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Valaquenta (Quenya for "Tale of the Valar") is the second section of The Silmarillion, a collection of J. R. R. Tolkien's mythopoeic works, edited and published posthumously by his son Christopher Tolkien in 1977.
Valaquenta provides a middle-ground and link between Ainulindalë, which stands as Middle-earth's cosmogony or 'creation myth', and Quenta Silmarillion, a collection of mythical histories in which major events of Middle-earth find their first elaboration (see The Silmarillion).
Not an actual story in itself (there is no plot or action), Valaquenta is more a listing, a kind of expanded footnote giving details about the major divine characters of Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium. These divine beings are the Valar, the Maiar and the Enemies (the last being equivalent to fallen Ainur of the same kind and order as the Valar/Maiar. For an explanation of the divine natures of all the Ainur, see Ainulindalë).
Just as with the rest of Tolkien's characters, the natures and names of these worldly Ainur are by no means incidental; they are intimately connected with important elements of plot and action in the later tales. To an extent, Valaquenta gives a meaning or a genealogy, or both, to many scenes in the larger Quenta Silmarillion; it is a virtual list of players for important parts of that ensuing drama, which itself (as a collection of mythic tales) provides a foundational background for the world that comes after, in particular for those stories comprising the more widely known histories of Middle-earth, including The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
History of composition
Although sequential descriptions of the Valar can be found in The Book of Lost Tales (first begun as far back as 1916-7, but published in 1983 and 1984 as Volumes 1 and 2 of The History of Middle-earth), the earliest Valar-list that can be measured against Valaquenta is found in the text called Quenta Noldorinwa (probably written in 1930, but first published in 1986 as part of The Shaping of Middle-earth, volume 4 of The History of Middle-earth).
These ordered descriptions eventually became Chapter 1 (entitled Of the Valar) for the Quenta Silmarillion (or "The Silmarillion proper".) In revisions to the Quenta Silmarillion done in 1958, the list of the Valar was split off into a separately titled work. When Christopher Tolkien finally edited and published The Silmarillion in 1977, he left the chapter as a distinct section. Apparently, there is nothing to indicate why the senior Tolkien felt that the piece should stand alone. While Valaquenta is not a narrative, neither is the Quenta chapter Of Beleriand and its Realms, and Tolkien never seems to have considered presenting the latter as an independent section.
Naming and describing of the Valar
The Ainur who most desire and love the Universe enter into it at the beginning of Time. Their ‘task’ is to be part of the history of the Universe as it unfolds in accordance with the Great Music of the Ainur. Once the Earth is built and realized, the Ainur move into it. The most important of the Ainur who move into Earth are called the Valar (‘Those with Power’, singular 'Vala'), of which there are fourteen principal characters: Manwë, Ulmo, Aulë, Oromë, Mandos, Lórien, Tulkas, Varda, Yavanna, Nienna, Estë, Vairë, Vána, and Nessa. Melkor, though he also enters the Earth, loses the title ‘Vala’.
In Ainulindalë, the Valar assume physical forms on occasion, though only as others wear clothes — as a matter of choice and as, perhaps, an expression of identity and style. There is also apparently a 'price' to be paid for these manifestations, as when Sauron is deprived of the ability to appear in a wholesome form.
The Valar and their characteristics are described thus:
- Manwë – (‘Blessed One’) Brother of Melkor. Between the two, Melkor is ‘mightier’, but Manwë is closer to Ilúvatar and better understands His plan. Manwë is the King of Arda (the Earth). His natural province is the sky, the winds and all the birds. He has mastery over the element of Air.
- Varda – (‘Exalted’, ‘Lofty’) Mistress of Light. Espoused to Manwë, she is crafter of the Stars. The Elves hold her in the highest regard, naming her Elbereth (‘Star Queen’). Before Time, she rejected Melkor. He fears her the most. She has mastery over the element of Light.
- Ulmo – (‘The Pourer’) Master of Water. He lives alone and without a fixed home. He is second in rank to Manwë. He is not often with the others, and he is seldom seen on land, or in an embodied form (which form is always terrifying to see). He loves both Eldar and Edain (Elves and Men, respectively), and never abandons them, even when the other Valar must (or choose to) look away. Whosoever hears his music is forever drawn to the Sea. Ulmo speaks to Middle-earth with a voice heard in the sounds of Water: his spirit runs in all the liquid veins of the Earth. News of Middle-earth reaches him that would miss the other Valar. He has mastery of the element of Water.
- Aulë – ('Invention', 'The Smith') Master of Earth-matter. He is almost equal in rank to Ulmo. His province is stone, metal and mineral. He is the Craftmaster, the maker of objects. The Noldor (a distinct branch or tribe of Elves noted for their craftsmanship) are his favourites. Melkor is jealous of Aulë, though the two are very similar: they both love to make things. But Aulë is faithful to Eru and understands how his 'creations' belong ultimately to Eru, while Melkor is left making twisted imitations that can never attain independent being. He has mastery over the elements of Earth and Fire.
- Yavanna – (‘Giver of Fruits’) She is the Earth Mother, and espoused to Aulë. She often takes the form of a tree – Kementári – and she is called the Queen of the Earth. She has mastery over the element of Life.
- Fëanturi – (‘Masters of Spirits’) They are the brothers Námo (‘Ordainer, Judge’) and Irmo (‘Desirer’). They are more commonly called after their respective dwellings ‘Mandos’ (possibly ‘Death’, ‘Soul’ or ‘Doom’) and ‘Lórien’ (possibly ‘Dreams, Sleep-Visions’). Námo is the master of prophecy. Irmo is master of visions and dreams.
- Vairë — (‘The Weaver’) She weaves the webs of Time that tapestry the Halls of the Dead. She is Námo’s spouse. She is the mistress of fate, time and weaving.
- Estë — (‘Rest’) She is the mistress of healing. She is Irmo’s spouse. Together they live in places of rejuvenation and ease. She has mastery of the body and of healing
- Nienna – (possibly ‘The Weeper’ or ‘The Mourner’) She is the sister of the Fëanturi. She dwells alone. She weaves Grief and Sorrow into the world. She encourages Pity and Hope through Mourning. She visits the Dead and eases their pain by turning it to wisdom. She has mastery over the untouchable.
- Tulkas – (possibly ‘The Steadfast’) He is the master of Physical Prowess. He loves contests. He is yellow-bearded, red-faced, and empty-handed. He has no care for the past/future and is a poor source of advice, though he is a faithful friend.
- Nessa — (‘The Young’) She is sister of Oromë, and the spouse of Tulkas. She is a dancer.
- Oromë – (‘Sound of Horns’) He loves Middle-earth. A Hunter of evil beasts and a tree-lover, Oromë wages war on Melkor. His impressive horn is described as "like the upgoing of the Sun in scarlet, or the sheer lightning cleaving the clouds."
- Vána — (‘Beauty’) She is sister of Yavanna. Espoused to Oromë, Vána is associated with Springtime.
The naming and describing of major Maiar
The Maiar (meaning unclear, singular ‘Maia’) are Ainur that came into the World with the Valar, but are of lesser rank and power. The Maiar rarely appear in recognizable forms.
The highest ranking Maiar are Ilmarë (possibly ‘Heavenly Light’ or ‘Star Light’) and Eönwë (possibly ‘Strong Son’). Ilmarë is ‘handmaid of Varda’. Eönwë is ‘herald of Manwë’. The best-known Maiar are Ossë (possibly ‘Dreadful Seas’) and Uinen (possibly ‘Sea-Maiden’). Ossë is one of Ulmo’s people – a water Ainu. He is master of the seas that are closer to shore, coastlines, islands and waves and likes to stir up storms. Uinen, also a sea-loving Ainu, is much prayed to and beloved by sailors for she is one of the few who can restrain Ossё and his storms. Her long, beautiful hair is said to be spread through all the waters. She loves coastal sea life. The Númenóreans value her as much as they do the Valar. Melkor hates the sea because he cannot dominate it. Melkor tried to ‘convert’ Ossë, and he almost got him, but Uinen saved Ossë and he remains more or less faithful to Ulmo, though he still loves a cracking good storm and is not to be trusted. Melian (full Quenya spelling Melyanna - ‘Giver of Love’) was a powerful Maia attached to Vána and Estë, and formerly lived in the gardens of Lórien. She came surrounded by nightingales into the lands of Middle-earth. Olórin (possibly ‘The Visionary’) is called wisest of the Maiar. He also lived for a time in Lórien, but he studied pity and patience under Nienna. Melian is much mentioned in the Quenta Silmarillion, but Olórin came openly into the histories only at a later date, as Gandalf the Grey. He is a friend of the Children: known or unknown, he has always been an agitator seeking to inspire in the face of despair and darkness.
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Melkor the Dark: The Noldor no longer call him Melkor; rather, they call him ‘Morgoth’ (‘Black Enemy of the World’, or possibly ‘Dreadful Dark'). He has some of each of the powers and understandings held by the others, but he misuses those powers and understandings to attempt his usurpations. By using his powers and understandings only as means to his rebellious ends, he loses both, and gains only in ressentiment. He begins with a lust for the ownership of Light but, being denied this, he takes Darkness (which is not inherently evil in its conception) and uses it as a weapon against Light, thus infusing Darkness with a fear. He is not alone: he has corrupted many of the Maiar, including those that came to be known as Balrogs (‘Demons of Might’).
Sauron the Cruel: Sauron (‘The Abhorred’) is Morgoth’s chief lieutenant. He was a Maia originally attached to Aulë, and thus is a great Craftmaster and maker of devices. He appeared in person in The Silmarillion and The Children of Húrin. It is said that he is only less evil than Morgoth because for a long time he served Morgoth, and not himself. Years later, Sauron rises up like Morgoth, and so ‘ends’ like Morgoth. He also must face the ironic triumph of Fate that comes in part because of his attempted subversion.