|Brief Description |
Melian the Maia Queen of Doriath.
Also called Tindriel and Wendelin.
Among Tolkien’s characters, few combine as much charm, lore and mystery as Melian. Unique and controversial, she is the only Spirit of the Kindred of Valar who had actual political power in Middle-earth; the only Maia to marry a Child of Eru and give birth; the wisest and most beautiful Child in Middle-earth. Here follows a biographical layout concerning the life and deeds of Melian, a Maia Queen; and several questions regarding the vague aspects of her personality.
|Melian’s Coming Into The World |
Melian’s existence started with the actual Beginning of Days.
|With the Valar came other spirits whose being also began before the World, of the same order as the Valar, but of less degree. Then are the Maiar, the people of the Valar, and their servants and helpers.|
|The Silmarillion; Valaquenta|
Little is known about the initial days of her life, as she came into being while the World was still shapeless and life was not measured yet. Therefore, it can be assumed that, in whatever form she existed then, she took part in the toil of the Vala in creating the new lands. Of her functions as a Vala servant in Valinor is only mentioned:
|Melian is the name of a Maia who served both Vana and Este; she dwelt long in Lorien, tending the trees that flower in the gardens of Irmo, ere she came to Middle-earth. Nightingales sang about her wherever she went.|
|The Silmarillion; Valaquenta|
In the Silmarillion and UT her appearance is somehow veiled in mystery. There is no detailed account or any physical portrait of her life in Valinor, probably because Maia spirits could possess miscellaneous shapes, and they, like Vala, would be best described as pure energy.
However, there is evidence that in earlier scripts Tolkien intended to give her a description still in Valinor, which much resembles the later features of Luthien.
|Queen Melian was slender and very dark of hair and her skin was white and pale, but her eyes shone seeming to hold great depths. Glad she was in filmy garments most lovely yet of the hell of or if ever she danced, dreams and slumbers passed over the heads with a strong wine of sleep. Indeed she was a sprite that, escaping from Lorien's gardens before even Kor was built, wandered in the wild places of the world in every lonely wood.|
|BoLT2; The Tale of Tinuviel|
This excerpts suggests that she had an Elvish-like physical body, but obviously later Tolkien altered this view with the concept that no sooner did she leave Valinor than she assumed the form of an Eldar.
Whatever form she existed in, it is certain that she was above all, gifted with an endowment of music.
Now, the next episode of Melian’s life is also shrouded in ambivalence. It is promptly stated that.
|She was a kin before the World was made to Yavanna herself; and in that time when the Quendi awoke beside the waters of Cuivienen she departed from Valinor and came to the Hither lands, and there she filled the silence of ME before the dawn with her voice and the voices of her birds.|
|The Silmarillion; Chapter 4|
Her departure from Valinor can be inmterpreted in different ways.
One assumption is that she left by her own will like other Maia who dearly cared for Arda and its beings. Still, how could she take such a decision on her own when her help was needed by Vana, Este, Irmo and Lorien? Her coming to the silence of ME and assuming the shape in which Thingol met her seems inexplicable. What exactly could be what drove her from Valinor and attracted her to ME?
Another possible reason for her departure might be the will of the Vala, meaning that SHE WAS SENT with a mission. But why? We see that before coming to ME (before Ch. 4 of the Silmarillion) she possessed qualities no more remarkable than those of her fellow Maia. We also know, that certain Maia like Osse, Eonwe and Olorin did complete missions and tasks of the Vala, but there is no such definite indication of Melian's special designation. She was probably let go to bring music to ME, but why did she go alone, without any other Maia to assist her in this vital quest? Why wasn't she revered like a Music Goddess then?
In each case, the logic of the forthcoming events shows, that in Tolkien's mind the significance of Melian the Fay gradually grew to Melian the Maia Queen. Therefore, her character in the beginning was quite romantic but later received the halo of might and lore in his scripts and she came to be a sorcerer, a prophet and a queen.
And so, driven to ME by doubtfull circumstances, Melian can be met in Nan Elmoth.
Here follows an episode that would probably cast some light on the previous questions about her shape and her reason to leave Valinor, or make them even more intangible.
Melian met ElweSingollo? in a way which seems to be Tolkien's favourite motif - a maiden dances in the twilight of a wood, a youth spots her and they fall in love and stay still for a long, long time enchanted in the magic of their meeting. This is a pattern to aspect in this description. It is implied in the passage that she had a voice to be heard, eyes to be looked into, a hand to be held-and obviously, a body to dance. Hence, when Elwe set eyes on her, she had already chosen a shape, a very beautiful one.
But there comes Chapter 22 from the Silmarillion "Of the Ruin of Doriath" where another passage might upset this theory.
|...her thought passed back to the starlit years and to their first meeting among the nightingales of Nan Elmoth in ages past.... For Melain was of the divine race of the Valar and she was a Maia of great power and wisdom but for love ElweSingollo? she took upon herself the form of the Eldar Children of Iluvatar, and in that union she became bound by the chain and trammels of the flesh of Arda. In that form she bore to him Luthien.|
It can be inferred, then, that she took on her Elvish appearance for love of Elwe. It contradicts what was said above. Certainly, then there's one satisfactory explanation that makes both passages true - that she was in love with Singollo before they even met! It can also mean that their marriage was predetermined by the Vala and perhaps the true reason for sending her to ME. This can be supported by the circumstances of their meeting - the inexplicable "spell" that drove Singollo there and petrified him and Melian's passive, speechless consent. And funny, she couldn't have seen him back in Valinor, for she arrived to ME before he woke up with the other Elves.
In all likelihood, the Vala, wanted a strain of the Ainur who were with Iluvatar before Ea to be passed on to Elves and Men. It is only a guess, but Melian's mission is best explained by her union with Thingol. It is another question to what extent she had been aware who he was and where she would meet him. Her love is somewhat weird. It is maybe more like her destiny than personal choice of a spouse.
Such an assumption settles partially the matter. Yet a new bunch of questions comes with the aftermath. If her love (or mission to pass on divine DNA) was the reason she left Valinor for ME, then I am in a quandary about other problems.
- First and foremost: Why Singollo? Was he the worthiest Elf to marry a Maia?
- Second: Did the Teleri really benefit from her emerging?
- Third: Why did she seem to break any relationship with Valinor thereafter?
It is indeed amazing how Tolkien prasied Thingol throughout the whole Silmarillion. Singollo is given so many titles of greatness and his positive deeds are purposefully emphasized. Yet, 99% of his actual doings strike with their folly!
Thingol’s woeful inadequacy is proven many times in many situations. It is an usual practice to disregard Melian’s prophecies, to take decisions of anger that lead to ruin, etc. Moreover, he is often greedy and cruel, but these I shall examine later.
It has been also often discussed that Tolkien likes the motif of "lessening marriages" and it is always the female that has to descend in the relation. A She-Maia? marries a He-Elf? and later She-Elves? marry He-Men?. It is a meaningful act most of the times, but I cannot understand why, of all the mighty, noble and handsome Elves in ME, should Melian marry Thingol in particular? What could have Tolkien's reasons be to "favour" Thingol so much?
Whatever, the answer is, the consequences of this union are quite curious - Melian becomes Queen of Doriath, assumes political power and takes part in the greatest events of the FirstAge, albeit Thingol’s narrow mindedness. And thereafter her life would become much more regular, still quite mysterious.
It is doubtful again whether Melain and Thingol's years of staring at each other in Nan Elmoth, was of any good to Thingol's people about whom he had forgotten in his enchantment. To a great extent Melian's appearance in the forest prevented eventually a great number of the Teleri to reach Valinor. So....If her arrival had been a mission, could we regard their staying in ME as part of a master plan?
Was their destiny to not see the Light of the Trees well justified by Melian’s origin? Was Luthien as Melian's offspring the reward to Thingol's people for being hindered from sailing West?
Again hard to answer but still - important questions that cast further controversy over Melian's character.
|...and Melain returned not thither (Valinor) while their realm together lasted.|
|The Silmarillion; Chapter 4 "Of Melian and Thingol"|
.....and later to Galadriel Melian says
|That I can see in you, but all else is hidden for me for not vision or thought can I perceive anything that passes in the west: a shadow lies over all the land of Aman, and reaches far out over the sea.|
|The Silmarillion; Chapter 15; "Of The Noldor in Beleriand"|
This passage suggests that the shadow of the Enemy is the reason why Melian had no tidings from the West any more. However, during the ThirdAge, when Sauron and the frailty of races in ME cast even a denser shadow, Olorin the Maia never ceased his connection with the Western Lords.
Isn't it somewhat inexplicable how Melian left Valinor and somehow lost her soul relation to it!? She still retained her Maia super qualities, but always stood aside from Valinor matters. It almost makes one think that there had been some conflict that drove her off Valinor, but of course that's just a guess open to interpretations and criticism.
Melian ruled as a Queen of the mightiest kingodm in ME. The history of Doriath itself and within the course of the major events in Beleriand the strong influence of Melian can be strongly traced and noticed from the very begininng to the very end.
The establishment and organization of Doriath as a powerful realm began with Melian's union with Thingol. He had a people and authority, but Melian had wisdom and a divine gift. Doriath came to be what it was mostly envisaged for in her visions.In fact, she was the dominant counterpart in the marriage and her actions served as an inaugurational force.
|Now Melian had much foresight after the manner of the Maiar and when the second age of the captivity of Melkor had passed she counselled Thingol that the peace of Arda would not last forever. He took thought therefore how he should make for himself a kingly dwelling, and a place that should be strong,if evil were to awake again in ME and he sought
aid and counsel of the Dwarves of Belegost.|
Thus Menegroth was built.
|Elves and Dwarves together, each with their own skill,there wrought out the visions of Melian - images of the wonder and beauty of Valinor beyond the Sea.|
Doriath's greatest stronghold was built and for some time the realm lived in a bliss.It is remarkable,too,how with the help of Melian's sorcery the Dwarves had become faithfull allies of the Sindar.
However,evil was never at rest and soon it reached even the fairest realm of Beleriand. No one was better aware of that than Melian who saw beyond the others.Fell creatures and evil spirits soon emerged in Doriath's vicinity.
|Wolves there were,or creatures that walked in wolf-shapes,and other fell beings of shadow and among them were the Orcs,who afterwards wrought ruin in Beleriand.|
King Thingol's response immediately followed:
|Therefore Thingol took thought for arms,which before his people ahd not needed,and these at first the Naugrim smithed for him.|
However,magnificent armoury and an alliance with the Naugrim proved not to be sufficient.
There was indeed a period of an unstable tranquillity and peace, but the forces of evil were bound to assault again and again, stayed only by the power of Melian.Doriath, as part of Beleriand,could not remain in peace for long.
|Thence sudden a great army came into Beleriand and assailed King Thingol. Now in his wide realm many Elves wandered free in the wild, or dwelt at peace in small kindreds ... but the Orcs came down upon either side of Menegroth .... they plundered far and wide and Thingol was cut off from Cirdan at Eglarest.|
Thingol called upon Denethor and albeit the Elves achieved a victory,it claimed many victims and caused many ruins. And it was clear,it was only the beginning.
Now Melian's role in the events by far seems vague.There is no clear record of her attitude to Thingol's policy. She must have seen with her foresight by that time already that evil could not be rivaled in this way. Probably, she supported the friendship with the Naugrim (she had charmed them long ago and they had been loyal to her). She couldn't have had anything against splendid arms. But still, there is no indication if she helped them with her spells. Besides the episode with Ungoliant, we have no clue of her sorcery in assistance for her army.
What was she thinking then? Why did she keep silence about the upcoming battles? That we can only guess. But it is said that it was not until that dearly-bougth victory that she demonstrated her might in all splendour.
And so Melian created the Girdle.
The Girdle of Melian is undoubtedly a marvel:
|...and Melian put forth her power and fenced all the dominion round about with an unseen wall of shadow and bewilderment the Girdle of Melian, that none thereafter could pass against her will or the will of King Thingol unless one should come with a power greater than that of Melian the Maia. And this inner land which was long named Eglador,was after called Doriath, the guarded Kingdom, Land of the Girdle.
Within it there was yet a watchful peace but without there was peril and great fear,and the servants of Morgoth roamed at will, save in the walled heavens of the Falas...
Doriath was never the same ever after.It is not enough to say that it was enchanted. It was isolated from the real world. However the Girdle of Melian brought various consesquences. It provided for Doriath an "oasis" of bliss in the turmoil of woeful times in Beleriand. On the other hand, it turned Doriath into the most passive of all realms in ME that did not take part in the great events in Beleriand and had only two great warriors to remember - Mablung and Beleg. The land guarded within the Girdle stood away from justifications for those restraints in important situations.
With its new status, Doriath was regarded as the safe kingdom where refuge and shelter was sought.
It's not surprising then how,throughout the events, it has accepted Galadriel, Turin, Morwen, Nienor and many more. Moreover,it was not only Doriath's tranquillity and spell that was attractive - Doriath became a synonym for good advice. The Realm itself represented the might of its Queen.
Even away from Valinor, Melian never ceased to be a Maia. Her most precious gift was undoubtedly her ability to see beyond what others did.
She was a prophet,though a sad one. She was like the Trojan Cassandra for she could sense, before all others, the tragedy of ME. And yet hardly ever her advice was heeded nor taken into consideration. Neither Thingol, nor Turin and his kin understood the depth of her foresight. And her own tragedy was that she could FORESEE, but she could not PREVENT evil deeds.
At first, as has already been said, she perceived the evil invasion around and her counsels availed to turn Doriath into a Guarded Kingdom. It's remarkable that in those early years of Doriath's existence Thingol still paid heed to her advice. Sadly,that was not always the case thereafter.
The first symptoms of her troublesome visions she shared at the Coming of the Noldor in Beleriand.
After a word with Galadriel, Melian felt premonitions. The next passage clearly shows her misgivings and a warning for king Thingol:
|...They (the Silmarils) shall not be recovered, I foretell, by any power of the Eldar and the world shall be broken in battles that are to come, ere they are wrested from Morgoth. See now! feanor they have slain, and many another, as I guess but the first of all the daeths they have brought and yet shall bring was Finwe your friend. Morgoth slew him ere he fled from Aman.
But Melian said:..."Beware of the sons of Feanor! The shadow of the wrath of the Valar ies upon them and they have done evil, I perceive, both to Aman and to their own kin."
And Thingol answered: "But what is that to me? Of Feanor I have heard but report, which makes him great indeed. Of his sons I hear little to my pleasure yet they are likely to prove the deadliest foes of our foe."
"Their swords and their counsels shall have two edges," - said Melian
and afterwards they spoke no more of this matter.
Thingol was far from being able to see the profound sense of her words. For at first he gave way to his anger and forbode the Sindar to speak the tounge of the Noldor, which was and inadequate decision after all. He did not feel the menace of the Silmarilli, which was Melian's real message.
Ever since Doriath's establishment as a place of security, Thingol showed a striking disregard to Melian's prophecies.The next episode of his refusal to see the truth, referrs to the coming of Man:
- "Into Doriath shall no Man come while my realm lasts, not even those of the house of Beor who serve Finrod the beloved".
- Now the world runs swiftly to great tidings and one of men, even of Beor's house, shall indeed come, and the Girdle of Melian shall not restrain him, for doom greater than my power shall send him and the songs of that coming shall endure when all Middle-earth is changed."
Again,Thingol fails to see that the vacuum of Doriath could not guarantee him eternal peace. Not only did Men come later to Doriath (Beren, Turin, Hurin) but also Thingol himself never actually could impose his will on who will pass through the Girdle. Obviously, Melian saw better the turn of doom and she let, or at least didn't stop, a Man enter the territory behind the Girdle. So she let Beren.
Melian must have known what doom Beren brought. But her infinite wisdom helped her perceive with her heart that though Beren and Luthien's union would be a sore wound to her heart,it would still give birth to a new hope for Middle-earth and in fact - for the whole world. Furthermore, she had herself experienced a similar marriage and she felt it was not her moral right to contradict her daughter's choice.
It is curious how little intimacy of mother-to-daughter relationship there is revealed on the pages of the Silmarillion. There is only one record of a conversation between mother and daughter.
Nevertheless, I tend to believe that their connection was stronger than words could probably express. Obviously there is no conflict between mother and daughter on the question of choosing a life partner for they seem to have had telepathic bond between themselves. All the time Melian is seen as being the friendly mother in-law during the excruciating talks between Beren and Thingol.
|Then Beren looking up beheld the eyes of Luthien,and his glance went also to the face of Melian and it seemed to him that words were put into his mouth...|
Here,and in all further acts of concealed assistence, Melian proves that she would not interfere with love and doom.
Not surprisingly, Thingol is far from such perception in depth. He stood away from the whole affair, albeit he had the impression he was in control of things. And thus he came up with Beren's quest and thus he discarded Melian's next vital warning.
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