6

There are things we do know about Laurelin and Telperion. They glowed, they had names, they seem to have had genders. And they were very, very important - and not only that, but irreplaceable. And they seem to have been imbued with power that remained in part within the Sun, the Moon, and the Silmarils.

Were they something similar to the Maiar? What about them could Yavanna and Nienna not recreate?

What were they, besides two excellent trees?

  • 1
    ...Magnum Opii? – Quasi_Stomach Apr 5 '18 at 17:45
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    @Quasi_Stomach ...Unless Yavanna and Nienna were just too sick of the work. Then they're dissertations. – Misha R Apr 5 '18 at 18:00
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    I would suggest reformatting the question to ask if they were irreplaceable as opposed to them being Maiar, as they were most certainly NOT Maiar if they were created by Yavanna and Nienna. – Edlothiad Apr 5 '18 at 22:58
  • @Edlothiad Noted. In light of one of the answers responding in part to the word, I left the Maia part in there with a qualifier. – Misha R Apr 5 '18 at 23:12
  • Dioecious. – Spencer Apr 5 '18 at 23:23
8

At any rate, they are not Maiar.

With the Valar came other spirits whose being also began before the World, of the same order as the Valar but of less degree. These are the Maiar (Silmarillion, Valaquenta, Of the Maiar)

The Maiar are Ainur, "angels" made by Eru. The Maiar possess free will, something only Eru, not any of the Valar can grant, as we are shown when Aulë creates the dwarves:

Then Aulë took up a great hammer to smite the Dwarves; and he wept. But Ilúvatar had compassion upon Aulë and his desire, because of his humility; and the Dwarves shrank from the hammer and were afraid, and they bowed down their heads and begged for mercy. And the voice of Ilúvatar said to Aulë: 'Thy offer I accepted even as it was made. Dost thou not see that these things have now a life of their own, and speak with their own voices? Else they would not have flinched from thy blow, nor from any command of thy will.' (Silmarillion, Chapter 2: Of Aulë and Yavanna)

Laurelin and Telperion, on the other hand, are made by Yavanna and Nienna:

Before [Valamar's] western gate there was a green mound, Ezellohar, that is named also Corollairë; and Yavanna hallowed it, and she sat there long upon the green grass and sang a song of power, in which was set all her thought of things that grow in the earth. But Nienna thought in silence, and watered the mound with tears. (Silmarillion, Chapter 1: Of the Beginning of Days)

There was no "spirit" in the trees. They were only ever a work of art. Why couldn't they be recreated then? Yavanna explains it:

Even for those who are mightiest under Ilúvatar, there is some work that they may accomplish once, and once only. The Light of the Trees I brought into being, and within Eä I can do so never again. (Yavanna to the Valar, Silmarillion, Chaqpter 9: Of the Flight of the Noldor)

An artist is not a technician. There may well be a work of art that he has done once, and cannot recreate: the particular inspiration, the particular stroke of genius, the particular "something" that made that work special - is no longer there. He is no longer the same person he was back then. He might create something else, of no less worth, but not recreate that thing of old. It is thus with Yavanna.

  • Artists are craftsmen, the stroke of genius comes from the impressionist movement. This occurred at the same time photography was becoming big, which led artosts to search for ways to prove that they could not be replaced by the camera, which made more realistic images than anyvhuman could hope to do. – Garret Gang Apr 6 '18 at 12:33
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    @GarretGang The idea that painters were motivated by the fear of cameras replacing them assumes that art prior to the camera had accuracy as its priority. This is a common misconception that ignores most of art history and the way visual language developed. Moreover, cameras during the impressionist period were nowhere close to making more realistic images than any human could hope to do, and technical restrictions in photography greatly limited its versatility. If anything, photographic composition was an inspiration to the painters, and cameras were embraced as useful reference tools. – Misha R Apr 6 '18 at 15:10
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There's no reason to think they were anything other than trees.

The fact of them being unique and irreplaceable is not itself, well, unique. Tolkien's work is full of things that could only be created once - before the Trees were the Lamps, and later the Silmarils themselves, and the Nauglamir, and arguably even the Rings. It seems to be a recurring trope that the act of creation is in some circumstances non-repeatable.

  • Not a bad point - but there are reasons for at least a couple of those. The Silmarils being irreplaceable has a lot to do with the trees being irreplaceable, as well as Feanor being dead. Don't know just how irreplaceable the lesser rings were, or whether there would have been much use in replacing them, but the One Ring was irreplaceable because Sauron put a great deal of his own power into it. – Misha R Apr 5 '18 at 18:36
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    @MishaRosnach Even in our own world, works born from great art, skill and talent are not replaceable. Think to Botticelli's La Nascita di Venere or Primavera, Michelangelo's David, Mosè or the Cappella Sistina's frescos, Leonardo's Monna Lisa, Raffaello's La Scuola di Atene, and well, everything that the Renaissance gave us. All these works are irreplaceable, they of course don't have magical properties like Tolkien's wonders because real world is sooo boring, but there is no doubt that all of them are unique and even their authors could not recreate them (and yes, I'm Italian) – Sekhemty Apr 5 '18 at 19:53
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    @Sekhemty I am not sure that your examples apply to this. First of all, part of the reason Renaissance art cannot be replaced is largely because the artists are dead (whereas Yavanna and Nienna are immortal). But identical copies can be made - that look / function exactly the same as the original, the author's name being the only difference. Moreover, were Botticelli still alive, he might not feel like re-painting the Primavera, but he could do so - or something similar enough. Whereas, even though the loss of the Trees was deeply tragic, remaking them doesn't seem to have been an option. – Misha R Apr 5 '18 at 20:39
  • @Sekhemty ... In other words, the value of the original pieces that cannot be replaced is their historical value. But the Trees had value beyond historical - that could be replaced by similarly made trees. Except that, for some reason, it could not. – Misha R Apr 5 '18 at 20:52
  • Regarding the reoccurring theme of the act of creation not being repeatable, this seems consistent with Tolkien's views on industry and mass-production; I doubt he'd have seen mass-production as creativity... – NathanS Apr 6 '18 at 12:52
7

They were Trees

As far as every definition of the word goes, they were trees.

From their descriptions Telpirion:

had leaves of dark green that beneath were as shining silver, and from each of his countless flowers a dew of silver light was ever falling, and the earth beneath was dappled with the shadow of his fluttering leaves.
The Silmarillion - Chapter 1: Of the Beginning of Days

and Laurelin:

bore leaves of a young green like the new-opened beech; their edges were of glittering gold. Flowers swung upon her branches in clusters of yellow flame, formed each to a glowing horn that spilled a golden rain upon the ground; and from the blossom of that tree there came forth warmth and a great light.
ibid.

Laurelin was furthermore also known as the "White Tree" and "Eldest of Trees" amongst it's various other names.

From their creation, everything also suggests that they were quite simply trees that were grown.

there came forth two slender shoots; and silence was over all the world in that hour, nor was there any other sound save the chanting of Yavanna. Under her song the saplings grew and became fair and tail, and came to flower; and thus there awoke in the world the Two Trees of Valinor.
ibid.

Before the death of the trees Yavanna and Nienna produced a fruit and a flower from Laurelin and Telperion, respectively.

Yavanna and Nienna to put forth all their powers of growth and healing ... Telperion bore at last upon a leafless bough one great flower of silver, and Laurelin a single fruit of gold.
The Silmarillion - Chapter 11: Of the Sun and the Moon and the Hiding of Valinor

Could they be recreated?

The beauty and the magnificence of the trees was the light that was contained within them. Given everything from Tolkien was governed by the fact that the closer a being was to the moment or source of Creation the nobler and stronger that being (and their offspring) was, the Two Trees held a light from the beginnings of Arda and therefore of utmost beauty within them.

There was Light. There was the Light of Valinor made visible in the Two Trees of Silver and Gold. * These were slain by the Enemy out of malice, and Valinor was darkened, though from them, ere they died utterly, were derived the lights of Sun and Moon. (A marked difference here between these legends and most others is that the Sun is not a divine symbol, but a second-best thing, and the 'light of the Sun' (the world under the sun) become terms for a fallen world, and a dislocated imperfect vision).
The Silmarillion - A letter by J.R.R. Tolkien to Milton Waldman, 1951

In the letter above, as well as a note in the letter (which I will add when I get access) Tolkien discusses how the light of the trees was lost and the world had darkened. The two trees had held the ancient and purest light of Middle-earth that had once shined from the two lamps. That light was stolen from the trees by Ungoliant when she had tried to drink it away. What was left of the trees, the last fruit and flower, had been put into the Sun and the Moon, however these were not close to the magnificence of the original trees, and as Tolkien states were only a “second-best thing”.

The trees had a power to make people "greater" and improve their skill and knowledge, even if they hadn't directly looked at them.

... the Edain of old learned swiftly of the Eldar all such art and knowledge as they could receive, and their sons increased in wisdom and skill, until they far surpassed all others of Mankind, who dwelt still east of the mountains and had not seen the Eldar, nor looked upon the faces that had beheld the Light of Valinor.

Were they Maiar, or something similar?

In the Silmarillion, the Maiar are described as follows:

With the Valar came other spirits whose being also began before the World, of the same order as the Valar but of less degree. These are the Maiar, the people of the Valar, and their servants and helpers.
The Silmarillion - Valaquenta, Of the Maiar

The creation of the trees however came far later, after several thousand Valyrian Years had passed, and the Lamps had been raised and felled. The trees were also not sentient, simply being trees within which light rose and waned with a 7 hour period.

From the quote on their creation above, we see that the Two Trees has been grown from saplings and flowered like ordinary trees, Yavanna had imbued her light in them, but they were otherwise nothing different.


Further evidence lies in Ted Nasmith's artwork. Ted Nasmith can be considered an "official Tolkien illustrator having provided artwork for various projects such as The Illustrated Silmarillion etc. In a sketch of the trees, Ted Nasmith provides the following.

Ungoliant and the Two Trees
Ungoliant and the Two Trees - Sketches by Ted Nasmith

This sketch of Varda and Manwë in Valinor may also contain Laurelin.

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