Vala (Middle-earth)

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The Valar (['valar]; singular Vala) are characters in J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium. They are "angelic powers" or "gods"[T 1] subordinate to the one God (Eru Ilúvatar). The Ainulindalë describes how those of the Ainur who chose to enter the World (Arda) to complete its material development after its form was determined by the Music of the Ainur are called the Valar, or "the Powers of the World". The Valaquenta indicates that the Elves generally reserved the term "Valar" for the mightiest of these, calling the others the Maiar. The Valar are mentioned briefly in The Lord of the Rings, but were developed earlier in material published posthumously in The Silmarillion and The History of Middle-earth.

Scholars have noted that the Valar resemble angels in Christianity, but that Tolkien presented them rather more like pagan gods. Their role in providing what the characters on Middle-earth experience as luck or providence is also discussed.

Origin and acts[edit]

Eru Ilúvatar first revealed to the Ainur his great vision of The World through musical themes.

... unfolding a history whose vastness and majesty had never been equalled ...The Music of the Ainur, The Silmarillion.

This World, fashioned from his ideas and expressed as the Music of Ilúvatar, was refined by thoughtful interpretations by the Ainur, who then created their own themes based on each unique comprehension. No one Ainu understood all of the themes that sprang from Ilúvatar. Instead, each elaborated individual themes, singing of mountains and subterranean regions, say, from themes for metals and stones. The themes of Ilúvatar's music were elaborated, and each of the Ainur added harmonious creative touches. Melkor, however, added discordant themes: he strove against the Music; his themes became evil because they sprang from selfishness and vanity, not from the enlightenment of Ilúvatar.

Once the Music was complete, including Melkor's interwoven themes of vanity, Ilúvatar gave the Ainur a choice—to dwell with him, or to enter the world that they had mutually created. Those that chose to enter the world became known as the Valar, the 'Powers of Arda', though the Elves generally reserved that term for the more powerful of them, calling the lesser Valar the Maiar. Among the Valar were some of the most powerful and wise of the Ainur, including Manwë, the Lord of the Valar, and Melkor, his brother. The two are distinguished by the selfless love of Manwë for the Music of Ilúvatar, and the selfish love that Melkor bore for himself and no other—least of all for the Children of Ilúvatar, as the Elves and Men became known.

Melkor (later named Morgoth, 'dark enemy') arrived in the World first, causing tumult wherever he went. As the others arrived, they saw how Melkor's presence would destroy the integrity of Ilúvatar's themes. Eventually, and with the aid of the Vala Tulkas, who entered Arda last, Melkor was temporarily overthrown, and the Valar began shaping the world and creating beauty to counter the darkness and ugliness of Melkor's discordant noise.

The Valar dwelt originally on the Isle of Almaren in the middle of the world, but after its destruction and the loss of the world's symmetry, they moved to the western continent of Aman and founded Valinor. The war with Melkor continued: the Valar realized many wonderful subthemes of Ilúvatar's grand music, while Melkor poured all his energy into Arda and the corruption of creatures like Balrogs, dragons, and orcs. Most terrible of the early deeds of Melkor was the destruction of the Two Lamps, and with them the original home of the Valar, the Isle of Almaren. Melkor was captured and chained for many ages in the fastness of Mandos, until he was pardoned by Manwë.

With the arrival of the Elves in the world and later in Valinor, a new phase of the regency of the Valar began. Summoned by the Valar, many Elves abandoned Middle-earth and the eastern continent for the West, where the Valar concentrated their creativity. There they made the Two Trees, their greatest joy because it gave light to the beauty of Valinor and pleased the Elves.

At Melkor's instigation, however, the evil giant spider Ungoliant destroyed the Trees. Fëanor, a Noldorin Elf, had, with forethought and love, captured the light of the Two Trees in three Silmarils, the greatest jewels ever created. Melkor stole the Silmarils from Fëanor, killed his father, Finwë, chief of the Noldor in Aman, and fled to Middle-earth. Many of the Noldor, in defiance of the will of the Valar, swore revenge and set out in pursuit. This event, and the poisonous words of Melkor that fostered mistrust among the Elves, led to the exile of the greater part of the Noldor to Middle-earth: the Valar closed Valinor against them to prevent their return.

For the remainder of the First Age, the Lord of Waters, Ulmo, alone of the Valar visited the world beyond Aman. Ulmo directly influenced the actions of Tuor, setting him on the path to find the hidden city of Gondolin. At the end of the First Age, the Valar sent forth a great host of Maiar and Elves from Valinor to Middle-earth, fighting the War of Wrath in which Melkor was defeated. The lands were changed, and the Elves were again called to Valinor.

During the Second Age, the Valar's main deeds were the creation of Númenor as a refuge for the Edain, who were denied access to Aman but given dominion over the rest of the world. The Valar, now including even Ulmo, remained aloof from Middle-earth, allowing the rise of Morgoth's lieutenant, Sauron, to power as a new Dark Lord. Near the end of the Second Age, Sauron convinced the Númenóreans to attack Aman itself.

Then Manwë upon the Mountain called upon Ilúvatar, and for that time the Valar laid down their government of Arda.Akallabêth, The Silmarillion.

With the Akallabêth, the destruction of Númenor, Aman was removed from the earth (though not from the World, for Elvish ships could still reach it). In the Third Age the Valar sent the Istari (or wizards) to Middle-earth to aid in the battle against Sauron.

Tolkien's usage does not clearly distinguish between the Valar and the Maiar. In the Ainulindalë in The Silmarillion, all the Ainur who entered Arda (the World) to complete its development according to the form given it by the Music of the Ainur are called "Valar".[T 2] However, in the Valaquenta (also in The Silmarillion), he states that "The Great among these spirits the Elves name the Valar", and he names the Lords and Queens of the Valar.[T 3] He applies the term "Vala" to no individual spirit except the Lords and Queens.

The chief Valar[edit]

The names and attributes of the chief Valar, as they were known to the Elves in Valinor, are listed below. In Middle-earth, they were known by their Sindarin names: Varda, for example, was called Elbereth. Men knew them by many other names, and sometimes worshipped them as gods. With the exception of Oromë, the names listed below are not actual names but rather titles: the true names of the Valar are nowhere recorded. The males are called "Lords of the Valar"; the females "Queens of the Valar," or Valier. Of the seven male and seven female Valar, there are six married pairs: Ulmo and Nienna are the only ones who dwell alone. This is evidently a form of spiritual union, as in Tolkien's later conception they do not reproduce in a manner reminiscent of the classical Greek gods.

The Aratar [ˈaratar] (Quenya: Exalted) or High Ones of Arda are the eight greatest of the Valar: Manwë, Varda, Ulmo, Yavanna, Aulë, Mandos, Nienna, and Oromë. Lórien and Mandos are brothers and are referred to collectively as the Fëanturi [feˈanturi], "Masters of Spirits".

Ilúvatar brought the Valar (and all of the Ainur) into being by his thought, and may therefore be considered their father. However, not all of the Valar are siblings; where this is held to be so, it is because they are so "in the thought of Ilúvatar". It was the Valar who first practised marriage and later passed on their custom to the Elves; all the Valar had spouses, save Nienna, Ulmo and Melkor. Only one such marriage among the Valar took place within the world, that of Tulkas and Nessa after the raising of the Two Lamps.[T 4]

Lords[edit]

Name(s) Duties Dwelling-place Description
Manwë King of the Valar
King of Arda
Lord of air, wind, and clouds
Atop Mount Taniquetil,
the highest mountain of the world,
in the halls of Ilmarin
Husband of Varda Elentári.
Noblest and greatest in authority,
but not in power, of the Ainur;
greatest of the Aratar.
Ulmo Lord of Waters No fixed dwelling place:
he lived in deep waters of ocean
Came to Valinor only in dire need
A chief architect of Arda
In authority, second to Manwë
Aulë Lord of matter
Master of all crafts
Valinor Husband of Yavanna
Created the seven fathers of the Dwarves, who call him Mahal, the Maker. Eru the One was not pleased, as the stone people were not of the original theme, but when they cringed upon Aule's hammer, Eru pardoned Aulë's disobedience, but noted the repercussions, including the love of the Dwarves' iron for Yavanna's trees. During the Music of the Ainur, Aulë's themes concerned the physical things of which Arda is made; when Eru Ilúvatar gave being to the themes of the Ainur, his music became the lands of Middle-earth. He made Angainor (the chain of Melkor), the Two Lamps, and the vessels of the Sun and Moon.
Oromë [ˈorome]
Araw in Sindarin,
Aldaron "Lord of the Trees",
Arum, Béma, Arāmē,
the Great Rider
Huntsman of the Valar Brother of Nessa and husband of Vána. Active in the struggle against Morgoth. Renowned for his anger, the most terrible of the Valar in his wrath. Had a mighty horn, Valaróma and a steed called Nahar. During the Years of the Trees, after most of the Valar had hidden in Aman, Oromë still hunted the Enemy in the forests of Middle-earth with Huan, Hound of the Valar. There he found the Elves at Cuiviénen.[a]
Mandos [ˈmandos]
Námo [ˈnaːmo]
Judge of the Dead
Master of Doom
Chief advisor to Manwë
Keeper of the souls of elves
Halls of Mandos Husband of Vairë the Weaver. Mandos is described as being stern and dispassionate and never forgetting a thing.

Spoke the Prophecy of the North against the Noldor leaving Aman, counselling that they should not be allowed to return.[b]

The prophecies and judgments of Mandos, unlike Morgoth, are not cruel or vindictive by his own design. They are simply the will of Eru, and he will not speak them unless he is commanded to do so by Manwë. Only once has he been moved to pity, when Lúthien sang of the grief she and her lover Beren had experienced in Beleriand.

Lórien [ˈloːrien]
Irmo [ˈirmo]
Master of Visions and Dreams Lórien Named Irmo, but referred to more commonly as Lórien, after his dwelling place. Lórien and Mandos are the Fëanturi: Masters of spirits. Lórien, the younger, is the master of visions and dreams. His gardens in the land of the Valar, where he dwells with his spouse Estë, are the fairest place in the world and are filled with many spirits. All those who dwell in Valinor find rest and refreshment at the fountain of Irmo and Estë. Since he is the master of dreams, he and his servants are well-aware of the hopes and dreams of the children of Eru. Olórin, or Gandalf, prior to his assignment by Manwë to a role as one of the Istari, was a Maia long taught in the gardens of Lórien.
Tulkas [ˈtulkas] the Strong
Astaldo "The Brave One"
Champion of Valinor Last of the Valar to descend into Arda; helped to tip the scales against Melkor after the destruction of the Two Lamps. A wrestler, physically the strongest of Valar, his fist is his only weapon.

He laughs in sport and in war, and even laughed in the face of Melkor. Husband of Nessa; slow to anger, but slow to forget; opposed release of Melkor after his prison sentence.

Queens[edit]

Name(s) Spouse Description
Varda
Elentári in Quenya
Elbereth Gilthoniel in Sindarin
Lady of the Stars
the Kindler
Manwë Kindled the first stars before the Ainur descended into the world; later brightened them with gold and silver dew from the Two Trees. Melkor feared and hated her the most, because she rejected him before Time. The Elvish hymn 'A Elbereth Gilthoniel' appears in three differing forms in The Lord of the Rings.[T 5] See also: 174567 Varda
Nienna
Lady of Mercy,
acquainted with grief
   —— Tutor of Olórin; weeps constantly, but not for herself; and those who hearken to her learn pity, and endurance in hope. She gives strength to those in the Hall of Mandos. Her tears are those of healing and compassion, not of sadness, and often have potency; she watered the Two Trees with her tears, and washed the filth of Ungoliant away from them once they were destroyed. She was in favour of releasing Melkor after his sentence, not being able to see his evil nature.
Estë [ˈeste]
The Gentle
"the healer of hurts and of weariness"
Irmo Her name means 'Rest'. "Grey is her raiment, and rest her gift." Lives with Irmo in his Gardens of Lórien in Valinor. She sleeps at day on the island in the Lake Lorellin.
Vairë [ˈvai̯re]
the Weaver
Mandos She weaves the story of the World in her tapestries, which are draped all over the halls of Mandos.
Yavanna [jaˈvanna]
Queen of the Earth
Giver of Fruits
Aulë She created the Two Trees, and is responsible for the kelvar (animals) and olvar (plants). It was she who requested the creation of the Ents, as she feared for the safety of the trees once her husband had created the Dwarves. The Two Lamps are created by Aulë at Yavanna's request, and their light germinates the seeds that she had planted. Following the destruction of the Two Lamps by Melkor and the withdrawal of the Valar to Aman, Yavanna sang into being the Two Trees of Valinor.
Vána [ˈvaːna]
Queen of Blossoming Flowers and the Ever-young
Oromë Younger sister of Yavanna. "All flowers spring as she passes and open if she glances upon them; and all birds sing at her coming." She dwells in gardens filled with golden flowers and often comes to the forests of Oromë. Tolkien wrote that Vána was "the most perfectly 'beautiful' in form and feature (also 'holy' but not august or sublime), representing the natural unmarred perfection of form in living things".[1]
Nessa
The Dancer
Tulkas Sister of Oromë. Noted for her agility and speed, she is able to outrun the deer who follow her in the wild. Known for her love of dancing and celebration on the ever-green lawns of Valinor.

Melkor[edit]

Morgoth or Melkor was the first Dark Lord. His name means "he who arises in might". He was the first of the Ainur to be created by Eru Ilúvatar and the one who created discord in the Music of the Ainur. The spiritual brother of Manwë, he was the most powerful of the Valar, as he was the only one who possessed all aspects of Eru's thought. He turned to evil, and was taken back to Valinor in the chain Angainor after the Awakening of the Elves in Cuiviénen. He remained on parole in Valinor for three Ages, but after the poisoning of the Two Trees and the theft of the Silmarils, he fled from Valinor. He was no longer counted among the Valar, and Fëanor, one of the leaders of the Noldorin Elves, called him "Morgoth Bauglir", The Great Enemy, and he was known by that in Middle-earth ever after. He was cast out of Arda at the end of the War of Wrath.

Language[edit]

External history[edit]

Tolkien at first decided that Valarin, the tongue of the Valar as it is called in Quenya, would be the proto-language of the Elves, the tongue Oromë taught to the speechless Elves. He then developed the Valarin tongue and its grammar in the early 1930s. Ten years later he decided to drop that idea, and the tongue he had developed became Primitive Quendian instead. He then conceived an entirely new tongue for the Valar, still called Valarin in Quenya.

Internal story[edit]

The Valar as spiritual immortal beings have the ability to communicate through thought, and had no need for a spoken language, but it appears that Valarin developed because of their assumption of physical, humanlike (or elf-like) forms. Valarin is unrelated to the other languages constructed by J. R. R. Tolkien. Only a few words (mainly proper names) of Valarin have been recorded by the Elves.

Valarin was alien to the ears of the Elves, sometimes to the point of genuine displeasure,[T 6] and very few of them ever learned the language, only adopting some of the Valarin words into their own Quenya. The Valar knew Quenya, and used it to converse with the Elves, or with each other if Elves were present. Valarin contained sounds that the Elves found difficult to produce, and the words were mostly long;[T 6] for example, the Valarin word for Telperion, one of the Two Trees of Valinor, Ibrîniðilpathânezel, is eight syllables long. The Vanyar adopted more words into their Vanyarin Tarquesta dialect from Valarin than the Noldor, as they lived closer to the Valar. Some of the Elven names of the Valar, such as Manwë, Ulmo, and Oromë, are adapted loanwords of their Valarin names.

According to the earlier conception set forth in the Lhammas, the Valarin language family is subdivided into Oromëan, the Dwarves' Khuzdul (Aulëan), and Melkor's Black Speech. In this work, all Elvish languages are descended from the tongue of Oromë, while the Dwarves spoke the tongue devised by Aulë, and the Speech of the Orcs was invented for them by Melkor.

Concept and creation[edit]

In The Book of Lost Tales (the earliest form of Tolkien's legendarium), the Valar are frequently referred to as "Gods," indicating a polytheistic system in Tolkien's original cosmology. However, Ilúvatar is present as the supreme Creator God who brings the Valar into existence and is shown to be a being of a higher order. It is thus unclear whether the Valar are truly gods or simply thought of as such by the people of Arda. In any case, Tolkien eventually abandoned this description of the Valar, defining them simply as "Powers" in his later works.

In The Book of Lost Tales, Mandos was named Vefantur, and his halls Ve. His wife was Fui, who can be compared to Nienna (though in that context they were not married). He judged the elves, while Fui judged the men. He turned away Túrin and Nienori from his halls in the second volume.

A different Vairë appeared in some of Tolkien's earliest writings. In The Book of Lost Tales, she was an Elf of Tol Eressëa. She and her husband Lindo tell the stories that would become The Silmarillion to the human mariner Ælfwine/Eriol. Her role as storyteller may have influenced the naming of the Vala responsible for recording stories.

The Lost Tales also have two additional Valar, Makar and Meássë, who occupy roles similar to war gods of classical myth. These characters are dropped from Tolkien's later works.

Interpretation[edit]

Pagan gods or angels[edit]

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.[2]

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".[3] 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".[3] 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.[3]

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".[4] 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."[4] 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.[5]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ In The Return of the King, Théoden is compared to Oromë when he leads the charge of Rohirrim in The Battle of the Pelennor Fields: "Fey he seemed, or the battle-fury of his fathers ran like new fire in his veins, and he was borne up on Snowmane like a god of old, even as Oromë the Great in the battle of the Valar when the world was young."
  2. ^ "Tears unnumbered ye shall shed; and the Valar will fence Valinor against you, and shut you out, so that not even the echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains. On the House of Fëanor the wrath of the Valar lieth from the West unto the uttermost East, and upon all that will follow them it shall be laid also. Their Oath shall drive them, and yet betray them, and ever snatch away the very treasures that they have sworn to pursue. To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well; and by treason of kin unto kin, and the fear of treason, shall this come to pass. The Dispossessed shall they be for ever." The Silmarillion

References[edit]

Primary[edit]

This list identifies each item's location in Tolkien's writings.
  1. ^ Letters, p. 146.
  2. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1999). "Ainulindalë". The Silmarillion. HarperCollins. pp. 20. ISBN 0-261-10273-7.
  3. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1999). "Valaquenta". The Silmarillion. HarperCollins. pp. 25-31. ISBN 0-261-10273-7.
  4. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1999). The Silmarillion. HarperCollins. pp. 28–29. ISBN 0-261-10273-7.
  5. ^ The Fellowship of the Ring
  6. ^ a b Christopher Tolkien (1994), The History of Middle-earth, The War of the Jewels; ISBN 0-395-71041-3

Secondary[edit]

  1. ^ Parma Eldalamberon #17, 2007, p. 150
  2. ^ Wood, Ralph C. (2003). The Gospel According to Tolkien. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-664-23466-9.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ a b Shippey, Tom (2005) [1982]. The Road to Middle-Earth (Third ed.). HarperCollins. pp. 173–174, 262. ISBN 978-0261102750.
  5. ^ Kocher, Paul (1974) [1972]. Master of Middle-Earth: The Achievement of J.R.R. Tolkien. Penguin Books. p. 37. ISBN 0140038779.