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Melian (Middle-earth)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Melian
Tolkien character
In-universe information
AliasesQueen of Doriath,
Queen of the Sindar,
Queen of the Teleri,
Queen of Beleriand
RaceMaia
Book(s)The Silmarillion
The History of Middle-earth
The Children of Húrin
Beren & Lúthien

Melian is a fictional character in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium. She appears in The Silmarillion, The Children of Húrin, Beren and Lúthien, and in several stories within The History of Middle-earth series. An early version of Melian is found in The Book of Lost Tales II, part of The History of Middle-earth, where her characterization differs significantly. The final version of the character is presented as a Maia, a lesser class of powerful divine beings in Tolkien's legendarium known as the Ainur, who takes the form of an Elf and becomes the loyal queen consort of Elu Thingol.

Melian is a pivotal character in the First Age of Middle-earth, and an essential part of the ancestral backgrounding of the interracial romances between her daughter Lúthien and the mortal Man Beren, as well as that of her descendants Aragorn and Arwen. Commentators have analysed the character's mystical nature, as well as her role as a forerunner of the Elf-queen Galadriel in The Lord of The Rings.

Creation and conception

The name "Melian" means Beloved in Tolkien's invented language of Sindarin. In Quenya, another of Tolkien's languages, her name is "Melyanna", signifying "Dear Gift" or "Gift of Love" (Q. melya, "dear, lovely" < Q. mel-, "love"; Q. anna, "gift").[1]

Tolkien had given Melian other names throughout the development process of his legendarium. She appears in The Book of Lost Tales Part One as Tindriel or Wendelin in Quenya, and in a Gnomish dictionary as Gwendeling or Gwendhiling.[T 1] Within the story of The Book of Lost Tales, Vëannë and Ausir argued whether she should be called Wendelin or Gwendeling. These names were reintroduced into the 2017 book Beren and Lúthien, an extended story about the tale of Lúthien and Beren.

Tolkien defined Melian as a fay in earlier drafts of his work, and she was written as a somewhat sinister character. This version of the character appears in "The Tale of Tinúviel", Tolkien's first story about Beren and Lúthien, which was written in archaic English and published in The Book of Lost Tales Part Two.[T 2] In one variant of her backstory, she is a daughter of the Vala Irmo, also known as Lórien. She is discovered by Tinwelint, a precursor of Thingol, while listening to the song of nightingales; when he tried to touch her hair, she ran away laughing, after which he fell into a deep slumber and she kept watch over him while he slept. She later became his wife and the queen of Artanor, and together they have a son, Tinfang, and a daughter, Tinúviel.[T 1] She appears in another later narrative within the same publication, although her character is portrayed as being far weaker and more frail. Christopher Tolkien noted that in this early version, the Girdle of Melian is sufficiently weaker in power that it is possible for Morgoth's forces to follow Beren and Tinúviel all the way back to Doriath.[T 2]

Fictional biography

Melian is a Maia most akin to the Vala Queen of the Earth, Yavanna. She originally tended fruit trees in the gardens of Lórien and served the other Valar Queens Este and Vana prior to her departure for Middle-earth. She is defined by her beauty, her connection to the natural world, her gift of foresight and wisdom, and especially her "angelic and haunting singing".[2] It is said that she arrived in Middle-earth to teach its birds to sing, and dwells in the forest of Nan Elmoth. Because she is a Maia who dwelled in Valinor, her face carries the strength and splendor of the light of Valinor when she arrives in Middle-earth, much like the Noldor who had returned to Middle-earth.[3] In Nan Elmoth, she meets her future husband, Prince Elwë, while she is singing with the nightingales one day. It was then that Elwë, being "filled with love" for Melian, fell under an enchantment and utterly forgetting his people the Sindar, wishing instead to spend the rest of his years with her.[2] Taking the form of an elf and thus subjecting herself to the limits of physical embodiment,[3] Melian would spend many years in solitude with Elwe, who was thought lost to his people in Nan Elmoth until they re-emerged into Middle-earth society.[2]

Sketch map of Beleriand in the First Age. Thingol's woodland realm of Doriath is in the centre; Nan Elmoth is the smaller forest near its eastern edge.
Sketch map of Beleriand in the First Age. Thingol's woodland realm of Doriath is in the centre; Nan Elmoth is the smaller forest near its eastern edge.

Melian and her husband, now known as Elu Thingol, settled in the area of Eglador in Beleriand, and established a realm called Doriath, which they ruled over as its monarchs. Their only daughter, Lúthien, is the most beautiful child of Ilúvatar who ever lived. Weaving "much magic and mystery" around Thingol's halls, Melian uses her vast powers to shroud Doriath in an impenetrable, invisible magical barrier known as the Girdle of Melian to protect them from Morgoth's forces: it prevents anyone from entering without her or Thingol’s permission, bewildering and confusing travelers and wanderers by sending them off course or, in some cases, driving them mad.[4] The Girdle of Melian proved to be a shield stronger than any barrier except unselfish love as the mortal Man Beren, who fell in love with her daughter, manages to overcome the Girdle.[5] As a divine being in Tolkien's legendarium, Melian's bloodline which is carried on from the marriage between Beren and Lúthien represents "a strain of the Ainur who were with Iluvatar before Eä": her descendants include Elwing, Elrond, Arwen, Elendil, and Aragorn.[6]

Said to be wiser then "any child of Middle-Earth", Melian is also known for her insights into the future, though a recurring theme found in Tolkien's works is that Melian's counsel is often not heeded.[7] In The Children of Húrin, Melian is depicted as a supporting character who tries in vain to "avert the evil that was prepared in the thought of Morgoth": she attempts to convince Morwen against leaving the safety of Doriath,[T 3] advised Túrin on the best course of action for him to take,[T 4] and warns Beleg not to take up Anglachel, a cursed blade forged by the Dark Elf Eöl.[T 5] She does convince Hurin to come to terms with his grief over the tragic fate of his family, after he went on a violent rampage fuelled by rage and bitterness.[8] Thingol himself however, would seldom heed her advise or warnings, which leads to disaster when his greed for the Silmaril retrieved from Morgoth's crown escalates a series of events which culminates in his own death and the fall of Doriath. Following Thingol's passing, she confers with Lúthien and Beren one final time, before returning to Valinor on her own.

Analysis

"What strikes me about the story of Melian is that she gives up the splendor, joy, and privilege of eternal life in Valinor to dwell in the middle-world, a world of shadows as well as light, out of a vast, unreasonable, powerful love. Thus does Melian the Maia, in her willing sacrifice, become the foremother of some of the most powerful, redeeming figures in Middle-earth’s long, scarred history."
— Megan N. Fontenot, Exploring the People of Middle-earth: Melian, Divine Enchantress and Deathless Queen[6]

In an article for Tor.com's bi-weekly series on "Exploring the People of Middle-earth", Megan N. Fontenot said that she admires how Melian's strength and wisdom is characterised, as well as her discreet nature and foresight to choose the appropriate time to speak, or to listen and observe. For Fontenot, Melian's backstory and nature represent "an important metaphor in Tolkien for one's ability to remain hopeful even in the most dire and desperate of circumstances", as she is accompanied by nightingales, birds that sing in the darkness, demonstrating that the ability "to enjoy and appreciate even the shadows brought other joy and beauty to Middle-earth".[6][2]

In her article about female authority figures in fiction, Lisa Hopkins argued that "power in the works of Tolkien is often to be found in the hands of a woman", and that in Melian's case "the role of woman as mother as well as wife is markedly stressed".[9] For Hopkins, Melian's marriage with Thingol is parallel to the marriage between Elves and mortal Men, where the wives are always of Elven heritage, and considerable status is attributed to these women within their marriages. She noted the Girdle of Melian is capable of repelling even the power of Morgoth himself, "providing a considerably more potent protection than any which could have been afforded by her husband Thingol".[9]

Ivana Šarić contrasted Melian with Gandalf, another Maia character whom she considers equal to Melian in power and wisdom. She commented that unlike the Wizard she is absent as an active agent in Tolkien's stories, as she is primarily bound to Middle-earth out of love for Thingol, and remains largely passive due to her primary characterization as his wife. Šarić noted that the absence of any masculine qualities in her appearance, described by Tolkien as an exceedingly beautiful, is a signal of Melian's more subservient nature, as she maintains a strictly defensive position with her Girdle over Doriath and is never shown as having a desire for power.[10]

In an entry for the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia titled "Music in Middle Earth", Bradford Lee Eden remarked that Melian's daughter Lúthien is named Tinúviel or "Nightingale" by Beren, even though that bird, the nightingale, is connected with Melian's backstory;[11] at one point in the narrative of The Silmarillion, Tolkien associates Lúthien's song with another bird, the lark, and the theme of "springtime regeneration".[T 6]

Melian's association with Thingol, as well as the continuation of her divine bloodline through the Half-elven and the royal bloodline of the Dúnedain, is considered to be an important element within Tolkien's legendarium.[6][12][9] The scholar Cathy Akers-Jordan noted that as an Elf and thus "the lesser race", Thingol is ennobled by his marriage to Melian the Maia, "a greater race".[12] She cited as examples, the concept of an "inner light" associated with the hidden nobility of Aragorn, "in whom the blood of Númenor runs true", as well as the "light of stars" reflected in the eyes of Elrond and Arwen as described by Tolkien.[12] Commentators noted that Lúthien's power is derived from her inheritance of at least some of her mother’s might.[9][13] Fontenot suggested that it is partially due to Melian's influence or standing with her Ainur brethren that Lúthien was given an audience with Mandos, and that her plea to have Beren returned to life was ultimately granted.[6] Hopkins in particular highlighted Lúthien as an equal to Beren and suggested that he "would undoubtedly never have survived his quest without her help".[9]

Melian's decision to take "upon herself the form of the Elder Children of Iluvatar" out of love for Thingol represents a more fatal trope of the adoption of form by the Ainur, as "in that union she became bound by the chain and trammels of the flesh of Arda".[14] Robley Evans explained that Tolkien represents creation through the trope of music, "the art of time, with its potential for modulation". He drew attention to Tolkien's explanation that The Ainur "are shown visions but not their fulfillment, darkness but not its meaning. They participate in the divine music without knowing its purposes, and give form without knowing consequences, so that creativity, by analogy, will always be ambiguous in its delimiting power".[14] Thus, Melian assumes the form of Elf based on her "knowledge of the visible World, rather than of the World itself".[14]

"The moral of the story, one that clearly resonates down through the legendarium in an unbroken line from The Story of Kullervo through Turambar and the Foalókë and The Children of Húrin, potent enough to find its way into The Tale of Tinúviel and all its antecedents, is that when the Lady of the Forest tells you to stick to the path, whether it be physical or metaphorical, you best listen. Nothing less than your very fate hangs in the balance."
— Kristine Larsen, Ladies of the Forest: Melian and Mielikki[7]

In her article published by Central Connecticut State University, Kristine Larsen contended that Melian was recycled from another character in The Kalevala. Larsen compared her to the Finnish goddess Mielikki in The Story of Kullervo, which played a central role in Tolkien's first attempts to compose original mythology.[7] Verlyn Flieger, the editor of The Story of Kullervo, identifies its "blue-robed Lady of the Forest" character as Mielikki,[T 7] which Larsen associates with Melian's magical powers of enchantment as well as gift of foresight, a reflection of what Flieger terms Tolkien's “long preoccupation with the nature of magic and the supernatural". Larsen noted that when Tolkien expanded and revised the tale of Beren and Lúthien over the years, he also emphasized the role of Melian as a sage "who pronounces dooms and whose advice is ignored only at significant risk", as well as the tragic consequences suffered by the characters who do not heed her advice.[7] Lisa Coutras is in agreement and noted that Thingol's reckless actions and refusal to heed Melian's counsel about the Silmarils brought about the downfall of his kingdom.[15]

Several commentators have discussed the relationship between Melian and Galadriel at length. The scholar of English literature Marjorie Burns describes Melian as "the most traditional enchantress in Tolkien's literature", comparing her Celtic nature to that of Galadriel.[16] Burns observed that unlike Galadriel, Melian is overtly sexual, with her clothes "'filmy' and 'most lovely', and her singing and dancing is like 'strong wine'" to Thingol, who is bewitched by her. Commentators agreed that that Galadriel's protective shield around her realm generated through the power of the Ring of Nenya is directly inspired by the Girdle of Melian; Evans in particular considered it a "lovely but pale reflection".[14] Jeff LaSala and Megan N. Fontenot from Tor.com agree that Melian's close relationship with Galadriel as depicted in The Silmarillion provided much context for how Galadriel is characterized and presented in The Lord of the Rings.[17][18][19] The depiction of Melian distributing lembas bread is noted as a particularly significant act within the legendarium, with Fontenot suggesting that Galadriel "consciously mirrored it" when she gifts lembas to the Fellowship in Fellowship of the Ring, and The Catholic World Report comparing it to the Eucharist.[18][20]

Melian is a Homeric female archetype.[21] She opposes Ungoliant, the monstrous spider of darkness in The Silmarillion, just as Galadriel opposes Ungoliant's spawn Shelob in the Lord of the Rings.[22] Mac Fenwick noted that while Melian is no longer present in Middle-earth by the Third Age, Galadriel continues her legacy, just as Sauron and Shelob continue the thematic positions of their predecessors Morgoth and Ungoliant.[21]

Genealogy

Half-elven family tree[T 8][T 9]
Melian the MaiaThingol
of the Teleri
House of BëorHouse of HalethHouse of HadorFinwë
of the Noldor
Indis
of the Vanyar
Olwë
of the Teleri
BarahirBelegundHarethGaldorFingolfinFinarfinEärwen
LúthienBerenRíanHuorHúrinTurgonElenwë
DiorNimlothTuorIdril
ElurédElurínElwingEärendilCelebornGaladriel
ElrosElrondCelebrían
22 Kings
of Númenor and
Lords of Andúnië
Elendil
IsildurAnárion
22 Kings
of Arnor
and Arthedain
27 Kings
of Gondor
ArveduiFíriel
15 Dúnedain
Chieftains
AragornArwenElladanElrohir
EldarionUnnamed daughters
Colour key:
Colour Description
  Elves
  Men
  Maiar
  Half-elven
  Half-elven who chose the fate of elves
  Half-elven who chose the fate of mortal men

References

Primary

This list identifies each item's location in Tolkien's writings.
  1. ^ a b Tolkien, J. R. R. (1984), Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales, vol. 1, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, Appendix: Names in the Lost Tales – Part I, entry "Wendelin", ISBN 0-395-35439-0
  2. ^ a b Tolkien, J. R. R. (1984), Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales, vol. 2, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, "The Tale of Tinúviel", ISBN 0-395-36614-3
  3. ^ The Children of Hurin, p. 77.
  4. ^ The Children of Hurin, p. 85.
  5. ^ The Children of Hurin, p. 97.
  6. ^ The Silmarillion, p. 165.
  7. ^ The Story of Kullervo, pp. 61-62.
  8. ^ The Silmarillion, "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age": Family Trees I and II: "The house of Finwë and the Noldorin descent of Elrond and Elros", and "The descendants of Olwë and Elwë"
  9. ^ The Return of the King, Appendix A: Annals of the Kings and Rulers, I The Númenórean Kings

Secondary

  1. ^ The Etymologies from The Silmarillion.
  2. ^ a b c d Bulles, Marcel E. (2013) [2006]. "Melian". In Michael D.C. Drout (ed.). J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia. Routledge. p. 412-413. ISBN 978-0-415-86511-1.
  3. ^ a b Coutras, Lisa (2016). Tolkien's Theology of Beauty: Majesty, Splendor, and Transcendence in Middle-earth. Springer. p. 54-56. ISBN 978-1-1375-5345-4.
  4. ^ Huehner, Mariah (24 April 2015). "The Silmarillion Recaps: Of Beren & Lúthien, Werewolves, and Half-Goddesses". Tor.com. Retrieved 15 February 2021.
  5. ^ Thomas Fornet-Ponse, ed. (2015). "Hither Shore 11: Nature and Landscape in Tolkien". Mythlore. Atelier für Textaufgaben. 11. ISBN 978-3981061291.
  6. ^ a b c d e Fontenot, Megan N. (5 March 2020). "Exploring the People of Middle-earth: Melian, Divine Enchantress and Deathless Queen". Tor.com. Retrieved 15 February 2021.
  7. ^ a b c d Larsen, Kristine (2020). "Ladies of the Forest: Melian and Mielikki". Journal of Tolkien Research. 9 (1). article 6.
  8. ^ Huehner, Mariah (25 September 2015). "The Silmarillion Recaps: Dragons, Curses, and Incest Oh My!". Tor.com. Retrieved 15 February 2021.
  9. ^ a b c d e Hopkins, Lisa (1996). "Female Authority Figures in the Works of Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams". Mythlore. 21 (2). article 55.
  10. ^ Šarić, Ivana (2015). "Representation of Women in J.R.R. Tolkien's and G.R.R. Martin's Epic Fantasy" (PDF). Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  11. ^ Bulles, Marcel E. (2013) [2006]. "Melian". In Michael D.C. Drout (ed.). J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia. Routledge. p. 444-445. ISBN 978-0-415-86511-1.
  12. ^ a b c Akers-Jordan, Cathy (2006). "The Light of Stars: Frodo's Elvish Air" (PDF). 9 (1). Mythcon. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  13. ^ Klag, Katarzyna (2014). "The Power of Music in the Tale of Beren and Lúthien by J.R.R. Tolkien" (PDF). Analyses/Rereadings/Theories Journal. 2 (2).
  14. ^ a b c d Evans, Robley (1987). "Tolkien's World Creation: Degenerative Recurrence". Mythlore. 14 (1). article 55.
  15. ^ Coutras, Lisa (2016). Tolkien's Theology of Beauty: Majesty, Splendor, and Transcendence in Middle-earth. Springer. p. 193. ISBN 978-1-1375-5345-4.
  16. ^ Burns, Marjorie (2005). Perilous Realms: Celtic and Norse in Tolkien's Middle-earth. University of Toronto Press. p. 121. ISBN 978-0-8020-3806-7.
  17. ^ LaSala, Jeff (18 April 2017). "The Trial of Galadriel". Tor.com. Retrieved 14 February 2021.
  18. ^ a b Fontenot, Megan N. (20 February 2020). "Exploring the People of Middle-earth: Galadriel, Mighty and Valiant (Part 2)". Tor.com. Retrieved 14 February 2021.
  19. ^ Fortner, Angela; Marshall, Peter (1998). "Inklings Forever: A Collection of Essays Presented at the First Frances White Ewbank Colloquium on C.S. Lewis and Friends". 1. Taylor University: 142–143. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  20. ^ Birzer, Bradley J. (28 January 2016). "The Story of Kullervo and the origins of Tolkien's legendarium". The Catholic World Report. Retrieved 15 February 2021.
  21. ^ a b Fenwick, Mac (1996). "Breastplates of Silk: Homeric Women in The Lord of the Rings". Mythlore. 21 (3). article 4.
  22. ^ Burns, Marjorie (2005). Perilous Realms: Celtic and Norse in Tolkien's Middle-earth. University of Toronto Press. p. 123. ISBN 978-0-8020-3806-7.
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