Tuesday, June 2, 2015

J. R. R. Tolkien: The Silmarillion--"Valaquenta"

J. R. R. Tolkien
The Silmarillion
"Valaquenta"   Pt. 2
Account  of the Valar and Maiar
according to the lore of the Eldar

The second part of The Silmarillion is not a story.  It is more of an encyclopedic account of the Ainur who  "entered into the World at the beginning of time"  in order to fulfill the vision they had created at the behest of  Eru or Iluvatar.  In time they became known to the Eldar as the Valar and Maiar.

A strange combination of Biblical and pagan traditions, the Valar and the Maiar are much like angels from the Bible in that they are the creations of Eru or Iluvatar.  For the most part they act like angels in that they carry out the wishes of the Creator, except of course for the greatest angel, Lucifer, and his counterpart among the Valar, Melkor.

The Valar

However, few of the Biblical angels are singled out: we have names of some of them and little is known either of their creation or their activities.  This is in stark contrast to the pagan hierarchies that include numerous gods, such as the Greek, Roman, and Norse, as well as the Egyptian, Sumerian, and other religions of that area.  There the resemblance in many cases is closer to that of a squabbling family, with a head deity--Zeus, Jupiter, Odin.   Frequently, the various gods have special attributes attached to them.  The Roman god Neptune and the Greek god Poseidon are the gods of the sea, Roman Mars and Greek Ares are the war gods, while others are gods of the underworld or rivers or the sky or the Sun. Tolkien's Valar and Maiar  resemble the various pantheons in this way:  they are named and each has assumed responsibility for some part of the planet.

Some of the most important among the Valar are the following:

Manwe:  who, in the thought of Iluvatar, is the brother of Melkor, the mightiest of the Valar, but Melkor is no longer spoken of.  Manwe is the closest to the thought of Iluvatar and in consequence is now the Lord of  Earth and all that live within.  He is the Lord of the winds, the clouds, and "all the regions of the air," from the highest to the lowest, and his favorites among the creatures on Earth (Arda) are the swift birds.  Manwe can be seen as the Sky God.

Varda: the Lady of the Stars, she dwells with Manwe.  She also is the Goddess of Light. The Elves call her Elbereth and hold her most in reverence and love. 

Ulmo:  Lord of the Waters, the equivalent of  the Greek Poseidon or the Roman Neptune.  He dwells alone and seldom appears in human guise.

Aule:   the master of all the substances of which Middle Earth is made--a master craftsman and a skilled artisan, somewhat similar to the Greek god Hephaestus. 

Yavanna, the spouse of Aule, is the Giver of Fruits -- lover of all things that grow in the earth.

Orome:  the Great Huntsman and husband of Vana who was called the Queen of Blossoming Flowers and the Ever-young,

Mandos: Judge of the Dead and the Master of Doom, the equivalent of  the Egyptian Osiris, the Judge of the Dead,  and the Norse goddess Hel who presides over a realm of the Hel, where she receives a portion of the dead.

There are others, but these are the most significant,  I think.

 Have I left out one of your favorites?

The Maiar

The Maiar are powerful beings but less so than the Valar. The Maiar are associated with individual Valar, though the exact nature of that association is obscure.  Many have at least two names, one apparently their true name and one the name they became known by in Middle Earth.  Some of the significant Maiar are the following:

Curumo aka Saruman, initially associated with Aule the Smith.

Alwendil or Sauron, also associated  with Aule the Smith.

Radagast the Brown is associated with Yavana

Mithrandir or Gandalf is also associated with Manwe and Varda

Bolrogs are Maiar who have been corrupted by Melkor

Note:  it is curious that both Saruman and Sauron are associated with Aule the Smith.  In addition, Aule created the dwarves, whereas the Elves and Men were created by Iluvatar.

The Enemy 

Melkor:  perhaps the mightiest of the Valar, brother to Manwe.  He is no longer called by this name but is referred to as Morgoth, because he turned away from the Light and choose violence and tyranny instead.  He desired Arda (Earth) for himself, and when he could not have it he descended through fire and wrath into the great burning, into Darkness. "Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven," Milton's Lucifer/Satan declares in Paradise Lost.  Tolkien has tapped into a complex web of allusions here, especially among the various cultures and religious traditions bordering the Mediterranean Sea, far too many for this brief commentary.  (If you are curious, simple type "Lucifer"  into your search engine.)

Morgoth had many followers among the Maiar, the greatest of whom is Gorthaur the Cruel, perhaps better known as Sauron.  Little of Sauron is known in the early days because he served Morgoth, but after Morgoth's passing, Sauron came into his own.  His history then parallels that of his former ruler, and he follows the same path down into the Void. 

The Silmarillion is a work in progress.  Tolkien never finished it, and as far as I can find out, he never even completed a first draft. What we have here is Christopher Tolkien's reworking and editing of the material that Tolkien was working on when he died.


  1. Your exhaustive and generous posting intrigues me. Perhaps I have not given Tolkien the full-attention he deserves. I detect in your posting strong pointers to William Blake. Perhaps the idiosyncratic myth-making and symbolism are the most important connections/suggestions. So, I think I have not read (i.e., attempted to read) Tolkien with the appropriate frame of mind. If I were to think in Blakean terms, my reading of Tolkien might be improved.

  2. R.T.,

    I really have never seen any thing pointing to Blake. I shall have to look more closely into Blake, because I haven't paid that much attention to him.

    Is there something by Blake that you might recommend as being especially relevant to Tolkien's works?

    1. Well, in no particular order, here are some of Blake's more complicated "myth-making" poems: The Book of Urizen, The Four Zoas, The Song of Los, The Book of Thel, Tiriel, Visions of the Daughters of Albion. A reader can get lost in Blake's "visions"; I remember a grad school course the focused exclusively on Blake, and I remember being confused from the beginning. Blake anticipates Yeats and Tolkien. Good luck with Blake!

    2. R.T.,

      Thanks for the list. Should keep me busy for a while, along with everything else I want to read.

    3. I would not wade into Blake's apocalyptic visions without a good guide. I recommend Harold Bloom's book, Blake's Apocalypse: A Study in Poetic Argument.

    4. R.T.,

      (sigh) yet another book.

    5. Oh, don't think of it as a book. Think of it as a AAA Auto Club travel guide. Those used to be wonderful reading when I was a kid. Hey, I could dream about all the places that I would never visit.

    6. R.T.,

      Got me! Bloom as a travel guide.

      Chuckle. . .

    7. Consider it a Joycean tongue-in-cheek comparison.

    8. R.T.,

      Joycean Ulysses or Joycean Finnegan?

    9. Bloom = Ulysses. Right?

    10. R.T.,

      Yes, that was the direction I was leaning toward.

  3. I haven't read Simarillion in years. It mainly helped me in figuring out the backgrounds of all the characters in LOTR. I couldn't help seeing the the parallels between Tolkien's universe and the Biblical account of creation and the fall of man. I know that Tolkien was a Norse scholar and hated Greek mythology. In fact he couldn't forgive C.S. Lewis for mixing Norse and Greek mythology in his Narnia Chronicles. It became such a source of contention that it broke their friendship. Tolkien later came to regret it after Lewis' untimely death.
    Thanks for an interesting analysis.

  4. Sharon,

    I wasn't aware of Tolkien's dislike of Greek mythology nor of his problems with CS Lewis' Narnia books.

    Thanks for the kind words.