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I had always been under the impression that Melkor was a Vala. It seemed to be almost common knowledge among Tolkien fans, including the ones here on SE. Then I came across this line in The Silmarillion:

"Melkor is counted no longer among the Valar, and his name is not spoken upon Earth."
-The Silmarillion, Valaquenta, pp. 25-6

However, the index of the same book describes Melkor as

"The Quenya name for the great rebellious Vala"
-ibid, p. 340

Not "the great rebellious former Vala", mind you, but "the great rebellious Vala". This seems to suggest that he is still on Team Valar.

The usually reliable Tolkien Gateway describes him as the most powerful of the Ainur, but identifies his race as "Ainur" rather than Valar, whereas all the other Ainur who aren't Maiar are identified as Valar.

This wouldn't be such an issue if the index identified him as a former Vala, but it doesn't. The first quote clearly suggests that he was once among the Valar - otherwise the words "no longer" wouldn't be necessary - but as it stands now, this appears to be an inconsistency, albeit a minor one.

So am I correct in thinking that Melkor was originally a Vala, but essentially got kicked out of the club, and the Valar retroactively decided that he had never been a Vala, in light of his later actions? Is he a Vala, a former Vala, or was he never a Vala?

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    It seems that you absorbed too much of @Slytherincess' mindset (You're ascribing meaningful canon interpretation to something that is caused by English language not being a precise instrument). Vala can be a taxonomy term (in which case Melkor was one); OR it can be a socially constructed conceptual label (in simpler terms, "club member" - in which case Melkor was kicked out of the club). "). The twp passages you refer to merely apply those 2 different usages. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 13 '15 at 12:52
  • +1 @DVK Of course the taxonomy terms are also socially constructed. :} – Lexible Jun 13 '15 at 14:07
  • @Lexible - no, in this case they are divinely constructed (by Eru). – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jun 13 '15 at 20:45
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    @DVK - or so the Elves thought. Nothing in the Silmarillion comes straight from Eru's mouth, or even the mouths of the Valar or Maiar. It is how the Elves saw things. Out of universe, Tolkien was a philologist, so he was more likely than most to be able to use the language as a precision tool. Much of the ambiguity is there by his intent, it seems. – Wad Cheber Jun 13 '15 at 21:03
  • 'counted' doesn't imply that he isn't but instead implies that he isn't considered one. But technically he still is. – Pryftan Apr 4 '18 at 16:00
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He is a former Vala.

As you say, the Maia and the Valar are both just classifications of the Ainur. The full passage you quote is as follows:

The Great among these spirits [the Ainur who came to Arda] the Elves name the Valar, the Powers of Arda, and Men have often called them gods. The Lords of the Valar are seven; and the Valier, the Queens of the Valar, are seven also. These were their names in the Elvish tongue as it was spoken in Valinor, though they have other names in the speech of the Elves in Middle-earth, and their names among Men are manifold. The names of the Lords in due order are: Manwë, Ulmo, Aulë, Oromë, Mandos, Lórien, and Tulkas; and the names of the Queens are: Varda, Yavanna, Nienna, Estë, Vairë, Vána, and Nessa. Melkor is counted no longer among the Valar, and his name is not spoken upon Earth.

(Valaquenta)

Note the tense of the passage, which, in context, is a book of myth and history. No longer is Melkor counted among the Valar, and his name is not spoken on the Earth. This can refer only to the present time (or relatively present times) , but certainly before Feanor 'renamed' him.

Later, at the end of the Valaquenta:

Last of all is set the name of Melkor, He who arises in Might But that name he has forfeited; and the Noldor, who among the Elves suffered most from his malice, will not utter it, and they name him Morgoth, the Dark Enemy of the World. Great might was given to him by Ilúvatar, and he was coeval with Manwë. In the powers and knowledge of all the other Valar he had part, but he turned them to evil purposes, and squandered his strength in violence and tyranny. For he coveted Arda and all that was in it, desiring the kingship of Manwë and dominion over the realms of his peers.

From splendour he fell through arrogance to contempt for all things save himself, a spirit wasteful and pitiless. Understanding he turned to subtlety in perverting to his own will all that he would use, until he became a liar without shame. He began with the desire of Light, but when he could not possess it for himself alone, he descended through fire and wrath into a great burning, down into Darkness. And darkness he used most in his evil works upon Arda, and filled it with fear for all living things.

The Valaquenta says the Elves named the Valar (the membership of the Valar therefore being defined by the Elves), who were simply the 'Great' among the Ainur who entered Arda. So the question becomes a matter of when the Elves would have deemed Melkor to be no longer one of the 'Great.'

We don't know what tales the other Ainur might have told the Eldar of Melkor. If they said anything, I imagine they left it at him being one of the greatest among them, yet still rebellious. Either way, for a time, the Elves regarded Melkor as a great guy.

Then Manwë granted him pardon; but the Valar would not yet suffer him to depart beyond their sight and vigilance, and he was constrained to dwell within the gates of Valmar. But fair-seeming were all the words and deeds of Melkor in that time, and both the Valar and the Eldar had profit from his aid and counsel, if they sought it; and therefore in a while he was given leave to go freely about the land, and it seemed to Manwë that the evil of Melkor was cured. [...] Therefore all the more did he feign love for [the Elves] and seek their friendship, and he offered them the service of his lore and labour in any great deed that they would do. The Vanyar indeed held him in suspicion, for they dwelt in the light of the Trees and were content; and to the Teleri he gave small heed, thinking them of little worth, tools too weak for his designs. But the Noldor took delight in the hidden knowledge that he could reveal to them; and some hearkened to words that it would have been better for mem never to have heard.

(Of Feanor and the Unchaining of Melkor)

This all came to an end pretty quickly.

Then Fëanor rose, and lifting up his hand before Manwë he cursed Melkor, naming him Morgoth, the Black Foe of the World; and by that name only was he known to the Eldar ever after.

(Of the Flight of the Noldor)

So, looking back to the your quote, his name was, at this point, 'no longer spoken on the Earth', at least by the Eldar, who are alleged to have been writing the histories our Hobbits based The Silmarillion on. I think it is logical that at this point, the Eldar would have no longer considered Morgoth one of the Valar.

But you could make the argument that Morgoth was still one of the 'Powers of Arda', Black Foe of the World, or not. In that case, I would say he certainly ceased being numbered among the Valar by the end of the War of Wrath:

The war was successful, and ruin was limited to the small (if beautiful) region of Beleriand. Morgoth was thus actually made captive in physical form,9 and in that form taken as a mere criminal to Aman and delivered to Namo Mandos as judge — and executioner. He was judged, and eventually taken out of the Blessed Realm and executed: that is killed like one of the Incarnates.

(Myths Transformed)

Being ignominiously captured, killed, and expelled from Arda would certainly seem to disqualify you as one of the Great Powers of Arda - even if his malice lived on.

  • And what about the prophecy that he would return? But as I just commented on the question: 'counted' doesn't imply that he isn't but instead implies that he isn't considered one. But technically he still is. As for the Elves naming them I have always read that as giving them names rather than whether or not they are of the same class. After all they were there before the elves, were they not? (And they gave e.g. Gandalf the name Mithrandir but that doesn't affect his status.) Whether he's a threat or not is another matter entirely but doesn't mean he isn't one of the Valar. – Pryftan Apr 4 '18 at 16:06
  • The quote explicitly says that it was the Elves who named the greatest of the ainur the valar,I.e, that the elves created the category. The ainur predated the elves, but not the elven classifications. – Shamshiel Apr 4 '18 at 18:32
  • Well you can interpret it that way but you can also interpret it the way I put it (more specifically it's their language but just because they themselves don't consider him in the same race doesn't mean he is a lesser being or race; just because they don't consider him X doesn't mean he isn't X - associations are things people invent to help identify but that doesn't define in full). So no actually it's not as simple as you make it out to be. But I don't suspect you'll understand my point so I'll just end it here because it's an exercise in futility if I'm not very much mistaken. – Pryftan Apr 4 '18 at 23:17
  • @Pryftan: I understand your point, it's just wrong. There's no reason to try to choose a tendentious, pedantic "interpretation" in contravention of the plain meaning of the sentence as understood by any native English speaker. The Valar are not a separate species from the Maiar, they are all Ainur. The Valar are simply the Ainur who entered Middle-Earth that the Elves perceived to be greater (in terms of wisdom, power, influence) than the rest who did so. – Shamshiel Apr 4 '18 at 23:29
  • You might. And I might be wrong. That's certainly possible as I am by no means perfect nor would I want to be. In this case it comes down to semantics and I'm a very literal thinker. So I'll concede. Edit: That being said my point is still valid in a sense (but I'm not sure how to explain it nor does it matter). Keywords a sense btw. It doesn't make it wholly valid however. – Pryftan Apr 4 '18 at 23:54
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"whereas all the other Ainur who aren't Maiar are identified as Valar." - the Ainur are the "angelic" beings who existed with Iluvatar before the making of the World (Arda). The Valar are those of the Ainur (but not all of them) who descended to Arda and assumed physical raiment, to be Arda's guardians. Melkor was one of them, so techically, he's both an Ainu and a Vala. But for his evil deeds, he's no longer counted among the Valar, although he always remained an Ainu.

Whether you yourself consider him a Vala, is up to you, I guess. I usually think of him as a Vala, albeit a fallen one. In the same sense, Sauron is and has always been a Maia, although after the destruction of the One Ring, his spirit was stripped of most of his status and power, and is probably languishing somewhere in the Outer Dark keeping Morgoth a company. :)

  • This feels much more the correct answer: because he was still of the same race he just was for the time contained. But he was there from the beginning and he was after all called 'He Who Arises in Might'. The name given to him doesn't affect his status though unless you want to say that the only reason Gandalf is one of the Istari is because the elves called him Mithrandir (which is frankly an absolutely ludicrous suggestion). The name the Elves gave Melkor is irrelevant to his racial status. – Pryftan Apr 4 '18 at 16:08
  • Actually as I just commented on the accepted answer I agree and disagree here. On the one hand they're all the same being; but otoh it's sort of arbitrary - and you say that as well. Does it matter then if it's arbitrary? I suppose that depends upon whom you ask, too. – Pryftan Jul 28 '18 at 20:18

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