Lighting the Two Lamps – The Quenta’s First Plot Point (Silmarillion Slow Cooker, p35)

Welcome to the Quenta Silmarillion proper! What seems like the third chapter in the published Silmarillion is actually only the first. That’s right, you’ve read this far and you’ve still not yet begun to read! To make matters even more fun, much of the first page is simply rehashed information from the Ainulindalë and Valaquenta.

As we work our way through the Quenta, one of the things I’d like to pay attention to is the chapter titles. This one is “Of the Beginning of Days.” Tolkien himself never wrote that title. In fact, in many of the drafts, chapters didn’t receive their own titles at all. However, in 1950’s Annals of Aman and in the first version of the “Later Quenta” from 1950-52, chapter titles were introduced. For this, it was “Of the Beginning of Time and its Reckoning” and “Of Valinor and the Two Trees,” respectively. Why the change? Well, the chapter itself was much changed from even those later versions. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

Melkor Does Not Love Tulkas Even a Little Bit
We begin by learning a bit about the First War, which we had already been told about. Melkor had the upper hand through most of it. That is, until Tulkas came along, “and Melkor fled before his wrath and his laughter.” After the war was over, Tulkas decided to stay, becoming one of the Valar. Because of all of this, Melkor hated Tulkas.

Before we go too far, I think we should keep in mind that the Silmarillion was cobbled together by Christopher Tolkien using various drafts and manuscripts written by his father. This first paragraph comes in part from the last draft of the Ainulindalë (1951). Remember how Christopher Tolkien cut the published version short by over a dozen paragraphs? Well, this is one of them. But the bit about Tulkas and laughter was actually drawn from the Annals of Aman (1951-2).1

The notion of a Tulkas vs. Melkor battle can be traced all the way back to 1919’s Book of Lost Tales, in which the story is much more interesting. There, Melko (as he was called then) didn’t flee at the sight of Tulkas, but engaged in a very quick combat.

“Tulkas, whose heart misliked the crooked guile of Melko gave him a blow with his fist, and he abode that then but did not forget.” Melko didn’t run away, but put on a more public face, vowing to follow Manwë. He claimed to be merely “revelling only a while in the newness of the world” and didn’t mean to mess everything up. But Melko wasn’t a changed Vala – not really. He suggested that instead of living all together, the Valar should go their separate ways “and dwell amid those things that he loved upon Earth.” Pretty sneaky, Melko.2

Camera: Pentax K-1000 Film: Eastman 5363

Camera: Pentax K-1000
Film: Eastman 5363

Two Mighty Lamps!
After things were tidied up a bit, Yavanna asked Aulë to make two lamps for lighting Middle-earth. As of yet, there was no sun, and living in darkness was kind of a drag. Varda filled the lamps and Manwë “hallowed them.” All of the Valar lifted them up on high pillars. The first, Illuin, was in the north, and the other, Ormal, was in the south. There was no off switch.

And here we have set up the first plot point – the lamps, a concept Tolkien had from the very beginning. The earliest version has Aulë persuading Melko to build the pillars for the lamps. Melko lied, saying that they were made of “an imperishable substance of great strength that he devised,” but really they were just ice. The light itself was gathered by Manwë and Varda from the sky – silver in the north, golden in the south.3

This paragraph in the published Silmarillion again is cobbled together from two sources. One of the cut passages from the 1951 Ainulindalë draft was augmented with “the prayer of Yavanna” from the Quenta Silmarillion of that same year.4

Green is the Colour of her Kind
Now it is all Yavanna’s gig. She had been sewing seeds and finally they were growing. Green things of all kinds – “mosses and grasses and great ferns, and trees” were all there. Along with the plants, she also was responsible for the animals. But this was only an early spring. No flower had bloomed, and no bird had sung. That would come later.

For the time being, the Valar would live on the Isle of Almaren in the Great Lake. This was situated right at the mid point between the two lamps, where the light “met and blended.” Everything there was green and pretty lovely, “and they were long content.”

This entire paragraph is lifted directly from the 1951 Ainulindalë. Though it was pretty near to a copy and paste job, there were a few small editorial changes made by Christopher Tolkien. For instance, his father wrote that “things waited still their time in the bosom of Palúrien” rather than the “bosom of Yavanna.” In fact, that name for Yavanna, which was there from near the beginning was changed by Tolkien to “Kementári” probably in the late 1950s (it’s the latter in the 1959 Valaquenta). Palúrien was a Qenya word which basically meant Mother Earth, while Kementári was glossed as Queen of the Earth. So, though this was an editorial change, the alteration makes perfect sense – Tolkien himself had changed her name, never bothering to go back to the text to make the correction. Personally, I’d take Palúrien over Kementári any day of the week.5

The original version of this came again from the Book of Lost Tales. While the writing is very different, the story is as well. In the early version, the lamps had not yet been lit when Yavanna began to sing for her flora and fauna to come into existence. Once the lamps were lit, then the shoots began to appear. Additionally, there was no Isle of Almaren, and Melko was still with them. 6

And that wraps up the first page of the Quenta. Tune in tomorrow when the Valar learn a valuable lesson they’re often forget – beware of feast days!

Some Notes:

  • When Tolkien was writing this, he had a conception of dates that was later changed. The Annals of Aman, like the Tale of Years in Lord of the Rings, gives specific dates for the events. Tulkas coming to Arda to battle Melkor was said to have taken place 1500 years after the other Valar arrived.7
  • Honestly, out of all of the History of Middle-earth series, I recommend getting the first and second volume (The Book of Lost Tales, Vols. 1 and 2) most. Tolkien’s writing is much more interesting and beautiful in this early telling than the rest.
  • I vacillate between doing Thursday afternoon or Friday morning posts. Any preferences? Fridays always seem like the start of the weekend and stuff just gets ignored and forgotten.



1. Morgoth’s Ring, p17, 52.
2. Book of Lost Tales, Vol. 1, p67.
3. Book of Lost Tales, p69.
4. Morgoth’s Ring, p17, 153.
5. Morgoth’s Ring, p32, 202; Book of Lost Tales, p264 for the definition of Palúrien.
6. Book of Lost Tales, Vol. 1, p71-72.
7. Morgoth’s Ring, p52.

Pages & Text

  • Page 35 (and a tiny bit of 36)
  • Chapter: Of the Beginning of Days, Paragraphs 1-3
  • Starting with:
    “It is told among the wise…”
  • Ending with:
    “…and they were long content.”

10 thoughts on “Lighting the Two Lamps – The Quenta’s First Plot Point (Silmarillion Slow Cooker, p35)

  1. I am challenged to think that there are a few lost hobbits somewhere in the “Quenta Silmarillion”. Some papers somewhere that the gentleman Christopher didn’t want to put into the story. Think about it – a real hobbit-intrigue before Bilbo Baggins ! As you are reading I’ll try to figure out where it could be placed, and how it could look like.
    Among some mountains, or more probably in some valley , close to streams and rivers, among green hills and pastures. But maybe those hobbits were too insignificant. They just stood there and looked on as some noble folks came riding through the landscape …

  2. I definitely pRefer Thursday, Friday is hard for me to keep up with. But I’ll still read em so I don’t count.

    I love love Tulkas laughing and smacking melkor. I can see it. Good natured brawling!

  3. Could you work your investigative magic again and find out when the name ‘Little Kingdom’ for Arda first appeared? It’s in what became the first paragraph of Chapter 1. Curiously the miniature English kingdom of Tolkien’s Farmer Giles is also called the Little Kingdom, capitalized in the same way.

    • That’s a really good question. Let me do that right now….

      That paragraph is originally from the ending of the 1951 Ainulindalë (also known as Version D). In the 1948 version (Version C), Tolkien used the phrase “Little World” instead. So, it looks like it came into use in the very last draft of the Ainulindalë.

      The expression “Little World” seems to have come into use around 1948, only to be replaced by “Little Kingdom” two years later. In the round world version of the Ainulindalë (Version C*), Tolkien uses “Little World” a few times. But when he rewrote it as Version C (the flat world version), he seems to have dropped all but one mention of it. That mention in Version D was changed to “Little Kingdom” in 1951.

      Since Farmer was completed by 1938, and Tolkien didn’t use this “Little Kingdom” until 1951, they seem to be basically separate. Though he could be calling back to the earlier story so that the reader might compare the two.

      Hope this helps some!

      • I dont know. 😀 I wouldn’t have known what to make of the parallel anyway. Maybe it’s just a reeeally obscure way of tying Farmer Giles to ancient Middle-earth, like the Magic Isles and the Bay of Fairyland in Roverandom. Except a million times more obscure.

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