Eärendil, Bearer of Light
a Tolkienic Song of Ice and Fire essay by Bluetiger
The Advent Calendar 2018, Week Two
Welcome back! One week has passed and thus, I return to you with the second installment in The Advent Calendar 2018 series. Last time I left you with with a promise – that we’ll learn what is the symbolic meaning of the Silmarils, why is it important that Eärendil the Mariner is Aragorn’s ancestor, and why Morningstar mythology is so crucial to understand Tolkien’s symbolism in The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings. And of course, we’ll also discuss how Tolkien’s Venus-based mythology inspired GRRM.
This essay built on the premise that the reader has knowledge of LML’s Mythical Astronomy. I don’t think it’s possible to fully comprehend those complex symbolic ideas without it – for this reason, I encourage those of you who are not well-versed in this theory to check out LML’s blog or podcast.
Another caveat: nearly all ideas and research concerning the Lightbringer motif in Tolkien’s works presented here are not completely new – but previously, they were scattered across many different essays and sections, making it hard to consult or promote this theory. The major source on my ideas on this topic was The Unity of the Sun and the Moon chapter from Tolkienic Song of Ice and Fire Episode 2.
With this essay, my intent is to gather all those thoughts in one place, and explain this motif as concisely as possible, but at the same time, explore this topic in a way that will give the reader a deep understanding of how Tolkien’s Venus-based symbolism works.
You can treat this essay as a resource book on what I call ‘Tolkien’s Mythical Astronomy’, and in a way, it is an appendix to ASOIAF Mythical Astronomy by LML. Here I study the Tolkienic origins of themes, motifs and patterns GRRM chose to include in his books.
If we were to name J.R.R. Tolkien’s first character from the Legendarium, we should probably chose Earendil. In-universe and to be more precise, in Quenya, the tongue of the High Elves, Eärendil means ‘Devoted to the Sea’. But this etymology is secondary and the word actually predates both Tolkien and the modern English language itself.
In his book J.R.R. Tolkien. A Biography Humphrey Carpenter describes the very beginning of Tolkien’s myth-making process. When young Tolkien was studying English Philology, one of his reads was a collection of Old English poems from the 8th or 9th century A.D. – The Advent Lyrics or Crist. As the name suggests, the main theme of the poems is in fact very similar to the theme of this essay series, for their main focus is Advent, the Coming of Christ.
The following verses deeply moved Tolkien:
Eálá Earendel engla beorhtast/ Ofer middangeard monnum sended.
Which means: Hail Earendel brightest of angels, over Middle Earth sent to men.
The term for the major continent of his secondary world, the setting of his many stories, ‘Middle-earth’, comes from this poem (where it refers to the world inhabited by humans, akin to Norse Midgard), so you can see how important it was for him.
In Old English Earendel means ‘shining light, ray’. Here Tolkien interpreted is as a reference to St. John the Baptist, the herald of Christ’s coming, but he believed the originally, it referred to the ‘star that heralds the dawn’, Venus.
In 1914, young J.R.R. Tolkien wrote his own poem – with this line from The Advent Lyrics as its epigraph – Eálá Earendel engla beorhtast!
Éarendel sprang up from the Ocean’s cup
In the gloom of the mid-world’s rim;
From the door of Night as a ray of light
Leapt over the twilight brim,
And launching his bark like a silver spark
From the golden-fading sand;
Down the sunlit breath of Day’s fiery Death
He sped from Westerland.
from The Voyage of Earendel the Evening Star by J.R.R. Tolkien
Although he used the same name as the Old English poet, JRRT created his own backstory and came up with adventures for his hero. Thus, the first seed was planted, and from that seed, his entire personal mythology, The Legendarium also known as the Tolkien Mythos, has grown over the years. Earendil is that important.
Earendil the the Mariner, Earendil Halfelven, Bright Earendil, Earendil Bearer of Light… Who was he, and what does he symbolise?
Now, there are many different accounts of the deeds of Earendil, as Tolkien was constantly rewriting and editing his myths. Here I’ll focus on the story of Earendil and the Silmarils as written down in The Silmarillion, the published version.
Earendil was born in the 503rd year of the sun of the First Age, in the Hidden City of Gondolin. His mother was Elven princess Idril Celebrindal, daughter of Turgon, King of Gondolin, and his father was Tuor, one of the most renowned Edain warriors and cousin to the famous Turin Blacksword. Thus, Earendil was Half-elven, which will prove extremely important for his symbolism.
In 510 Gondolin, the last surviving great Elven realm of the First Age, fell due to the treachery of Maeglin, the son of King Turgon’s late sister Aredhel. Maeglin conspired with Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, and revealed the location of the Hidden City and valuable information about its defences. For his part in the sack of the city, Maeglin would receive Gondolin and the hand of princess Idril, whom Maeglin long desired but could not marry, as she chose the Edain hero Tuor over her cousin. Besides, marriages between cousins were never accepted among the Elves and the Edain.
During the valiant last stand of the people of Gondolin, King Turgon and his lords and knights fell to Balrogs, dragons and hordes of orcs. In the chaos of that accursed day, Maeglin tried to kill young Earendil and carry away princess Idril. He was, however, stopped by Tuor who dueled the traitor and in the end cast him down from the walls of Gondolin.
As the doomed city burned, Idril and Tuor led away a small group of survivors and after a long and perilous voyage, they settled in the land of Arvernien on the shores of the Great Sea. There they were joined by survivors from the fall of another Elven kingdom, Doriath where famed Queen Melian and King Thingol one ruled. After Thingol’s death at the hands of the Dwarves (the ensuing sack of Thingol’s capital and the war of bloody revenge waged by the Grey Elves and their allied was one of the reasons for the enmity between Elves and Dwarves in later ages), his grandson Dior was proclaimed king. Dior, being the son of Thingol’s daughter Luthien and Edain hero Beren, was also Half-elven.
With his wife Nimloth, Dior had two sons, twins Eluréd and Elurín, and daughter Elwing. King Dior never had the chance to fully rebuild his realm after the war with the Dwarves when it was sacked again, this time by the Noldorin Elves under Sons of Feanor, not by Morgoth and his minions.
It should be explained that the Noldor (one of the three High Elven tribes) used to live in Valinor, the Undying Lands across the Great Sea from Middle-earth. There the son of their King Finwe, Feanor, created the most precious gems in history, the three Silmarils. When they were stolen by the fallen Vala Morgoth, who also killed Feanor’s father who was the only one who stood in his way, the Noldor swore a bloody revenge. But the Valar, the ‘gods’ who governed the world in the name of Iluvatar the God, would not hear about that. Morgoth fled to Middle-earth, and they would not allow the Noldor to pursue him.
But Feanor rebelled against the Valar, and after massacring another Elven tribe – the Teleri who were famed for their white Swan-ships – and stealing the aforementioned fleet, used it to ferry his followers to Middle-earth. There, in a northern region of Middle-earth called Beleriand, they waged war against Morgoth, but also forged new realms for themselves, the great Noldor kingdoms of the First Age.
The Sons of Feanor and their father once swore a vow that they’ll never allow any being, good or evil, to keep the Silmarils away from them, and this Oath of Feanor would doom them to eternal darkness and oblivion if they ever broke it.
Thus, they had to try to fulfill it at all cost. For this reason, in the year 506, the Sons of Feanor invaded Doriath, the realm of the Grey Elves, and sacked it – the Silmaril which Beren and Luthien once recovered from Morgoth’s fortress was still held there. King Dior and his queen were slain, just like their twins sons, who were left in the wilderness to die. But the royal daughter, who was now the only heir of King Thingol and Melian, and the only descendant of Beren and Luthien left in the world, managed to escape with some survivors from the sack. She saved the Silmaril, and thus, the Sons of Feanor (three out of seven fell in the battle with King Dior’s forces) have not achieved their goal.
Elwing and the survivors of Doriath mingled with the refugees from Gondolin and become one people, ruled by Elwing and Earendil, who soon married. There their twin sons Elros and Elrond (it seems twin were common in this family) were born.
With the aid of Cirdan the Shipwright, Earendil constructed his famous ship Vingilótë, the Flower of the Sea Foam. On this vessel, he journeyed far and wide, in hopes of finding a way to Valinor – due to the actions of Feanor and his followers, the Noldor who rebelled against the Valar, and their descendants, were forbidden from ever returning. But Earendil did not care that the punishment for sailing to Valinor was death. His plan was to reach the Undying Lands and there beg the Valar to forgive the Noldor and deliver the Elves and the Edain of Middle-earth from Morgoth – all realms of Beleriand have fallen and Morgoth’s power was unmatched.
Meanwhile, his wife Elwing and their children remained in the land of Arvernien, in the Havens of Sirion (Sirion was the great river of Beleriand and Earendil’s people lived in its delta). The Sons of Feanor learned that she still lives, and still the Silmaril is still in her possession. Thus, for the third time, Elves fought Elves in a bloody Sack of the Havens of Sirion, also known as the Third Kinslaying (the sack of Doriath was the second, and Feanor’s massacre of the Teleri in Valinor was the first). Earendil’s sons were captured, but Maedhros, the eldest son of Feanor, spared them and later raised as his own sons. Maedhros was the wisest and most peaceful of Feanor’s children, and without the cursed Oath, he would never participate in those events.
When Noldor warriors came for Elwing, she jumped into the sea, still holding the Silmaril. But Ulmo, the Vala of the Seas, took pity and transformed her into a giant white bird. The bird flew over the waves and after long flight, found Earendil’s ship on the Great Sea and became an Elf-woman once again. When Earendil heard the news of the fate of his havens, he concluded that his sons were slain just like Elwing’s brothers once were. Having nothing to lose anymore, Earendil and Elwing sailed to Valinor and thanks to the power of the Silmaril, their ship finally found the way to the Undying Lands. Daring all perils of the voyage – Valinor was turned into one giant stronghold after Feanor’s escape: it was surrounded by an uncharted archipelago of the Enchanted Isles, where nearly all ships would crash, and the seas around it were turned into the Shadowy Seas, eternally filled with mists – Vingilótë, the fairest ship in the history of Arda, came to the shores of Valinor.
There Earendil bid his crew farewell, saying that he alone should risk the wrath of the Valar. But Elwing would not leave him, and thus, those Half-elven descendants of the Eldar and the Edain were the first living beings to set foot in the Undying Lands in centuries. But later, Earendil pleaded with his wife to stay behind, and alone, he set off to fulfill his destiny.
As he journeyed into the Blessed Lands, he found them empty. He saw Tirion upon the Hill of Tuna, which was once the royal capital of King Finwe of the Noldor, but now was abandoned. Then he heard a might voice calling him from afar. The Valar knew about his arrival and they sent Eönwë, the herald of Manwe, Lord of the Valar, to greet him.
‘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!’
Thus, Earendil was allowed to stand before the Valar and there he petitioned them to aid the Eldar and the Edain in their struggles against Morgoth. Mandos, the Doomsman of the Valar, asked whether someone who broke the ban and dared to come to the Undying Lands should be allowed to live. But Manwe said that Earendil and Elwing should not be punished, as they came to Valinor not for their own sake, but for the sake of all Men and Elves, and were willing to sacrifice their lives for the good of the people of Beleriand.
The Valar dispatched a great host under the leadership of Eonwe. In the War of Wrath, as that is how later chroniclers called this final conflict between the Valar and their fallen brother, the Dark Lord was defeated and cast beyond the Walls of Night, out of the physical universe.
Earendil and Elwing were allowed to settle in Valinor, and Earendil’s famed ship Vingilótë was hallowed by the Valar, and Varda, Queen of Stars, placed it on the vault of heavens. It became the Morningstar and the Evenstar, planet Venus, and it was the brightest object in the night-sky, for it shone with the light from before the Sun and the Moon, with the radiance of a Silmaril. Earendil became its steersman.
The Half-elven sons of Earendil and Elwing were allowed to chose to which race they want to belong, and as I have explained in The Return of the Queen essay, Elrond became one of the Eldar while his twin brother Elros became Lord of the Edain and later first king of Numenor.
Now that we have quickly recapped the story of Earendil, we can begin to unravel his symbolic significance, which has has some interesting implications of ASOIAF and especially Mythical Astronomy.
Lightbringer: The Child of the Sun and the Moon
As explained by LML in his Mythical Astronomy essays, in A Song of Ice and Fire, Lightbringer can be viewed as the child of the Sun and the Moon, the child of Azor Ahai and Nissa Nissa. Interestingly, this pattern appears in Tolkien’s writing as well, and symbolism based on this theme is very important for the story. In real-world mythology, Venus is often viewed as the child of the Sun. But situations where it is the child of both the sun and the moon are more scarce. I find it unlikely that GRRM would include the exact same pattern as Tolkien if he wasn’t drawing inspiration from his astronomical symbolism. In this section, we will discuss this Lightbringer = Unity of the Sun and the Moon motif in LOTR and The Silmarillion.
In the process of my research and theory-making, I made the following conclusions:
1. In Tolkien’s writing, the Elves have lunar symbolism, while humans, and specifically the Edain (the three human tribes that allied themselves with the Elves in their wars against Morgoth in the First Age, from whom the Numenoreans and the Dunedain came), have solar symbolism.
As The Silmarillion tells us:
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.
We’ll discuss the Two Trees of Valinor and their symbolism in a moment, but for now let’s check what this passage actually says. The Vanyar (one of the three High Elven tribes, with the other two being the Noldor and the Falmari aka. Teleri of Valinor) were still living in Valinor after the Long Night – a catastrophe caused by Morgoth the Dark Lord, which we’ll also discuss a bit later – so they saw how the Valar created the Sun from a fruit of Laurelin, the Golden Tree, and the Moon from Telperion, the Silver Tree. But the Noldor, who left Valinor during the Long Night and, until Earendil’s voyage centuries later, were banned from returning to the Undying Lands, had to come up with their own named for the newly created celestial bodies.
By naming the Moon ‘Rána’ the Wayward they were referring, as we’ll learn from another astronomical myth, to solar eclipses caused by the ‘wayward’ Moon that wanders too close to the Sun. Right now, it is important that ‘the Moon cherishes’ the memory of the Elves, but they don’t like the Sun that much, because it reminds them that Men, whose arrival meant the fading of the Elves, first appeared when the Sun was created.
Elsewhere The Silmarillion says:
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.
The Eldar (Elves) called the Younger Children of Iluvatar (Men) the Children of the Sun. Meanwhile, the Elves are often associated with ‘cold stars’ and the Moon: when Fingolfin, the High King of the Noldor, arrived in Beleriand after leaving Valinor, he.at the first rising of the Moon, he ‘let blow his silver trumpets and began his march into Middle-earth, and the shadows of his host went long and black before them’. Later, when Fingolfin duels Morgoth, it is said that the Morgoth looked like a thunderous cloud, but the king ‘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‘. When Fingolfin’s son Fingon, the next High King of the Noldor, dueled Gothmog, Lord of the Balrogs (fire demons who served Morgoth), his death was described in the following manner:
‘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’.
And this is how Galadriel, who was also a member of the Noldor royal house, is described in LOTR:
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.
Therefore, in terms of symbolism, Elves (not always, but usually) = the Moon and Humans = the Sun.
So, what happens when we have a union of the two races?
2. A marriage between members of these two races symbolises the unity of the Sun and the Moon, and Half-elven children symbolise Venus, Lightbringer. Venus is both the Morningstar and the Evenstar, a thing of day but also of night, so it makes sense to view it as a child of the celestial body that rules the day, Sun, and the one that rules over night.
Earendil, who literally became Venus is the prime example here, but his descendants also share this unity of the sun and the moon symbolism.
If we recall the words with which the envoy of the Valar greeted Earendil when he landed 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!’
We can see how Tolkien viewed his ‘Venus’, the Star of Earendil. It is the ‘bearer of light’ (a reference to the Latin word for Venus, from which our ‘Lightbringer’ comes from). Mythical Astronomy fans know this etymology very well. But not just any light – the light ‘before the Sun and the Moon’ – this, as we’re about to see, is a reference to the Silmaril which Earendil wore on his brow and because of which his Star is the brightest object in the sky, after the Sun.
‘Lightbringer’ is a common term in real-world mythology and also fantasy. GRRM could have used any myth where it appears as source of inspiration. And he most likely has researched many such astronomical stories. But his Lightbringer is not simply a Child of the Sun. ASOIAF Lightbringer has very specific Child of the Sun and the Moon symbolism, just like Tolkien’s ‘Bearer of Light’ and ‘Flammifer of Westernesse’ (that’s how Bilbo Baggins calls Earendil in his poem cited in Fellowship of the Ring). Flammifer, it seems, was a Latin word coined by Tolkien, which means either ‘Light-bearer’ or ‘Torch-bearer’. And Westernesse is another name for Numenor, which has tons of Venus-based symbolism. All in all, taking all parallels between GRRM’s Great Empire of the Dawn and Tolkien’s Numenor into consideration, and looking at the similarities between Lightbringer the sword and Tolkien’s Narsil-Anduril, I think we can safely to conclude that Tolkien’s Lightbringer symbolism was at least one of GRRM’s inspirations.
3. There is a Long Night in both ASOIAF and The Silmarillion.
LML suggests that GRRM’s Long Night was caused by a Azor Ahai who somehow destroyed the Second Moon of Planetos with the Lightbringer Comet. Tolkien’s Long Night follows a similar pattern.
There, the Long Night of Valinor was caused by Morgoth, the first Dark Lord. This fallen Vala allied himself with Ungoliant, a malicious evil being shaped like a gargantuan spider, and together, they sneaked into the Undying Lands, where they killed the Two Trees of Valinor:
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.
The Two Trees of Valinor were golden Laurelin and silver Telperion. As you’ll see, Laurelin symbolises the Sun (although the Sun was created later, Laurelin played its role), just like Telperion is the proto-Moon, if you will. If you read this story like Mythical Astronomy, we have two objects that symbolise the Sun and the Moon. The Dark Lord figure arrives and pierces them with his black spear. Then they are poisoned and wither. The Trees stood side by side on the green mound of Ezellohar in Valinor, where their light mingled – and when does the the ‘light’ of the Sun and the Moon mingle? During eclipses. It’s quite similar to the ‘God’s Eye’ image from ASOIAF.
The Long Night of Valinor begins, but Morgoth has other dark deeds in mind. Taking advantage of the chaos he’s just caused, Morgoth sacks the stronghold of Finwe, the High King of the Noldor and Feanor’s father, kills the king and steals all three Silmarils. The Silmarils created by Feanor contained the unsullied light of the Two Trees (that’s what made them so valuable after the Trees were destroyed by Morgoth). They contained the light of Valinor, the ‘fire of the gods’ – the Valar are not ‘Gods’, but humans of Middle-earth often called them ‘gods’. And whether they are truly ‘Gods’ isn’t that important. What matters is that they are a group of truly powerful beings from whom someone stole their light.
Symbolically, both foul deeds of Morgoth are the same. Stealing the Silmarils which contain the light of the Two Trees, the fire of the gods, is not that different from stealing the light from Valinor by causing the Long Night.
The Long Night of Valinor came to an end when the Valar created the Sun and the Moon. The Sun was formed from the last golden fruit of Laurelin the Golden Tree, and the Moon was the last silver flower of Telperion the Silver Tree.
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.
Narsilion is ‘the Song of the Sun and the Moon’. That’s interesting, because in LOTR, we have a sword named Narsil, the blade that was broken, the sword of Elendil which was later reforged and renamed Anduril, the Flame of the West. The sword of Aragorn.
The Valar were afraid that Morgoth will in some way attempt to harm the newly created celestial bodies, so they provided both with a guardian. Tilion, a Maia (the Maiar are also angelic beings like the Valar, but of lesser power) became the steersman of the Moon, while Arien, a spirit of fire akin to the Balrogs but not corrupted by Morgoth, became the steerswoman of the Sun.
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.
This tale is an astronomical myth, similar to the Qartheen legend about the second moon Dany hears from Doreah in AGOT. The language is very similar – the Moon is wayward (like Asha the moonmaiden, the Wayward Bride) and wanders too close to the Sun, which scorches him. But Middle-earth doesn’t have a spare moon like Planetos, do the Moon can’t be destroyed. It simply becomes darkened – which seems to refer to the lunar craters.
(Arianne Martell might be named after Arien, the Maiden of the Sunlight, also called the Maiden of the Sunship. Arianne has the sun in her sigil, and her family seats are the Sunspear Tower and the Sandship, mix them and you get the Sunship).
Another myth found in The Silmarillion explains the 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.
It appears that GRRM’s Qartheen tale was at least partially inspired by those two Tolkienic astronomical myths. In ASOIAF, they might have been combined – in Doreah’s story we have the wayward Moon wandering too close to the Sun and becoming scorched, but LML suggests that a solar eclipse is also implied there. That’d be the ‘darkness amid the the day’ from Tolkien’s myth about the causes of eclipses.
In the same chapter as those two tales, ‘the Long Night’ term makes an appearance:
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.
4. The Silmarils, just like Half-elven children (i.e. Earendil), symbolise the unity of the Sun and the Moon (and they’re also ‘the fire of the gods’).
Feanor’s gems were filled with the intermingling light of the Golden Tree, the proto-Sun, and the Silver Tree, the proto-Moon. That makes them extremely potent symbols of this unity. I imagine that’s why Tolkien decided that his Venus, the Evenstar and the Morningstar, was one of the Silmarils placed in the heavens by the Valar. The Silmarils contain the light that shone during the day, the golden light of Laurelin, but also the light that illuminated the night, the silvery light of Telperion.
5. I believe that Tolkien decided to make his Lightbringer a symbolic child of both the Sun and the Moon because he wanted to highlight the unique double role of Venus as both the Morningstar, the herald the dawn and sunrise and the Evenstar, the herald of nightfall and moonrise. This allowed him to include both good Morningstar characters like Earendil, Elendil and Aragorn, and evil usurpers like Ar-Pharazon the Golden, and Morgoth, who also has some Venus-based symbolism. The Morningstar can be interpreted as a faithful herald of the Sun, but also as a wannabe sun, a usurper. I guess that’s why there are so many usurpations in the history of the Numenoreans and the Dunedain.
6. Descendants of Earendil share his symbolism.
His son Elrond (whose name means ‘Star-Dome’) becomes the herald of Ereinion Gil-galad, the last High King of the Noldor in Middle-earth. Gil-galad means Star of Bright Light/Star of Great Radiance, thus we can, in this specific case (please remember that the Elves tend to have lunar symbolism, or are associated with blue/silver/frosty/cold stars), view Gil-galad as the Sun (because monarchs generally have solar symbolism). Thus, Elrond, as his ‘herald, banner-bearer and Vice-regent’ plays the role of the Morningstar as the faithful herald of the Sun-King. Meanwhile, Elrond’s daughter Arwen has the epithet ‘Evenstar’, because she’s a descendant of Luthien, the Morningstar of the Elves, but she lives in an age when the Elven-kind is fading.
Elrond’s twin Elros, who became one of the mortal Edain, led his people on a fleet of ships. They sailed following the Star of Earendil (that reminds me of the legendary founder of House Dayne, who supposedly followed a falling star) and arrived at Numenor, the isle which the Valar raised from the depths of the Great Sea and awarded to the Edain for their valiant efforts during the wars with Morgoth in Beleriand.
It is said that during this voyage, Venus was exceptionally bright: ‘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’.
Rothinzil is the name under which the Star of Earendil was known to the Numenoreans.
The Isle of Numenor itself has connections to Venus. Just like the Greek goddess Aphrodite, whom the Romans called Venus, it rose from the sea (Aphrodite was born from the sea foam impregnated by the blood of Uranos that fell into the sea). Centuries later, Numenor was submerged by the sea again, which might parallel Venus that appears to descend lower and lower each day in its Morningstar alignment. For a people living on an island, it’d appear that Venus is falling into the sea, and then disappears beneath the waves.
In fact, Elros means Star-foam or ‘Elf of the spray’ – supposedly, because Feanor’s son Maedhros found him playing in a waterfall when he came to save him from the other Noldor during the sack of the Havens of Sirion. This might be another reference to the Aphrodite-Venus story.
Numenoreans are also described in the following manner: ‘‘the light of their eyes was like the bright stars’’. So, the people of Westernesse had eyes like Morningstars.
Their isle brought up from the Great Sea was closer to the Undying Lands than to Middle-earth. Its people gave it many names: Elenna-nórë (Starwards-land) and Elenna (Starwards) – because their ancestors followed the Star of Earendil when they first sailed towards it, Andor (Land of the Gift) – because it was a gift from the Valar to the Edain, and Westernesse, which is Númenórë in Quenya and Anadûnê in Adûnaic, the tongue of the Numenoreans.
The isle of Numenor was shaped like a five-rayed star, a symbol of Venus in real-world mythology.
Also, as I explained in The Tolkienic Song of Ice and Fire Episode 2:
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 – the land which the Edain first saw ‘shimmering in a golden haze’.
The names of some of the Numenorean monarchs also seem to be references to Venus. I have already discussed this at length in The Tolkienic Song of Ice and Fire Episode 2, so here I’ll simply quote an abridged version of that section.
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.
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.
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.
And as I’ve explained in The Return of the Queen, Numenor had two usurper kings. Ar-Pharazon was the second one, but the first one also has some interesting symbolism – that was Herucalmo (Lord of Light), who was married to Ruling Queen Tar-Vanimeldë, and after her death, usurped the throne from his own son Tar-Alcarin, and reigned as Tar-Anducal, Lord of the West.
Lord of Light as an usurper… we’ll according to LML, the champion of the ASOIAF Lord of Light, the ‘valiant’ Azor Ahai, was in fact a usurper and a villain.
In Part One of this Advent Calendar, we discussed Silmarien, the eldest daughter of Tar-Elendil, who couldn’t inherit the throne because Numenor followed agnatic primogeniture at that time. Now we can see that her name is a reference to Silmarils for a good reason – thanks to her Earendil’s line survived when Ar-Pharazon and the royal branch of the House of Elros died out. Elendil, who was her descendant, managed to escape the doomed isle in time and with his sons Isildur and Anarion founded Gondor and Arnor in Middle-earth.
Elendil means ‘Devoted to the Stars’… we’ll all celestial bodies were once considered stars, with the planets being ‘wandering stars’. Elendil, whose sword was Narsil (which we’ll discuss in a moment), might also represent the unity of the Sun and the Moon. But in his sons and the houses they founded we see a split.
Isildur means ‘Devoted to the Moon’, while his brother Anarion is the one ‘Devoted to the Sun’. Isildur built Minas Ithil (which was later sacked by Sauron and turned into the dreaded Minas Morgul), The Tower of the Rising Moon in the land of Ithilien, the Land of the Moon. Meanwhile, his brother Anarion constructed Minas Anor (later renamed Minas Tirith), the Tower of the Sun. One son and his line is associated with the Moon, the other with the Sun. It is as if Earendil’s ‘Unity of the Sun and the Moon’ symbolism was passed to Silmarien from his line, who in turn passed this symbolism to her descendant Elendil, and in Elendil’s sons, this symbolism splits in half, and the House of Isildur of Arnor inherits all lunar symbolism, while the House of Anarion of Gondor inherits the solar symbolism. Then those symbolic lines meet again when Firiel, daughter of King Ondoher of Gondor marries Arvedui of Arthedain, Heir of Isildur. From this line comes Aragorn, the Heir of Isildur and Anarion, first king of the Reunited Kingdom of Arnor and Gondor.
It appears that both Tolkien and GRRM want to give their ‘savior’ figures based on Christ His Morningstar symbolism, thus they have to make those figures symbolic children of the Sun and the Moon, which works very well when the parents of those children come from two different branches of some ancient royal house with Venus-based symbolism, where one branch has lunar symbolism and the other solar symbolism.
7. Only this Unity of the Sun and the Moon can bring an end to the Long Night.
I believe that’s the reason for all those splits in royal dynasties, civil wars and usurpations where the usurped line return to power after centuries – the symbolism demands it, the savior figure, the Lightbringer figure, has to come from a house with Venus-based symbolism. Because all those characters are references to Christ, who had such symbolism – Revelation 22:16 tells us that much: ‘I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star’.
To defeat a Dark Lord, or a terrible Long Night of prolonged darkness, the unity of the Sun and the Moon is necessary.
When Morgoth destroyed the Two Lamps of the Valar which illuminated the world before the Trees, this darkness was defeated when the Valar created the Two Trees, the proto-Sun and the proto-Moon.
The Long Night of Valinor came to an end when the Valar created both the Sun and the Moon, as is described in Narsilion, the Song of the Sun and the Moon.
The darkest time in Elven and Edain history, the period after the fall of Gondolin and other realms of Beleriand, where Morgoth was in control of the entire region, came to an end when Earendil and Elwing, both Half-elven, journeyed to Valinor and arrived there safely thanks to the power of the Silmaril, which contained the united light of the Two Trees.
During the War of Wrath, where the Host of the Valar fought Morgoth in Beleriand, the Dark Lord sent his greatest dragon against them, the terrible best known as Ancalagon the Black. It was Earendil, the Half-elven the Child of the Sun and the Moon, who defeated the monster when his ship flew towards the beast and cast him down. The dragon shattered the lands upon his downfall – this reminds me of LML’s moon meteors as symbolic dragons.
At the end of the Second Age, in the chaos caused by the Doom of Numenor, the Dunedain allied themselves with the Elves and defeated Sauron:
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.
I believe ‘the Last Alliance of Men and Elves’ is symbolically the same thing as a union between two members of these two races. Sauron was brought down by Gil-galad, High King of the Noldor (who fought with a spear named Aeglos, which means Icicle or Snow-point, and reminds)… Gil-galad, the heir of the Noldor royal line, with all their lunar symbolism and frosty/cold/blue/silver star language… and Elendil, with his two sons, Isildur of the Moon and Anarion of the Sun. Only this alliance was able to defeat the second Dark Lord, Sauron.
And notice how beautifully this symbolism comes together – Narsil delivers the final blow to Sauron, and later Isildur uses it to cut the One Ring from Sauron’s hand. Narsil, that shone with the light of the sun and the moon… and was named after Narsilion, the Song of the Sun and the Moon which describes how the First Long Night came to an end.
At the end of the Third Age, Sauron reveals himself once more, and his hosts come forth from Mordor. But against this darkness (it is also a literal darkness, because in the books Sauron sends clouds and poisonous vapours to cover the sky, and the Sun isn’t even visible during the so-called Day without Dawn – March 10 3019, Third Age).
Aragorn leads the war effort against this darkness, and his sword is in fact Narsil, which was broken but reforged. From The Fellowship of the Ring:
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.
I don’t know how any sword could be more similar to Venus, Child of the Sun and the Moon. And those seven stars on its blade – that’s the device of Elendil. It doesn’t show some constellation with seven stars. No, it shows the same five-rayed Star of Earendil multiplied seven times – when Elendil sailed to Middle-earth, fleeing the Doom of Numenor, his fleet consisted of nine ships, but only seven carried palantiri seeing-stones. Those ships had the Numenorean five-pointed star emblazoned on their sails, and thus, Elendil took seven stars for his sigil.
Tolkien explains this in the LOTR Index:
[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, those seven stars of Narsil-Anduril serve to highlight its dual solar and lunar symbolism. Anduril is the perfect candidate for the predecessor and inspiration for GRRM’s Lightbringer. As Tolkien explains in one of his letters, the name of Narsil referred to the Sun and the Moon, as ‘chief heavenly lights, as enemies of darkness’. It’s basically the same thing. I think GRRM chose to include this ‘Lightbringer-Venus = the Unity of the Sun and the Moon’ in his own story because it fits so well with his message about harmony. After all, the entire series is entitled ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’. Fire isn’t enough to win, and neither is ice. Only their unity. That’s very similar to Tolkien’s message. Men and Elves had to stand together in order to defeat Morgoth and Sauron.
This is how I concluded The Unity of the Sun and the Moon section in my second episode, and I still believe this is the most important thing to understand about the influence of J.R.R. Tolkien’s astronomical symbolism on ASOIAF.
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.
However, there is a danger. Not all characters with symbolism based on Venus are good. No, even a Morningstar figure can fall, becoming a usurper like Ar-Pharazon, Tar-Anducal or Azor Ahai. Lightbringer can fall into wrong hands and plunge the world deeper into darkness.
Also, I’d like to point out that Earendil-Lightbringer being Half-elven might imply that in ASOIAF, as LML suggests, one parent of the Lightbringer figure, most likely Nissa Nissa, was a Child of the Forest or came from some related race – notice how in LOTR timeline, Aragorn marries Arwen and their son Eldarion and daughters were Half-elven. Aragorn was the Heir of Isildur and Anarion, but also the Heir of Elros, while Arwen Evenstar was the daughter of Elros’ twin brother Elrond. So many family reunions! And great symbolism.
Thus, the question with which I’ve left you at the end of The Return of the Queen is answered – the point of all those usurped queens, reunited royal lines and unity of the Sun and the Moon symbolism is creating parallels between fictional saviour figures and Christ, the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star. We’ll have to wait to see how this theme plays out in ASOIAF, but we just saw how Tolkien used in in Tolkien. Bearer of Light, Star of Earendil, Bright Venus, the Morningstar and the Evenstar, Narsil the Sword of Elendil… only it can defeat the Dark Lord and end the Long Night. (It seems Tolkien believed so because Christ, who in Christian art and scripture often has Morningstar symbolism, defeated evil and sin, when he died on the cross – during great darkness during the day – and rose from the dead after three days).
I strongly believe that this astronomical symbolism found in LOTR and The Silmarillion heavily inspired GRRM’s own Mythical Astronomy. This essay doesn’t reveal anything new for Mythical Astronomy readers. However, it helps to better understand the point of all those parallels between the Great Empire of the Dawn and Numenor, Amethyst Empress and Tar-Miriel, Bloodstone Emperor and Ar-Pharazon (which I have detailed in other essays, chiefly The Tolkienic Song of Ice and Fire Episode II). And all those parallels I have discovered since, like the similarities between House Hightower and House Dayne and the Dunedain, The Hightower and Minas Tirith, Oldtown and Osgiliath, which I have explored in Minas Tirith and the Hightower.
And most of all, what’s the point of parallels between Lightbringer and Narsil, Jon Snow (and Daenerys & Aegon VI) and Aragorn, and why the return of the king/the return of the queen motif is so important.
Well, the time to say farewell has come – but I hope you’ll return to The Tolkienic Song of Ice and Fire next week, on Sunday December the 16th, when in the third instalment in the 2018 Advent Calendar, we’ll discuss the parallels between C.S. Lewis Charn from The Chronicles of Narnia and GRRM’s Great Empire of the Dawn.
Thanks for visiting us today and see you next time!