To the Voices of the Sea! (Silmarillion Slow Cooker, p19)

When Melkor saw the vision of Arda – the world which was to be created – he mostly noticed the Children of Ilúvatar, and wanted to subdue both Elves and Men to his will. He wanted subjects and servants, and to be called Lord.

But that’s not how most of the other Ainur reacted to the vision. The other Ainur “rejoiced in light” and their eyes “were filled with gladness.” But the roaring ocean bothered them a bit, even though they still praised it.

Today, we learn about three of the Ainur: Ulmo, Manwë, and Aulë.

Ulmo – Thought of water during the Great Music. Ilúvatar instructed him more deeply in music than the other Ainur.

Manwë – Had pondered the airs and winds during the Music. He is the noblest of the Ainur.

Aulë – Thought of the “fabric of Earth” during the Music. Delights in “making, and the thing made.” Ilúvatar gave him almost as much skill and knowledge as he gave Melkor. “He gives and hoards not, and is free from care, passing ever on to some new work.”

For the most part, the focus was upon Ulmo and Melkor. Ilúvatar used Ulmo’s oceans and waters to show just how powerful Melkor wasn’t. Though Melkor had brought into existence extreme heat and cold, he had not been able to mar the waters. Water was still pure. All the cold Melkor could muster wasn’t enough to freeze the oceans. And wasn’t the snow and frost just beautiful? All the heat he could burn couldn’t dry up the seas. And aren’t the clouds and rain just lovely? It’s true – he really did (accidentally) devise things more wonderful than he could imagine.

It’s explained that the Music of the Ainur could still be heard in the water. This is why the Children of Ilúvatar have sea-longing. They “hearken still unsated to the voices of the Sea, and yet know not for what they listen.”

The water wasn’t just Ulmo’s voice, but the voices of all the Ainur. The singing, from the time Melkor raised his discord, was likened to a raging storm and to water. Though the effects of the discord could be seen every where in this vision of Arda, in the water, they were less prevalent. Still, since the conflict between Ilúvatar and Melkor was drawn through allegory to water, some of that must remain within.

Another unintended consequence of Melkor’s rascaldom was how he brought Ulmo and Manwë closer. Ulmo’s clouds were in the air of Manwë, as Ilúvatar explained to Ulmo, “thy friend, whom thou lovest.”

It’s not stated, but it almost seems like Ulmo was really bothered by the results of Melkor’s discord. Over all the other Ainur, Ilúvatar comforted him, saying basically, cheer up, it’s not that bad. But maybe this is just the version received from the Elves, who were partial to Ulmo. Maybe Ilúvatar did this for more of the Ainur. Maybe even all of them. Though their designs for Arda were not quite as they had first thought, things were still really beautiful.

Aulë was only briefly mentioned, but it could also be said that Ulmo was drawn closer to him since his waters ran across Aulë’s earth, and his rains fell upon the ground.

Camera: Mamiya C3 Film: Kodak Ektachrome 64X (EPX) expired mid90s

Camera: Mamiya C3
Film: Kodak Ektachrome 64X (EPX) expired mid90s

In looking back to the 1917 Book of Lost Tales version, it’s surprising how little was changed over the ensuing decades. The biggest difference is that in the 1917 and mid-1930s versions, there was no vision. The description of the world unfolding actually was the world unfolding!

That aside, as far as the description goes, the one major difference is the Ainur’s reaction to first seeing the ocean. In the earliest draft, it’s explained that “they were filled with longing,” while in the last, the version used in the published Silmarllion, we learn that they “felt a great unquiet.”1 This change was made in the mid-1930s version, and remained so to the end. 2

Another interesting difference cropped up in the mid-30s version. Tolkien wrote that “They observed the air and winds, and the matters whereof the middle-earth was made, of iron and stone and silver and gold….”3 The 1917 simply called it “the earth.” Calling it “middle-earth” was a strange thing. By this time, Tolkien had already coined the term “Middle-earth,” 4 meaning the middle lands of Arda. But this seemed to be a different meaning, since it wasn’t just the middle lands that had air and winds, iron and stone, etc.

Curiously, this term lasted all the way through to the final 1951 version: “and the matters whereof Middle-earth was made.”5 This was clearly Tolkien’s last thought on this passage. Christopher Tolkien, when editing the material he was using to create the published Silmarillion, was confused by this. In a note in The Lost Road, he admits, “I cannot account for it; there seems no reason to specify the middle lands, between the seas, to the exclusion of the lands of the West and East.”

In the published version, neither “Earth” nor “Middle-earth” was used, but “Arda.” Christopher Tolkien stated that “the change… was editorial.”6

The Book of Lost Tales version shows that Ulmo went on and on about how great snow was, calling it, “a loveliness beyond my most secret thoughts.” Rain, he lamented, didn’t have much music in it, but still, “rain is beautiful indeed and hath a music that filleth my heart, so glad am I that my ears have found it, though its sadness is among the saddest of all things.”7

As usual, this sentiment faded a bit over the next draft, where all Ulmo said of snow was that “neither had my secret thought conceived the snow-flake.”8

For the most part, these are little changes. The crux of the message, as well as many of the details (minus the vision itself), were there from the very beginning.



1. Book of Lost Tales, I, p56.

2. The Lost Road, p159.

3. The Lost Road, p159.

4. The first use of the term “Middle-earth” probably came in the cosmological essay, “The Ambarkanta,” which predated this version of the “Ainulindalë” by some indeterminable amount of time (probably only a couple of years). In The Shaping of Middle-earth (p. 262), Christopher Tolkien dated a cosmological essay, “The Ambarkanta,” to the early 1930s. Further research made him later conclude, however, that it was probably penned in the mid1930s. (The Lost Road, p108.)

5. Morgoth’s Ring, p12.

6. The Lost Road, p164.

7. Book of Lost Tales, I, p156.

8. The Lost Road, p160.

Pages & Text

  • Page 19
  • Chapter: Ainulindalë, Paragraphs 14-17
  • Starting with:
    “But the other…”
  • Ending with:
    “…most faithfully the purpose of Ilúvatar.”

16 thoughts on “To the Voices of the Sea! (Silmarillion Slow Cooker, p19)

    • Yes yes. There’s a whole long thing about that in (I think) The Shaping of Middle-earth. Oddly, Christopher Tolkien doesn’t tell us when his father first used the term in his writing. Maybe he doesn’t know, but he doesn’t even tell us that. I had to dig around and guess. I could be wrong.

        • The issue was that the early and mid 30s manuscripts are impossible to date. In Lost Road, he dated one earlier than it likely should have been, but corrected it in the next volume. I had to turn to Scull & Hammond’s Chronology to come up with my guess. They didn’t even address it, really.

      • I’ve traced the first mention of “Middle-Earth” to the Ambarkanta in “The Shaping of Middle-Earth” which was written (probably by a few years) after the Quenta.
        “But this air lies only upon Middle-earth and the Inner Seas”
        Middle-Earth is mentioned 11 times in the Ambarkanta! Christopher then comments that “Middle-earth is first found in the Ambarkanta and in the Annals of Valinor, which belong to the same period but cannot be dated relative to one another.”

        • Thanks! That’s the passage that I was thinking of. It didn’t help me that he incorrectly dated the Ambarkanta to the early 30s in Lost Road. Thankfully, he corrected it in Shaping. And thankfully in their entry for Ambarkanta in the Reader’s Companion, Scull & Hammond noted it, otherwise I’d have missed it.

  1. Just for reference, following the last paragraph from the last post, my book starts with “And may other things Ilúvatar spoke to the Ainur at the time, …” and I have 2 more paragraphs before I get to “…most faithfully the purpose of Ilúvatar.”

    And in these paragraphs, it’s always “the World” or “the Earth”, no mention of “Arda” or “Middle-earth”. I shall have to remember to pay attention to the terms used.

    And yay, Ulmo. He’s the Aratar of Aratar in my books. And it’s interesting he’s the one who received the deepest instructions, but Manwë’s the top dog. Aulë though, he’s got his own mind too. But if I had to guess, I’d bet it was Ulmo who tried creating disciples instead of Aulë. It seemed their respective self-actualisation manifested in different ways after they entered Arda. Aulë doesn’t really do anything else that’s against the grain after he got his Dwarves. But Ulmo’s the maverick who just really went his way wherever, staying on the fringe of society as it were.

    I’m probably over-thinking here, but the affinity to water is just so fetus and womb to me. Seems to me a nice counter-balance that the lord of water is pally with the lord of the earth. 🙂

    • From what I can recall, Tolkien continuously gave Ulmo disciples, but kept taking them away. I don’t think there was ever a version where Ulmo tried to pull an Aule and created water-dwarves.

      Also, Aule wasn’t trying to create disciples, right? It’s been a while since I’ve read the A&Y chapter, but I think it was less selfish than that. Though I’d love to know what Melkor thought of the whole thing.

      Also, I think Christopher Tolkien removed quite a few references to “Arda” in the Valaquenta. Not sure about in the Ainulindale though.

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