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Based on some prior answers about the Maiar who became the 5 Wizards, the impression I got was that those Maiar were in a somewhat feudal/vassal like relationship with Valar (e.g. Radagast was "Yavanna's").

Is that accurate based on other Tolkien material?

  • thats what I've seen too, each valar had there own set of maiar. – Himarm Sep 23 '14 at 18:02
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Yes, in a sense; although that language is only used once that I can recall in the Silmarillion:

Ossë is a vassal of Ulmo, and he is master of the seas that wash the shores of Middle-earth. ... [Early in the history of Arda, Morgoth] endeavoured to draw Ossë to his allegiance, promising to him all the realm and power of Ulmo, if he would serve him. ... But Uinen, at the prayer of Aulë, restrained Ossë and brought him before Ulmo; and he was pardoned and returned to his allegiance.

("Valaquenta")

The Ainur naturally grouped together in terms of common interest: Sauron is said to have been "of the Maiar of Aulë", and Olórin learned "pity and patience" from Nienna, both of which were of great use to him during his sojourn as Gandalf.

But the Maiar did not formally owe allegiance to any one of the Valar. Keep in mind that ultimately the Maiar are the same type of being as the Valar; it just appears that the Valar are more powerful (though sometimes not by much):

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.

  • Good quote (+1). I wonder if you can add supporting material for "ultimately the Maiar are the same type of being as the Valar"? – Charles Sep 23 '14 at 23:43
  • Good pont. Hunt hunt hunt ... – Matt Gutting Sep 23 '14 at 23:44
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Feudalism:

Simply defined, it was a system for structuring society around relationships derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour.

This certainly doesn't seem to apply. While the Maiar did give service to (or were in the service of) certain Valar, there's no evidence that they held land in exchange for it. In fact the service they gave seems to have been more a form of assistance, based on a less complete but more focussed understanding of the nature of creation.

A closer analogue (I don't pretend it's perfect) might be an assistant to a master craftsman: the assistant might know how to do one part of the job really well, better than the craftsman even, but only the craftsman knows the whole.


Now looking at the spiritual, rather than the functional, side of this relationship, in his Letters Tolkien describes Gandalf in particular in the following terms (Letter 181):

His function as a 'wizard' is an angelos or messenger from the Valar or Rulers...

I've emphasised "angelos" here because it's almost certainly not a casual use of the word, and may be said to definitely suggest "angel", as viewed and interpreted by a Catholic writer. Letter 131 goes on to confirm this:

The cycles begin with a cosmogonical myth: the Music of the Ainur. God and the Valar (or powers: Englished as gods) are revealed. These latter are as we should say angelic powers, whose function is to exercise delegated authority in their spheres...

The relationship of the Valar and Maiar is therefore clearly an analogue of angels and archangels in Catholic theology, rather than anything else.

This passage is also important because it mentions the function of delegated authority, but that would require further discussion beyond the scope of this question.

Gandalf is also an interesting case, because he shows that individual Maiar were not "bound" to individual Valar. Gandalf was in the service of Manwe, but also spent a lot of time in the gardens of Lórien (his name contains the same linguistic elements: Olórin/Lórien) and learned a lot of pity from Nienna.

So no, there was no feudalism (or even pseudo-feudalism) here.

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Yes, but that was because of their similarities or their "likenesses".

It is not made clear in the books whether to whom they "belonged" to was by choice or by the simple fact that they liked the same things.

Anyway, each of them had their own will and could do what they wanted (in the end Radagast kind of minded his own business and hanged around with the birds and stuff).

  • Radagast wasn't really doing what the whole Valar committee had sent him to do as an Ista, but do we really have any info to say that Yavanna would have opposed what he was spending his time doing? – Shisa Sep 23 '14 at 19:21
  • Exactly @Shisa , Radagast was under Yavanna's "orders" yet he still did what he wanted. – godmarck Sep 24 '14 at 0:33
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It was a simple situation where the Valar and Maiar each naturally fulfilled the role to which their nature suited them. Eru Ilúvatar had created those roles in the first great music, and the entities fulfilling those roles followed them as ordained by the music.

Of course, Morgoth (and those he drew to him) attempted to dominate instead of harmonizing, and thus began their revolt against "the plan."

As to whether this is like feudalism, it depends a bit on what you look at. On one hand, it certainly seems to be true that many "nobles" were simply descendants of the most successful thieves, murderers and warlords in their general vicinity. On the other hand it was pretty common for such "nobles" to claim that God had ordained their role as nobles (and the commoners their roles as well). Therefore, (at least according to them) rebelling against them or even questioning their authority was not merely a crime, but a mortal sin.

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