The Shaping of Arda
*So, the Valaquenta can be found in The Silmarillion. It follows directly after the Ainulindale. It is the second of the two short prologues to the Silmarillion proper. Like the Ainulindale, it is about eight pages in length.
*Now, in all Russian novels worth reading, you may be aware, everyone has at least three names, used interchangably throughout the book. The same is true here.
*The Ainulindale was so called because it was about the music of the Ainur, Tolkien's angelic analogues.
*Once the Ainur descend to Ea and began working on Arda, they are known as the Valar. Thus the title of this work, the Valaquenta or history of the Valar.
*Also, last time, I sort of made Ea and Arda seem like the same things. They're not, actually. Ea is both the vision Iluvatar gives to the Ainur and also the region of space to which he sends them to work. Arda is the planet on which they work. Ea would then be, I suppose, the galaxy and Arda the Earth. Or something like that. I finally figured that out.
*Now the Valar are essentially angelic beings that mankind has 'often called gods.' Like the gods in many different religions, the Valar that work on Arda are generally given dominion over one particular region or area of creation: Ulmo is the Vala over the water, Aule is over the Earth itself, the rock and dirt, Manwe is Vala of the winds, etc.
*So, in the Ainulindale, we get a brief picture of them as angels in the court of the one great Creator. But from here on out, they will essentially be playing the part of gods themselves as we think of gods in the context of, yeah, the Norse religions, but also the Greek, the Roman, etc.
*Astonishing Prose Alert: "Este the gentle, healer of hurts and weariness, is his spouse. Grey is her raiment; and rest is her gift. She walks not by day, but sleeps upon an island in the tree-shadowed lake of Lorellin." Grey is her raiment; and rest is her gift. That's lovely.
*Astonishing Prose Alert Again:
"Mightier then Este is Nienna, sister of the Feanturi; she dwells alone. She is acquainted with grief, and mourns for every wound that Arda has suffered in the marring of Melkor. So great was her sorrow, as the Music unfolded, that her song turned to lamentation long before its end, and the sound of mourning was woven into the themes of the World before it began. But she does not weep for herself; and those who hearken to her learn pity, and endurance in hope."
*Sorrow is, I think, one of the great themes of art and one of the themes that touches me most deeply. As myself a Christian, I have found it incredibly difficult to make my feelings on sorrow understood to many others of my faith. The scripture speaks powerfully, of course, of joy and hope and victory. But central to my faith as a Christian is the concept of sorrow, of grief, of longing, of yearning, of essentially homelessness.
*To the Charismatic church, to the Prosperity Gospel preacher, to the megachurches and the teleevangelists, this isn't something to talk about or even think about. But it's always been key to my understanding of the person of Christ, the character of God and my status as a pilgrim in a land where I don't entirely belong, as a pilgrim soul, as . . . was it Yeats put it?
*I find images of sorrowing deities, then, incredibly powerful. The shortest verse in the New Testament, of course, is simply "Jesus wept," his reaction at the graveside of Lazarus.
*And in one of the great prophetic passages in Isaiah, Isaiah points toward a Messiah that Christians accept as Jesus (though the Jews, of course, do not) as being a "man of sorrows, acquainted with grief." Tolkien borrows that last phrase exactly from the KJV translation of Isaiah and applies it to Nienna here. A beautiful phrase it is.
*But the idea of a deity that weeps for our losses, that feels our sorrows and shares our griefs . . . this is a powerful, powerful, evocative idea. Though I am not Catholic, believe me when I say I understand why, in the Catholic tradition of icongraphy, when the images of Jesus and Mary are touched with divinity and the miraculous, they always weep.
*I would highly recommend you read a wonderful parable called The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin, a story of good versus evil among the animals of the barnyard. It is absolutely epic, mythic, powerful, horrifying and ultimately bound up in the idea of sorrow. The Dun Cow and the sorrow in her eyes forever changed the way I thought of God. Read it; it's a stunning book, sadly and strangely forgotten. Not for kids though, even though it's about animals. It'll shake you up with its violence and horror.
*Also at the end of that passage, and I know I grow long winded for which I apologize, Tolkien speaks of learning endurance in hope and later, in a passage I won't quote at length, of turning sorrow to wisdom. This is key to my understanding of my faith, in which all of the joys, victories and happinesses of life can only be truly experienced and understood after one has experienced grief, sorrow and despair. This is a deeply Biblical idea; after you have suffered a while, Paul writes, God will strengthen and settle you. The prosperity preachers and the jumpers and runners of the charismatic church seem to miss all this; they try to skip the hard part and gain only the reward. Apparently, they haven't read Job. Or Jeremiah. Or Lamentations. Ecclesiastes. Galatians. The Gospels. What have they read, exactly? Well, maybe now you understand why Job is one of my favorite books of the Bible.
*I had no idea I was going to get so confessional in these reviews. Oh, well.
*Lest you think I'm some kind of down in the dumps, always sad, pity party thrower, I'll talk about Tulkas who laughs ever and is the strongest of the Valar. Not that I think anyone who really knows me would really think that. In point of fact, I think that it's because of all that great sorrow and suffering in the world that we must make it a point to find happiness, a hard won happiness, a happiness gained through suffering and understanding of sorrow, but a deep, rich, vibrant happiness that appreciates all the great pleasures of life and appreciates them fully because we have suffered a little.
*Well, this section is just a description of each of the Valar and then of the Maiar and then lastly of Melkor and his compatriots. Oddly, something in just this, just the description of Tolkien's Valar has touched something very deeply in me. Obviously, Tolkien has found something incredibly archetypal in the Valar and the way he describes them.
*Anyway, most of the Maiar don't have names. They're helpers to the Valar, not as powerful and not as important, but worth mentioning.
*Astonishing Prose Alert Yet Again: Tolkien talks about the Maia, Osse, who controlled parts of the sea and was initially swayed to Melkor's side but was convinced to come back by his wife, Uinen.
*"He was pardoned and returned to his allegiance, to which he has remained faithful. For the most part; for the delight in violence has never wholly departed from him, and at times he will rage in his wilfulness without any command from Ulmo his lord. Therefore those who dwell by the sea or go up in ships may love him, but they do not trust him."
*Perfect picture of the sea.
*Last of all Melkor.
*Astonishing Prose Alert One Last Time:
*"From splendour he fell through arrogance to contempt for all things save himself, a spirit wasteful and pitiless. Understanding he turned to subtlety in perverting to his own will all that he would use, until he became a liar without shame."
*Okay, fans of the Silmarillion, am I the only one who just has to stop now and then and read a page or two aloud? Because this just begs to be read aloud.
*Okay, yes, I occasionally use a British accent.
*That's very chilling though; a liar without shame. God forbid any of us become that.
*So, Melkor seduces some of the Maiar over to his side. A few of them get special treatment, like whips of fire. These he calls Valaraukar. You might know them as Balrogs.
*Oh, never mind. You get it.
*Anybody ever see that great photoshop from Something Awful where Gandy was on the bridge facing the Balrog in a long shot from the movie and they had photoshopped, and very well, a stop sign in place of his staff. I loved that.
*And one other Maia bears mentioning. He was originally a servent of Aule, and thus a hewer of rock and stone. After he was corrupted by Melkor, he became known as Gorthaur the Cruel. Also, by another name: Sauron.
*Boom! So, we're almost finished now, right? He just needs to get defeated or something?
*Okay, so now I finally get it. You remember back when the movies came out? No, you don't? Well, there were these little movie adaptations by some dude with a totally forgettable name. Jackson or something. He really needs to jazz that name up if he expects to do anything.
*And anyway, back during that time, anytime I'd be in a group talking about the movies, it seemed like someone would have actually read all the books and they'd be all like, "Well, I don't like the movies" or "I don't think they'll be good" or whatever and they'd generally say something like, "I mean, they don't even really explain that Sauron is a Maia spirit and not a human and that's totally key."
*To which I would generally respond with, "Shut the hell up," or, in a playful mood, "I don't frigging care," or, on at least four occasions, "I couldn't give two craps."
*But, anyway, glad to finally have that settled. Yes, he's a Maia. Thanks for telling me all those hundreds of times, you guys. Now, shut the hell up.
*Well, as I said above, more great prose and, even though this passage is just descriptive character sketches . . . well, Tolkien has already touched me pretty deeply and tapped something very archetypal and evocative. Good stuff.
*Thus endeth the Valaquenta. Next time, the Years of the Trees, as covered in the first eleven chapters of the Quenta Silmarillion, History of the Silmarils.