When Melkor outened the two lamps, the Valar had quite a problem on their hands. The lamps didn’t simply tip over, their impact shook the Earth and would have torn it apart had the Valar not held it together. All, except Tulkas, did their part in keeping the Earth in one piece. They protected the entire Earth because while they knew that the Children of Ilúvatar were on it somewhere, they didn’t know the exact location. Tulkas, on the other hand, went after Melkor, who fled to Utumno, his stronghold behind the Iron Mountains in the north. Though he was a mighty and hearty fellow, he couldn’t overtake Melkor.
Let’s Get Geographical
Before the attack, the flat world consisted of one large land mass with a lake in the very center. In the middle of that lake was Almaren, where the Valar lived. To the north and south were the lamps and farther north was Utumno and the Iron Mountains.
After Melkor’s mischief, the (still) flat Earth was divided into three land masses. To the west was Aman, in the center was Endor/Middle-earth, and to the east were the Lands of the Sun. The Great West Sea (Belegaer) was between Aman and Middle-earth, and the East Sea was between Middle-earth and the Lands of the Sun.
Already, and because of Melkor, the mountains were formed in Middle-earth. Also, there were two inland seas – Helcar to the north and Ringol to the south. The Iron Mountains remained in the north of Middle-earth, along with Melkor in Utumno.
Surrounding this entire Earth was the Outer Sea, which was probably not really a body of water. Beyond that were the Walls of the Night, where Melkor hid prior to his attack.
It’s Not a Retreat … It’s Merely a Tactical Withdrawal!
It would be understandable to say that the Valar retreated to Aman, leaving Middle-earth behind. I guess technically that’s true. But with Almaren destroyed, where were they to go? For some reason or another, staying in Middle-earth was out of the question – too close to Melkor. They were not yet strong enough to defeat him, so they built up the Mountains of Aman (Pelóri) as a barricade and established Valinor behind them.
While Melkor dug deep into the earth to build his stronghold, Manwë and Varda did the opposite, claiming the summit of the highest mountain, Teniquetil, as his own. From there, they could see all of Middle-earth and even the Lands of the Sun.
So, yes, it was a retreat, but it wasn’t like they were cowering behind the mountains hoping that Melkor wouldn’t find them. They kept watch and built their strength while building up Valinor. Part of this strengthening involved collecting light, which was apparently saved from the ruin of the previously constructed world. The only light had come from the lamps and (I suppose) the stars, so somehow they were able to salvage something.
Of course, we probably shouldn’t take any of this too literally. These stories were told to the Elves by the Valar, who were most definitely trying to put it into terms the Children could understand. Whatever was meant by “the Valar gathered a great store of light” is probably the simplest way for us to comprehend whatever the hell was actually going on.
We Are Just Too Pretty To Die
Along with the strength-making and light-hording, the Valar made Valinor “more beautiful even than Middle-earth in the Spring of Arda. There was no sickness or death there. The flowers and leaves were perfect. Hell, “the very stones and waters were hallowed,” made holy through some means by the Valar. Again, there’s no clear explanation of what that really means.
Basically, though everything wasn’t perfect in the world, everything was perfect in Valinor. And without Melkor, none of this would be possible. Still, the whole reason that the Valar had protected the world from Melkor’s destruction – the Children of Ilúvatar – was still out there somewhere, though the Valar had no idea where.
What’s the Ambarkanta, and Does It Still Matter?
Tolkien first hinted at this geological upheaval in the Lost Tales, and the basic story remained until the end. Some elements, like how Ossë dragged their island home to Eruman (Aman), were changed, but for the most part the ideas were lasting.1
And while the story was the same, the geography was less concrete. In the early 1930s, after writing the first Quenta, Tolkien penned the Ambarkanta, a short essay describing in detail the geography before and after. He even made maps!
If you want to get a better grasp on this, find yourself a copy of The Shaping of Middle-earth. Granted, some of the words used for certain features were later changed, as were a few other things, but you’ll get the basic idea.2
Whether Tolkien meant the Ambarkanta to be included with the published Silmarillion (circa Lord of the Rings) isn’t known, but in his 1930s drafts of the Quenta, this whole geological change was only mentioned in passing. For instance, all that’s said in the Quenta from 1937 was that Melkor: “roused the Sea against their island.” Even the Annals of Valinor from that period offer only: “but the Gods were assailed by many waters….” It stands to reason that a separate appendix might contain things like the Ambarkanta.3
Christopher Tolkien wasn’t sure at all how much of the Ambarkanta his father still maintained as factual when he wrote the early 1950s Annals of Aman (used as the main text for this portion of the published Silmarillion) and the Quenta from the same period. There’s some convincing evidence that most of it was the same, though just what had changed seems to be in question. If you want to delve into this rabbit hole, pick up a copy of Morgoth’s Ring and turn to page 62.
The text used for the published Silmarillion was mostly taken from the Annals of Aman (themselves a revision of the Annals of Valinor). There, we get almost all of the detail given in the Silmarillion. The “Later” Quenta, which gives a slightly different telling than the Annals, uses slightly more flowery language, but is essentially identical in spirit. Though both were written around the same time, Christopher Tolkien decided not to use the text from the Quenta for these surrounding pages. He’ll return to it, however, for the text in our next post.4
And with that, I’ll leave you to ponder just what the Valar would do next. (Hint: it involves Nienna!!)
- Belegaer, the name for the Great West Sea, was seemingly dropped by Tolkien sometime after the 1930s. He didn’t mention the name at all in any of the latter texts from which Christopher compiled the published Silmarillion. In fact, he never used it at all in any of the later drafts for this material. It can only be found a piece entitled The Ambarkanta, which described the “shape of the world.” It was written in the early 1930s.5
- I was away on Saturday and spent Sunday developing and scanning the film I took on Saturday. With all the what’s its and goings ons, we might seen only two posts this week. I hope you can handle the sadness if such a fate comes to pass.
1. Book of Lost Tales, Vol. 1, p70. ↩
2. The Shaping of Middle-earth, p 235-261. ↩
3. The Lost Road, p. 208, 111. ↩
4. Morgoth’s Ring, p53-54; 153-154. The Annals of Aman dated from 1951-2, while the “Later” Quenta was from 1950-52.↩
5. The Shaping of Middle-earth, p249, 310. ↩
Pages & Text
- Page 37 (and a tiny bit of 38)
- Chapter: Of the Beginning of Days, Paragraphs 8-10
- Starting with:
“In the confusion…”
- Ending with:
“…very stones and waters were hallowed.”