The Two Trees of Valinor created by Yavanna were the source of illumination in Valinor. Being the luminaries of the natural origin the Trees were noted for their soft light, gentle dew and cycles of waxing and waning which led to the beginning of time measurement.

The elder Tree was called Telperion and was often referred to as «the White Tree». It had green leaves which were silver beneath and its flowers cast silver dew on the ground. Telperion was the precursor of the Moon. As it was prompted by Alan and Shawn from The Prancing Pony Podcast, the eldest luminaries of silvery light (possibly with the exception of the Lamp Illuin having bluish colour) are associated with the light of the Moon and stars and thus – with Elves, the Eldest Children of Ilúvatar. In their seniority over Men Elves echo the seniority of Illuin, Telperion and later the Moon over Ormal, Laurelin and the Sun respectively.

Telperion is the Quenya word where the key element is telpe- – «silver». This form was adopted from the Telerin because the Teleri «prized silver above gold and their skill as silversmiths was esteemed even by the Noldor» (Unfinished Tales, pp. 346-347). The Quenya word for silver is tyelpe, tyelep-, the Telerin one – telpë, telep-, and the Sindarin one – celeb-.  They all come from the ancient Elvish root kyelep-

The Tree was also known by the name Silpion. It’s a Quenya word derived from the ancient Elvish word sëlip. The root sil- is the variant of thil- and means «shine with white or silver light». In Quenya this root can also be found in IsilIsildur, Narsil. The word Silmarilli is derived from the name silima that Fëanor gave to the substance he made the gems of and this name is suggestive of the stones’ colour. The Sindarin words with the same root include Minas Ithil and Ithilien.

Another Quenya name applied to Telperion was Ninquelótë. It means «White Blossom» and consists of the elements ninque – «white» and lótë – «flower». The Sindarin equivalent of this word is Nimloth where nim means «white» (derived from the earlier nimf-, nimp-) and loth – «flower». In Morgoth’s Ring two more Sindarin names of the Elder Tree are given: Silivros – «sparkling rain» and Celeborn – «Tree of Silver». Some of these forming elements can be found in the Quenya word Vingilótë and Sindarin names Nimbrethil, Barad Nimras, Nimphelos, niphredil, Ered Nimrais

The younger Tree Laurelin was the precursor of the Sun associated with Men – the Younger Children of Ilúvatar. It had golden fruit and green leaves with golden edges. 

The Tree’s Quenya name Laurelin means «Song of Gold» and consists of laurë- – «gold», referring to colour or light, but not metal and lin – the root meaning «sing, make a musical sound». The element laurë derived from the ancient form láwar and lin was originally glin. Quenya words with the element lin include Ainulindalë, Lindar, Lindon, Ered Lindon, lómelindi. In Sindarin «gold» is expressed by the element glor- (derived from glaur) and can be found in such words as Glóredhel, Glorfindel, Loeg Ningloron, Lórindol and Rathlóriel.

Other names for Laurelin include Culúrien, where cul means «golden-red» and Malinalda. The latter means «Tree of Gold» and consists of the elements malina – «yellow of golden colour» and alda – «tree». The alda element can be found in Aldaron and Aldudenië. In Sindarin alda had a corresponding form galadh seen in Caras Galadhon and the Galadhrim

The Later Quenta Silmarillion, presented in Morgoth’s Ring, gives four Sindarin names for Laurelin. They are Galadlóriel, Glewellin – «Song of Gold», Lasgalen – «Green of Leaf» and Melthinorn – «Tree of Gold». 

Works consulted:

  1. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1999.
  2. J. R. R. Tolkien – Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1998.
  3. J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien – Morgoth’s Ring; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2015.
  4. J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien – The Lost Road and Other Writings; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2015.


Featured image – Creative Common Licence found at Pixabay.


7 thoughts on “Language notes /// On the Two Trees.

  1. The stars are lots of different colors. Borgil is certainly red. The first two stars mentioned in Varda’s list in Ch. 3 are Carnil and Luinil, which look like “the red one” and “the blue one”. (Caveat: I am illiterate in Quenya.) I wonder how she made those colors out of silver.

    1. You’re absolutely right! These two stars were indeed red and blue. There’s some information about them in Morgoth’s Ring and it seems that these two correspond to Mars and Neptune. Wow. Just wow.

      1. Olga, thank you for the shout-out, as always! And Joviator, I think you’re being modest about your knowledge of Quenya. The names do indeed contain “red” and “blue” respectively, with the second syllable -il being a form of either ilwë (“sky”) or elen (“star”). I tend to believe the ilwë connection, making “Luinil” an inversion of the name of the lamp “Illuin”; interesting but probably not significant.

        As for how the many colors would come from silver: the recurring image of white light refracting through jewel-facets into many colors seems to have fascinated Tolkien. In “Mythopoeia”, he speaks of the stars as made of “living silver” in a sky likened to a “jewelled tent”, so I’m sure a similar image was at work in his conception of the firmament of Arda. I don’t imagine actual jewels in the sky, because Aulë is not given a role here; but I believe that Varda must have some celestial power to filter white light into colors of her choosing. Since all colors are included in white light, she wouldn’t have to add anything new to the silver dew to give it color, but just block certain hues of light from appearing.

      2. Gandalf didn’t seem to think that breaking white light was a good thing. I have a hypothesis about that, which the Mythopoeia connection might help. Thanks, Shawn!

      3. Always happy to 🙂 Thank you for inspiration!
        I haven’t noticed this inversion between Luinil and Illuin. Wow! Knowing Tolkien’s attention to words and linguistic details I bet the inversion was intentional and there’s significance. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Great observation, Shawn!

      4. Thanks, Olga … and Joviator, that’s an excellent point. I suppose that Gandalf’s concern was specific to “he that breaks a thing *to find out what it is*”, and perhaps purpose is key. But it’s a very interesting question. I’d love to hear about your hypothesis when you’re ready to share it!

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