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II. - Valaquenta: Named Gods Working

Wherein the names, aspects and affiliations of the Valar are given, and Melkor discounted from their number.


Tolkien once said that the worst thing you could possibly tell a child afraid of dragons was "dragons don't exist". This is true for many reasons, but his favoured alternative is about to become relevant: JRRT said that a better answer, to preserve faith in the storyteller and the listener's heart, would be "not any more, and certainly not here."

This, I believe, is where the very recognisable borrowed aspects that persist throughout the Silmarillion come in: the correlation of geography and half-seen shadows of other, known, mythologies say "this could be our world, but not any more, and certainly not here." The flickers of Jupiter and Cerunnos, Lucifer and at last Kullervo, are, I believe, intended to suggest the Silmarillion's antediluvian narrative is either a dimly-recalled ancestor of those tales, or at least belongs amongst them. It's a neat little trick often seen in fairytale retellings, or the telling of tales like fairytales: hit some familiar mythic beats, introduce familiar framework, and twist the tropes at just the right point and you produce a kind of over-there truth. Do it wrong - usually with aside order of gross cultural appropriation - and you're just saying "Shaitan" in a silly voice, and insulting your readers to boot.

The Valar's very light Classical varnish is most in evidence in this chapter, and it annoys me greatly, being at odds with a myth cycle that is otherwise consciously Northern. Tolkien was, however, writing an era when archaeology had only just developed beyond "dig until you hit Roman" and theories in which Arayans were a working hypothesis...very little was known about the far past, save that well-armoured Trojans and mysterious Babylonian kings had dwelt in it. So Tolkien seems to have grabbed the nearest "civilised" framework, since it helped him wedge traces of the Valar in the past whilst allowing them all to be straight-married in the proper fashion with no Trickster-gods in sight (I picture the Prof's expression getting increasingly horrified/bemused the more he found out about Loki's exploits and/or Odin's beskirted forays into seidr and just going 'Nope.'). It also helps him slip just a glimmer of his God behind ancient pagans' thoughts, hinting at a hope for their B.C. souls - for if Zeus is Manwë's shadow, and Manwë sprang from the mind of One...

Mythshadowing aside, the Valar are certainly not photocopied Olympians - very few are considered related to each other (intriguing, these related Thoughts), and all are on more or less equal footing under Manwë and Varda. Manwë and Melkor's brother status is a neat and subtle strand of the thunderbird vs. serpent duality found across the Northern heisphere, firmly establishing the Valar as nearer to animist cultures' greater spirits than pagan gods.

I cannot help but bring an archaeologist's perspective in here: treating the narrative of Silmarillion as it was likely intended, as the salvaged scraps of a long-vanished race, the stories help us to theorise about the people. Ulmo, in this instance, would likely be a relic god, left behind when envisioning the Valar as more like elves' modern selves due to his more ancient roots, reflecting a long-landlocked culture's awed fear of the sea, moving unseen in the deeps. Oromë is another such oddness - we have these creatures of fine works and lofty brightness...and then the god of killing things. Tulkas already covers war; whilst Oromë does represent a people who doubtless hunted to live, he rides the primordial horse, a manner of hunting that can provide surplus, and hunts inedible creations of Melkor by choice.

Going to rephrase this, because it's important: Tolkien's elves have a god of killing shit for fun. This does not say lettuce-eaters to me. His mate Vána is also a perplexing case, as she's listed amongst the more powerful spirits - Valar rather than Maiar - but is very vaguely referred to as having power over 'flowers' and gets listed after Oromë's possessions as sort of...being there. This breaks the established pattern in several ways, unless we consider the title Ever-Young, her only descriptor: Oromë may be ignoring her because she's a virgin-goddess, and their association arises from hunting as a main activity for the unwed.

Probably going to do the next four scene-setting mini-chapters at once, since they're thematically linked.
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onewhitecrow: goofy-looking albino raven on blue background (Default)
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July 2016

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