All we knew about Melkor’s first feud with the Valar was that he left their presence and fluttered off to anywhere but near Manwë. Since this happened at the very beginning of the book, we, of course, knew he would be back. The Valar, however, seemed to have no clue at all.
Melkor wasn’t just a pain in the ass, he was an incredibly powerful spirit who purposely destroyed pretty much anything he came into contact with. After he went away, the Valar watched the springtime happen in Arda and got ready for a big feast. And here starts a theme – bad things happen during feasts. Just watch.
Melkor wasn’t just a loaner, a rebel, he was smart enough to have some of his people on the inside. When his cohorts caught wind of the party (and of the fact that Tulkas and Aulë weren’t going to show up), he planned to strike his greatest blow.
The chronology seems a bit odd here, and this whole thing feels a bit condensed. Melkor saw the beauty of Arda and hated it. He came out from wherever he was, but the Valar couldn’t see him because “he was grown dark as the Night of the Void.” As Melkor drew near, Tulkas “espoused” Nessa, Oromë’s sister. She danced while Tulkas slept, and Melkor (again?) decided now was a great time to attack.
Sorry, ladies! Tulkas is Married!
Let me stop here real quick to talk about marriage. In the 1950s, Tolkien stopped using words like “wife” and “married” when referring to the relationships of the Valar. These were not ordinary relationships, but apparently ones similar to the way that Melkor and Manwë were brothers – in the eyes of Ilúvatar.
This is all fine when it comes to Aulë and Yavanna or Oromë and Vána, since they were seemingly espoused from the beginning (or at least before time). But when it comes to Tulkas and Nessa, it makes much less sense.
Granted, Tulkas was the last to come to Arda, so maybe there wasn’t a chance to do it prior to that. But really, prior to “that” was before time began, so clearly there was “time” to get married. I guess my biggest question then is why. Why get married now? Why not, like Manwë and Varda, just be espoused from the beginning? Does it have something to do with the idea that Tulkas didn’t come to Arda because it was beautiful, but to help his friends fight Melkor?
Can it all be just for the same of the story’s convenience? Was the feast for the wedding? Was the wedding because of the feast? I don’t know!
Ticking Away the Moments
But back to how time makes no sense. It couldn’t have happened as it says it does. If Melkor would have been told about a feast happening and then attacked during the feast, fine, that would make sense. But instead, he heard of the feast happening, drew closer, Tulkas got married and slept, Melkor built an underground fortress in the north, stuff in Arda started to wither and die, and finally, the Valar took notice.
The feast and wedding/espousal have basically nothing at all to do with this! If Melkor was “dark as the Night of the Void,” it wouldn’t matter if the Valar were feasting, marrying, sleeping, or watching Barney Miller on Channel 9. And what alerted them – the dying of plants, and animals becoming monsters – also had to take time. The changes that took place, like forests growing “dark and perilous,” are not things that happen over the course of a feast and a wedding. These things take years.
Tolkien also must have thought so. This entire section of the Silmarillion was lifted nearly verbatim from 1950’s Annals of Aman. The great thing about the Annals is that the dates are given, and while Tolkien might have been vague here and there about things like time, in the Annals, everything was laid out by year.
Accordingly, Melkor was told about the feast sometime after 1500 in the Years of the Lamps (so, 1500 years after the Valar came to the World). The exact date isn’t pinned down, but we can assume that a good chunk of time had elapsed – say, 500 years. It was then when Melkor heard about the feast.
Then, in the year 3400, Tulkas espoused Nessa, and Melkor went into the north to build his stronghold, Utumno. In the entry for 3450, just fifty years later, the Valar noticed that everything was dying and assumed Melkor was close. Fifty years after that, the Valar would go to Valinor, but we’ll get to that in the next post.1
Outen the Lights
It was within that fifty-year span (from 3450 to 3500), however, that Melkor made his move. First, he took out the light in the North, Illuin, and then Ormal in the South. It seems as if this happened all at once, so maybe he had two wings of his armies take one down a piece.
However it happened, the substance used in the lamps caught fire and covered the Earth in flames, marring Arda “so that the first designs of the Valar were never after restored.”
Later in the Silmarillion, we learn a bit more about the geography of Arda in the Spring. Basically, the world was flat and the Valar lived on the Isle of Almaren in the middle of the Great Lake, which was itself in the middle of the land. To the north and south were the lamps, but even farther to the north were the Iron Mountains, which were raised by Melkor as a defense for Utumno, his stronghold.
Of Ice and Islands
The original version of the lamp story is interesting. Aulë had convinced Melko to build the pillars for the lamps. Melko agreed, but secretly built them out of ice, so that when the lamps were lit, the ice would melt and everything would be in darkness again. The water filled the seas, and the clamor “shook the stars,” spilling some of their light on the earth catching everything on fire.2
This story would evolve slowly over time, but in 1930’s Quenta, the Isle of Almaren was repurposed by Ulmo to become the “Island Ferry” that took the Noldor from Middle-earth to Valinor. But we’ll get to that later too.3 This idea would be dropped by the 1950s.
Sauron, the Secret Friend
There’s a curious lack of Sauron in this passage. What with all the lamp outening and mischief, certainly Sauron was stumbling about, no? Yes! As I said, Christopher Tolkien basically copied and pasted today’s paragraphs from 1950’s Annals of Aman. However, he left out a crucial chunk about Sauron.
You’ll recall that Melkor knew about the feast through, as Tolkien originally wrote it, “secret friends and spies among the Maiar.” The chief of these secret friends and spies was none other than Sauron, “a great craftsman of the household of Aulë”!4
Why was this left out? No idea. Apart from the bit about the household of Aulë, this is new information. Sauron was an informant, a fink, a stoolie! This bit of personal information about Sauron is ridiculously important. Christopher Tolkien offered no reason for the omission.
And just like that, we’re nearly through the Years of the Lamps! Tune in next week for the end of that age and the start of the next – The Years of the Trees!
- The Outen the Light thing is so hilarious to me. Growing up near the Amish, I heard this a lot. “Outen” was just another way to say “put out.” I need to get that light switch plate!
- The photo is of a closed down drive-in diner thing near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania called Distelfink’s. It’s the closest thing to Amish/Pennsylvania Dutch that I could think of.
Pages & Text
- Page 36 (and a tiny bit of 37)
- Chapter: Of the Beginning of Days, Paragraphs 4-7
- Starting with:
“Now it came to pass that while the Valar…”
- Ending with:
“…Valar were never after restored.”