uncleftish beholding (oloriel) wrote in silwritersguild,
uncleftish beholding

SWG Re-Read - "Of the Beginning of Days" Discussion Post

First, the Graphics Post has been updated! A big thank you to lignota and ljusastjarnan for creating lovely new banners.

Second, welcome to the first of this fortnight's chapter discussions!
Just to clarify: This is not supposed to be purely a lecture or an essay exchange (although essays and lectures are welcome, of course), nor an elite club! Please feel free to comment on each other's thoughts, whether you agree, disagree or never thought about it like that before. That's how we're going to get a lively and (hopefully) fruitful discussion.
Please don't hesitate to join in – nobody's thoughts are "inadequate" or less valuable than anybody else's, no matter whether you've read The Silmarillion twenty times or whether this is your first, whether you know the History of Middle-earth by heart or never managed to plough through any of it, whether you've been in the fandom for 30 years or whether you're a newcomer. Everybody's got something to contribute!
Also, please don't think that you are "too late" if you don't respond to the discussion posts at once. They are not going to be locked down at any point, so if you have thoughts on past chapters, you can add them at any time, even weeks or months after they have been "due". (The due dates refer to the posting of the discussion and fanworks posts – they are not the only day on which anyone is allowed to contribute!)
Above all, we hope you have fun with this project!

OK, 'nuff of the preliminaries. Without further ado, we present... "Of the Beginning of Days".

Important: This is not a spoiler-free zone. It is hard to discuss any chapter in depth without referring to things that happen in later chapters. Proceed at your own risk!

Chapter 1 – Of the Beginning of Days

Banner by lignota.


In this chapter, we are told how the Valar order the world after having entered into it and driven Melkor out with the help of Tulkas, a late addition to their pantheon.

Their first attempt is a symmetrical shape, with a great lake and a huge island in the centre. In order to have light, they create great lamps – one in the North, one in the South – that provide a regular and unchanging light. But where there is light, there is shadow, and when the Valar are resting, Melkor uses that cover of shadow to secretly build a fortress in the far North. When the Valar become aware of his return and begin to search for him, he destroys the lamps, and with them the orderly shape of the world.

After that experience, the Valar choose a more secluded place for their new dwelling, making it even more inaccessible by raising high mountain walls, the Pelóri, to keep Melkor and his evil followers out. With the lamps destroyed, they need a new source of light, which is achieved in the shape of two great trees that take turns in growing, shining and fading. However, their light does not reach beyond the Pelóri, although some of the Valar still give some thought and care to Middle-earth.

The chapter closes with observations on the fate of Elves and Men after death.

Our Favourite Quotes

"The one had leaves of dark green that beneath were as shining silver, and from each of his countless flowers a dew of silver light was ever falling, and the earth beneath was dappled with the shadows of his fluttering leaves. The other bore leaves of a young green like the new-opened beech; their edges were of glittering gold. Flowers swung upon her branches in clusters of yellow flame, formed each to a glowing horn that spilled a golden rain upon the ground; and from the blossom of that tree came forth warmth and a great light."

"Thus in Valinor twice every day there came a gentle hour of softer light when both trees were faint and their gold and silver beams were mingled."

"But in the midst of the war a spirit of great strength and hardihood came to the aid of the Valar, hearing in the far heaven that there was battle in the Little Kingdom; and Arda was filled with the sound of his laughter."

"Now Melkor began the delving and building of a vast fortress, deep under Earth, beneath dark mountains where the beams of Illuin were cold and dim."

"And when Valinor was full-wrought and the mansions of the Valar were established, in the midst of the plain beyond the mountains they built their city, Valmar of many bells."

"And thus it was by the power of Ulmo that even under the darkness of Melkor life coursed still through many secret lodes, and the Earth did not die; and to all who were lost in that darkness or wandered far from the light of the Valar the ear of Ulmo was ever open; nor has he forsaken Middle-earth, and whatsoever may since have befallen of ruin or of change he has not ceased to take thought for it, and will not until the end of days."

Earlier Versions

This is not a chapter in its own right in the earlier drafts of the mythology; rather, it is handled either as an extension/sequel to the Ainulindalë narration (2; 6), as part of the Ambarkanta or "The Shape of the World" (3) and as part of the general timeline in the earlier and later "Annals of Valinor" (4 and 5) and "Annals of Aman" (7). Only later did it become an independent part of the Quenta Silmarillion (8).

A lot of details of the early version have been cut out of the final version, such as the detailed description of the order of the world, the different layers of air, the various spirits that are also counted among the Ainur (including sylphs, brownies, pixies, leprechauns and mermaids (2)). As has been mentioned in the discussion post for Valaquenta, there were additional Valar in earlier versions which were later omitted, including Makar and Meássë or Ómar/Amillo. Others were demoted from their original roles (such as Salmar, who originally was a Vala but later becomes a Maia in Ulmo's service). The children of the Valar disappear or receive new roles (the son of Manwë and Varda, Fionwë, becomes Ëonwë the herald of Manwë; Oromë originally was a son of Yavanna).

Various other details have also been changed. Some of the most interesting changes (in our opinions):

~ The Valar did not always shape the world symmetrically; rather, they were looking for the perfect place to settle. The lamps were made in order to make their search easier – not to light any finished abode. (2)

~ Originally, the pillars for the lamps were made by Melkor (Aulë merely created the lamps themselves). He claimed that they were made of some new and indestructible material he had invented himself, but in truth, it was ice – which naturally melted in the heat of the lamps it was bearing. (2; 3; 4; 5)

~ The light for the lamps wasn't always created by Varda (as is implied though not explicitly stated in The Silmarillion), but collected from where it floated freely through the airs and lands. Some (less focused) light remains hovering after the creation of the lamps (and some returns to the air when the lamps topple down), which explains why things continue to grow even after the destruction of the lamps and the building of Valinor: There is no (starlit) darkness, but a liquid sort of twilight. The light from the lamps that does not flow back into a high layer of air is later collected to feed the Two Trees. (2) Later, the Earth is dark "save for the glimmer of the innumerable stars which Varda made" (8) before the lamps are made, and the final Annals of Aman state that it is Varda who fills the lamps "with hallowed fire" (7).

~ In the earliest version, Laurelin (a.k.a. Lindeloksë) grows and blooms first, and Silpion (Telperion) comes after. (2)

~ Nienna starts out as a goddess of death, Fui Nienna, from whom Men learn their fate after death, depending on their character. There are apparently four options for their spirits: staying in Mandos; being sent forth beyond the Pelóri so "Melko [Melkor] seizes them and bears them to Angamandi [Angband], the Hells of Iron, where they have evil days"; transportation aboard a black ship called Mornië ("darkness") that bears them to a gloomy place where they have to wander and wait for the End of the World; or (very rarely) a special invitation to dwell and feast with the Valar until the End of Days. (2) But in the 1940s, Tolkien decided that the Valar (and thus nobody else, either) do not know what happens to the spirit of Men after they die and depart from Mandos. (6)

~ "Round World Version": The world is lit by the Sun from the start. Melkor wants to break the world so "none shall possess it". He doesn't succeed, but manages to tear off some portion, which he turns into a small satellite earth from which he can watch everything that happens in the world and work his evil. The Valar assault the place, banish Melkor and remove his mock-earth further from the "real" earth, where it remains as a mirror – becoming the Moon. (6 C*)

Some of these ideas appear to have been discarded relatively early on (or at any rate they do not appear again in later writings, though not all of them are contradicted at some point).

Food for Thought

~ In The Book of Lost Tales I, this story is told in a lot more detail, including descriptions of several of the Valar's houses in Valinor. If you create fanworks set in Valinor, do you look to these descriptions even though they did not make it into the final Silmarillion? Do you consider them as useful sources of inspiration, as canon, as obsolete, or something else entirely?

~ Why do you think Tolkien initially offered so many different afterlife options for mortals, and why did he change his mind?

~ Although Varda is the lady of light, the Two Trees are (in the published Silmarillion) achieved solely by Yavanna (with a little help from Nienna). Do you think this is intentional or accidental?

~ Despite (or because of) Melkor's power, do you think more of the Valar should have given thought and care to Middle-earth in the period after they built Valmar and the Two Trees, given that they knew the Children would arrive?

~How do you choose to deal with the different measurements of time offered for Valinor and Middle-earth at different stages of the story?

Works Cited

(1)The Silmarillion. "Chapter 1. Of the Beginning of Days".

(2)The History of Middle-earth: The Book of Lost Tales 1. "III. Of the Coming of the Valar and the Building of Valinor".

(3)The History of Middle-earth: The Shaping of Middle-earth. "V. The Ambarkanta".

(4)The History of Middle-earth: The Shaping of Middle-earth. "VI. The Earliest Annals of Valinor".

(5)The History of Middle-earth: The Lost Road and Other Writings. Part Two: Valinor and Middle-earth before The Lord of the Rings. "The Later Annals of Valinor".

(6)The History of Middle-earth: Morgoth's Ring. Part One. "Ainulindalë".

(7)The History of Middle-earth: Morgoth's Ring. Part Two. "The Annals of Aman".

(8)The History of Middle-earth: Morgoth's Ring. Part Three: The Later Quenta Silmarillion. "1.2 The First Phase: Of Valinor and the Two Trees".

Please note: We don't know everything and it's perfectly possible that we missed something. These summaries and questions are by no means supposed to be complete and exhaustive. If you have looked further into this particular topic or would like to discuss something that we've overlooked, please share it!
Tags: discussion, reading group, silmarillion re-read
  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.