Ainur (Middle-earth)

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The Ainur (singular: Ainu) are the immortal spirits existing before Creation in J. R. R. Tolkien's fictional universe. These were the first beings made of the thought of Eru Ilúvatar. They were able to sing such beautiful music that the world was created out of it.[T 1]

Fictional history[edit]

Before the Creation, Eru Ilúvatar made the Ainur or "holy ones".[T 1] The Universe was created through the "Music of the Ainur" or Ainulindalë, music sung by the Ainur in response to themes introduced by Eru. This universe, the song endowed with existence by Eru, was called in Quenya. The Earth was called Arda.[T 1] Those of the Ainur who felt concern for the Creation entered it, and became the Valar and the Maiar, the guardians of Creation.[T 2]

The Vala Melkor claimed the Earth for himself. His brother, Manwë, and several other Valar decided to confront him. Melkor fell into evil and became known as Morgoth, the dark enemy. The conflict between the Valar and Morgoth marred much of the world. According to The Silmarillion, the Valar and Maiar—with the aid of the Vala Tulkas, who entered the Creation last—succeeded in exiling Morgoth into the Void, though his maleficent influence remained ingrained in the fabric of the world.

Like the Valar, the Maiar included both good and evil characters. Among the good were the Istari or Wizards, sent to Middle-earth. Among the evil were the Balrogs or fire-demons, who were some of the Dark Lord Morgoth's most powerful servants.

Analysis[edit]

Some critics have noted the similarity of the Valar to the Æsir, the strong and combative Norse gods of Asgard.[1][2] Painting by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, 1817

Norse Æsir[edit]

Critics such as John Garth have noted that the Valar resemble the Æsir, the gods of Asgard.[1] Thor, for example, physically the strongest of the gods, can be seen both in Oromë, who fights the monsters of Melkor, and in Tulkas, the strongest of the Valar. Manwë, the head of the Valar, has some similarities to Odin, the "Allfather",[2] while the wizard Gandalf, one of the Maiar, resembles Odin the wanderer.[3]

Christian angels[edit]

Other scholars have likened the Valar to Christian angels, intermediaries between the creator and the created world.[4] Painting by Lorenzo Lippi, c. 1645

The theologian Ralph C. Wood describes the Valar and Maiar as being what Christians "would call angels", intermediaries between the creator, named as Eru Ilúvatar in the Silmarillion, and the created cosmos. Like angels, they have free will and can therefore rebel against him.[4]

Matthew Dickerson, writing in the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, calls the Valar the "Powers of Middle-earth", noting that they are not incarnated, and quoting Tolkien scholar Verlyn Flieger's description of their original role as "to shape and light the world".[5] Dickerson writes that while Tolkien presents the Valar like pagan gods, he imagined them more like angels, and notes that scholars have compared the devotion of Tolkien's Elves to Varda/Elbereth as resembling the Roman Catholic veneration of Mary the mother of Jesus. Dickerson states that the key point is that the Valar were "not to be worshipped".[5] He argues that as a result, the Valar's knowledge and power had to be limited, and they could make mistakes and moral errors. Their bringing of the Elves to Valinor meant that the Elves were "gathered at their knee", a moral error as it suggested something close to worship.[5]

Between pagan and Christian[edit]

The Tolkien scholar Marjorie Burns notes that Tolkien wrote that to be acceptable to modern readers, mythology had to be brought up to "our grade of assessment". In her view, between his early Book of Lost Tales and the published Silmarillion, the Valar had greatly changed, "civilized and modernized", and this had made the Valar "slowly and slightly" more Christian. For example, the Valar now had "spouses" rather than "wives", and their unions were spiritual, not physical. All the same, she writes, readers still perceive the Valar "as a pantheon", serving as gods.[6]

Judith Kollmann wrote in Mythlore that "the Valar are clearly the gods of Scandinavia, Greece, and Rome, and, as well, the angels and archangels of Judeo-Christianity."[7]

Tolkien's classes of immortal beings and possible Christian and Pagan influences
Middle-earth Christianity Classical Mythology Norse Mythology
Eru Ilúvatar The one God
Ainur (Valar, Maiar) of Valinor Archangels, Angels of Heaven Pantheon of Olympian Gods Æsir of Asgard
Morgoth, a fallen Vala
Sauron, a fallen Maia
The Devil, a fallen Angel
Tom Bombadil, Goldberry, Elves, etc Fauns, Satyrs, Dryads, Naiads, etc Hulder, Nixies, etc
of Scandinavian folklore

Maiar compared to Valar[edit]

Grant C. Sterling, writing in Mythlore, states that the Maiar resemble the Valar in being unable to die, but differ in being able to choose to incarnate fully in forms such as men's bodies. This means that, like Gandalf and the Balrogs, they can be killed. He notes that Sauron's inability ever to take bodily form again after his defeat could be the result of having given his power to the One Ring, but that the fate of killed Maiar remains unclear.[8] Jonathan Evans, writing in The J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, calls the Maiar semidivine spirits, and notes that each one is linked with one of the Valar. He states that they have "perpetual importance in the cosmic order", noting the statement in the Silmarillion that their joy "is as an air that they breathe in all their days, whose thought flows in a tide untroubled from the heights to the deeps."[9][T 3] Evans notes, too, that Arien and Tilion are central in Tolkien's myth of the Sun and Moon.[9]

Luck or providence[edit]

The Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey discusses the connection between the Valar and "luck" on Middle-earth, writing that as in real life "People ... do in sober reality recognise a strongly patterning force in the world around them", but that while this may be due to "Providence or the Valar", the force "does not affect free will and cannot be distinguished from the ordinary operations of nature", nor reduce the necessity of "heroic endeavour".[10] He notes that this exactly matches the Old English view of luck and personal courage, as in Beowulf's "Wyrd often spares the man who isn't doomed, as long as his courage holds."[10] The Tolkien critic Paul H. Kocher similarly discusses the role of providence, in the form of the intentions of the Valar or of the creator Eru Ilúvatar, in Bilbo's finding of the One Ring and Frodo's bearing of it; as Gandalf says, they were "meant" to have it, though it remained their choice to co-operate with this purpose.[11]

In culture[edit]

In astronomy, the Kuiper belt object 385446 Manwë is named for the king of the Valar.[12]

References[edit]

Primary[edit]

This list identifies each item's location in Tolkien's writings.
  1. ^ a b c The Silmarillion, "Ainulindale"
  2. ^ The Silmarillion, "Valaquenta"
  3. ^ Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion", 10. "Of the Sindar"

Secondary[edit]

  1. ^ a b Garth, John (2003). Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth. Houghton Mifflin. p. 86. ISBN 0-618-33129-8.
  2. ^ a b Chance, Jane (2004). Tolkien and the Invention of Myth: A Reader. University Press of Kentucky. p. 169. ISBN 978-0-8131-2301-1.
  3. ^ Jøn, A. Asbjørn (1997). An investigation of the Teutonic god Óðinn; and a study of his relationship to J. R. R. Tolkien's character, Gandalf. University of New England.
  4. ^ a b Wood, Ralph C. (2003). The Gospel According to Tolkien. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-664-23466-9.
  5. ^ a b c Dickerson, Matthew (2013) [2007]. "Valar". In Drout, Michael D. C. (ed.). J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. Routledge. pp. 689–690. ISBN 978-0-415-86511-1.
  6. ^ Burns, Marjorie (2004). "Norse and Christian Gods: The Integrative Theology of J. R. R. Tolkien". In Chance, Jane (ed.). Tolkien and the Invention of Myth: A Reader. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 163–178. ISBN 0-8131-2301-1.
  7. ^ Kollmann, Judith (1984). "Charles Williams and Second-Hand Paganism". Mythlore. 11 (2). Article 1.
  8. ^ Sterling, Grant C. (1997). "The Gift of Death". Mythlore. article 3. 21 (4): 16–18.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  9. ^ a b Evans, Jonathan (2013) [2007]. "Maiar". In Drout, Michael D. C. (ed.). J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment. Routledge. pp. 401–402. ISBN 978-0-415-86511-1.
  10. ^ a b Shippey, Tom (2005) [1982]. The Road to Middle-Earth (Third ed.). HarperCollins. pp. 173–174, 262. ISBN 978-0261102750.
  11. ^ Kocher, Paul (1974) [1972]. Master of Middle-earth: The Achievement of J.R.R. Tolkien. Penguin Books. p. 37. ISBN 0140038779.
  12. ^ "385446 Manwe (2003 QW111)". Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Retrieved 16 May 2020. 385446 Manwë Discovered 2003 Aug. 25 by M. W. Buie at Cerro Tololo. Secondary (385446) I = Thorondor discovered in 2006 by K.S. Noll et al. using the Hubble Space Telescope. In J.~R.~R. Tolkien's mythology, Manwë is foremost among the deities who rule the world.

Sources[edit]