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The Silmarillion discussion: Valaquenta
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Jan 7 2013, 12:58pm

Post #1 of 92 (3775 views)
The Silmarillion discussion: Valaquenta Can't Post

Administrative announcement for now - discussion will start further down this thread, once we get going!

I'd be happy to kick off the discussion of this chapter. It will, in effect be the first time I've read it, but as I see it that is not important. I think the "thread-starter" has to act like a chat-show host, starting things off & perhaps interjecting to hep things moving along. I do not think he or she does not need to be the resident expert on the chapter we're discussing. Obviously it helps if people are not shy (I am not very shy Blush ), as we are not going to get to the end of the book unless there are a reasonable number of volunteers....

"You offer it to me freely? I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired this." ....If this is your's favorite chapter, or you are bursting to lead it & disappointed that I got there first, please do let everyone know by posting a reply on this thread this week (i.e. beginning Monday 7th January 2013)- I'm very happy to stand down and take my turn in a later chapter; I really will not feel at all hurt :)

If everyone's reaction is rather "You cannot offer me this chapter! Don't... tempt me noWizardme! I dare not take it," then I plan to post a starter post by next Sunday, 13 January 2013. That also gives participants a little while to start reading, so that the discussion can start smoothly (always a relief to teh person posting the first post, I think!)

Understand, I would begin this thread from a desire to do good... If through me, it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine, I'm sure the moderators will step in Wink.


Jan 7 2013, 1:35pm

Post #2 of 92 (2251 views)
No turning back [In reply to] Can't Post

No, noWiz, you would gain a power too terrible to behold, and all would love you and despair, including the mods.

(Really enjoy your humorous use of Tokien quotes!)


Jan 7 2013, 2:43pm

Post #3 of 92 (2178 views)
I look forward to your discussion post... [In reply to] Can't Post

... especially your fabulous use of quotes!

I agree with your statement that one need not be an "expert" on a particular book or chapter. Sometimes the most fascinating questions and ideas come from those who haven't studied a thing to death.

Now, where is my copy of Silmarillion...?


Jan 7 2013, 2:45pm

Post #4 of 92 (2178 views)
thank you! [In reply to] Can't Post

...for the impromptu beginning of a Silmarillion discussion. I am very much looking forward to it!


Jan 7 2013, 2:54pm

Post #5 of 92 (2195 views)
link to our earlier discussion of Ainulindale [In reply to] Can't Post

Telain - just to make sure you caught our discussion of Ainulindale here:

Not too late to contribute, if you (or anyone else happening by this thread) have missed Ainulindale! No need to start at Chapter 2


Jan 7 2013, 3:24pm

Post #6 of 92 (2171 views)
Experts definitely not needed! [In reply to] Can't Post

Everyone should feel comfortable contributing their views, and I hope no one feels intimidated by others who have a deep knowledge of the background for them. I think that background can enrich the conversation and shouldn't shut down anyone.

What makes for a good discussion is a variety of viewpoints, lots of questions from everyone, and agreeing to disagree when we do. Maybe the only thing that makes a poster feel undermined is if they post something factually wrong, such as saying Galadriel is the daughter of Feanor or whatever. People often jump in quickly to correct things like that, but not to be punitive, just to make sure that the conversation doesn't go astray.


Jan 7 2013, 4:36pm

Post #7 of 92 (2188 views)
A note on book "Arda Reconstructed" by Voronwe the Faithful [In reply to] Can't Post

Our very own Voronwe the Faithful authored this book in 2008. If he's not able to join our discussions, I bought a copy, so I'll try to insert things where relevant.

I should have added comments from his book into the Ainulindale coverage, since he notes that parts of the original work of that name appeared elsewhere in The Sil. I'll try to keep up in the future.


Jan 7 2013, 4:39pm

Post #8 of 92 (2154 views)
"DO keep up, Samwise Gamgee!" :)- Nah, you've been great// [In reply to] Can't Post



Jan 7 2013, 5:22pm

Post #9 of 92 (2219 views)
Oops, I seem to have started.... [In reply to] Can't Post

Sorry about this - no sooner had I volunteered (and given others a chance to volunteer also) but I had a bit of unexpected free time. I began to make some notes, and well, one thing led to another. And you thought: "noWizardme is never late, nor is he early, he posts precisely when he means to." Darn, will my credibility ever recover? Smile

So what seems to be happing is this. I've skimmed through the chapter and some questions and discussion topics spring out. So it seemed that I might as well put them up for discussion right away! I plan to go back and read with more close attention, and post any further thoughts that come to me (if they seem any good..).

So, here goes: Valaquenta

This, the second chapter, is stylistically an extreme contrast to its two neighbours. It is preceded by Ainulindale, (link to our recent discussion - never to late to post to it!) in which the ultimate god Eru (aka Iluvatar) creates a group of under-gods (the Ainur). Together they create the universe. Some of the Ainur decide to dwell in the world, and become known as the Valar. But there is already discord – Melkor, one of the Ainur has become rebellious. The Ainulindale ends with a struggle under way between the Valar, who are trying to execute Eru’s project for the world on the one hand, and on the other hand Melkor, who has his own ideas. Lots happens in that chapter - I imagine New Line wincing at the CGI budget. Valaquenta is followed by Quenta Silmarillion in which the struggle between the Valar and Melkor resumes. By contrast, Valaquenta has no action at all - it is basically a lists and descriptions of:
• the Valar (who mostly come in pairs – a male Valar and a female Valier. But the term for a mixed-gender bunch of them is “Valar”)
• the Maiar (servants and helpers of the Valar)
• their enemies – chiefly Melkor (who is like a Valar but not counted as one because he rebelled) but also his helpers/servants. Balrogs and Sauron (names familiar from Lord of the Rings) are among these.

Not much work for the special effects department here, then. Weta, you may take a day off, but you WILL be busy.

So, to possible discussion points:

How did you feel the first time you ever arrived at this chapter and discovered it was a long list? Personally my reaction was some dismay Crazy. I find the information fairly indigestible in this form, and worry that I’ll have to get it all straight in my head if I’m to understand the rest of the book. Perhaps my feelings about complex lists were influenced by a zoology course I once did, in which I was trying to learn the taxonomy of the mollusks. I did not find it interesting Unsure. I plodded on until I got to the page headed “boring bivalves” – this seemed like such an appropriate metatext right then that I started sniggering & felt it best to leave the library….

I see JRRT as being deliberately antique here – I can’t think of many modern books which would include a chapter like this, in this style, and in this place. But perhaps you disagree – please say, if so! More likely, this kind of information would now be relegated to an appendix, and perhaps we would have a scene in we are introduced to those characters we need to know right now – The Council of Elrond is a scene in Lord of the Rings that meets this kind of need. In that chapter, we meet Boromir, Gimli and Legolas for the first time; meet Elrond for the first time (unless we’ve already read The Hobbit) and get enough of a look at these characters to draw our preliminary conclusions about them. We also meet a couple of “extras” who take no further part in the tale. We don't get a list of the attendees (perhaps just as well in case it began to look like the minutes of a committee meeting "present; Lord Elrond Halfelven, Gandalf the Grey.... Apologies; Lady Galadriel" etc.)The only modern thing I can think of which is like Valaquenta, is the TV commentary as the teams in a sporting fixture run out onto the pitch. Perhaps that is not an unreasonable parallel, given that they’re about to contest the destiny and structure of the very world itself in Quenta Silmarillion. Recasting Valaquenta as dialogue between football commentators would either be amusing, or literary hooliganism (or both) – anyone want to try?

While inflicting long lists on your readers may not be a very modern thing to do, I think there are several examples in my (very limited) knowledge of old stories. I would be interested to get covering fire (or indeed receive bombardment) from people on this forum who know more ancient literature and agree, disagree or have other contributions to make to this idea. A few examples for now:
• my wife studied classics and found it difficult to love a chapter in Homer’s Illiad which is basically a list of the ships setting out to Troy.
• The Bible has lists of people who beget other people.
• I think I recall skimming a long account of which Knight of the Round Table unhorsed which other one at a tournament (I am probably thinking of John Steinbeck’s translation of Mallory which I enjoyed many years ago. But I no longer have a copy).

So, I think, ancient readers/listeners were not adverse to hearing/reading/studying/memorizing lists. I also have a theory about it. I imagine Homer being sung, recited or read to people who might trace their ancestry back to these semi-mythical heroes. So, telling the tale in Ithaca, say, you’d better include those ships (“A shout out to those brave boys from Ithaca!”). New Testament writers, I think, were eager to prove that Jesus is of the House of David (in order to demonstrate his eligibility to fulfill prophecies about the Messiah, I believe I read). So my idea, for what it is worth, is that lists are often provided for extra-literary agendas. Assuming you agree with me, does JRRT have an agenda here other than giving us information we as readers need to progress with the story? For example, does a full listing seem appropriate given that it is quite likely what his literary models of ancient texts would do.

I note that (at least in my edition) we get the lists as “flat” prose – paragraphs: no tables, nested bullet points, organization charts or other modern typographical/infographic devices to aid comprehension. Nor do we get an ancient “rhyme of lore” such as the one Treebeard updates so as to include Hobbits in the Ents’ taxonomy of living things, or the “seven stars and seven stones and one white tree” one which Gandalf mutters while transporting Pippin to Minas Tirith. Such rhymes seem a reasonable way for mostly-pre literate cultures to memorize Valaquenta-like information, so perhaps would be in keeping with the genre (unlike nested bullets). Or do the Elves not need to memorize lists of Valar in elvenschool, since their elders met the gods personally? (Athiesm, come to think of it would probably be pretty impractical for the Noldar….). Has anyone (including JRRT) tried to cast Valaquenta in this form? Would anyone like to try?? As an alternative suggestion for a game, anyone fancy a competition to come up with the best mnemonic for the names of the Valar?

How do you react to authors deploying so much invented terminology (Tolkien specifically, other authors for comparison)? Apart from all the names (and some characters have more than one name); at this point in the book the reader must already remember the concepts of Valar, Valier, Maiar, Arda… Is that risky (you might give up) or do you like it, or does it not bother you? In my view, the Lord of the Rings is given a lot of depth and solidity by the fact that JRRT had already worked a lot of this Silmarilion material out. So he could give offhand references to a great, hidden body of lore, to great literary effect. Here is that lore, then. Other authors, perhaps impressed by LOTR, have tried this too. My personal example of it getting out of hand is Frank Herbert’s Dune story. To my mind at least, he overdoes the unexplained made-up names for things and the “quotations” from “lore”which start his chapters become annoying. The whole thing looks too much like a literary device. Yes, Mr Herbert, I accuse YOU of making up the “lore” and names to try and give your world that Tolkien-like patina of deep time and constant use. I mean “Making up” in the sense that I struggled to believe it, and nearly missed out on a good story (it would be pretty ridiculous to object to making up the story in Dune in the usual sense – "what, no giant sand worms; I thought they lived in Norfolk?!"). Do you agree that this is a somewhat risky literary device? Any examples of it going well/badly for you as a reader? How close to the wind does Tolkien sail, do you think? Or, given that he may have had little expectation that we’d ever be reading Valaquenta, is this a moot point (or a criticism to aim at his editors, for not providing additional scaffolding?)

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? Or is that just part of the appearance they choose to display to the Eldar - i.e. they are in reality beyond gender. If so (or not so) is that relevant? Gender is obviously massively significant to humans and various writers of science fiction and related literatures have fooled around with it as a way of exploring issues about gender equality or lack thereof (and writing a good story). Getting of subject a bit here, probably, but my favourite example would be Ursula LeGuin’s “Left Hand of Darkness”, about a world where people are neuter for most of the month, before entering a brief fertile period in which they become male or female. They cannot predict which it will be this month, and so it is common to experience maleness, femaleness, motherhood and fatherhood all in one lifetime.

The Valar come in pairs and are mostly married (a male Valar and a female Valier). Is that significant? No extra marital affairs (as far as I am aware) like those which propel many plots in a greco-roman myth. Also, they are not an incestuously intermarrying family group as in some myths – they were all created by Iluvatar, but they appear to be things he made or thought up, rather than his children in a biological sense. Is that significant – for example is JRRT removing sexual issues such as incest and affairs which he might have found unsettling or unpleasant in other myths and did not want to include in his own? Or, are the Valar setting up models of certain kinds of family groups for the Eldar to copy?

Melkor is not married, and is without female equivalent. Is this significant?
Potentially it is a serious point. At the risk of reducing this towards the level of Masters of the Universe, there’s no Mrs Melkor to steady him down; also no svelte femme fatale character for Peter Jackson one day to put in a skimpy costume as Melkorina, Goddess of Evil (for all Testosterone Tower devotees on this forum to love and despair).

OK - so missing from this so far are definitely:
  1. 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
  2. Any discussion of the language
  3. And much more besides (that is where YOU come in!)
Have at it! Smile


Jan 7 2013, 5:34pm

Post #10 of 92 (2169 views)
...and well, one thing led to another... (not for serious readers) [In reply to] Can't Post

 "One thing led to another": a common problem in Middle-earth, as elsewhere:

"It's like this Mr Aragorn, sir. I was polishing Grond and I said; 'fine bit of work, that, I bet it would even knock down the Gates of Minas Tirith!'
'No it will never!' Sez he.
So I sez, 'well what if we just wheel it up to the Gates and give 'em a teensy little bang, just to see? Then we can wheel it away before they answer the door! '
So we sets out with it, not meaning any harm mind, but blow me if the whole lot of them don't see us leaving Minas Morghul and tag along. So before we knows it they're all there and shouting 'Grond!...Grond!..Grond!...', and you lot are in there chucking bits of masonry, and me and the lads get a bit, well, over-excited. Really sorry about the mess, Mr Aragorn: you don't think you could just prop the gates back up and no-one would notice?"


Jan 7 2013, 5:50pm

Post #11 of 92 (2160 views)
I have that book as well. [In reply to] Can't Post

Excellent read. I'll try to use it as much as possible as well.

There's a sad sort of clanging from the clock in the hall and the bells in the steeple, too.
And up in the nursery an absurd little bird is popping out to say coo-coo (coo-coo, coo-coo).


Jan 7 2013, 8:16pm

Post #12 of 92 (2161 views)
Great post! ; mnemonic [In reply to] Can't Post

I am at work so can only dash off a hasty reply after fiddling with mnemonics over lunch.

Aule >
"Ow! I hammered my thumb on the anvil! ("ow" being 1st syllable)

Lorien >
Lorien, snorien, I'm gonna nap and dream

Mandos >
Mandos mandates your fate

Manwe >
Whee! We're up in the clouds! [this one's weak]

Nienna >
Think St Catherine of Siena: saints had sad lives

Orome >
"Roams" the world with his hunting company

Tulkas >
(Just sounds so macho)

Ulmo >
Ulmo, underwater

Varda >

Yavanna >
Yavanna-Savanna (plants and animals)

"Uncle Tulkas made Morgoth's nose a very yucky olfactory lump." (first letter of each name)

The other Valar are "filler wives" that no one needs to remember, though they'll probably turn me into a frog and fill the garden full of snakes in revenge. And Morgoth is in a class of his own, the bad boy. Since Hollywood bad boys are often attractive to women, I guess Melkor has a good female fan base and doesn't need a sidekick like "Evil Lynn."


Jan 7 2013, 9:09pm

Post #13 of 92 (2135 views)
"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

= Forum has no new posts. Forum needs no new posts.


Jan 7 2013, 9:18pm

Post #14 of 92 (2192 views)
An org chart for the Valar [In reply to] Can't Post

I find it easier to cope with information visually, so I made this org chart. That seems easier to understand now.

I've attached it as a PDF file. Or there's a big copy in image format (.png) over here: https://dl.dropbox.com/...ar%20org%20chart.png
Attachments: valar org chartSMALL.pdf (36.1 KB)


Jan 7 2013, 9:35pm

Post #15 of 92 (2145 views)
...this forum is world enough? [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks, Squire!

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…

Aw, go on, open the can! Just to see the worms spill. Worms are fun.

For everyone: I should have added a further question: what do we know or suspect of the history of this section's composition? Was it clearly meant to end up in its current place in the tale and in its current form, or was that a post-JRRT editorial decision (and if so, do you think the editors got it right?)

PS -only joking about "Melkorina" (as you probably realized). But you make me feel sorry for Mr Morgoth already. Maybe he was lucky at cards - Poker nights with the Balrogs? That would be "red-hot poker", presumably)

Registered User

Jan 7 2013, 11:11pm

Post #16 of 92 (2141 views)
First of all... [In reply to] Can't Post

I would like to apologize for my english. I'm not a native speaker, and I have a hard time with vocabulary and spelling.
I have been following TheOneRing forums for a while, and I usually don't post many things, but I couldn't resist to this. The Valenqueta is what actually got me on The Silmarillion.

"How did you feel the first time you ever arrived at this chapter and discovered it was a long list?"

I really enjoy Tolkien's descriptions at this chapter, though I don't think they are completely necessary. Some valar and valier do not play important roles on the later history of Middle-Earth (Nessa or Námo, for example), but their descriptions make a more complete picture of things like distribution of power and "duties" were at the beggening of the world.
When I got to Valenqueta I also gave Tolkien much more credit for his detailing (what I particularly like).

"How do you react to authors deploying so much invented terminology?"

I have nothing against authors who use invented terminology, after all, we are not reading a science book and they are trying to describe things that don't exist in our "world". The problem is when the author uses to much invented terminology and don't explain it meanings or origins, he just throws the terms on you and hopes you'll memorize them.
In Tolkien's case, I think that he explains well most of the terms he uses, mainly in The Silmarillion. When I first read LOTR I felt like at some points he used invented terminology and didn't explain them enough, but more than half of those terms are explained at The Silmarillion.
And I'll not compare Tolkien to other authors, that would require a proficiency in English that I don't have.

"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?"
At my point of view, being male or female is in their personality. Is something like this: I believe that a valar or valier appearance is a reflection of their personalities, and so are their gender. But I don't know if their personalities are immutable, so I can't say if they can change their gender.

"The Valar come in pairs and are mostly married (a male Valar and a female Valier). Is that significant?"
Hm. Maybe. The fact a character is married or not can show us if he is the kind of person who likes "sharing". But I can think in another meaning right now.

"Melkor is not married, and is without female equivalent. Is this significant? "
As I said before, it can mean that he does not like to sharing power, and do not listen to others advice. Like he was "omnipotent".
And I laughed with your Melkorina theory! Laugh


Jan 7 2013, 11:21pm

Post #17 of 92 (2097 views)
I agree with Squire about the Melkorina [In reply to] Can't Post

That role is basically fulfilled in Ungoliant. At one point Melkor is even afraid of her! I'll say no more, though, until we get to that chapter. Smile

There's a sad sort of clanging from the clock in the hall and the bells in the steeple, too.
And up in the nursery an absurd little bird is popping out to say coo-coo (coo-coo, coo-coo).

The Shire

Jan 7 2013, 11:29pm

Post #18 of 92 (2114 views)
I think this is where I gave up on my first reading… [In reply to] Can't Post

...but I was only about 9 so maybe you can forgive me! The second time around it was much easier to digest. In some ways it continues the biblical feel. The Bible does have its fair share of lists of names and who fathered who and who did what, as you mentioned.

At the beginning of my degree I did a module about the tale and the oral tradition. Lists and things are very common in the oral tradition and one theory which I found fairly convincing is that it forms the basis of a repetitive form. You list the names, establish a piece of information about the character and then you repeat that character with that piece of information and it makes it easier for the listeners to remember the characters over the length of the telling and it makes it easier for the teller to remember all the names when he’s telling the story. Well that’s just a bit of a tangent, but that could be an explanation of the existence of lists in classical literature. Tolkien obviously doesn’t do that. Perhaps the list would have seemed less out of place if he had.

Or perhaps he intended to. We do have to remember that this is not, perhaps, exactly how Tolkien intended this information to be presented. Maybe we can hypothesise that this may have ended up in a similar type of verse to Tree beards. Personally, I think that might have gotten a little off putting as well.

As to invented terminology, I think that that can work really well for an author or it can go really badly. I think there are several authors who do it very successfully. In A Clockwork Orange for example, the made up terminology, the made up language is in part what makes it so successful. It’s one of the most interesting elements of the book. The Harry Potter books are also successful because they create such a vivid imaginary world with it’s own set of terminology. An example of where it was less successful for me would be something like The Hunger Games, where the terms were often too obviously rooted in our own language. I think that’s the key to success when you’re making up sets of terminology, the terms have to be both totally alien and totally believable. Linguists often use things called “nonse” words to test how we understand language and it’s generally concluded that we are capable of detecting words. The key to creating a good nonse word is creating a word that seems linguistically possible. Tolkien, I think, succeeds in always creating words and languages that the average reader will consider linguistically possible. That means that they don’t grate and we can incorporate them into out vocabulary easily.

Another thing I would say about inventing terms is that it is something that is fairly common in works written for children. I think this is because children are more imaginative linguistically, or rather their word bank is less closed off. A child will more readily accept a made up term because as far as they know, it might not actually be made up. This may be part of why Tolkien’s work has had to so often face off against the criticism that it’s childish.

There’s a lot I could say about the gender thing, but I think that might be reading more into the text than is actually there. I think when you get into issues of sex the whole situation becomes very unclear. Tolkien’s work certainly doesn’t contain a whole lot of it. I think he just didn’t find that side of things very interesting. He creates neat couples perhaps in part so he can get on with writing about what really interests him.
This is a bit rambly, so I might revise it when I get a chance.


Jan 8 2013, 12:27am

Post #19 of 92 (2099 views)
the Secret Fire [In reply to] Can't Post

(I am in the process of moving, and my copy of the Silmarillion has already made it to the new house, so I don't have it with me. In any case...)

From what I recall, in the Valaquenta, Tolkien changes the term "Flame Imperishable" (in the Ainulindale), to "Secret Fire". They both refer to the power of creation that lies with Eru alone; you could even take it as a reference to the Holy Spirit. Aside from providing a connection between the Silmarillion and Christianity, the idea that true creation only comes from Eru is plot-significant at a couple points: Melkor cannot create his own creatures though he tries, and neither can Aule. Not to jump ahead too much.

The switch from describing the main adjective of the power of creation from "Imperishable" to "Secret" is interesting, though I don't know if it means anything. Presumably it is both eternal/"imperishable" and secret.

It is also here that the first-time reader finally understands Gandalf's reference in Khazad-dum. (Setting aside any first-time readers who are starting with the Silmarillion!) He is a servant of the Secret Fire: like Jake and Elwood Blues, he is on a mission from God.

For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much -- the wheel, New York, wars, and so on -- while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man, for precisely the same reasons. -- Douglas Adams


Jan 8 2013, 1:56pm

Post #20 of 92 (2076 views)
The Shadow of Your Posts [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks everyone - I for one am really enjoying this discussion. What I wanted to do here was to bring together and react to some of the many excellent points made so far. "Shadowing your posts" see?.....OK, the things I do for a on on a chapter title.....

Yes, the Valar seem a fairly civilized and dignified lot. We don't seem to have gods for mostly-harmless-wild-abandon (like Pan or Dionysius, say). It's more the College Fellows dining than the student body with their drinking games, pranks and the impromptu invention of the most excellent sports such as "Blindfold Bicycle Jousting" to put a number of them in the Minor Injuries Unit by the end of their evening

OK, I'm convinced by the argument that the Valar choose male or female and then are stuck like that - potentially interesting, as perhaps we get an insight into what JRRT feels is naturally masculine or feminine. Similarly, I am looking forward to Ungoliant, to see how JRRT handles a female villain. My intentionally ridiculous comment about "Melkorina" seems to have led us into some interesting territory. I should say that I personally don't think Middle-earth would be improved by being more "pulpy" ("Fifty Shades of Gandalf the Grey?" Noooooooooooooooooo!!!!) But thinking about "pulpy" fiction and imagining the ridiculous B-movie "Melkorina" portrayed as a kind of evil Deja Thoris led me to realize: Tolkien was writing during the same period as Edgar Rice Burroughs (first published 1912) and H P Lovecraft (first published 1917). Quite likely these authors had no influence on Tolkien whatsoever (unless the Tolkien historians here know otherwise?), or whether that leads us anywhere.....

Classification mania - yes, Tolkien could have gone a lot further than his list of Valar and descriptions. I'm thinking of various interests of my children over the years; Teletubbies, Thomas the Tank Engine, Power Rangers, Pokemon.... Shows with a cast of discrete characters, each with a distinct and never-to-grow-or-vary personality, associations with an element, colour, favourite object, weapon or attribute. Evidently that kind of thing appeals quite widely (and also must be a great aid to potboiler writing processes). Moving out of the word of modern fiction, one could cite the elaborate list of Christian Saints (with their attributes, feast days, patronages etc.). Instead of something that sounds like it is churned out of a database or Top Trumps game, we do get some nice thumbnail sketches.

Made-up words: yes, I think it is a good point that Tolkien was professionally very well equipped to make up feasible-sounding "English" words. As opposed to thinking of something phonic with lots of low-frequency letters in it in a rather lame attempt to be outlandish. Perhaps that reduces the risk that we "catch him out" inventing stuff. As opposed to, say, some of the names of Star Wars characters - some of which are so odd that they give rise to the game that your Official Star Wars name is a combination of a car you've driven and a medicine you've taken (e.g. "Zantac Mondeo"). Moreover, Tolkien was given to puzzling out what his names meant and how a character or thing would "go" with that name. I'm not a Tolkien-philology-scholar (any present, please do speak up with insights into the names in this chapter!) but I wonder whether he was getting the names right for the subconscious mind of his reader- so that subconsciously we get the feeling that "you do know my name, though you don't remember that I belong to it." And so it seems right already and we're not just required to take the author's word for it that "I am Gandalf, and Gandalf means me!" I wonder what Tolkien's works are like to read in translation to a language far away from English and its North European sibling languages: translation into Japanese, Korean or Chinese, say? There, this effect ought to break down (unless you translate the names to restore it). If we should have any multi-lingual readers able to say, I'd be most interested.

The sea - does seem to have a special place (once more). It needs two Maiar for it's different characters, and is hated by Melkor because it won't do what he tells it. Going back to an earlier conversation some us had about character alignments, Melkor is all for systems and order - provided they are HIS order. The idea of throwing some big waves at your sea wall just to see if he could get one over the top would appeal to Osse, I think. The sea wall might be demolished as a consequence, and he'd be all "Ooops!" . Whereas Melkor would be inflicting damage out of spite, or as part of a plan. Not too surprising that he didn't take over allegiance of the sea Maiar for long...

Artificing and hubris - we're told that Aulë is most like Melkor; they have a joint love of creating things. But (as raised in the Secret Fire) post above, that brings risks of wanting to push your art too far, or get too wedded to what you've made. While we're to understand that Melkor has recruited several Maiar, the only named defector is Sauron, who defects from Aulë. I'm a aware of two places in chapters to come where the temptations and frustrations following from creativity come up big-time. To avoid spoilers, I shall say just "dwarves" and "simarils". We should be sure to give this theme a good discussion in due course, but I suggest we want to wait for a later chapter, when we can bring in more examples without spoilers?

Do you see any other themes first surfacing here, which we'll want to not and discuss later?

Well, that devoured my lunchtime most pleasurably! Best wishes from cloudy Oxfordshire. No sign of a plume of smoke from the direction of Wolvercote Cemetry; so if the good Professor is turning in his grave in wrath about Melkorina etc., he can't be rotating fast enough for combustion!


Jan 8 2013, 4:32pm

Post #21 of 92 (2070 views)
That makes me quite happy! [In reply to] Can't Post

For reasons I need not go into, I'm not posting much on TORN these days, but I'm pleased to see you and Ardamírë and perhaps others using my book to add to the discussion. And I might chime in here and there.

'But very bright were the stars upon the margin of the world, when at times the clouds about the West were drawn aside.'

The Hall of Fire


Jan 8 2013, 6:12pm

Post #22 of 92 (2041 views)
just posted there... and thank you!// [In reply to] Can't Post



Jan 8 2013, 6:34pm

Post #23 of 92 (2022 views)
Eldineth, I would never have guessed from your post that you were not a native English speaker! Well-written post.! // [In reply to] Can't Post



Jan 8 2013, 6:36pm

Post #24 of 92 (2039 views)
Nice mnemonics, curiousG // [In reply to] Can't Post


Registered User

Jan 9 2013, 1:11am

Post #25 of 92 (2020 views)
Thank you, noWizardme! [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm trying my best to make my english at least understandable! Smile

Now, talking about the Sea. We can not deny it's importance, after all, it's told on The Valaquenta that Ulmo actually is the third most powerful valar (after Manwe and Morgoth, of course). And, in my opinion, Ulmo has intervened in the courses of Middle Earth even more than Manwë. But I'm afraid if I say more I'll be giving some spoilers.

Also, I would also like to say that I agree with what Mim said about the structure of this chapter. The Silmarillion was never finished by Tolkien, and may be he did planed to put the Valar's descriptions in a lore's verses structure.

(This post was edited by Eldineth on Jan 9 2013, 1:13am)

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