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Thread: Of Vai and I Vene Kemen

  1. #1
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    Of Vai and I Vene Kemen

    Anyone who has read The Book of Lost Tales I is familiar with the drawing I Vene Kemen . It depicts the world as a ship that is floating on one massive ocean called Vai.
    It is seen from the drawing that the world floats in and upon Vai.
    - The Book of Lost Tales I, The Coming of the Valar

    And Ulmo has said this of the massive ocean:
    Lo, there is but one ocean, and that is Vai, for those that Ossë esteemeth as oceans are but seas, waters that lie in the hollows of the rock... In this vast water floweth the wide earth upheld by the world of Ilúvatar...
    I don't really get whether this whole Vai idea is how the world really is or if this was just an early idea of Tolkiens that was later cast to the side. Does anyone know if this theory lived on?
    Aurë entuluva!

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    A early idea. In Tolkien's "latter" works, Tolkien held that Arda had always been round, rather then it being made round after the fall of Númenór.

    Many of Tolkien's BoLT ideas were not incorporated into his works. They served (in the end) as a beginning. BoLT is a lot more fantastical and archaic then his later works. It could be that that the BoLT mythology was more influenced by other mythologies then his latter works.
    Curiosity is insubordination in its purest form-Vladimir Nabokov

    Do not read as children do to enjoy themselves, or, as the ambitious do to educate themselves. No, read to live. -Gustave Flaubert

    We are not provided with wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can take for us, an effort which no one can spare us.-Marcel Proust

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    It should be noted that CT considers the mast, sails and prow a later addition to the drawing.

    Myths portraying the earth floating on, or encircled by, the sea are not uncommon (c.f. Genesis 1:9, Greek Okeanos, Germanic/Nordic myths: Midgardsormr, Kalevala 1:94ff, etc.). One of the most interesting IMO is one of India where the world is borne by elephants who in their turn stand on the back of a turtle swimming in the sea.

    The earth envisioned as a sailing boat drifting on the sea, however, was new to me. But it is not all that far-fetched, since we can easily imagine the earth as a spaceship drifting in the ocean of the universe....
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    Originally posted by Inderjit S
    In Tolkien's "latter" works, Tolkien held that Arda had always been round, rather then it being made round after the fall of Númenór.
    So in present-day Tolkien (if you will), Arda has always been round and was not flat in the first age? I thought the theory of Eru bending the flat world to hinder mortals was in the Sil and UT though? Oh well, but that is new to me. Could you elaborate more? Thanks for the info
    Aurë entuluva!

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    Originally posted by redline2200
    So in present-day Tolkien (if you will), Arda has always been round and was not flat in the first age?
    No, this can't be taken for granted. The "round world version" of the Ainulindalë was only one of the 3 post-LotR versions (as published in HoMe X), and was - according to CT - set aside (probably due to Katherine Farrer's remarks in a reply to Tolkien's letter #115 about the manuscript, which Tolkien had lent to her) :
    Ainulindale C* was thus an experiment, conceived and composed, as it appears, before the writing of The Return of the King, and certainly before The Lord of the Rings was finished. It was set aside; but as will appear later in this book, it was by no means entirely forgotten.

    Morgoth's Ring - Ainulindalë
    CT's note that the "Round Earth" idea will appear later in this book, it was by no means entirely forgotten is referring to other elaborations of Tolkien presented in the chapters "Myth's Transformed" (also in HoMeX).

    But, generally, the idea can - IMO - hardly be considered Tolkiens latest view on this issue, nor a "final" or "definitive" one...

    ----

    Edit: I just noted that there exist - at least - 2 threads dealing with this issue: Think Tank Discusion: Flat vs Round? and Round Earth-Flat Earth-Tolkien Cosmology.

    P.S.: "...the feedback of that gal..." in one of the posts of the former thread is referring to the reply of Mrs. Farrer mentioned above (Mrs. Farrer was a writer of detective stories, who was married to the theologian Austin Farrer, then Chaplain of Trinity College, Oxford) ...
    Last edited by Walter; 12-22-2003 at 11:23 AM.
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    Tolkien *wanted* Arda to be as 'realistic' as possible. He was critical of the ridiculous notion that the sun+moon came from the Two Trees.

    All his latter writings ('Quendi and Eldar'; 'Of Dwarves and Men') work with the latter theory that the Sun+Moon were there from the start of Arda, and that Men awoke soon after the Elves.

    Tolkien's canonical works ('The Hobbit', 'The Lord of the Rings') in fact can be seen as supporting the round Earth theory. (note Gimli's song.)
    Curiosity is insubordination in its purest form-Vladimir Nabokov

    Do not read as children do to enjoy themselves, or, as the ambitious do to educate themselves. No, read to live. -Gustave Flaubert

    We are not provided with wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can take for us, an effort which no one can spare us.-Marcel Proust

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    Inderjit, your post has puzzled me. I am not sure I understand what your point is, since you - IMO - are addressing a few quite different aspects and elements:
    Quote Originally Posted by Inderjit S
    Tolkien *wanted* Arda to be as 'realistic' as possible. He was critical of the ridiculous notion that the sun+moon came from the Two Trees.
    Which Arda are we talking about and how do you define "realistic"? I mean a world inhabited by dragons, Elves, Balrogs, etc. doesn't deem me alltogether "realistic".

    Why would you - since I don't think Tolkien ever did that - call the sun and the moon as originating from the trees "ridiculous"? I am aware that Tolkien called it "astronomically absurd" at one point, but a mythical origin and an astronomically realistic one do not necessarily have to match.
    Quote Originally Posted by Inderjit S
    All his latter writings ('Quendi and Eldar'; 'Of Dwarves and Men') work with the latter theory that the Sun+Moon were there from the start of Arda, and that Men awoke soon after the Elves.
    Now you are addressing the time of the creation of sun and moon, and I don't see why this has to be connected to a flat or a round earth. What did you mean?
    Quote Originally Posted by Inderjit S
    Tolkien's canonical works ('The Hobbit', 'The Lord of the Rings') in fact can be seen as supporting the round Earth theory. (note Gimli's song.)
    Could you explain that a little more in detail, please?
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    I am aware that Tolkien called it "astronomically absurd" at one point, but a mythical origin and an astronomically realistic one do not necessarily have to match.
    This descends from the oldest forms of the mythology - when it was still intended to be no more than another primitive mythology, though more coherent and less 'savage'. It was consequently a 'Flat Earth' cosmogony (much easier to manage anyway): the Matter of Númenor had not been devised.
    It is now clear to me that in any case the Mythology must actually be a 'Mannish' affair. (Men are really only interested in Men and in Men's ideas and visions.) The High Eldar living and being tutored by the demiurgic beings must have known, or at least their writers and loremasters must have known, the 'truth' (according to their measure of understanding). What we have in the Silmarillion etc. are traditions (especially personalized, and centred upon actors, such as Fëanor) handed on by Men in Númenor and later in Middle-earth (Arnor and Gondor); but already far back - from the first association of the Dúnedain and Elf-friends with the Eldar in Beleriand - blended and confused with their own Mannish myths and cosmic ideas.
    At that point (in reconsideration of the early cosmogonic parts) I was inclined to adhere to the Flat Earth and the astronomically absurd business of the making of the Sun and Moon. But you can make up stories of that kind when you live among people who have the same general background of imagination, when the Sun 'really' rises in the East and goes down in the West, etc. When however (no matter how little most people know or think about astronomy) it is the general belief that we live upon a 'spherical' island in 'Space' you cannot do this any more
    One loses, of course, the dramatic impact of such things as the first 'incarnates' waking in a starlit world - or the coming of the High Elves to Middle-earth and unfurling their banners at the first rising of the Moon
    What we have in the Silmarillion etc. are traditions ... handed on by Men in Númenor and later in Middle-earth (Arnor and Gondor); but already far back - from the first association of the Dúnedain and Elf-friends with the Eldar in Beleriand - blended and confused with their own Mannish myths and cosmic ideas
    The Making of the Sun and Moon must occur long before the coming of the Elves; and cannot be made to be after the death of the Two Trees - if that occurred in any connexion with the sojourn of the Noldor in Valinor. The time allowed is too short. Neither could there be woods and flowers &c. on earth, if there had been no light since the overthrow of the Lamps!
    But how can, nonetheless, the Eldar be called the 'Star-folk'?
    Since the Eldar are supposed to be wiser and have truer knowledge of the history and nature of the Earth than Men (or than Wild Elves), their legends should have a closer relation to the knowledge now possessed of at least the form of the Solar System (== Kingdom of Arda) though it need not, of course, follow any 'scientific' theory of its making or development
    Quotes from Myths Transformed; HoME 10

    Tolkien claims that the Silmarillion is a Númenórean tale (rather then a Elvish one-Pengoloð; Rivendell, Bilbo and Findegil). So the Sun+Moon being in Arda from it's start as opposed to the theory that they came from the Two Trees can be seen as Tolkien's 'last' or 'definitive' view, but of course what you choose to believe is up to you. The Silmarillion should be written in accord with the Sun+Moon from Two Trees theory because it is a Númenórean tale and thus the book must contain the astrological misconceptions of Men. Men made there own legends-and the Sun+Moon coming form the Two Trees was a Mannish myth (such things of course happen in our world. There are lot's of 'primitive' stories about the Sun+Moon in different cultures around the world, which have been 'debunked' by conventional Science)

    dragons, Elves, Balrogs, etc. doesn't deem me alltogether "realistic
    Personally, I don't find the existence of creatures unrealistic, but I find the story of the Sun and Moon coming from two trees very unrealistic. Those are just my views, not Tolkien’s. It may seem slightly paradoxical to you, but hey, that's human nature.

    I am aware that Tolkien called it "astronomically absurd" at one point, but a mythical origin and an astronomically realistic one do not necessarily have to match.
    The two go hand in hand. The round earth mythology correlates with the Sun+Moon from the start of Arda because the creation a round earth has to have Sun+Moon. How were Men able to see if there was no Sun+Moon and how could things grow for Men to eat. (And Dwarves and Elves) In ‘Quendi and Eldar’ Tolkien solves the problem of the Elves being called the ‘star-folk’ by claiming they awoke on a clear, cloudless night and the first thing they saw was the stars.

    If Tolkien used a theory in his latter writings then I see no reason as to why it cannot be the definitive view.

    Could you explain that a little more in detail, please?
    Gimli's song about Durin mentions the Moon.

    "The world was young, the mountains green,
    No stain yet on the Moon was seen....
    The light of sun and star and moon
    In shining lamps of crystal hewn
    Undimmed by cloud or shade of night
    There shone for ever fair and bright
    Curiosity is insubordination in its purest form-Vladimir Nabokov

    Do not read as children do to enjoy themselves, or, as the ambitious do to educate themselves. No, read to live. -Gustave Flaubert

    We are not provided with wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can take for us, an effort which no one can spare us.-Marcel Proust

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    Well, let us not be hasty…

    Or - as a more learned enthusiast once remarked: there are Tolkien's latest thoughts, his best thoughts, and his published thoughts, and these are not necessarily the same...

    Knowing how well you know your Tolkien, Inderjit, I am sure you have also read CT's comments on the subsequent pages from where you took your first quote (HoMeX 370ff.), so I won't bother you with manifold quotes from those parts.

    Of course it is up to me what I believe, but surely CT's statements on p. 383, have played a certain role that I still think that the "round earth" version represented neither Tolkien's latest nor his best thoughts on the issue: The one where he mentions his fathers notes where he "...was still asking himself whether he should 'keep the old mythological story of the making of the Sun and Moon, or alter the background to a "round earth" version'..." as well as the concluding sentence: "It may be, though I have no evidence on the question one way or the other, that he came to perceive from such experimental writing as this text that the old structure was too comprehensive, too interlocked in all its parts, indeed its roots too deep, to withstand such a devastating surgery."

    I have no reason to distrust CT and refrain to believe that these mentioned notes do not actually exist. Rather, it indicates to me, that Tolkien with his post-LoTR Silmarillion was "... pulled in two directions by competing forces: by Mythology on one side, and by History and Science on the other." as Wayne G. Hammond has put it so superbly.

    Also, I can easily comprehend CT's thoughts about the "devastating" effects this surgery would have on the whole of Tolkien's Legendarium. (And not only because V. Flieger would have to re-write her book Splintered Light ). Light -as a symbol of "Goodness" and "Spirituality" - and Language are two crucial elements in Tolkien's Legendarium, and the Two Trees, with their nearly perfect light, deem me almost inseparably connected with Valinor and the role it plays in Arda. Summoning the awakening Quendi to the "light" of the Valar in Valinor and away from the "darkness" of Melko in Middle-earth would certainly have a different - and IMO lesser - mythological "quality", if the sun was already about at that time. Would a distinction between Calaquendi and Moriquendi still make the same sense and have the same "inner meaning"? These are but a few of the things that come to my mind immediately...

    Hence I have no particular reason to assume that a "round earth with the sun and the moon about from the beginning" were Tolkien's final or definitive thoughts until someone can produce a text by Tolkien that says so...

    All mythologies and Fairy-stories differ from reality, and usually not only to a small degree. Tolkien's invented mythology needed IMO not be any more realistic than other comparable mythologies which have "grown" over centuries. And which points in it one takes issue with as too "unrealistic" or "ridiculous" depends on the subjective point of view...
    Last edited by Walter; 12-27-2003 at 08:01 PM.
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    am sure you have also read CT's comments on the subsequent pages from where you took your first quote
    Yes I have. But C.T is not his father. His opinion is valuable but by no means definitive

    Light -as a symbol of "Goodness" and "Spirituality" - and Language are two crucial elements in Tolkien's Legendarium, and the Two Trees, with their nearly perfect light, deem me almost inseparably connected with Valinor and the role it plays in Arda
    But the Sun+Moon does not wholly diminish the importance and beauty of the Two Trees. The Sun's light was tainted (because of Melkor's ravishing of Arien). The two Trees still light up Aman, like before; but unlike before there is light (albeit tainted) in Middle-Earth rather then perpetual darkness. Melkor then puts forth a great darkness covering Arda (apart from Aman) in a great darkness and blocking off all light. (Though this darkness was said to lose it’s effectiveness further South..)

    Manwë then sends a great wind to drive away the dark and the lights seem exceptionally bright. Isn’t that beautiful too? Albeit not as "great" as Varda's creation of the major stars from the vats of the Two Trees, but I find it romantically poignant for some reason.

    Would a distinction between Calaquendi and Moriquendi still make the same sense and have the same "inner meaning"? These are but a few of the things that come to my mind immediately...
    Yes-the Trees never lose their beauty.

    There also existed two old compounds containing *kwendī: *kala-kwendī and *mori-kwendī, the Light-folk and the Dark-folk. These terms appear to go back to the period before the Separation, or rather to the time of the debate among the Quendi concerning the invitation of the Valar. They were evidently made by the party favourable to Orome, and referred originally to those who desired the Light of Valinor (where the ambassadors of the Elves reported that there was no darkness), and those who did not wish for a place in which there was no night. But already before the final separation *mori-kwendī may have referred to the glooms and the clouds dimming the sun and the stars during the War of the Valar and Melkor, so that the term from the beginning had a tinge of scorn, implying that such folk were not averse to the shadows of Melkor upon Middle-earth.
    Quendi and Eldar; HoME 11

    All mythologies and Fairy-stories differ from reality, and usually not only to a small degree. Tolkien's invented mythology needed IMO not be any more realistic than other comparable mythologies which have "grown" over centuries. And which points in it one takes issue with as too "unrealistic" or "ridiculous" depends on the subjective point of view...
    I agree. I have never found the concept of Elves etc. weird though-after all what is so normal about human beings?

    Well, I'll guess we will have to agree to disagree. (On the matter of the sun and Moon.) It was nice debating with you though; it's not often I get to debate with such a well-learned and renowned scholar.
    Curiosity is insubordination in its purest form-Vladimir Nabokov

    Do not read as children do to enjoy themselves, or, as the ambitious do to educate themselves. No, read to live. -Gustave Flaubert

    We are not provided with wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can take for us, an effort which no one can spare us.-Marcel Proust

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    Quote Originally Posted by Inderjit S
    Well, I'll guess we will have to agree to disagree. (On the matter of the sun and Moon.) It was nice debating with you though; it's not often I get to debate with such a well-learned and renowned scholar.
    But why stop the discussion, Indy!?!
    The pleasure was not only yours while having it, but also mine (and I hope others') while reading it!

    If I may, I'd say that the variant of the Trees >>Sun+Moon as found in the BoLT-1 is to me a tale of outstanding beauty, romanticism, wild fantasy... In other words, I personally like it much more than the "dry" scientific version in the PS. I admit there are points in those tales, however, that could be ..."questioned" by reason (like f.ex. the strength of the light of the Trees)...But, why would reason "question" fantasy at all !?!
    To me it is unfortunate that in the PS we find Tolkien's probably latest but IMO not his best thoughts!
    Say this to Manwë Súlimo, High King of Arda: if Fëanor cannot overthrow Morgoth, at least he delays not to assail him, and sits not idle in grief. And it may be that Eru has set in me a fire greater than thou knowest.
    Yea, in the end they shall follow me!


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    I don't know if I would describe myself as "dry" or "scientific"-I tend to like fantastical theories (when they cannot be disproved) rather then Scientific ones.

    But, I really favour the theory that the Sun+Moon existed in Arda from it's start. I prefer the story that Men didn't awake with the Rising of the Sun, that Men had their own histories and myths (Such as the ones given in 'Of Dwarves and Men'), though that is not to say that they didn't have their own myths etc. when they awoke with the Sun, but this version gives them a expanded history and makes for way more interesting reading.

    We also get the idea (notes to Ósanwe-Kenta) that the original lifespan of Men was 200-300 years before their corruption by Morgoth (Athrabeth) though Andreth's assertion that Men were (by nature) immortal was off the mark.

    We of course lose a lot of beautiful elements of the previous mythos, Varda's kindling of the major stars that resulted in the awakening of the Elves, the arrival of Fingolfin with the first arising of the Moon-but (in my eyes) Tolkien's latter thoughts are preferable, as I like them better.
    Curiosity is insubordination in its purest form-Vladimir Nabokov

    Do not read as children do to enjoy themselves, or, as the ambitious do to educate themselves. No, read to live. -Gustave Flaubert

    We are not provided with wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can take for us, an effort which no one can spare us.-Marcel Proust

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    There is much fantasy for the sake of fantasy in Tolkien’s early writings, where the shimmering of stars and the occurrences of eclipses and the origin of gems and water beneath the earth and so forth are explained in mythological style. The earth is flat with a domed sky above in which individual stars in ismall vessels sail above the lower air.

    But in letter 157:
    So deep was the impression made by ‘astronomy’ on me that I do not think I could deal with or imaginatively conceive a flat world, though a world of static Earth with a Sun going round it seems easier (to fancy if not to reason).
    Can this be the same person?

    In part the difference may come because Tolkien in his early tales wrote in a mode where he was creating an idiosyncratic mythology while in his later tales the mythological elements were pushed to the sidelines. If Middle-earth is to be imaginatively our own world then can suspension of disbelief bear the concept that this world was one actually flat and unlit by Sun or Moon, yet was not unberably cold, that plants and animals dwelt there and that even seasons occurred, that the northern regions even then were cold and the equatorial regions hot.

    Such concepts had to be discarded as a reality. Less and less in Tolkien’s later writings does wild fantasy break free.

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    Re: Of Vai and I Vene Kemen

    Veeery interesting all this.
    To me it comes down to this eternal debate of whether to interpret Tolkien's last writings as his "definitive" ones. I certainly by all means see the logic and reason in doing so, and many times find myself doing so, but does anyone else get the feeling that drastic change was completely inevitable given Tolkien's long life and exceptional amount of time to mold his universe?
    It is difficult to accurately put in words, but I feel as though even if he had "perfected" his universe by the age of 60 (hypothetically speaking, I am not at all suggesting this), he would have still had to change it in his later years just for the mere sake of having nothing else to do!
    Sometimes I find myself wondering (and perhaps believing) if his "best" or most "poetic" or most "beautiful" (all in my opinion of couse) works and ideas were conceived at the late-mid point of his life and writings, after he had time to really mold the early ideas out of the unevolved beginnings and before he got old enough to change for the sake of change.

    Just my humble ponderings though...
    Aurë entuluva!

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