The First War began before Arda was fully manifest. Melkor held the upper hand, but coming to the aid of the Valar was Tulkas the Strong. Before his wrath and laughter, Melkor fled. Tulkas became one of the Valar, and Melkor targeted him as an eternal enemy. During the peace that ensued from the coming of Tulkas, the lands and seas were shaped, and the Two Lamps were created by joint effort of the Valar. Illuin (“sky-blue”) and Ormal (“high-gold”) stood respectively at the northern and southern ends of Arda. In the center where the light overlapped, there was brilliant beauty. The vegetation was richer there, at the Great Lake and the Isle of Almaren. It is here where the Valar first dwelt, for even they need rest. It is important to note that in these days, Arda is a flat world, thus there is no part of it that is not touched by the light of the Two Lamps.
And then Melkor destroyed the Lamps. He hid himself in his fortress of Utumno, where he surrounded himself with beasts and fallen Maiar in the form of Balrogs. Arda’s balance was destroyed with the Lamps. Gone was the eternal spring. Continents broke, and fire from within burned the land. Almaren was also destroyed. After repairing some of the damage, there were two uneven continents remaining: Middle-Earth in the East, Aman in the West. The Valar left Middle-Earth for Valinor, across the great ocean Belegaer in the Blessed Realm of Aman. Here, the Valar created the Two Trees.
The Two Trees are one of the most important stories in all of Tolkien’s Legendarium, and indeed virtually everything in the Quenta Silmarillion hinges upon their tale. Yavanna sang them into existence. Silver Telperion was considered male, and golden Laurelin was female. The Trees grew in the presence of all of the Valar, watered by the tears of Nienna.
The light of the Trees created the reckoning of time, known as the Days of the Bliss of Valinor. A day would last twelve hours. Each tree would alternate in turn, giving off light for seven hours, waxing and then waning. For one hour at dawn and dusk, the gold and silver lights were at the dimmest, but they would coexist.
Of course, Melkor cannot leave well enough alone. Driven ever by jealousy, he enlisted the aid of the giant spider creature Ungoliant (an ancestor of Shelob) to destroy the Trees. Ungoliant poisoned them and devoured whatever life remained in them after Melkor struck them.
Yavanna’s song and Nienna’s tears succeeded only in reviving the last flower of Telperion and the last fruit of Laurelin. These became the Moon and Sun, respectively, assigned to lesser Maiar after the genders of the Trees themselves; Tilion was assigned to the Moon, Arien to the Sun. The genders of the Moon and Sun match up to Norse mythology and a handful of others, and are reverse from the likes of Greek, Roman, or Egyptian mythos. The true light of the Trees is said to now reside only in the Silmarils, the three gems for which The Silmarillion is named. Thus one can easily see the importance of this particular tale, for the whole of the First Age is dominated by various characters desiring to possess these jewels.
Tolkien makes a note of saying that the Elves (Quendi) and Men (Atani) — the Children of Ilúvatar — came into being by a theme not fully understood by the Valar, and thus none of them dared to add anything that would corrupt Ilúvatar’s vision. So saying, the Valar are kindred and chieftains to the Children rather than their elders and masters, leading by example than through dominion.
It is said that the silver Telperion was symbolic of the Elves, while the gold of Laurelin was symbolic of Men. In the Second and Third Age, the White Trees of Númenor and Gondor have symbolic significance as reminders of the alliance between the Dúnedain and the Elves, hence their iconography extends from Telperion, the silver Tree. As the Elves faded in the Third Age, the light of Men rose. It should be noted that the Elves continue to live and could rise again someday, while Men know the Gift of Ilúvatar, the Gift of Death. One possible symbolism then could just as easily be Paganism and Christianity, if such cycles could be applied to Tolkien’s world, but then, one would be forced to wonder if Tolkien conceived of an end to Christianity as well, with the world reclaimed by Paganism. A spin on the Final Judgment from The Revelation of St. John, perhaps? Like Christians, Men of this realm would pursue a life beyond this world, where like Pagans of old, Elves would pursue a life in tune with the world. It’s interesting for me to consider the ramifications of this idea from a variety of perspectives, but I’m afraid they are too numerous to detail here and beyond the scope of this project. Indeed, Prof. Tolkien would probably chastise me for “examining the bones” of his work, which he felt diminished the poetry of the work itself.