On the Road to Elbereth (Silmarillion Slow Cooker, p26.)

Okay! Now we’re cruising on into the Valaquenta proper. This isn’t exactly an easy section of the Silmarillion. Mostly, it’s a slew of names and some odd exposition. When people complain about the Silmarillion being boring, they’re usually talking about this part. Today, we’re going to take a quick look at the overview of the Valar (from page 25) and a longer look at Manwë and Varda.

In the published Silmarillion, we’re given the names of seven Lords and seven Queens. Tolkien didn’t arrive at this number immediately. In the early Book of Lost Tales, there were a varying number, and though they were named in that draft’s Valaquenta equivalent, others, like Nessa, the wife of Tulkas/Oromë’s sister, came later.

Through the long decades of writing and rewriting, Tolkien changed the names, roles, histories, and personalities of many of the Valar. Some were cut and others added. I did a nifty (though ugly) chart about this, which you can see here. By 1926, he had the number to nine. Though that number didn’t include their wives, it did include Melko (as Melkor was then named).

In the published Silmarillion, we’re told that “Melkor is counted no longer among the Valar, and his name is not spoken upon the Earth.” This shunning and snubbing came rather late in the game. It wasn’t until 1959’s Annals of Aman where he was removed from number of the Valar and given his own status. This would have been several years after the latest draft of the Ainulindalë was written.

When looking at the evolution of Tolkien’s Valar, the two who remain most constant are Manwë and Varda. In 1919’s draft, it’s Varda who is first described and Manwë who is hardly touched upon at all (until a bit later).1 But it’s in the 1930 draft of the Quenta Noldorinwa where we first see the rather familiar:

Manwë was the Lord of the Gods and Prince of the airs and winds and the ruler of the sky. With him dwelt as spouse the immortal lady of the heights, Varda the maker of the stars.

When reading Lord of the Rings, we heard much about how the Elves (and Frodo) called upon Elbereth. This was, we learn from the published Silmarillion, Varda, who “hears more clearly than all other ears the sound of the voices…”

But even before starting Lord of the Rings, Tolkien had placed Varda in a special position concerning the Elves. In 1937’s Quenta, it was Varda’s actual name that was then said to be “holy.”2

In revisions made the year following, Tolkien wrote that Varda was known as Tinwerína to the Elves. This would have been when he had just started working on Lord of the Rings. He was, it seems, on the path to Elbereth.

Camera: Argus C3 Film: Svema 64

Camera: Argus C3
Film: Svema 64

The next stop for Varda’s name train was Elentári, which was actually used in an Elvish poem that he penned around the time when he finished up the “Farewell to Lorien” chapter in late 1941. By that point, however, he had already been kicking around the idea of Elbereth.3

This came about when he was writing the “Three is Company” chapter of Lord of the Rings in early 1938. There, she was referred to as Elberil, and later as Elbereth.4

After settling on Elbereth and finishing Lord of the Rings, Tolkien wrote in 1948’s Ainulindalë, that Varda was “whom the Noldor name Elbereth, Queen of the Valar.”5 But in 1950’s Quenta, Varda was once more “called after by the Elves Elentári, the Queen of the Stars.”6

So why change it this late in the game? From almost the start of Lord of the Rings and the Quenta (both from 1937), the Elves referred to Varda as Elbereth. What happened in 1950?

Through the 1950s, Varda’s role changed slightly. In one passage, Tolkien wrote that Varda “wrought the Stars.” In a revision, it was altered to “wrought the Great Stars,” implying that she did not, in fact, wrought all of the stars (just the Great ones). This shift from all to some changed her name. While Tinwerína meant (basically) “Star-kindler,” Elentári meant “Queen of the Stars.” The latter could stand, but the former couldn’t.

But he had already nixed Tinwerína and several of such related named. Elentári, then was from the Quenya, where as Elbereth was Sindarin (as was Golthoniel). So basically, some Elves had called her Elentári, while others called her Elbereth. He had a much longer explanation for all of this, but you get the gist of it.7

Lastly, I want to touch on an interesting phrase dropped by Christopher Tolkien when compiling the Silmarillion. In the published version, we read: “With Manwë dwells Varda…” But Tolkien never put it that way. At first, in 1937, when he still referred the the Valar as having “wives,” Tolkien wrote “With him dwells as wife Varda.” In 1958’s first draft of the stand-alone Valaquenta, Tolkien put it as “With Manwë now dwells as spouse Varda.”

The “now,” thought Christopher Tolkien at the time, seemed to have no significance at all. The Valaquenta had a huge problem with tenses, shifting from present to past and back again seemingly at random. But, as he later came to realize, this “now” was actually important.

“It is however,” he later wrote, “undoubtedly significant.” He referenced the Annals of Aman, penned in 1951, which stated that “Varda was Manwë’s spouse from the beginning.” At that point, Tolkien had different Valar getting (essentially) married to other Valar at different times. While Varda and Manwë were espoused from the start, others were “wed” after coming to the World.8

This might not seem to be so significant, but it seems as if Tolkien was saying that Manwë and Varda got hitched much later than he had previously recognized. In the end, it’s another example of a regret held by Christopher Tolkien after the publication of the Silmarillion. It’s also another example of how maybe we can’t really consider the published Silmarillion as strict canon.

Some Note:

  • While I’m enjoying the crap out of all of this, I’m sure it’s not super exciting to many. All I can say is bear with me. The Silmarillion picks up again pretty quickly.

______________________

Footnotes

1. Book of Lost Tales, p65.
2. The Lost Road, p205, 209.
3. The Treason of Isengard, p285.
4. The Lost Road, p200, 351.
5. Morgoth’s Ring, p20.
6. Morgoth’s Ring, p160.
7. Morgoth’s Ring, p38, 376. There’s definitely much more to this Varda/Elbereth/Elentári story. This is by no means definitive.
8. Morgoth’s Ring, p201.

Pages & Text

  • Page 26 (with a bit from 25)
  • Chapter: Valaquenta, Paragraphs 3-5
  • Starting with:
    “The Great among these spirits…”
  • Ending with:
    “…uplift it in song at the rising of the stars.”
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17 thoughts on “On the Road to Elbereth (Silmarillion Slow Cooker, p26.)

  1. Having just watched the parks and rec finale, I can’t help but read the note at the end of the post in Ben Wyatt’s voice. You just need a bemused look into the camera to sell it!

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