In today’s reading, without much explanation, we get the Two Trees of Valinor. From this section, we learn how they were made, what they looked like, and how they blossomed – all pretty basic stuff. There is, of course, more to it.
The Tears of Nienna
That Yavanna was the instrument through whom the trees were made is no surprise whatsoever, so it’s Nienna’s involvement that I want to dig into. We are told that she “thought in silence and watered the mould with tears.”1 To grow typical trees, Yavanna seemed to need no help, but these were something different, and so Nienna’s tears were essential.
We’re told in the Valaquenta that Nienna was “acquainted with grief, and mourns for every wound that Arda has suffered int he marring of Malkor.” From her, and from her sorrow, we can learn “pity, and endurance in hope.” For the Valar to deal with Melkor and the toppling of the two lamps, they would need this endurance.
The History of Tears
The story of the Two Trees dates back to the beginning. In 1919, Tolkien wrote of Varda’s dancing and of Palatine (Yavanna) singing, and of a slender shoot rising from the ground. There weren’t yet tears, but Vána “watered” the ground with light that had been saved from the lamps. Later in this early version of the story, after Melko’s attack, we’ll get to see Vána’s tears watering the ground.2
But why not Nienna? In the early drafts of these stories, Nienna played a different role, that of the wife of Mandos. She decided the doom of Men, while Mandos pronounced the same for the Elves. A sliver of this relationship can still be seen in the published Silmarillion as both Mandos and Nienna live apart from the other Valar. Though Nienna’s original role was different, she was still associated with tears. She was responsible for “despairs and hopeless mourning, sorrows and blind grief.” Vána, who provide the original tears in the early tales, was a goddess of Springtime. It makes perfect sense that she would be involved with Yavanna and the Two Trees.3
What didn’t seem to set right was the tears – both the lack thereof to grow the Trees and from Venus after Melko’s attack. In the next iteration of this story, the Quenta Noldorinwa from 1930, Yavanna grew the trees on her own without help from either Vána or Nienna (or tears). But in a long addition made shortly after writing, Tolkien added Nienna, coming nearly to the wording as we know it: “In Valinor Yavanna hallowed the mould with mighty song, and Nienna watered it with tears.”4
His and Hers
One of the most striking/easy to miss things about the Two Trees is that they are sexed. Telperion was male, and Laurelin was female. This was not the case in the early Lost Tales, as both were referred to as “it.” In 1930’s Quenta Noldorinwa, they’re also given the sexless “it”. However, as with Nienna’s tears, their sexes were revealed in the aforementioned addition, with Silpion being male (and older), and Laurelin being female.
This idea was dropped by the 1937 Quenta, though that was when the name Telperion was first used instead of Silpion. Also, this was when Tolkien came up with the name Nimloth, which was one of the various names for Telperion. It would later be recycled and used for the name of the White Tree of Númenor.
In the published Silmarillion, both trees sprouted at the same time. But this was not the case in the Lost Tales or the Quenta from 1930, where the male tree came first. This idea was nixed in the 1937 Quenta, and would not return.5
The sexes for the trees, however, would make their return in the early 1950s with the Quenta Silmarillion, upon which the text for this part of the published version is based.
For much of the middle section of the first chapter of the published Silmarillion, Christopher Tolkien relied upon the Annals of Aman from 1951ish for the basis of his text. But when he got to the paragraph describing the Two Trees, he switched, for the most part, to the Quenta Silmarillion, written around the same time.
Curiously, the Annals of Aman does not give the sexes for the trees, while the Quenta does. Could this be the reason why Christopher Tolkien made the change? Before the chapter ends, he would swing back to the Ainulindalë draft as his source, but we’ll get to that later.6
The Count of Time
At the end of the reading, the curious phrase “and thus began also the Count of Time” occurs. We’re to believe that since the Two Trees could keep time, each blossoming once each twelve-hour day, that time was not kept prior to this.
Of course, time had existed since the creation of Earth, but there had been no means for keeping track of it. Still, in the Annals of Aman, written around the time of the Quenta Silmarillion (early 1950s), we’re given dates starting with “The First Year of the Valar in Arda”. It continues through the year 3500. Then, it begins again with year 1 of “a new Reckoning in the Light of the Trees.”
In the Quenta Silmarillion draft, as in the published version, no dates were given. But also not given was the last sentence: “Thus began the Days of the Bliss of Valinor; and thus began also the Count of Time.” This was, it seems, an invention by Christopher Tolkien, as time was not first counted here, and his father never suggested that it was.7
Cherry, Cherry in Your Tree
While Christopher Tolkien used the early 1950s Quenta as the basis of this segment, he left out an interesting description which his father had been using since the version from 1930. Then, Tolkien described Silpion/Telperion as having “white blossoms like the cherry it bore.” Then, again, in 1937, he wrote that “he bore white blossoms like the cherry.”
Finally, in the version from the 1950s, he had written that “he bore white blossoms like unto a cheery-tree, were it surpassing great and fair….” And though Christopher had used the text before and after this age-old cherry reference, he cut it without explanation. This very clearly changes the entire look of Telperion.8
The last three paragraphs of today’s reading were the only three from this entire chapter taken (mostly) directly from the Quenta Silmarillion draft. The rest were lifted from the Ainulinadlë and the Annals of Aman. Maybe you noticed the slight change in style and wondered what happened. Either way, now you know – and knowing is half the battle.
- Even though readership has plummeted since starting the Silmarillion, I’m loving this. The posts, however, take about three hours each to complete. I don’t like to split the work up across two days, so this is a huge chunk of my evening. I know that the rate of three per week is pretty slow, but I might have to cut back to Mondays (or Tuesdays) and Thursdays. We’ll see. For now, here’s a post for Wednesday.
1. Tolkien was using the definition of “mould” derived from Old English for “loose soil”. ↩
2. Book of Lost Tales, Vol. 1, p71-72, 184.. ↩
3. Book of Lost Tales, Vol. 1, p76-77. Trust me, you want to read about early Nienna. She’s ridiculously fun. ↩
4. The Shaping of Middle-Earth, p80-81.↩
5. The Lost Road, p209. See the previous footnotes for the corresponding texts concerning the earlier drafts. ↩
6. Morgoth’s Ring, p55, 154-155. ↩
7. Morgoth’s Ring, p51, 55, 70, 156. ↩
8. The Shaping of Middle-earth, p80; The Lost Road, p209; Morgoth’s Ring, p154. ↩
Pages & Text
- Page 38 (and a bit of 39)
- Chapter: Of the Beginning of Days, Paragraphs 11-14
- Starting with:
“And when Valinor was full-wrought…”
- Ending with:
“…and thus began also the Count of Time”