Across the Years with the Valaquenta (Silmarillion Slow Cooker, p25)

Previously on The Silmarillion…

The Valaquenta, the second section in Tolkien’s published Silmarillion, begins with a quick rehashing of the Ainulindalë. There’s not really anything notable to cover in the first two paragraphs, since we’ve already covered it, so I thought it would be fun to take a look at the writing history of the Valaquenta, and maybe get a better idea where and how it came about.

This all started way back in 1919. Then, it was part of a chapter called “The Music of the Ainur,” which would later evolve into the Ainulindalë, though it was definitely supposed to be taken as its own thing.

As with many of the stories in the Book of Lost Tales, the framing narrative took up quite a lot of space. We learn how Rúmil told Eriol about the Valar, and read Eriol’s questions in response until Rúmil finally does all the talking: “I will begin the tale, else will you go on asking for ever….” Even in Tolkien’s early writings, the Elves could be dicks.

And so Rúmil began telling the first story of the Valar. Like the published version which we all know and wade through, the Lost Tales version is little more than a glossary of names with a smattering of exposition. The names and characteristics of the Valar changed quite a bit over time, but we’ll get into that later in the text.

One of the biggest overall differences is that there were, in the 1919 draft, no Maiar. Instead, we learn of “lesser Vali who loved them [the Valar] and had played nigh them and attuned their music to theirs.” They were called the Mánir and the Súruli, “the sylphs of the airs and of the winds.” Tolkien strove in the early days to connect his mythology to the more modern era. In doing so, these “lesser Vali” were then “the sprites of the trees and woods… brownies, fays, pixies, leprawns…”1

There were, in this early version, no set number of Valar, and a slew of names were given. But by 1930, when he wrote an early version of the Silmarillion, called Quenta Noldorinwa, he had it down. There were nine chieftains of the Valar, and a few wives to accompany them (so, fourteen in all). They could also reproduce and some had children. And then there was Melko (he was was then called).

In the Quenta Noldorinwa, the first chapter did not deal with the creation, but of the coming of the Valar into the World. It was short, covering only a few pages, and gave brief descriptions of the Valar. In fact, it wasn’t really even the first chapter, but the preamble. The first chapter actually begins with the Valar making two lamps to provide the new world with light. 2

Very shortly after Tolkien penned the Quenta Noldorinwa, he also created the first Annals of Valinor – a sort of Tale of Years for the early days of the World. Much of the information was rehashed, but put much more succinctly. Also, some of the information about the coming of the Valar was used in the Ambarkanta, a piece of writing from the same time as the Annals which dealt mostly with the shaping of the world and geography. Just where the Ambarkanta was to fit within the larger framework isn’t known, but it would be something that would fit nicely between the Ainulindalë and Valaquenta.3

By the mid 1930s, just before writing The Hobbit, Tolkien turned again to the Annals of Valinor, making a few key changes, including the Vanimor, who would eventually become the Maiair.4

Camera: Bolsey Jublilee Film: Weis Quality 200iso (expired in late 90s)

Camera: Bolsey Jublilee
Film: Weis Quality 200iso (expired in late 90s)

We’ve talked quite a bit about the Ainulindalë from the mid 1930s, and along with the revision of the Annals of Valinor, Tolkien also rewrote the Quenta Noldorinwa, which he now entitled the Quenta Silmarillion. The first chapter of this work was “Of the Valar,” and was essentially the Valaquenta. As were its ancestors, it is much shorter than the version eventually published in the Silmarillion, leaving off any sections about the Maiar (or Vanimor) and the Enemies.5

With the exception of a brief revision in 1937 or 1938, Tolkien set aside the Quenta to focus upon writing the Lord of the Rings. It remained unchanged and mostly untouched for thirteen years, returning to it in 1951, revising “Of the Valar”. By this time, the spirits later known as Maiair, were “lesser spirits of their own kind.” There were nine Valar and seven queens of the Valar. Of these sixteen, seven (Manwë, Melkor, Varada, Ulmo, Yavanna, Aulë, and Nienna) were the most important.6

He also returned that same year to the Annals, which were renamed The Annals of Aman. Here is where the Maiar came into their own, receiving their name with Melian and Sauron among their number.7

When Tolkien returned in 1958 to the Ainulindalë, he also dove into another revision of the Quenta Silmarillion. To the “Of the Valar” chapter, still the first, he made a few major changes, including the nixing of any reference to the Valar having “wives,” replacing the term with “spouse.” Additionally, gone were any ideas of the Valar being able to reproduce. And while the Maiar were mentioned (including a brief appearance by Olórin), “The Enemies” section had not yet come about.8

A year later, Tolkien revised the Annals of Aman, reflecting the changes made in 1958’s “Of the Valar.”9 Over the next year or so, he made additional changes to each, finally rewriting the Quenta Silmarillion yet again. This time, however, he separated the Valaquenta from the Quenta, making further changes, finally settling on the number of Aratar/High Ones at eight. It was this final version that Christopher Tolkien used (with some editorial fiddlings) for the published Silmarillion.10

And that about covers our little introduction to the published Valaquenta. I know that some might not be so keenly interested in the previous versions and how the story was developed along the way, but for me, it adds another dimension, and makes it all seem more real.

Some Notes:

  • The chronology used by Scull & Hammond in Valaquenta entry in the Companion and Reader’s Guide was relied upon greatly. As was a bit in Arda Reconstructed by Douglas Charles Kane.
  • If you like, you can check out the ugly chart that I made to help suss out the varying versions of the Valaquenta.

______________________

Footnotes

1. Book of Lost Tales, Vol. 1, p64-66.
2. The Shaping of Middle-Earth, p76-80.
3. The Annals of Valinor can be found in The Shaping of Middle-Earth, p262-263, while the Amarkanta can be found immediately before it.
4. The Lost Road, p110.
5. The Lost Road, p204-205.
6. Morgoth’s Ring, p147.
7. Morgoth’s Ring, p48-49.
8. Morgoth’s Ring, p143-149.
9. Morgoth’s Ring, p142. This passage provides some idea of when a few of the works around this time were written.
10. Morgoth’s Ring, p199-205. Though this section, Christopher Tolkien describes the editorial decisions and changes he made in the process of creating the published Silmarillion. He also touches briefly upon this in Book of Lost Tales, p82.

Pages & Text

  • Page 25
  • Chapter: Valaquenta, Paragraphs 1-2
  • Starting with:
    “In the beginning, Eru…”
  • Ending with:
    “…descended into it and dwelt therein.”
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8 thoughts on “Across the Years with the Valaquenta (Silmarillion Slow Cooker, p25)

  1. Interesting. All this talk of nomenclature. A lot of is sort of cross-pollination from Tolkien’s concepts of Elves/Gnomes and so on right? So were the Maiar envisioned as some sort of ancestor for the Elves at some point?

    • Not that I’ve seen. The Maiar were always basically lesser Ainur. They never had anything to do with the Elves. This early bit from BoLT is an oddity, but he didn’t run with it at all. I’ll get more into this when we get to the Maiar portion of our broadcast.

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