gardens of lorien

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Places in Valinor: The Gardens of Lorien & the Isle of Estë

Irmo the younger is the master of visions and dreams. In Lórien are his gardens in the land of the Valar, and they are the fairest of all places in the world, filled with many spirits. Estë the gentle, healer of hurts and of weariness, is his spouse. Grey is her raiment; and rest is her gift. She walks not by day, but sleeps upon an island in the tree-shadowed lake of Lórellin. From the fountains of Irmo and Estë all those who dwell in Valinor draw refreshment; and often the Valar come themselves to Lórien and there find repose and easing of the burden of Arda.

I don’t know if I ever shared this..But it’s so beautiful I’ll just post it again! This was taken at Fernside, Lothlórien filming location near Wellington. I was very lucky to be allowed on these premises, it was Autumn and the leaves were golden and everything was just perfect!

The pillars of Menegroth were hewn in the likeness of the beeches of Orome, stock, bough, and leaf, and they were lit with lanterns of gold. The nightingales sung there as in the gardens of Lorien; and there were fountains of silver, and basins of marble, and floors of many-coloured stones. Carven figures of beasts and birds there ran upon the walls, or climbed upon the pillars, or peered among the branches entwined with many flowers. And as the years passed Melian and her maidens filled the halls with woven hangings wherein could be read the deeds of the Valar … That was the fairest dwelling of any king that has ever been east of the Sea.
—  Tolkien’s description of Menegroth’s beauty is one of the most detailed and breathtaking of the entire Silmarillion, in my opinion.  It also seems to be the most traditionally “elvish” or “faerie-like” dwelling we hear about in the novel, what with the seemingly enchanted carvings of animals (I like to think they actually moved or appeared to move), the magical sounds of nightingales, and the predictive tapestries of Melian and her maids. It’s a maze to become entangled in, a whole underground world to be enchanted by. Furthermore, it’s occupied by all manner of people - the Sindar, the Nandor, the Naugrim. It’s a place of unity, created by a union. Absolutely lovely.   
Hierarchy of the Maiar

“Powerful” is such a difficult word. Because what does that mean, exactly? Are we talking military power? “Magical” power? Political power? Sauron was definitely a powerful Maiar, but was he the most powerful? I don’t have a definite answer for you, but I don’t think he was. Below I’ve listed the most powerful of the Maiar, and I’ll just leave it up to you to decide which order to rank them in:

ARIEN

  • Who is she? Arien was a spirit of fire who once cared for Laurelin, one of the Two Trees of Valinor. After the trees were destroyed, she became the Maia who carries the sun across the sky each day.
  • Claim to fame: Arien was one of the few “spirits of fire” that Morgoth hadn’t won over to his side. In fact, in another version of the Silmarillion, Morgoth tries to make Arien his wife, and ends up killing her instead. In The Silmarillion, she described as: “Too bright were the eyes of Arien for even the Eldar to look on; she was as a naked flame, terrible in the fullness of her splendor.”

EONWE

  • Who is he? Manwe’s herald and banner-bearer. Considered one of the two leaders of the Maiar (Ilmare, Varda’s hand-maiden, being the other.) Later in the First Age, he leads the army from Valinor that fights in the War of Wrath.
  • Claim to fame: Eonwe is described as having great military/fighting power. In The Silmarillion, it’s said his “might in arms is surpassed by none in Arda.” He’s strong enough to capture Morgoth by the end of the War of Wrath, and in some versions of the Dagor Dagorath, he’s even the one to kill Morgoth in the end.

MELIAN

  • Who is she? Though she originally served in the gardens of Lorien in Valinor, Melian was more famous for her time as Queen of the Sindar in Doriath.
  • Clame to fame: During the First Age, Melian kept Doriath safe from Morgoth and his armies through the creation and maintenance of a sort of forcefield, called the Girdle of Melian. For about 500 years she managed to keep all enemies out (with a couple very special exceptions, but Fate got in the way for those two.) And while it’s never mentioned whether Morgoth or Sauron themselves tried to break through the Girdle, it means something that they never even tried.

OSSE

  • Who is he? One of Ulmo’s servants, Osse tends to focus on coastal waters and storms. He was nearly recruited by Morgoth in the beginning, but was saved from making that mistake by his wife Uinen. Osse had a good relationship with the Teleri elves, and taught them a lot about ships.
  • Clame to fame: The reason Morgoth tried to recruite Osse in the first place is because he “hated the sea, for he could not subdue it.” If Morgoth wanted to recruit Osse because he had skills that Morgoth did not, it should be assumed that he was pretty powerful.

SAURON

  • Who is he? Originally a servant of Aule, Sauron started following Morgoth instead pretty early on. He was considered to be Morgoth’s strongest servant, and was responsible for a lot of evil in Middle Earth, even before Morgoth’s defeat.
  • Claim to fame: When saying that he once served Aule, Tolkien tells us that Sauron “remained mighty in the lore of that people.” To be remembered in any way positively, after all the evil he did, tells me that he must have been pretty impressive. And in the later ages, he causes enough trouble to prompt the Valar to send the Istari to Middle Earth to deal with him.

THE ISTARI

  • Who are they? Five Maiar who were sent to Middle Earth to combat Sauron. They were sent with limited powers, though, so they’re kind of a strange case.
  • Claim to fame: Because of the limit put on their power, I don’t think that any of the Istari could really contend for “most powerful” while in Middle Earth. Many have argued that, in their original forms, they might have been as powerful, if not more, than Sauron. But we have so little information on this that it’s hard to say (if interested, though, see this post.) Aside from traditional, military power, though, it’s worth noting that Olorin (later known as Gandalf) was directly identified as “wisest of the Maiar.”

SOURCES: The Silmarillion, The Histories of Middle Earth (various volumes)

Where Does Gandalf Live?

Gandalf was different from the other Istari (or, at least, from Saruman and Radagast) in that he had no real, permanent home. Tolkien says that:

He dwelt in no place, and gathered to himself neither wealth nor followers, but ever went to and fro in the Westlands from Gondor to Angmar, and from Lindon to Lórien, befriending all folk in times of need.

There’s also the added mention that, since he got along so well with the elves, he tended to stay in the west, where the elves lived (which basically means that he didn’t spend much time at all in Rhun or Harad.) There are clear mentions of Gandalf living in a number of places, including Minas Tirith, Edoras, Lorien, Rivendell, Bree, and the Shire.

Gandalf’s wandering nature served a few purposes. It helped him stay informed of what was happening in Middle Earth, first of all, and allowed him to create relationships and influence all sorts of cultures and communities. And it seems to me that always being on the movie helped Gandalf avoid the mistakes that his peers made. Radagast, isolated from humanity, became so involved in the plant and animal life that he basically forgot his true mission (I know that’s debatable, but let it go for the sake of the point I’m trying to make, okay?). And Saruman’s base - a great and ancient Numenorean fortress - only added to his preexisting pride, and perhaps played a part in convincing Saruman that he could compete with Sauron. And then there’s Gandalf - always connected to the world, but never owning any part of it - who stays true to his mission till the end.

One last note: The nomadic lifestyle was probably not entirely due to Gandalf’s mission. Tolkien hints that Gandalf’s ways weren’t all that different in Valinor. It’s said that he lived in the gardens of Lorien, but would often travel to Nienna’s home to learn from her. And when the Valar held the council in which they decided to send the Istari to Middle Earth, Gandalf was actually late to the meeting because he’d just returned from a journey. So it seems that Gandalf’s wandering ways have deep roots in his personality.

SOURCES: The Silmarillion, The Unfinished Tales (“The Istari”)

Este the Gentle

If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, think of Este. One of the Valar, she was “the healer of hurts and weariness”. Tolkien’s description of her is simple, but effective:

Grey is her raiment; and rest is her gift. She walks not by day, but sleeps upon an island in the tree-shadowed lake of Lorellin. 

Este was married to Irmo (usually called Lorien) - a very convenient match, since she was in charge of sleep and rest, and he in charge of dreams and visions. Together they ruled the gardens of Lorien, where elves and Ainur alike came to find rest and peace in Valinor. (And you know this place had to be really peaceful to be considered a restful escape from Valinor - which is itself basically paradise.)

Este was in charge of several “maidens” - probably female Maiar. The most famous of these was Melian, while others remain unnamed but important (such as the maidens that tended to Miriel’s dead body.) Also, based on Tolkien’s description, we also know that Este was nocturnal (implying, I think, that she actually took a somewhat active role in tending to people’s sleep and rest, which required her to stay awake at night and instead sleep during the day.) It isn’t mentioned in Irmo kept a similar schedule.

Este’s most important role in the major plots of Tolkien’s stories would have been her part in the creation of the sun and the moon. Originally the Valar intended to have the sun and moon always in the sky. But Este and Irmo asked that this plan be changed, since having continuous light would destroy sleep and rest. So it’s really thanks to these two that we have both day and night.

SOURCES: The Silmarillion

“Then Finwë lived in sorrow; and he went often to the gardens of Lórien, and sitting beneath the silver willows beside the body of his wife he called her by her names. But it was unavailing; and alone in all the Blessed Realm he was deprived of joy. After a while he went to Lórien no more.” ~ The Silmarillion, Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor. (Artwork: Feanor with his mother Miriel in the gardens of Lorien, by steamey on deviantart)

The Gardens of Lorien

(First off, for anyone confused: we’re talking here about the Lorien that exists in Valinor - it’s the dwelling-place of two of the Valar, Irmo and Este. These gardens were a source of inspiration for Galadriel in Lothlorien, which is why the names are so similar.)

Tolkien gives us a few snippets of description, scattered throughout the Silmarillion, which I’ve found to be enough to really get the imagination going. Tolkien makes clear from the beginning that the gardens of Lorien were “fairest of all places in the world.” As far as actual details, though, what we know is this:

  • “filled with many spirits” What, exactly, this means is a little unclear, as Tolkien doesn’t often talk about “spirits.” Based on other comments, though, I think he means Ainur - it’s known that the Valar and Maiar spent time in the gardens, usually in order to relax and “ease the burden of Arda.”
  • “the tree-shadowed lake of Lorellin” Apparently the gardens are large enough to include an entire lake - and a lake large enough for there to be an island in the middle. This island is where Este sleeps during the day.
  • “the pools of Este” Presumably these are separate from the lake.
  • “the fountains of Irmo and Este” Tolkien doesn’t describe the fountains, though he does say that from them “all those who dwell in Valinor draw refreshment.” Also, in the early days, it’s said that the fountains would stop during the twilight hours (when the light of the two trees mingled together) so that everyone could hear Melian singing. Which, I think, implies that there were enough to create steady background noise.
  • “the trees that flower” and “silver willows” I mean, they’re the gardens of Lorien, so plants are implied. But these two quotes are as detailed as Tolkien gets in that area.
  • “the nightingales sang there” The nightingales are mentioned a few times, so I’d say they’re definitely a highlight of the Gardens of Lorien experience. It’s said that Melian taught them to sing, and that they were especially known to follow her around.

Basically, I imagine the most beautiful, and most peaceful (like, make you want to lay down and take a nap kind of peaceful) gardens ever, then multiply it by a couple thousand, and you’ll probably get the gardens of Lorien.

SOURCES: The Silmarillion