Greek gods of Sleep/Dreams and Death!
Everyone likes Tulkas, it seems, and people don't consider him nearly as dumb/useless as I did. Quite rightly his sheer physicality was noted and approved. Nessa, all agreed, fits him like a glove in more ways than one.
Orome. Not much sizzle here. Vana, even less so, although some thought she was an appropriate partner if you accept the Valar's propensity to pair off as complements.
Now, as I said, the Valar-as-a-collective discussions spread out a lot more, and tended off topic a little. Possibly people are more at home discussing the concepts of divinity, polytheism, literary creation, etc. where the specifics of the individual gods are less important.
The feeling I got from it all was that the participants felt quite comfortable with the Valar as a pantheon of angelic spirits created by The One God, and delegated with directive rather than creative duties. However, there was a strong undercurrent that the results are a little dry, since they are only intermediaries.
In a similar vein, the comparison between the Valar, and the real polytheistic mythologies of Earth, yielded either the idea that Man's early pantheons were perhaps as simple as the Valar (thus true to Tolkien's conceit that his world is from Earth's prehistory), and only became complex and chaotic after millennia of myth-making; or the opposite idea that Tolkien deliberately and unrealistically simplified his pantheon to appeal to his own instincts for tidiness, or to conform to his Catholic disposition to keep his 'gods' in line under God.
I personally tend to look at the Valaquenta, and the Silmarillion, from a literary point of view: is it a good story? and to the degree that the Valar attempt to resemble divinities at the expense of human qualities, I lose a lot of enthusiasm, despite the fascinating complexity of the imagined universe we face here. Pukel-Man put my unspoken position rather well in his comment.
Yesterday we covered the Maiar. No surprise to me that Eonwe and Ilmare got short shrift. There's no there there. Osse seems like everybody's crazy younger brother; like him, but keep your distance. Uinen is harder, again the lack of description is painful. Melian yielded some nice stuff on the nature of Elvish bodies and spirits, and what marriage is to them, or to the Maiar; and for Olorin, well let's just agree we all prefer Gandalf.
As of this writing, Friday's Enemies threads and the Conclusion are still too much in play for me to sum them up, but I'm sure they will generate some interesting comments. Melkor, as always, remains an enigma. I hope to publish the complete discussion for reference later.
The pictures, I was interested to see, seemed to generate a unanimous reaction that the Valar are not easy to illustrate. Despite Tolkien's clear statement that they walk the earth, and inhabit Elven-form bodies as easily as they assume more grand and symbolic forms, no one seemed happy with actually seeing this. Not that these artists are the final authorities, of course. But the objections seemed deep-seated, and were repeated in the film discussions.
The literary or research appendices yielded scant feedback, possibly because our respondents are always pressed for time when on TORn, and this material demands a little study. I hope that people will take the time to read some of it (I like the Plato dialog, Lotte), and get back to us with some responses.
Some great side threads developed on history of religion, resulting in some remarkable solos by NZ Strider, Lottelita, aragonvaar and 93143. Stanislaus Bocian, hills, hartk, Silent Watcher all pitched in some solid bits of erudition; and Curious played clean-up in his usual stellar way.
Beren IV started a secessionist thread on the idea of a Silmarillion movie, inspired I hope by my casting questions, which were meant to give people another angle for grabbing onto these slippery gods. I don't think the Silmarillion is particularly well suited to film adaptation, myself.
Some core contributors diligently put up with any amount of inanity in their loyal attention to the subject at hand: Luthien Rising, Beren IV, drogo drogo, Penthe, Kimi, lucia, erather, an seileachan. All made repeated passes through all my topic questions. Many other contributors like Entwife Wandlimb, N.E. Brigand, Ceorl, Menelywn, linkinparkelf, Timerider, hartk, bigidiot, came by and pitched in, and I mean no offense if I cannot name you all. I trust there were lurkers -- my hope was to draw you out and hear your voices in the (intimidating? ...us?) Reading Room. Perhaps I did without knowing it. I hope we all had a good time, and learned a little more about The Silmarillion this week than we knew before. I know I did. Thanks, everybody, it was fun to put this together, hope you all enjoyed it!
Ave atque Valequenta
That’s sort of an Elvish-Latin pun, roughly: “Hail, tale, and farewale.”
You’re on your own. Have a nice weekend, and thanks for all your contributions. It was fun to put this together, hope you all enjoyed it. A full summary will be published, but probably not until next week.
Aragonvaar: Aule's Big Moment is still to come...in a little anecdote that I think brings out Tolkien's views on creativity-sins of creativity and how they compare to sins *against* creativity-in very interesting. I look forward to that one.
I want to say thanks for the research, squire: I haven't relied on it too heavily for several reasons, but I think it's been helpful in clarifying for people who don't know the post-humous works that well, that there's more to Tolkien's mythology than what we see here.
Kimi: I lack sufficient superlatives to express how stunning this week's discussion was. You're amazing, squire. And I mean that in a good way :-)
Thanks so much everyone else who contributed. I had a great time - and had I not lost my phone connection for an entire twenty-four hours I'd've been able to post a bit more. I read every single post, though, and enjoyed them all.
Thanks, everyone, for reminding me why I hang out here :-)
Beren IV: The Good Melkor and Good Dragons? Something which I don't think gets enough attention is the idea that the early Melkor was rebellious but not evil. For instance, in the Book of Lost Tales, instead of attacking with his Balrogs to destroy the lamps of the Valar, he instead offers to make the pillars upon which they are situated - but he makes them of ice, and the lamps melt the ice, and flods most of the early lands. It's a harmless prank - the only things existing at this time are Valar, anyway, and they aren't harmed by a little flooding the way that mortals would be.
At some point, Melkor does go bad, of course, but when do you think that really is, and what do you suppose caused it? Might it be some enormous practical joke, perhaps reminiscent of what I just described, taken the wrong way?
Another note: It is a common thread in conventional Tolkien-style fantasy (i.e. using Tolkien's races, but not his world) to have the Elves be the race that precludes Men and have the Dragons preclude the Elves in much the same way. In such fantasies, there usually are both good Dragons and bad Dragons.
What I am about to suggest is pure fantacizing on my part and there is no evidence of this anywhere in Tolkien, BUT...
What do you think of the idea that Melkor created Dragons *before* turning evil and that some of his Dragons went evil with him, and some of the others stayed behind?
Lucia: behind where? Stayed "behind" as in Valinor or ME? One of the other beasts that get aluded to but never really discussed? Is that what you are thinking? Maybe thats who the blue wizards are....:)
*always ready for a wild thought*
Luthien Rising: Hmmm ... (with a note to squire) The early Melkor as Bart Simpson figure? Or a previously unrecognized Tolkienian influence on The Simpsons?
Thanks, Squire, for all your work on this discussion. It did indeed make a particularly interesting complement to the manuscript on The Simpsons that was my main reading material this week!
Curious: Wow, what a hard act to follow! You have almost convinced me to break down and read all those different versions of The Silmarillion. Almost. Let's finish this version first.
Thank you for a wonderful job that left me breathless from wonder and, er, fatigue (*pant, pant* ;-)). I did not answer even a tenth of the questions posed, but others did, and I certainly enjoyed reading your questions and their answers.
Lucia: *mostly just thrilled that I got mentioned* Very engaging, Squire! I especially liked the creative process comparison timeline pages. And the extra credit questions, of course. Thanks for all the time you put into this.
Nerdanel 50: pssst, lucia I am once again on the road and will not have internet access on Sunday. I'll be in Boston--not long enough for the Moot and LotR exhibit, but long enough to get all caught up in the Democratic Convention snarls. I'll probably be at an anti-war and anti-occupation demonstration on Sunday; protesters are being restricted to a "free speech" zone surrounded by razor wire under some abandoned elevated tracks outside the convention center--pretty liberating, don't you think?
Erather: A little question, and a big one Little: why did Curumo not get a mention along with Olorin, do you think? Many of you think that Olorin was retrofitted here because of his role in LotR; although Curumo's role is smaller, you'd think he might have at least gotten mentioned.
Big: squire, not only were your discussions brilliant, your web site is a treasure trove. You are going to leave it around for a while, aren't you? How about a nice front page with indexes to the marvels therein?
Squire: "Where have you gone, Istar Curumo? Heaven holds more hope for those in grey" I believe that the addition of Olorin into the Maia section of The Valaquenta follows directly from his invention/inclusion in The Lord of the Rings as Gandalf's original identity.
We know of Curumo from the Unfinished Tale that Christopher Tolkien published after Tolkien's death; when that particular tale was written is not known, I believe. We might guess that J.R.R. Tolkien did not include "Curumo" or the other Maian (possessive form?) names of the Istari in his Valaquenta, because he knew his "Unfinished Tale" would not be published, and hence the names in The Valaquenta would have no meaning to his Silmarillion/LotR readers.
Thanks for your interest, I am working on an index and compilation of this week's thread.
Entwife Wandlimb: A personal question, if I may...
“I personally tend to look at the Valaquenta, and the Silmarillion, from a literary point of view: is it a good story? and to the degree that the Valar attempt to resemble divinities at the expense of human qualities, I lose a lot of enthusiasm, despite the fascinating complexity of the imagined universe we face here. Pukel-Man put my unspoken position rather well in his comment.”
Am I right to say that you don't really like this chapter of the Silm? Just wondering why you chose it?
I too am in awe of your discussion! And I strongly second erather's request that you leave up your great pages as long as possible (otherwise I'll have to delete a bunch of bookmarks!).
Squire: Oh, does it show? Yes, I have always been very ambiguous in my feelings about The Sil, as some here may remember: "Like getting teeth pulled", etc.
Nevertheless, I agree with many here on TORn who point out the amazing positive power of listening to other minds on Tolkien issues. I wanted to lead a Silmarillion discussion to learn what other people might see that I didn't.
True, I opened topics with my "politics" on display, from skepticism to outright mockery, but I felt that might help spur discussion on a text which, it is clear from comments I've seen in my year on this site, defeats or baffles many interested readers. Without exactly picking a fight with Sil fans, I wanted to rouse them up into a hearty, and interesting, defense of the material.
Finally, The Valaquenta is a text about the text -- it introduces characters for the story, and is more "factual" in its meaning. I am not a lit crit person by any means, and I did not feel qualified to tackle the actual Silmarillion story chapters with the attention and "belief" I should imagine was called for.
Entwife Wandlimb: one answer leads to another question I didn't think your feelings for the Silm. were obvious. I hadn't imagined that you would put so much effort into something that you were so ambivalent about. Now I can see you are motivated by the discussion itself -- the desire to understand the passion of others that is a mystery to you.
It remains a mystery to me, too. I am hoping it is a bit like watching Band of Brothers. When you watch the first episode, there's about a dozen young men with short hair in green uniforms who mean nothing to you. You grow tired of trying to sort them out, yet the story of the group grabs you. After watching the whole series, I went back and watched the first one. All of the characters were like old friends, and it was so amazing to see them back at the beginning. Maybe the Valaquenta will be like that -- something I appreciate more after I read the whole book.
Yet, I think the biggest problem I have with the chapter is that I am uncomfortable with the Christian metaphors. Make it all fantasy or a tight alagory, but mixing demigods with monotheism doesn't really work for me. So, maybe I'll never like it, just understand it.
As long as you are giving answers to rather nosy questions, what did you learn of what other people see in the Silm. that you didn't before? Do you like it more now than you did before the discussion?
Curious: If I may butt in, I can't imagine reading The Silmarillion if LotR had never been written or published. Although there are passages of The Silmarillion that make great quotes -- like Fingolfin's battle with Morgoth, for example -- for me the chief pleasure is the light The Silmarillion sheds on LotR, and the hidden depths that are revealed when I reread LotR.
Penthe: Totally agree. Except I do really like the story of Beren & Luthien. I read that more than any other bit of the Sil. I would have borrowed that from the library any day.
Curious: Have you read the Lay of Luthien in The Lays of Beleriand? If not, it sounds like you should.
Penthe: No, I haven't, but I will now. Thanks
Squire: Let me get back to you on that one It's a fair question. But I need to review again what went down this week, and think about it for a while.
I will say the effort came as much from a desire to try my hand at teaching some difficult material in a new medium, as from a desire to understand other people's 'passion'. There was quite a debate a few months ago, when the RR decided to attempt The Silmarillion this summer and fall, over how many people would in fact participate, given the book's relative difficulty and obscurity among many of the LotR fans on TORn.
I took that as a challenge, and attempted to approach the text from as many different directions as html (had to learn it!) and my own personality could sustain, in the hope that at least one of the dimensions would attract and stimulate thought and response from new readers who might perhaps be intimidated by our traditional lit crit Reading Room regulars.
I always hate it when I read intimations in Movie and Main that the RR is hard to visit.
Piscean Maid: Not hard to visit very entertaining, as a matter of fact, but you must admit the intelligence level in this room is, for the most part, almost frighteningly high and that there are those few who will challenge, literally, your every word.
For those of us whose ideas are half-formed, at best, and who use a casual form of expression, the thought that someone might step in to ask, "Why did you say X?", and the answer is, "Because it's the only word that came to mind as I was dashing this off," well ...
But perhaps I'm speaking only for myself. My weenie-whiney "I'm just a dumb blonde" self. :-)
Congratulations, by the way, on the outstanding job you did this past week. And you just learned html?! Amazing. Dare I say, in my best dudette voice, "Awesome, dude." :-)
N.E. Brigand: What a week! I haven't even had a chance to read it all (pretty busy at work this week) and I look forward to looking back on these discussions later.
Squire, your work was tremendous! I never would have thought so much could come from this rather dry chapter. I wonder what the Sil could have been like, if only Tolkien had a helpful inquisitor like you at his side.
Nerdanel 50: Great, great job-- at least through Tuesday when I lost contact with the internet. I may have to take a sabbatical to catch up with Silmarillion discussion--it has all been so rich!
NZ Strider: Thanks, Squire, for all the work which you put into this. It was a fantastic discussion of Tolkien's "pantheon" in all its ramifications. Well done!
Athena daughter of Zeus: Drat missed the whole thing. But just looking at some of the threads, looks like you did alot of research.
I personally would've been counted as a lurker, I just enjoy sitting back and watch in the Big Scary Reading Room. I'm a big chicken. Ah well.
Beren IV: Yes, THANKS, SQUIRE!! In all the excitement of this week's discussions, I forgot to thank the preparer! Thank you very much, Squire!
Penthe: Thanks very much Squire. You've set a very high standard. And you teased out a lot of questions that will have impact later on, I reckon.
On a personal note - you are so a lit crit person. Just because you don't use the tools that are popular in certain academies at the moment does not for a minute reduce your natural talent and ability. So live with it! hahahahahah...
Stanislaus Bocian: Corrections to Valaquenta in History of Middle Earth In "History of Middle Earth" vol. 10 "Morgoth Ring" Christopher Tolkien had written about a few corrections he wanted to make in the published version of Valaquenta.
"The history of the phrase 'With Manwe dwells Varda' (The Silmarillion p. 26) is curious. QS par. 4 has 'With him dwells as wife Varda... -, by emendation to LQ 1 it became With him in Arda dwells as spouse Varda ...'; and in Vq it is 'With Manwe now dwells as spouse Varda...' In 1975, when the main work on the text of the published Silmarillion was done, being then much less clear than I have since become about certain dates and textual relations (and ignorant of the existence of some texts), I did not see that this 'now' could have any significance, and moreover it contributed to the problem of tense in the Valaquenta, which is discussed below; I therefore omitted it. It is however undoubtedly significant. In AAm it is said (p. 49, par. 3): 'Varda was Manwe s spouse from the beginning, in contrast to the later C 'union' of Yavanna and Aule 'in Ea' (on which see under par. 5 below). But the typescript text of AAm was emended (p. 69, par. 3) to 'Varda was Manwe's spouse from the beginning of Arda', which shows that some complex conception was present (though never definitively expressed) concerning the time of the 'union' of the great spirits. "
" (Yavanna) Here again, as with Varda (par. 4 above), I wrongly changed the text concerning Yavanna's union with Aule. Both Vq texts have 'The spouse of Aule in Arda is Yavanna', and the words 'in Arda' are certainly significant (see V.120). "
"(Mandos) The editorial change of 'northward' to 'westward' in 'Namo the elder dwells in Mandos, which is northward in Valinor' in the published text (p. 28) is a regrettable error, which I have explained in I.82. (Lost Tales vol. 1) "
"After the words 'for the pursuit of the evil creatures of Melkor' (The Silmarillion p. 29) the Vq texts have 'But the Valaroma is not blown, and Nahar runs no more upon the Middle-earth since the change of the world and the waning of the Elves, whom he loved.' This sentence goes back through the versions to QS (though the Valaroma does not appear in it till LQ 2 and Nahar not till Vq), and I regret its exclusion from The Silmarillion. "
"The words in the published text (p. 30) concerning Eonwe, 'whose might in arms is surpassed by none in
Arda', were an editorial addition, made in order to prepare for his leadership of the hosts of the West at the Great Battle (The Silmarillion pp. 251 - 2)."
"At the end of the account of Olorin is scribbled on the typescript Vq 1: 'He was humble in the Land of the Blessed; and in Middle-earth he sought no renown. His triumph was in the uprising of the fallen, and his joy was in the renewal of hope.' This appears in Vq 2, but my father subsequently placed inverted commas round it. It was wrongly omitted from The Silmarillion."
I would like to see a new edition of Silmarillion, with all those corrections , which Christopher Tolkien noted in the Home.
Squire: Yes, indeed there's no end to the fun to be had reading the HoME.
I did choose, CT-like, radically to simplify some of the textual quotes that I put into my "comparative" charts of the development of the Valaquenta. They were intended to awaken new readers to the issue, and inspire thought and interest, not recount the whole complicated textual history. Rather than include notes about notes, such as those just cited, I went with, essentially, the 'mainstream' texts from each major re-writing. Notice that I always identified The Valaquenta as simply another, and the last, typescript, dating from the late 1950s, in a series of manuscripts and typescripts, all of which have now been published for comparison.
But Stanislaus Bocian cannot be fooled. Thanks for bringing these things up! Christopher Tolkien used HoME to 'make up' for a lot of editorial changes that he made in 1973-77. Notice that he admits he didn't know of all of his father's extant texts while preparing The Silmarillion; and that he changed things he now wishes he hadn't.
In fact 'Morgoth's Ring' is such an interesting book compared to the earlier HoME series, mostly because it contains the "notes" to the 1977 Silmarillion that explain the inconsistencies in the published text that so many have read, and that we are primarily discussing here this summer.
This excellent post, makes the same point that my overblown note (NDQ thread, above) on "Arda" does:
The Silmarillion of 1977 is a published work, and may or may not be considered 'canon', but it was always just an uncompleted manuscript or typescript collection, dating in sections from the 20s to the 60s. If Christopher Tolkien chose to publish the version where Arda is a flat Earth, fairness demands a kind of footnote pointing out that for the last 15 years of JRR Tolkien's life, in the author's mind Arda was the Solar System containing a round Earth. Yup, in shorthand, and in fairness to simple questions, Arda may be considered the Earth for purposes of understanding the published Silmarillion. But Christopher Tolkien's choices in the mid-70s often made simple and bald what remains complex and indeterminate, because the actual author never completed or made consistent his story.
Luthien Rising: "Expanded" edition of Silmarillion -- this fall! There's no indication in the advance publicity material I've seen of what is expanded in it, and the sales rep I talked to in June didn't know either. (Plus I was trying not to fall over with delight --on top of wine and champagne -- in front of a client!)
I can't seem to find the link I had for it originally, but there was a news item on the home page in June.
Curious: Well, from what I can tell it is still the Second Edition text, not a Third Edition incorporating substantive changes. It is corrected and expanded by numerous illustrations, but I wouldn't get my hopes up for a completely new edition. But perhaps the Halls of Mandos will now lie in the north of Aman instead of the west. See link below.
Luthien Rising: ah, well more money left for HoME and the next EE and the other Shippey and ...
Squire: curb your enthusiasm "Certainty of expense, small chance of improvements -- what are we waiting for?"
Arevanye: Just wanted to add This haiku--(couldn't resist):
No longer just a laundry
list of gods. Thanks, squire!
(Ok, I agonized over whether 'squire' should properly be accounted one or two beats. I think it should be two, but I can't figure out another way to make the line work. Anyway, you get the picture. Thanks for a great week.)
Celeborn’s Mirror: Nice job, and thanks for the links to pictures! It was very interesting to get a look at what visual artists picture. I, on the other hand, am completely an aural person... no pictures in my head!
Drogo drogo: Danke beaucoup for this week Catching up on the threads I missed... thanks for the erudition and entertainment.
Entmaiden: Thanks, squire, really top-notch discussion I think this week will be important for anyone who's new to the Sil and participating in these discussions. You've helped build a nice organization chart we can all refer back to as we get to know these creatures better.
Modtheow: Thanks so much... but if this keeps up, I'll have to quit my job just to keep up with the discussions. I feel like I've been through an enlightening, entertaining, and intensive summer school course, complete with slides and handouts and extra readings! Don't get me wrong, this "grade-grubbing wonk" really likes that -- I just wish I had been here for the last half of the week. (And I so agree with Penthe -- I'm laughing right along with her.)
And now, ladies and gentlemen, I introduce:
My esteemed colleague, the ever-inquisitive and disquisitive Curious, and his discussion of Chapter I of the Quenta Silmarillion, “Of The Beginning Of Days!”
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