The Valaquenta is the second of five parts of The Silmarillion, serving as a kind of second prequel to the larger third part, the Quenta Silmarillion. What I glossed over in the previous post is the origin of these accounts. I referred to the whole of The Silmarillion as the Elven Bible, which is a simplistic view, regardless of how accurate. As with the Judeo-Christian Bible, the various parts of The Silmarillion are handed down from differing sources. In the case of both the Ainulindalë and the Valaquenta, these texts are brought forth by the Eldar. These are Elves, yes, but Eldar is a term that will eventually come to be used only for West-elves who followed the summons of the Valar to undertake the Great Journey. We’ll get there eventually. I just want to plant that seed of awareness up front. It is also important to note that both of these accounts are derived knowledge as the Eldar were obviously not present to witness these events. Due to some out of context references (for example, Númenóreans), it can be suggested these parts would be written down during or even after the Second Age.
The Valaquenta translates as “Account of the Valar.” Technically it’s the Account of the Valar and the Maiar, but we’ll get to the Maiar soon enough. As we discussed, the Valar are the Powers of Arda, the name given to the Ainur who materialized on the world to become part of it at every level. Just so we’re in the habit of the correct linguistics — because such detail absolutely matters in Tolkien’s world — the singular of Ainur is Ainu, and the singular of Valar is Vala.
What isn’t discussed in the Ainulindalë is the number of the Valar that came to Arda. We’ve talked about only four of them at this point. The Valaquenta outlines fourteen. It should have been fifteen, but the text reveals that Melkor was no longer numbered among them due to his corruption, which should be no surprise at all to anyone.
In the mind of Ilúvatar, the Ainur were either male or female, seven of each, though they could take different forms or no form at all. Female Valar are called Valier (singular: Valië). Some Valar were couples, others were siblings. As an angelologist, this enters geek level territory on that front (as though the entire study isn’t geek level in our modern era). Angels are listed in most sources as being either genderless or beautifully effeminate males. Some sources will list them as hermaphroditic. But there are a handful of sources out there if you know where to look who will not only list them as male and female, but those same sources will list off the seven primary male archangels and their female counterparts. And just as a complete aside to this, Gabriel is often listed as female in some sources (pronounced Gabri-el, or Gabrielle), and has certainly been represented as potentially female in some paintings, such as those from Renaissance masters Leonardo da Vinci or Fra Angelico. In Leonardo’s case, he had a history of painting effeminate young men, so that may be the case here. Not so much for Fra Angelico, thus lending credence to the point. There are certainly other examples too. This is not to say that artistic interpretation is credible in and of itself, but keep in mind that many of these works were funded by either the Church or by wealthy sponsors who needed to be seen as in good standing with the Church.
While I’m thinking about it… The proper vocalization of an angel’s name is to call upon the power of that angel, exactly as Tolkien utilizes his Valar, which will be demonstrated before this post is over. Given that numbers have mystical significance, and given the sheer level of scholarship Professor Tolkien operates with, I have to assume he’s more than aware of these same sources that I’ve uncovered. After all, to the Medieval mind, angels were an ever-present world power, constantly walking in disguise among the populations of towns and villages and overseeing the balance of God’s creation. This all plays right into Tolkien’s backyard. Given that his cosmic model is supposed to be the “real version” of our various mythologies and religions, it stands to reason he’d draw on all that Medieval scholarship, keeping in mind that angelology was hardly esoteric in the Middle Ages.
Also like the angels, the Valar were sometimes called “gods,” but were never intended to be worshipped, being agents of Ilúvatar. They were never meant to lead the Children of Ilúvatar, but rather their function is to serve as protectors and guides without depriving the Children of free will. It should be pointed out that, also like angels, the Valar don’t have a complete understanding of the Divine Master Plan. They have just enough information to operate, with the true nature and destiny of the Children of Ilúvatar being hidden from them. And, as with Lucifer, Melkor is jealous of this power and wants it for himself, seeking to usurp it through corruption. While Tolkien still suggests some of the pre-Christian deities were misidentified Valar, you can probably see at this point why I stick to the angelic parallel as a reference.
So what do you say we actually discuss Tolkien’s Valar now? The Valaquenta is essentially the roll call that outlines who they are and what functions they perform. Every great mythos out there needs a divine roster. This is Tolkien’s version. I find it’s always handy to start with a list, don’t you?
The Lords of the Valar:
Manwë Súlimo – King of the Valar, Lord of the Breath of Arda
Ulmo – King of the Sea
Aulë the Smith – Master of All Crafts
Oromë Aldaron the Great Rider
Mandos (Námo) – Judge of the Dead
Lórien (Irmo) – Master of Dreams and Desires
Tulkas Astaldo – Champion of Valinor
The Queens of the Valar (Valier):
Varda Elentári – Queen of the Stars, wife of Manwë
Yavanna Kementári – Giver of Fruits, wife of Aulë
Nienna – Lady of Mercy
Estë the Gentle – wife of Irmo
Vairë the Weaver – wife of Mandos
Vána the Ever-young – wife of Oromë
Nessa the Dancer – wife of Tulkas
Even though they are supposedly equals in Arda, the eight Valar with the greatest power were called the Aratar (The Exalted / The High Ones), and it is they who are responsible for some attribute of life in Arda. Those are Manwë, Varda, Ulmo, Yavanna, Aulë, Mandos, Nienna, and Oromë.
Notice that there is no Vala with a dominion over fire. Even though Melkor is no longer in their number, he’s still claiming his power. The Aratar were originally nine, with Melkor included as the greatest power of them all, and with nine being a particularly mystical number (the power of three, times three), but his rebellion put him on the outs.
There are some of the names on the above list that will appear perhaps once or not again in the whole of The Silmarillion. Others will feature more prominently, and some will have alternate names. I’m not going to go through them all because simply regurgitating what Tolkien already wrote down isn’t the point of this quest. Reading and understanding… these are the points. Familiarizing yourself with them all is the sort of thing that’ll come in time. The more they feature, the more familiar we’ll all be with them, as with any character in any story. All of the Valar are described in turn in this section, so it’s encouraged to read it, probably a few times, if you really want a handle on who they are and what they do.
Of all the Valar, I do want to spotlight Varda real quick. As the Queen of the Stars, she is the most beloved of the Elves, also known by the names of Elbereth and Gilthoniel. Those names should sound familiar at this point, being the names called upon for protection a number of times in The Lord of the Rings. This is what I referred to earlier in this post, regarding the names of the angels / Valar being a direct protective conduit to the being itself, and thus a magic power simply through vocalization. Also, notice that Gilthoniel follows the ending “el” pattern of most angelic names. It strongly suggests more of that linguistic evolution that Tolkien built his mythos upon in the first place. Also, most references to light in LOTR revolve around her as “Too great her beauty to be declared in the words of Men or of Elves; for the light of Ilúvatar lives still in her face.” I truly love that. As we work our way through this book, we’ll see why that’s even more special than it is at this point.
Attending the Valar are the Maiar, whose are of the same order, but of lesser degree. As I said in last week’s post, you can think of them as a lower order of angel, if you’re familiar with the celestial hierarchy. As with angels, the Maiar are numberless, and many don’t even have names as Elves and Men would know. The Maiar seldom appear in visible form, often manifesting in subtle ways. There are some Maiar named here, in connection with the Valar they serve.
Tolkien notes that Melkor hated the Sea because he could not subdue it. The story of Ulmo’s Maiar servant Ossë is recounted, wherein Melkor tried to turn him, but he was restrained and returned to allegiance. Due to his rage and the swelling of the Sea, many love him, but they do not trust him.
Of special note are two others of the Maia known as Melian and Olórin.
Melian’s tale will be told in the pages of the Quenta Silmarillion, so I need not elaborate too much. What we need to be aware of is that she is the mother of Lúthien Tinúviel.
Olórin dwelt in Lórien (a realm wholly different than Lothlórien), but “his ways took him often to the house of Nienna, and of her he learned pity and patience.” His tale is not told in these pages for he walks among the Elves unseen. In other words, he’s in disguise. Olórin is his original name in Valinor. That’s the Quenya version. In Sindarin he’s known as Mithrandir, meaning “grey pilgrim.” He is also known as Incánus “in the south” during the onset of the Third Age, and Tharkûn to the Dwarves, meaning “grey man” or “staff man.” We know him best as Gandalf. Once you know this, it can’t help but completely change your reading of The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings.
The final section in the Valaquenta deals with the Enemies. Chief among them, obviously, is Melkor. He has forfeited his name, and it is not uttered because, as we’ve noted, names have power. The Noldor, the second group of Elves to arrive on the scene, suffered most at his hand, and they call him Morgoth, the Dark Enemy of the World. The Dark Lord, by any other title, version 1.0. Tolkien says that he “fell through arrogance to contempt for all things save himself, a spirit wasteful and pitiless,” descending through to Darkness when he found he could not possess Light. This is important because Melkor, ever seeking the Flame Imperishable, cannot find it, cannot wield it, and must content himself with being a mere echo of Ilúvatar’s will… which he can’t abide. He has become a mockery of the original creative intent.
Equal to the Maiar are his own servants, the Valaraukar, also called Balrogs. Listed chief among his servants is the spirit known as Sauron, or Gorthaur the Cruel. He was originally bound to Aulë. Sauron is said to have had a part in all of Morgoth’s deceits, and as we know, he would eventually rise to take his dark master’s place.