Two Trees of Valinor

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In J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium, the Two Trees of Valinor are Telperion and Laurelin, the Silver Tree and the Gold Tree that brought light to Valinor, a paradisiacal realm also known as the Undying Lands where angelic beings lived. The Two Trees were apparently of enormous stature, and exuded dew that was a pure and magical light in liquid form. They were destroyed by the evil beings Ungoliant and Melkor, but their last flower and fruit were made into the Moon and the Sun.

They are said to have been a kind of cherry tree, with leaves resembling a beech.[1]

Creation and destruction[edit]

The first sources of light for all of Tolkien's imaginary world, Arda, were two enormous Lamps on the central continent of Middle-earth: Illuin, the silver one to the north and Ormal, the golden one to the south. These were cast down and destroyed by Melkor. As a result of this, a large inland sea was formed in the place where in the past had been the mountain of Helcar, which held Illuin. The sea was named Helcar as well, and it was alongside an arm of this sea, known as Cuiviénen, the Waters of Awakening, that the Elves arose. Afterward, the Valar, powerful spirit beings, retreated to the western continent, Valinor, and one of them, Yavanna the Vala of living things, sang into existence the Two Trees. Telperion was referred to as male and Laurelin female. The Trees sat on the hill Ezellohar located outside the city of the Valar, Valimar. They grew in the presence of all of the Valar, watered by the tears of the Vala of pity and mourning, Nienna.

Telperion had dark leaves (silver on one side) and his silvery dew was collected as a source of water and of light. Laurelin had pale green leaves trimmed with gold, and her dew was likewise collected by the Vala of light Varda.

Each Tree, in turn, would give off light for seven hours (waxing to full brightness and then slowly waning again), with the ends of their cycles overlapping so that at one hour each of "dawn" and "dusk" soft gold and silver light would be given off together. In total, therefore, one "day" of first silver then gold light lasted twelve hours.

The jealous Vala Melkor enlisted the help of the giant spider-creature Ungoliant (and in some versions, a fallen primeval spirit of night (see Maia)) to destroy the Two Trees. Concealed in a cloud of darkness, Melkor struck each Tree and the insatiable Ungoliant devoured whatever life and light remained in them.

Yavanna and Nienna attempted a healing, but they succeeded only in reviving Telperion's last flower (to become the Moon) and Laurelin's last fruit (to become the Sun). These were turned into flying ships crossing the sky, and each was steered by spirits who were chosen after the 'genders' of the Trees themselves: male Tilion and female Arien. This is why, in The Lord of the Rings, the Sun is usually referred to as "she" and the moon as "he".

However the true light of the Trees, before their poisoning by Ungoliant, was said to now reside only in the three jewels called Silmarils, which had been created by Fëanor the most gifted of the Elves before the disaster.

Telperion's successors[edit]

Because the Elves that first came to Valinor especially loved Telperion, Yavanna made a second tree like it to stand in their city of Tirion. This tree, named Galathilion, was identical to Telperion except that it gave no light of its own being. It had many seedlings, one of which was named Celeborn, and planted on the isle of Tol Eressëa.

In the Second Age, a seedling of Celeborn was brought as a gift to the Men who lived on the island of Númenor to the east of Valinor. It was known as Nimloth, the White Tree of Númenor. When the dark lord Sauron took control of the island, he made king Ar-Pharazôn chop it down.

Fortunately, the hero Isildur managed to save a single fruit of Nimloth, and planted seedlings in Middle-earth. These White Tree(s) of Gondor were mentioned in Tolkien's best-known published work, The Lord of the Rings.

Laurelin's successors[edit]

Tolkien never mentioned any tree made in the likeness of Laurelin, writing that "of Laurelin the Golden no likeness is left in Middle-Earth".[2] In the First Age, however, the Elvish King Turgon of the city of Gondolin did create a non-living image of Laurelin, named Glingal 'Hanging Flame'.[3] Turgon's daughter, Idril Celebrindal, had hair described as "as the gold of Laurelin before the coming of Melkor."[3]

Internal significance[edit]

The Two Trees of Valinor existed at a time in Tolkien's mythos when the only other source of light was the stars (some of which had been created for the Elves' benefit by Varda from the dew collected from the Two Trees). When, in order that the Elves might be convinced to come to Valinor, three Elven ambassadors were brought to see Valinor for themselves, it seems that the Two Trees affected them most significantly.

In particular, one of these ambassadors, Thingol, was motivated to lead his Elves to Valinor in the Great Journey by his desire to see the light of the Trees again. Also in later times, the Elves would be referred to as the Calaquendi who had seen the light of the Trees, and the Moriquendi who had not, with the former group shown as explicitly superior in many ways.

The whole of the history of Tolkien's First Age is strongly affected by the desire of many characters to possess the Silmarils that contain the only remaining unsullied light of the Trees.

In the Second and Third Ages, the White Trees of Númenor and of Gondor, whose likeness descends from that of Telperion, have a mostly symbolic significance, standing both as symbols of the kingdoms in question, and also as reminders of the ancestral alliance between the Men who had lived on Numenor and the Elves. The destruction of one of these trees precedes trouble for each kingdom in question.

External significance[edit]

Readers see the Trees as a manifestation of the axis mundi, a common mythological element where heaven and earth connect bringing the order and brilliance of the divine to earth. The axis mundi is a compass that sets the rest of the world in order, balance, and direction. If it is hurt or destroyed, chaos will ensue.

While an axis mundi exists in nearly all mythological literature, the Two Trees are perhaps especially reminiscent of the tree of Yggdrasil in Norse mythology. In both stories the trees are cosmic constructs. There are also two central trees in the story of the Garden of Eden in Jewish, Christian and Muslim scriptures: the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge. In both Norse and Biblical writings, the trees provide guidance, life, and a connection with the divine.

An additional parallel with Norse mythology is Tolkien's depiction of the Sun (the Goddess Sunna) as female and the Moon (the God Máni) as male. In all Germanic languages which have kept a male and female grammatical gender (German, Dutch, Luxembourgish, and Icelandic) "sun" is a female and "moon" is a male noun.[a] Norse mythology also includes a tale wherein men are created from an ash tree (Ask) and women from an elm (Embla).

Tolkien, as a Roman Catholic, would certainly have been exposed to the significance of light in Christian symbolism. Trees were of special importance to Tolkien — in his short story "Leaf by Niggle", which in a sense was an elaborate allegory explaining his own creative process, the protagonist, Niggle, spends his life painting a single tree.

The Trees are another appearance of the recurrent 'gold and silver' motif that occurs in Tolkien's legendarium. Other examples include the lamps Ormal and Illuin, and the Sun and Moon.

Alternate names[edit]

Tolkien gave both Telperion and Laurelin many names: Telperion was also named Silpion and Ninquelótë while Laurelin was also given the names of Malinalda and Culúrien.

In early writings of Tolkien (see: The History of Middle-earth) Telperion's names were Silpion, Bansil and Belthil.

Other media[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.henneth-annun.net/resources/things_view.cfm?thid=390
  2. ^ The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A, I (i) Númenor.
  3. ^ a b The Silmarillion, p. 126.
  • Patrick Curry, "Two Trees" in: J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia (2006), ISBN 978-0-415-96942-0 .
  • Matthew T. Dickerson, "Trees" in: J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia (2006), ISBN 978-0-415-96942-0 .
  • Alexandra Bolintineanu, "Astronomy and Cosmology, Middle-earth" in: J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia (2006).

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ The fact that English poetically allows the phrase "the Sun and his rays", etc. is thus likely a reimport from Romance languages after the original genders were lost.

External links[edit]