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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
Question about the Ainur...


Jun 2 2014, 11:19pm

Post #1 of 8 (276 views)
Question about the Ainur... Can't Post

So this is my first time reading The Silmarillion and I find it very fascinating! I listen to Martin Shaw's audiobook as I read along. I'm also trying to take some notes as I go to retain information. So to my question...

1. The Ainur are the "gods" Iluvatar created before anything else was made.

2. Some of the Ainur chose to dwell in Arda and to become of the World (still very powerful, of course). They became known as the Valar (greater "gods") and the Maiar (lesser "gods").

Question: Since the Valar and Maiar dwell in Arda, are there Ainur that never went to Arda (meaning they would be neither Valar nor Maiar)?


Jun 2 2014, 11:35pm

Post #2 of 8 (187 views)
Yes, I think [In reply to] Can't Post

Welcome to the Reading Room, Faramir!

That's how I've always interpreted the Ainur--some (or many) stayed behind with Eru. They don't seem to get a separate name, the way all the Elven groups do in their diaspora, so I suppose they just remain Ainur. In that sense they're like angels in the Christian tradition: singing hymns to God while surrounding him in heaven. The Valar are more like Greek Gods (or Norse, or whatever) in their stewardship of Arda. Though now you have me wondering if they still sing to Eru from afar. In Nicolas Cage's movie "City of Angels," the angels on earth gather at the beach every day to sing at sunrise (or sunset; it's been awhile). It would be cool if the Valar did something similar, but as far as we know, they don't call home.


Jun 3 2014, 2:19am

Post #3 of 8 (170 views)
Manwë does [In reply to] Can't Post

Manwë seems to have a special connection with Eru. He's the one who speaks/consults with Eru when there's a big decision to be made (like in the case of the Half-Elven or with Númenor). There seems to be some connection still, but it's not clear.



Jun 3 2014, 10:09pm

Post #4 of 8 (124 views)
Yes exactly! [In reply to] Can't Post

I always interpreted the ainur who became the Valar to be gods, but I think Tolkien probably saw them more as saints being Catholic, because they could intercede on behalf of mortals in much the same way. I always interpreted them for myself personally though as being no different than other deities of various cultures. This part of the Silmarillion is very biblical in that it also tell us not only of the creation of Arda but of Melkor's fall like Satan.

(This post was edited by DaughterofLaketown on Jun 3 2014, 10:10pm)


Jun 4 2014, 3:40am

Post #5 of 8 (109 views)
Unlike Saints, however... [In reply to] Can't Post

...the Valar were never Men or Elves. Saints "earned" their status by exceptional merit. The Valar were created that way. They are really closer to [lower-case] gods in various mythologies, in that they have specific spheres of interest and responsibility, and even have gender, but do not have mortal origins. In that sense, Tolkien posits a somewhat different celestial "organization chart" from the Catholic one, just as he posits a different creation myth.

(This post was edited by Elizabeth on Jun 4 2014, 3:41am)

Grey Havens

Jun 4 2014, 11:26am

Post #6 of 8 (131 views)
The Valar [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien put it this way...

JRRT, letter 212

'Since I have written so much (I hope not too much) I might as well add a few lines on the Myth on which all is founded, since it may make clearer the relations of Valar, Elves, Men, Sauron, Wizards &c.

The Valar or 'powers, rulers' were the first 'creation': rational spirits or minds without incarnation, created before the physical world. (Strictly these spirits were called Ainur, the Valar being only those from among them who entered the world after its making, and the name is properly applied only to the great among them, who take the imaginative but not the theological place of 'gods'.)'

My emphasis. And he also put it this way... or another letter, slightly edited for brevity...

'But they are only created spirits — of high angelic order we should say, with their attendant lesser angels—reverend, therefore, but not worshipful; […] For help [the people of Middle-earth] may call on a Vala (as Elbereth), as a Catholic might on a Saint, though no doubt knowing in theory as well as he that the power of the Vala was limited and derivative.

JRRT letter 193


Jun 4 2014, 11:39am

Post #7 of 8 (103 views)
Tolkien's Catholic pantheon [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien's religion shows itself not so much in his imagining the Valar of his legendarium, but in his depiction of Eru, the One God who created and rules the Valar. As you say, the Valar are certainly based on the many pantheons of real human mythologies; but only Tolkien (to my knowledge) attempted to square the legendary circle by having a bilevel theology. The Valar are The Gods, and Eru is The One God above them.

For any narrative purposes, that is one level too many. As many readers of The Silmarillion notice, Eru is almost entirely absent from the stories themselves, yet the Valar are rather hesitant and ineffective -- as subordinates tend to be when they know that any major decision of theirs will be reviewed and perhaps reversed by the Boss who has a mysterious agenda of His own. This was a progressive development, as we see in the chronicles of the History of Middle-earth: the Valar in the later versions of the stories (ca. 1925 onwards) are more rational, passionless, and chaste, and thus more angelic, in contrast to their more passionate predecessors in the Book of Lost Tales (ca. 1918). It seems Tolkien started by just trying to write his Elvish legends in homage to the actual pagan European mythologies, but found he could not do it because the results conflicted too strongly with his own deep-seated sense of religious propriety. The continuing revisions ended, as I see it, in the most successful of his stories, the almost completely Valar- and Eru-free masterwork The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien, as usual when trapped between taste and art, didn't care but stuck with what seemed right to him personally. I've always loved the humble honesty of his explanation for this peculiarly inapt gang of deities:
[The Valar] are as we should say angelic powers, whose function is to exercise delegated authority in their spheres (of rule and government, not creation, making or re-making). They are 'divine', that is, were originally 'outside' and existed 'before' the making of the world. Their power and wisdom is derived from their Knowledge of the cosmogonical drama, which they perceived first as a drama (that is as in a fashion we perceive a story composed by someone else), and later as a 'reality'. On the side of mere narrative device, this is, of course, meant to provide beings of the same order of beauty, power, and majesty as the 'gods' of higher mythology, which can yet be accepted – well, shall we say baldly, by a mind that believes in the Blessed Trinity. - JRRT, Letter 131, ca. 1951, bold by squire.

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 & 4th TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion and NOW the 1st BotR Discussion too! and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary

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Grey Havens

Jun 4 2014, 12:43pm

Post #8 of 8 (136 views)
Eru in early works [In reply to] Can't Post

It seems Tolkien started by just trying to write his Elvish legends in homage to the actual pagan European mythologies, but found he could not do it because the results conflicted too strongly with his own deep-seated sense of religious propriety.

I think you are correct, and make a good point, about the distinction between Eru and the Valar, and [and not that you said otherwise] I also think this might have been present even in the early Book of Lost Tales, despite how the 'gods' acted, and were described within, and despite that they were to be directly identified with Northern gods, by the fairies.

For the thread in general: a translation conceit is firmly in place in The Book of Lost Tales: especially in the earliest Eriol scenario we appear to have a germanic translator who will, when hearing about the Valar, naturally make the comparison to the gods of the 'Great Lands' (but again, so might a reader who reads the Valaquenta of the 1950s). An older Tolkien makes Iluvatar the creator of beings who can be called 'gods' but are not from a theological standpoint, and be accepted by a Catholic, as Squire noted.

A younger Tolkien still makes sure, in my opinion, that E[n]ru is notably distinct. From The Book of Lost Tales II, commentary, The Fall of Gondolin

'In the present tale he [Tuor] 'heard tell of Iluvatar', the Lord for Always, who dwelleth beyond the world', and of the music of the Ainur. Knowledge of the very existence of Iluvatar was, it seems, a perogative of the Elves; long afterwards in the garden of Mar Vanwa Tyalieva (I. 49) Eriol asked Rumil: 'Who was Iluvatar? Was he of the Gods?' and Rumil answered: 'Nay, that he was not; for he made them. Iluvatar is the Lord for Always, who dwells beyond the world.'

JRR Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien commentary
Another interesting thing is the entry on Iluvatar from the very early Qenya Lexicon [although Tolkien is not consistent about this admittedly, even in his youth].

ILU (Cp. ili) ether, the slender airs among the stars.

Iluvatar (d) the name of Enu among Men.
Heavenly father.

JRRT, Qenya Lexicon

The name 'among Men'. And [same source]...

Enu God Almighty, the creator who dwells without the world

The young Tolkien also has references to the Blessed Trinity [in Christian teaching, the three persons of the one God: Father, Son and Holy Ghost] in his early nomenclature.

ION (form of Yon.) mystic name of God.
2nd Person of Blessed Trinity

(pages later)

*Sa fire, especially in temples etc. A mystic name identified with Holy Ghost.

JRRT Qenya Lexicon

Captalization as found in QL. And for [possibly] anyone wondering 'Qenya' is the correct spelling in this context

Note that Yon refers to the entry Yo, yond 'son'. Compare PME:

Ion 'mystic name of Enu'

JRRT, The Poetic and Mythological Words of Eldarissa

All very early stuff in any case.


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