“With Manwë dwells Varda, Lady of the Stars … Too great is her beauty to be declared in the words of Men or Elves; for the light of Illuvatar lives still in her face. In light is her power and her joy … Of all the Great Ones who dwell in this world the Elves hold Varda in most reverence and love. Elbereth they name her, and they call upon her name out of the shadows of Middle-earth, and uplift it in song at the rising of the stars.” — Silmarillion, Valaquenta
Indeed, Frodo can tell the Elves crossing the Shire in Fellowship are High Elves because they sing of Elbereth (see below). I wanted Varda to be youthful and yet matronly, which is befitting one of the greatest of the Valar. Her hair is similar to Galadriel’s which captures the light of the Two Trees of Valinor, but instead of the Trees it captures the light of her stars.
Varda inspired the longest verse of Sindarin to make it into one of Tolkien’s published works. “Ah!” but you might say, Galadriel’s lament is much longer than this fragment. To that I say, it is in Quenya, not Sindarin.
||A Elbereth Gilthoniel
silivren penna míriel
o menel aglar elenath!
o galadhremmin ennorath,
Fanuilos, le linnathon
nef aear, sí nef aearon!
|O Elbereth Starkindler,
white-glittering, slanting down sparkling like a jewel,
the glory of the starry host!
Having gazed far away
from the tree-woven lands of Middle-earth,
to thee, Everwhite, I will sing,
on this side of the Sea, here on this side of the Ocean!
“When therefore Earth was yet young and full of flame Melkor coveted it, and he said to the other Valar: ‘This shall be my own kingdom; and I name it unto myself!’ … And he descended upon Arda in power and majesty greater than any other of the Valar, as a mountain that wades in the sea and has its head above the clouds and is clad in ice and crowned with smoke and fire; and the light of the eyes of Melkor was like a flame that withers with head and pierces with a deadly cold.” — Silmarillion, Ainulindalië
This particular image isn’t entirely aligned with the vision of Melkor’s first incarnation within Arda, he comes amongst the other Valar in a form “dark and terrible”, but is hearkening back to Varda’s knowing of Melkor before the music and having rejected him. There is some ambiguity as to what sort of rejection, romantic or otherwise. I think the idea of Manwë and Melkor being “as brothers” in the mind of Illuvatar and Melkor’s spurned love ending up with his “brother” is an interesting one. Even though Melkor is the more powerful of the two, it cannot grant him fulfillment of all of his desires. It’s a little melodramatic, and I’m sure has spawned a thousand fanfics, but is not without merit.
Melkor, later Morgoth, is usually associated with the darkness. There is, however, reason to read the 3 “great” Lords of the Valar as alchemical elements which would place Melkor as fire. One big hint for this is the type of Maiar each Valar is associated with. Ulmo, who is unarguably associated with water has Ossë and Uinen, Maiar in charge of the tides and storms upon the seas. Melkor’s Maiar are the Balrogs and Sauron. The Balrogs are all fire spirits, although tainted with darkness — Gandalf describes Durin’s Bane as being “shadow and flame” — however not all of the fire spirits are tainted with that darkness, the sun is held by a Maiar of Melkor who defied him. It’s a little glimpse into what could have been had Melkor not fallen.
On my last read through of the Silmarillion, mostly on the beach on a mini-vacation, I noticed that certain passages really spoke to me visually. It’s not really surprising to me to have that be the case — Tolkien was a very visual writer, giving just enough detail to form a landscape or character, but leaving enough ambiguity to really capture the reader’s imagination.
So I decided that I would challenge myself to a back-to-back re-read of the Silmarillion, but this time sketching out the passages that invoke a particular image. This feat has been helped by the purchase of an iPad this semester, because one of my Anglo-Saxon books was only available as an e-book. I’ve been using the iPad mostly as a sketchbook after having devoured my Anglo-Saxon textbook over the course of an afternoon. It’s been a dream of mine for at least 12 years to have a functioning graphics tablet to sketch on, and although I haven’t yet hooked the iPad up to Photoshop on my computer (and I will eventually), I’ve been having fun doing quick sketches on it nonetheless.
“Behold your music! This is your minstrelsy;” — Silmarillion, Ainulindalië
Illuvatar showing the Ainur a vision of the product of their great music. Illuvatar is depicted in early Anglo Saxon garb and the Ainur as mere shadows in the glow of their first vision of Eä, shown as it would be during the first age.