In today’s passage, we’ll take a look at three more of the Valar – Ulmo, Aulë, and Yavanna – and thus round out the explanation of the three previously-mentioned Valar and two of their spouses.
Tickle Me Ulmo
Ulmo doesn’t seem to really live anywhere specifically. Anywhere there is deep water, Ulmo could be found. Unlike most of the other Valar, he doesn’t have a spouse. We’re told “He is alone.”
This wasn’t always the case. Before the Valar came to the created world, he was close friends with Manwë. But once he experienced water, as we learn in the Ainulindalë, he found it to be truly “fairer than my hearted imagined.” He then told Ilúvatar that he and Manwë would “make melodies for ever to thy delight.”
While this certainly happened, it wasn’t like Manwë and Ulmo toured the world as Arda’s own Louvin Brothers. Instead, while Manwë had Varda, Ulmo had only himself. He was alone, but not alone in the same sort of way as Melkor had been.
Melkor’s lonesomeness was a key part of his downfall. Ulmo’s is instrumental to how he operated. Unlike Melkor, who wanted to subjugate the Elves and Men, Ulmo loved these Children of Eru. The only problem was that they weren’t so cozy with him.
We’re told that if they ever saw him they would be “filled with a great dread.” His rising “was terrible, as a mounting wave that strides to the land, with dark helm foam-crested and raiment of mail shimmering from silver down into the shadows of green.” This sounds more like the appearance of Cthulhu than one of the Valar.
But Ulmo’s love for Elves and Men extended much farther than the other Valar. He is more like his element, water, than the other Valar seem to be of their own (air, land, etc.). Anywhere there is water and the sound of water, Ulmo can hear and communicate.
“For all seas, lakes, rivers, fountains and springs are in his government, so that the Elves say that the spirit of Ulmo runs in all the veins of the world.”
As we’ll see through much of the Silmarillion, this characteristic of Ulmo can be incredibly helpful. There is, however, another side to it. We’re told that he can come up rivers and make music upon his horns, “the Ulumúri.” If you hear the music, the sea-longing will develop. He’ll also speak “in the music of water.” It’s this music, we’ve already been told, that is an echo of the Great Music.
The pecking order of the Valar has gone from Man / wë to Ulmo, and now to Aulë, who was almost as powerful as Ulmo. Aulë is associated with the land, working together with Manwë and Ulmo in fashioning the World.
While Ulmo was frightening to the Elves, Aulë was their friend. Because of this, Melkor was jealous and marred whatever he could of Aulë’s rendering. Of course, it could also be said that Aulë was an easy target. There’s not a whole lot Melkor could do with Manwë’s air or Ulmo’s water. But to Aulë’s land, he “ever marred or undid.” This was troublesome to Aulë, but he loved to make things, so it all kind of worked out.
Just as Ulmo’s solitude could have been a potentially bad, Melkor-like quality, so too could Aulë’s desire to make things be his own undoing. He liked to make new things, and he liked to have these things complimented. While in the wrong hands of Melkor these things might turn dark, with Aulë they did not. Aulë worked in the love of Ilúvatar, while Melkor “could make nothing save in mockery of the thought of others, and all their works he destroyed if he could.”
Maybe one of the biggest reasons why Aulë was grounded and unlike Melkor was that he wasn’t alone. His “spouse” was Yavanna, “the Giver of Friuts.” Aulë’s land gave to her the blank canvas for her thoughts. Trees, moss, plants, “small and secret things in the mould” were all hers.
While Aulë is third in power of the Lords of the Valar, Yavanna was second to Varda in the Valar’s Queens. While she can take the shape of a tall woman, she also had been known to take the shape of an incredible tree, with her body upon the soil of Aulë, her roots in the water of Ulmo, and her leaves in the winds of Manwë.
Digging in the Dirt (and Water)
The relationship, names, and status of Manwë, Varda, Ulmo, Aulë, and Yavanna were basically unchanged from the beginning. The first real difference was that Manwë and Varda had two children, a son and a daughter named Fionwe and Erinti (later Ëonwë and Ilmarë). The dropping of this idea spun off of Tolkien’s rethinking of relationships.
Secondly, all the way through till 1958ish, Tolkien referred to the Valar Queens as being the “wives” of the Lords. Varda was Manwë’s wife just as Yavanna was Aulë’s. But when writing the late 50s version of the Quenta Silmarillion, he changed the word to “spouse.” In the margin, Tolkien wrote: “Note that ‘spouse’ meant only an ‘association.’ The Valar had no bodies, but could assume shapes.”1
Through the many drafts, Tolkien swapped out which of the Queens were sisters to the others. For a long time, Varda and Yavanna were sisters. This was apparently in the same way that Manwë and Melkor had been brothers – in the mind of Ilúvatar. This connection was dropped in the 1959 draft of the Valaquenta.
There were some other oddities, as well. For instance, Oromë, in the mid-1930’s Annals of Valinor, was said to be the son of Yavanna, but not the son of Aulë as they had been wed after coming to Valinor in the new World (Manwë and Varda had been wed prior to that).2
The post-Valinor association between Aulë and Yavanna was actually in the last draft of the Valaquenta (the one used to make the published Silmarillion‘s Valaquenta), but was dropped by Christopher Tolkien. This was, he stated, “wrongly changed” from “The spouse of Aulë in Arda is Yavanna,” dropping the “in Arda” believing it insignificant.3
Other curious bits and bobs are sprinkled throughout the writing histories, but we’ll cover those when we meet the other Valar involved.
- If you missed Sunday’s post, you can view an ugly little chart concerning the writing history of the Valar. I didn’t (couldn’t really) include their relationships to each other, though now that I think about it, I wish I could have.
- The description of Yavanna was used by artist Ulla Thynell for the cover of Perilous and Fair that I talked about here.
Pages & Text
- Page 27 (with a bit from 26 and 28)
- Chapter: Valaquenta, Paragraphs 6-9
- Starting with:
“Ulmo is the Lord of Waters…”
- Ending with:
“…she is surnamed in the Eldarin tongue.”