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Comments For Character of the Month Biographies
Yet another outstanding bio, Oshun! The comparisons of Nienna — the weeping goddess of Tolkien's secondary world — with the mythologies of our primary world are especially interesting. Really enjoyed reading the bits about the earlier versions of Nienna a.k.a. Fui. I'm taking the liberty of posting an excerpt from The Book of Lost Tales I here:
To Ve Fui came not much, for she laboured rather at the distilling of salt humours whereof are tears, and black clouds she wove and floated up that they were caught in the winds and went about the world, and their lightless webs settled ever and anon upon those that dwelt therein. Now these tissues were despairs and hopeless mourning, sorrows and blind grief.
The hall that she loved best was one yet wider and more dark than Ve, and she too named it with her own name, calling it Fui. Therein before her black chair burnt a brazier with a single flickering coal, and the roof was of bats' wings, and the pillars that upheld it and the walls about were made of basalt.
Now that Nienna seems less compassionate. Dawn is correct in that the BoLT may not allow for interpretation of later texts, but it certainly is ripe for the picking in terms of fan fiction, and this version of Fui Nienna fits the bill.
Again, a very readable bio. Thanks for all the work!
That quote is wonderful isn't it! (Now I am wondering why I did not use at least part of it? I know actually. I was racing like I was being chased by bats out of hell--late as usual!)
When Tolkien is good, he is very, very good--"Therein before her black chair burnt a brazier with a single flickering coal, and the roof was of bats' wings, and the pillars that upheld it and the walls about were made of basalt." But I still prefer a more friendly Nienna. But you right--it's ripe for explotation by a darker writer than me! (I know a few who would do an excellent job with it.)
As always, Oshun, this is so interesting, and full of such a variety of connections to real-world mythology! Thank you for researching and writing this!
Whee! Thanks! So thrilled you enjoyed it.
Once again, you have done an awesome job with this! As I noted over email, I love all the connections to real-world mythology that you found. I didn't know about most of these. It makes one wonder what the appeal of this particular archetype is.
I've often wondered about Nienna's transformation. Off the top of my head, I think she undergoes the most radical changes of all the Ainur between the LT and the published Silm. Like Himring notes, I've wondered if the original Nienna--who is pretty creepy--wasn't too pagan for JRRT as he got older; he seemed much more open to using pagan motifs earlier in his life. (One of my unproven theories, although someone else has probably discussed/proven it by now!) The connections you found between early Namo and Nienna and Odin and Freyja suggests that this might have become uncomfortable territory as Tolkien grew older and perhaps realized the implications of having explicitly pagan content in his stories. (CT also notes the overt Catholic ideas in the LT version, with the parallels between Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory in the realms of Namo and Nienna, so this certainly isn't cut and dried either ...)
Anyway, like I said as well, I was totally ready to be convinced of Nienna's importance after reading this, when I might have been inclined to downplay her otherwise.
I usually like his pagan references better than the ones that are more exclusively Catholic, but I will have to admit I much prefer the compassionate version of Nienna. As far as heaven, hell, and purgatory go, as an ex-Catholic with a rigorous and thorough Catholic education, I always think of the halls of Namo as falling somewhere between a purely punishment-based purgatory-like place and a correctional institution for wayward youngsters (with Namo as the hard guy). Meanwhile, in the final version of Nienna's characterization, she seems to take a purely soft-cop role on the correctional side. I suppose I sympathize with her role because I long for a world in which redemption is always possible.
That's interesting, Oshun. I had assumed that Nienna's transformation was mainly due to the Catholic influence, but you are pointing out the parallels with other weeping goddesses and supernatural beings as well here.
Thanks for reading, Himring! To be perfectly honest the Catholic influence did not hit me right between the eyes on this one, but I have to admit I did not spend much time pondering Nienna before tackling this project. Like I noted in the bio, my first reaction was Nienna the Weeper reminds me of La Llarona. But it turned out that the Mexican Weeping Woman was not who I thought she was other. I did have some other points I wanted to make in the bio, but as usually I got a late start and life did not stop in the two or three days I had to write it.
See Dawn's comment here. She also noted the Catholic influence and speculated about it.
The parts I wanted to pursue and did not were the concept I only shallowly explored about her characteristics in the final version being ones that are traditionally, although not exclusively, gendered as feminine.