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Stars

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Stars by Douglas Chaffee

Stars play a prominent role in Tolkien's mythology. According to The Silmarillion, the stars were created by the Vala Varda (thus her names Tintalle = Q. Kindler, Elentari = Q. Star-queen, Elbereth = S. Star-queen). She created them in two phases: first, in the earliest ages of the creation of Arda, and second, prior to the awakening of the Elves. She made the second group using collected light from the Silver Tree, Telperion. These were the brighter of the stars that we see. This group included many of the prominent constellations, including Menelmacar (Orion) and the Valacirca (the Sickle of the Valar, the Big Dipper).

Also created in the second group appear to be many of what we would consider planets rather than stars. These are named Carnil, Luinil, Nenar, Lumbar, Aiwenórë, and Elemmírë. In his introduction to the Index of Morgoth's Ring, Christopher Tolkien identifies these, respectively, with the planets Mars, Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mercury. Most of these identifications appear to be fairly certain, although there are astronomical problems with the identifications of Neptune and Uranus in the context of the mythology. Note that Venus is not included on this list, as in the mythology, it is not a star (or planet), but rather a Silmaril.

Note that in the standard mythology of the published Silmarillion, the stars of both groups were created long before the Sun and the Moon. They thus contain the unsullied light of creation, and are therefore particularly sacred to the Elves.

The Elves first awoke under the stars (the Sun and Moon did not exist), and the stars were the first thing they saw. The earliest words spoken by the Elves are associated with the stars. According to the Appendix of The Silmarillion, "according to Elvish legend, ele was a primitive exclamation 'behold!' made by the Elves when they first saw the stars. From this origin derived the ancient words el and elen, meaning 'star'." Moreover, when Oromë first met the Elves, he too associated them with the stars and named them the Eldar, the People of the Stars. So important was this identification of the Elves with the stars to Tolkien that when he considered revising his creation myths so that the Sun and Moon existed from an earlier time (see Morgoth's Ring), he still insisted that the Elves must have awoken under the stars.

One frequently-occurring object in the mythology that is not a star but is frequently identified with one is the Star of Eärendil. Following his successful mission to persuade the Valar to intervene in the wars against Morgoth in the First Age, Eärendil and his ship, along with the last remaining Silmaril, were placed in the sky as a sign of hope to the faithful people of Middle-earth. After the war against Morgoth was concluded, a group of the Edain followed Eärendil's star to the newly created island that would become Númenor. Consequently, one of the names of that island was Elenna, or "Starwards". The Star of Eärendil is identified with the Evening or Morning Star, i.e. the planet Venus.

Various characters use stars as emblems throughout the legendarium. An eight-rayed star represents the House of Fëanor, and seven eight-rayed stars above a crown and anvil are the emblems of Durin. Both of these are depicted on the West-gate of Moria (the former because Celebrimbor, one of the makers of the doors, was a descendant of Fëanor). Seven stars appeared on the banner of Gondor. Certain jewels are also described as stars, notably the Star of Elendil that Aragorn wore into the Battle of Pelennor Fields. In the Lay of Nimrodel, it is said that "A star was bound upon her brow," clearly describing some kind of jewel.

Other prominent references to stars in The Lord of the Rings include:

  • Frodo's greeting to Gildor, Elen síla lúmenn' omentielvo (Quenya: "A star shines on the hour of our meeting.")
  • Sam's song in Cirith Ungol concludes "...above all shadows rides the Sun, and Stars for ever dwell. I will not say the Day is done, nor bid the Stars farewell."
  • Travelling through Mordor, Sam sees a star, leading him to conclude that "In the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach."

"Star" in various languages

Middle-earth Cosmology
 Constellations  Anarríma · Durin's Crown · Menelmacar · Remmirath · Soronúmë · Telumendil · Valacirca · Wilwarin
Stars  Alcarinquë · Borgil · Carnil · Elemmírë · Helluin · Luinil · Lumbar · Morwinyon · Nénar · Star of Eärendil · Til 
The Airs  Aiwenórë · Fanyamar · Ilmen · Menel · Vaiya · Veil of Arda · Vista
Narsilion  Arien · Moon (Isil, Ithil, Rána) · Sun (Anar, Anor, Vása) · Tilion
See Also  Abyss · Arda · Circles of the World · · Timeless Halls · Two Lamps · Two Trees · Void