Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of the Sun and Moon and the Hiding of Valinor
“Isil the Sheen the Vanyar of Old named the Moon, flower of Telperion in Valinor; and Anar the Fire-golden, fruit of Laurelin, they named the Sun. But the Noldor named them also Rána, the Wayward, and Vása, the Heart of Fire, that awakens and consumes; for the Sun was set as a sign for the awakening of Men and the waning of the Elves, but the Moon cherishes their memory.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! Instead of continuing on the tale of the Wars of Beleriand, Tolkien takes a step back this week and gives us some worldbuilding. We are prepping for the coming of Man, and this chapter paves the way for that to happen.
The chapter opens by returning us to Valinor and the council of Valar as they try to discern a course of action in the wake of the death of Telperion and Laurelin (the Trees of Valinor).
Yavanna goes to the trees, mourning their passing until she realizes that “Telperion bore at last upon a leafless bough one great flower of silver, and Laurelin a single fruit of gold.“
Manwë then hallowed them, and Aulë made a vessel to hold and protect them and their light. These vessels were to “become lamps of heaven,” so the Valar “gave them power to traverse the lower regions of Ilmen.” Ilmen is their word for the sky or the heavens (specifically, Tolkien called it “The region above the air where the stars are” in the name index).
The Valar did so to bring light back to Middle-earth, but also because “Manwë knew also that the hour of the coming of Men was neigh.” Since the Valar went to war with Melkor over the Quendi, they decided that they must then do something for the subsequent children of Ilùvatar. Men were to be mortal, whereas the Elves were not, so as a gift to them, these “lamps of heaven” were to become the Sun and the Moon, which we see in the opening quote of this essay.
We get two understandings from creating these two celestial bodies—the knowledge of mortality and the future sign of the Elves.
We know that Men are mortal, though, in Middle-earth, they had very long lives. But why would men be mortal when all other creatures are immortal (in Aman, beings can be killed at any time, Men are the only ones who have a definitive end to their life span)?
It’s the coming of time.
Before creating the Sun and the Moon, there was no absolute distinction of the passing of time. These started a day and an evening before Men even existed, thus establishing time benchmarks.
Men came into being knowing that there were absolutes, and where Tolkien doesn’t come out and say so (at least not yet), there is little coincidence here because Tolkien chose his wording very carefully.
It is also the first time we see “Earth” in the text instead of using Aman or Eà. I had heard somewhere that Tolkien’s main goal was to tie the history of Middle-earth into our own, so it would make sense that this is an origin story of mythological levels.
The second understanding we get here is the sign of the Elves. The Leaf of Telperion becomes the sign for the Moon or of Twilight. The Elves in Middle-earth prefer to live in Twilight, and we even see this in “The Lord of the Rings” with Arwen, also called Arwen Evenstar. Remember that Tolkien was a linguist, so knowing how we think about language, the phrase “Evening Star” could become the contraction of Evenstar.
The Evenstar is quintessentially recognizable because it’s the trinket that holds her essence, which she gives to Aragorn.
Peter Jackson took some liberties with the movie because here in the text of The Silmarillion; it’s told that the Evenstar, the sign of the Elves, is a “Flower of Silver.“
There is a certain melancholy associated with the Elves because “Evening, the time of the descent and resting of the Sun, was the hour of greatest light and joy in Aman.”
The Elves didn’t like the light; they preferred the Twilight, which could be why they called the land in Valinor “The Grey Havens.” It was not to indicate depression, but of a final blessing, the last light to be with the Valar in Valinor where they are meant to be. The Grey Havens are almost a moniker for Heaven. The phrasing is so close that it’s hard to refute.
But it was also during this time that Heaven became challenging to attain. The Valar became concerned for Valinor because of Morgoth’s wrath. He settled into his rage, and the Valar finally came to realize that Morgoth was intractable; thus, they created a barrier around Aman:
“But in the Calacirya they set strong towers and many sentinels, and at its issue upon the plains of Valmar a host was encamped, so that neither bird nor beast nor elf nor man, nor any creature beside that dwelt in Middle-earth, could pass that leaguer.“
Thus the creed of Mandos we saw two chapters ago became true:
“Thus it was that as Mandos foretold to them in Araman the Blessed Realm was shut against the Noldor; and many messengers that in after days sailed into the West none came ever to Valinor – save one only: the mightiest mariner of song.“
So how does Fëanor take this? Does he get along with the new children of Ilùvatar, Men?
Find out next week in “Of Men.”