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Mandos is the great judge of the Valar, and his decisions are widely respected by all the other Valar. But most of his judgements have disastrous consequences for the Valar, the Elves, and all of Arda. If anyone could have seen the consequences beforehand, it would be Mandos, who is granted greater foresight than any of the Valar.

  • When some of the Valar worry about the imminent awakening of the Elves, and the possibility that Melkor will find them before the Valar do, Mandos basically tells them not to worry, because the Elves won't wake up anytime soon. The Valar accept his judgment, and abandon their plans to capture Melkor before the Elves wake up. The Elves awaken shortly after the debate, Melkor finds them, he abducts and corrupts many of them, and misleads many more, before Oromë stumbles upon the remainder.

  • When the Valar debate over whether they should bring the Elves to Valinor, the crucial vote comes from Mandos, who says that the Elves should indeed come to Valinor. This, too, proves disastrous. The immediate consequence is the sundering of the Elves, but the long term effects will be far more sinister.

  • When Melkor is brought to face judgement for his crimes, Mandos agrees with the inexplicable decision to allow him to appeal after a relatively short time in prison in the Halls of Mandos. Melkor serves his sentence, then pretends to be remorseful, and is freed. We read nothing to indicate that Mandos expressed any concerns about this course of action, despite the fact that Melkor is the most evil and powerful being in existence.

  • When Fëanor threatens his half brother, Mandos exiles him from the city of the Elves in Valinor. This sets the stage for the next step in the sundering. Fëanor begins to believe the lies told by Melkor, that the Valar are holding the Elves captive, desiring to steal Fëanor's beloved Silmarils, and keeping the Elves out of Middle-earth in order to allow the still-slumbering Men to take control of the continent in the Elves' stead. Fëanor and Finwë, as well as Fëanor's sons, build a fortress and store the Silmarils inside.

  • When Melkor and Ungoliant kill the Trees of Valinor, and the Valar ask Fëanor to give them the Silmarils so the trees can be healed, he refuses, saying he loves them so much that losing them would break his heart, and he would become the first person to die in Valinor. Mandos, rather obliquely, says "Not the first". What he (and he alone) knows, but does not say, is that - even as they speak - Melkor and Ungoliant are murdering Finwë and stealing the Silmarils. Had he spoken sooner, or less cryptically, this might have been averted. But he didn't, so Finwë dies and the Silmarils are carried off, with catastrophic implications for everyone.

After this, Fëanor is so infuriated that he leads the greater part of the Noldor on a fool's errand, beginning a vendetta that will result in many deaths and untold suffering. Fëanor and his followers take an oath to kill anyone - even the Valar themselves - who stands between the Noldor and the Silmarils. The Teleri refuse to help the Noldor (who are their kin) and are slaughtered by Fëanor's followers as a result. Fëanor and his allies pursue Melkor out of Aman and into Middle-earth.

  • Mandos then appears before them and pronounces "The Doom of the Noldor", also known as "The Curse of Mandos". He tells the renegades that their vendetta will lead them to ruin, and informs Fëanor that he is banished from Valinor forever. The only person who could have convinced the Noldor to repent was Fëanor himself, but having been banished, he no longer has any reason to reconsider his present course of action, let alone attempt to persuade his followers to turn back. In time, this will lead to the destruction of much of Middle-earth, many, many deaths, and all manner of horrible events over the course of the next several thousand years.

Why are Mandos' judgements so widely respected when they often prove to have monstrous consequences for all of Arda? On a related note, is he simply predicting the future, or is he deciding what will happen, in accordance to the will of Eru? Did any of his judgements work out well, or were they all so catastrophic?


Note: While Tolkien sometimes uses the word "Doom" (often in relation to Mandos, the "Doomsman of the Valar") in the sense in which we think of it - i.e., a terrible fate - he more often uses it in the sense in which it was originally intended in Middle English - meaning simply "a fate or judgement". Sometimes, when used in this way, a "doom" can be a good thing.

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    I am sad that I have only one upvote for this question. – Organic Marble Jun 13 '15 at 23:51
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    Your question assumes that Mandos makes decisions, which is incorrect. To make a laboured metaphor, Mandos was the nerdy one who was taking the closest notes when Ilúvatar revealed the history of Middle-earth to the Ainur; he's not saying "this is what I think we should do", he's saying "this is what has been decreed" – Jason Baker Jun 14 '15 at 0:39
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    @JasonBaker - the title assumes what you say it does, but the question itself asks if Mandos is deciding or merely conveying decisions made by someone else. But when he says "Not the first", he is being deliberately obtuse, to the point of being complicit in the murder of Finwë. – Wad Cheber Jun 14 '15 at 0:41
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    The question itself only asks whether he's deciding or conveying decisions as "a related note". Both the question title and the primary question "Why are Mandos' judgments so widely respected ..." both ask what Jason says the question asks. Needs editing to clarify. – Matt Gutting Jun 14 '15 at 0:51
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    Don't be so quick to edit. I've discovered some fascinating new reading material in Morgoth's Ring that I'm trying to turn into an answer – Jason Baker Jun 14 '15 at 2:10
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Mandos' Judgements

There's an interesting bit on this topic in History of Middle-earth which comes up in an odd context: the second marriage of Finwë1.

To speak of the dooms of Mandos: these are of three kinds. He utters the decisions of Manwë, or of the Valar in conclave, which become binding upon all, even the Valar, when they are so declared; for which reason a time passes between the decision and the doom. In similar manner he utters the decisions and purposes of others who are under his jurisdiction, who are the Dead, in grave matters that affect justice and the right order of Arda; and when so spoken these decisions become 'laws' also, though pertaining only to the particular persons or cases, and Mandos will not permit them to be revoked or broken; for which reason again a time must pass between decision and doom. And lastly there are the dooms of Mandos that proceed from Mandos himself, as judge in matters that belong to his office as ordained from the beginning. He is the judge of right and wrong, and of innocence and guilt (and all the degrees of mingling of these) om the mischances and misdeeds that come to pass in Arda.

History of Middle-earth X Morgoth's Ring Part 2: The Second Phase Chapter 3: "Laws and Customs of the Eldar" Of the Severance of Marriage

Later on in this essay, there's a partial telling of a long debate between the Valar on the matter of how to deal with remarriage. In the interests of brevity I'm not going to reproduce it, but what's interesting is that they're mainly debating the finer points of the Will of Eru. For example2:

Then Aulë, friend of the Noldor and lover of Fëanor, spake. 'But did this matter arise out of Arda Marred?' he asked. 'For it seemeth to me that it arose from the bearing of Fëanaro3. Now Finwë and all the Noldor that followed him were never in heart or thought swayed by Morgoth, the Marrer; how then did this strange thing come to pass, even in Aman the Unshadowed? That the bearing of a child should lay such a weariness upon the mother that she desired life no longer. This child is the greatest in gifts that hath arisen or shall arise among the Eldar. But the Eldar are the first Children of Eru, and belong to him directly. Therefore the greatness of the child must proceed from his will directly, and be intended for the good of the Eldar, and of all Arda. What then of the cost of the birth? Must it not be thought that the greatness and the cost come not from Arda, Marred or Unmarred, but from beyond Arda? For this we know to be true, and as the ages pass it shall often be manifest (in small matters and in great) that all the Tale of Arda was not in the Great Theme, and that things shall come to pass in that Tale which cannot be foreseen, for they are new and are not begotten by the past that preceded them.' Thus Aulë spake being unwilling to believe that any taint of the Shadow lay upon Fëanor, or upon any of the Noldor. He had been the most eager to summon them to Valinor.

But Ulmo answered: 'Nonetheless Míriel died. And death is for the Eldar an evil, that is a thing unnatural in Arda Unmarred, which must proceed therefore from the Marring. For if the death of Míriel was otherwise, and came from beyond Arda (as a new thing having no cause in the past) it would not bring grief or doubt. For Eru is Lord of All, and moveth all the devices of his creatures, even the malice of the Marrer, in his final purposes, but he doth not of his prime motion impose grief upon them. But the death of Míriel has brought sorrow to Aman. The coming of Fëanaro must proceed certainly from the will of Eru; but I hold that the marring of his birth comes of the Shadow, and is a portent of evils to come.

History of Middle-earth X Morgoth's Ring Part 2: The Second Phase Chapter 3: "Laws and Customs of the Eldar" Of the Severance of Marriage

The debate ends with Manwë deciding that Ulmo was more correct, and then passing proceedings to Mandos to explain his position. This is what he has to say:

Then Námo Mandos spoke, saying: 'All that I have heard I have considered again; though naught pertinent to judgement hath been brought forward that was not already considered in the making of the Statute. Let the Statute stand, for it is just.

'It is our part to rule Arda, and to counsel the Children, or to command them in things committed to our authority. Therefore it is our task to deal with Arda Marred, and to declare what is just within it. We may indeed in counsel point to the higher road, but we cannot compel any free creature to walk upon it. That leadeth to tyranny, which disfigureth good and maketh it seem hateful.

[...]

'Hearken now, O Valar! To me foretelling is granted, no less than doom, and I will proclaim to you things both near and far. Behold! Indis the fair shall be made glad and fruitful, who might else have been solitary. For not in death only hath the Shadow entered into Aman with the coming of the Children destined to suffer; there are other sorrows, even if they be less. Long she hath loved Finwë, in patience and without bitterness. Aulë nameth Fëanor the greatest of the Eldar, and in potency that is true. But I say unto you that the children of Indis shall also be great, and the Tale of Arda more glorious because of their coming. And from them shall spring things so fair that no tears shall dim their beauty; in whose being the Valar, and the Kindreds both of Elves and of Men that are to come shall all have part, and in whose deeds they shall rejoice. So that, long hence when all that here is, and seemeth yet fair and impregnable, shall nonetheless have faded and passed away, the Light of Aman shall not wholly cease among the free people of Arda until the End.

'When he that shall be called Eärendil setteth foot upon the shores of Aman, ye shall remember my words. In that hour ye shall not say that the Statute of Justice hath borne fruit only in death; and the griefs that shall come ye shall weigh in the balance, and they shall not seem too heavy compared with the rising of the light when Valinor groweth dim.'

History of Middle-earth X Morgoth's Ring Part 2: The Second Phase Chapter 3: "Laws and Customs of the Eldar" Of the Severance of Marriage

So what's the point of all of this? It seems to suggest that Mandos is both a decision-maker and a messenger; he makes his judgments concerning what is right and wrong, but he also delivers the decisions of the Valar taken together.

However, this isn't inconsistent with the idea that all judgments of Mandos come ultimate from Eru; as Eru said to Melkor in the beginning:

'Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilúvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.'

The Silmarillion I Ainulindalë

Despite being individual beings, each of the Ainur ultimately came from the thoughts of Ilúvatar, and any decision they make, and any attempt they make to determine the course of the world, is His design.

Did Mandos ever make a Doom that didn't end horribly?

Depending on your perspective, all of them might fall under that category; his early prophecies concerning the Noldor in Aman resulted in The Silmarillion which, although a sorrowful tale from the perspective of the Elves, is still a more compelling and beautiful one than would have occurred in Aman Unshadowed.

But for a more contemporary definition of "good", consider Mandos' Doom at the end of that last quote, where he pronounces that the children of Indis (that is, Fingolfin and Finarfin, plus two daughters who stayed in Aman and didn't do much else) would make the world more glorious that it would have been before.

And indeed:

  • From Fingolfin's line we get Eärendil, who played a principal role in ending the War of the Jewels and would then become the "star" we call Venus, the light of which would later keep Frodo from getting eaten by Shelob
  • From Fingolfin also came Elros, who helped elevate the race of Men, and Elrond and Arwen, who renewed Man's nobility
  • From Finarfin we get Gil-galad and Galadriel, who played significant roles in events of the Second and Third Ages

Eru works in mysterious ways.


1 In the interests of full disclosure, this is something I didn't know before; I'd half-written a completely different answer before stumbling on this essay, and I couldn't be happier to have done so

2 In the interests of making this easier to read, I'm going to seamlessly add in Tolkien's later corrections to the manuscript. This essay was revised occasionally throughout his life, and is full of parenthetical annotations that I'm going to merge in. Just makes it easier to read.

3 Fëanor's name in Quenya

  • Great answer, I can find no grounds to argue against any of the points you raise. +1 as always. – Wad Cheber Jun 14 '15 at 3:24
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I think the issue is that you're in part confusing Mandos's decisions with his reporting, so to speak, and then confusing the consequences of what he says will happen.

Mandos is the doomsman of the Valar, but by-and-large, he pronounces what he knows is is fate, not rendering his own verdict.

Námo the elder dwells in Mandos, which is westward in Valinor. He is the keeper of the Houses of the Dead, and the summoner of the spirits of the slain. He forgets nothing; and he knows all things that shall be, save only those that lie still in the freedom of Ilúvatar. He is the Doomsman of the Valar; but he pronounces his dooms and his judgements only at the bidding of Manwë.

(Valaquenta)

So we have to differentiate when Mandos is rendering a verdict versus when he is pronouncing that which he knows shall be.

So, going through your list, one-by-one:

When some of the Valar worry about the imminent awakening of the Elves, and the possibility that Melkor will find them before the Valar do, Mandos basically tells them not to worry, because the Elves won't wake up anytime soon.

In this case, Mandos is telling them what shall be.

But at the bidding of Manwë Mandos spoke, and he said: ‘In this age the Children of Ilúvatar shall come indeed, but they come not yet. Moreover it is doom that the Firstborn shall come in the darkness, and shall look first upon the stars. Great light shall be for their waning. To Varda ever shall they call at need.’

(Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor)

Note that only Yavanna and Tulkus had been advocating for war; it was not the consensus decision of the Valar. But Mandos spoke of what was to be. The doom, decreed in the Music, was that the Elves would awake in darkness. The Valar did not have a role to play, yet. This was not a decision made by Mandos, but by Eru. (There are some later writings in Morgoth's Ring where Tolkien reconsidered this, where Eru tells Manwe he made a mistake not ordering war sooner. But that whole narrative is difficult to reconcile with earlier and more complete writings.)

When the Valar debate over whether they should bring the Elves to Valinor, the crucial vote comes from Mandos, who says that the Elves should indeed come to Valinor.

Mandos did not decree or suggest that Elves should be summoned to Aman. In fact, he was silent during the entire debate.

Then again the Valar were gathered in council, and they were divided in debate. For some, and of those Ulmo was the chief, held that the Quendi should be left free to walk as they would in Middle-earth, and with their gifts of skill to order all the lands and heal their hurts. But the most part feared for the Quendi in the dangerous world amid the deceits of the starlit dusk; and they were filled moreover with the love of the beauty of the Elves and desired their fellowship. At the last, therefore, the Valar summoned the Quendi to Valinor, there to be gathered at the knees of the Powers in the light of the Trees for ever; and Mandos broke his silence, saying: ‘So it is doomed.’ From this summons came many woes that afterwards befell.

(Of the Coming of the Elves)

In fact, Mandos's statement is a kind of fatalistic warning.

When Melkor is brought to face judgement for his crimes, Mandos agrees with the inexplicable decision to allow him to appeal after a relatively short time in prison in the Halls of Mandos. Melkor serves his sentence, then pretends to be remorseful, and is freed. We read nothing to indicate that Mandos expressed any concerns about this course of action, despite the fact that Melkor is the most evil and powerful being in existence.

Mandos is subservient to Manwe. He cannot pass judgement or speak of the future without Manwe's permission. Mandos (in his way) did appear to have some qualms about letting Morgoth free, but it was Manwe's decision to do so. Not Mandos's.

And Nienna aided his prayer; but Mandos was silent. [...] But they [Tulkas and Ulmo] obeyed the judgement of Manwë; for those who will defend authority against rebellion must not themselves rebel.

(Of Feanor and the Unchaining of Melkor)

When Fëanor threatens his half brother, Mandos exiles him from the city of the Elves in Valinor.

The Valar knew that Morgoth was behind all this. But Feanor had still committed great crimes and had to be punished. He got off pretty lightly, considering he was already preaching open rebellion against the Valar and drew a deadly weapon against his brother.

But Fëanor was not held guiltless, for he it was that had broken the peace of Valinor and drawn his sword upon his kinsman; and Mandos said to him: ‘Thou speakest of thraldom. If thraldom it be, thou canst not escape it; for Manwë is King of Arda, and not of Aman only. And this deed was unlawful, whether in Aman or not in Aman. Therefore this doom is now made: for twelve years thou shalt leave Tirion where this threat was uttered. In that time take counsel with thyself, and remember who and what thou art. But after that time this matter shall be set in peace and held redressed, if others will release thee.’

(Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor)

Had he spoken sooner, or less cryptically, this might have been averted. But he didn't, so Finwë dies and the Silmarils are carried off, with catastrophic implications for everyone.

My reading was that Finwe was already dead. This is confirmed in a footnote in Morgoth's Ring: "§121 Mandos said ‘Not the first’ because he knew that Finwë had been murdered. See further p. 127, §120." We also have to leave time between Finwe being murdered and the messengers arriving.

Mandos has, we are told, perfect knowledge of the future insofar as it is possible. But he is also constrained by the Music. If something is fated to be, Mandos cannot change it.

In time, this will lead to the destruction of much of Middle-earth, many, many deaths, and all manner of horrible events over the course of the next several thousand years.

Yet it also leads to the redemption of Middle-Earth from Morgoth and the salvation of Men and the Elves who never left.

Even the Doom of the Noldor was in large part not a pronouncement of judgement against the Noldor, but a foretelling:

Tears unnumbered ye shall shed; and the Valar will fence Valinor against you, and shut you out, so that not even the echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains. On the House of Fëanor the wrath of the Valar lieth from the West unto the uttermost East, and upon all that will follow them it shall be laid also. Their Oath shall drive them, and yet betray them, and ever snatch away the very treasures that they have sworn to pursue. To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well; and by treason of kin unto kin, and the fear of treason, shall this come to pass. The Dispossessed shall they be for ever.

‘Ye have spilled the blood of your kindred unrighteously and have stained the land of Aman. For blood ye shall render blood, and beyond Aman ye shall dwell in Death's shadow. For though Eru appointed to you to die not in Eä, and no sickness may assail you, yet slain ye may be, and slam ye shall be: by weapon and by torment and by grief; and your houseless spirits shall come then to Mandos. There long shall ye abide and yearn for your bodies, and find little pity though all whom ye have slain should entreat for you. And those that endure in Middle-earth and come not to Mandos shall grow weary of the world as with a great burden, and shall wane, and become as shadows of regret before the younger race that cometh after.

You don't need to be Mandos to predict that the Noldor will shed unnumbered tears in a hopeless war againstone of the Powers of the World, or that an oath sworn in evil will (in a Middle-Earth context) lead to further evil. And fading is something that was doomed to happen anyway, and not just to the Noldor.

On a related note, is he simply predicting the future, or is he deciding what will happen, in accordance to the will of Eru?

He is predicting the future most of the time. Mandos does have the power to judge when asked by Manwe, but he rarely exercises it. Actually it mostly goes on when we don't see: when Mandos judges the Children of Illuvatar in his Halls.

Did any of his judgements work out well, or were they all so catastrophic?

Disaster is a funny word. It all worked out according to the will of Eru.

Indeed, one suspects that Mandos might be a bit of a better judge than Manwe.

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.

(HoME X, Myths Transformed)

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    Great answer. +1. I will address your points one at a time. 1. Tolkien probably rethought his early writing because it made the Valar, especially Mandos and Manwë, look foolish and shortsighted. 2. I think you're confusing the two meanings of "doom" re: bringing the Elves to Valinor. "So it is doomed" seems to me to say "So it is decided". I may be wrong in thinking that Mandos is the final vote, but the rest of my point here stands. 3. Again, if Mandos is simply Manwë's messenger, he shouldn't be described as a judge. – Wad Cheber Jun 14 '15 at 2:51
  • 4. Mandos remaining silent regarding Melkor being released is tantamount to agreeing with the incredibly stupid decision. He is the judge and the jailer, and yet he doesn't say "Maybe we shouldn't let the pure evil guy walk free. 5. Fëanor wasn't openly preaching rebellion yet. He was basically guilty of threatening his brother. Big whoop. 6. My point regarding his "Not the first" statement is that he knew Finwë was going to be killed ahead of time and said nothing about it. In the real world, if you did the same thing, you'd be guilty of complicity in, and conspiracy to commit, murder – Wad Cheber Jun 14 '15 at 2:57
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    Shamshiel- as far as everything being determined by the music, apparently Tolkien didn't share your views. From Jason's answer: " For this we know to be true, and as the ages pass it shall often be manifest (in small matters and in great) that all the Tale of Arda was not in the Great Theme, and that things shall come to pass in that Tale which cannot be foreseen, for they are new and are not begotten by the past that preceded them." – Wad Cheber Jun 14 '15 at 3:19
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    @WadCheber Recall the following passage from Ainulindalë: "Yet some things there are that [the Ainur] cannot see, neither alone nor taking counsel together; for to none but himself has Ilúvatar revealed all that he has in store, and in every age there come forth things that are new and have no foretelling, for they do not proceed from the past." Ilúvatar created the World using the Music as a template, but he added his own quirks in that the Valar can't forsee, because they're literally God exercising his Divine Will over creation – Jason Baker Jun 14 '15 at 20:49
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    Yes. @WadCheber, I missed that first comment yesterday, but no, in context, 'so it is doomed' has nothing to do with Mandos' judgement or preferences. He is saying 'so it is decided; that's what fate had in store', not casting a ballot or passing judgment. I am highly aware of the shades of doom. :) – Shamshiel Jun 15 '15 at 20:15
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Did Mandos make any decisions that didn't prove to be disastrous?

Yes, his decision to allow Beren and Luthien back into the world was instrumental in regaining the Silmaril that was set in Nauglamir (the Necklace of the Dwarves), so that it could eventually pass on to Earendil and guide him to Valinor.

See chapters 22 and 24 of the Silmarillion.

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