The Two Trees of Valinor – symbols of light and hope in the Blessed Realm and Middle-earth
The Two Trees of Valinor are one of only a few things that have continued to have significance throughout the history of the Blessed Realm and Middle-earth. From the creation of the Two Trees near the start of time to Aragorn finding a shoot of the White Tree of Gondor after the War of the Ring – they are always there in the background, symbolising purity, hope and faith.
The creation of the Two Trees set into place a chain of events which echoed throughout history. Without the Two Trees, the Silmarils would not have been created, nor arguably the Sun and the Moon. Nor Vingilot and the Evening Star. Nor the White Trees of Tirion, Eressëa, Númenor and Gondor. Nor would the lands and people of Middle-earth had continuous symbols of hope and light to guide them through their darker days.
The descendants of the Two Trees of Valinor
The creation of the Trees
“In that time the Valar were gathered together to hear the song of Yavanna, and they sat silent upon their thrones of council in the Máhanaxar, the Ring of Doom near to the golden gates of Valmar; and Yavanna Kementári sang before them and they watched.
And as they watched, upon the mound there came forth two slender shoots; and silence was over all the world in that hour, nor was there any other sound save the chanting of Yavanna. Under her song the saplings grew and became fair and tall, and came to flower; and thus there awoke in the world the Two Trees of Valinor. Of all things which Yavanna made they have most renown, and about their fate all the tales of the Elder Days are woven.”
The two trees were named Laurelin the Golden and Telperion the Silver. Telperion had leaves of the darkest green, that below were as shining silver. He had countless white flowers, from which a dew of silver light was ever falling. The earth beneath him was dappled with the shadows of his fluttering leaves. He was the elder of the Trees, and had come first to full bloom, flowering for the first six hours of every day. His other names included Silpion, Ninquelótë, and in early manuscripts, Galathilion or Silivros (glimmering rain).
Laurelin (“song of gold”) was the younger of the Trees. She had leaves of a young green, edged with gold, and her flowers formed clusters of yellow flame, glowing horns that spilled a golden rain on the ground.
“All its boughs were hidden by long swaying clusters of gold flowers like a myriad hanging lamps of flame, and light spilled from the tops of these and splashed upon the ground with a sweet noise.” (The Book of Lost Tales I)
Laurelin started her blooming at the sixth hour, when Telperion finished his flowering. From the blossom of the tree came forth warmth and a great light. She was known also as Malinalda, Culúrien, and in earlier manuscripts, Galadlóriel., Glewellin (“song of gold”), Lasgalen (“green of leaf”) and Melthinorn (“tree of gold”). Tolkien said that she was based on the laburnum (Morgoth’s Ring, p157).
The light from the trees endured long before dispersing into the air or the ground, and Varda hoarded their dews in great vats like shining lakes, that were to all the land of the Valar as wells of water and light.
The light of the Trees was particularly important to the world (and to Tolkien’s religious ideals) as it was the only light to exist before the Fall of Arda, and therefore was utterly pure and untouched by evil.
“From those Trees there came forth a great light, and all Valinor was filled with it. Then the bliss of the Valar was increased; for the lights of the Trees was holy and of great power, so that, if aught was good or lovely or of worth, in that light its loveliness and its worth were fully revealed; and all that walked in that light were glad at heart.” (Morgoth’s Ring, p55)
The creation of the Silmarils
When Fëanor had come to his full power, he considered how the light of the Trees might be preserved for ever. He began a long and secret work, the results of which were the three jewels known as the Silmarils. They were made of a material like diamond, though stronger, surrounding an inner fire made of the blended light of the Two Trees. The jewels shone like the stars of Varda, and they rejoiced in light, taking it in and giving it back in hues more marvellous than before.
The Silmarils were so important through the history of Arda as, after the Two Trees were destroyed, they were the only vessels to hold the pure light of Valinor – the only light of an unfallen world:
“The Light of Valinor (derived from light before any fall) is the light of art undivorced from reason, that sees things both scientifically (or philosophically) and imaginatively (or subcreatively) and says that they are good” (Letters #131)
Varda hallowed the Silmarils so that no mortal flesh, nor unclean hands, nor anything of evil could touch them without becoming scorched and withered. Mandos then foretold that the fates of Arda – earth, sea and air – lay locked within the jewels.
The history of the Silmarils will be discussed in another article coming soon to Elrond’s Library.
The destruction of the Trees
On a day of festival, in the hour when the lights of the Trees mingled, Melkor and Ungoliant stole across the fields of Valinor. They came before the Trees, and Melkor smote each Tree to its core with his black spear, wounding them deeply. Their sap spilled forth as if it were their blood, and Ungoliant sucked up the sap that had fallen on the ground. She then went from Tree to Tree, setting her black beak to their wounds and drinking until they were drained. The poison of death within her entered the Trees. Still Ungoliant thirsted, and she then went to the Wells of Varda, and drained them dry. Then Melkor and Ungoliant fled Valinor.
When the deed was discovered, Yavanna stood on Ezellohar and put her hands on the trees, but every branch she touched broke and fell lifeless at her feet. The light of the Trees lived on only in the Silmarils:
“Even for those who are mightiest under Ilúvatar there is some work that they may accomplish once, and once only. The Light of the Trees I brought into being, and within Eä I can do so never again. Yet had I but a little of that light I could recall life to the Trees,
ere their roots decay,
and then our hurt should be healed,
and the malice of Melkor confounded.”
Manwë then asked Fëanor if he would unlock his jewels to give some of the light back to Yavanna. But he would not, loving the Silmarils greatly, and having been deceived by Melkor into believing that the Valar were untrustworthy and false.
Creation of the Sun and the Moon
Nienna went up onto the mound of Ezellohar, cast back her grey hood, and washed away the defilement of Melkor with her tears. She sang in mourning for the bitterness of the world and the Marring of Arda. Then Manwë bade Nienna and Yavanna to put one final effort into bringing life back to the Trees, but the tears of Nienna did not heal their mortal wounds, and eventually she ceased weeping. Then Yavanna sang in the shadows alone for a long time, and just when her hope was fading and her song faltering, Telperion brought forth one great flower of silver, and Laurelin one single fruit of gold.
After producing their last, the Trees died. Their lifeless stems were left on the mound, as a memorial of vanished joy. Yavanna gave the flower and the fruit to Manwë, who hallowed them, and Aulë created vessels to hold them and preserve their radiance. The vessels were then given to Varda so that they may become lamps of heaven, outshining the stars, and she gave them the power to traverse the lower regions of the heavens. The fruit and the flower thus became the Sun and the Moon.
Unlike most other creation legends, both the sun and the moon represented a “second best” solution in Tolkien’s world. Their light is the light of the defiled Arda, a fallen world with a dislocated imperfect vision.
– Earlier versions of the myth
Book of Lost Tales 1: Tolkien’s original creation myth was significantly different from the finalised version in the Silmarillion. After his first attempt at creating a story of the Sun and the Moon, Tolkien rewrote the story many times, trying to find a version that was mostly consistently with the known creation of the universe.
In the initial version, the last gifts from the Trees were strange, and enormous. The Sun’s fruit was extremely bright and hot even to the Valar, who were awestruck but disquieted by what they had put in motion. The:
“anger and distress of certain of the Valar at the burning light of the Sun enforces the feeling that in the last fruit of Laurelin a terrible and unforeseen power has been released.” (Morgoth’s Ring, p372)
When released into the sky, the Sun then increased even further in heat and brilliance.
From a later, unnamed text (published in Morgoth’s Ring: The Sun was always present when the Ainur arrived in the world. Melkor then started interfering with the Sun’s natural pattern so that at periods it was too hot and at other times, too cold. Melkor was then exiled from the world, and he only ever returned in secrecy, under the cover of darkness. To stop this, the Valar created the Moon to shine in the night and to watch and ward the circle of the world. It was initially guarded by the Vala Tilion, but Melkor gathered an army of spirits against him, and cast him out, leaving the Moon steerless and vagrant. At some point, Melkor also assailed the Sun, but for the purpose of making its Vala, Aren, his wife. She refused, and her spirit was released from Eä in a flame of wrath and anguish. Melkor was blackened and burned at the same time, and his form was ever after dark and foul.
After the Two Trees were destroyed,. Tilion came back to the Moon, which ever after remained an enemy of Melkor and the beloved of the elves.
The Moon was formed from the last silver flower of Telperion. He was named Isil the Sheen by the Vanyar, while the Noldor knew him as Rána the Wayward.
The Maia who steered the island of the Moon was Tilion, who had previously been a hunter of the company of Oromë. He used to spend time in Lórien, lying in dream by the pools of Estë, under Telperion’s flickering beams, and when the moon was created, he begged the Valar to let him tend the vessel in the sky.
Isil was the first of the lights to be made ready, and he was the first to rise into the realm of the stars. Like Telperion, he was considered the elder of the two lights. Tilion crossed the heavens seven times before Arien was released into the sky. Varda had intended that the two vessels would each spend half the day in the sky, the moon setting in the west as the sun rose in the east. But Tilion was ever wayward and erratic in his path and speed, and he sought to come near to Arien, being drawn by her fiery splendour. So then Varda changed her plans, and the Moon rose in the east only after the Sun had passed under the earth, but on occasions the Moon could still be seen in the sky at the same time as the Sun, for Tilion remained ever wayward in his journey. The world was thus given a period each day where it was bathed in twilight and shadow.
When the Moon set, Tilion plunged immediately into the chasm beyond the Outer Sea, making his way among the caverns and grottos at the roots of Arda, wandering long, and often late returning to his allotted path.
Morgoth hated the new lights, and while he was too afraid of Arien’s fire to war against her, he assaulted Tilion, sending spirits of shadow against him. However, eventually Tilion prevailed against Morgoth’s darkness. As a result of these attacks, the Valar resolved to fortify Valinor against the malice of Morgoth. They raised the Pelori to dreadful heights, and they set towers and sentinels in the Calacirya. They also set the Enchanted Isles in the ocean, and filled the seas around them with shadows and bewilderment. Thus the Hiding of Valinor from the lands of Middle-earth can be seen as a direct result of the creation of the Sun and the Moon, and thus the destruction of the Two Trees. .
In the Halls of Turgon in Gondolin, the King himself made images of the Two Trees. The image he made with silver flowers was called Belthil – the “Divine Radiance”.
White Tree of Tirion (Galathilion)
The elves of Tirion loved Telperion more than any other thing in Valinor, and so Yavanna made them a tree like to a lesser image of the White Tree, though it gave out no light. Galathilion was planted in the courts beneath the Mindon Eldaliéva (the Tower of Ingwë) It had many seedlings, one of which was planted in Tol Eressëa.
The story was slightly changed in the Lord of the Rings, where Galathilion was an actual seedling of Telperion.
White Tree of Eressëa (Celeborn)
Celeborn (“tree of silver”) was grown in Tol Eressëa from a seedling taken from Galathilion.
White Tree of Númenor (Nimloth)
The Eldar brought a gift of a seedling of Celeborn to Númenor where the tree was planted in the courts of the King in Armenelos. It flowered in the evening, and filled the night with its fragrance. Its name, Nimloth (“pale blossom”), was the Sindarin form of the Quenya Ninquelótë, one of the names of Telperion.
Under successive kings of Númenor, the tree became more and more unloved. By the reign of Ar-Gimilzôr, the tree had become completely untended and began to decline. As Sauron rose to greater power in the land, he urged Ar-Pharazôn to cut down the White Tree – a memorial of the Eldar and the pure light of Valinor. At first, Ar-Pharazôn refused, as he believed that the fate of his House was intertwined with the fate of the Tree.
And while Ar-Pharazôn was still refusing Sauron’s demands, Isildur crept into the courts of the King and took from the Tree a fruit that was hanging on it. He had to fight his way out of the court, and received many wounds, but he managed to get the fruit into the hands of Amandil, one of the Faithful. The fruit was planted in secret, and blessed by Amandil. The next spring it sprouted, and when its first leaf opened, Isildur who remained near to death from his wounds, arose and was troubled no more by his pains.
Soon after the theft of the fruit, Ar-Pharazôn gave into Sauron’s demands, and felled the White Tree. Sauron later burnt the wood of Nimloth on the first fire of the altar in the Temple of Morgoth.
White Tree of Gondor
When the Faithful left Númenor, Isildur took the sapling of Nimloth with him, and it was planted in Minas Ithil. Many years later, when Sauron had regained his power and was making war against Gondor, he took Minas Ithil and destroyed the White Tree. But Isildur escaped his wrath, and took a seedling of the tree with him on his journey to find Elendil.
That seedling was then planted in the courts of the Kings of Men in Minas Anor, where it thrived for many years, reminding the exiles of the Eldar and the Blessed Realm. The livery of the line of Elendil came to include the Tree, being black with a white tree blossoming like snow beneath a silver crown and many-pointed stars.
Towards the end of the Third Age, the tree died – but it remained for the Gondorians a symbol of peace and happiness:.
“For myself,” said Faramir, “I would see the White Tree in flower again in the courts of the kings, and the Silver Crown return, and Minas Tirith in peace.”
It was then thought that the White Trees had passed out of the world, until Aragorn and Mithrandir found a seedling in the snows of Mindolluin above Minas Tirith after the War of the Ring. It was a sapling no more than three foot high, but it had already put forth young leaves, dark above and silver below, and it bore one cluster of white-petalled flowers.
“And Gandalf coming looked at it, and said: “Verily this is a sapling of the line of Nimloth the fair; and that was a seedling of Galathilion, and that a fruit of Telperion of many names, Eldest of Trees. Who shall say how it comes here in the appointed hour? But this is an ancient hallow, and ere the kings failed or the Tree withered in the court, a fruit must have been set here. For it is said that, though the fruit of the Tree comes seldom to ripeness, yet the life within may then lie sleeping through many long years, and none can foretell the time in which it will awake. Remember this. For if ever a fruit ripens, it should be planted, lest the line die out of the world. Here it has lain hidden on the mountain, even as the race of Elendil lay hidden in the wastes of the North. Yet the line of Nimloth is older far than your line, King Elessar.”
Aragorn took the sapling back to Minas Tirith. The Withered Tree was uprooted, and laid to rest in Rath Dínen, then the new tree was then planted. Soon the White Tree flowered again in the Courtyard, reminding all the Kings of Men of the Eldar Days.
The Sun was formed from the last fruit of Laurelin, and she was named Anor the Fire-golden by the Vanyar. However, the Noldor knew her as Vása, the Heart of Fire, that awakens and consumes, for to them the Sun was set as a sign of the awakening of Men and the waning of the Elves. Indeed, Men were often known as the Children of the Sun.
Arien was the Maia chosen by the Valar to guide the Sun through the sky. In the days of the Trees, she had tended the golden flowers in the gardens of Vána, and watered them with the bright dews of Laurelin. She was chosen as she was a fire spirit, and so had not been afraid of the scorching heats of Laurelin, nor was she burned by them.
“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 wore there, and she was as a naked flame, terrible in the fullest of her splendour.”
Anor was the second of the lights to rise into the sky, and as her brightness illuminated the heavens and the earth, Morgoth was dismayed, and retreated into the depths of the earth in his fortress of Angband. He then sent forth great dark clouds to hide his lands from Anor’s heat and light.
After her journey across the sky each day, Anor rested a while in the cool Outer Sea, allowing the world a time of dusk and shadow. Then the Sun was drawn down below the Earth by the servants of Ulmo, and journeyed through the night to rise again in the east at the start of the next day. During the night, Valinor had little light, and it was then that the Valar mourned most for the passing of Laurelin.
In the Halls of Turgon in Gondolin, the King himself made images of the Two Trees. The image he made of gold was called Glingal – the “Hanging Flame”.
Flame of Anor
One of the more problematic things which would seem to be related to the sun, and thus to Laurelin, is the Flame of Anor. However, it actually seems as if there is little direct connection between them, as all indications suggest that the Flame of Anor is either a reference to the spark of life with which Ilúvatar embued his children, or a reference to the “holiness” of the Ainur.
From the Silmarils …
“Foam flower”. Vingilot was the ship that Eärendil and Círdan built together of white birch. Her oars were golden, and her sail was silver.
When Eärendil and Elwing reached the Blessed Realm, Vingilot was hallowed by the Valar, and it was borne away through Valinor to the uttermost rim of the world. There it passed through the Doors of Night and was lifted up into the oceans of heaven. The boat was filled with a wavering flame, pure and bright, and Eärendil sat at the helm, glistening with the dust of elven-gems, and with a Silmaril bound to his brow. Together they journeyed far through the heavens, but was most often seen from Arda in the mornings and evenings, glimmering at sunset and sunrise.
At Eärendil’s first rising, the people of Middle-earth called it Gil-Estel, Star of High Hope.
“Maedhros spoke to Maglor his brother, and he said: “Surely that is a Silmaril that shines now in the West?.”
And Maglor answered: “If it be truly the Silmaril which we saw cast into the sea that rises again by the power of the Valar, then let us be glad; for its glory is seen now by many, and is yet secure from all evil.” Then the Elves looked up, and despaired no longer; but Morgoth was filled with doubt.”
Phial of Galadriel
“She held up a small crystal phial: it glittered as she moved it, and rays of white light sprang from her hand. “In this phial,” she said, “is caught the light of Eärendil’s star, set amid the waters of my fountain. It will shine still brighter when night is about you. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out. Remember Galadriel and her Mirror!””