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 that brought light to the Land of the Valar in ancient times. In Tolkien's fiction, Valinor was a paradisiacal realm also known as the Undying Lands where angelic beings lived. The Two Trees were apparently of enormous stature, and their dew was of a pure and magical light in liquid form. They were destroyed by Ungoliant at Melkor's behest, but their last flower and fruit were made by the Valar 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 Arda were two enormous Lamps: 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 went to Valinor, and Yavanna sang into existence the Two Trees, silver Telperion and golden Laurelin shedding light comparable to moon and sun. Telperion was referred to as male and Laurelin female. The Trees sat on the hill Ezellohar located outside Valimar. They grew in the presence of all of the Valar, watered by the tears of Nienna.

Each tree was a source of light: Telperion's silver and Laurelin's gold. 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 Varda.

One "day" lasted twelve hours. Each Tree, in turn, would give off light for seven hours (waxing to full brightness and then slowly waning again), so that at one hour each of "dawn" and "dusk" soft gold and silver light would be given off together.

Jealous Melkor, later named Morgoth by Fëanor, enlisted the help of the giant spider-creature Ungoliant (the first great spider, ancestor of Shelob, and possibly a fallen Maia or, according to Tolkien's notes, a primeval spirit of night) 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.

Again Yavanna sang and Nienna wept, 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 assigned to lesser spirits, male Tilion and female Arien, after the 'genders' of the Trees themselves. 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 Silmarils, created by Fëanor the most gifted of the Elves.

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 the city of Tirion where the Vanyar and Noldor dwelt together at first. 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 Númenóreans, that was known as Nimloth, the White Tree of Númenor. It lasted through the vast majority of the realm's duration, but when Sauron took control of the island he had king Ar-Pharazôn chop it down.

Fortunately Isildur managed to save a single fruit of that tree. Of this fruit later came the White Tree(s) of Gondor.

Laurelin's successors[edit]

There is never any mention of a tree made to the likeness of Laurelin, for it was Telperion which the elves favoured. It is frequently (somewhat) stated that "of Laurelin the Golden no likeness is left in Middle-Earth". The Noldor exiles of the city of Gondolin did, however, have a non-living image of Laurelin, named Glingal 'Hanging Flame', crafted by King Turgon of Gondolin. Also, King Turgon's daughter, Idril Celebrindal, which means Silverfoot, had hair that was "as the gold of Laurelin before the coming of Melkor."

Internal significance[edit]

The Two Trees of Valinor existed at a time when the only other source of light was the stars (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 Thingol is said to have been motivated in the Great Journey by his desire to see the Light of Valinor again (until he finds contentment in the light he sees in Melian's face). Also in later times, the Elves would be divided between 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 the 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 Dúnedain and the Elves. This relationship may go even deeper, as the destruction of one of these trees inevitably precedes trouble for the kingdom in question, like Ar-Pharazôn destroying Nimloth the fair; or vice versa, in the case of the rule of the stewards causing the death of the third White Tree. This implies an even stronger mystical bond.

External significance[edit]

The trees are 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, in this case, Ilúvatar to Middle-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, as the essence of the two trees is what later becomes the Sun and the Moon. Another reminiscence is the two central trees in the Garden of Eden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge. In both writings, the trees provide guidance, life, and a connection with the divine.

Two additional parallels drawn from Norse mythology are the depiction of the Sun (the Goddess Sunna) as female and the Moon (the God Máni) as male; and the origin of humanity wherein men are created from an ash tree (Ask) and women from an elm (Embla) by the Aesir.

Light as a concept is full of symbolism. 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' concept of the legendarium. They are created after the lamps Ormal and Illuin, and from the trees themselves, the Sun and Moon are created.

Alternate names[edit]

Both Telperion and Laurelin are said to have been given many names among which are the following: 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.

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