When in the heat of his grief over the murder of his father and the theft of the Silmarilli Fëanor accused the Valar of being idle and taking no steps to punish Morgoth and return the gems, little did the Elf know how much he erred. Even sitting in silence in that dark moment, the Powers were far from being inactive.

For the Valar may work many things with thought rather than with hands, and without voices in silence they may hold council one with another.

(Silmarillion, p. 108)

What we see here is the case of thought transmission which is a common way of conversing for the Valar. Contrary to the Incarnates, the Powers do not require a verbal language to communicate: it is in the Valar’s and Maiar’s nature to talk by means of thoughts. Though performed more easily and precisely when the interlocutors are not in their bodily forms, the Valar’s acquired hröar do not hinder their communication much: their will is much stronger than any other creature’s in Arda, so the Valar’s spirits always prevail over their bodies, and great affinity between the Powers only facilitates the understanding between them.

Thought transmission is also the way of communication between the Valar and Ilúvatar. As Manwë is the one closest to Eru and knows his purposes better than the others do, it is often him who seeks advice from the Creator. By opening himself to Eru in entreaty” (Ósanwe-kenta) Manwë may be able to perceive His thought and thus to find answers to the questions he has to ask, then sharing Ilúvatar’s counsel with the other Valar. However, it can happen only when Eru is willing to reveal His thought, for the Valar “cannot of their own will “see” any part of His mind” (ibid.).

By their nature Elves can transmit thoughts, too, but they are not so skillful in it as the Valar are. The first hindrance is a physical body which, being of Arda, makes such communication slow and imprecise. Moreover, as Elves are mastering a language, the art of ósanwe* is becoming less sharp as the skill of verbal communication is dimming the skill of the mental one. Exchanging thoughts between the Incarnates then requires the strengthening in the form of Affinity, Urgency or Authority. Besides, to be able to receive a mental message one’s mind should be open and remain so if it is to be involved in a conversation of thoughts. Holding converse with more than one person presents more difficulties, and very few are capable of it. We see it in this exchange between Galadriel, Celeborn, Elrond and Gandalf:

Often long after the hobbits were wrapped in sleep they would sit together under the stars, recalling the ages that were gone and all their joys and labours in the world, or holding council, concerning the days to come. If any wanderer had chanced to pass, little would he have seen or heard, and it would have seemed to him only that he saw grey figures, carved in stone, memorials of forgotten things now lost in unpeopled lands. For they did not move or speak with mouth, looking from mind to mind; and only their shining eyes stirred and kindled as their thoughts went to and fro.

(Return of the King, p. 318)

Bound by affinity based on love and friendship between them, the Elves and the Maia are very skillful in the art of thought transmission. Here we see wise, powerful beings, who have seen hundreds of years of Arda and possess wisdom and skills far surpassing those of many, being involved into a communication of thoughts, which allows them to keep the things, which are not meant for others, hidden.

Verbal speech is more common and habitual for the Elves. Being good at languages, they speak them artfully and with great talent. In Aman, the Valar learnt Quenya and applied it in their daily conversations with the Elves. With every language coming naturally to them, the Powers mastered the fair Elven speech quickly, far more quickly than the Elves would have learnt the Valar’s language – Valarin. This act, however, was performed by the Powers mostly for the “pleasure of exercising the powers and skills of the bodily form” (War of the Jewels, p. 406), rather than out of necessity. They loved Quenya, just like other Elvish creations, and were happy to learn it for their own delight. 

After the Elves came to Aman, Valarin was rarely used by the Valar in the presence of the Eldar. A certain amount of Valarin was known to the Elvish loremasters, including Fëanor, who possibly knew more of that language than anyone else, but would not share the knowledge because of his strained relationship with the Valar. Most of those who chose to learn Valarin did it of their own desire, but it was not necessary for the Elves to do so. Some Valarin words were adopted into Quenya with certain changes as the language of the Powers did not sound pleasing to the Elvish ears. Being very aesthetically sensitive, the Elves made words in their language sound pleasing and beautiful. Thus some Valarin words were shortened and adapted to fit Quenya, but otherwise the Elves preferred to create their own words and were unwilling to change their language that they were so proud of.


*ósanwe – interchange of thoughts.

Works consulted:

  1. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1999.
  2. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
  3. J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien – Morgoth’s Ring; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2015.
  4. J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien – The War of the Jewels; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2002.
  5. J. R. R. Tolkien – Ósanwe-kenta.


Featured image – Creative Common Licence found at Pixabay.


2 thoughts on “It is all in the mind.

  1. That scene on the journey from Minas Tirith that Tolkien describes so movingly is one that I am greatly affected by. Imagine what Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel and Celeborn speak about through those nights. I love that phrase about their “joys and labours”. The two are woven together into a fabric that is both beautiful and so very sad. I think that one of the greatest influences on me of the Inklings is to create a longing for an enchanted world. Like Sam if I were to meet Elves in the woods when I walk my dog early each morning I would be in a state of bliss. Or perhaps I have met them as “memorials of forgotten things” as Tolkien puts it.
    That they should be able to communicate without requiring the use of speech as we understand it is no surprise. That Fëanor did not understand this is a great tragedy. His pride cuts himself off from a fellowship to which he could have given so much and received so much. Clearly Galadriel learns something that Fëanor in a way rejected.
    Thank you once again for your fine essay.

    1. I love this journey back, too. It always gives me a sense of comfort and a great weight having been taken off their shoulders with the destruction of the Ring and Sauron. The mood is also nostalgic, in a way, as for the Elves and Gandalf it’s clear that their time in Middle-earth is coming to an end too. That’s all very moving.
      I guess Fëanor’s pride and arrogance made him blind to so many things that someone of his mindset and talent couldn’t have missed otherwise. His self-isolation was a great tragedy, indeed.

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