The Hymn to Elbereth

This section of The Tolkien Encyclopedia is set aside for the intelligent yet informal exchange of viewpoints, thoughts, ideas, and questions concerning Tolkien's literary work. As the discussion archive grows, it will be interlinked to easily follow the threads of an idea or topic.

This archive is not meant to be a newsgroup. The content of the messages sent for this section should be focused on the active discussion of suggested topics or topics of a similar sort. Comments need not be restricted to the list of suggested topics in the syntopicon, although this is a good place to find points of departure.

Jack Lang

Thursday, December 7, 1995

Dear Mr. Lang:

I noticed that you have hit upon yet another great idea. I must commend you for having the inspiration to begin an archive for "intelligent yet informal" discussion of Tolkien's literary works.

The question posed about the possible connection between Elbereth and the Virgin Mary is just too interesting to leave untouched so I will attempt to lay out my impressions concerning this.

First, just a little background. The name Elbereth means "queen of stars"; the prefix el is associated with the English word "star." She also goes by the name of Varda. Evidently, she was one of the demiurgic Valar; her peculiar task was to make and place the stars in the heavens. The only association I can make with this element of Elbereth's essence is that the Virgin Mary is often depicted with a crown of stars about her head.

Second, Elbereth or Varda became the bride of Manwë, the chief of the Valar. The Virgin is often referred to as the Mother of God, which would imply that if God is His own Father, that Mary could be considered to have a "special" relationship with the Godhead although technically she was the wife of a mere man, Joseph.

Third, the most conclusive connection between the character of Elbereth and the Blessed Virgin is that both are invoked for their power of intercession. Frodo swears by Elbereth and Luthien in the last chapter of Book I of the LotR that the ringwraiths shall never have the one ring. It is possible that Frodo was swearing emphatically, but it seems more fitting that he would invoke the names of these great ladies in the time of his more dire need.

Verses concerning Elbereth appear twice in the LotR: "A Elbereth Gilthoniel" in Book II, Chapter 1 and "Ai! laurië lantar lassi súrinen!" in Book II, Chapter 8. The first verse is sung before the Fellowship leave Rivendell. Galadriel herself sings the second verse to the Fellowship when they depart Lórien.

This much must suffice on my first offering to this new Speculative Discussion Archive. Again, I commend the idea.

Donavan Hall

Note: Mr. Hall has composed an answer to an anonymous complaint issued against his above commentary. It is entitled Allegory and Similarity in Literature. --JL

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