Of the Maiar – Digging Through the Recycle Bin (Silmarillion Slow Cooker, p30)

With the Valar out of the way, we’ve got two quick sections left in the Valaquenta. First up are the Maiar. These are Ainur who aren’t Valar. If the Valaquenta had a Giligan’s Island-style theme song, the Maiar would be tucked snuggly in the “and the rest” camp.

While we’re told how many Valar there were, the number of Maiar is unknown to the Elves. One line – “few have names in any of the tongues of the Children of Ilúvatar” hearkens back to a time in Tolkien’s writing where the Ainur had their own language called Valarin.

This was, according to his original reckoning, where the languages of the Elves were derived. It could pretty well be assumed that they still do, but in a 1958 letter, Tolkien decided that “the Valar had no language of their own, not needing one.”1 He changed his mind on this notion a year later, in the essay “Quendi and Eldar,” giving back a spoken language to the Valar, though it now had nothing to do with the Elvish tongues.2

Camera: Argus C3 Film: Kodak Elite Chrome (expired 5/03)

Camera: Argus C3
Film: Kodak Elite Chrome (expired 5/03)

Valar Alumni Weekend
The first few names of the Maiar we’re given are just characters who used to be Valar. The first two, Ilmarë and Eönwë, were originally conceived of in the mid-1930s. When Tolkien created them, they were the daughter and son of Manwë and Varda.3 They remained so through the Ainulindalë draft of 1948 – over a decade.

When Tolkien rewrote the Quenta Silmarillion in 1951, he demoted them to Maiar, severing their familial ties with their former parents. Curiously, when editing the Silmarillion, Christopher Tolkien added this line about Eönowë: “whose might in arms is surpassed by none in Arda.” This was, he said, “made in order to prepare for his leadership of the hosts of the West….”4

The same thing happened to Ossë and his spouse Uinen, “the Lady of the Seas,” except they had been Valar from the start, in 1919 or so. Throughout the writing history, Ossë and even Uinen (once) were counted among the Great Ones. Even worse – their fall to the lesser happened much later. They remained elevated until the first draft of the Valaquenta proper in 1959!5

Both had always been associated with the Sea, and actually Ossë’s role was expanded quite a bit after being “demoted.” Though Ossë was never Ulmo’s son, he and Uinen were always of his people. Upon their first mention in 1919, they were given “control of the waves and lesser seas.”6((Book of Lost Tales, Vol. 1, p58.))

In the published version, Ossë is given a mischievous character. He’s, perhaps, not to be too well trusted. Melkor had almost drawn him into his service by promising to make him as powerful as Ulmo. Ossë kicked up a storm to blight the land with waves, but before he could do too much damage, he was restrained by his spouse, Uinen, and taken to Ulmo. He repented and all was forgiven.

But this delighting in violence never fully went away. We learn that sometimes, he’ll just rage for no reason. “Therefore those who dwell by the sea or go up in ships may love him, but they do not trust him.”

The Two Newbs
The last two Maiar mentioned, Melian and Olórin, were much more recent inventions – sort of. Melian was only recently listed among the Maiar, appearing first as such in 1951’s Quenta Silmarillion. But this was not the first her character was used. In fact, she dates back to one of the earliest Lost Tales from the middle of 1917, being mentioned in the “Tale of Tinúviel.” Broadly, her story was much the same. She was Thingol’s “fey” who beguiled him, convincing him to stay in Hisilómë. “Indeed she was a sprite that, escaping the gardens of Lórien before even Kôr [later the mountain Túna] was built.”7

In this early version, she was neither Ainu nor Elf, but a sprite. Tolkien had not yet worked all of this out, of course. As time went on, he seemed to have little idea what to do with her. By 1930’s Quenta, “she was one of the divine maidens of the Vala Lórien who sometimes wandered into the outer world.”8 In the Quenta Silmarillion from 1937, however, it appears as if she became a Vala, though she wasn’t mentioned in the corresponding Valaquenta-esque chapter. “Melian was a fay, of the race of the Valar.” It’s pretty cut and dry, really.9 In 1950, Melian officially became a Maia in Annals of Aman, remaining as such until the end.10 There’s quite a bit more about her, but we’ll delve into that later.

Also added to this mix was Olórin, who also lived in Lórien. While Melian served Vána and Estë, Olórin was mostly with Nienna, “and of her he learned pity.” The description we’re given of Olórin seems to remind us of a gray old wizard from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. This is Gandalf, a strange addition.

While Gandalf was created when Tolkien was writing The Hobbit, his alter-ego Olórin, Gandalf’s name in the West, didn’t come about until 1944, when he was writing the Faramir chapter of Lord of the Rings. “The name of my youth in the West is forgotten,” was what Tolkien first wrote, having the conception that Gandalf originally came from Valinor. He then changed it to: “Olórin I was in my youth that is forgotten,” dropping the origin, but adding a name.11((The War of the Ring, p153.)) Still, it’s pretty clear that by this point, Tolkien had decided upon the idea that Gandalf was Olórin from Valinor. Remember, however, that the concept of the Maiar had not yet been created. He would have been simply one of the lesser of the race of the Valar. He first appeared as part of the Silmarillion stories in 1951’s Quenta (the term “maiar” came the year before).12

Though the Valaquenta was mostly copy and pasted by Christopher Tolkien from his father’s second draft, there were some edits, as we’ve already seen. One concerning Olórin, he regretted cutting: “He was humble in the Land of the Blessed; and in Middle-earth he sought no renown. His triumph was in the uprising of the fallen, and his joy was in the renewal of hope.” This is such a fitting passage for Gandalf. It’s no wonder he later confessed that “it was wrongly omitted.”

And that wraps up the handful of Maiar. Tune in next week for the last installment of the Valaquenta – “Of the Enemies”!

Some Note:

  • The photo? Well, sometimes you’ve got to keep the old characters on ice just in case you need to use them again.



1. Letters, No. 211.
2. War of the Jewels, p397.
3. The Lost Road, p162. Eönowë, the son, was actually a renamed holdover from the Book of Lost Tales.
4. Morgoth’s Ring, p147, 203.
5. Morgoth’s Ring, p203.
6. Book of Lost Tales, Vol. 1, p58.
7. Book of Lost Tales, Vol. 2, p42.
8. The Shaping of Middle-earth, p13.
9. The Lost Road, p204.
10. Morgoth’s Ring, p72.
11. The War of the Ring, p153.
12. Morgoth’s Ring, p147, (49). The concept of the Maiar was sort of there from the beginning – sort of. It would take a lot more explaining, but would be fun to look into their evolution at some point. No idea when though.

Pages & Text

  • Page 30 (and a tiny bit of 31)
  • Chapter: Valaquenta, Paragraphs 17-22
  • Starting with:
    “With the Valar came other…”
  • Ending with:
    “…put away the imaginations of darkness.”

3 thoughts on “Of the Maiar – Digging Through the Recycle Bin (Silmarillion Slow Cooker, p30)

  1. I always knew that Gandalf was some creature of Valinor, but I didn’t realize that he’s a straight up Maia! I wish Christopher Tolkien had left that line. It sums Gandalf up perfectly. 🙂

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