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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
"The Valaquenta underneath the bough, a squishy chair, Corvoisier, and thou, lurking beside me in the Reading Room."

squire
Valinor


Jan 7 2013, 9:09pm


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"The Valaquenta underneath the bough, a squishy chair, Corvoisier, and thou, lurking beside me in the Reading Room." [In reply to] Can't Post

A. How did you feel the first time you ever arrived at this chapter and discovered it was a long list?
I don’t remember much about the first time I read the Silmarillion in 1977, except for my overall feeling of piqued disappointment that it was not at all comparable with The Lord of the Rings in style. But I have always accepted the Valaquenta for what it is: a list, as you say, but with that peculiar Tolkien-ness to it whereby a list, or annal, or entry in a Tale of Years seems to grow feet in the writing and begin to toddle off into a new story right before our eyes. I saw and see nothing wrong in introducing a list of gods and goddesses at the beginning of a book of semi-mythology. What has always upset me about this chapter in general (I’ll have specific complaints later on) is that the Quenta Silmarillion doesn’t deliver what the Valaquenta promises: some significant action and interaction in the main narrative by most of these deities. Eventually I found out why this is so, but for a long time it really ticked me off.

While I think you’re right that Tolkien is trying to emulate an ancient style of mythical narrative, I would note that a lot of historical novels these days have a “Cast of characters” page or five at the beginning of the book. I wonder which author first did that?

B. I note that (at least in my edition) we get the lists as “flat” prose. Nor do we get an ancient “rhyme of lore”. Has anyone (including JRRT) tried to cast Valaquenta in this form? Would anyone like to try??
Good points about the style being rather flat for a mythological accounting, and about the idea of it being in verse. I have several responses.

One, I would say it’s actually kind of chatty or coy at times, when it attempts to give real personalities to these beings.

Two, I’ve read many a classic text from Rome or Greece wherein the original is in verse, but the translation is in prose due to the translator’s choice not to attempt an artificial style to which modern English-speakers are not accustomed.

Three, I don’t like the conceit that Tolkien “translated” his Middle-earth fiction (beyond the undeniable degree to which he himself pretended he had done so). I would prefer to say here that Tolkien himself loved writing poetry, but usually for the purpose of exploring verse forms, rather than as an actual way to tell the stories he wanted to tell. For example, his two longest poems (The Lay of the Children of Hurin and The Lay of Leithian) were never completed and he also wrote out both stories several times in prose of varying styles. There are examples of poetry in the Lord of the Rings where my reaction is that I wish he’d written them out in full, but clearly he only wanted to give us a fragment to evoke a heroic oral culture. In short, he had no inclination or need to (re)write the Valaquenta either as verse or with some kind of coherent style, and so he never did.


There is a lot more to be said about style in this regard, and his earlier attempts to write this section of his mythology, but I’ll let it go for now at least.

You also open up a HUGE can of worms regarding the role of oral formulae in preserving cultural memories in the context of a race of immortals! Again, I’ll let it go for now…

C. How do you react to authors deploying so much invented terminology (Tolkien specifically, other authors for comparison)?
I think you hit it pretty close to the mark when you note that Tolkien’s Silmarillion material was not written to be background for The Lord of the Rings, but for its own purposes. As he himself remarked, it was old when he began drawing on it for his epic, not just within the story but also in the time of his own life. So he could pick and choose what to use and what to leave out in order to create the proper blend of adventure and atmosphere. I admire Dune, but I know what you mean when it seems that the entire universe, literary quotes and all, were made up on the spot to gussy up the story. The question of languages is similar, obviously, since with Tolkien the two concepts were inextricably blended: when he needed a word or a name, he had a vast framework of “Elvish” language to draw upon so that the result sounds right, not arbitrarily exotic or “fantasy-ish”.


Now, with the Valaquenta, as you say, we are reading the very “lore” to which occasional references are made in the much better-known Lord of the Rings. And so reading it seems to beg the question: what is this? Is it first-person testimony? Is it a translation? Did the writers know the Valar personally, or hear this information from some who did? Did the Valar talk easily about themselves to the first Elves, and if so what was the style of their discourse? What is it about a person or a state that seems to require a very high degree of formality in rendering their presentation or their speech – especially for us who live in a (comparatively) very informal world? Which is sillier – the Valar being presented to us readers as semi-Olympian, semi-Biblical demigods, or the Valar coming across as big goofy human beings like the rest of us? Which presentation is more likely to make us take an interest in the drama of their existence on Middle-earth? I don’t think Tolkien ever really resolves this dilemma (and so he never really uses them in his stories, as I note above).

D. The Valar have gender, but we’re told in Ainulindale that they can alter their appearance like clothes and similar comments are made in Valaquenta. Do you reckon they are stuck being male/female, as humans are?
I think it’s clear, or at least I read it so, that they are indeed “stuck” with male or female as their intrinsic natures, no matter what physical form they assume in appearing before the Children of Eru. The relevant quote is:

But when they desire to clothe themselves the Valar take upon them forms some as of male and some as of female; for that difference of temper they had even from their beginning, and it is but bodied forth in the choice of each, not made by the choice, even as with us male and female may be shown by the raiment but is not made thereby. But the shapes wherein the Great Ones array themselves are not at all times like to the shapes of the kings and queens of the Children of Ilúvatar; for at times they may clothe themselves in their own thought, made visible in forms of majesty and dread. (JRRT, The Silmarillion, “Ainulindale”)

So, when they choose to appear human, they must be male or female because that is who they are in spirit, not just body. But they can also appear in other, more supernatural forms, as is appropriate for gods.


I liked that LeGuin story – very memorable. But the gender concepts that interest LeGuin (who is a huge Tolkien fan) are way out of Tolkien’s range, I think.

E. The Valar come in pairs and are mostly married (a male Valar and a female Valier). Is that significant?
It is significant, and not in a good way, I think. I can defend Tolkien’s preferences in these matters all I want, but in the end I do feel he was a bit of a prude in his writing. There is sex and passion to be found in his stories, but even in the midst of the most torrid writing he can manage he is keeping cold control over the entire affair. The interesting thing about the Valaquenta, or about the Valar in general in this mythology, is that his earliest drafts were a lot more chaotic and messy in the family sphere: nothing crazy like incest or affairs, mind you, but at least there were more brothers and sisters and sons and daughters in the accounting. (See the first volume of HoME for details). They were more like Eru’s extended family, and less like a bunch of neighbors who all live on the same heavenly suburban street.

F. Melkor is not married, and is without female equivalent. Is this significant?
One would like to say that as the most powerful Vala he incorporates male and female qualities equally. But there is nothing about that. He is also called the “brother” of Manwe, but little comes out about the meaning of that relationship. I think Tolkien thought up Melkor first as a Satan character, and only later worked him into the more complete list of Valar who help to make and run the world. And Satan is more about being God’s opposite, rather than about being a guy or a girl.


I am horrified by the idea of Melkorina, as I’m sure Tolkien would be. You’re right about the pneumatic tendencies of today’s comic-book fantastists, which long ago reached self-parody. I’d like to point out that Melkor gets his comeuppance from Elbereth early on in the story, and later gets wrapped around the finger of the Mother of all Evil Mothers, Ungoliant, who is probably Tolkien’s answer to your need for heaven to have a villainess.

Any commentary on the content of the lists, rather than the idea of having a chapter of lists and some of its high-level structure?
Any discussion of the language?
Not for now. But this was a great start! Thanks for pitching in!



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd (and NOW the 4th too!) TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


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Subject User Time
The Silmarillion discussion: Valaquenta noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 7 2013, 12:58pm
    No turning back CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 7 2013, 1:35pm
        thank you! telain Send a private message to telain Jan 7 2013, 2:45pm
            link to our earlier discussion of Ainulindale noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 7 2013, 2:54pm
                just posted there... and thank you!// telain Send a private message to telain Jan 8 2013, 6:12pm
    I look forward to your discussion post... telain Send a private message to telain Jan 7 2013, 2:43pm
        Experts definitely not needed! CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 7 2013, 3:24pm
    A note on book "Arda Reconstructed" by Voronwe the Faithful CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 7 2013, 4:36pm
        "DO keep up, Samwise Gamgee!" :)- Nah, you've been great// noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 7 2013, 4:39pm
        I have that book as well. Ardamírë Send a private message to Ardamírë Jan 7 2013, 5:50pm
        That makes me quite happy! Voronwë_the_Faithful Send a private message to Voronwë_the_Faithful Jan 8 2013, 4:32pm
    Oops, I seem to have started.... noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 7 2013, 5:22pm
        ...and well, one thing led to another... (not for serious readers) noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 7 2013, 5:34pm
        Great post! ; mnemonic CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 7 2013, 8:16pm
            An org chart for the Valar noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 7 2013, 9:18pm
                Ok, this is just me quite at random entering the world of the Reading Room, but.. Xanaseb Send a private message to Xanaseb Jan 12 2013, 1:01pm
                    I see what you mean noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 12 2013, 5:23pm
                        Ah! of course. Sorry, thought the lines meant that they came about -by- Eru ;) // Xanaseb Send a private message to Xanaseb Jan 12 2013, 8:58pm
                        every time I see "org chart", I read "orc chart!"// telain Send a private message to telain Jan 13 2013, 11:42pm
            Nice mnemonics, curiousG // noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 8 2013, 6:36pm
            Mandos: Hand of Fate telain Send a private message to telain Jan 10 2013, 1:38am
            *mods up* // Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Jan 12 2013, 5:29am
        "The Valaquenta underneath the bough, a squishy chair, Corvoisier, and thou, lurking beside me in the Reading Room." squire Send a private message to squire Jan 7 2013, 9:09pm
            ...this forum is world enough? noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 7 2013, 9:35pm
        First of all... Eldineth Send a private message to Eldineth Jan 7 2013, 11:11pm
            Eldineth, I would never have guessed from your post that you were not a native English speaker! Well-written post.! // noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 8 2013, 6:34pm
                Thank you, noWizardme! Eldineth Send a private message to Eldineth Jan 9 2013, 1:11am
            Your English is terrific! // CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 10 2013, 4:38am
                Thank you! Eldineth Send a private message to Eldineth Jan 10 2013, 4:26pm
        I agree with Squire about the Melkorina Ardamírë Send a private message to Ardamírë Jan 7 2013, 11:21pm
        I think this is where I gave up on my first reading… Mim Send a private message to Mim Jan 7 2013, 11:29pm
            The Shadow of Your Posts noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 8 2013, 1:56pm
        Hello! I'm new here and am quite happy to find that I managed to arrive when an electronic Silmarillion-reading party is getting started! Gwenhwyfar Send a private message to Gwenhwyfar Jan 9 2013, 6:33am
            Neat idea about Nienna and Melkor squire Send a private message to squire Jan 9 2013, 11:23am
                Evil bachelors CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 9 2013, 1:50pm
                    "obsidian bunker" and other matters... noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 9 2013, 5:43pm
                    No evil women Mim Send a private message to Mim Jan 9 2013, 5:49pm
                        There was also Thuringwethil DanielLB Send a private message to DanielLB Jan 9 2013, 6:04pm
                        Females at large noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 9 2013, 6:22pm
                            Sure... Mim Send a private message to Mim Jan 9 2013, 7:10pm
                                Sorry, I'm probably dragging you off subject... noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 9 2013, 8:13pm
                                Amazorcs? telain Send a private message to telain Jan 10 2013, 12:53am
                                    No beards, but . . . . Gwenhwyfar Send a private message to Gwenhwyfar Jan 10 2013, 2:48am
                                        Married gods and single heroes noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 10 2013, 2:55pm
                                        Good point. Eldineth Send a private message to Eldineth Jan 10 2013, 4:56pm
                                    Surely Orcs are a construction of Sauron? The Gardener Send a private message to The Gardener Jan 10 2013, 10:40am
                                        Perhaps... Mim Send a private message to Mim Jan 10 2013, 1:35pm
                                        You assume wrongly... Otaku-sempai Send a private message to Otaku-sempai Jan 10 2013, 4:16pm
                                            Young goblins as a gollum-snack; good point. Though just to be awkward.... noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 10 2013, 4:37pm
                                                Orc sex CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 10 2013, 5:59pm
                                                    You probably just greatly increased the number of hits this thread will get from search engines :) // noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 10 2013, 6:11pm
                                                    Orc domesticity Gwenhwyfar Send a private message to Gwenhwyfar Jan 10 2013, 7:54pm
                                                        Great point: "really evil of heart" = incompatible with babies noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 10 2013, 10:08pm
                                                            Yay for electronic magic! Gwenhwyfar Send a private message to Gwenhwyfar Jan 10 2013, 11:41pm
                                                                Sam vs. the Valaquenta (stylistically I mean) noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 11 2013, 1:27pm
                                                                    I meant "the word 'valar' appears only 3 times in the text ( not inc. appendices)" // noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 11 2013, 4:47pm
                                                                        Out of which, only two are clear references. sador Send a private message to sador Jan 17 2013, 12:54pm
                                                                            "The Elder King" CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 17 2013, 1:09pm
                                                                                Actually, Bilbo. sador Send a private message to sador Jan 27 2013, 10:11pm
                                                            "light-years" away from the subject, but... telain Send a private message to telain Jan 11 2013, 4:29pm
                                                        Wow! I did start something there! The Gardener Send a private message to The Gardener Jan 11 2013, 6:48am
                                                        There's a lively discussion of Orc origins on this thread: http://newboards.theonering.net/forum/gforum/perl/gforum.cgi?post=562557#562557 // noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 27 2013, 2:54pm
                                                    I just don't think Rostron2 Send a private message to Rostron2 Jan 10 2013, 10:23pm
                                                You still have Bolg Azog's son. // sador Send a private message to sador Jan 17 2013, 12:51pm
                                        Wait... Eldineth Send a private message to Eldineth Jan 10 2013, 4:25pm
                                    The reserves Mim Send a private message to Mim Jan 10 2013, 1:29pm
                        Arien and Galadriel Plurmo Send a private message to Plurmo Jan 9 2013, 6:31pm
                            Female evil... Mim Send a private message to Mim Jan 9 2013, 7:18pm
        On Lists... beren_boy Send a private message to beren_boy Jan 9 2013, 10:01am
            List of kings acheron Send a private message to acheron Jan 9 2013, 1:30pm
        Male - Female - and Melkor The Gardener Send a private message to The Gardener Jan 9 2013, 4:46pm
            Yes, I always think Elves call out to Varda the way Catholics do to Mary.// CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 10 2013, 4:38am
        How did you feel the first time you ever arrived at this chapter and discovered it was a long list? Rostron2 Send a private message to Rostron2 Jan 9 2013, 6:19pm
        Varda, not starry-eyed for Melkor; on being a single Vala/ier telain Send a private message to telain Jan 10 2013, 1:26am
            Beware the lonely CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 10 2013, 4:36am
                Hmmm Gwenhwyfar Send a private message to Gwenhwyfar Jan 10 2013, 5:30am
                    the importance of being social telain Send a private message to telain Jan 11 2013, 4:51pm
        Fab discussion! Valar Rhyme for Hobbit Children hanne Send a private message to hanne Jan 14 2013, 1:18pm
            Excellent! // noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 14 2013, 1:26pm
            Truly beautiful and excellent--thanks for posting it.// CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 14 2013, 1:56pm
                thank you both - am happy you enjoyed! // hanne Send a private message to hanne Jan 15 2013, 2:43am
            Mods up. sador Send a private message to sador Jan 17 2013, 12:56pm
            Doesn't it bother anyone else... Etarre Send a private message to Etarre Jan 22 2013, 10:17pm
                Post away- we have no "last posting date" :) // noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 22 2013, 10:26pm
                A picture of the Valar in all their might and glory? Got it. It ain't beautiful, but it is fan art squire Send a private message to squire Jan 23 2013, 2:08am
                Pre-feminist Tolkien CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 23 2013, 4:57pm
        Still within a fortnight of your post... sador Send a private message to sador Jan 20 2013, 4:27pm
    the Secret Fire acheron Send a private message to acheron Jan 8 2013, 12:27am
    The "V" Chapter--get ready for "F"s; and, more on Olorin CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jan 10 2013, 4:53am
        M for Bad? The Gardener Send a private message to The Gardener Jan 10 2013, 10:57am
    when do you want to start the next chapter? noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 10 2013, 3:42pm
    Ready for the next chapter? noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jan 14 2013, 4:31pm

 
 
 

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