Message Board | Rules

Thread: Poetic Metaphors from JRRT

Bottom of Page    Message Board > General Discussion > Poetic Metaphors from JRRT   
Tolkien's many books offer us examples to dispel some of the worlds great mysteries had there beginnings, albeit fantasy versions which thrill and endear. So what are your Favourites? I have a few so ill start the ball rolling. Unfinished tales gives us a clue as to how rainbows were made. In ancient days an Elf climbed a mountain. Plucked a strand of his magnificent hair from his golden head and threw it to the top of another mountain. The centre of the strand of hair was caught in Ilmarin (the high airs) and was held there, bending the strand of hair in a high arch, for his power enabled the hair to grow to great length. Of course Anar the golden's bright rays reflected against the hair and created the worlds first rainbow. Lovely isn't it.......

Nice thread, Brego.

I think I wrote that somewhere else on this forums, but I fell in love with Silmarillion from the first few pages, because I was amazed by the idea of creating the universe with music. I mean - music is for me the most abstract, most intangible and mysterious art in the world, and the vision of creating everything that exists with an orchestra or a choir has to be one of the most beautiful things I ever read.

I love the story of the Sun and the Moon, and Arien and Tilion's story - their eternal race.

Yes agreed Indis.  I love the scorch marks on the Moon caused by the heats of Arien, when he gets too close to her.

Re the Music of the Ainur.  I wonder what it would sound like?  Tolkien's wonderful descriptions give a an idea that its Melodic and orchestral, beautiful and terrible at the same time.  I think Mr Howard Shaw would do a great job if he got the chance.

Ok another fav is the invention of golf.

When goblins from Mount Gram in the Misty Mountains invaded the Northfarthing, Bandobras Took charged at the goblin leader Golfimbul and knocked off his head with a club. The goblin's head flew through the air for 100 yards and went down a rabbit hole; it is said that this was how the game of golf was invented.

For those who have seen the Hobbit movie this story and a portrait of Bandobras are presented beautifully by Gandalf.

As far as mythic explanations I have to note Earendil. And it may be obvious enough to note on a Tolkien forum, but it is no less beautiful or enchanting for being so well known of course. Tolkien not only explains this 'star' but the 'true' history behind the name √©arendel in an Old English poem (Crist).

Compare for example the Norse legend of Aurvandil, his frozen toe broken off by Thor and thrown into the sky as a star. This has its charm no doubt, but I prefer Tolkien's Earendil, who sat at the helm of his hallowed and fair vessel, glistening with the dust of gems, a Silmaril bound on his brow.


This is a nice thread Brego, but as a Tolkien fan I have to ask where your example above hails from. I'm referring to your description of an Elf upon a mountain plucking and throwing a golden hair to the top of another mountain, with its center being caught by Ilmarin and bent into an arch and so on, with the Sun reflecting against the hair to create the first rainbow.

I can't recall everything Tolkien ever wrote of course, but if this is from Tolkien could you direct us to it more specifically? At the moment I'm wondering if maybe you might be thinking of the Bridge of Orome from The Book of Lost Tales (which perhaps you meant instead of Unfinished Tales), since Vana's hair is involved.

But if so I think the details there are different enough to note for anyone who may not own The Book of Lost Tales.

Orome's bridge (and of course the description will be much more poetic in Tolkien's early style of prose, compared to the following somewhat simplified description): 

Orome begged a tress of Vana's hair (she is Orome's wife in this early conception) and he dipped the threads in the radiance of Kulullin, a cauldron of golden light in Valinor, and Vana wove this into a leash 'immeasurable'. Orome then cast this thong of gold on a hill in the East called Kalorme, very distant from Valinor, and by the magic of its making and the cunning of Orome's hand it stayed a golden curve, and Orome fastened the other end to a pillar in Manwe's court.

Then Orome used the bridge to travel East, and could return upon it 'ravelling' the thong as he came back, and in this way the Valar could travel to different places if they desired. The bridge glistens golden in the Sun when it is secured, and when rain moistens it the light breaks into many hues of colour: a Rainbow of course.

This idea was never mentioned again outside the very early Book of Lost Tales, but I would agree some of Tolkien's very early ideas, this one included, are quite wonderful.

Galin its somewhere is The History Of Middle Earth, cant remember which one, that is if its not in Lost Tales as I mentioned.

Let me know if you find it, its there somewhere.

Well actually you mentioned that this was in Unfinished Tales not The History of Middle-Earth which contains The Book of Lost Tales, but I don't really want to comb multiple volumes for this in any case, which is why I asked you for a more specific direction in my last post.

Are you sure you aren't thinking of Orome's Bridge?  

I didnt think you would Galin, I was being sarcastic.  It was somewhere in the many rewrites of the Sil, I cant remember where. Definitely had nothing to do with Orome.  It was back when Elves were Nomes....

It turns out that there's an index reference for 'Rainbow' in The History of Middle-Earth series.

It appears in three different volumes and according to these references the only variant to Orome's Bridge appears in an isolated note:

'When the Gods close Valinor... Lorien leaves a path across the mountains called Olore Malle, and Manwe the Rainbow where he walks to survey the world. It is only visible after rain, for then it is wet.

The Book of Lost Tales, The Hiding of Valinor, note 9

Other rainbow references have to do with the term Heavenly Arch (see The Fall of Gondolin), or the Rainbow Cleft, but in any case none of these references (anyway), refer to a story of an Elven hair and so on.

Definately not one of those examples Galin.  I remember reading it....  It'll come to me one day.  Possible thrown from the Pelori to the Lonely Isle....

I looked at every indexed 'Rainbow' reference (including Ilweran) noted in every volume of The History of Middle-Earth. So for clarity my post above briefly describes all references connected with the indexed word Rainbow, not just some I found so far (not that many in total really). 

Easier than reading twelve books Smile Smilie

But if the Elf hair version of the rainbow is in there somewhere I would think chances are it would have been indexed and referenced like Orome's bridge, Manwe's Rainbow and so on.

I mean 'chances are' in my opinion, as I say, but the index is a quicker type of check anyway.

Tolkien most likely got the Orome bridge from Norse mythology. The bifrost bridge.

Thats true Glorfindel, and a lot more too.  Im still looking for the whereabouts of the rainbow story....

Oh wow, where to start....

Personally I thought just about everything in the first age was incredibly metaphorical to how we view life today. We always try to make decisions black or white by ignoring the grey areas, not thinking about the long term. So then the second and third ages are the stories teaching us about consequence, giving us lessons to live by.

I also love the transition of "light" in the years before the sun, and how it also represents the stages of maturity in "humanity," or different beings living among eachother. From the darkness around you, first came the stars. I like to think of it like when you use, say, carpet cleaner (lol, best example I could think of), and the instructions always tell you to test it in a small area to make sure it doesn't effect the carpet. It's never been done. You have no idea what to expect. A budding beginning of what was to come.

Then of course the lamps, Illuin and Ormal, which I always thought of more as "construction" lights, as opposed to glorious and unworldly light. These were just lamps that would shine on a dark area so you could work at night. It also represents everyone working together in joy, regardless of not being able to see around them, and using what little resources they had to build a home for the future of Illuvatar. But of course you always have the oddball out...

Next was the trees. Now this is the glorious and unworldly light. I believe we as humans are unable to really fathom what this light looked or felt like. It wasn't bright like a cloudless day in a valley nor dark like a starless night. The skies looked different, the way light reflected off objects was different. Maybe it didn't reflect at all. It just "settled." We will never know. But also this was a time of love and strife. The purest light known was the good nature of the Vala, but the darkness in Arda was Melkor and his schemes. Black and white decisions, if you will. Everyone wanted to work together (more or less) except for one. Melkor knew his desires were wrong, his yearning to leave the others and create his own world. Sure it was intended through Illuvatar, but it was still "wrong." So this was the clear severing between good and evil, when the line as we know it was officially drawn.

Then there's today. Boring ol' sun and moon. Representative of our distinguishable night and day personalities, but full of grey area inbetween. Guess we'll just have to see what comes next...


Beautiful word and meaning Balrogs

I've always love The Lamps and The Trees and there meaning of Light, Growth and Purity. Purity which we are lacking today under the Sun and Moon.

Beautifully put Brego. Things just aren't made like they used to be...

That's probably the reason why people want to see the light so much. By this I mean people wants to be enlighten.
Yes enlightened and respectful of nature in all its manifestations. I believe this is what JRRT was all about. All of his characters of evil stand for oppression, greed and singularity. The One Ring, Lord Of The Earth, Self confessed Greatest King. All of these wanted more, and once they had it even more. Whether Ungolient, Shelob, Smaug or The Goblin King, they all wanted more than light. They wanted all, and that is simply not possible in an enlightened world.

While those who follow the path of light are simply content to live with what they have and make the most out of it. They do not crave more light, they accept the light they have. Again, a good example being the lamps. The good Valar were the ones working together with what little they had, it was Melkor, the evil, who desired more. More light, more power, more people etc etc

Good words Balrogs. The Valar don't want for anything because they are content with what Eru has to offer. Exactly what we should be.

While those who follow the path of light are simply content to live with what they have and make the most out of it. They do not crave more light, they accept the light they have. Again, a good example being the lamps. The good Valar were the ones working together with what little they had, it was Melkor, the evil, who desired more. More light, more power, more people etc etc

I disagree with you on this one. I think wanting more light is better. More light equals, more knowledge, wisdom, acceptance, sharing, open minded, etc. Less light or darkness equals, selfishness, close minded, etc. The Valar wanted more light so they can share with the children. Where as Melkor wanted darkness, or atleast "dim." He didn't want others to have the light or for it to spread. He went deeper and deeper into the shadows because he didn't want to accept anybody else's "light" thinking their's are inferior.

There are many people today that lives in the dark. People who are unwilling to accept change, unwilling to accept others and their opinions, being closed minded, greed etc.

Sorry I should've been more clear on this one. What I meant was Melkor desired things more than others, his plans were very different from theres. Now he was being fueled by this selfish desire, as opposed to everyone else who accepted what was given to them and were working towards creating their own desires together.

The word light was subjective here, so if it helps just pretend it's not there and it'll still get the point across

Glorfindel I agree that there is nothing wrong with wanting more. However as we read in the Silmarillion, too much pride and the want of more can lead to disaster. The best example is the sad tale of Feanor and his greedy sons, albeit driven by the Silmarils. Tolkien uses these tales as devices to teach us that there is a fine line between wanting more and ultimate greed. Lust of more is also used with the Dwarf Fathers, who's lust of gold, driven by the Dwarven Rings, led to their people's ultimate destruction.


I was amazed by the idea of creating the universe with music


Tolkien invented string theory. I've said it a before and I'll say it again until he gets a nobel Big Smile Smilie


Tolkien's metaphors were always exceptional. When I first read The Silmarillion there was a moment I felt like that each one was a gently nudge that pointed towards the feelings he wanted his writing to convey. After that I spent some time reading through everything AGAIN just to be amazed by them Smile Smilie

Well put Arath. I now find the Sil addictive and go back to it often.