The Tolkienic Song of Ice and Fire, Episode II
Bluetiger presents The Wayward Moons of Planetos and Arda
Table of Contents
Click on the link – the headline – of the chapter you would like to read or revisit, or scroll down to reach the Introduction and Part I of the second episode of Tolkienic Song of Ice and Fire. Sections which are marked with * are optional – but I encourage you to read them if you have the time, as whilst not directly relevant to the ASOIAF discussion in this essay, they provide context for events, concepts and characters of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Legendarium.
The Mythical Astronomy of Ice and Fire by LML: A Summary by Archmaester Aemma
George R.R. Martin and Tolkien
Part I: The Cosmology of Arda
Unreliable Chroniclers, History versus Myth, the Round World and the Flat
Ainulindalë: A Summary by Archmaester Aemma
Lords and Queens of the Valar
The Valar and the Seven
The Two Lamps of the Valar and the Spring of Arda*
The Two Trees of Valinor
The Stars and Constellations of Arda*
Orion: The Swordsman of the Sky
The Stars and Constellations of Arda Continued*
Morningstar before Earendil?*
GRRM and Tolkienic Symbolism
The Chronology of Arda*
The Noldor and the Darkening of Valinor
The Long Night
The Sun and the Moon
Part II: The Family of Ice and Fire
Fëanor: House of Fire
Fingolfin: House of Ice
The Battles of Beleriand*
Fingolfin and his Children
Maeglin and the Fall of Gondolin*
House of Finarfin*
Gil-galad was an Elven-king…
Part III: The Song of the Sun and the Moon
House of Thingol, Elwing*
The Voyage of Eärendil and Elwing to Valinor
The Glory and Downfall of Númenórë
The Unity of the Sun and the Moon
The South: Gondor
The North: Arnor
Minas Ithil, Minar Morgul
Before I came across LML’s Mythical Astronomy essays I cared little about astronomy, my knowledge was scant at best, and probably even worse, and I saw no reason to become acquainted with this vast field of science. And symbolism based on the observation of the ‘vault of heavens’, changes in the length of day and night, falling stars, constellations and their creation myths, and so on… I saw no use to it. To any symbolism, to be honest. That was something to be discussed during literature classes at school boring, terribly boring. Something to learn by heart one evening, pass the test, preferably with good marks, and forget on the morrow.
Open the books on page 129, and read the table with various symbols and their meanings in Late Medieval literature. ‘The Thesaurus of Medieval Allegories and Symbols’. Old, dry-as-bone facts, and totally useless. Unicorn stands for virginity, lion for pride, wolf for greed, ebony is for persistence, sword for power and strength and justice and punishment and who cares. Black signifies sin and darkness, white purity, red blood and power and love and yellow is for Judas and all traitors in general.
Greek myths, as explained in the textbooks, were nonsensical, silly old stories written or compiled by men who probably never existed (thanks for this ‘fun fact’ beloved textbook). In the beginning there was Chaos, and somehow it begot Eros and Gaia, whose husband was Uranos who gave birth to the Cyclopes and the Hundred-Handers and the Titans. More names! Demeter, Hades (hey, I know this dark guy from the cartoon), Poseidon (cool trident, a sculpture of this ridiculous fishman stands at our city square), Hera, Zeus… and all his children and love interests. Leto, Maia, Dione, Semele, Mnemosyne. Athena, Hermes, Artemis, Apollo, Dionysus, Heracles… Chaos indeed. But not just primordial. Everlasting.
Now that I’ve read about the characters, I can read about the point of those stories (if any exists). Myth tells a sacred story. Well, those stories I’ve read are either funny or stupid or scary. It explains the beginning of the world, natural phenomena, it shows that the universe exists for a reason. Yes, to contain all that chaos. The heroes of myth are beings with extraordinary powers. OK, extraordinary. And bizzare. Women with snakes in their hair turning people to stone, flying horses, flying dudes carried by wings of feathers and wax… I’ve had enough. And the history book tells me they really believed all of this was true. Well… ‘They were dumber back then’.
Now, some terminology. Myth. Mythology. Cosmogonic myths. Theogonic. Anthropogenic. Etiological. Heroic. Myths can show us important truths about the world. Of course. How to interpret myths… hmm, maybe this section will tell me how to make sense of this… weird mythology thing. Demeter myth explains why the seasons change. Because some made-up guy stole a nonexistent girl? Cool, the ground split open and a black chariot pulled by stallions dark as night rode forth. Because someone plucked the wrong flower. Thank you sir.
Archetypes. Short text on a sidebar. Ancient symbols hidden in the collective unconscious (hey, you should have warned me there will be hard words!). Father, Mother, Old Man, Night, Day. Carl Gustav Jung. Literary topos. Journey, Odyssey, Homer, blind man who may have not lived at all, as the sidebar rushes to explain. Modern myths. Someone compiles a retelling of twoscore ancient myths, and suddenly they become less nonsensical. Now, that’s a fine trick. Homework – draw a tree of the gods and goddesses, heroes, monsters, Hundred-Hands, hellhounds, three-headed dogs… and whatever else appears in those outlandish tales. No, thank you. Let me read Tolkien.
Now, the account of my experiences with mythology is somewhat exaggerated. My personal contact with myths and symbolism was that bad only in the beginning. In my later school years, I took part in some contest for school children, and the topic was mythology. I had to borrow one of those compilations from the library and read it, and it was surprisingly good. But still, those tales were little more than pointless fables to me.
Then I started reading Tolkien, not realising I’m reading myths, but of course I was, just a different kind than I was used to. Now, those were the stories I could fall in love with, and I did. The Silmarillion first, then LOTR and The Hobbit… and all other texts by Professor Tolkien I could get my hands on. The Children of Hurin, borrowed from library as I was returning home on the last school day before my winter break, mere days away from Christmas. That day we had our class Christmas Eve ‘supper’ (in the morning, of course). I remember that day in 2012, December the 21st, the day some said the world would end. I hoped it won’t, I wanted to read about Turin and Beleg, tragic misunderstandings and long-lost sisters, about black meteoric iron talking swords and golden dragons. Then The Unfinished Tales, The Tales from the Perilous Realm, later books about books. A book analysing the deeper meanings and clues hidden in songs and poems of The Hobbit were among first literary analyses I actually liked.
As I grew older, I understood more. Tolkien wanted to create a mythology for England, a Legendarium of stories ranging from historical chronicles, through epics and heroic poems, to romantic ballads, walking songs and Hobbit rhymes. Those stories were rooted in languages, those of our world Tolkien came to love, and those tongues of his own. They were inspired by old Anglo-Saxons histories and songs, by Norse myths of Scandinavia, tales I never heard before, but now liked better than those of the Greeks and the Romans. Nevertheless, I failed to see any myths based on astronomy, or those with symbolic meaning.
Then in 2014, during second holiday month and half of September, I read A Song of Ice and Fire, and thus I found the first tale as captivating as those of Tolkien’s. In October The World of Ice and Fire was published, and further kindled this passion. I joined the Westeros forums, and spent some time bumbling around in there. I had few (to be generous) interesting ideas and theories of my own, my posts seem so silly and generic now that I read them again. But that did not matter, as long as I could read those fascinating essays and theories of other posters. In 2015, LML started his Mythical Astronomy (back then Astronomy of Planetos) project. I read the first essays, understood little, but still enjoyed them. But as weeks and months went on, I digested all of it and discovered the amazing world of symbolism and mythology anew.
The myths are not nonsense, they simply speak to us in a language different from the one we use daily. The language of symbolism. And I saw that symbolism is more than reading long lists of plants, animals and colours, with their symbolic or allegorical meanings explained. Symbolism is an intellectual game, as engaging as any sport, or even more. A way to communicate truths over centuries and millennia, as the languages change and evolve, as peoples and nations rise and fall. Some things are unchanging. The nights are always dark, though today filled with dim electrical lights for those of us who live in cities, which dim out the stars… but its enough to leave them for some time, go to the mountains or visit a more rural area, and the stars are still there, arrayed in their constellations. The sun always rises, and sets. The same stars blaze in the night sky, their apparent movement changing slowly in the great precessional cycle. The same constellations can be observed, though we might give them different names than those who lived thousands of years ago in lands far away. But human nature remains unchanged, and although we have things like electricity, the internet and wield the power of fossil fuels and nuclear fusion we’re still only human, like those who lived thousands of years ago. Although we appear to be looming over them like giants, with our medicine, technology and culture, ultimately, we’re not so different from our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors. Love, hate, friendship, tears, laughter, wars, disasters, joy, births, deaths. We may have better technology and – theoretically – better understanding of nature. Yet we live on the same planet, under the same sky. There is wisdom to be learned from those ages drifting ever further away. Myths speak to us about human nature, growing up, fatherhood and motherhood, dealing with the loss of our loved ones, making sense of this beautiful but often harsh world… speaking of natural events here on Earth and in the sky, whispering words of wisdom in the language of symbols.
Previously, I cared little about stars, waxing moons, waning moons, full moons, new moons, eclipses and changes in day length. The sky in my city is often hidden, by clouds or smog, and light pollution is so heavy that stars can be seen rarely, and even then, only the brightest. I couldn’t name any constellations, nor see those imaginary shapes in the sky. This January I saw Orion’s Belt for the first time. Alnitak, Alnilam, Mintaka. Mentioned in the Bible and Kalevala. Known to Babylonians, ancient Egyptians, Armenians and Finns, the peoples of Siberia, the Seri people, the Lakota, even in the distant Polynesia. But unknown to me. I don’t claim to be an expert in this field even today, but I’ve read about the basic stars and constellations, their appearances in myths and stories. I know that myths describing those stars exist. One step, and small, but at least forward. Knowing the stars and astronomical phenomena, we can uncode the hidden meaning of some myths. In other cases we’ll need knowledge about historical context, plants of that region, traditions and customs, invasions and migrations, the cycle of seasons, and numerous other things. But now we realise that myths are not pointless, stupid fables. They have purpose, and meaning. We simply have to uncode it. That’s a small price to pay to gain the access to wisdom and lore and knowledge and history of countless generations.
Thanks to LML’s Mythical Astronomy, I saw not only those ancient patterns, but also how some modern artists use that symbolism to weave their own stories. And his essays convinced me George R.R. Martin is one of them.
The ancient fables of the Known World of ASOIAF, from places we get to know in the opening chapters of the first book, and places of which we hear only rumours, are based on actual events. The Long Night is this world’s global myth, while the Great Flood is ours. Azor Ahai and the forging of Lightbringer the Red Sword of Heroes cycle are the monomyth of Westeros and Essos. Astronomy explains those stories, the legends of ice and fire. Just like in our world, the observation of heavens was of crucial importance to the ancients. Few changes in the usually fixed pattern of stars and planets would go unnoticed if you can see the night sky clearly almost every day. And what they saw, they’d attempt to explain and pass down, in the universal language of myth. Sea-dragons might be meteors or comets landing in the sea. Storm deities personify the wrathful forces of nature. Other tales speak of the changing of seasons and climate, of isles sinking in the ocean and new land rising from the depths. And in the world of ice and fire, there surely will be tales explaining the Long Night.
As LML discovered, the Qartheen myth, the story about two moons in the sky, one of which wandered too close to the sun and cracked from the heat, with thousand thousand dragons flying out, so implausible at first glance, might be the key to unlock this world’s greatest secret. Planetos – as many fans call the planet on which Westeros and Essos are located – probably really had two moons, not unlike Arrakis-Dune. The red comet pierced this Second Moon, by accident or guided by malicious, nasty sorcerer. The comet, blazing in the sky like a bleeding star or burning brand, is the Red Sword of Heroes. Or villains. The moon was Nissa Nissa from the forging of Lightbringer story, and the sun was Azor Ahai. And the dragons? Moon-meteors, hitting Planetos on the onset of the Long Night. Rising ash and smoke would blot out the sun, causing the prolonged period of darkness.
The Mythical Astronomy of Ice and Fire by LML: A Summary by Archmaester Aemma
I’ll give you a little context and a taste for how this type of analysis works, I’ll briefly summarise LmL’s main thesis. First, a quick refresher on the Qartheen origin of dragons myth. (This is the legend Dany hears from her handmaiden Doreah in A Game of Thrones).
Once there were two moons in the sky, but one wandered too close to the sun and cracked from the heat. A thousand thousand dragons poured forth, and drank the fire of the sun. That is why dragons breathe flame. One day the other moon will kiss the sun too, and then it will crack and the dragons will return.
Now let’s compare with the key “third forging of Lightbringer” from the the Azor Ahai myth:
A hundred days and a hundred nights he labored on the third blade, and as it glowed white-hot in the sacred fires, he summoned his wife. ‘Nissa Nissa,’ he said to her, for that was her name, ‘bare your breast, and know that I love you best of all that is in this world.’ She did this thing, why I cannot say, and Azor Ahai thrust the smoking sword through her living heart. It is said that her cry of anguish and ecstasy left a crack across the face of the moon, but her blood and her soul and her strength and her courage all went into the steel. Such is the tale of the forging of Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes.
Although it may not seem like it at first glance, there is a surprising amount of overlap in these tales. Note how the moon “wanders too close to the sun” and that the Dothraki calls the moon a wife and the sun her husband. Compare this to Azor Ahai calling over his wife, Nissa Nissa – this implies Azor Ahai as the sun and Nissa Nissa, his wife-moon, ‘wanders too close to him’. What then happens in each of these tales? Well Nissa Nissa gets stabbed and her cry leaves ‘a crack across the face of the moon’, and the Qartheen myth implies the moon being destroyed as well. Finally, the moon releases dragons and Nissa Nissa forges flaming sword Lightbringer. And, would ya know it, Xaro Xhoan Daxos calls dragons ‘flaming swords above the world’ – implying that the result of Nissa Nissa’s death and the Qartheen moon destruction myth are symbolically equivalent.
In addition to this, The World of Ice and Fire gives us the myth of the Bloodstone Emperor, a man who killed his sister (like Azor Ahai killing Nissa Nissa because incest is a thing we know royals do in Planetos), and worshipped a black stone that fell from the sky (probably a meteor from the moon destruction of Qartheen myth), a crime so repugnant that the world was cast into darkness. This sounds like the Long Night, potentially caused by an impact winter that resulted from the moon destruction event raining down meteors on earth – implying Azor Ahai as the villain, not the hero. For more on this check out LmL’s Bloodstone Compendium.
George R.R. Martin and Tolkien
Thus myth and legend tell us about the cause of the most important ancient event of this world. This is one of the crucial things to understand about ASOIAF. Myths of Westeros, Essos and other lands describe, making use of symbolism, often based on symbolism and mythology of our world, the ancient astronomical and earthly events. But hints can be found in the ‘main story’ as well. Characters such as Daenerys Targaryen, Robb Stark, Jon Snow, Stannis Baratheon and Theon Greyjoy play the archetypal roles established in the age of heroes. Nissa Nissa and Azor Ahai. The Last Hero and the Grey King. Night’s King and his Queen. Events from that time are enacted once more, once symbolically. Thus, by looking at the present we can fill up holes in the histories we know, and by looking at the past, we can predict the future.
I trust most of you are familiar with LML’s great ideas anyway. I’ll be using LML’s ideas and research quote heavily in this essay so, whilst I provided a precis above that should allow you to grasp most of this essay, it may be a little less intuitive for people unfamiliar with LML’s ideas.
With Tolkienic Song of Ice and Fire episode one, I tried to stick with references to Tolkien found in ASOIAF and related material which are easy to see and understand without knowing Mythical Astronomy. Things like references in names, places, descriptions, sigils, historical events and such. This time, we’ll deal with ‘mythical astronomy’ of Tolkien. While I don’t think Tolkien wanted to hide, using symbolism based on astronomy, a second story behind the story he was telling, The Lord of the Rings and his other works are full of such symbolism, and references to various stars and constellations, as many characters and places are symbolically connected with astronomy. Themes such as the duality of sun and the moon, of day and night, of light and darkness, and of ice and fire can be found there as well.
In fact, it seems to me that some parts of George R.R. Martin’s mythical astronomy symbolism were inspired by Tolkien’s usage of this tool. But while Tolkien’s goal was to write a mythology, GRRM wanted to hide his mythology in the background of the fantasy story he was writing. This goes well with what numerous other fans and authors wrote about ASOIAF and its influences. GRRM often incorporates symbolism and traditions from our world’s cultures into his own world. Weirwood trees as Yggdrasil, Kings of Winter and wicker men, Garth Greenhand and sacrificed sacred kings… It is truly amazing how GRRM reconciles all that source material and weaves one consistent story of his own. H.P. Lovecraft, Frank Herbert, Jack Vance, Roger Zelazny… and J.R.R. Tolkien.
In the first chapter of the first episode of this series I explained how, in my opinion many people misunderstood GRRM’s approach to Tolkien. Unlike many authors who just copy-and-paste Tolkien’s ideas, GRRM rethinks those ideas, rejects some he doesn’t agree with, develops or adds others… In his own words:
When I read fantasy books by other writers, particularly Tolkien and some of the other people who followed Tolkien, there’s always this desire in the back of my head to reply to them: “That’s good, but I’d do this part differently,” or, “No, I think you got that wrong.” I’m not specifically criticizing Tolkien here — I don’t want to be portrayed as blasting Tolkien. People are always trying to set up this me-vs.-Tolkien thing, which I find very frustrating because I worship Tolkien, he’s the father of all modern fantasy, and my world would never exist had he not come first! Nevertheless, I am not Tolkien, and I am doing things differently than he did, despite the fact that I think Lord of the Rings was one of the great books of the 20th century. But there is that dialogue that’s going on between me and Tolkien, and between me and some of the other people who follow Tolkien, and it’s a dialogue that’s continuing.
With this episode, I’ll try to show you how Tolkien used symbolism based on astronomy, and how GRRM might have been inspired by it. This means we’ll discuss the cosmology of Arda, the Two Lamps and the Two Trees, the Sun and the Moon, swords like Narsil/Anduril and Gurthang and characters such as Galadriel, Fingon, Feanor, Nerdanel, Feanor’s Seven Sons. We’ll also take a look at an interesting ice and fire split in the House of Finwe, Morningstar and Evenstar related symbolism of Earendil and his sons Elrond and Elros (and their descendants), and of the Numenoreans. I’ll also expand on the connections and parallels I’ve found between the story of the Downfall of Numenor and the Great Empire of the Dawn legend found in The World of Ice and Fire. I only alluded to it in the first essay, as it was already over 20 000 words long, and to fully explore this topic I’d need… well, who knows how much space. And that can be hard to digest, especially for readers not well-versed in the meanders of Tolkien-lore. But I hope that together, we’ll manage to decode some of the hints GRRM has left for us!
This time I’d like to pay more attention to new terms, concepts and characters I’ll be talking about. TolkienicASOIAF Episode I was but an introduction to my series, where we explored some basic references to Tolkien that GRRM is making. Thus, no lengthy analysis of things like symbolism was needed. For example, you could agree that Ser Gladden Wylde is a reference to the Gladden Fields from LOTR, or not. There wasn’t much to discuss. With this piece, it’s going to be different. Well, I can’t wait to show you all those fine samples of Tolkien’s beautiful prose, and point out to the symbolism hidden in there.
We’ll revisit Numenor, and the realms the survivors of its downfall founded in Middle-earth, Arnor in the north and Gondor in the south, paying more attention to Elendil and his sons, Isildur and Anarion, the city of Osgiliath, the palantiri stones, the sword Narsil… and Minas Morgul, once Ithil. We’ll look out for flaming swords, dragons and other fell beasts, corrupted moons, Long Nights and other fun stuff.
There will be some sections where I’ll summarise the most important events of The Silmarillion. While they are not directly relevant to our ASOIAF discussion today, they provide the context for those characters, events and places that are very important. I encourage you to read them, but if you’d rather jump straight into ASOIAF analysis, or are a huge Tolkien familiar with all this lore, feel free to skip them – their headlines are underlined.
But before we move on, I’d like to express my gratitude to LML, host of The Mythical Astronomy of Ice and Fire blog and podcast, my dear friend, without whose encouragement Tolkienic Song of Ice and Fire would never come to be. And to all fellow Mythical Astronomers and members of the ASOIAF community on Twitter (Twitteros) and many forums and fansties, authors of many excellent essays, videos and podcasts. Let me name Crowfood’s Daughter of The Disputed Lands, Joe Magician of YouTube and The Clanking Dragon, Patrick of I Can’t Possibly Be Wrong All The Time, Archmaester Aemma of Red Mice at Play, Maester Merry of Up From Under Winterfell, Melanie Lot Seven, Sweetsunray of The Mythological Weave of Ice & Fire, Darry Man of Plowman’s Keep, Ravenous Reader. Their essays and videos and podcasts I wholeheartedly recommend. Thanks to all who took part in Twitter discussions that helped to forge and temper the ideas hereby presented, and for bearing with me, as I spammed your inboxes with messages about obscure details of Tolkien’s masterful worldbuilding.
Thanks to all who read my first essay, and helped to spread the word. Thank You for coming here today!
And finally, my undying gratitude belongs to the two great authors, J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin, often so different in their ideas and style, yet so similar in that they both created worlds that countless readers came to love.
Part I: The Cosmology of Arda
In this section I’ll discuss how peoples of Middle-earth envisioned the world they lived in, its beginning, structure and history. I’ll also explain who Eru Iluvatar is, talk about the Valar and the Maiar, and ancient history of Arda, with special consideration for events such as the destruction of the Two Lamps and the Two Trees, the Long Night and Darkening of Valinor, and the creation myth of the Sun and the Moon. I’d like to dedicate this chapter to LML, without whose encouragement this essay, and the first one, would most likely never come to be, and if it weren’t for his amazing Mythical Astronomy series, I’d have never noticed – nor deciphered – all this astronomical symbolism. Thank you my friend!
Unreliable Chroniclers, History versus Myth, the Round World and the Flat
Now, one of the most crucial things to understand about Tolkien’s mythos, commonly known as The Legendarium, is that those stories were in the making for decades. J.R.R. Tolkien made constant rewrites and changes. Some were minor, for example changing ‘tomatoes’ for ‘pickles’ in the opening chapter of The Hobbit. (To this day, fans speculate why he did it. Some believe that when Tolkien decided that this tale is set in the same universe as The Silmarillion, he wanted to erase this reference to a New World plant – although such plants – like potatoes – appear in The Lord of the Rings, and it is explained that they were brought to Middle-earth by Numenorean sailors. Others are of different opinion – that Tolkien, a well-known perfectionist – came to the conclusion that in April, when The Unexpected Party takes place, it’d be too early for fresh tomatoes).
But other differences between earlier and later versions of the Legendarium are more drastic and explicit – for example, in the one of the elder accounts of the story of Beren and Luthien, Sauron appears as Tevildo, the Prince of Cats, while in The Silmarillion version, he is one of the evil Maiar serving Morgoth the Dark Lord. Another major change was in the very shape of Arda, the world in which all stories of the Legendarium take place. Although in the earlier versions the world was indeed flat, and the perception the Numenoreans and other peoples had was correct – Arda was one hemisphere surrounded by ‘airs’ where the stars and other celestial bodies resided. That is known as the Flat World version of The Silmarillion.
And there is the Round World version, which Tolkien experimented with in his later writings. Here the account of Flat Arda is a myth of the Numenoreans, and the world was always a round planet. Also, it seems that the term ‘Arda’ was supposed to refer to the Solar System as a whole. The Two Lamps, which we’ll soon discuss, never truly existed, and the Sun and the Moon were not a fruit and a flower of the Two Trees of Valinor, but celestial bodies that have existed for eons, like in our world. In this continuity, nearly all more magical and mythical elements of the setting were explained as myths of the peoples inhabiting Middle-earth. The Silmarillion (meaning, the book we can read) was still an in-universe text, but not perfectly accurate, as is the case in the Flat World version of The Silmarillion, but sometimes erroneous. Fans of many works of fantasy might find this strange, but A Song of Ice and Fire fans probably won’t, as they’re well accustomed to the unreliable narrator.
If you think of The Silmarillion as Tolkienic equivalent of The World of Ice and Fire, than in the Flat World version the narrator is infallible and everything happened just as he describes it, but in the Round World continuity the narrator is more like Maester Yandel. Just Yandel’s Westerosi history gets more fantastic as we go back in time, The Silmarillion is mostly correct when describing events of the Third Age, Second Age is also nearly perfectly remembered, although some details about Numenor and distant continents visited by its sailors were lost when Numenorean archives were lost to the waves, with Elendil and his sons saving a fraction of that knowledge. Meanwhile, some First Age events can be questioned – ancient history of mankind, events where nearly all who took part in them died. But the most ancient histories should be taken with a very big grain of salt, especially those that took place before the Elves woke and met with the Valar.
Even in the Flat World version we are invited to question the oldest Elven legends. Of those Cuivienyarna is the most ancient. It describes how the first of the Elven kind woke on the shores of lake Cuiviénen in the far east of Middle-earth (Cuiviénen wasn’t a true lake, but a bay of the inland Sea of Helcar, in the foothills of the Red Mountains – not of Dorne).
In that tale, the first elves to awake are Imin (First), Tata (Second) and Enel (Third). Then three first elven women awake, Iminyë, Tatië and Enelyë. Their names also come from the words for first, second and third. Imin marries Iminyë, Tata Tatië and so on. The three first elven couples live their little lakeshore dell and begin exploring its surroundings. Not long after they find six sleeping pairs. By the right of his seniority, Imin chooses those 12 newly-awoken elves as his companions. At this point, there are 18 elves. In another valley, they see nine sleeping pairs, and Tata the Second chooses them for his tribe. Now there are 36 elves. A bit further, in a birch grove, they come across twelve pairs, and those 24 become Enel’s companions. Now that there are 60 elves, Imin sees that his tribe is by far the smallest, with only 12 members. When another group, of 18 pairs, is found in a fir-wood, Imin withholds from choice, believing that each group they find will be more numerous, and thus if he chooses the final, his tribe will be the most populous. Thus those 36 become Tata’s companions. Later, the 96 elves find 24 pairs, and Imin lets them join Enel’s tribe. But Imin’s hopes are mocked, and no further sleeping elves are found. According to the legend, all elves come from those 144 awoken elves, 72 fathers and 72 mothers.
This story explains how three main elven tribes came to be – those 14 Minyar (the Firsts), people of Imin and Iminyë’s tribe, became the Vanyar, half of the 56 Tatyar became the Noldor, and about three in five of the 74 Nelyar became the Teleri. In the Flat World continuity this tale might be true, but in the Round World version, the version with less mythical continuity, such histories are almost certainly fairytales. Here Cuivienyarna is not a historical account, but a tale for elven children, so they can learn the basics of the duodecimal counting system used by the elves.
I’ll have more to say about the various sunderings and tribes of the elves later. I brought up this topic here to better demonstrate how drastic the division between the Round and Flat World continuities are. J.R.R. Tolkien died before The Silmarillion was published, so we don’t know how the final versions of his myths would look like. But for some fans, myself included, all those different accounts really enhance the mythical feel of those stories. After all, in the real world, we often have different and sometimes even conflicting versions of the same myths. The Silmarillion as we know it presents one consistent story, compiled by Tolkien’s son Christopher. But to achieve this consistency some later ideas of Tolkien had to be dropped, or not mentioned, as they weren’t developed enough to decide what the author intended. Many stories were rewritten to fit the Round World continuity, but numerous others were not, and no one knew how Tolkien would have changed them. In the end, The Silmarillion, as published in 1977, is written from the Flat World perspective, and we can read about the other possibilities in the monumental The History of Middle-earth 12-volume series.
In this essay, for the sake of clarity, I’ll mostly stick to the published version of The Silmarillion, as it’s the one most Tolkien readers are familiar with, and which George R.R. Martin has surely read. I mean, we can’t rule out that he’s familiar with all those other versions, but I think that if he were to include references to Tolkien’s stories in his own books, he’d choose the ‘official’ version, the one more people know. Still, when discussing things like cosmology, I’ll mention how they were supposed to look like in other continuities.
With that caveat given, let us delve into the most ancient history of Arda.
I imagine every fan of A Song of Ice and Fire is familiar with these words, the creed of the Faceless Men of Braavos. But fewer realise that that both parts of this phrase come from J.R.R. Tolkien’s languages, the first one from Quenya of the High Elves (as I’ve said, we’ll get to those divisions and terms shortly) and the latter comes from Sindarin of the Grey Elves. Minas Morgul is a thing of the Third Age of the Sun, the fortress guarding one of the few entrances to Mordor, and the seat of the Witch-king, Lord of the Nazgul (Ringwraiths). I think every person who has seen the LOTR movies or read the books knows this place, even if he or she doesn’t recognise the name. Minas Tirith’s twin city, the fortress of corpse-pale stone, surrounded by ominous green glow. Gargoyles grimacing where the bridge begins, the polluted stream of river Morgulduin silently flowing below it. The stronghold of Dark Sorcery, its sigil being the corrupted moon and skull. Frodo and Sam crawling past the bridge with Gollum, a beam of green flame suddenly sprouting and piercing the clouds and vapours like one of the poisoned Morgul-blades. The enormous gate opening, and hosts of the Dark Lord under the Witch-king and his cruel lieutenants pouring forth like a dark wave. A dragon-like Fell Beast spreading its wings from the battlements overlooking the bridge and the gate, its shriek dartling the ears of the two Hobbits. An army marching on Minas Tirith. Haunting images indeed.
But morghulis is the latter part of the Braavosi proverb. As I said, Minas Morgul is a thing of the Third Age. I saw it fitting that we shall discuss it in the final part of this episode, for the sake of chronology, but also because that section will rely most heavily on mythical astronomy and speculation. And thus, we begin with the Valar and the beginning of Arda, the centuries before even the First Age – from past so distant and inconceivable, when there was no time, through the Years of the Lamps, then the Years of the Trees, and finally the Long Night (yes, this term, so important in ASOIAF, appears in Tolkien’s writing as well).
I said that the myths of The Silmarillion become more and more unreliable as we go back in time. But this isn’t always the case. In both versions of the Legendarium, the most ancient tale – Ainulindalë – is true. Or at the very least, describes real events, the creation of the world by Eru Iluvatar using symbolism. The book published as The Silmarillion contains not only Quenta Silmarillion, The Tale of the Silmarils, but also four shorter texts. Quenta is in the middle, followed by the Akallabêth, which tells of the rise and fall of Numenor in the Second Age, and Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, which describes the major events which took place after the Downfall of Numenor – the founding of Gondor and Arnor, the return of Sauron and the War of the Ring.
Before the chronicle of the wars of the Noldor and Morgoth over Feanor’s three precious jewels, come two texts. Ainulindalë, the account of the creation of the world by Iluvatar, and Valaquenta, the compilation of elven lore about the might beings known as the Valar, with some consideration for the Maiar and Morgoth’s servants like Sauron and the Balrogs.
Although there were no elven nor humans to witness the creation of Arda, the history described in Ainulindalë is true, in essence if not in details. The full account of the Music of the Ainur (as that’s what this title means in Quenya) that preceded the beginning of time is incomprehensible to humans of Middle-earth, and even the elves turned to symbolism and metaphor to describe the grandiose song that shaped the universe. But unlike our own creation myths, in Tolkien’s world, there can be no doubt that there was indeed Eru Iluvatar the God, who first created the angelic beings known as the Ainur. While the reader can speculate whether the Lord and Ladies of the Valar really literally shaped Arda like a craftsman shapes his works, or if the descriptions of those might beings raising mountain ranges and moving stars and performing many other marvellous acts are what elven chroniclers understood of natural processes overlooked by the Valar, it is certain that Eru Iluvatar and the Valar are real.
Ainulindalë describes how Eru Iluvatar (The God) created many spiritual beings called the Ainur, which in the language of the High Elves, Quenya, signifies the Holy Ones. In many letters, Tolkien would describe them as angels of his Catholic faith. Each of the Ainur wielded great power, but as the Great Ones tower over other beings, Iluvatar transcended them infinitely, as each Ainu (singular form of ‘Ainur’) could comprehend only that part of Eru’s mind from which he came. (While talking of the Ainur it is hard to determine which pronouns to use, as they are spiritual beings who don’t require physical bodies, but still, they have genders, which affect the physical forms in which they appear to better communicate with humans and elves).
Eru means ‘He Who Is Alone’, while Iluvatar signifies ‘The Father of All’ (Allfather). I’ll describe the principal of the Ainur a bit later, while discussing the Valar and the Maiar, who belong to this group of beings.
The greatest of the Ainur was Melkor, which means ‘he who arises in might’. If you’re familiar with Morningstar and Evenstar based symbolism, and I guess most Mythical Astronomy fans are, then you can probably see where this is going, even if you have never read Tolkien’s books.
Iluvatar gathered all of the Ainur, and presented to them a musical theme, and the Ainur started their famed song, the Music of the Ainur. But because of Melkor, a discord entered this melody, and it was no longer a beautiful tune, but a turbulent sea of sounds. Then Iluvatar gave the Ainur his second theme, but again, Melkor’s discord rose again. As the third theme played, it seemed that there is not one music, but two songs played at once, once deep and beautiful, but full of sorrow, the second loud, but vain and clamorous, and without rhythm. Iluvatar rose, and the music died out, and no such music was heard again anywhere in the universe. According to prophecy, the world will end in the same manner as it has began, with another song, the Second Music, in which elves and humans will take part as well.
After the third theme ended, there came silence, and Iluvatar showed the Ainur a vision, telling them to behold their music. And they saw the history of the world as it unfolded before their eyes, and for the first time, glimpsed the Children of Iluvatar, Men and Elves, which Iluvatar sung personally into the third theme. Then Iluvatar said ‘Eä! Let these things Be!’, and this word, Eä, became the name of the Universe as a whole. And in the darkness of the primordial Void, the Ainur saw light appear, like ‘a living heart of flame’. Eru sent his Flame Imperishable into this created universe, and it became real.
Iluvatar permitted those of the Ainur who willed so to enter this physical world. And in this way, although Ainur beyond count remain with Eru in his Timeless Halls beyond the world, many entered Eä. The mightiest of those where the Valar, the Powers of the World, whom humans often called gods, but in reality, the Fifteen Valar were emissaries of Iluvatar, and guides to his Children. All were true to this mission, with the exception of Melkor, who later lost his Valar status.
There are seven Lords of the Valar, and seven Queens, also knowns as the Valier. They form the Tolkienic ‘pantheon’, as they seem to be heavily inspired by the Greek and Norse gods, but adapted to Tolkien’s Christian perception of the world. They are not truly gods, though some inhabitants of Arda know them by this name, but the true God’s emissaries. I’ll describe the Fourteen of the Valar, not only because I like talking about Tolkien’s works, as you’ve surely noticed, but also because by using the term ‘Valar’ in A Song of Ice and Fire GRRM might be trying to show us that he was inspired by the Powers of Arda while creating pantheons and religions and myths for his fictional universe.
With Melkor no longer a Valar, we will start this description of the Valar by looking at his brother Manwe.
Ainulindalë: A Summary by Archmaester Aemma
Here follows a summary of Ainulindalë, the account of the creation of the world, for those of you who chose to skip this section, where I narrated the tale of the Music of the Ainur.
The Ainulindalë describes how Eru Iluvatar (The God) created many spiritual beings called the Ainur, which in the language of the High Elves, Quenya, signifies the Holy Ones. In many letters, Tolkien would describe them as angels of his Catholic faith. In Quenya, Eru means ‘He Who Is Alone’, while Iluvatar signifies ‘The Father of All’ (Allfather). Iluvatar gathered all of the Ainur, and presented to them a musical theme, and the Ainur started their famed song, the Music of the Ainur. The greatest of the Ainur was Melkor, which means ‘he who arises in might’, and he introduced a discord to this melody, so that it was no longer a beautiful tune, but a turbulent sea of sounds. This happened a second and a third time, with the Ainur creating beautiful music and Melkor introducing disharmony. After silence that followed the third song, Eru Iluvatar used this music to create the universe, Eä, and permitted those of the Ainur who willed so to enter this physical world. And in this way, although Ainur beyond count remain with Eru in his Timeless Halls beyond the world, many entered Eä. The mightiest of those where the Valar, the Powers of the World, whom humans often called gods, but in reality, the Fifteen Valar were emissaries of Iluvatar, and guides to his Children (Elves and Men). All were true to this mission, with the exception of Melkor, who later lost his Valar status and became known as Morgoth, the Dark Tyrant.
Lords and Queens of the Valar
* Manwë, also known as Súlimo (Breather), has many titles: High King of Arda, Lord of the Breath of Arda, Elder King and Vice-regent of Eru. His sceptre is made of sapphire, his robes are blue, and ‘blue is the fire of his eyes’, as The Silmarillion tells us. Manwe’s ‘area of expertise’ is wind, from the most faint whiffs in the meadow to the winds blowing in the Veil of Arda, the upper atmosphere. One of his closest friends was Ulmo, the Valar ruling all waters, and together they created clouds. As I’ll show in a later section about Numenor, Manwe shares some similarities with the Storm God of the Ironborn religion, which is not surprising, as both are sky deities. But it’s possible that this is not merely an accidental similarity, and I think some of the language used to describe the foe of Iron Islanders suggests that GRRM made an intentional parallel here.
For those of you who are not familiar with this character, I think the easiest way to imagine him is to think of all the ‘sky-father’/’storm god’ mythological figures, but also of Archangel Michael of Christian faith. (In fact, the Valar can very well be thought of as Archangels, and the rest of the Ainur as angels).
Manwe’s seat is Ilmarin, the tallest of the towers built on the highest peak of all Arda, Taniquetil the White Mountain, Amon Uilos, Oiolossë the Everwhite, Elerrína Crowned with Stars. If his wife Varda sits beside him, Manwe can see all that happens across the world, his sight piercing mist and darkness alike, and she could hear all. The Great Eagles are Manwe’s servants.
* Manwe’s wife Varda was given many titles and epithets by the elves, just like her husband. Those who spoke Quenya of the High Elves called her Elentári, Queen of the Stars, and Tintallë, the Kindler. For the Grey Elves, she was Elbereth, The Star-queen, Gilthoniel the Strakindler and Fanuilos the Everwhite. In the beginning, Melkor who would become the Dark Lord desired light, but could not control it. He turned to Varda, but she rejected him, and thus Melkor hated her and feared her more than any other of the Valar. It was Varda who filled the Two Lamps with light, and made many of the stars of Arda, arranging them into constellations.
* Ulmo is the Lord of Waters, Dweller in the Deep and King of the Sea. Normally I’d ask you to imagine him as a Poseidon-like figure, but since we’re talking ASOIAF there is no such need, for the Drowned God is also remarkably similar. The Valaquenta describes him in those words: Arising of the King of the Sea was terrible, as a mounting wave that strides to the land, with dark helm foam-crested and raiment of mail shimmering from silver down into shadows of green. Nevertheless, Ulmo loves the Children of Iluvatar and never forsook them. As you might remember, in LOTR the Nazgul are afraid of water, and some fans speculate that this is because they fear the Lord of Waters, not only seas and oceans, but also the smallest stream. Among Ulmo’s attributes are the Ulumúri, the great horns of the sea made of white shells. It is said that when one hears them, longing for the sea will awake in his heart. But the true voice of Ulmo is the tongue of the waves: Ulmo speaks to those who dwell in Middle-earth with voices that are heard only as the music of water. For all seas, lakes, rivers, fountains and springs are in his government; so that the Elves say that the spirit of Ulmo runs in all the veins of the world. This description reminds me of that scene in A Feast for Crows where Aeron mentions that his Drowned God speaks to his faithful in the language of the leviathan and in the waves hammering on the shore.
One of the most well-known depictions of this Vala is the scene where King of the Sea appears before Turin’s cousin Tuor and bids him to go and find the Hidden City of Gondolin. Its author is Ted Nasmith, who illustrated parts of The World of Ice and Fire as well. It’s curious that GRRM chose this artist famous for his works related to Tolkien’s Legendarium, don’t you think? Ted Nasmith was also the illustrator of his 2011 ASOIAF calendar, so I think this speaks of deep admiration GRRM has for his works. And I suggest this admiration comes from the time when George enjoyed his Tolkienic graphics in The Silmarillion.
* Aulë is the Smith of the Valar, the master craftsman and expert in all matters connected with gemstones, jewels, metallurgy, forging and rocks. He desired to create a sentient race, who would be his children. And so he did, creating the first seven dwarves. But nothing can remain hidden from Iluvatar, and Eru spoke to Aulë, pointing out that his ‘children’ are merely mindless puppets, who do only what Aulë tells them to do. The Vala repented and lifted his hammer to destroy the dwarves, but Iluvatar told him to stop. Then Aulë realised that the dwarves showed fear and flinched, although he gave them no such command. It was Iluvatar who took pity and gave them sentience and granted them true life, which the Valar could not do. This the dwarves became ‘adopted’ Children of Iluvatar.
* Yavanna, Giver of Fruits, was Aulë’s wife. She was also called Kementári, which means Queen of Earth. She took care of all things growing, from moss to giant trees, and made them bloom and rippen when harvest-time came. The Valaquenta describes some of her many forms: In the form of a woman she is tall, and robed in green; but at times she takes other shapes. Some there are who have seen her standing like a tree under heaven, crowned with the Sun; and from all its branches there spilled a golden dew upon the barren earth, and it grew green with corn; but the roots of the tree were in the waters of Ulmo, and the winds of Manwë spoke in its leaves. When she heard of the Dwarves, she was afraid that they would fell all the woods of Arda to feed their furnaces and forges. In response to her prayer, Iluvatar sent spirits that became the Shepherds of the Trees, better known as the Ents. How Tolkien’s ideas connected with trees influenced GRRM is a fascinating topic, explored – among others – by JoeMagician in his essay Weirwoods: The Wight Trees.
* Mandos is the keeper of the Houses of the Dead, the Judge and Doomsman of the Valar. His true name is Námo, but few used that name, calling him Mandos after the Halls of Mandos which were his seat. When Melkor was captured by the Valar, he was placed in Mandos’ custody. But generally, Mandos is more similar to those psychopomp figures from mythology who are not evil or malicious.
* His wife is Vairë, the Weaver, whose tapestries chronicle all history of Arda.
* Irmo, also known as Lórien, is Mandos’ younger brother. Together they are called the Fëanturi, Masters of the Spirits. But while his brother is responsible for summoning the spirits of the dead to his halls – so Elves can be re-embodied and return, and Men prepare for their journey beyond the world to Iluvatar – Irmo’s domain are visions and dreams.
* Estë the Gentle is the healer of weariness and hurts. She wears grey, and her greatest gift is rest. Even other Valar visit her gardens to repose from their burdens of ruling Arda.
* Nienna is the sister of the Fëanturi brothers. She is well acquainted with grief and sorrow, and she mourns all wounds the world suffered because of Melkor. But she teaches strength and endurance as well, and those willing to learn from her gain new courage. Among her students was Olórin, who would become Gandalf. Similarly to him, Nienna wore a grey hood.
* Tulkas the Strong was the last of the Valar to enter Arda, but his help in wars with Melkor was great. He needs no weapon, only his fists, but even as he fights, Tulkas is always laughing. This Vala reminds me Lyonel Baratheon the Laughing Storm… or of King Robert, as it is noted that Tulkas isn’t the best counsellor, but can be relied on as fierce warrior and hardy friend.
* Nessa, called the Dancer and the Swift, was his wife. She is swift as an arrow, and deers of the woods are her companions. Still, she can outrun them.
* Oromë the Hornblower is Nessa’s brother. This Vala was known as The Huntsman of the Valar, Great Rider, Aldaron and Tauron, Lord of the Forests. Where Tulkas is cheerful even in battle, Oromë is dreadful in anger. His delight is hunting monsters and other dark creatures, and riding on Nahar, his great horse. His horn is Valaróma the sound of which is like the upgoing of the Sun in scarlet, or the sheer lightning cleaving the clouds. In the elder days he would ride across Middle-earth’s woods, and shadows would flee before him. It was Oromë who first came across awakened elves.
* His wife is Vána the Ever-young, Yavanna’s younger sister who took care of animals and plants both.
As a fun fact, I’ll mention that in older versions of Tolkien’s Legendarium, the Valar had children, known as the Valarindi. And there are the so-called ‘Lost Valar’, characters Tolkien abandoned – Nielíqui (daughter of Oromë and Vána), Telimektar (Tulkas’ son), Ómar (who knew all languages), the warrior Makar and his sister, the spear-wielding Meássë, also known as Rávi (ravennë means lioness). (Shout out to Ravenous Reader!)
Melkor who betrayed Eru and fought other Valar is no longer counted among them. He became known as Morgoth, the Dark Tyrant, and the Dark Lord.
Besides the Valar, less mighty Ainur spirits entered Arda. Those became known as the Maiar. Some helped the Valar in their efforts, while others joined Melkor.
The principal of the Maiar were Eönwë, Manwe’s herald and commander of his armies, and Varda’s handmaiden Ilmarë. The Balrogs were Maiar associated with fire who became corrupted by the Dark Lord. Their lord was Gothmog, Melkor’s High-captain.
In memory of this Balrog (or in mockery), a member of Sauron’s army in the Third Age bore this name as well. That Gothmog was a Lieutenant of Minas Morgul who was second in command during the Siege of Minas Tirith. Sometimes, Sauron is like the First Order from new Star Wars movies. The second Dark Lord, a Morgoth wannabe, who just names stuff after First Age artifacts (for example, the battering ram that broke the gate of Minas Tirith was named after Morgoth’s warhammer).
Other important Maiar were Arien and Tilion, who guided the Sun and the Moon respectively (I’ll have much more to say about them when we reach a section about the tale of the creation of the sun and the moon). The group known to the people as the Wizards were all Maiar as well, sent by the Valar to undermine Sauron’s influence: Alatar and Pallando (the Blue Wizards), Curumo (Saruman), Aiwendil (Radagast) and Olórin (Gandalf). Sauron, once called Mairon, which means the admirable, was a Maiar as well. In the beginning he served Aulë the Smith, but later joined Melkor. Melian, who later married the elven king Thingol and gave birth to Luthien was of the Maiar as well.
The final named Maiar were Ulmo’s vassals – Salmar who made his conches and Ossë who rules the coasts and isles of the Middle-earth. He joined Melkor, but later repented thanks to the efforts of his wife Uinen, and was pardoned by the Valar. Uinen is the Lady of the Sea, and to her all sailors cry for protection.
The Valar and the Seven
Now, it is possible that some of the Ainur influenced the deities GRRM created for his world – the Storm God has much in common with Manwe, Ulmo with the Drowned God, and Uinen with the Lady of the Waves worshipped by the people of the Three Sisters, to name a few. But recently, I began to wonder whether the Faith of the Seven itself might have been inspired by the Valar. Of course, it is largely based on Catholicism and the Holy Trinity, but the Valar might have played a role as well. There were seven Lords of the Valar, and seven Queens after all.
And there are some similarities between the Seven and the Aratar (The High Ones of Arda, The Exalted Ones), a group of the Eight greatest Valar. I’m not entirely convinced about this theory, but still, some similarities are there. The Aratar are: Manwe, Varda, Ulmo, Yavanna, Aule, Mandos, Nienna and Orome.
If I were to match each of them with one of the Seven, the list would look like this: Manwe-Father, Varda-Mother, Orome-Warrior, Aule-Smith, Nienna-Crone, Yavanna-Maiden and Mandos-Stranger. Ulmo would be left out, but it’s possible that GRRM left him out because he has already used him to create the Drowned God… and there’s this weird story in The World of Ice and Fire where one of the Hoare kings of the Iron Islands decrees that the Drowned God is one of the ‘Eight Gods’. This might be a reference to the Aratar. Now, the matches for Manwe, Aule, Mandos and Nienna fit nicely, but I’m not so sure about the others. Yavanna might be considered a Mother, as in ‘Mother-Nature’, but also a maiden, as in ‘Corn-maiden’. The Maiden of the Faith ‘dances through the sky’ according to The Song of the Seven, so maybe we should connect her with Varda. Although Tulkas is the ‘main’ warrior of the Valar, Orome’s area of expertise is also martial – riding, hunting and slaying monsters, so I associated him with the Warrior.
As I’ve said, I’m not entirely convinced about those correlations. But it is surely no coincidence that GRRM picked the word ‘Valar’, so they probably were among his inspirations. As Archmaester Aemma pointed out, GRRM might be referencing the Valar, and to be more specific – Mandos – when he has the Kindly Man ask Arya ‘And are you a god, to decide who should live and who should die?’. Valar morghulis…
The Two Lamps of the Valar and the Spring of Arda
With this basic introduction to the Valar completed, we can move on to the real main topic of this section, the cosmology of Arda.
According to The Silmarillion, when the Valar completed their task of shaping and decorating Arda, they settled on the Isle of Almaren in the middle of the Great Lake in the middle of the entire world – back then, Arda was perfectly symmetrical. Melkor was gone, or so it seemed, as he fled in the aftermath of the First War, when Tulkas the Valiant descended to Arda. Melkor descended to Arda like the other Valar – 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 heat and pierces with a deadly cold. But when the others built, Melkor destroyed and corrupted. The Valar battled him, but could not overcome him, until Tulkas joined them in their efforts. Then Melkor passed the Walls of Night that surrounded the world and hid in the void.
The world was at peace, but darkness covered it. To bring light, so plants of Yavanna can flourish, the Valar constructed the Two Lamps. Aule raised the high pillars upon which they were placed, sky-blue Illuin in the north, and golden Ormal in the south. Varda filled them with light, and Arda became covered in trees, grasses and moss. A long period of happiness called the Spring of Arda began.
Arda during the Years of the Lamps, chart by BT
But unbeknownst to the Valar, Melkor returned from beyond the Walls of Night, and settled in the northern region of Arda, where the raised his stronghold called Utumno. From this fortress his hosts assailed the Two Lamps, and destroyed them. The lands were shattered upon their fall, and their flame poured over the earth. Seas rushed inlands, and the primordial symmetry the Valar have designed was lost. The world was once again enshrouded in darkness.
The collapse of the towers changes the layout of all lands, seas and mountains. The Sea of Ringil formed where Ormal once stood, and the Sea of Helcar where Illuin fell. In older versions of this myth, Tolkien wrote that the Lamps were made of ice and Melkor and his Balrogs were able to melt them. In yet another version, Melkor feigned friendship with the Valar and provided them with material from which they constructed the Lamps – ice.
In this era there were three continents that we know of. The Land of the Sun was located in the far east, with its mountain range being the Walls of the Sun. In some texts this continent is called Oronto, The East (Uttermost East), and the highest peak of the Walls of the Sun is called Kalormë, The Crest over Which Sun Rises.
Arda during the Years of the Trees, chart by BT
In the middle was Endor, or Middle-earth, with its Blue, Grey, Yellow and Red Mountains, and the Iron Mountains which protected Melkor’s stronghold of Utumno in the frozen north.
The Great Sea, Balegaer, separated Middle-earth from the Uttermost West. It was there the Valar settled after abandoning ruined Almaren. This continent became known as Aman, the Blessed Realm. The Valar raised the range of Pelóri, the Mountains of Defence, on the eastern shore. There they founded the realm of Valinor, fabled in history and songs.
Now, it is important to note that Aman and Valinor are not synonymous, as apart from Valinor surrounded by the Mountains of Defence, this continent had several other realms. In the south, there was a coastal strip of land between the Mountains and the sea called Avathar, a place of eternal darkness which will play an important role shortly before the Long Night. In the north, beyond Pelóri, lay the land of Araman, a frozen waste connected to Middle-earth by the frozen icy waste shrouded in mists called Helcaraxë, the Grinding Ice or the Narrow Ice.
The Two Trees of Valinor
Of the marvels of Valinor much can be said, and here I’ll merely mention the most important areas and places. In the south there were the Pastures of Yavanna, vast sprawling fields ornamented with golden wheat. In the Woods of Oromë animals and beasts of all kind were numerous, and the Vala enjoyed riding and hunting in this grand forest. In the west of the Uttermost West Nienna lived in her Halls, with windows looking outward of Walls of the World. To the Halls of Mandos the spirits of the dead were summoned, immortal Elves to await to be re-embodied, and mortal Men in preparation for their final journey out of this world. Vairë wove the threads of time and decorated the falls of Mandos with tapestries which chronicled the history of Arda. To the Gardens of Lórien all who were weary could come to rest, as their keeper Irmo was the Vala of dreams and visions. Apart from Irmo, Estë the Healer dwelt in the gardens as well. Aulë’s mansions were filled with forges and furnaces.
The place where the Valar gathered to convene was called Máhanaxar the Ring of Doom. Varda and Manwë lived in Ilmarin, atop the highest peak of both Aman and Arda, Taniquetil.
When the Elves came to Valinor, they built many cities and towers. Tirion upon Túna, the seat of the King of the Noldor. Fëanor’s stronghold of Formenos in the north, to which he was exiled for threatening his brother with a sword. Valmar of Many Bells, where some of the Vanyar elves lived, although others dwelt on Taniquetil – one of those was Ingwë, the King of the Vanyar, and High King of the Elves.
The Valar left only one pass in the Mountains of Defense, Calacirya, the Cleft of Light, so people of Valinor could travel to Alqualondë the Swanhaven, seat of the Falmari elves, the people of the waves.
But of all wonders of Valinor, the Two Trees were the greatest. To bring light to the world shattered in the aftermath of the fall of the Two Lamps, Yavanna planted silver Telperion and golden Laurelin on the green mound of Ezellohar, or Corollairë.
The Valar knew that the firstborn Children of Iluvatar will awake shortly, but where they could not tell, and they were afraid that if they were to reshape Arda in similar manner as they once had, the Children might be hurt. This is the tragedy of the Valar – they rarely could use their full power and might to combat Melkor, and later Sauron, as that could harm the Elves, and especially the vulnerable mortal Men. And because Melkor took part both in the Song of the Ainur and the shaping of Arda, his evil influence can’t be truly banished without destroying the world. The tenth volume of The History of Middle-earth is entitled Morgoth’s Ring in reference to this. Sauron bound the Three Rings and all great deeds achieved with their use to his will and fate by forging the Great Ring… but Melkor, who was the greatest of the Valar, marred the very fabric of Arda in its most ancient past.
In the Third Age, the Valar could have attacked Sauron directly, and easily defeat him. But in such war, the entire Middle-earth or its large parts could be destroyed. After the War of Wrath, the final confrontation with Morgoth, the entire realm of Beleriand was shattered and sank. That’s why the Valar elected to send five Maiar emissaries instead of an army, Aiwendil, Curumo, Alatar, Pallando and Olorin. The people of Middle-earth called them Istari, Wizards. They were forbidden to use their full power, and from using fear or force to influence Men and Elves. They were to assist and encourage, but avoid domination, as the will to dominate and forge order with force was what lead to Sauron’s fall in the first place.
But that concerns the Third Age, and we have still the Years of the Trees, the Long Night and two ages ahead of us.
The Stars and Constellations of Arda
The Valar felt that the firstborn Children of Iluvatar, known as the Elves, would awake shortly, but the exact time was not revealed to them. And neither was the place. The Valar saw that while Valinor enjoys light, the Middle-earth is largely dark. As Quenta Silmarillion tells us:
Then Varda went forth from the council, and she looked out from the height of Taniquetil, and beheld the darkness of Middle-earth beneath the innumerable stars, faint and far. Then she began a great labour, greatest of all the works of the Valar since their coming into Arda. She took the silver dews from the vats of Telperion, and therewith she made new stars and brighter against the coming of the Firstborn; wherefore she whose name out of the deeps of time and the labours of Eä was Tintallë, the Kindler, was called after by the Elves Elentári, Queen of the Stars. Carnil and Luinil, Nénar and Lumbar, Alcarinquë and Elemmírë she wrought in that time, and many other of the ancient stars she gathered together and set as signs in the heavens of Arda: Wilwarin, Telumendil, Soronúmë, and Anarríma; and Menelmacar with his shining belt, that forebodes the Last Battle that shall be at the end of days. And high in the north as a challenge to Melkor she set the crown of seven mighty stars to swing, Valacirca, the Sickle of the Valar and sign of doom.
The text then goes on to explain that when ‘first Menelmacar strode up the sky and the blue fire of Helluin flickered in the mists above the world […] the Children of Earth awoke, the Ilúvatar’ on the shores of lake Cuiviénen, which was truly a bay of the Sea of Helcar, in the foothills of the Red Mountains, or Orocarni. And thus the first sight their eyes beheld were the stars of Varda. For this reason since the day they have learned who made the stars and constellations, they revered Varda, the Queen of Stars, more than any other Valar. Even in the Third Age they would sing of Elbereth, as many poems found in the Lord of the Rings demonstrate. The Silmarillion then explains that now the world is changed, and those seas and mountains were broken and remade, and ‘to Cuiviénen there is no returning’. But the first of the Elves lived there, and just as the stars were the first thing the saw, the water flowing and falling over stone was the first sound their ears heard.
Now, I will talk about the elves and their tribes, so you understand who the Noldor, the Grey Elves, Green Elves and others were. But before we move on to that, I’d like to pause to talk about those stars and constellations The Silmarillion mentions.
This chart shows how the ancient peoples of Middle-earth perceived the world they lived in. In the Flat World continuity the world was really like this, but in the Round World version it was just how people imagined it. Some readers consider the Round World version to be ‘canonical’, because it was the one Tolkien developed in his later writings, although there is no complete book of myths adjusted to this conception. It is worth to mention that it seems that the name ‘Arda’ sometimes refers to the entire Solar System, while ‘Ambar’ refers to Earth alone.
Arda and the Airs in the Flat World version of The Silmarillion, chart by BT
Aman is located in the west of Ambar, and Land of the Syn in the east, with Middle-earth in the middle (surprise). The Earth is surrounded by ‘airs’, which can be understood as layers of the atmosphere. Aiwenórë is the air which living beings can breathe, and its name can be translated as Bird-land, as those animals can fly across it. Above Aiwenórë was Fanyamar, Cloudhome. Together with Bird-air, Cloudhome forms Vista, the atmosphere. Above Vista is Ilmen, where the stars are and flesh can not survive. Menel is the firmament or vault of heavens. Above Menel is Vaia (also called Ekkaia), the Encircling Sea, a dark ocean surrounding the entire world. Vaia is globed by Ilurambar, the Walls of the World, or Walls of Night, which have only two heavily guarded gates – the Door of Night in the west, and the Gates of the Morning in the east. Beyond Ilurambar lies The Outer Void, Avakúma.
Just like George R.R. Martin does, Tolkien describes the constellations and stars in some detail. Westerosi know seven ‘Wanderers’, which appear to be planets of the Solar System, those known to the ancient Greeks. (The word planet comes from ‘wanderer’). We know several constellations as well – Moonmaid, Shadowcat, Sow, Stallion-Horned Lord, Sword of the Morning, Crone’s Lantern, Ghost, Galley, King’s Crown and the Ice Dragon.
Some fans attempted to match those constellations with our own. Even if Westeros’ astronomy is different from ours, it seems that at least some stars were inspired by those visible from Earth – in Visenya Draconis LML speculates that the Ice Dragon is Draco, and the bright blue star that forms his eye is Alpha Draconis, spiced with some Vega symbolism, and in the sixth episode of the Bloodstone Compendium, he identifies the Sword of the Morning as Orion, but with some influence of Venus, the Morningstar and the Evenstar.
Tolkien’s constellations are most likely the same as our own, as Arda is supposed to be Earth in ancient past (at least in some versions of the mythos). But just like for the Westerosi, peoples of Middle-earth often called planets ‘stars’. Here I’ll present the most widely accepted matches for Arda’s stars, planets and constellations:
- Carnil – describes as a ‘red star’ – Mars
- Alcarinquë the Glorious – most likely Jupiter
- Elemmírë the ‘star-jewel’ – Mercury
- Luinil the blue shining star – probably Uranus (other possibilities: Rigel, Regulus)
- Lumbar – Saturn
- Nénar – most likely Neptune
- The Star of Eärendil – Venus (I’ll discuss its history and symbolism later, as according to The Silmarillion, it was created later than the others)
- Borgil – a bright red star, a ‘red jewel’, which according to LOTR is close to the Swordsman of the Sky (Orion) – in this case Borgil would be most likely Aldebaran
In his linguistic writings, Tolkien names several other stars, but those are the most important ones, which appear in the narrative of the books.
Now, the constellations. Wilwarin the Butterfly is Cassiopeia (according to The Silmarillion‘s Index of Names). Sadly, we are unable to identify Telumendil, the Lover of Heavens. Soronúmë, the Eagle of the West, is most likely Aquila. Anarríma the Sun-border might be Corona Borealis (Tolkien Gateway suggests that it might be the Great Square of Pegasus).
Orion: The Swordsman of the Sky
Menelmacar the Swordsman of the Sky is Orion (this is confirmed by The Silmarillion index). The Grey Elves called it Menelvagor, and under this name it is mentioned in The Lord of the Rings:
The Elves sat on the grass and spoke together in soft voices; they seemed to take no further notice of the hobbits. Frodo and his companions wrapped themselves in cloaks and blankets, and drowsiness stole over them. The night grew on, and the lights in the valley went out. Pippin fell asleep, pillowed on a green hillock.
Away high in the East swung Remmirath, the Netted Stars, and slowly above the mists red Borgil rose, glowing like a jewel of fire. Then by some shift of airs all the mist was drawn away like a veil, and there leaned up, as he climbed over the rim of the world, the Swordsman of the Sky, Menelvagor with his shining belt. The Elves all burst into song. Suddenly under the trees a fire sprang up with a red light.
In one stage of the development of his mythos, Tolkien considered Menelmacar the celestial image of the great Edain hero of the First Age, Turin called the Blacksword. The Silmarillion never mentions this, but still gives us hints, saying that ‘Menelmacar with his shining belt forebodes the Last Battle that shall be at the end of days’. This Last Battle is Dagor Dagorath, the Battle of Battles, Arda’s Ragnarok or Apocalypse, when Morgoth will return and once again lead his hosts against the Valar, but will be slain by Turin Turambar come again. According to Mandos’ prophecy, Hurin’s son will pierce the Dark Lord’s heart with his famed sword Gurthang, which Eol the Dark Elf made from ‘the heart of a fallen star’, a black iron meteorite. Initially it was called Anglachel and had its twin in Anguirel, which was later stolen by Eol by his son Maeglin, the traitor who revealed the location of the Hidden City of Gondolin to Morgoth. With this sword, Turin accidentally slew his friend Beleg, Glaurung the golden dragon and a certain Brandir the Lame. Gurthang is described in this way: ‘though ever black its edges shone with pale fire’. Dark Lightbringer? (LML suggests that Lightbringer the literal sword might have been a black sword, possibly forged from one of the fallen black moon meteors).
That’s interesting, since in ASOIAF we have Azor Ahai, and as LML suggests, his sword Lightbringer might have been black. This fits with the duality we see in House Dayne, where we get the Swords of the Morning and the Swords of the Evening. This is of course based on Venus, which is both Evenstar and Morningstar, and plays an important role in many mythologies. But GRRM’s Sword of the Morning/Evening might be based on Orion as well, and maybe on Tolkien’s version of this constellation as well… Turin the Blacksword is one of the most morally complex characters in the Legendarium, rivaling maybe Feanor, so I could see why GRRM would make references to him. (Barthogan Stark, called Barth the Blacksword might be another nod to Turin).
It is worth to mention that in order to fight in the Last Battle, Turin would have to be reborn and raise from his tomb under the Stone of the Hapless (no doubt named by Dolorous Edd). After the War of Wrath, when the Valar defeated Morgoth at the end of the First Age, the entire realm of Beleriand in Middle-earth where most of The Silmarillion takes place was drowned by the Great Sea. But the Stone remained above water, as a tiny island called Tol Morwen. And Azor Ahai shall be reborn from the sea…
The Stars and Constellations of Arda Continued
In the LOTR passage I’ve just quoted, we were introduced to another constellation, Remmirath the Netted Stars, known to us as the Pleiades. Then there are the seven stars forming Durin’s Crown, which the first dwarf saw over the crystal clear lake called Mirrormere when the world was still young. It became an important symbol for the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm (Moria), who ornamented the Doors of Durin, their eastern gate, with its likeness.
The final constellation of Arda that we know of is Valacrica, the Sickle of the Valar. In The Hobbit Bilbo calls it the Wain, and its other name was Burning Briar. To us it is Ursa Major, the Great Bear.
Although I’m not sure if GRRM was directly inspired by what Tolkien has done when he decided to base his fantasy constellations on those from real-world astronomy (and giving them new names and mythical backstories), the fact that both authors have thought about constellations alone shows the attention to detail and the depth of their world-building.
Now, the most important ‘star’ of Tolkien’s Legendarium is no doubt the Star of Earendil, Venus. But we will discuss it later, as according to the mythos, it was put on the firmament by Varda at the end of the First Age, and its symbolism appears very often in the Second Age and the Third. But the Sun and the Moon deserve out equal attention, as I believe that some myths found in ASOIAF were directly influenced by their creation story found in The Silmarillion. While the Swordsman of the Sky/Orion’s correlation with the pyramids of Giza! – I’m kidding of course – I mean Turin is a bit obscure, this Sun and Moon story is right there in The Silmarillion, which GRRM has surely read – ASOIAF contains many references to this book.
I listed some of those in the first episode, but quick recap might come in handy. We have names like Daeron/Dareon, Beren and Berena. One of the rumours that emerge after the Purple Wedding seems to be a reference to Tolkien – The northern girl. Winterfell’s daughter. We heard she killed the king with a spell, and afterward changed into a wolf with big leather wings like a bat, and flew out a tower window.’ Luthien skinchanged into a bat, and Beren into a wolf when they were about to infiltrate Morgoth’s fortress of Angband. We have Lady Meliana of Mole’s Town, a likely reference to Queen Melian of Doriath, the only of the Maiar who married and elf, and gave birth to Luthien.
Marillion the singer might be named after Tolkien’s book. We have ship-burnings of King Brandon Stark and Nymeria, possibly based on Feanor’s famous burning of the swanships stolen in Valinor. And we have Maedhros and Jaime, both obsessed with oaths… who both were captured and lost their swordhands.
Morningstar before Earendil?
Now, since we’re talking about astronomy, it’s interesting that Luthien is called the Morning Star of the Elves, in contrast to Arwen, the Evenstar of the Elves. Arwen is Earendil’s granddaughter, and he is the Morningstar/Evenstar (both ‘stars’ are Venus, but in different position) character and steersman of ‘star’ Venus. But when Luthien lived, there was no Venus yet. So either some later chronicler granted her this epithet – or Arda had another morningstar before Venus, which wasn’t evenstar as well, as Venus/Star of Earendil is. It might have been Mercury/Elemmírë, which wouldn’t be overshadowed by Venus’s brightness back then, or Sirius the Dog Star, famous for its heliacal rising (above eastern horizon just before sunrise, after a period when it was not visible at all). Luthien has a strong connection with dogs, courtesy of Huan the Hound of the Valar who was her companion. (And I suggest this Hound might have been the inspiration behind Joffrey’s Hound, Sandor Clegane. Both were forced to serve cruel masters, King Joff and Celegorm Feanor’s son). Whilst not directly relevant, I think it illustrates the relationship between astronomy and Tolkien’s mythology nicely, before we dive deeply into the topic.
GRRM and Tolkienic Symbolism
Before we discuss the Long Night of Arda, and the creation of the Sun and the Moon, I think I owe you an explanation of how, at least in my opinion, GRRM’s references to Tolkien work.
As LML details in his essays, GRRM is heavily inspired by real-world mythology when writing his books. When at some point in his writing process he decides he wants to insert a flaming sword or a meteoric sword, he goes through all those mythologies and looks for such swords. Then he picks those bits of symbolism that suit him. So we have references to Elric of Melnibone, Turin Turambar, Excalibur, the flaming sword from the Garden of Eden narrative and all those other swords from fantasy and myth (which are often the same, as it turns out). Then he leaves some clues so we can see what inspired him, so his reader can go and read those stories or decode the symbolism of his story.
So, GRRM decides he wants to have this situation where there was this long period of darkness. Then he looks for similar ideas in other books and myths. In The Silmarillion, he notices the Long Night of Valinor, about which I’ll shortly talk, and in LOTR he might have noticed the ‘days without dawn’ where vapour and clouds sent from Mordor darkened Gondor.
At some point, he decides he wants to use Morningstar/Evenstar symbolism, so he looks at Earendil, the tale of Numenor (which could also surface, pun intended, if he researched ancient lost civilizations similar to Atlantis, the basis for the Great Empire of the Dawn and Old Valyria), the Edain, Narsil/Anduril, Isildur, Anarion, Elendil.
And if he researched the theme of corrupted moon, he could have come across Minas Ithil turned into Minas Morgul and all the dead moon, corpse light and fell beast symbolism related with it and the Nazgul, shadows that come from this corrupted Moon-city. And he leaves hints so the reader can see what he’s doing with those inspirations, for example by naming one of his dragons Morghul. LML would tell you that dragons can symbolise moon meteors coming from the destroyed moon – and while Minas Morgul is not a destroyed moon, it comes pretty close as it’s a corrupted moon, from which Nazgul come forth, sometimes riding the dragon-like fell beasts, and wielding poisoned Morgul-blades. Comets, dragons and flaming swords.
No matter how, I believe that at some point in his writing process, GRRM noticed that Tolkien’s symbolism and language connected with Suns, Moons, stars and flaming swords. So he has used it as a source of inspiration, just like all those other mythologies. There are so many fans dedicated to exploring how myths from our world influenced ASOIAF – Greek, Norse, Persian, Arthurian legends and so many others. For GRRM, it seems, Tolkien’s Legendarium deserves equal homage. And I certainly agree with him on that.
Now, the Sun and the Moon… Well, not now. But in a moment. First we have to explore the origins of the Elves, and how some of them came to Valinor.
This chart shows how Arda looked like in this period:
Cuiviénen, where the first elves woke under the stars of Varda was in the far east of Middle-earth. It is often called ‘Lake Cuiviénen’, but in reality it was a bay of the inland ‘Sea of Helcar’. Harad lays no larger role in this time period, and the Dark Land and the Land of the Sun are never prominent in the myths of the Legendarium, which largely concern the north of Middle-earth, with some consideration for Valinor, and in the Second Age – Numenor. This map doesn’t show Númenórë, which was an isle in the Great Sea. But it was raised from the depths in the Second Age. Other major change between the First Age and the Second is the drowning of Beleriand after the War of Wrath. Hildórien is the region where first Men woke at the beginning of the First Age.
Now, first Elves woke by the Waters of Awakening, but the Valar knew not of this. But Melkor learned of this, and sent ‘shadows’ and evil beasts to harass the elves, and kidnapped many, and as some legends tell us, turned them into first orcs. (Though it is suggested that some of the mightier orcs were fallen Maiar who assumed such shapes).
But Oromë the Huntsman would ride across Middle-earth (though Melkor tried to stop his journeys by raising the Hithaeglir, the Towers of Mists, later known as the Misty Mountains. Oromë was relentless, and finally, by pure chance, happened across the elves. He called them the Eldar, People of the Stars, as they were gazing into the night sky as he saw them. But they called themselves Quendi, Those Who Speak With Voices. Their legends spoke of two monsters, the Hunter and the Rider. Whether those were vague memories of those shadows Melkor sent to catch Quendi, or lies spread by the Dark Lord, so the elves would flee from Oromë when he happened on them during his voyages, no one can tell.
But in this way the Valar learned of the elves, and of Melkor’s new foul deeds. A host of the Valar attacked Morgoth’s stronghold of Utumno, and soon bright lights flashing and raging fires were seen by the elves in the north. Melkor was captured, and taken to Valinor, where Mandos imprisoned him in his halls, from which no being can escape.
Meanwhile, the Valar gathered for a council, and although some disagreed, decided to bring elves to Valinor. But the elves were reluctant, and even afraid, remembering the Hunter and the Rider, and the recent Battle of Powers they have glimpsed from afar.
Three envoys were dispatched to Valinor, to survey that realm. Those were Finwe, Ingwe and Elwe, who would become kings. They witnessed the glory of the Blessed Realm, and saw the light of the Two Trees. Then they returned to Cuiviénen, and the elves prepared for their Great Journey to Valinor. But not all.
The Sundering of the Elves, chart by BT
The criterion of the first major division of the elves is whether they set off on the Great Journey to Valinor, or not. Although Oromë named all elves ‘Eldar’, this name came to apply only to those that began the Journey. The other group were the Avari, the Refusers, who stayed at Cuiviénen (although some later migrated and mingled with other tribes). Their leaders were Morwe and Nurwe. The Eldar were divided into three tribes.
The Vanyar had golden hair and pale skin, and their weapon of choice was spear. Their king was Ingwe, one of the emissaries to Valinor. The Vanyar were the smallest tribe, but all arrived in the Blessed Realm. Some legends suggest that the Vanyar came from those Imin the First, his wife Iminyë and their 12 companions.
The Noldor claimed descent from Tata, the second of elven fathers, his wife Tatië and their 54 companions. But only half of Tata’s tribe set off on the Great Journey, and 28 joined the Avari. Their hair was usually dark, though Feanor’s sons had the red hair of their mother Nerdanel and her father Mahtan. (And Feanor’s mother Miriel had silver hair). They fought with swords, and their skills in smithing and crafts were great. All of them arrived in Valinor, but some would later rebel and return to Middle-earth under Feanor. Their first king was Finwe.
The Teleri (or the Lindar, Singers) were the largest group. They claimed descent from the tribe of Enel, the third elf and his wife Enelyë, who had 72 companions. But 28 of them joined the Avari. The Teleri usually fought using bows, and their hair was silver or dark. Not all of them arrived in Valinor.
The Chronology of Arda
It is unclear whether there really were 144 elves at the time when Oromë found them – supposedly Melkor kidnapped some, and Cuivienyarna might be just a legend. But whatever the case, it seems that all members of the First Tribe became the Vanyar, and half of the Second Tribe became the Noldor, while some of the Third Tribe became the Teleri. It seems that the Great Journey took many years, and perhaps even generations. According to Annals of Aman the Eldar set off on the Journey in the Year of the Trees 1105, and those of the Teleri who arrived in Valinor did so in the Year of the Trees 1150. The Year of the Trees 1105 was the 4605th Valian year (as reckoned from the beginning of the First War between Melkor and the Valar, how many years passed between the creation of the world and the First War no one can tell, but in the Round World continuity, this period most likely lasted for billions of world, when the stars and planets formed like in our world).
The Annals explain that one Valian Year is equal in length to 9 years 212 days and 18 hours.
The timeline of ancient Arda looks more or less like this (in Valian Years):
1-1499 – The First War
1500 – Tulkas the Strong descends to Arda, Melkor flees
1900 – The Two Lamps completed (The Years of the Lamps are reckoned from this point)
1900 – 3450 – The Spring of Arda
3450 – Melkor destroys the Two Lamps
3500 – The Two Trees are made by Yavanna (The Years of the Trees are reckoned from this point)
3500 Valian Years (1900 years + Years of the Lamps) = around 33 530 solar years
4550 – Varda creates the constellations and new stars, the first elves wake
4600 – Melkor is taken to Valinor
4605 – The Great Journey begins
4625 – The Vanyar and the Noldor arrive in Valinor
4650 – some of the Teleri are ferried across the Great Sea by Ulmo
4995 – Melkor destroys the Two Trees, The Long Night begins
5000 – The Moon first rises, followed by the sun
Now, although some fans use the term ‘First Age of the Sun’, it is not stated in the books that the First Age began with the first sunrise. The first 590 solar years, during which most of The Silmarillion takes place, were part of this age, but this does not mean that the First Age was 590 years long. For some, the First Age ‘of the Children of Iluvatar’ began with the awakening of the Elves in Valian Year 4550. In this case, the First Age would be about 4901 solar years long (450 Valian Years times 9,58 + 590 sun years).
The Second Age length is less complicated, as it includes 3441 years, while the Third Age had 3021 years, and Tolkien’s abandoned story The Ned Shadow was to be set in the year 220 of the Fourth Age.
With this talk of timelines, I wanted to show the grandeur of Tolkien’s myths, spanning 7 272 years of the sun, and 5000 Valian years (about 47 900 solar years), 55 172 years in total, with the addition of eons beyond count before the First War.
Anyway, the Great Journey lasted close to 431 solar years, and the number of living elves was vastly multiplied. Meanwhile, Melkor remained in custody, sentenced to three Valian ages of imprisonment (300 Valian years, from Year 4600 to Year 4900), which is about 2874 solar years.
I will explain the Long Night of Arda shortly, but for now, you can note that it was 5 Valian Years long, which is about 48 years of our reckoning. A night that lasted for generations… I’ve heard that before.
Let’s return to the Teleri, so lonely on their Journey across Middle-earth, as the Vanyar and the Noldor were long gone, and their host, the largest, lagged behind. The Teleri were the largest tribe, so they had two kings, brothers Olwe and Elwe, one of three emissaries to Valinor). But upon reaching the Vales of Anduin, and seeing the peaks of the Misty Mountains towering high in the distance, many members of this clan were frightened and reluctant to go any further. They settled there, in the Vales, and became known as the Nandor, Those Who Go Back. Their leader was Lenwë.
The Silvan Elves of the Third Age, the people of Lorien and Mirkwood, were their descendants. But many of their rulers were not, as the Wood-elves of Mirkwood were ruled by King Amdír of the Grey Elves, who perished in the War of the Last Alliance, then by his son Amroth, and finally by Galadriel (of the Noldor) and her husband Celeborn of the Grey Elves. Similarly, Oropher became the king of Wood-elves of the Woodland Realm, in Greenwood the Great, later renamed Mirkwood. Oropher was killed during the Battle of Dagorlad, just like Amdír. (The Silvan Elves were unwilling to accept the orders of Gil-galad, the High King of the Noldor, or Elendil, the High King of the Dúnedain, the Last Alliance’s supreme commanders. Brave they were, but lightly armored and ill-armed, unlike the Noldor or the Dúnedain. Sauron’s forces slaughtered most of them, as they charged before the main allied host was ready. Kings Amdír and Oropher were forced to retreat to the Dead Marshes, where both perished, besides thousands of their warriors. Because of all those corpses that have sunk in the bog, this area was known afterwards as the Dead Marshes. Frodo, Sam and Gollum would pass through them over three thousand years later.
Thranduil, the Elvenking from The Hobbit was Oropher’s son, and Legolas his grandson. How did it happen that Grey Elves became rulers of the Silvan Elves, the Nandor? Well, to explain this, let’s follow that part of the Teleri who passed the Misty Mountains, and later the Blue, and entered a realm called Beleriand, the vast region around the Bay of Balar.
There they found out that the Vanyar and the Noldor were already being ferried to Valinor by Ulmo, who used the Lonely Island, Tol Eressëa as a giant ship. It was named so because initially, it was placed in the middle of the Great Sea, halfway from Valinor to Middle-earth. Later, when all willing elves were transported upon it, it was anchored just off the coast of Valinor, in the Bay of Eldamar. It was surrounded by the Enchanted Isles, the vast uncharted archipelago, permanently shrouded in mists, created by the Valar to stop anyone trying to land on the shores of Valinor without their permission.
Thus the Teleri had to set up camps in Beleriand, and wait till Ulmo returned. (They arrived in Beleriand in the Valian Year 4628, and were ferried in 4651, so they’ve spent about 220 solar years there). Elwe, one of their two leaders (the other being his brother Olwe) would often wander around in the primordial woods that covered Middle-earth in those days. And as the explored the forest of Nan Elmoth, he happened on Melian of the Maiar, and they well in love, and stood there under trees growing ever higher around there, as if enchanted for many years. But Elwe’s people knew nothing of this, and searched for him relentlessly. Meanwhile, Ulmo returned and was unwilling to wait until Elwe’s return. Some of the Teleri agreed, and sailed to Valinor, naming Elwe’s brother Olwe their king. There they built Alqualondë, the Swanhaven. Because of their mastery in shipwrighting, and their love for the sea, they became known as the Falmari, the folk of the waves.
But some stayed in Beleriand, unwilling to abandon their king. They called themselves Eglath, the Forsaken. Yet another group of the Teleri became enamoured by the beauty of the coast of this land, and settled there. Their leader was Nowë, later known as Círdan the Shipwright. They were called the Falathrim, the coast people.
When after many years Elwe returned with Melian, now his wife, his faithful friends and retainers became the Sindar, the Grey Elves, or Elves of Twilight. Their realm was the might kingdom of Doriath, and its capital Menegroth, the Thousand Caves. There Elwe, now called Elu Thingol the Greycloak reigned as King and Melian as Queen. Círdan’s people accepted him as their lord.
The elves who arrived in Valinor when the Two Trees still shone there were called Calaquendi, the Elves of the Light, or the High Elves. They were also known as the High Elves, and Quenya was their language. Those who never saw the light of the Trees were called Moriquendi, Elves of the Darkness. But Elwe’s people were somewhere in the middle, as their lord has seen the light of the Trees, as the was among the first three envoys to Valinor… and their queen was Melian of the Maiar, who shared some of the knowledge of Valinor. Thus they were the Grey Elves, the Sindar, and their tongue was Sindarin, the most popular Tolkienic language besides Quenya.
Some of the Nandor who lingered in the Vales of Anduin ultimately passed the Misty Mountains, and entered Beleriand under Denethor, Lenwë’s son. They settled in a woodland region called Ossiriand, and became Laiquendi, the Green Elves.
Now, when Beleriand sank at the end of the First Age, some of the Sindar still refused to travel to Valinor, and instead fled eastward, where they joined the Silvan Elves in their realms. The natives respected their knowledge and wisdom, and thus accepted Sindarin rulers.
Tolkienic elves are a large and diverse group, which makes me wonder – are GRRM’s Children of the Forest really so homogenous? Do they have tribes and clans and nations? Are the Ifequevron of Essos similar to the Green Elves or Wood Elves? Are the Westerosi Children more like the Eldar, and the Ifequevron Avari? Or maybe, it were the Children who were left behind, and somewhere in the marvellous lands of the east, there is some more advanced civilization of this people? The Children are, after all, Those Who Sing the Song of Earth, and another name of the Teleri is Lindar, the Singers, while the Elves are Quendi, Those Who Speak With Voices. It seems the Elves played at least a tiny role in the creation those who lived in Westeros’ woods before First Men came from the east.
The Noldor and the Darkening of Valinor
With this basic explanation of the major elven tribes and nations, we can move on to the events that led to the Long Night of Valinor.
After the War for the Sake of Elves, Melkor was imprisoned in Mandos for three Valian ages, which is about 2 874 solar years – a long sentence, but I guess turning Elves into Orcs is one of the worst crimes imaginable. When this time passed, he was released, and saw the glory of Valinor, and Elves who prospered in the Blessed Realm. He was jealous, and above all else, furious. But he masked his feelings, and asked the Valar to be pardoned. The Valar granted his request, and thus Melkor walked freely in Valinor and was counted among the Valar. Now he was helpful and smiling, but secretly, he began planning his revenge.
The Vanyar he found not interesting, as they were a peaceful people, enjoying poetry and singing, and besides that, they were too close to Manwe and Varda to corrupt. The Teleri with their sea and ships also weren’t suitable for his goals. But the Noldor… now they were numerous, and restless, and ever hungry for knowledge. Which Melkor was happy to provide. And as he got to know them better, he took special interest in their royal house, seeing the conflict in the making that required only a spark to go off.
Finwe, the King of the Noldor, married Miriel the Broideress. She gave birth to Feanor, the Spirit of Fire, the greatest of all smiths and craftsmen of Arda. But giving birth to Feanor took all her strength, and she went to the Gardens of Lórien. But even there she couldn’t find peace, and her body dwindled. That was the first time an elf died in the Blessed Realm. But in the beginning, few were worried, assuming she will return from Mandos shortly, re-embodied. Yet she refused, wishing no everlasting life.
Finwe remarried, this time to Indis of the Vanyar, the High King Ingwe’s kinswoman. With his second wife, he had four children: Findis, Fingolfin, Írimë and Finarfin. We will discuss this house in detail in a later section, as it has some really interested ice-and-fire split, supported with interesting symbolism. For now, suffice to say that there was little love between Feanor and his half-brothers. Of course, Melkor was about to make use that.
Melkor spread rumours and lies, and some of the Noldor came to believe that Valinor is but a golden cage, and the elves will never truly flourish lest they flee from the Valar and return to Middle-earth. And Feanor liked Fingolfin and Finarfin even less, and then came to hate them, believing that they were trying to usurp his birthright as Finwe’s firstborn son, to steal his rightful place as the heir to the King of the Noldor.
Feanor, as I’ve said, was the greatest craftsman and artist of Arda. Many precious artifacts he created, and among them were the famed palantiri seeing-stones. But his greatest work were the three jewels, the Silmarils, which contained the unsullied light of the Two Trees.
Melkor desired them, and worked even more than before to create unrest among the Noldor. In the end, Feanor threatened his half-brother Fingolfin with a sword. The Valar gathered for a trial, and it was revealed that Melkor was behind all of this. But when guards were dispatched to apprehend him, he was nowhere to be found. Yet for the Valar Melkor’s influence was no excuse for Feanor’s actions, and he was exiled from the Noldor city of Tirion, and moved to Formenos, a stronghold in the northern part of the Blessed Realm. King Finwe went there as well, unwilling to abandon his son and heir, and Feanor’s seven sons, taking the Silmarils with them.
I know it’s been some time since we’ve last talked something directly connected with A Song of Ice and Fire. But don’t worry, we’re about to do just that.
The Long Night
Melkor fled from Valinor, but not to Middle-earth. As I’ve mentioned, Valinor is not synonymous with the continent of Aman, as there were two regions beyond the Mountains of Defence. In their shadow, in a valley between the Mountains and the coast, there lived a creature, similar in shape to a giant spider. Her name was Ungoliant, and just like her realm of Avathar, her origins remain hidden in the shadow. Fans speculate that she was one of the fallen Ainur, one of the Maiar who rebelled against the Valar, but unlike the Balrogs and Sauron, she never joined Melkor and served no one but herself. Shelob, the spider from LOTR, is supposedly her daughter. Melkor made a pact with Ungoliant, promising great treasures for her help in his plot. Then she wove a cloak of darkness, the Unlight, around them, and hidden from the eyes of the watchers, they climbed the ‘Wall’ of Valinor, formed by the adjacent peaks of the Mountains of Defence, in which there were no passes save for Calacirya (which was heavily guarded, but left open so Elves of Valinor can visit the Teleri in their port city of Swanhaven).
Now, this spider climbing a wall to enter a heavily guarded realm reminds me of the Others with their spiders (BIG AS HOUNDS!) climbing the Wall of Westeros.
Melkor picked a perfect day for his assault, a great holiday where the Valar, the Maiar and the Elves would gather in Manwe and Varda’s halls upon Mount Taniquetil. And this year’s high feast in praise of Eru, organised to celebrate the first gathering of fruits, marked the end of Feanor’s exile. Valmar, Tirion and all other cities were silent and empty, and unnoticed, Melkor and Ungoliant arrived at Ezellohar where the Two Trees stood. And as Feanor and Fingolfin shook hands, with all Valar, Maiar and many Elves standing in witness, Melkor got his revenge.
Then the Unlight of Ungoliant rose up even to the roots of the Trees, and Melkor sprang upon the mound; and with his black spear he smote each Tree to its core, wounded them deep, and their sap poured forth as it were their blood, and was spilled upon the ground. But Ungoliant sucked it up, and going then from Tree to Tree she set her black beak to their wounds, till they were drained; and the poison of Death that was in her went into their tissues and withered them, root, branch, and leaf; and they died. And still she thirsted, and going to the Wells of Varda she drank them dry; but Ungoliant belched forth black vapours as she drank, and swelled to a shape so vast and hideous that Melkor was afraid.
Darkness fell heavy on Valinor, and all Arda. The Silmarillion tells us that ‘The Light failed’. But it was no ordinary darkness that followed. That Darkness seemed to be ‘a being of its own’, piercing eyes, entering hearts and minds, and strangling will.
From Taniquetil, the Valar saw a Shadow above the city of Valmar, and darkness spreading like ‘a deep sea of night‘ and all lands foundered in it, and in the end, Taniquetil stood alone, an island in a world drowned in Darkness.
Then Manwe beheld a Cloud of Unlight flying fast above Valinor, and though even his sight could not pierce it, he knew it was Melkor in his disguise. Orome pursued him, on his great horse Nahar, sparks glowing between his hooves. But as they came closer to the Cloud of Unlight, Orome and his riders were blinded, and even his horn Valarome failed. Even Tulkas the Strong was caught by this darkness, a net of night, and could only stand and blindly beat the air. Melkor was gone and the Long Night began.
But that was not the end of his revenge, and on this very day, the dealt the people of Valinor another grievous word. The Valar examined the Trees, and saw that they were dying and could not be saved, unless Feanor agreed to break the Silmarils and give their light to the trees. But he was unwilling to destroy his greatest works. But even as they spoke, a messenger arrived from Formenos. Melkor attacked Feanor’s stronghold, and all defenders fled, all but King Finwe who was killed. The vault was opened, and all treasures of the House of Feanor robbed, the Silmarils among them. Upon hearing this, Feanor cursed Melkor, calling him Morgoth, the Dark Tyrant.
Furious, Feanor gathered the Noldor and urged them to pursue Melkor wherever he went and avenge their king and retrieve the jewels. The Valar forbade them to leave the Blessed Realm, but Feanor would not listen. At Tirion, Feanor and his Seven Sons swore a terrible Oath, naming Eru Iluvatar as witness and calling the Everlasting Darkness to consume them should they ever break it. Thus, some of the Noldor joined Feanor in rebellion.
But Melkor fled across the Great Sea and joined his army in Angband (Hell of Iron), which was one of the strongholds guarding his main seat at Utumno in the north, should the Valar attack from the west. It was largely destroyed when the Valar sacked it during the War for the Sake of Elves. But during Morgoth’s captivity, some of his servants that evaded capture returned to it, rebuilding and expanding the fortress. Among them was Sauron and many Balrogs.
The Noldor who followed Feanor wanted to chase after Morgoth, but they had no ships of their own, and the Teleri of Alqualondë (Swanhaven) refused to give their own white swan ships to them. And this led to one of the darkest chapters in the history of the elves, as in that hour Feanor ordered his troops to sack the havens and steal the ships. The Teleri tried to resist, and thus the streets and harbours of Swanhaven were sprinkled with blood of elves slain by elves. That was the First Kinslaying.
For some time, the Teleri managed to fight back, but so far, only Feanor’s followers and retainers arrived at Alqualondë. The hosts of Fingolfin and Finarfin were still on their way. Fingolfin was not as hot-headed as his half-brother, and Finarfin was married to Eärwen, King Olwë’s daughter. Most likely, they would have never joined the battle had they knew it was Feanor who attacked. But from what they understood at the time, the Teleri attempted to stop the Noldor with force on the orders of the Valar.
In the end, the Sea-elves were slaughtered and their ships stolen. Some of Feanor’s soldiers steered them northward, sailing parallel to the shore. The rest of the Noldor host marched along them on the shore. But as they were about to leave Swanhaven, an envoy of the Valar appeared, a dark figure high on the rocks overlooking the beach. Some say it was Mandos himself. He spoke the Doom of the Noldor, the Prophecy of the North, cursing them for the blood they’ve spilled, and promising that they will die in Middle-earth, their spirits returning to Mandos, where they will remain for long, yearning for their bodies.
Then Finarfin and some of his followers turned back and returned to Valinor, and asked the Valar for forgiveness. Thus Finarfin became the King of the Noldor in Valinor. But Feanor was relentless and the rest of the Noldor continued on.
When they reached Helcaraxë, a frozen ice bay where the Great Sea met the Encircling Seas, a land of grinding icebergs and cold mists, he saw that many of the Noldor would die should they choose to cross this ‘land’ bridge to Middle-earth. Feanor didn’t trust his half-brother Fingolfin, and in secret, he had his own followers man and board the swanships. And they sailed away, leaving Fingolfin. Feanor didn’t care if he’d try to return to Valinor and face the Doom, or die crossing the frozen waste. When ‘his’ ships arrived in Middle-earth, his eldest son Maedhros, who was a friend of Fingolfin’s son Fingon asked his father:
‘Now what ships and rowers will you spare to return, and whom shall they bear hither first? Fingon the valiant?’
Then Fëanor laughed as one fey, and he cried: ‘None and none! What I have left behind I count now no loss; needless baggage on the road it has proved. Let those that cursed my name, curse me still, and whine their way back to the cages of the Valar! Let the ships burn!‘
Then Maedhros alone stood aside, but Fëanor caused fire to be set to the white ships of the Teleri. So in that place which was called Losgar at the outlet of the Firth of Drengist ended the fairest vessels that ever sailed the sea, in a great burning, bright and terrible. And Fingolfin and his people saw the light afar off, red beneath the clouds; and they knew that they were betrayed. This was the firstfruits of the Kinslaying and the Doom of the Noldor.
But Fingolfin began the perilous journey through Helcaraxë with his followers. Many perished, but ultimately, they’ve reached Middle-earth.
The Sun and the Moon
In the first episode of Tolkienic Song of Ice and Fire I suggested that the ‘burnings of the ships’ we see in ASOIAF were based on Feanor’s dark deed. Brandon the Burner set his father’s fleet afire when King Brandon the Shipwright (a possible reference to Cirdan the Shipwright) didn’t return from his voyage across the Sunset Sea. The second massive ship burning we hear about is Nymeria’s. When the Rhoynish warrior-princess landed in Dorne, she had her famed Ten Thousand Ships burned, proclaiming that ‘Our wanderings are at an end. We have found a new home, and here we shall live and die’. This might be a nod to another landing from Tolkien’s novels, the scene where Elendil arrives in Middle-earth after the Downfall of Numenor. His famous words were: ‘Et Eärello Endorenna utúlien. Sinome maruvan ar Hildinyar tenn’ Ambar-metta’ – Out of the Great Sea to Middle-earth I am come. In this place will I abide, and my heirs, unto the ending of the world. Aragorn spoke them during his coronation at the end of The Return of the King.
Interestingly, although Feanor burned swanships of the Teleri, and Nymeria’s ships were Rhoynar ships, not swan-ships of the Summer Islands, she has arrived from those Isles, so the connection is still there. Maybe GRRM didn’t want to make it too obvious.
Now, I think those two references to The Silmarillion really serve to support the theory I’m about to share with you – that the Qartheen legend about dragons coming from the moon, and Dothraki belief that sun and moon are lovers were inspired by Tolkien. And that GRRM had those chapters about the Darkening of Valinor and Flight of the Noldor in mind when writing ASOIAF.
As I’ve mentioned, this long period of darkness, caused by Melkor and Ungoliant, was called the Long Night. GRRM uses the same term in ASOIAF. It might be nothing more than a coincidence, but with all those other references, I find it hard to believe. And as you’ll see, the similarities don’t end here.
I’m not sure if Tolkien’s Long Night was the main inspiration behind GRRM’s. It’s just as likely that GRRM came up with this name independently, or has drawn his inspiration from some other fantasy series or mythology. But at some point in his writing process, he returned to The Silmarillion – maybe it was just a re-read, maybe he was researching how Tolkien uses some different motif or theme – dragons, flaming swords, meteoric swords, lost civilizations… who knows – but he noticed the Long Night. And maybe incorporated its elements into his own myth and symbolism.
In Mythical Astronomy terms, a Dark Lord piercing the Two Trees is quite similar to LML’s idea about the comet striking the Second Moon of Planetos, as it was in an eclipse alignment, in front of the sun. The Two Trees aren’t the Sun and the Moon, but they play their role, and as you’ll see very soon, they are the ‘parents’ of the Sun and the Moon, proto-Sun and proto-Moon if you will. And they stood on the green mound of Ezellohar, where their light mingled. And when does the ‘light’ of the Sun and the Moon mingle? When they’re in eclipse alignment. So we have the ‘god’s eye’ image, where a Dark Lord, an Azor Ahai-like fallen Morningstar figure, Morgoth, pierces the ‘Sun’ and the ‘Moon’, and a dark spider poisons them. Then he steals the Silmarils, which contain the mixed light of the Trees, the fire of the gods (the Valar aren’t truly gods, but people of Middle-earth often called them gods, and Eru ‘God’ with capital g). Then the Long Night begins.
The fire of the gods is a recurring symbol in mythology – a character steals the ‘fire’ from a deity or some other powerful being, and in some cases, is severely punished, like Prometheus. The fire doesn’t have to be literal fire – sometimes it’s just a symbol of divine knowledge or power. In The Silmarillion, we have Morgoth who steals the Silmarils, which contain light of the Two Trees, and at the same time, steals the light from Valinor by killing the Trees. LML calls this fractal symbolism – causing a Long Night by killing the trees (stealing light) is not so different from stealing the light of the Valar in form of the Silmarils.
Now, how Arda’s Sun and the Moon were created? The chapter Of the Sun and the Moon and the Hiding of Valinor, which comes right after the burning of the ships (which GRRM has references twice, at least according to my theory), describes this. Laurelin, the golden tree, gave one final fruit, and the silver tree Telperion the last silver flower.
These Yavanna took; and then the Trees died, and their lifeless stems stand yet in Valinor, a memorial of vanished joy. But the flower and the fruit Yavanna gave to Aulë, and Manwë hallowed them, and Aulë and his people made vessels to hold them and preserve their radiance: as is said in the Narsilion, the Song of the Sun and Moon. These vessels the Valar gave to Varda, that they might become lamps of heaven, outshining the ancient stars, being nearer to Arda; and she gave them power to traverse the lower regions of Ilmen, and set them to voyage upon appointed courses above the girdle of the Earth from the West unto the East and to return.
The name of Aragorn’s sword Narsil seems to be a reference to this Song of the Sun and the Moon- this will be important later.
A paragraph later, The Silmarillion tells us that:
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.
Elves cherish the Moon, but the Sun is a sign of Men… This symbolism will be important, but later on – we have much else to discuss before we get to the section about Earendil. Don’t worry, I’ll quote this passage again, so we all have it fresh in our minds.
The Valar chose two of the Maiar to steer, guide and defend the newly-made celestial bodies. Tilion, who became the Steersman of the Moon, was one of Oromë’s hunters, but was also associated with Estë. He loved all things silver and even his bow was made of this metal. Tilion pleaded with the Valar to let him guide the last Silver Fruit of Telperion the silver tree, which was turned into the Moon.
Arien the maiden was mightier than he, and she was chosen because she had not feared the heats of Laurelin, and was unhurt by them, being from the beginning a spirit of fire, whom Melkor had not deceived nor drawn to his service. Too bright were the eyes of Arien for even the Eldar to look on, and leaving Valinor she forsook the form and raiment which like the Valar she had worn there, and she was as a naked flame, terrible in the fullness of her splendour.
Arien was one of the spirits of fire, a sister of the Balrogs. But when they sided with Melkor, she was not deceived. Before the Long Night, she tended to golden flowers in gardens of Vána, Orome’s wife and Yavanna’s sister.
The Moon was ready before the Valar made the final Golden Flower of Laurelin the golden tree into the Sun, thus it rose first, and would rise for seven times before the first sunrise. The Elves looked into the sky, and were delighted. At the very moment of the first Moonrise, Fingolfin and his host finally arrived in the northern part of Middle-earth, having crossed the Grinding Ice, Helcaraxë. His men blew silver trumpets as they marched forward, towards Beleriand.
Then the Vessel of Arien, the Sun, rose first in Valinor. And thus the first sunrise was in the west. ‘And the first dawn of the Sun was like a great fire upon the towers of the Pelóri’. Morgoth and his minions trembled, and the Dark Lord sent clouds and vapours out of his stronghold to hide them from the Daystar.
Thus the first of the new days were reckoned after the manner of the Trees, from the mingling of the lights when Arien and Tilion passed in their courses, above the middle of the Earth. But Tilion was wayward and uncertain in speed, and held not to his appointed path; and he sought to come near to Arien, being drawn by her splendour, though the flame of Anar scorched him, and the island of the Moon was darkened.
For me, this language is strikingly similar to the wording GRRM uses in A Game of Thrones, where Doreah tells Dany that in Qarth legends claim that there were once two moons in the sky, but one wandered too close to the sun and cracked from the heat. And the moon being the sun’s lover is quite similar to the Dothraki belief that the moon is a goddess and wife of the sun. Yeah, in Tolkien’s Legendarium the ‘sun deity’ is female, and the ‘lunar deity’ is male, like in the Norse Mythology (where we have goddess Sol and god Mani). But in other popular mythologies the sun is a god and the moon a goddess, so maybe GRRM has already decided to use this symbolism, and only later decided to use those Tolkienic ideas. But as Archmaester Aemma noted, GRRM’s world has a female solar deity – the Maiden-Made-Of-Light paired with a male Lion of the Night, who might be a lunar deity. It’s possible those two characters from the legends of the Far East of Essos are an homage to Arien and Tilion.
Also, the name ‘Arien’ sounds a bit like Arianne, who has the sun in her sigil and is one of the Martells, whose seat are the Sunspear and the Sandship. Arien means ‘Maiden of Sunlight’, but she’s also called ‘The Maiden of Sunship’.
The flame of Anar, the Sun, scorches the Moon, and it becomes darkened. It seems that this myth is supposed to explain whence the moon craters come. But in ASOIAF, we might have a description which is based on Tolkien’s language here, yet adjusted to GRRM’s own mythos, where one moon was truly destroyed. So it was ‘darkened’ as in ‘annihilated’ and became a ‘black hole in the sky’. And craters on the surviving moon might come from debris from the second moon striking it – in his essays LML speaks of the possibilty of one of those meteors hitting the surviving icy moon and becoming a ‘dragon lockied in ice’, waiting to be released. (This dragon’s human counterpart, in terms of symbolism, is Jon Snow, who is most likely Rhaegar Targaryen’s son hidden at the Wall).
I’ll also point out that Tolkien uses the word ‘wayward’ here, and a paragraph later, where it talks of Tilion’s ‘waywardness’. In his essays LML points out that the moon ‘wandering too close to the sun’ can be called wayward, and that’s why a ‘moon maiden’ character, Asha, is called ‘the wayward bride‘ in one of her A Dance with Dragons chapters.
And now, from the same The Silmarillion chapter, an example of how Tolkien describes eclipses:
Varda commanded the Moon to journey in like manner, and passing under Earth to arise in the east, but only after the Sun had descended from heaven. But Tilion went with uncertain pace, as yet he goes, and was still drawn towards Arien, as he shall ever be; so that often both may be seen above the Earth together, or at times it will chance that he comes so nigh that his shadow cuts off her brightness and there is a darkness amid the day.
Again, the moon wanders too close to the sun, and we get darkness. I think that GRRM’s Qartheen legend might merge those two Tolkienic myths (which are mentioned really close to each other in The Silmarillion) – the moon wandered too close to the sun, and we got an eclipse, but at the same time, it was ‘darkened’ by its fire – destroyed.
And the Long Night is mentioned one paragraph later:
Still therefore, after the Long Night, the light of Valinor was greater and fairer than upon Middle-earth; for the Sun rested there, and the lights of heaven drew nearer to Earth in that region. But neither the Sun nor the Moon can recall the light that was of old, that came from the Trees before they were touched by the poison of Ungoliant That light lives now in the Silmarils alone.
I think that GRRM decided that the Two Trees can be used to symbolise the Sun and the Moon because they’ve played the same role, and are their ‘parents’. So in his mythos, he mixed those three Tolkienic legends – the Darkening of Valinor, where Melkor the Dark Lord pierces the Trees with his black spear, the darkening of the Moon and the origins of eclipses narrative. And most likely, the Tolkienic inspiration behind the Long Night is only one of several mythological influences on GRRM.
A Dark Lord, Bloodstone Emperor/Azor Ahai causes the Long Night by piercing the trees (remember that as LML explains in his Weirwood Goddess series, Nissa Nissa can be symbolised by a weirwood tree) and then steals the Silmarils, the fire of the gods. And what do they contain? Light that comes from intermingling of the light of the golden tree (proto-Sun) and the silver (proto-Moon). So in ASOIAF terms, the ‘Silmarils’ are three things that appear when the light of the Sun and the Second Moon mingles -moon meteors, which come out of the moon eclipse. An eclipse is when the light of the sun and the moon appear to mix.
Returning to The Silmarillion, Morgoth sends ‘spirits of shadow’ against Tilion and there is a ‘strife in Ilmen beneath the paths of the stars‘. But ultimately, the Moon is victorious. Morgoth feared Arien and would not come near her, so he surrounded his fortress with shadows, sending fumes and dark clouds.
But according to prophecy, one day Morgoth will succeed in destroying the Sun and the Moon, and there will be new darkness. And then the final battle, Dagor Dagorath will be fought, and Morgoth will be killed by Turin, wielding the shining black meteoric iron sword Gurthang (which reminds me of Dawn, also created from the heart of a fallen ‘star’, and possibly Lightbringer, if LML’s theories are correct).
In the Round World, less mythical version of the Legendarium, the Sun and the Moon were always there, but the Trees stored their unsullied light, as Melkor corrupted the sun and the moon. Later he destroyed the trees as well, and that’s why the Silmarils were so important. In Morgoth’s Ring, one of The History of Middle-earth volumes it is said that Melkor desired Arien and wanted to marry her, but she refused and he attempted to ravish her and was burned. This attack caused uneven seasons. This detail is really obscure, so it’s a bit unlikely that this was the inspiration behind GRRM’s wacky seasons – but who knows. At the very least, we have an unintentional similarity in themes here, and that’s still interesting. After all, many of us would seek parallels in completely unconnected texts during literature classes.
To finish up this chapter, I think that it is quite probable that the Long Night from The Silmarillion, a book GRRM is certainly familiar with, was among his influences when he set out to create his own celestial catastrophe in his world’s distant past.
Here ends the first part of the second episode of Tolkienic Song of Ice and Fire. Part two will start just where we’ve finished in this one.
Part II: The Family of Ice and Fire
This section I would like to dedicate to those, who first gave me The Silmarillion, which sparked my passion for J.R.R. Tolkien’s works. Thank you for everything Mum and Dad. In this chapter, we’ll talk about some really interesting fire-and-ice symbolic split in the Royal House of the Noldor, the House of Finwë – its cadet branches, the House of Fëanor, the House of Fingolfin and the House of Finarfin.
One of the most important mythical astronomy concepts LML wrote about is the the ‘solar king with two lunar wives‘, with the king symbolising the sun, while one wife stands for the fire moon, and the other for the ice moon. For example, Aegon the Conqueror and his sisters, Visenya and Rhaenys. Interestingly, in The Silmarillion a similar family can be found – the Royal House of the Noldor, the House of king Finwë.
This family tree shows this house and its cadet branches:
As you can see, Finwe, the King of the Noldor, had two wives (but not at the same time). His first wife was silver-haired Míriel called Þerindë (Serindë), which means the Broideress. Their only child was Feanor, the Spirit of Fire, who would later create the three Silmarils and lead the rebellious Noldor to Middle-earth. But ‘in the bearing of her son Míriel was consumed in spirit and body’, and wanted to live no more, and said to Finwe that into this one child, a strength that would have been able to nourish many lives has gone. But the king wanted to have many children, and after consulting Manwe, sent Míriel to the gardens of Lorien. There they lay her down, and it seemed that she was only sleeping. But her spirit left the body and went to Mandos. Míriel refused to be re-embodied, and in this unprecedented situation Finwe decided to remarry.
Finwe’s second wife was Indis the Fair, of the Vanyar and of High King Ingwe’s close kin. She and Finwe had four children: Findis, Fingolfin, Írimë and Finarfin.
It turns out that one branch, Feanor’s, is constantly associated with fire (heat, flames, red, blood, burned things, fiery temper, being rash, etc.), while the branches founded by Indis’ children – with ice (cold, snow, white, moon, pale stars, blue stars, blue, being calm). Actually, there were two houses descended from Finwe and Indis, but since Finarfin repented after Kinslaying at Swanhaven and returned to Valinor, his children followed their uncle Fingolfin into exile, and often have the symbolism of his house. And interestingly, the sigil of King Finwe was golden sun.
This is curious, as the Sun was created after Finwe has died… but who knows, maybe this is another case of later chroniclers ‘granting’ coats of arms to historical and legendary figures – like King Arthur or various Biblical characters. Well, whatever the case, it fits my theory very well.
Fëanor: House of Fire
Míriel has silver hair, which kinda goes against this proposed pattern – but I don’t think that silver hair always gives some character ice symbolism. Think of Valyrians who built their city by the Fourteen Flames and rode fire-breathing dragons, yet had silver hair. Or of Daenerys Targaryen, the mother if fire-breathing dragons. And Míriel was ‘consumed’ by fire inside her, Fëanor. (As LML explains in his essays, ‘having fire inside’ is one of the most important metaphors in the books, speaking of some kind of fire transformation, like the one Melisandre undergoes in A Dance with Dragons – there the line was ‘The fire was inside her, an agony, an ecstasy, filling her, searing her, transforming her‘. Dany, the mother of fiery children, is described using similar language: ‘After that, for a long time, there was only the pain, the fire within her, and the whisperings of stars.’. Interestingly, Dany’s ‘fire inside’ is often connected with Rhaego in the womb. This is Khal Drogo speaking: ‘See how fierce she grows!” he said. “It is my son inside her, the stallion who mounts the world, filling her with his fire‘. LML suggests that this metaphor refers to the Second Moon of Planetos, which Daenerys and Melisandre represent, the moon which was struck by the fiery comet.
Fëanor means Spirit of Fire. The Silmarillion tells us that ‘a bright flame was in him‘. He was the greatest smith and craftsman of Arda. He was rash and quick to anger – he was banished from Tirion for attacking his half-brother and threatening him with a sword, thinking that Fingolfin was plotting to usurp his place as Finwe’s heir. In other chapter Tolkien says that ‘his spirit burned as flame’. He led the Noldor in rebellion against the Valar, and ordered his troops to sack Swanhaven and slaughter its people. (In TWOIAF we hear an old Pentoshi legend about hero called Hukko, who slew swan-maidens. This might be a reference to Feanor the smith who slaughtered the Telerin elves of Swanhaven). When he have a speech in the Noldor city of Tirion, and urged his people to flee Valinor, the golden cage, and carve out kingdoms in Middle-earth, his words set the Noldor ‘aflame’.
Later he had the stolen swan-ships put to torch, in a fire so great that Fingolfin and his followers saw it on the other shore, ‘red beneath the clouds’. Feanor was so furious that he charged at Morgoth’s armies with little planning, and although his vanguard fought bravely, he was ultimately surrounded. He stood his ground for long, although his men fell all around him, and in the end he was ‘wrapped in fire’, as Balrogs (fallen Maiar associated with fire) arrived. His sons arrived with reinforcements and the Balrogs retreated, but Feanor was mortally wounded. When he died, his body self-combusted, ‘for so fiery was his spirit that as it sped his body fell to ash, and was borne away like smoke‘. Think of Targaryens, whe fire-people, who were burned at their funerals, or Khal Drogo burned on a pyre. ‘For an instant she glimpsed Khal Drogo before her, mounted on his smoky stallion, a flaming lash in his hand’.
This reminds me of Aerion Brightflame, the Targaryen princeling who drank wildfire and got burned. While Aerion didn’t self-combust like Feanor, unless you count choosing to ingest wildfire as self-combustion, he still died in flames. And both had the ‘bright flame’ epithet.
Feanor’s wife was Nerdanel known as ‘the Wise’, a craftswoman and sculptress. She was noted to be calmer than her husband, more patient, but also strong-willed. She tried to convince Feanor to end his rebellion, but was unsuccessful. In the end, they became estranged, as Feanor took their youngest sons with him to Middle-earth, although she pleaded with him to let them stay in Aman. Her father was Mahtan, a smith (a person associated with flames, fire and melting metal) and Aule’s student. His favourite metal was copper, and had red-brown hair unusual among the Noldor (this is noted several times). The Silmarillion isn’t clear about Nerdanel’s hair colour, and some of her children inherited the unusual copper hair of their grandfather. For this reasons people drawing Tolkienic fanart often picture her with red/reddish brown hair.
The Seven Sons of Feanor were: Maedhros (copper red hair), Maglor, Celegorm, Caranthir, Curufin, Amrod (copper red hair) and Amras (copper red hair). Think of ASOIAF where they say that people with red hair are ‘kissed by fire’ – and copper is a metal associated with fire because of its colour. In ASOIAF, it is specially linked with fire – Drogo, who is Dany’s ‘sun-and-stars’ has copper skin, and bronze (which is an alloy where copper is the main ingredient) is constantly associated with fire and the sun – when Alys Karstark marries Sigorn of Thenn, the newly-founded House Thenn uses a bronze sunburst surrounded by red flames as their sigil.
When Feanor’s sons swore their infamous Oath, ‘red as blood shone their drawn swords in the glare of the torches’.
When Feanor was dead, his eldest son Maedhros assumed command over the Noldorin army. But Morgoth dispatched messengers and claimed that he was willing to negotiate. There is a scene in The Silmarillion where Maedhros rides to meet the Dark Lord’s envoys and both parties bring more soldiers than they’ve agreed on. But Morgoth has sent Balrogs and Maedhros’ guards were slaughtered. He was captured and taken to Angband. Morgoth had him tortured and hung by his right hand from Thangorodrim, the triple volcanic peak above his subterranean fortress.
None of Feanor’s sons had any children, with the exception of Curufin who was the father of Celebrimbor, a famed smith who created the Rings of Power in the Second Age. Although Celebrimbor means something along the lines of ‘Silver-fisted’, he has some fire symbolism by virtue of being a smith, nearly as skilled as his grandfather.
Now, we will talk about Fingolfin’s branch and its members.
Fingolfin: House of Ice
Finwe’s second wife was Indis the Fair of the Vanyar. She had golden hair of her tribe, and this trait was passed down to some of her descendants. Gold is often associated with the Sun and heat and fire, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Think of Val who has hair the colour of honey, yet is constantly associated with cold and ice and snow. And the Vanyar lived upon Mount Taniquetil, the Everwhite, Crowned With Stars, The White Mountain…
Fingolfin is noted to be calmer and more serene than his elder brother. When Feanor gave his speech and urged the Noldor to abandon Valinor, it was him who tried to calm them down. But so great was the wrath of Feanor and unrest among the Noldor that it nearly came to swords.
Later Feanor abandoned Fingolfin in Araman, and thus his followers were forced to cross the Grinding Ice of Helcaraxë, the ‘land’ bridge between Aman and Middle-earth – it is unlikely there was any land at all, the description suggests nothing but frozen bay shadowed by cold mists. When this host finally arrived in Middle-earth, Fingolfin ‘let blow his silver trumpets and began his march into Middle-earth, and the shadows of his host went long and black before them’ at the first rising of the Moon. Later, as the Sun rose for the first time, he entered Beleriand and ‘unfurled his blue and silver banners, and blew his horns’.
We have more ice symbolism for Fingolfin to cover, but to fully understand it, I think we must cover the Battles of Beleriand first.
The Battles of Beleriand
Now I’ll briefly discuss the Battles of Beleriand. The First Battle took place even before the Noldor (those on stolen ships) landed. When Morgoth returned to Angband, fleeing from Valinor with the Silmarils, he ordered his army to attack Cirdan in his havens and King Thingol of the Grey Elves in Doriath. One host attempted to attack Doriath from the east, but it was met at Amon Ereb by Denethor of the Green Elves, and although the king was slain, his soldiers bought King Thingol time to arrive with his army. The orcs were defeated. But concurrently, another large host besieged Cirdan’s ports. But before they could be taken, Morgoth was forced to lift the siege and move his troops to stop the Noldor who were advancing on Angband under Feanor.
Dagor-nuin-Giliath, the Battle-under-Stars, was the second battle of Beleriand (this term is used loosely, as some of those battles were in fact longer campaigns, and even wars). It was during this battle that Feanor’s vanguard was cut off from the main host and annihilated. Shortly afterwards, Maedhros who was now the supreme Noldor commander (Feanor claimed Kingship over the Noldor after Morgoth slew his father, but it was disputed because of his rebellion, and Maedhros never had the time to be formally crowned). Morgoth dispatched a sizeable army to attack the leaderless Noldor in the rear… but by happenstance, it ran into Fingolfin’s host which was entering Beleriand from the northwest.
When Fingolfin’s Noldor met with the remnants of Feanor’s group, Fingolfin’s son Fingon heard that his friend Maedhros was Morgoth’s captive. (As you might remember, Maedhros was asking which ships should be sent back across the sea to ferry Fingon, when Feanor decreed that the ships would be burned). Alone, Fingon climbed Thangorodrim, and with assistance from Thorondor, the leader of the Great Eagles, freed Maedhros (who lost his swordhand in the process, at there was no other way to free him from his chains). Grateful, Feanor’s heir accepted Fingolfin as the one true High King of the Noldor, although some of his brothers disagreed with this decision.
United Noldor forces annihilated Morgoth’s armies in Dagor Aglareb, the Glorious Battle in the 60th year of the Sun. This victory was followed by a 400-years long period of relative peace, when Angband was besieged (although the Noldor could do little to prevent it from being resupplied from the north). In this time, the Noldor prospered and founded their famed realms in Beleriand – Nargothrond, Gondolin the Hidden City, Nevrast and the March of Maedhros.
But during the winter of 455, Morgoth sent rivers of flame that annihilated the forces surrounding his fortress. The battle that followed was known as Dagor Bragollach, the Battle of the Sudden Flame. When defeat of the Noldor was certain, Fingolfin rode alone to the gates of Angband and challenged Morgoth to a duel. He was killed, and his Fingon became the new High King.
In 472, Maedhros decided that the Noldor and their allies are ready to strike again. For this purpose he assembled the largest army the elves ever gathered, the Union of Maedhros. Apart from the Noldor, the Dwarves provided weapons and soldiers, and the Edain houses sent sizeable hosts as well. (The Edain were those humans who settled in Beleriand during the Siege of Angband and allied themselves with the elves). The Easterlings answered the call as well. Even King Turgon left his Hidden City of Gondolin – the location of which was kept secret even from the other Noldor – leading 10 000 spearmen. This was Nirnaeth Arnoediad, the Battle of Unnumbered Tears (this name is a reference to the prophecy of Mandos, where he tells the Noldor: ‘Tears unnumbered ye shall shed’).
The initial battle plan of the allied forces was spoiled when one of the elven commanders from Nargothrond, Gwindor, was provoked by Morgoth’s emissaries who brought his brother captured during Bragollach. They had him maimed and brutally slain in the plain view of the Noldor army. Gwindor charged, and large part of the cavalry, which had an entirely different role battle, followed him. For a moment, it seemed that the vanguard will defeat Morgoth’s forces in that area. The charge broke through the main line of defense and reached the main gate of Angband. But this was, of course, a trap.
Thousands of orcs, so far hidden in the fortress, stormed out of hidden doors and gates and surrounded Gwindor’s men. Of those none survived but Gwindor himself, who was captured. Meanwhile, some of the Easterling tribes turned their cloaks and attack the allies from the rear. But other tribes remained loyal and bravely fought. Still, the Eldar-Edain army was scattered. Then Morgoth unleashed his dragons, led by Glaurung the Golden. If it weren’t for the Dwarves who kept them at bay, the Sons of Feanor and their soldiers would never manage to retreat. The High King of the Noldor, Fingon, was surrounded by Balrogs and killed after a valiant last stand. The army from Gondolin began to retreat, shielded by Edain of Dor-lómin commanded by Hurin and his brother Huor. Because of their sacrifice, King Turgon safely reached Gondolin and its location was not compromised. All Men of Dor-lómin were killed, but Hurin was taken alive. Morgoth’s revenge was fearsome to behold, as from this day onward, he did all he could to bring as much misery and pain to Hurin’s family as he could.
Following Nirnaeth Arnoediad, all elven and Edain realms in Beleriand fell, and in the end their situation was hopeless.
Fingolfin and his Children
With this basic explanation of the Wars of Beleriand given, we can continue our hunt for ice symbolism in the House of Fingolfin. Without it, I’d have to pause every now and then, and discuss the battles and other events. That wouldn’t be very efficient, I think.
At the beginning of the Dagor Bragollach chapter Fingolfin is called ‘King of the North’, and some really interesting ice symbolism makes an appearance when the High King duels Morgoth. (As I’ve explained in our first episode, the language there reminds me of the Mountain vs. Oberyn the Red Viper scene in ASOS). There Fingolfin ‘gleamed beneath it as a star; for his mail was overlaid with silver, and his blue shield was set with crystals; and he drew his sword Ringil, that glittered like ice‘. In Quenya, Ringil means cold or chilly. An ice-sword, like the swords of the Others.
Morgoth rises from his subterranean throne, and the rumour of his feet was like thunder. The Dark Lord’s armour was black, and he loomed over Fingolfin like some iron-crowned tower. His shield was blazoned only with sable, and the shadow it cast was like that of an stormcloud.
It’s interesting that Tolkien gives Morgoth this ‘storm deity’ symbolism – if I were to guess, it’s because before he rebelled, Melkor was supposed to play the role Manwe the ‘storm god’ of the Valar plays, as he was the mightiest of the Fifteen Valar. After his fall, he can only imitate Manwe (for example, by taking the dark volcanic mountains of Thangorodrim for his seat, in mockery of Manwe’s White Mountain Taniquetil). In The Children of Hurin Morgoth tells Hurin that he is the Elder King of Arda, usurping Manwe’s title.
In his duel with Morgoth, Fingolfin fought with Ringil, but Morgoth’s weapon was Grond, the Hammer of the Underworld. Where it landed, pits opened in the ground, with smoke and fire darting high. But Fingolfin fought valiantly and when Morgoth would swing with his hammer, he would leap away, like a ‘lightning shoots from under a dark cloud; and he wounded Morgoth with seven wounds, and seven times Morgoth gave a cry of anguish, whereat the hosts of Angband fell upon their faces in dismay, and the cries echoed in the Northlands’. But in the end the High King stumbled and fell into one of those deep rents in the earth. Then Morgoth crushed him with his foot, which was like heavy as some fallen hill. Fingolfin slashed at his foot with Ringil, and henceforth Morgoth would limp, not walk. But ‘the blood gashed forth black and smoking and filled the pits of Grond’. Thus died Fingolfin.
The Dark Lord raised his body and broke it, and was about to throw it to his wolves. But Thorondor the Great Eagle came rushing and caught the body with his talons. Then he marred Morgoth’s face, and the wounds would never truly heal, leaving painful scars. Thanks to Thorondor, Fingolfin’s body was not profaned, for the eagle carried it to Gondolin the Hidden City, where Fingolfin’s son Turgon buried it under a high cairn.
Fingolfin had four children with his wife Anairë (her name means ‘the Holiest’). She never left Valinor when the other Noldor fled, but her children have done so.
Fingon the Valiant became the High King of the North after his father. He had no children, although in some editions of The Silmarillion Gil-galad is presented as his son. Although at one point Fingon and his brother Turgon are described as ‘fiery of heart’, but this was shortly after Feanor’s speech and later they appear to be calmer than Feanor’s sons. Those who followed Fingolfin into exile – his closest kin among them – crossed the Grinding Ice. The High Kings made their seat in the land of Hithlum, the Land of Mist. I think we can safely associate mist with ice, like in ASOIAF where the Others bring cold mists whenever they are near. Tormund tells us that: ‘A man can fight the dead, but when their masters come, when the white mists rise up … how do you fight a mist, crow? Shadows with teeth … air so cold it hurts to breathe, like a knife inside your chest …’
In Hithlum, the air was always cool, and winters were long and cold, but it was a fair land until Morgoth defeated the Noldor at Nirnaeth Arnoediad and granted those lands to the Easterlings. (In doing this, he betrayed them, as they were promised the fertile and warm lands in the south). Hithlum was divided into Mithrim, where the High Kings governed and Dor-lómin, which was granted to the Edain from the House of Hador (the house of Hurin and Turin) as a fief. That’s why Fingolfin was referred to as the King of the North.
King Fingon was killed during the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. In the end he stood alone, with his entire guard dead around him. The dueled Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs. But another Balrog came from behind and cast a thong of fire (a thong is basically a whip) about him. ‘Then Gothmog hewed him with his black axe, and a white flame sprang up from the helm of Fingon as it was cloven. Thus fell the High King of the Noldor; and they beat him into the dust with their maces, and his banner, blue and silver, they trod into the mire of his blood’.
I find it interesting that Nirnaeth takes part on the morning of Midsummer. This might suggest that the battle is – symbolically – one of those battles between forces of summer and forces of winter, which take place either on midsummer or midwinter and cause the turning of the seasons, as outlined by Sir James George Frazer in The Golden Bough.
It’s a bit hard to say who is whom. Morgoth attacks from Angband to the north of Beleriand, but his above his stronghold towers the triple peak of Thangorodrim, a volcano. And his weapon in this battle is fire, represented by Balrogs and dragons. Fingon has ice symbolism – white flame, blue and silver banners, being the King of the North… and if Fingon was the King of Winter figure, Morgoth would be the King of Summer. But at the same time, Fingon commands the Edain of the north as well, and their battle cry is: ‘Lacho calad! Flame Light! Drego morn! Flee Night!’. But as explained earlier, the elves are associated with stars and the Moon, and humans with Sun – at one point, they’re called Children of the Sun, as they woke when it first rose.
And at the beginning of the battle, the battle-cry of the allied host of the Eldar, the Edain, the Easterlings and the Dwarves is ‘Utúlie’n aurë! Aiya Eldalië ar Atanatári, utúlie’n aurë! The day has come! Behold, people of the Eldar and Fathers of Men, the day has come!’ and the answer is ‘Auta i lómë! The night is passing!’. Well, maybe it’d be too weird to have Elves and men cry about darkness and cold and winter, and Morgoth about light and summer.
Fingolfin’s second son was Turgon, who followed his brother Fingon as High King. His sword was Glamdring, one of the famed elven blades that glowed blue when orcs were present. His wife Elenwë (elen means ‘star) died when Fingolfin’s host crossed Helcaraxë. Turgon founded the Hidden City of Gondolin, which was built from white stone and full of towers and fountains. But in the end, a traitor in his own household revealed its location to Morgoth, and the city was sacked by a large contingent of orcs, dragons and Balrogs. Interestingly, the Fall of Gondolin began on the day of the great holiday called the Gates of Summer… And Fingon died during Nirnaeth Arnoediad which began on the morning of Midsummer.
Turgon’s only daughter was Idril who had golden hair, but her name means Sparkling Brilliance and she was called Celebrindal, Silver-foot, as she always walked barefoot. The princess of Gondolin fell in love with the Edain warrior Turon (Turin Blacksword’s cousin) who came to the Hidden City as an envoy of Ulmo, the Lord of Waters with a mission to warn the king that his city will soon fall and he should flee. But Turgon was unwilling to abandon the marvellous Gondolin, and believed that no foe will ever reach his city, surrounded by the Encircling Mountains, with only one long and narrow tunnel leading through them, a bed of a dry river. To reach the Vale of Tumladen where the city stood on a high hill, one would have to pass seven heavily guarded gates: of Wood, of Stone, of Bronze, of Writhen Iron, of Silver, of Gold and of Steel.
Fingolfin had one daughter, Aredhel Ar-Feiniel, called the White Lady of the Noldor – as ‘she was pale though her hair was dark, and she was never arrayed but in silver and white‘. She loved hunting and riding in the woods, and during one of her lone travels, she wandered into the woods of Nan Elmoth, where King Thingol first met Melian. But now the forest was a dark place and only Eöl the Dark Elf dwelt there. King Thingol would rather see him gone from Nan Elmoth, which was still within the borders of his realm. But the cunning smith paid for the royal leave to remain there with Anglachel, one of the twin black shining swords forged from the heart of a fallen star which Turin had reforged into Gurthang. But he left the other sword, Anguirel, for himself.
Maeglin and the Fall of Gondolin
This Eöl took Aredhel to wife and they had a son called Maeglin. But as the time passed, the Dark Elf forbade her to visit her kin, and in the end to even leave his woods. But in secret, the shared the stories about Gondolin and Noldor with her son, and when he was old enough, they fled, taking Anguriel. Eöl followed them to Gondolin, but when they rode through the First Gate, the Dark Elf couldn’t follow them, as he knew nothing about the dry river passing through the mountains or the Seven Gates. But Turgon’s guards saw him and wouldn’t risk that even the approximate location of the Hidden City would be compromised. He was caught and taken before the king. There he explained whom he was and why he came – to get his wife back, and failing at that, his son. But both refused to come with him. Then Eöl threw a hidden drik at Maeglin, but Aredhel shielded her son and was hit instead. The blade was poisoned and no one could save her. Turgon was furious and had Eöl condemned as a murderer and kinslayer. The Dark Elf was taken to the battlements of Gondolin and cast down from the high walls.
Maeglin stayed in Gondolin, and was counted among the princes of the Noldor. But in secret, he desired princess Idril, although he knew Turgon would never allow him to marry her, as they were too close relatives. And besides that, the princess didn’t share his love. Maeglin became especially furious after she wed Tuor, a human. One day, as Maeglin was searching for new metal ores in the mountains (in secret, as King Turgon forbade his people to leave the city, as Morgoth’s spies were always nearby), he was caught by orc sentries and taken before Morgoth. There he revealed all he knew, including the location of the Hidden City. But not because of fear or torture – because Morgoth promised him the hand of princess Idril. After the sack, Maeglin was too be installed as a puppet ruler of Gondolin. When Morgoth’s armies were ready, the city was sacked indeed, but Morgoth cared little about his promises. Maeglin acted as a mole inside the city, ironically, as he was the leader of the House of the Mole, one of the Twelve Houses of Gondolin. As the battle raged all around him, Maeglin attempted to seize Idril and kill her son Eärendil. But Tuor fought him, and cast the traitor from the walls. Thus, he died just like his father promised he would, when Maeglin did nothing as Turgon’s guards carried the Dark Elf to his execution.
In The Stark that Brings the Dawn LML notes that Maeglin’s story is quite similar to that scene where Rhaena Targaryen, who was forced to marry Maegor the Cruel, fled from King’s Landing and stole the sword Blakcfyre for her son Jaehaerys. And that scene where Eöl throws a poisoned dirk at Maeglin but misses and hits Aredhel is quite similar to the ‘Azor Ahai killing Nissa Nissa with a comet’ pattern, as a dirk or a spear can easily be viewed as a comet symbol. Also, Eöl the Dark Elf who imprisons Aredhel, who sounds a lot like the Night’s Queen, in his woods, might be one of the influences behind GRRM’s pattern proposed by LML, where the Night’s King is the same person as Azor Ahai, and Night’s Queen is the betrayed Nissa Nissa. Aredhel was imprisoned in the woods – does this mean that Nissa Nissa was trapped inside the wierwoodnet (‘inside a dark wood’).
The fourth child of Fingolfin was Argon of whom little is known, as he fell during that battle where orcs rushing to attack Feanor’s host from the rear accidentally met Fingolfin’s host entering Beleriand from the north.
Of Fingolfin’s sister Írimë little is known other than that she followed her brother across the Grinding Ice to Beleriand. Their siblings, Findis and Finarfin remained in Valinor, and followed neither Fingolfin across Helcaraxë nor sailed with Feanor. Finarfin was calmer and more peaceful than Feanor (and probably even Fingolfin), and spoke against the Noldor rebellion. He ruled the Noldor who stayed in the Blessed Realm, and led their host marching under white banners during the War of Wrath at the end of the First Age, when the Valar finally intervened.
Finarfin’s wife was Eärwen (Sea-maiden), daughter of King Olwë, known as the Swan-maiden of Alqualondë. According to The Unfinished Tales, her hair was ‘starlike silver’. The Telerin elves of Swanhaven were attacked by Feanor’s soldiers. In TWOIAF, we might be seeing an echo of this event when we hear that Pentoshi legends speak of a hero called Hukko (who might be the same person as Hugor of the Hill) slaying swan-maidens (Eärwen wasn’t slain by the Noldor, but many people of the city were slaughtered).
The youngest of Finwe’s children stayed in Valinor, yet his own children followed their uncles Feanor and Fingolfin to Middle-earth.
House of Finarfin
Finrod called Felagund, Hewer of Caves, founded the Kingdom of Nargothrond, and ruled from his fortress delved in stone, in the likeness of King Thingol’s Menegroth, the Thousand Caves. (Generally, members of the House of Finarfin had better relationships with Thingol than the rest of the Noldor, as they were half-Teleri, and their mother was Eärwen, the daughter of Thingol’s brother Olwë. There was little love between King Greycloak and the Sons of Feanor, as he found out about the Kinslaying at Swanhaven. And although the Sindar were separated from their Telerin kin in Valinor for centuries, bonds of blood are never forgotten.
Finrod was the greatest friend the Edain had among the elves, and died sacrificing his life for Beren’s during the Quest for Silmaril. Felagund remembered that Beren’s life Barahir saved his life during the Battle of the Sudden Flame, and agreed to journey with him to Angband. But Feanor’s sons Celegorm and Curufin roused the people of Nargothrond against them, plotting to usurp his crown as soon as he was gone (preferably, never to return). Thus Beren and Finrod set off with only ten companions, and all but Beren died in Sauron’s dungeons when he intercepted their party. Finrod gave his life to save Beren from a werewolf, and thus the Edain hero survived long enough for Luthien and Huan the Hound to arrive and free him.
King Finrod never married, as his lover Amarië of the Vanyar remained in Valinor. But after his death, he was allowed to return to life, and lived with her in the Blessed Realm.
Finarfin’s second son was Angrod, of whom little is known except that he died in fire during Dagor Bragollach. With his wife Eldalótë he had one son, Orodreth.
Orodreth was left in Nargothrond as Finrod’s regent, but Curufin and Celegorm plotted to take over by marrying Curufin to Luthien (whom they took captive), and thus forcing the mighty King Thingol of Doriath to support their claim. But when the people of the city learned that Feanor’s sons let Finrod die in Sauron’s dungeons, they exiled them from Nargothrond and Orodreth became the new king. Earlier, he served as Warden of Minas Tirith, the island fortress that guarded the strategically vital Pass of Sirion. Minas Tirith, the Tower of Guard from the Third Age shared its name. But Sauron conquered it and took for his seat Thus Finrod died in the dungeons of the stronghold he built.
Orodreth’s daughter was Finduilas, the princess of Nargothrond who was betrothed to Gwindor, the elf who charged during Nirnaeth and was captured. He was forced to work in Morgoth’s mines under Angband for years, but later escaped and met Turin. Together they came to Nargothrond, where Turin introduced himself as Agarwaen son of Úmarth (Bloodstained, Son of Ill-fate). There he became a famous warrior and commander, and tales about the Black Sword of Nargothrond spread far and wife.
Thus Morgoth learned where Hurin’s son went. As you might remember, the Dark Lord captured Hurin and forced him to watch with Morgoth’s own eyes as he brought doom upon his house, in revenge for shielding Turgon’s retreat to Gondolin. If it weren’t for the valiant last stand of the Edain, Hurin and Tuor’s father Huor among them, Gondolin would fall sooner.
A great host was dispatched from Angband under Glaurung the dragon. Some of Orodreth’s advisors urged him to destroy the only bridge leading to the city carved in rock. But Turin called that cowardice and rode forth, taking all soldiers but few. In the battle that ensued Orodreth was killed and his warriors slaughtered, Gwindor among them. Turin rushed back to the city, but he found its gates broken and all defenders slain. Glaurung stunned him with a spell, so the famed Black Sword, the greatest warrior of the First Age could only watch as princess Finduilas was being taken as a slave to Angband. Such was the price for Hurin defying Morgoth, and for Turin’s pride.
Later, some of the Edain from the Forest of Brethil attempted to rescue the prisoners orcs took captive Nargothrond. The orcs were slaughtered, but no one was saved, as they received orders to put all captives to sword in case of any attack. Orodreth’s daughter was pinned to a tree with a spear.
Gil-galad was an Elven-king…
But Orodreth’s son Ereinion Gil-galad (which means Scion of Kings, Star of Great Radiance, respectively) survived. As the heir to the High Kingship, he was sent to Cirdan’s havens, and when news of Turgon’s death and the Fall of Gondolin reached them, they sailed to the Isle of Balar where they remained in the following years. After the drowning of Beleriand at the end of the First Age, Gil-galad founded the Kingdom of Lindon, where some of the surviving elves settled (others returned to Valinor, as the curse placed upon the Noldor by Mandos was lifted).
Now, Gil-galad is interesting for two reasons: he had the ice symbolism similar to Fingolfin and Fingon. I’m not sure if this is because the House of Finarfin has the same symbolism as Fingolfin’s family, because they were both sons of Finwe by Indis, or because he was the High King of the Noldor like they. Whatever the case, at the end of the Second Age Gil-galad was one of the leaders of the Last Alliance that defeated Sauron. ‘Against Aeglos the spear of Gil-galad none could stand; and the sword of Elendil filled Orcs and Men with fear, for it shone with the light of the sun and of the moon, and it was named Narsil’. Aeglos means ‘snow-point‘ (The Silmarillion index of names), but it can also mean ‘icicle’ (LOTR appendix).
Again, we see the High King of the Noldor – with ice symbolism – fighting against a Dark Lord, in this case Sauron, lord of the fiery land of Mordor. This convinced me that some pattern really exists here.
Also, GRRM is certainly familiar with Gil-galad, because he mentions him in RRetrospective, where he remembers reading LOTR for the first time: ‘Things got more interesting in the barrow downs, though, and even more so in Bree, where Strider strode onto the scene. By the time we got to Weathertop, Tolkien had me. ‘Gil-galad was an elven king’, Sam Gamgee recited, ‘of him the harpers sadly sing’. A chill went through me, such as Conan and Kull had never evoked’.
GRRM quotes the song The Fall of Gil-galad which contains this stanza as well:
His sword was long, his lance was keen.
His shining helm afar was seen;
the countless stars of heaven’s field
were mirrored in his silver shield.
I think it’s likely that he’s familiar with Ereinion Gil-galad’s famous spear Aegols as well. And the Others are like icy elves (GRRM called them icy sídhe, and those beings might be based on legendary Tuatha Dé Danann, who burn their ships upon landing in Ireland, just like the Noldor burn their ships when they arrive in Beleriand). And that ‘silver shield’ which is also a mirror might have been the inspiration behind Serwyn of the Mirror Shield.
Besides Finrod and Angrod, Finarfin had two children: Aegnor and Galadriel.
Aegnor‘s name means Fell Fire, and he died during Dagor Bragollach, the Battle of the Sudden Flame. In The Peoples of Middle-earth hid eyes are described as fiery, so he disturbs the pattern I proposed. But as I’ve said, the members of the House of Fingolfin proper have the strongest ice symbolism, and some of Finarfin’s children have it. Aegnor fell in love with a human woman called Andreth, but according to elven law, no marriages could be made during wars, and technically, the Siege of Angband was a war. If she were an elven woman, they could have just waited. But the Edain were mortal, and aged quickly. Aegnor never married.
Galadriel was famous for her golden hair, sparkling with the light of Laurelin the golden tree. But in LOTR she is described in the following manner:
Elrond wore a mantle of grey and had a star upon his forehead, and a silver harp was in his hand, and upon his finger was a ring of gold with a great blue stone, Vilya, mightiest of the Three. But Galadriel sat upon a white palfrey and was robed all in glimmering white, like clouds about the Moon; for she herself seemed to shine with a soft light. On her finger was Nenya, the ring wrought of mithril, that bore a single white stone flickering like a frosty star.
Galadriel married Celeborn, a lord of the Sindar, whose name contains ‘celeb’, silver. In Fellowship of the Rings they are described in these words:
They were clad wholly in white; and the hair of the Lady was of deep gold, and the hair of the Lord Celeborn was of silver long and bright; but no sign of age was upon them, unless it were in the depths of their eyes; for these were keen as lances in the starlight, and yet profound, the wells of deep memory.
Their daughter was Celebrían, who married Elrond of Rivendell. Their children were the twins Elladan and Elrohir, and Arwen the Evenstar. Celebrían was captured by orcs as she was crossing the Redhorn Pass in the Misty Mountains. She was imprisoned and tortured, and given a poisoned wound. Her sons rescued her, and Elrond healed her physical wounds, but some wounds to mind and spirit can never recover in the mortal land of Middle-earth. Thus she set sail from Cirdan’s Grey Havens the next year, and passed over Belegaer to Valinor.
As I have discussed in this part, The Silmarillion contains a possible precedent, and maybe even the inspiration, for GRRM’s pattern of solar king with two lunar queens, one associated with fire, and one with ice.
Part III: The Song of the Sun and the Moon
In this final chapter we’ll talk about Eärendil the Mariner and Elwing, and their sons Elrond and Elros. We’ll also discuss Númenor, its rise and fall, and the deeds King Ar-Pharazôn the Golden and Queen Tar-Míriel. And how all of this related to A Song of Ice and Fire, House Dayne, the Great Empire of the Dawn and its downfall, and House Hightower and the North.
I’d like to dedicate this chapter to the members of ASOIAF community on Twitter, or Twitteros as we call it, and especially, to Archmaester Aemma of the Red Mice at Play.
Unfortunately in this essay, I lack the time to give justice to the story of the War of the Jewels and the Battles of Beleriand in their entirety. Yet, I have to provide a summary of those events, brief as it may be, so those of you who are not that well-versed in the events of the First Age can understand the theories concerning A Song of Ice and Fire I’ll introduce.
A bit earlier, as I was talking about the House of Fingolfin, I mentioned King Turgon of Gondolin and his daughter Idril Celebrindal, who married the Edain warrior Tuor. Their son Earendil played an important role in the events that led to the end of the First Age, and Morgoth’s defeat.
House of Thingol, Elwing
But another important character has yet to be introduced.
House of Thingol family tree, chart by BT
Elu Thingol, King of Doriath had one daughter with Lady Melian of the Maiar, the famous Luthien. Sadly, today we don’t have the time to recount the full story of Beren and Luthien and their Quest for the Silmarils. Suffice to say, in the end one of Feanor’s jewels was recovered from Morgoth’s Iron Crown, and it came into the possession of Thingol. The king hired dwarven jewelsmiths to fasten the Silmaril in Nauglamír, the Necklace of the Dwarves.
But when their work was finished, the dwarves insulted the king and demanded it as their payment. When Thingol refused to give the Silmarils and the Necklace, they murdered him in his own vault. Grey Elves avenged their lord by killing all but two of the smiths. Those two arrived in Nogrod, their grand subterranean city (similar to Moria in the days of its glory), and claimed that the elven king ordered his troops to slaughter their friends to avoid paying them for their work. A great host assembled and marched on Menegroth, the capital of Doriath. The city was sacked and its people slaughtered and scattered. The Silmaril was stolen, though the king’s captain and warden Mablung (important to the story of Turin) gave a valiant last stand at the gates of the vault.
The dwarves were returning to their eastern strongholds, but slowly, as they carried an enormous loot robbed in Menegroth. But Beren and Luthien, who were living among the Green Elves in Ossiriand learned of this, and the dwarven host was annihilated when the Green Elves led by Beren ambushed them as they were crossing the ford of Sarn Athrad. Few survivors fled to the mountains, but none survived to carry the news to their city, as ents came down upon them as they climbed.
Beren and Luthien’s son Dior, the first of the Half-elven, returned to Doriath and restored order, reigning as king. His wife was Nimloth, and their children were Elwing and the twin brothers Eluréd and Elurín.
But Feanor’s sons learned that the Silmaril is in Doriath again, and although previously they were afraid to attack Luthien and Beren, now they remembered their oath and marched on Menegroth with their retainers. The Thousand Caves were sacked again. This was the Second Kinslaying between elves.
Three sons of Feanor fell in this battle: Celegorm, Curufin and Caranthir. But Dior and Nimloth were slain as well, and all but a few of the Sindar dwelling in Menegroth. Celegorm’s troops took Dior’s twins and left them to die in the woods. Maedhros was ashamed, and searched for the boys, but they were never seen again.
But when Menegroth was searched, the Silmaril was not found, and neither was Dior’s daughter Elwing.
The survivors of Doriath led by Elwing fled to the Havens of Sirion, in the mouth of Beleriand’s great river. There they were joined by the survivors of the Fall of Gondolin and among them were Idril and Tuor and their son Earendil. Elwing fell in love with him, and they married. Their twin sons were Elrond and Elros.
The situation of the Eldar and the Edain of Beleriand seemed hopeless. All kingdoms of the Noldor and the Sindar were destroyed, and the lands were overrun by Morgoth’s orcs, save for the coast and the Isle of Balar where Cirdan took Ereinion Gil-galad, the new High King.
Tuor and Idril built a ship and sailed across the sea, and according to legends, though the Noldor were forbidden from returning to the Blessed Realm because of Feanor’s rebellion, and none of the mortals was allowed to set foot there, with the penalty being death, they reached Aman and settled there because of the grace of the Valar, and notably Ulmo (after all it was Ulmo whom Tuor served faithfully when he traveled to Gondolin to warn that the fall was nigh). And tales stranger still claim that Tuor’s fate was different than those of all other humans, and that he was numbered among the Noldor whom he loved.
The Voyage of Eärendil and Elwing to Valinor
With the help of Cirdan the Shipwright, Earendil constructed his famous ship Vingilótë, the Foam-flower. On this ship, he ventured far across the ocean, but the road to Valinor he could not find. Meanwhile, the surviving sons of Feanor finally learned where the Silmaril was taken after the Sack of Menegroth. Thus, the Third Kinslaying, the most cruel of all, took place. In a bloody battle, two sons of Feanor – the youngest, Amras and Amrod – were killed by the defenders. Yet in the end, the Feanorians won.
Elrond and Elros were captured, but when soldiers came for Elwing, she jumped into the sea, the Silmaril on her neck. (Which reminds me of Ashara Dayne who jumped into the sea from a tower at Starfall. I think that the Silmaril Elwing caries, and which would later become a star in the sky, gives her the ‘falling star’ symbolism that we see in House Dayne as well). But Ulmo who never abandoned the elves, saved Elwing from the waves, and turned into a great white bird. In this form she found Earendil’s ship far at sea, and there returned to her normal appearance. Earendil grieved for his sons, whom the thought to be dead, remembering what happened to Elwing’s brothers. In reality, Maglor took pity upon them and raised them as if they were his own children.
But believing that they have nothing to lose, Earendil and Elwing sailed to Valinor guided by the Silmaril, planning to plead with the Valar to aid the Eldar and the Edain of Beleriand. In doing this they broke the ban placed on the Noldor. Yet when they landed in Aman, they were not killed, but taken before the thrones of the Valar. Manwe decreed that they would not be punished in any way, for they traveled to Valinor not for their own sake, but on the behalf of the elves and men, and were willing to sacrifice their own lives in the process.
The Valar assembled a mighty host, with Manwe’s herald Eönwë being its supreme commander. The Vanyar left the Blessed Realm for the first time, and those of the Noldor who refused to take part in Feanor’s rebellion joined them. The Teleri of Swanhaven provided an enormous fleet and sailors, as they heeded Elwing who was related to their king, but refused to set foot in Beleriand and send any warriors, remembering the First Kinslaying, and now hearing about the two later. Edain warriors of Beleriand joined the Valar army, while other tribes fought for Morgoth. The war of this host against the countless legions of Morgoth was remembered as the War of Wrath.
The Valar took Earendil’s ship and hallowed it and then placed high in the heavens.
Now fair and marvellous was that vessel made, and it was filled with a wavering flame, pure and bright; and Eärendil the Mariner sat at the helm, glistening with dust of elven-gems, and the Silmaril was bound upon his brow. Far he journeyed in that ship, even into the starless voids; but most often was he seen at morning or at evening, glimmering in sunrise or sunset, as he came back to Valinor from voyages beyond the confines of the world.
Thus was created the Star of Eärendil, to us known as Venus, the Morningstar and the Evenstar.
The War of Wrath lasted for many years, but in the end, the Host of the Valar annihilated Morgoth’s armies. Only few survivors fled to the north, but among them was Sauron and one of the Balrogs (the one whom the dwarves would later wake in Moria). In the end, the Dark Lord sent all his dragons against his foes, and for a moment the tide turned against the elves. But Earendil joined the battle and cast down Ancalagon the Black, the greatest of all winged dragons, from the sky. The beast shattered the three peaks of Thangorodrim upon its fall, and all Beleriand shook. In the end, Morgoth himself was captured and thrown beyond the Walls of Night into the Void.
I believe that some aspects of GRRM’s ‘moon meteors’ proposed by LML might have been inspired by Ancalagon the Black and his fall – just like Balerion the Black Dread’s epithet. So, we have a dragon that falls from the sky, after the Morningstar-Evenstar characters kills him. And upon his fall, he shatters the land, which later sinks in the sea. Yes, the death of the great dragon was only one of the causes of the drowning of Beleriand – the entire War of Wrath, the great battles between the Host of the Valar and Morgoth’s dragons, Balrogs and countless orcs laid the land waste as well. (Such is the result of all battles between the Valar and Dark Lords, and for this reason the Valar were afraid to intervene directly in the Third Age when Sauron returned). But the shattering of the triple volcanic peak of Thangorodrim caused by grand dragon’s downfall certainly stands out, and I don’t think that a huge fan of dragons like GRRM would miss this, especially if he had his Mythical Astronomy pattern of meteors-as-dragons in mind during some reread of The Silmarillion. Tolkien wrote that: ‘In the Great Battle and the tumults of the fall of Thangorodrim there were mighty convulsions in the earth, and Beleriand was broken and laid waste’, which could just as well describe the effect of the impact of the Hammer of Waters.
Two Silmarils were recovered from Angband, and Eönwë had them placed under guard. But Maedhros and Maglor sneaked into the camp at night, killed the guards and stole the jewels. This was their last desperate attempt to fulfill their accursed Oath. There were two Silmarils left, they thought, one for each of Feanor’s surviving sons (the third was beyond their reach, shining in the sky). But when they touched the jewels, their sacred light burned their hands, bloodstained after all their foul deeds. Then Maedhros, maddened by the pain, jumped into a deep fiery chasm. But Maglor cast his Silmaril into the sea and wandered on the shores, singing laments. In some legends, he wanders even to this day. Thus in the end one of the Silmarils ended up in the sky, one deep inside the earth and one in the depths of the sea.
The War of Wrath left Beleriand shattered and aflame, and soon the Great Sea rushed inward and drowned the land. Of this vast realm only a handful of small isles survived into the Third Age. The doom placed upon the Noldor was lifted by the Valar, and many of them sailed west. The Vanyar army returned to Aman as well, and many of the elves who never arrived in the Blessed Realm in the first place – like the Sindar. But others traveled eastward and joined Wood Elves in their realms in Greenwood and Lorien. And some of the Noldor still unwilling to return settled in Lindon (which is the land to the west of the Shire on Third Age maps). Their leader was Gil-galad, the last High King of the Noldor in Middle-earth.
The Valar allowed Earendil and Elwing to choose whether they want to share the fate of elves or men, and they choose to be counted among the Eldar. Their sons were given the same chose. And thus of the twin brothers, Elrond was considered to an elf, and Elros a human.
The Eldar could flee to the east or sail across the sea, but the Edain could not, and their realms and settlements in Beleriand were now under water, or about to drown. To reward their efforts in the wars with Morgoth, the Valar gave them a special gift.
They brought up an isle from the Great Sea and it was closer to the Undying Lands than to Middle-earth. It had many names: Elenna-nórë (Starwards-land), Elenna (Starwards), Andor (Land of the Gift) and Westernesse, which is Númenórë in Quenya and Anadûnê in Adûnaic, the tongue of the Numenoreans.
The Edain who settled there became known as the Numenoreans, or Dúnedain, Men of the West. They were blessed with longer lifespans than other mortals, of 300 years and even more in the royal house of Elros who became their first king.
The Edain, and some of the Drúedain (Woses, or Wild Men of the Woods, who were stalwart elven and Edain allies in the First Age) built ships and followed the Star of Earendil, Venus until they’ve reached the isle, ‘shimmering in a golden haze’.
The Star of Earendil guided them: ‘But so bright was Rothinzil that even at morning Men could see it glimmering in the West, and in the cloudless night it shone alone, for no other star could stand beside it’.
This reminds me of the founders of House Dayne, who followed a falling star until they reached the isle in the mouth of River Torrentine in Dorne where they founded their kingdom. And as Joe Magician noted in his essay, ‘Dayne’ sounds a bit like ‘Edain’. Strangely enough, I wrote an entire theory (Westernesse section) claiming that House Dayne is at least partially inspired by the Edain, yet I never saw this similarity in names.
The Numenoreans were tallers than other nations, and ‘the light of their eyes was like the bright stars’. The Elves shared much of their lore with the Dunedain, and gave them many gifts: the palantiri stones among them, an a sapling of the White Tree.
The first white tree was Galathilion, which grew in the Noldor city of Tirion, and was made in the likeness of Telperion, one of the Two Trees. A sapling of Galathilion was planted on Tol Eressëa, the Lonely Isle, and in turn, its seeds were brought to Numenor. The famed White Trees of Gondor descended from this tree, which in the royal court at Armenelos the Golden, the capital of Numenor.
As you can see, Numenor has plenty of Venus-related symbolism. In the beginning, it is raised from the sea (think of birth of Venus, where the newborn but fully grown goddess rises emerges from the sea, and of how the planet Venus appears in the sky after a period of being hidden behind the sun), but then it falls and sinks into the sea.
In fact, the entire isle was shaped like a five-pointed star, a Venus symbol par excellence. Thus Numenor had 5 ‘arms’ which were also provinces – Forostar, Andustar, Hyarnustar, Hyarrostar and Orrostar. In the midst of the isle, in the central province called Mittalmar, stood the Holy Mountain Meneltarma, which means Pillar of Heaven.
The first King of Numenor was Elros (Star-foam), Earendil’s son, who reigned as Tar-Minyatur, First King. Henceforth, all kings and queens used royal names in Quenya beginning with the prefix tar- (high). But the later kings turned against the Valar and prefered to use names in Adûnaic, their native tongue.
Both sons of Earendil share their father’s Morningstar/Evenstar symbolism. It’s easy to spot it with Elros, who followed the Star of Earendil to Numenor. But Elrond (Vault of Heavens or Star-dome) has it as well. In LOTR he mentions that he served as High King Gil-galad’s banner-bearer, vice-regent and herald. The Red Comet, which has a lot of symbolism connected with Venus, represents a similar idea, as it is the herald of Azor Ahai the solar king. Gil-galad means Star of Bright Light, so symbolically, we can look at him as a star or even the sun. And Venus heralds the coming of the sun in its Morningstar position, which Elrond as banner-bearer and herald would signify… Also, Elrond’s daughter Arwen was called Evenstar of the Elves, which highlights the overall Venus symbolism of Earendil’s house.
As a side note, in-universe Eärendil means ‘Devoted to the Sea’. But Tolkien borrowed this name from an Old English poem Christ I (The Advent Lyrics), which he has read in his youth and which deeply moved him. The poem contains this verse:
éala éarendel engla beorhtast/ ofer middangeard monnum sended
Hail Eärendel, brightest of angels / over middle-earth sent to men
Earendel or Aurvandil is considered to be the Germanic name of Venus, Morningstar and Evenstar. Interestingly, according to some scholars, such as R. Much, the real-world Germanic tribe called the Vandals had an origin myth in which their kings were Earendil’s descendants, and that the name ‘Vandals’ comes from the same root as Aurvandil, *wand, ‘to wander’. In this case, the seven-pointed star of the Andals might be in fact a depiction of Venus, but with seven rays in place of five or eight, more commonly associated with Morningstar and Evenstar in real-world myths. For what it’s worth, the Andal legends speak of ‘a golden land amidst towering mountains’ which the Seven promised to Hugor of the Hill. If the Seven are based on the High Ones of Arda, the most powerful of the Valar (as I suggested in Part I of this essay), then this ‘golden land’ might be a reference to Numenor which the Valar granted to the Edain. In-universe, Earendil is also called the Mariner, the Bright, the Blessed, and in Bilbo’s song in LOTR his Star is called ‘the Flammifer of Westernesse’.
The Glory and Downfall of Númenórë
Venus-related symbolism of Numenor and its people becomes quite easy to spot if one knows how to look. Like Venus (the goddess of Greek mythology), the isle of Elenna rises from the waves. Like Venus the planet is rises, but then falls and is no more (LML discusses the Venus cycle in the sixth episode of his Bloodstone Compendium).
The entire island of Numenor is shaped like a giant five-pointed star, which is one of the most common symbols of Venus. The eyes of its people shone like bright stars. And if we look at Quenya and Aduinaic meanings of some of the royal names of Numenorean monarchs, we see even more such symbolism.
Tar-Anárion, Son of the Sun. Think of Christian symbolism, where Christ is associated with Morningstar because He is the son of God the Father, who came down to earth (like Venus appears to do fall down from the sky at the beginning of its cycle) and later ascended to heaven (like Venus appears to gradually rise in the sky at the end of its cycle). Thus, Venus was the perfect heavenly body to represent Christ, to be His symbol in art, hymns and literature.
That’s why in Exsultet we read the following lines: ‘May this flame be found still burning
by the Morning Star/the one Morning Star who never sets, Christ your Son’. In Latin text the old world for the Morningstar is used here, which later became associated with the devil: ‘Flammas eius lúcifer matutínus invéniat: ille, inquam, lúcifer, qui nescit occásum.
Christus Fílius tuus’. This is because while there are two ways to interpret Venus which appears to fall from the sky and is visible shortly before dawn – it can be seen as a faithful servant of the Sun, its herald. But also as a ‘wannabe’ sun, an usurper. In this case, Venus isn’t ‘descending’ from the heavens to earth, it is being cast down by the sun. The ‘end’ of the cycle becomes the beginning – first, Venus rises higher and higher, trying to usurp the sun. Then it falls. For this reason, we get evil figures that have Morningstar symbolism as well. LML discusses this in detail in one of his essays.
And then we have monarchs like: Tar-Ancalimon, the Most Bright. Tar-Ancalimë, the Most Bright or Radiance – Venus is the brightest ‘star’ in the sky. Tar-Calmacil, Sword of Light. Ar-Gimilzôr, the Starflame. Ar-Pharazôn Tar-Calion – the Golden, Son of Light. This is not surprising, since the Royal House of Numenor descended from Elros who was Earendil’s son.
Numenor is Arda’s ancient advanced civilization – similar to Atlantis – that was destroyed in a great cataclysm, In George R.R. Martin’s world, the Great Empire of the Dawn plays this role, and Old Valyria but to a lesser extent. It’s possible that ‘of the Dawn’ part in the Empire’s name might be a reference to Numenor, which has tons of Venus-related symbolism, and Venus is (sometimes) the Morningstar, the Star of the Dawn. But I’d go further and suggest that those similarities and parallels go deeper, and are surely intentional. For example, just like the Kings and Queen of Numenor, the monarchs of the Great Empire had abnormally long lifespans, but as the time passed, their lives grew shorter and shorter. But the really interesting parallels come to us when we explore the downfall of both civilizations. And certain similarities between survivors of both catastrophes are more interesting still.
Early generations of the House of Elros, chart by BT
This family tree shows the first generations of the House of Elros, the royal dynasty of Numenor. As you can see, Tar-Elendil, the fourth ruler of the isle, had three children: two daughters, Silmariën and Isilmë, and their younger brother. At that time, Numenor followed male-preference primogeniture, and thus Tar-Meneldur became the king after Tar-Elendil died. But when Silmariën married a nobleman called Elatan from the port city of Andúnië, Elendil created a title of the Lord of Andúnië for their first son Valandil. House of Andúnië became one of the most prominent Numenorean houses, with its head often serving on royal council. And as it later turned out, it became the most important dynasty of Middle-earth in the Third Age.
In the centuries immediately after they’ve settled the isle, the Edain never ventured far away from their homeland. But in the 600th year of the Second Age Vëantur, Tar-Elendil’s Captain of Ships (admiral of the navy, like Westerosi master of ships). This began the golden age of Numenorean discovery and exploration. At first, Numenorean ships sailed to Middle-earth, where Vëantur met Cirdan the Shipwright himself and Gil-galad the High King. But later they sailed all seas of the world and visited even the most distant continents. Yet they never sailed to the Uttermost West, as the Valar forbade any mortals to set foot in the Undying Lands.
Numenoreans saw that lives of the men of Middle-earth were miserable, so they shared their knowledge with them. They taught how to cultivate corn and wine, and brought seeds and saplings from their isle, and showed how to hew wood and shape stone, and how to sow and grind grain. And thus many tribes blessed the sight of ships with the Star of Earendil on their sails, and remembered the ‘tall Sea-kings’ in their legends. But as the time passed, the men of Numenor became full of pride, and spoke against the Valar and their ban – why shouldn’t the Kings of Men be allowed to visit Valinor. And thus the Numenoreans no longer welcomed elven ships coming from the West with gifts, distrusting them and calling them spies of the Valar. Yet even then they never dared to break the ban openly by sailing to the West.
Instead, their mighty ships returned to Middle-earth, but this time not as teachers. At first they exacted tribute in the name of their king, but later became conquerors, slavers and tyrants, building permanent landings and ports, and even fortresses.
Later kings abandoned using Quenya of the High Elves, preferring their native Adunaic, and in the end banned speaking elvish of any kind on their isle. Numenoreans, who once understood that death is the fate of all humans, now sought to prolong their lives, and discover the secrets of life and death. But the only thing they achieved was how to preserve flesh long after death. And in doing so, they filled their land with megalithic silent tombs.
This chart show the final generations of the Royal House of Numenor, and the House of Elendil (you can find the full family tree of Numenorean kings here).
House of Elros, and House of Elendil, chart by BT
Numenoreans became quarrelsome and distrusted one another. The most notable political parties were the King’s Men (which reminds me of Stannis’ followers), who were hostile to the Valar, the Elves and their allies, and sought to conquer and spread Numenorean rule over all of mankind. They were opposed by the Faithful, also called Elf-friends, as they sought friendship of the Valar and the Eldar. They were centered around the Lords of Andúnië, though later in secret.
Tar-Palantir, the 24th king of Numenor, supported the Faithful because of the teachings of his mother who came from the House of Andúnië, and attempted to reform the isle and reduce the damage done by his predecessors and their King’s Men. But he achieved little, as his subjects grew rebellious and prideful. When his daughter Tar-Miriel was supposed to inherit the throne, her cousin Ar-Pharazon took her too wife, although she was unwilling, and seized power. In a way, that was a Blood Betrayal, like the one we read about in TWOIAF. This was against both law and custom, as Tar-Aldarion the 5th king changed the law so elder daughter would inherit before younger brothers.
Ar-Pharazon the Golden became the greatest of all Kings of Westernesse, but at the same time, he was the bloodiest tyrant. When he heard that Sauron (once Morgoth’s lieutenant and now the new Dark Lord) rose again in Mordor, proclaiming himself King of Men and endangering Numenorean colonies, he amassed a great fleet and might host, and landed in Middle-earth. There the king made his camp, his host ‘ranged all about him, blue, golden, and white, as a field of tall flowers’. But the royal banners were blazoned with sable and gold. Then Ar-Pharazon sent envoys to Mordor, and commanded Sauron to bend the knee and swear him fealty.
And Sauron came, abandoning his armies and leaving the Great Ring in Barad-dur, his dark tower. The Dark Lord humbled himself before the king, and Ar-Pharazon felt pride. Then he had Sauron taken to Numenor as a hostage. But soon, the Dark Lord was sitting on his council and ruling the isle in all but name. His scheme to corrupt Numenor worked.
There he convinced Ar-Pharazon that the Valar were plotting to destroy his realm, and that Eru Iluvatar was but a fable they invented to fool mankind. Thus, the Numenoreans turned from Iluvatar whom they worshipped atop Meneltarma in the middle of their isle, and made sacrifices to Melkor as ‘Giver of Freedom’. Naturally, Sauron became the archpriest and prophet of this wicked cult.
The White Tree was cut down and burned on the altars in the Great Temple Sauron had built in Armenelos the Golden. But the Faithful still lived, though in secret, as Sauron’s henchmen searched for them and those they found they sacrificed to Morgoth. Their leader was Amandil, Lord of Andúnië, King Ar-Pharazon’s great friend in their youth. But Sauron had him dismissed from the royal council.
Amandil foresaw that Numenor will soon fall, for so great was the wickedness of its people. But he had ships prepared in secret, and gathered his kin and friends and what remained of the Faithful. Then he told his son and heir Elendil to escape should the doom come, and sailed westward, breaking the Ban of the Valar. He hoped to reach Valinor like his ancestor Earendil once did, and plead with the Lords of the West to save Numenor. Amandil was never seen again, and no word of his fate came from the West.
This is the description of the Temple Sauron built in Armenelos, the royal capital of Westernesse:
It was in the form of a circle at the base, and there the walls were fifty feet in thickness, and the width of the base was five hundred feet across the centre, and the walls rose from the ground five hundred feet, and they were crowned with a mighty dome. And that dome was roofed all with silver, and rose glittering in the sun, so that the light of it could be seen afar off; but soon the light was darkened, and the silver became black. For there was an altar of fire in the midst of the temple, and in the topmost of the dome there was a louver, whence there issued a great smoke. And the first fire upon the altar Sauron kindled with the hewn wood of Nimloth, and it crackled and was consumed; but men marvelled at the reek that went up from it, so that the land lay under a cloud for seven days, until slowly it passed into the west.
Nimloth was the White Tree of Numenor, made in the likeness of Telperion the Silver Tree of Valinor. The proto-Moon. Therefore, in the terms of Mythical Astronomy, we have a Dark Lord who burns the white tree which is also, in a way, the Moon. And this darkens the entire city. But, Elendil’s son Isildur sneaked into the royal court where it grew, and though it was heavily guarded by the King’s Men, he managed to steal one seedling, which Elendil hid on his ship.
Now there was no rescue for Numenor, as it became too wicked and full of gluttony and blood sacrifice was common. Warships of Westernesse sailed to Middle-earth again, but this time they weren’t colonists or conquerors or even tribute collectors. This time they sought to capture men and women and carry them to Numenor, where Sauron sacrificed them to Morgoth, claiming that by doing so the Numenoreans will be saved from death.
The Valar sent warnings, stormy clouds in the shaped like Great Eagles, ‘And out of the west there would come at times a great cloud in the evening, shaped as it were an eagle, with pinions spread to the north and the south; and slowly it would loom up, blotting out the sunset, and then uttermost night would fall upon Númenor. And some of the eagles bore lightning beneath their wings, and thunder echoed between sea and cloud’. And from the West came strong winds, and storms and hail. But the King never repented, and Sauron whispered in his ear that even the Valar were now afraid of his might, and the eagles were a declaration of war.
Now the lightnings increased and slew men upon the hills, and in the fields, and in the streets of the city; and a fiery bolt smote the dome of the Temple and shore it asunder, and it was wreathed in flame. But the Temple itself was unshaken, and Sauron stood there upon the pinnacle and defied the lightning and was unharmed; and in that hour men called him a god and did all that he would.
This reminds me of the Ironborn myth about the Grey King who taunted the Storm God into striking a tree with his thunderbolt. Manwe can be seen as a ‘storm god’, as he is the Vala associated with sky, air and lightning. And among the Ironborn priests, we find a certain Sauron Salt Tongue… And here, Sauron burns the White Tree, which can symbolise the moon, but also a weirwood, as weirwood leaves look like flames, thus giving us a tree set aflame. In his essay The Grey King and the Sea Dragon LML that this parallel is intentional, and in this way GRRM wants us to associate the Grey King with weirwoods and greenseers. And remember, Sauron was a smith just like Azor Ahai, which also fits Mythical Astronomy perfectly, as according to this theory Azor Ahas not only a dark lord, who caused the Long Night by breaking the Second Moon, but also the same person as the Grey King. Maybe this Grey King myth from the Iron Islands was inspired by this passage from the account of the Downfall of Numenor. And that wouldn’t be the only reference to this story we find in ASOIAF.
The Great Empire of the Dawn fell when the Opal Emperor’s daughter, the Amethyst Empress, was usurped by her brother who became known as the Bloodstone Emperor.
In The Silmarillion, we have a king of Numenor named Tar-Palantir, which brings to mind the palantiri seeing-stones (and opals are precious gems as well), whose daughter Tar-Miriel (Jewel-daughter) has a name connected with jewels as well. A cousin is not a brother, but the basic pattern is the same – the monarch has a daughter who should inherit the throne, but an ambitious family members usurps her, and begins a reign of terror.
Interestingly, many characters based on the Bloodstone Emperor archetype, of a villainous figure who breaks the moon, proposed in LML’s essays, have names connected with gold, while Ar-Pharazon means the Golden. Aurion the self-proclaimed Emperor of Valyria, Euron Greyjoy… aurum is Latin for gold, and Euron is a Welsh name which contains ‘Eur’ – gold, related to Latin ‘Aur’. And there’s Aurane Waters, the grand admiral, who might parallel Ar-Pharazon as well, since the king led the greatest fleet ever assembled… And in a way, Ar-Pharazon betrayed the rightful queen, and ‘stole’ her fleet, just like Aurane stole Cersei’s fleet. Well, I’m not sure we can call Cersei the ‘rightful queen’, but symbolically, it works.
The TWOIAF account of the Great Empire of the Dawn lists many sins of the people of the Empire and the Bloodstone Emperor: avarice, envy, lust, murder, incest, gluttony, and sloth, dark arts, torture, necromancy, enslavement of people, feasting on human flesh and casting down the true gods and worshipping a black stone that fell from heaven. Numenoreans and Ar-Pharazon committed most of these dark deeds as well. The king married Tar-Miriel against her will – and marriages between such close kin were forbidden. He turned away from the Valar and Iluvatar, and worshipped Morgoth. He was not a necromancer, though, but it turns out that Sauron was. In fact, in The Hobbit, Sauron is always referred to as ‘the Necromancer’. It’s possible that GRRM mixed Sauron with Ar-Pharazon and added some Lovecraftian influences as well to create his own Dark Lord, the Bloodstone Emperor.
Also, I’ll note that according to some theories, the Valyrians came from the Great Empire of the Dawn. At the very least, they have many similarities. If the Great Empire is the archetypal ‘lost advanced civilization’ of GRRM’s world, akin to our Atlantis, then Valyria might play into this archetype… Valyrians have silver hair, so its possible that – if those theories are correct – the Amethyst Empress had silver hair as well and that would fit well with The Silmarillion. Although Tar-Miriel most likely didn’t have silver hair, her namesake Miriel (Feanor’s mother), had silver hair. This is a description of Miriel, for what it’s worth: ‘And last of all the mounting wave, green and cold and plumed with foam, climbing over the land, took to its bosom Tar-Míriel the Queen, fairer than silver or ivory or pearls. Too late she strove to ascend the steep ways of the Meneltarma to the holy place; for the waters overtook her, and her cry was lost in the roaring of the wind’. This is like the opposite of the birth of Venus, where she rises from the sea clothed in foam. Think of Dany who wishes to be dressed in ‘Starlight and seafoam’. And as Durran Durrandon suggested, Daenerys can be seen as the new Amethyst Empress.
Here, with Tar-Miriel, we have a dark inversion of the birth of Venus – which perfectly fits the last Queen of Numenor, the Land Under the Star of Earendil which is Venus. Here I’ll note that the name of Elros, Miriel’s distant ancestor and the first King of Westernesse, can be translated as ‘Star-foam’, which again, might evoke the famous birth of Venus scene. When Elros led the Edain, Numenor rose from the sea like Venus (metaphorically but also because it had the shape of a five-pointed star). And now, to sea it returns.
That was the scene where the Queen drowns with all of Numenor. So, I guess, it’s the time to finish up the story of Westernesse. I hope that the parallels I’ve highlighted convinced you that GRRM’s Great Empire was truly inspired by Numenor. It’s always possible that they are similar because both Tolkien and Martin were inspired by Atlantis, but I think it’s more likely that GRRM was influenced directly by Numenor as well.
When Ar-Pharazon was old and felt that his death was near, he heeded Sauron who claimed that the Valar can be defeated, and if the Numenoreans conquer the Undying Lands, they’ll be immortal and godlike. For the purpose of this invasion, a great armada was assembled, and loaded with warriors, knights, horses, weapons and slaves to work the oars. Then Ar-Pharazon boarded his flagship, the golden and sable Alcondras, which means Castle of the Sea. The fleet sailed westward and breaking the Ban of the Valar, landed in Aman. The elves fled from the advancing army, but atop Taniquetil, Manwe called upon Iluvatar and laid down his regency and governance of the world.
And Iluvatar answered. The world shook, and was broken and made anew. From the peak of Mount Meneltarma in the middle of the isle, smoke and fire rose. Deep chasm opened in the seabed, and Numenor fell into it. Coastlines of other continents were changed, and mouths and deltas of many rivers. Entire islands drowned in an instant, and elsewhere new lands rose from the depths. The Numenorean fleet sank but Ar-Pharazon and his warriors who dared to attack Valinor were trapped deep below the ground, where they sleep in the Cave of the Forgotten. They shall not wake until the Last Battle, but on which side they’ll fight, no one can tell. Before that day was over, Numenor was no more.
In the Flat World continuity, it was at this point in time that Arda was made round.
Yet, not all Numenoreans perished, as thanks to Amandil’s foresight, Elendil had nine ships prepared – four for Elendil, three was his son Isildur, and two for Anarion, his second son. As the doom ranged around them, they set sail for Middle-earth. Numenor was lost, and no one spoke of it anymore, but of Akallabêth (the Downfallen), which in Quenya is Atalantë…
In Middle-earth, Elendil and his sons sought to preserve as much of the lore of Westernesse as they could. They founded two realms, the Kingdoms of the Dúnedain: Gondor in the south and Arnor in the north. But Sauron lived as well, though he was still in his temple in Armenelos when the isle fell into the depths. His spirit rose from the waters, and fled over the waves like black wind or shadow to Mordor, where the One Ring was hidden. His new appearance was that of ‘an image of malice and hatred made visible; and the Eye of Sauron the Terrible few could endure’. This reminds me of Euron Greyjoy’s sigil. And of course, I proposed that Euron is one the characters playing into the Bloodstone Emperor archetype – and that the Emperor is a combination of Sauron and Ar-Pharazon.
The Unity of the Sun and the Moon
At last, the time has come to introduce what might be the most important Tolkienic concept, that has found its way to ASOIAF as well – the unity of the Sun and the Moon. What do I mean?
To begin with, in the section about the Long Night I quoted a passage from The Silmarillion which contains this line:
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.
And elsewhere it is said that:
At the first rising of the Sun the Younger Children of Ilúvatar awoke in the land of Hildórien in the eastward regions of Middle-earth; but the first Sun arose in the West, and the opening eyes of Men were turned towards it, and their feet as they wandered over the Earth for the most part strayed that way. The Atani they were named by the Eldar, the Second People; but they called them also Hildor, the Followers, and many other names: Apanónar, the After-born, Engwar, the Sickly, and Fírimar, the Mortals; and they named them the Usurpers, the Strangers, and the Inscrutable, the Self-cursed, the Heavy-handed, the Night-fearers, the Children of the Sun.
Thus, I think that we can safely assume that when it comes to symbolism, the Elves can be associated with the stars and the Moon, and humans (notably, the Edain who entered Beleriand and allied themselves with the Eldar) with the Sun. And what happens when we have a union of those two peoples? (I won’t call them ‘species’ or ‘races’, as the difference between men and elves in Tolkien’s tales is spiritual in nature, and some minor biological differences are caused by their different natures and fate). What happens when we unite the Sun and the Moon?
Why, we get Lightbringer.
Listen how Manwe’s herald and banner-bearer greets Earendil upon his arrival in Valinor:
‘Hail Eärendil, of mariners most renowned, the looked for that cometh at unawares, the longed for that cometh beyond hope! Hail Eärendil, bearer of light before the Sun and Moon! Splendour of the Children of Earth, star in the darkness, jewel in the sunset, radiant in the morning!’
Earendil unites the symbolism of both the Edain and the Eldar because he is half-elven – his mother was princess Idril, daughter of King Turgon of Gondolin, and his father Tuor son of Huor. His sons were counted among the half-elven as well, as their mother Elwing was the granddaughter of Beren son of Barahir and Luthien, daughter of King Thingol of the Sindar and Melian of the Maiar. Thus Elrond and Elros descended from Men, Elves and the Maiar (who are Ainur as well).
In this way, Bright Earendil, Earendil the Blessed, Flammifer of Westernesse, the Morningstar and the Evenstar, is the child of the Sun and the Moon. If you’re familiar with LML’s Mythical Astronomy, please remember that according to this theory, Lightbringer, the red comet which appears to pierce the eclipse, the union of the sun and the moon, can be viewed as the child of the sun and the moon.
And since ‘Lightbringer’ is an epithet of Venus in real-world mythology, it makes perfect sense that Tolkien’s Venus figure is ‘Bearer of Light’ as well. But this similarity in names hardly proves that GRRM’s Lightbringer was inspired by Earendil. Lightbringer is a common term in mythology and fantasy, George could have easily found it elsewhere. What proves, or at the very least strongly suggests that his Lightbringer was truly influenced by Tolkien’s is that both authors view it as the child of the sun and the moon. (Venus is often called the ‘Son of the Sun’ in mythology and symbolism, but I’m not aware of any myths where it is the ‘Child of the Moon’).
(Also, I have a tiny crackpot theory that by making his Lightbringer a comet endowed with Venusian symbolism, GRRM might be making a joke about archaic language in Tolkien’s prose. Earendil, that ‘cometh beyond hope’. Lightbringer, the comet. As Maester Aemon tells us: Rhaegar was certain the bleeding star had to be a comet. What fools we were, who thought ourselves so wise! The error crept in from the translation. Now, this is unlikely, but funny to think about. And there’s plenty of other evidence to back this theory that GRRM’s Lightbringer is based, at least partially, on Earendil).
If you want to see some of the best Venus-based symbolism in fantasy, please check out the Song of Eärendil which Aragorn and Bilbo wrote, and which was sang in Rivendell in The Fellowship of the Ring, a book GRRM has certainly read, and probably more than once.
If I were to say how Tolkien decided that Venus can be described as the child of the Sun and the Moon, I’d tell you that it was probably because of the unique double role this ‘star’ plays – it is both the Morningstar, the heralds the dawn and sunrise, and the Evenstar which heralds the nightfall and moonrise. That’s why we get ‘good’ Morningstar characters like Earendil and ‘bad’ Evenstar characters like Ar-Pharazon, the last King of the Land Under the Star of Earendil. And somewhere in the middle we have Morningstar character based on Venus viewed as ‘wannabe sun’, a usurper in place of a faithful herald – one of those was Tar-Anducal, a descendant of Tar-Atanamir the Great, the 13th king of Numenor.
Descendants of Tar-Anárion, chart by BT
Herucalmo (Lord of Light) married Tar-Vanimeldë, the 16th monarch of Numenor and the 3rd Ruling Queen. When his wife died, he usurped his own son’s throne, and reigned as Tar-Anducal, Light of the West. Only after two decades could the rightful king, Tar-Alcarin, begin his reign. That’s interesting – Lord of Light as an usurper? Well, if LML’s theory is true his champion Azor Ahai was a villainous usurper and dark lord.
In ASOIAF, as LML shows in his essay on this topic, the dichotomy of Venus manifests in House Dayne, where we have the honorable and true Swords of the Morning, and foul Swords of the Evening. In Tolkien’s writing, this dualism manifests even among the survivors of the Downfall of Numenor – Elendil the Faithful survives, like Noah or Aenar Targaryen, with his sons and retainers, but some of the King’s Men survive as well in their colonies in Middle-earth. The Mouth of Sauron, the Dark Lord’s envoy to Aragorn and ‘Lieutenant of the Tower of Barad-dûr’ was theirs descendant. And three of the Nazgul were lords of Numenor corrupted by Sauron.
Now, before we explore those faithful Numenorean survivors, the Dúnedain, another important concept connected with Venus has to be introduced.
Earendil is the steersman of Vingilótë, the most beautiful of all ships, which the Valar transformed into a ‘star’. But the Star of Earendil is the brightest thing in the sky because of the Silmaril Earendil wore on his brow, the Silmaril Beren and Luthien recovered from Angband and Elwing saved from both the Second and the Third Kinslaying.
But what are the Silmarils in terms of symbolism? As it turns out, in a way, they represent the same unity Earendil does, the union of the Sun and the Moon. Feanor filled them with the light of the Two Trees Valinor. I think we can see Laurelin the golden tree as a Sun or ‘proto-Sun’, and Telperion the silver tree as a Moon or a ‘proto-Moon’, because the Sun and the Moon were made from their fruit and flower, respectively. As such, the Silmarils, a gemstone made from the light of the two trees, represents this sun-moon unity exceptionally well
Thus, the Silmaril is a perfect lamp to shine as both the Morningstar and the Evenstar. At the same time, it contains the light that shines in the day, and the light that shines in the night. I think the story of Silmariën strongly implies that Tolkien invited the reader to see the Silmarils in this light. She was, as I explained a bit earlier, the eldest child of Tar-Elendil, the 4th monarch of Numenor. But at that time, the realm followed agnatic primogeniture, and thus the sceptre went to her younger brother who reigned as Tar-Meneldur. She married a nobleman called Elatan, from the port city of Andúnië (which means Sunset), and their son Valandil was the first Lord of Andúnië and founder of one of the greatest Numenorean houses.
And now look at this family tree of the last Lords of Andúnië, and the first Kings of Arnor and Gondor:
House of Elendil family tree, chart by BT
Elendil (Devoted to the Stars) fathers two sons, Isildur (Devoted to the Moon), and Anarion (Devoted to the Sun). After the Dunedain land in Middle-earth after the Downfall of Numenor, Isildur builds the city of Minas Ithil (Tower of the Moon) in the land of Ithilien (Land of the Moon), while Anarion builds Minar Anor (Tower of the Sun) in the land of Anorien (Land of the Sun). One son is constantly associated with the Moon, the other with the Moon. It is as if the ‘child of the Sun and the Moon’ symbolism of Earendil and his son Elros, transferred to the Royal House of Numenor was safely ‘stored’ in the House of Andúnië and has now sprouted in Elendil’s sons. And it is through Silmariën, whose name evokes the Silmarils that Elendil descends from Earendil. Pretty cool, right?
This reminds me of the technique LML calls ‘fractal symbolism’, where we have many symbols of the same thing in close proximity, so every one supports all the others. For example, all members of some house symbolise the same concept in different ways. Or situations where we have children who take on the symbolism of their father or mother, like Robb who becomes the new ‘King of Winter’ figure after Ned dies.
Even better, the Dunedain who landed in Middle-earth create an alliance with Gil-galad and other elves, and fight Sauron. The first Dark Lord, Morgoth, was defeated only when Earendil, the Child of the Sun and the Moon, the Child of the Eldar and the Edain, sailed to Valinor. It was him who cast down Ancalagon the Black, the greatest of Morgoth’s dragons and changed the tide of battle.
And now, at the end of the Second Age, the Dunedain, Earendil’s descendants, ally themselves with Elves again, and bring Sauron down, although only for some time.
The host of Gil-galad and Elendil had the victory, for the might of the Elves was still great in those days, and the Númenóreans were strong and tall, and terrible in their wrath. Against Aeglos the spear of Gil-galad none could stand; and the sword of Elendil filled Orcs and Men with fear, for it shone with the light of the sun and of the moon, and it was named Narsil.
Aeglos, the spear of Gil-galad which means ‘Icicle’, wielded by the king who is the heir of the High Kings of the Noldor like Fingolfin and Fingon, with all their symbolism related to the Moon and the stars… Elendil and his sons, one of whom is constantly associated with the Moon, and the other with the Sun… and the Dunedain who come from Andúnië (Sunset, as in Sunset Lands) and Numenor, from Númenórë which means more or less ‘the land where the sun goes down’… only this alliance can defeat the Dark Lord.
And it was Narsil that dealt the final blow… And what does that name evoke?
But the flower and the fruit Yavanna gave to Aulë, and Manwë hallowed them, and Aulë and his people made vessels to hold them and preserve their radiance: as is said in the Narsilion, the Song of the Sun and Moon.
The Song of the Sun and the Moon, the Song of Fire and Ice.
When Sauron returns at the end of the Third Age, it is Aragorn who fights against him… A descendant of Earendil, Elros, Silmariën, Elendil, Isildur and Anarion, the heir to Arnor, the Northern Realm, and Gondor in the south. Which makes him a Morningstar figure – which makes sense when you look at the plot, where Aragorn leads the fight against Sauron and his return heralds the defeat of the Dark Lord. And what about the balde he wields in his battles against the darkness? Andúril, Flame of the West, the ‘West’ referring to ‘Numenor’… Andúril, which is Narsil reforged.
The Sword of Elendil was forged anew by Elvish smiths, and on its blade was traced a device of seven stars set between the crescent Moon and the rayed Sun, and about them was written many runes; for Aragorn son of Arathorn was going to war upon the marches of Mordor. Very bright was that sword when it was made whole again; the light of the sun shone redly in it, and the light of the moon shone cold, and its edge was hard and keen. And Aragorn gave it a new name and called it Andúril, Flame of the West.
Sword of the Sun and the Moon, a fitting weapon for the heir of Earendil. Lightbringer.
Aragorn marries Arwen, the Evenstar, who is Elrond’s daughter… and Earendil’s granddaughter. Thus, the two houses founded by Earendil’s twin sons are united after thousands of years, but so are the Eldar and the Edain.
His royal banner shows the white tree and seven stars… but those are not stars of Valacirca or some constellation. Instead, they are all Venus. As LOTR appendix explains:
[Seven Stars of Elendil and his captains, had five rays, originally represented the single stars on the banners of each of seven ships (of 9) that bore a palantir; in Gondor the seven stars were set about a white-flowered tree, over which the Kings set a winged crown]
Thus, Aragorn banners shows seven five-pointed stars, Venusian symbols. And the fact that they were used as banners on Elendil’s ships supports that, as it’d make sense for Numenoreans, whose Edain ancestors sailed following the Star of Earendil, to place Venus on their banners.
It’s easy to see why GRRM would choose to draw from this ‘unity of the Sun and the Moon = Lightbringer/Venus’ theme in Tolkien’s writing. After all, the title of his series speaks of harmony and unity, of Ice and Fire, which is not that far away from ‘A Song of the Moon and the Sun’.
And if LML’s theory is true, and I think it is, then his own Lightbringer is the child of the Sun and the Moon as well, and the child of Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa. Only this child or weapon can bring peace and harmony and end the Long Night – the Long Night of Valinor ends when the Sun and the Moon are created, the darkness that followed the fall of the Two Lamps ends when the Two Trees are created, Morgoth’s reign to terror comes to and end when Earendil, the Child of the Sun and the Moon, sails to Valinor. And in the darkness, the days ‘without dawn’ caused by Sauron sending clouds, smoke and vapours, Aragorn fought with Anduril, which was once Narsil. And as Tolkien explains in one of his letters, Narsil referred to the Sun and the Moon, as ‘chief heavenly lights, as enemies of darkness’.
Only the unity of the Sun and the Moon – and possibly an alliance of Men and Elves (in ASOIAF the Children of the Forest) – can bring an end to the Long Night. This is Narsilion, the Song of the Sun and the Moon, the Song of Ice and Fire… And, as I’m happy to announce, it’s quite likely that this concept of GRRM’s was heavily inspired by the works of his great predecessor, J.R.R. Tolkien.
Yet, even a Morningstar/Evenstar figure can fall, and Lightbringer can be used to work dark deeds, and plunge the world deeper into darkness. Who will prevail in A Song of Ice and Fire? People like Jon Snow and Daenerys? Or someone like Euron, the Bloodstone Emperor come again? A faithful and honorable leader like Elendil or a bloody tyrant like Ar-Pharazon?
And yes, I think Ar-Pharazon, the likely inspiration behind the Bloodstone Emperor, is one of those fallen Lightbringer figures. This is how a monument commemorating his ‘victory’ over Sauron is described:’ on the highest hill of the headland above the Haven they (…) set a great white pillar as a monument. It was crowned with a globe of crystal that took the rays of the Sun and of the Moon and shone like a bright star that could be seen in clear weather even on the coasts of Gondor or far out upon the western sea‘.
The South: Gondor
Now, I’ll highlight how GRRM makes references to the story of Elendil and his sons, and the realms of Gondor and Arnor in his books, to corroborate the theory about Azor Ahai’s Lightbringer was influenced by Narsil, and the Great Empire – by Numenor. Also, I’ll present another theory of mine, that the Daynes and the Hightowers, and possibly the Starks, descend from the survivors of the Great Empire’s fall.
From The Fellowship of the Ring:
In the South the realm of Gondor long endured; and for a while its splendour grew, recalling somewhat of the might of Númenor, ere it fell. High towers that people built, and strong places. and havens of many ships; and the winged crown of the Kings of Men was held in awe by folk of many tongues. Their chief city was Osgiliath, Citadel of the Stars. through the midst of which the River flowed. And Minas Ithil they built, Tower of the Rising Moon, eastward upon a shoulder of the Mountains of Shadow; and westward at the feet of the White Mountains Minas Anor they made, Tower of the Setting Sun. There in the courts of the King grew a white tree, from the seed of that tree which Isildur brought over the deep waters, and the seed of that tree before came from Eressëa, and before that out of the Uttermost West in the Day before days when the world was young.
But in the wearing of the swift years of Middle-earth the line of Meneldil son of Anárion failed, and the Tree withered, and the blood of the Númenoreans became mingled with that of lesser men. Then the watch upon the walls of Mordor slept, and dark things crept back to Gorgoroth. And on a time evil things came forth, and they took Minas Ithil and abode in it, and they made it into a place of dread; and it is called Minas Morgul, the Tower of Sorcery. Then Minas Anor was named anew – Minas Tirith, the Tower of Guard; and these two cities were ever at war, but Osgiliath which lay between was deserted and in its ruins shadows walked.
High towers these people built… It turns out that many references to Tolkien can be found in Oldtown, and that it might be in fact be based on Osgiliath, which was once the capital of Gondor. The similarities are striking – a river (Anduin in LOTR, Honeywine in ASOIAF) flows through the midst of both cities. In both cases, a citadel was built on the river – The Citadel of Oldtown, the seat of the Order of Maesters, and Citadel of Osgiliath, where under the great hall called the Dome of Stars one of the palantiri seeing-stones was housed. Osgiliath is the Citadel of the Host of Stars, or Starry Host, in Sindarin – and in Oldtown, we find the Starry Sept. And the Citadel houses the ASOIAF ‘version’ of the palantiri – the glass candles.
The Hightower itself might be based on Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun, later renamed Minas Tirith, the Tower of Guard. Alternatively, the Tower of the Sun at Sunspear of House Martell might be GRRM’s equivalent of Minas Anor. After all, when Nymeria landed in Dorne, the lines she spoke were quite similar to the famous ‘words of Elendil’ which Aragorn quoted during his own coronation thousands of years later. ‘Our wanderings are at an end. We have found a new home, and here we shall live and die’ versus ‘Out of the Great Sea to Middle-earth I am come. In this place will I abide, and my heirs, unto the ending of the world’.
On the other hand, the banner of Hightowers with its beacon might be a nod to the most famous beacons in fantasy, the Beacons of Gondor.
In the end, I don’t really it matters whether it’s the Hightower or Sunspear that is GRRM’s own personal Minas Tirith… What matters is that for some reason, we are meant to associate Dorne, and Oldtown, which is very close to Dorne, especially Castle Starfall, with Gondor.
House Dayne, besides having a name that is a bit similar to the word ‘Edain’, having a legend about following a star to the place where they have settled (and since Starfall sits on an island in the mouth of River Torrentine, I imagine they would have to follow their star on ships, like the Edain), and keeping a sword that is strikingly similar to Narsil, is also connected with Isildur – his death to be more specific.
After the War of the Last Alliance, Isildur spent some time in Gondor, as his brother Anarion’s son and heir was still very young, as the elder sons died in battle. But later he decided to return to Arnor in the north. But when he reached the Fields of Gladden in the Vale of Anduin the Great River, his party of knights and retainers was ambushed by an orcs. Isildur tried to escape by using the One Ring’s power of making its keeper invisible, but Sauron’s jewel betrayed him and slipped off his finger. Archers saw him trying to swim to the other shore, and he was shot.
But Isildur had a squire, remembered only as Ohtar (which was the name of his military rank), whom he dispatched to Rivendell with Narsil’s shards, and thus saved Elendil’s sword from orcs. In ASOIAF, we have a similar ambush, also by a river – at Mummer’s Ford. And it turns out that among the knights Ned Stark sent to bring Gregor Clegane to justice was certain Ser Gladden Wylde, most likely named after the Fields of Gladden. In this case, young Edric Dayne could play the role of the faithful squire, to Beric Dondarrion, just like Ohtar has to Isildur.
Curiously, the Dunedain of LOTR are associated with megalithic black stone strongholds – which might have been the inspiration behind Westeros’ mysterious black oily stone buildings. Here is a description of the Tower of Orthanc in Isengard, which later became the seat of Saruman. It appeared to be ‘a thing not made by the craft of Men, but riven from the bones of the earth in the ancient torment of the hills. A peak and isle of rock it was, black and gleaming hard: four mighty piers of many-sided stone were welded into one’. The road leading to the gate of Isengard was ‘paved with great flat stones, squared and laid with skill; no blade of grass was seen in any joint’ and when Theoden, Aragorn and Gandalf approach the Tower of Orthanc in The Two Towers, it is described in those words: ‘it was black, and the rock gleamed as if it were wet’.
Like the Dome of Stars of Osgiliath, Orthanc housed one of the seven palantiri Elendil saved when the Downfall came upon Numenor. And from its top, Saruman, one of the Wizards (The Istari), would watch stars, just like Lord Leyton Hightower (who is rumoured to dabble in the ‘higher mysteries’ and sorcery) does from his tower. I think that might be why the Hightower has black oily stone foundations – not only to suggest that it was built by some mysterious advanced civilization of ancient past, but also to clue us in to the fact that those ancient builders came from a civilization that was similar to the Dunedain who fled from Numenor. Among Lord Leyton’s titles we find ‘the Voice of Oldtown’… Saruman was famous for his voice that could convince those of lesser mental strength to do his bidding, sway hearts, make others agree with whatever he said and so on… The Voice of Saruman is the tenth chapter of LOTR.
In light of all those similarities between Houses Dayne and Hightower and the faithful Dunedain who survived the Downfall of Numenor, I suggest that they were survivors from the Great Empire of the Dawn who settled in Dorne and in the mouth of Honeywine. Of course, many other fans proposed such a scenario, but I’m not aware of theories that use the analysis of Tolkienic references in ASOIAF to support their claims.
But there is one other region of Westeros where references to the Dunedain are aplenty – the North. This makes sense, as with the Daynes and the Hightowers we get many references to the southern Dunedain realm, Gondor. In the North, we can expect references to the northern kingdom, Arnor. And indeed, we can find many of them.
The North: Arnor
The Barrowlands and the Great Barrow of Barrowton from ASOIAF are most likely a reference to the Barrow-downs from The Fellowship of the Ring, the land of hills where monoliths and barrows of the Edain from the First Age stood. When the Dunedain returned to Middle-earth following the Downfall of Numenor, some settled in the north and founded a kingdom called Arnor, Gondor’s twin. Because of their reverence for the hallowed graves of their ancestors, they began to bury their own kings, lords and notable warriors there. But the Northern Realm became divided into three kingdoms when the late king’s sons started a civil war between them. In its aftermath where once stood Arnor, the realms of Arthedain, Cardolan and Rhudaur appeared.
One by one they failed, as divided, the Dunedain of the North were unable to withstand the armies of the Witch-king of Angmar in the far north. It was later revealed that this Witch-king was in fact the Lord of the Nazgul (Ringwraiths) sent there to weaken the Dunedain and render them harmless to Sauron when he would return. The Witch-king profaned the Great Barrows and sent undead creatures animated by foul spirits to haunt the downs. One of those would capture Frodo and his companions in The Fellowship of the Ring.
The Crown of the Kings in the North – a circle of bronze surmounted with nine black longswords – might be a reference to Angmar, as there were nine Ringwraiths, and the ‘Iron Crown’ is a term Tolkien often uses to describe various evil factions (similarly to how in ASOIAF ‘The Iron Throne’ is a symbol of the realm). The Witch-king was able to control cold winds and send blizzards – that’s how the Chieftain of the Lossoth, snow-people of the frozen waste in the north describes him: ‘In summer his power wanes; but now his breath is deadly, and his cold arm is long.’ In a way, the Witch-king is a King of Winter.
In the North of Westeros we find direwolves, and legends speaking of wargs – the lands of former Arnor were infested with wargs and White Wolves who once crossed the frozen river Brandywine and attacked Shire during the so-called Fell Winter, one of the harshest and longest winter Middle-earth has witnessed.
Tom Bombadil lives in the Old Forest, close to the Barrow-downs – and ‘beyond the Hedge’ that separates Shire from this dangerous wood. As I’ve explained in the previous episode, I think that Coldhands of the Haunted Forest beyond the Wall is GRRM’s answer to this character. It is also possible that the lands granted to the Night’s Watch by Brandon Stark (which one no one can tell), and later expanded during the reign of King Jaehaerys the First, are Westeros’ version of the Shire, which one of the Kings of Arthedain granted to the Hobbits, and King Aragorn Elessar later expanded.
There are other Tolkienic references to be found in the North – Brandon the Shipwright and Brandon the Burner, Berena Stark, Lord Beron, Dareon and Elron of the Night’s Watch, Berena Tallart and her son Beren… Although these are not references to Arnor specifically, they are references to the Edain of the First Age, who were the ancestors of the Dunedain. I think that GRRM wants us to associate the North, and perhaps House Stark, with Arnor, since we already have Gondor in the south.
What this means? If I were to guess it has something to do with Lightbringer and ‘the return of the king’ theme. Maybe the hero who will lead humanity in the new Long Night will be a heir of both the North and the South of Westeros, literally or in some symbolical sense. After all, Aragorn, the ultimate returning king of fantasy was the heir to both Arnor and Gondor. At the very least, it proves that GRRM was thinking about Tolkien while creating the details of his own worldbuilding.
Minas Ithil, Minas Morgul
In this final section we’ll look into another common theme GRRM and Tolkien share, that of the corrupted moons. In A Song of Ice and Fire, this refers to the Second Moon of Planetos, which was destroyed – ‘ultimately corrupted’ in a way. Of course, there is no second moon in LOTR – yet moon corruption language and themes are still there. Dark Lords like Morgoth and Sauron attempt to defile the moon: to turn its beautiful light into something provoking fear – into pale corpse-light that evokes death and necromancy and dark magic.
In the First Age, Morgoth sent ‘spirits of shadow’ again the Moon, but its guardian Tilion managed to repel them. In the Second Age, Sauron burned the White Tree of Numenor which was made in the likeness of the ‘proto-Moon’, the silver tree Telperion. Later, he sacked Minas Ithil, the Tower of the Moon, the beautiful city built by Isildur. After the Last Alliance defeated the Dark Lord, Ithil was rebuilt.
But when Sauron was regaining his strength in the Third Age, he sent his most powerful servants, the nine Nazgul, the fearsome Ringwraiths. They besieged Minas Ithil, and sacked it. Henceforth it was known as Minas Morgul, the Tower of Dark Sorcery.
This is how the moon-city, now corrupted, is described in The Two Towers:
A long-tilted valley, a deep gulf of shadow, ran back far into the mountains. Upon the further side, some way within the valley’s arms high on a rocky seat upon the black knees of the Ephel Dúath, stood the walls and tower of Minas Morgul. All was dark about it, earth and sky, but it was lit with light. Not the imprisoned moonlight welling through the marble walls of Minas Ithil long ago, Tower of the Moon, fair and radiant in the hollow of the hills. Paler indeed than the moon ailing in some slow eclipse was the light of it now, wavering and blowing like a noisome exhalation of decay, a corpse-light, a light that illuminated nothing. In the walls and tower windows showed, like countless black holes looking inward into emptiness; but the topmost course of the tower revolved slowly, first one way and then another, a huge ghostly head leering into the night.
This language reminds me of how the moon is described in Bran’s final ADWD chapter: ‘The moon was a black hole in the sky’. And the ‘slow eclipse’ of the ‘god’s eye symbol’ from ASOIAF, where the moon and the sun are placed in an eclipse alignment. LML suggests that it was at that moment that the comet pierced the Second Moon. Here moonlight is imprisoned in an eclipse, and later becomes a ‘black hole’.
But some similarities in language between those two authors can be easily dismissed as mere happenstance. What makes me think it is more than that is the name GRRM chose for one of his dragons – Morghul.
According to the Mythical Astronomy, dragons and swords can symbolise the meteors coming from the destroyed second moon. In LOTR, an army comes forth from the corrupted moon-city, marching on Minas Tirith – which one was called Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun. Their banners are described in this way: ‘Two liveries Sam noticed, one marked by the Red Eye, the other by a Moon disfigured with a ghastly face of death’. And besides orcs, a dragon-like beast is associated with Minas Morgul and its lord, the Witch-king, as well:
The great shadow descended like a falling cloud. And behold! it was a winged creature: if bird, then greater than all other birds, and it was naked, and neither quill nor feather did it bear, and its vast pinions were as webs of hide between horned fingers; and it stank. A creature of an older world maybe it was, whose kind, fingering in forgotten mountains cold beneath the Moon, outstayed their day, and in hideous eyrie bred this last untimely brood, apt to evil. And the Dark Lord took it, and nursed it with fell meats, until it grew beyond the measure of all other things that fly; and he gave it to his servant to be his steed. Down, down it came, and then, folding its fingered webs, it gave a croaking cry, and settled upon the body of Snowmane, digging in its claws, stooping its long naked neck.
I think that’s why GRRM chose to name one of his dragons Morghul, in an obvious references to Minas Morgul – to suggest that just like in LOTR, dragons come from the corrupted moon.
And here, we can see some ‘moon consumption’ language that appears in ASOIAF as well:
They were climbing steadily. At their first halt they looked back, and they could dimly perceive the roofs of the forest they had left behind lying like a vast dense shadow, a darker night under the dark blank sky. There seemed to be a great blackness looming slowly out of the East, eating up the faint blurred stars. Later the sinking moon escaped from the pursuing cloud, but it was ringed all about with a sickly yellow glare.
Sauron’s darkness sent from Mordor attempts to consume the Moon, and later causes the ‘day without dawn’ that heralds the Witch-king’s attack on Minas Tirith – which can symbolise the sun, as it was once the Tower of the Sun. Basically, Sauron seeks to recreate Morgoth’s Long Night. But he fails – just like in the First Age, the Long Night ended when the Sun and the Moon were created, in the Third Age, Aragorn fights against the darkness with Anduril, which once was Narsil. And Narsil is a reference to Narsilion, the song describing the ending of the first Long Night… but also, a symbol of the solar and lunar unity.
The Nazgul are often associated with the corrupted moon, as their Minas Morgul is their seat. In a way, they can be perceived as things that come from the destroyed moon. Dark creatures wielding poisoned Morgul-blades.
And when the Ringwraiths ride their Fell Beasts, as that’s how those dragon-like steeds are called, they have the same peculiar habit of flying in front of the Sun and the Moon ASOIAF dragons have:
Then Frodo and Sam staring at the sky, breathing deeply of the fresher air, saw it come: a small cloud flying from the accursed hills; a black shadow loosed from Mordor; a vast shape winged and ominous. It scudded across the moon, and with a deadly cry went away westward, outrunning the wind in its fell speed.
As an example, let’s compare this with the description of Aegon’s burning of Harrenhal:
Aegon Targaryen took Balerion up high, through the clouds, up and up until the dragon was no bigger than a fly upon the moon.
And this how the Nazgul are described in The Two Towers, when Gandalf and Pippin set off on their journey to Minas Tirith:
At that moment a shadow fell over them. The bright moonlight seemed to be suddenly cut off. Several of the Riders cried out, and crouched, holding their arms above their heads, as if to ward off a blow from above: a blind fear and a deadly cold fell on them. Cowering they looked up. A vast winged shape passed over the moon like a black cloud. It wheeled and went north, flying at a speed greater than any wind of Middle-earth. The stars fainted before it. It was gone.
The moonlight is ‘cut off’, as if the moon was destroyed, and then the Nazgul appear in front of the moon. I can easily see why GRRM would draw some inspiration from this language while creating his own moon destruction metaphors.
And now look at how the Nazgul and their Morgul-blades are described in the chapter entitled A Knife in the Dark (which GRRM might be referencing when he has Melisandre warn Jon against ‘knives in the dark’):
This is that scene at the Weathertop – please remember how GRRM described reading LOTR for the first time – ‘By the time we got to Weathertop, Tolkien had me’. This is the scene where the Ringwraiths attack Aragorn and the Hobbits who made their camp atop this ancient hill (where a palantir was once housed, by the way). Frodo puts on the One Ring and:
Immediately, though everything else remained as before, dim and dark, the shapes became terribly clear. He was able to see beneath their black wrappings. There were five tall figures: two standing on the lip of the dell, three advancing. In their white faces burned keen and merciless eyes; under their mantles were long grey robes; upon their grey hairs were helms of silver; in their haggard hands were swords of steel. Their eyes fell on him and pierced him, as they rushed towards him. Desperate, he drew his own sword, and it seemed to him that it flickered red, as if it was a firebrand. Two of the figures halted. The third was taller than the others: his hair was long and gleaming and on his helm was a crown. In one hand he held a long sword, and in the other a knife; both the knife and the hand that held it glowed with a pale light. He sprang forward and bore down on Frodo.
The Morgul-blades can be seen as things that come out of the corrupted moon, as they come from Minas Morgul, just like in ASOIAF swords can symbolise the moon meteors coming out of the broken Second Moon.
But why are the Nazgul so similar to the Others? Is it because just like the Ringwraiths come forth from Minas Morgul, the corrupted Tower of the Rising Moon, the Others come from the destroyed Second Moon, of course in symbolic sense? Or, do they symbolise the moon meteors yet to come, the children of the Surviving Moon that might be broken on the offset of the new Long Night? Only time will tell…
In this essay, we’ve explored the cosmology of Tolkien’s world, and how its various aspects might have influenced George R.R. Martin’s own symbolism and themes. Some of those parallels and similarities are almost certainly intended, others more vague. But I think that at the very least, it is obvious that Tolkienic ideas – notably, the motif of Lightbringer as the Child of the Sun and the Moon, and the Long Night – influenced GRRM one way or another.
But numerous other connections remain to be explored – and of course, I’ll continue The Tolkienic Song of Ice and Fire project in other essays. I think that – at least for some time – I’ll write shorter episodes, and perhaps, some essays devoted just to Tolkienic lore.
Now I’d like to once again say thank you to all those who encouraged me to write this essay, and helped in various ways, and to all those who form the wonderful community of A Song of Ice and Fire fans – especially, to my fellow Mythical Astronomers and ASOIAF bloggers, podcasters and YouTubers. LML of The Mythical Astronomy, Crowfood’s Daughter of The Disputed Lands, Joe Magician of YouTube, Patrick of I Can’t Possibly Be Wrong All The Time, Maester Merry of Up From Under Winterfell, Melanie Lot Seven, Sweetsunray of The Mythological Weave of Ice & Fire, Darry Man of Plowman’s Keep, Ravenous Reader and Archmaester Aemma of Red Mice at Play, who helped to greatly improve my initial draft and provided no fewer than 303 comments. Huge thanks! In addition to this, Aemma provided the summary of LML’s Mythical Astronomy of Ice and Fire theory, and of Ainulindalë. Without her help, this essay would be released much later.
And to George R.R. Martin and J.R.R. Tolkien for writing their amazing books and creating those rich fantasy worlds… and finally to You! Thanks for checking out my essay. If you liked it, please, share you with other ASOIAF or Tolkien fans you know and who might enjoy this kind of analysis.
Farewell (in Quenya: Namárië!)
Yours, Matthew also known as Bluetiger
Obviously, the copyrights to all excerpts from books, interviews and other publications I have quoted, belong to their rightful owners.
by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit or There and Back Again
The Lord of the Rings
– The Fellowship of the Ring
– The Two Towers
– The Return of the King
– The Appendixes
The Silmarillion, edited by Christopher Tolkien
The Unfinished Tales, edited by Christopher Tolkien
The History of Middle-earth, edited by Christopher Tolkien
The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien
by George R.R. Martin
A Song of Ice and Fire
– A Game of Thrones
– A Clash of Kings
– A Storm of Swords
– A Feast for Crows
– A Dance with Dragons
The Knight of the Seven Kingdoms
– The Hedge Knight
– The Sworn Sword
– The Mystery Knight
The Princess and the Queen
The Rogue Prince
The Sons of the Dragon
The World of Ice and Fire, with Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson
GRRM: A RRetrospective (Dreamsongs)