I've seen discussion about who actually knew that Gandalf (and the other Istari) was a Maia, with the list generally being Cirdan, Elrond, Galadriel, maybe Glorfindel and Aragorn, probably Tom Bombadil, and of course Sauron.

That got me thinking though: who, in the First Age, apart from other Maiar/Valar, knew that Melian was actually a Maia? Was it open knowledge in Doriath and elsewhere, or was it something that only Thingol and those closest to him knew about?

As an example, I assume that if the nature of the Girdle of Melian was widely known then people must have known that she was probably something other than just a really powerful Elf, but is this ever explicitly discussed? The Girdle of Melian is obviously mentioned a lot by the narrator in the Silmarillion, but do any of the characters themselves discuss it (other than Thingol and Melian)?

Is there any direct evidence that characters within the story, during the First Age, were aware of what Melian actually was?

  • The Istari were sent from Valinor with a mission and instructions to not reveal what they were (to inspire, rather than lead through power or fight directly). I don't have direct quotes, hence this being a comment. But I see no reason that Melian would have cared to hide what she really was in a similar fashion. Jul 10 at 15:51
  • Several points which don't add up to an answer: (1) Melian lived with Thingol and many, many elves for a long time. You get to know people after the first few centuries. (2) "Magic" is not very rule-bound in M-E. I doubt that peoples and magics were very cleanly related. (3) Tolkien never says. #1 points towards more people knowing, #2 points towards fewer people knowing and #3 points towards us not knowing!
    – Mark Olson
    Jul 10 at 15:54
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    In fact, the Istari were forbidden to fight Sauron directly partly because of the destruction at the end of the First Age (Beleriand was nearly all destroyed). Melian married Thingol during the time of the Great Journey, when Valinor was "open" - the Hiding of Valinor didn't happen until after the Darkening of Valinor/Flight of the Noldor. There was no reason for secrecy before then. Jul 11 at 9:06
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    If something is done in secret, Tolkien tends to say so explicitly. Like Istari, Anatar, the location of Gondolin, plenty of examples. Melian & the Girdle is never mentioned like that. The Girdle is well-known, since nobody could enter it without Melian willing it (save for the single exception of Beren). So if some orcs, Fëanor's Noldor, dwarves, humans etc would attempt it, I suppose it might be like walking into a wall in the form of invisible force field. Such a thing will become public knowledge very quick. ->
    – Amarth
    Jul 12 at 19:44
  • The Girdle is even a force of nature, kind of. Since it was able to block Ungoliant, who because of it made her home in Ered Gorgoroth temporarily, the whole region there becoming tainted because of it. Which would also be public knowledge.
    – Amarth
    Jul 12 at 19:45

Everyone who knew Melian likely knew. She wasn't there in relative secrecy, like the Istari were. I don't think this is ever spelled out explicitly, because it's just a matter of presumption - she wasn't there in secret, or undercover. All following quotes from The Silmarillion:

It was under the teaching of Melian that the Sindar became great:

Now as has been told the power of Elwë and Melian increased in Middle-earth, and all the Elves of Beleriand, from the mariners of Círdan to the wandering hunters of the Blue Mountains beyond the River Gelion, owned Elwë as their lord; Elu Thingol he was called, King Greymantle, in the tongue of his people. They are called the Sindar, the Grey-elves of starlit Beleriand; and although they were Moriquendi, under the lordship of Thingol and the teaching of Melian they became the fairest and the most wise and skilful of all the Elves of Middle-earth.

We're also told that she taught the Dwarves "much they were eager to learn." Given Melian's famed knowledge of the world, surely anyone who didn't know might have taken the hint!

The power of Melian stayed the Sleep of Yavanna:

Though Middle-earth lay for the most part in the Sleep of Yavanna, in Beleriand under the power of Melian there was life and joy,

When Thingol commanded that Menegroth be built, it was made with remembrances of Valinor in mind that Melian told of to the artisans:

But the Elves also had part in that labour, and 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. The pillars of Menegroth were hewn in the likeness of the beeches of Oromë, stock, bough, and leaf, and they were lit with lanterns of gold. The nightingales sang there as in the gardens of Lórien; 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, and many things that had befallen in Arda since its beginning, and shadows of things that were yet to be.

I think this is a pretty solid advertisement they, hey, I'm not from around here! if you didn't know.

The narrator, at least, suggests that she was often styled Melian the Maia when discussed the Girdle of Melian.

Therefore he withdrew all his people that his summons could reach within the fastness of Neldoreth and Region, and Melian put forth her power and fenced all that 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.


for she knew that a parting beyond the end of the world had come between them, and no grief of loss has been heavier than the grief of Melian the Maia in that hour.

We are also told that yes, other people did know of the Girdle of Melian, and it seemed to be common knowledge.

Therefore the march-wardens said to Are-dhel: To the land of Celegorm for which you seek, Lady, you may by no means pass through the realm of King Thingol; you must ride beyond the Girdle of Melian, to the south or to the north.

Turin also knew of the Girdle, though you would expect him to:

For if the Girdle of Melian be broken, then last hope is ended. Nay, it is better indeed as things be; for a shadow I cast wheresoever I come. Let Melian keep them! And I will leave them in peace unshadowed for a while.’

Galadriel certainly knew who Melian was:

And at tunes Melian and Galadriel would speak together of Valinor and the bliss of old; but beyond the dark hour of the death of the Trees Galadriel would not go, but ever fell silent. And on a time Melian said: There is some woe that lies upon you and your kin. That I can see in you, but all else is hidden from me; for by no vision or thought can I perceive anything that passed or passes in the West: a shadow lies over all the land of Aman, and reaches far out over the sea. Why will you not tell me more?’

The Band of Barahir believed Melian could hallow waters:

But the waters of Tarn Aeluin were held in reverence, for they were clear and blue by day and by night were a mirror for the stars; and it was said that Melian herself had hallowed that water in days of old.

  • I think the "images of wonder and beauty of Valinor" is pretty clear cut, yeah. I believe before the Return of the Noldor the only people in Middle-Earth who had been to Valinor were Melian and Thingol (as one of the Elvish 'ambassadors' before the Great Journey). Well, and technically Melkor/Morgoth, briefly... Jul 11 at 9:03

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