The Advent Calendar – 24th Dec. 2017

24th of December 2017

In the final episode of The Advent Calendar I’m going to present one of my favourite examples of myth based on observation of the sky – to be more precise, of Morningstar and Evenstar (Venus).

Eärendil was the son of Tuor, a Man, and Idril, daughter of King of Gondolin, Turgon. His wife was Elwing, daughter of Dior (son of Beren and Luthien) and Nimloth of Doriath. Their children were Elrond and Elros.

They lived in the realm of Arvernien, by the Great Sea, in Beleriand. At that point in time, this region of Middle-Earth was almost entirely dominated by Morgoth, and Doriath, Nargothrond and Gondolin, once mighty elven kingdoms, have already fallen.

Earednil, seeing that Dark Lord’s hosts will soon crush all resistance, and that would mean the ultimate defeat of Men and Elves, decided to sail across the ocean, to Valinor, in order to beg The Valar for help. He knew that he’ll most likely die, as The Noldor have been cursed by Mandos, who forbade them to return to the Blessed Realm.

With help of Cirdan the Shipwright, Earendil built the most beautiful ship the world has ever seen, Vingilótë, The Flower of the Sea-foam. He embarked on a long voyage, seeking the road to Valinor, but his mission was futile.

Elwing remained in Arvernien, taking care of their sons, and one of the Silmarils, which Beren and Luthien had wrestled from Morgoth’s Iron Crown. When sons of Feanor found out that their father’s precious jewel was in her possession, they’ve remembered the oath they once swore. Attacking Earendil’s people, they sacked their havens, killing nearly all citizens. But Maglor, weary of endless fighting and all defeats The Noldor suffered in Beleriand (he agreed to participate in this assault only because the oath was sacred), spared Earendil’s sons, Elrond and Elros. Maglor was gentle, not as fierce as other sons of Feanor, so after some time, he became a step-father of the boys.

But Elwing, unwilling to fall into hands of her enemies, seized the Silmaril and threw herself into the sea. However, one of The Valar, Ulmo, who has never forsaken The Elves, used his power to lift her from water, and transformed her into a white bird. In this form, she flew over waves and found her husband’s ship.

Believing that both their sons were murdered, the couple decided that now they have nothing to loose. Thanks to Silmaril’s power (for it contained The Light From Before The Sun), they reached the shores of the Blessed Realm.

Earendil stood before thrones of The Valar, and pleaded with them to forgive The Elves, and help to overthrow the Dark Lord.

And Manwe, The Elder King, agreed, moved by the risk Earendil and Elwing were willing to take, for the good of the peoples of Middle-Earth – they were not afraid of the punishment they may suffer for returning to Valinor despite the ban of The Valar.

The Army of the Valar landed in Middle-Earth, and it was led by Eonwe, The Elder King’s herald. Those of The Noldor who never left Valinor, refusing to join Feanor’s rebellion marched in it, along hosts of The Vanyar. Morgoth was defeated, his armies anihilated. During this campaing, known in songs and legends as The War of Wrath, nearly all dragons and Balrogs were killed.

Earendil took part in this fight as well, killing Ancalagon the Black, the greatest of fire-drakes.

The Valar hallowed Vingilótë, placing it in the sky, as a star. Its steersman is Earendil the Blessed, and Silmaril, bound upon his brow, shines so bright that The Star of High Hope (for this name The Elves gave to this celestial body) is second brightest object in the sky, after the sun. The Star of Earendil is visible to this day, at dawn and in the evening.

***

Tolkien wrote that the source of the name ‘Earendil’ is Anglo-Saxon éarendel, which he first came across while reading the advent poem Christ I (The Advent Lyrics).

éala éarendel engla beorhtast

ofer middangeard monnum sended

Hail Eärendel, brightest of angels / over middle-earth sent to men

In Tolkien’s opinion this texts references the symbolism based on The Morningstar (Venus), whichy appears on the dawn-sky, shortly before the sun, as a herald, harbinger of day.

He decided that in the context of an Advent poem, ‘earendel’ is John the Baptist, who foreshadowed the coming of Christ, just like The Morningstar heralds the coming of day. Young Tolkien amazed by those words, although he could not say why exactly.

As you can see, another term well-known to fantasy fans was inspired by this Advent lyric – Middle-Earth, as Tolkien wrote a short poem, expanding on the lines I quoted above. Thus, in 1914, he created the first text of his mythology, which would become The Legendarium millions of readers came to love.

I think that in all works of Professor Tolkien it would be impossible to find something that befits this day – The Eve of Christmas – better.

In Poland, according to ancient tradition, The Christmas Eve Supper can commence only after the first star is spotted in the sky – and usually, this star is The Evenstar, Venus.

***

I hope that while reading The Advent Calendar you were wonderstruck by the greatness of imagination, just like Tolkien was years ago, that you have felt a similar thrill of excitement,  caused by something unknown and yet beautiful (although you are not sure why), because of seeing the great beauty of mythology, metaphorm symbolism, literature.

I’ve put many questions, and for many of them, I do not have the answer. Still, I encourage You to think about them.

Obviously, some might say that Christmas is pointless, because Jesus Christ never existed, that He is merely yet another myth, like Baldur, Tammuz, Osiris or Dionysus. But, as Tolkien and C.S. Lewis pointed out, the fact that Christ is so similar to many mythological heroes, can be just as well taken as a proof that He is real. What if archetypes, symbols, myths and legends arise from human longing, and when creating them, humans are emluating, in their own way, God’s creative opus?

The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens – at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle.

C.S. Lewis

We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

Therefore a Christian should not reject all myths, for there is wisdom to be found in them, a foreshadowing of what was to come. As Lewis said, while reading the Norse Mythology he came to love Baldur, even before he came to love Christ.

So, everything comes down – as it often does – to belief, as it is impossible to prove that God does not exist, just like no one can’t prove that He does. Because of this, I ask you to respect the beliefs of others.

I don’t kno what’s your view on this topic, but in my opinion, the beauty of myths and stories is something from which all of us can derive stenght, inspiration, widsom, knowledge of oneself…

I beg you: do not slow down, do not become lazy. Seek truth; about yourself, others, the whole world.

And appreciate the beauty of things which surround you, especially nature, literature, art, customs, traditions…

While sitting by the Christmas tree contemplate whether you believe that its origins can be found in ancient times, when people gathered round the bonfire would tell each other tales about the world tree Yggdrasil – or if it comes from medieval mystery plays, organised at Christmas Eve, featuring a tree as one of decorations (as today is the liturgical feast and name day of Adam and Eve – or maybe, from something entirely different.

Think about how many beautiful, great stories were conceived by human minds over centuries past, and about how many more may yet arise.

Therefore, on the eve of Christmas, I wish You: wisdom, health, stenght, love, and that you may develop your talents, that you may do what you love. And that you may learn and read much in the New Year still to come, and – if this is your heart’s desire – create, and enjoy your creations, finding delight.

Thank You for reading my calendar, which is but an introduction to a much broader subject, one I hope to explore in new texts, in the New Year.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Éalá Éarendel Engla Beorhtast!

Bluetiger

The Advent Calendar – 23rd Dec. 2017

23rd of December 2017

Myth of Baldur, here retold by Bluetiger:

Baldur was the most beautiful of the gods and the most beloved of Odin’s sons. When he was but still a  babe, his mother, the goddess Frigg, visited every thing and living beign, asking them to swear a saced oath, that they shall never do any harm to her child. However, she omitted the mistletoe, believing that this tiny plant, attached to the oaken branch, between the earth and the sky, is entirely harmless. 

When Baldur came of age, the gods would throw various objects at him, for such was the game they created, and the youth laughed, seeing that nothing can wound or kill him. But Loki, who loved tricks and wiles of all kind, and besides that, was very jealous of the attention and friendship shown towards Baldur by inhabitants of The Nine Worlds, decided to find out if Odin’s son is truly resistant to every injury.

Hence he came do Frigg and, deceptively, learned that the goddess bypassed the mistletoe. At once, he ran to the woods, whence that inconspicuous plant was growing, picked it, chiseled an arrow, and returned to Asgard the same hour.

Lo and behold, Baldur’s brother, the blind god Hodor, was sitting aloof. Loki approached, and, with smile on his lips and innocent tone in his voice, asked: ‘Forwhy thou are not playing with the others? Doing so, is thy intention to show everyone that thou do not respect Baldur? 

‘Oh, not at all’ quoth Hodor, ‘The thing is, I do not have anything to throw at my brother, and besides that, I can’t see where Baldur is standing’. Then Loki gave him a bow and an arrow, and guided his hand. Hodor loosed. When the mistletoe branch hit Baldur, he fell, dead. 

Many a day the gods grieved, but finally, they decided to find a way to return Baldur to the world of the living. So they sent an envoy to Helheim, the realm of the dead. The goddess Hel had the dominion there, and she agreed to realease Baldur, but on one condition. All living beings had to shed a tear for him. Hence the gods, men, animals and plants gathered, and wept. But suddenly, an old giantess came in, and announced that she does not miss Odin’s son. (It was whispered that she was no giantess, but the wicked Loki in one of his disguises). And so, Baldur has to wait in The Underworld, till the day of Ragnarok.

The gods took Baldur’s body, and laid it on a pyre, and the pyre they placed on his ship. When the wood caught fire, Baldur’s wife, the goddess Nanna, dissolved in tears, and her heart cracked, for so great was her sorrow.

Thus died Baldur, son of Odin. 

In The Golden Bough Sir James George Frazer gives the following interpretation of this myth:

Baldur symbolises the oak, the mightiest and most sacred of trees. Mistletoe is believed to be holy as well, and to possess a great power (the druids would cut it with a golden sickle, on solstices, in such way as to not let it tough the ground).

When winter comes, the trees stand naked, with bare branches. But mistletoe is still growing on oak’s trunk, evergreen. According to Frazer, in ancient cults it was believed that mistletoe contains the tree’s soul (just like The One Ring is a part of Sauron, and Bran can move his consciousness into his direwolf). Therefore, the oak can be destroyed only after the mistletoe is killed, just like in a fairytale, the hero has to break the evil wizard’s ‘soul jar’ before he can kill his enemy once and for all.

Frazer believes that mistletoe was collacted at Mindsummer and Midwinter, because those two days are special points on sun’s yearly voyage across the sky, and thus, it’s soul the most powerful.

The Advent Calendar – 22nd Dec. 2017

22nd of December 2017

Bran/Brandon has multiple meanings. Sadly, we don’t know which George R.R. Martin had in his mind when he decided to give this name to the son of Ned Stark. Still, I hope that you’ll find some of them interesting:

Select meanings of ‘Bran’:

– English: outer layer of cereal grain (miller’s bran)

– English: carrion crow, brand (for example on animal), firebrand, torch, sword

– Welsh: crow, raven, rook (brân)

– West Frisian: fire, conflagration

– German: fire (Brand)

– Old English: fire, flame, to burn, sword, torch

– Icelandic: sword, burning log (Brandur)

– Old Norse: sword, firebrand, torch, fire, flame, burning log (brandr)

– French: sword (archaic), from Frankish *brand, *brant (flaming sword, firebrand)

– Old French: edge of a sword (branc), from *brandus (sword, flaming brand) in popular Latin

Brandon:

– from Middle English: Brandon, Bramdun, which in turn comes from Old English bromdun (broom hedge + hill)

– from Frankish *brant, *brand (burned log, cinder)

– as a from of Irish name Bréanainn, which comes from Welsh ‘prince’ (for example: Saint Brendan the Voyager)

– from Brân (crow), the name of famous mythological hero Bran the Blessed

In The White Goddess by Robert Graves the archetypical god of ravens, crows and secret knowledge is called ‘Bran’.

In The Golden Bough the reader is introduced to a Norman custom, The Sunday of Firebrands, Brandons – the first Sunday of Lent, when bonfires are lit. In that region there was a tradition to elect ‘The Green Wolf’, grand master of brotherhood of the same name, who was symbolically burned at St. John’s Eve (Midsummer).

When we take the fact that in A Song of Ice and Fire Hodor carries Bran in a wicker basket (reminiscent of the wicker-man), originally used to carry firewood, maybe we should begin to worry about the young Stark’s fate… or maybe, what we have here is a hint that Bran is Lightbringer?

The Advent Calendar – 21st Dec. 2017

21st of December 2017

Although nowadays Yule is often used as a synonym for Christmas, originally it was a pagan celebration connected with Midwinter. Some believe that many traditions still observed today have their roots in those holidays, for example: the Christmas Tree, Yule Log (burned in fireplaces in Anglo-Saxon countries), the custom of eating Christmas Ham (in Great Britain), Yule Goat in Scandinavia etc.

In The Shire Calendar, used by hobbits, two days called Yule existed. They were holidays of the end of the Old Year, and at the same time, of the beginning of the new, and therefore, belonged to no month.

On the 21st of November (gregorian calendar) a month called Foreyule began (in Bree it was called Yulemath). It lasted until the 20th of December. 21st of December was the last day of the year, known as 1 Yule, while the 22nd – 2 Yule – was considered to be the first day of the new. On the 23rd of December began the first month, Afteryule.

This holiday season, which began on the 29th of Foreyule and ended on the 2nd of Afteryule (six-days long) was known as Yuletide.

Sadly, we don’t know how hobbits celebrated this time, we can only assume that their traditions were similar to Anglo-Saxon.

In Scandinavian folklore, a creature called tomte (known also as nisse) existed. According to LML from The Mythical Astronomy it is likely that it was used by George R.R. Martin as a source of inspiration, while creating the name Nissa Nissa.

It turns out that nisse is startingly similar to a Child of a Forest: both are short, have four fingers, and eyes that reflect light in the dark, like those of a cat.

Nisse would protect the homestead, but only if he received food and drinks as payment. When the farmer forgot to leave a meal for nisse at night, the gnome would get angry and begin play pranks on him.

 

The Advent Calendar – 20th Dec. 2017

20th of December 2017

The most famous metal from A Song of Ice and Fire is valyrian steel. In today’s episode of The Calendar I’ll present some of the substances and alloys created by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Silima – a substance invented by Feanor, who used it to create three Silmarils, jewels containing light of The Two Trees of Valinor. It was crystalline, and after congealing, impossible to break or crush. According to The Valar only Feanor would be able to crack them open, but when Morgoth destroyed The Trees and darkness fell on the world, The Elf refused to destroy his magnum opus.

Tilkal – a metal created by Vala Aule, who forged the chain used to bind Morgoth from it.

Galvorn – a metal invented by Eol, called The Dark Elf, who used it to craft an armou, black and shining, resistant to all blades.

Among Eol’s other works are two famous swords, black and glowing, created from iron Eol took from a meteorite. One of them was Anguirel, which came into possession of Eol’s son, Maeglin (the traitor who betrayed location of The Hidden City, Gondolin, to Morgoth). Its mate, Anglachel played a greatly more important role.

Eol gave it to King Thingol, who in turn presented it to his captain, Beleg, while dispatching him to search for The King’s ward and adoptive son, a man called Turin. Beleg died as his friend’s hand, when he sneaked into camp of orcs, who held Turin captive. In darkness, the youth thought that Beleg was one of his captors. Having wrestled the black sword from Elf’s hand, Turin slew him. From this time on, the ‘pale light’ of the blade faded away. While in Nargothrond, Turin ordered the elven smiths to reforeg it, but the metal remained forever dim. It received a new name, Gurthang, which means The Iron of Death.

With this weapon, Turin performed many a heroic act – and many foul deeds, as his entire life was ruled by fate, Morgoth’s curse. Years later, when Turin killed Glaurung the Dragon, the evil spirit inhabiting the beast revealed that his wife Niniel is actually his sister, Nienor daughter of Hurin. (The siblings have not seen each other for decades, since Turin was sent to KIng Thingol as a ward. Nienor remained with her mother, till Morgoth’s servants forced them to flee their homeland. When she heard that her brother Turin was last seen in Nargothrond, she rode there. Unfortunately, at the very same time that kingdom was attacked by Morgoth’s army, led by Glaurung. In his malice, the dragon did not kill Hurin’s daughter, but took her memory. She wandered aimlessly in the woods, until, because of mere coincidence (or rather, The Dark Lord’s curse), her own brother found her, fell in love and married.

Turin took his life with Gurthand, finally realising that his entire life and all decisions led only to evil, and pain for his kin and friends. Seeing no escape from Morgoth’s curse, he cast himself upon the point of the black sword. After its master’s suicide, the blade cracked.

Mithril – called ‘the true silver’, a metal harder than steel, yet light. Elves used it to create many works of great beauty, but it were Dwarves who loved it the most. It was found only in Numenor and Khazad-dum. But, seeking new seams, Dwarves dug too deep, and woke a beast resting in the chasms below the world, a fire demon, Balrog, who had been hiding since Morgoth’s fall. Khazad-dum was abandoned, and became known as Moria, The Dark Abyss. Beforehand mithril was worth ten times its weight in gold, but now, it is priceless.

Elves from Gwaith-i-Mírdain, Brotherhood of the Jewel-smiths, based in Eregion (which means Hollin, or Land of Holly), invented an alloy of this metal, called ithildin (star-moon, moonlight). They used it to create The Doors of Durin, the west gate of Moria. A door of ithildin cool be easily overlooked in day-time, as it seemed to be normal rock. But when moonlight touched it, the metal would shine, and runes appear on its surface.

The Advent Calendar – 19th Dec. 2017

19th of December 2017

The Children of Illuvatar are Elves and Men (Dwarves were created by Vala Aule, but still, Eru was the one to give them souls and free will). Elves, known as Quendi (Those, Who Speak), as that was the name they gave themselves, as they woke as first, before other races, and for this reason for a long time they did not meet any beings capable of speech. They were discovered by Orome, The Rider of the Valar, who called them Eldar, The People of the Stars.

Elves are immortal (though they can die in battle, because of wounds or exhaustion). Upon death, they come to The Halls of Mandos, but after some time, they return, in new, reborn bodies. They love the nature; trees, woods, seas, rivers, but above all else, The Stars of Varda. They are great artists and researchers of the world around them, poets, scholars, singers, chroniclers, sculptors, smiths and architects. Over their long lives, they master their crafts, and perfectly develop their talents (by contrast, humans often waste them). However, too great love of their works, and pride can be a great danger for them. (As was the case with Feanor and his Silmarils, as well as with Celebrimbor and the Rings of Power). What humans call magic, for them is an art, a craft, a science.

Tolkien describes them as similar to humans before The Fall (the original sin), possessing a close bond with Eru and the world He created, wise and curious, constantly trying to master their skills and gain more knowledge. It seems that in terms of biology, they are identical to humans, and certain differences in appearance are the result of the impact of their souls, called fëa. They can have children with Humans, but such unions happened rarely. (Beren and Luthien, Tuor and Idril, Aragorn Elessar and Arwen). In addition, there is one known union between and Elf and once of the incarnate Maia – Elu Thingol with Melian.

Just like Men and Dwarves, Elves are not homogenous group, as they are divided into many tribes, peoples and houses.

The first division happened when The Valar invited the first Elves to Valinor. Some refused – they are called Avari, which means The Refusers.

Eldar set out on The Great Journey across Middle-Earth. They are separated into three tribes:

The VanyarThe Fair Elves – they are the ones who came to love Valinor the most. Their king was Ingwë.

The Noldor, The Deep Elves – espiecially talented in smithing, metallurgy and jewelery. Their king was Finwë, until his death at hands of Morgoth. Some of The Noldor returned to The Middle-Earth, where they took part in the long war for Silmarils.

Teleri, called Lindar, The Singers. They were the most numerous group, so they had two leaders, brothers Olwë i Elwë.

All of the Noldor and the Vanyar arrived in Valinor, but among Teleri, further divisions took place.

When their host reached The Great River Anduin, and saw The Misty Mountains, some became fearful and decided to stay. Their leader was Lenwë, and his people became known as Nandor. The Silvan Elves and the Green Elves (Laiquendi) are their descendants.

The remaining Teleri entered Beleriand, a land in the western Middle-Earth. There they built they camp, and rested.

One day, Elwe was wandering alone, in the forest of Nan Elmoth. There has saw Melian, one of The Maiar, and they fell in love. They stood silent, as if enchanted, and the trees grew tall around them, as the years passed. Some Teleri remained in Beleriand, searching for their king, while others left for Valinor. Those who reached it became Falmari, The People of the Waves, because they lived close to the sea.

The Elves who settled in Valinor and saw the light of The Two Trees are called Calaquendi, Elves of the Light, or High Elves. (It’s worth to mention that Elwe is counted among them, as before The Great Journey he came to Valinor as an envoy to The Valar).

Many years later, Elwe returned to his people, and founded the Kingdom of Doriath, with capital in the city of Menegroth, carven in rock. His folk became known as SindarThe Grey Elves.

source of this table: Wikimedia Commons, author: Agnaton

 * It’s worth to mention that Elves of Tolkien are Quendi, ‘Those Who Speak’ – and The Children of the Forest from ASOIAF are ‘Those Who Sing the Song of Earth’.

 

The Advent Calendar – 18th Dec. 2017

18th of December 2017

The Maiar

Spirits akin to The Valar, but of lesser might. Helpers of The Powers in ruling the world. Their number is unknown, but they are numerous, and only few took physical forms.

Eönwë – herald of Manwe and his banner-bearer, leader of The Army of Valinor. At the end of the First Age he was dispatched to Middle-Earth, to defeat Morgoth, with the help of hosts of Elves from Valinor and Men.

Ilmarë – described as one of the most powerful Maiar, helper of Varda, Queen of the Valar.

Ossë – vassal of Ulmo, protector of the seas which encircle Middle-Earth. According to Elven tales, once he joined Morgoth, tempted by the promise of getting Ulmo’s dominion over all waters.

Uinen– called The Lady of the Seas, wife of Osse. She was the one to persuade the rebellious Maia to repent and receive the pardon of The Valar.

Arien – the protectress of The Sun, one of the fire spirits.

Tilion – Maia guiding The Moon

Salmar – servant of Ulmo, who created the great conches playing the music of the sea.

Allatar and Pallando – called The Blue Wizards, send by The Valar to Middle-Earth, to thwart the schemes of Sauron. Their fate remains a mystery.

Aiwendil – in the Middle-Earth known as Radagast the Brown, a Wizard, great friend of animals.

Curumo – called Saruman the White, a Maia of Aule, leader of the Order of Wizards (Istari), who became a traitor, scheming with Sauron and attacking Rohan.

Olórin – the wisest of the Maiar, known as Gandalf the Grey, Mithrandir, Tharkun, Incanus, The White Rider.

Melian – who married Elu Thingol, a king of the Elves. Queen of Sindar, The Grey Elves.

Gothmog – Lord of Balrogs, servant of Morgoth, equall in rank to Sauron. Killed by elven warrior Echtelion, during the Sack of Gondolin.

Durin’s Bane – a fire demon, who went into hiding after Morgoth’s defeat, and revealed himself much later in Khazad-dum (Moria), where he killed the King of Dwarves Durin VI. He died in a duel with Olorin, during the War of the Ring.

Mairon – the most trusted follower of Morgoth, known as Sauron, Gorthaur and The Necromancer. After Morgoth’s fall, he deceived Eonwe, calling him to the trial before The Valar, and managed to escape. Lord of Mordor and creator of The One Ring. His actions lead to the Downfall of Numenor, as he was the one to advise king Ar-Pharazon to attack the Blessed Realm. Claiming to be a servant of Aule, Annatar, he managed to fool The Elves of Hollin and Celebrimbor, who forged The Rings of Power. Defeated in The War of the Last Alliance, he lost the ability to take a physical shape (once, he was known as the master of shapeshifting). Sauron returned at the end of The Third Age, but was defeated in the War of the Ring.

The ‘evil spirits’ inhabiting dragons might be Maiar as well (in The Legendarium, evil can not create, only mock and corrupt, therefore were-wolves, dragons and other beast had to be made from ‘normal’ beings, with fallen Maiar inside): Glaurung, Ancalagon, Scatha, Smaug, were-wolves:  Draugluin and Carcharoth, vampires: Thuringwethil, spirits who turned into monstrous spiders: Ungoliant (and Shelob?).

The Advent Calendar – 17th Dec. 2017

17th of December 2017, Sunday

It is widely known that J.R.R. Tolkien was a Christian, Catholic. A world, even fictional, in which besides The God some other gods exist, could not be accepted by him. At the same time, he believed that his mythology – as his goal was to create a mythology – needs beings similar to those known from myths, Greek, Roman, Celtic, Norse etc.

The solution to this problem are The Ainur, angelic beings, which are ‘divine’ in the sense that they existed before the material world was created.

In a letter to Milton Waldman Tolkien wrote:

On the side of mere narrative device, this is, of course, meant to provide beings of the same order of beauty, power, and majesty as the ‘gods’ of higher mythology, which can yet be accepted – well, shall we say badly, by a mind that believes in the Blessed Trinity.

The Ainur were created by Eru Illuvatar, The God, even before Arda (Earth) and the rest of the Universe came to be. Some of them decided to enter that world, others remained Beyond Time, with Illuvatar. The Ainur are immortal and do not need physical bodies, but for various reasons, they might take visible shapes, similar to bodies, which the Elves call fana.

The mightiest of The Ainur inhabiting Arda are called The Valar, Powers of the World. Men ofter took them for gods, and thence came numerous myths and tales. The remaining Ainur are called The Maiar.

The Valar

Manwë Súlimo – brother of Melkor (they were created from the same thought of Illuvatar), husband of Varda, called The Elder King and The Lord of the Breath of Arda. He rules over the physical world from his seat on Mount Taniquetil, the highest of mountains. According to Valaquenta, above all else, Manwe loves birds, especially eagles. The Great Eagles (which appear in The Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) are his servants.

Aulë – called The Smith of the Valar, master of all crafts and arts. His knowledge of rocks, minerals, precious jewels and metals is unmatched. Being jealous of Illuvatar’s Children (Elves and Men), he created Dwarves. Although he did so in secret, Eru knew, and pointed out that Dwarves are merely mindless tools, unable to live and decide on their own. Aule was repentant and raised his hammer, to destroy the first seven Dwarves. But Illuvatar felt mercy and stopped The Vala from destroying his ‘children’. Eru ‘adopted’ this third race of sentient beings, and gave them free will and souls.

Ulmo – King of the Sea and Lord of Waters, who rules ober seas, rivers and oceans, over all waters of Arda. Among The Valar, Ulmo came to love Children of Illuvatar the most, unwilling to forsake them even when curse fell upon the Elves. He was against brining Elves to Valinor, believing that they should stay and develop in The Middle-Earth.

Oromë – called The Great Rider and The Huntsman. He was the one to love Middle-Earth the most, and there he hunted, in the deep woods, accompanied by his hounds and hunters, slaying beast of Morgoth. His steed was Nahar, and his horn the famous Valaróma, its sound like a thunder. Sindar, The Grey Elves, called him Tauron, The Lord of the Woods.

Mandos – his name is Namo, but he is more widely known under this epithet, taken from The Halls of Mandos, Houses of the Dead, his seat. He takes care of the souls of dead elves, until they time for their rebirth comes (according to Eru’s will, Men leave Arda after death, to join him in the Timeless Halls). Mandos is the Doomsman and The Judge of the Valar, the one who laid the curse upon The Noldor.

Irmo – is Mandos’ younger brother, ‘Master of Visions and Dreams’. Protector of the Gardens of Lorien, the most beautiful place in Valinor, where The Valar, The Maiar and Eldar (Elves) come to rest.

Tulkas – called The Strong, the warrior, he was the one to defeat Morgoth in a duel, when The Valar besieged Utumno, shortly after The Elves woke.

The Valier

Varda Elentári – called Elbereth Gilthoniel by The Elves, Queen of the Valar and Lady of Stars. Morgoth desired her hand, but she turned him away, sensing the darkness in his soul. Elves worship her with songs, as above all else, they love the light of her stars.

Yavanna Kementári – called The Giver of Fruit and Queen of the Earth, protectress of trees and other plants of Arda, wife of Aule. The Shepherds of the Trees (Ents) are one of her creations, as are The Two Trees of Valinor. She makes the corn grow, and causes the land to become fertile.

Nienna – sister of Mandos and Irmo, Lady of Mercy, Pity and Mourning, she teaches The Children of Illuvatar compassion and hope.

Nessa – sister of Orome, called The Dancer and The Swift, she can outrun even the deer of the woods. This Valië often wanders in the forests, taking care of animals.

Vána – Yavanna’s younger sister, wife of Orome, called The Ever-young. Protectress of the birds and flowers of Arda.

Vairë – The Weaver of Time, who chronicles the history of the world on her tapestries.

Morgoth

Once Melkor, brother of Manwe. He fell, when he rebelled against the will of Eru and began to destroy the works of his siblings. Defeated at the end of The First Age, and thrown into The Void.

The Advent Calendar – 16th Dec. 2017

16th of December 2017

In A Clash of Kings the following event is described:

Jon heard a rustling from the red leaves above.  Two branches parted, and he glimpsed a little man moving from limb to limb as easily as a squirrel.  Bedwyck stood no more than five feet tall, but the grey streak in his hair showed his age.  The other rangers called him giant. 

When we notice that the man standing next to the weirwood is Thoren Smallwood, we can easily realise that this scene is a reference to The Hobbit.

When The Dwarves and Bilbo travel to the Lonely Mountain, they have to cross Mirkwood. They loose their way, so Thorin decides that someone should climb a tree and look around from the above:

‘Is there no end to this accursed forest?’ said Thorin. ‘Somebody must climb a tree and see if he can get his head above the roof and have a look around. The only way is to choose the tallest tree that overhangs the path. 

Of course ‘somebody’ meant Bilbo.

Therefore, Bedywck is Bilbo (both are quite short), while Thoren plays the role of Thorin. The sigil of House Smallwood of Acorn Hall shows acorns on a field of yellow – and Thorin’s epithet is ‘Oakenshield’.

In A Song of Ice and Fire, two more references to that Dwarf can be found – Oakenshield, one of The Shield Islands in The Reach, and one of the abandoned castles of The Night’s Watch bearing the same name.

* Among The Kings of the Iron Islands we find Urras Ironfoot of House Greyiron, who might be a nod to Dain II, Lord of the Iron Hills and King Under the Mountain, Thorin’s successor. His byname was Ironfoot

The Advent Calendar – 15th Dec. 2017

15th of December 2017

The topic of today’s episode are The Wild Men of the Woods, a manifestation of the archetypal Green Man, on whom The Green Men from ASOIAF might be based as well.

The Drúedain, known also as The Wild men of the Woods, were one of the human tribes living in The Middle-Earth. Called Woses, they were short and stumpy-bodies, and their eyes glowed red when they became angry. Although their appearance was quite different from the Edain, Elves called them ‘unlovely’, they never joined Morgoth or Sauron. And above all else, they hated orcs, as Woses greatly suffred because of their malice and viciousness.

When it came to battle, The Wild Men fought with darts and bows, but some tales claim that they knew some magic connected with stones and rocks.

Scholars of Gondor believed that ancestors of Woses were persecuted in the region of The Middle-Earth where they originally lived, so they migrated to the west, arriving in Beleriand, where they settled in the Brethil woods. Unfortunately, that realm was the theatre of the great game between The Noldor and Morgth, The War of Silmarils. Many of the Drúedain perished.

When Numenor was founded in the Second Age, they were invited to the isle, but by the times of its sixth king, Tar-Aldarion, nearly all have left for Middle-Earth, sensing that some great evil will wall upon the island.

They were proven correct when The Downfall came.

In the Third Age they lived in the Druadan Forrest, on the foothills of the White Mountains of Gondor, removed from the struggles and conflicts of the greater world, until The War of the Ring, when king of Rohan Theoden and his host traveled through their woods, to relieve Minas Tirith besieged by The Witch-King. Their chieftain, Ghân-buri-Ghân, showed the Rohirrim secret paths and provided guides, and thanks to that help, The Riders arrived on time to fight in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.

In the Fourth Age, king Aragorn Elessar made a decree, forbiding strangers from entering the Druadan Forrest, to save The Wild Men from extinction. But it seems that their people died out anyway – but the memory of the Drúedain lived on, though fading into myth and legend. It survies in the stories about Woses and The Green Men.

It seems that when creating Woses, Tolkien was inspired by the motif of the Green Man and Hairy/Wild Man, which appears in medieval art.