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Námo

Dawn Felagund
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In the Valaquenta, Námo--more frequently named after his dwelling place, Mandos--is named as the fifth most powerful of the Lords of the Valar, followed only by Irmo and Tulkas. Yet Námo is prevalent throughout The Silmarillion, a mysterious character whose pronouncements overshadow nearly all of the events and whose dooms lie like shadows across the history of the First Age.

Námo's role in the story is a complex one. Unlike many of the other Valar--whose duties can be confined to a single domain--Námo's responsibilities are multiple and varied, with the exception that all of them seem to be a matter of dread to the lives they touch. As described in Valaquenta, Námo

is the keeper of the Houses of the Dead, and the summoner of the spirits of the slain. He forgets nothing; and he knows all things that shall be, save only those that lie still in the freedom of Ilúvatar. He is the Doomsman of the Valar; but he pronounces his dooms and his Judgements only at the bidding of Manwë.

So he summons the spirits of the dead and keeps and judges them. He not only keeps the most meticulous notes of all of the Valar concerning what has been, but he predicts what is yet to come. When bidden, he'll let the rest of us in on to a few of these insights.

In addition to his specific duties, his halls--which share his name Mandos and are located on the shores of the Outer Sea--are also a focal point throughout The Silmarillion. In addition to serving as a boundless place of rest and recovery for the spirits of the dead Elves, they also hold contain the stories-as-tapestries woven by his wife Vairë. Some believe, also, that spirits of dead Dwarves go as well to Mandos, where Aulë gets a special section of these halls that "ever widen as the ages pass" for the Dwarves' keeping (1). Similarly mysterious is the fate of Men, who are also said to stop at the halls of Mandos before departing for "whither they go after the time of recollection" (2). Nienna, too, finds temporary employment there in comforting the spirits of the dead (3). And, famously, the halls of Mandos were used as a prison for Melkor for three ages during the Time of the Trees.

Despite Námo's fifth-place spot in the ranking of the Lords of the Valar, he is one of the most ubiquitous and memorable of them throughout The Silmarillion. Prior to Melkor's treachery and the start of the First Age, Námo predicted the coming of the Elves, kept Melkor imprisoned (4), received the departed spirit of Míriel Þerindë (5), foretold the fates of the Silmarils (6), stood in judgment of Fëanor for his threats against Fingolfin, and foresaw the death of Finwë (7).

But the deed for which Námo is perhaps most famous in The Silmarillion is his pronouncement of what would come to be known as the Doom of Mandos:

Tears unnumbered ye shall shed; and the Valar will fence Valinor against you, and shut you out, so that not even the echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains. On the House of Fëanor the wrath of the Valar lieth from the West unto the uttermost East, and upon all that will follow them it shall be laid also. Their Oath shall drive them, and yet betray them, and ever snatch away the very treasures that they have sworn to pursue. To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well; and by treason of kin unto kin, and the fear of treason, shall this come to pass. The Dispossessed shall they be for ever.

Ye have spilled the blood of your kindred unrighteously and have stained the land of Aman. For blood ye shall render blood, and beyond Aman ye shall dwell in Death's shadow. For though Eru appointed to you to die not in Eä, and no sickness may assail you, yet slain ye may be, and slain ye shall be: by weapon and by torment and by grief; and your houseless spirits shall come then to Mandos. There long shall ye abide and yearn for your bodies, and find little pity though all whom ye have slain should entreat for you. And those that endure in Middle-earth and come not to Mandos shall grow weary of the world as with a great burden, and shall wane, and become as shadows of regret before the younger race that cometh after. The Valar have spoken. (8)

In researching this biography, I plugged the name "mandos" into my digital Silmarillion. Aside from Námo's many doings prior to the First Age, most mentions of him concerned the Doom of Mandos. This Doom literally shadows the entire First Age. Negative events are attributed to it, and it withers the hopes of those looking to accomplish good things in Middle-earth. Whether actual foresight or simply self-fulfilling prophecy, although he is rarely present in the story after it moves into the First Age, through his Doom, Námo nonetheless remains an ominous presence throughout the First Age, an impression heightened by his association with death and judgment.

However coldly rational and unyielding his pronouncements may seem, Námo is not unable to show some mercy. Once, anyway.

After Beren's death, Lúthien grieved so badly for him that "her body lay like a flower that is suddenly cut off and lies for a while unwithered on the grass," and her spirit fled to Mandos. There, she sang to Námo of her grief--a song that encompassed the sorrows of both Elves and Men--and he was moved to not only allow her to bid Beren goodbye but even went so far as to entreat Manwë to plea to Ilúvatar to change her fate so that she and Beren could be together (9).

But, as Tolkien notes, "Mandos was moved to pity, who never before was so moved, nor has been since" (10). The next time that Námo appears in a prominent role in the story, it is to attempt to deflate Ulmo's hopes of, at last, convincing his brethren to aid the Elves and Men in Middle-earth against Melkor. In Námo's opinion, Eärendil's entrance to Aman should not allow him to live. He is, after all, "'Equally [of] the Noldor, who went wilfully into exile, may not return hither'" (11). So much for mercy.

Námo's character is an intriguing one for the complexity of the ideas associated with him. Not only is he directly involved with death, judgment, and resurrection--all of them complicated and, at times, controversial ideas in Tolkien's Legendarium--but his ability to foretell the future also muddies the waters as far as fate and individual will on Arda are concerned. From his seat of judgment, well-removed from the events of the First Age, his presence is nonetheless felt most heavily of all of the Valar save Ulmo, who continues to directly interact with Elves and Men, even the exiled Noldor. All hopes are doomed to fail for he has seen this and pronounced it so. And they do. His shadow over the First Age invests the most noble of actions by the most noble of characters with a sense of futility, of fighting something even larger and more overwhelming than the shadow of Melkor in the north. We know, at the start of the First Age, that it will not end well. We have, after all, been told as much by he who "forgets nothing; and … knows all things that shall be" (12).

Yet the heroes and heroines of both Elves and Men--despite similar certitude--fight on. And we read on too.




Works Cited

  1. The Silmarillion. Quenta Silmarillion. "Of Aulë and Yavanna."
  2. The Silmarillion. Quenta Silmarillion. "Of Men."
  3. The Silmarillion. Valaquenta. "Of the Valar."
  4. The Silmarillion. Quenta Silmarillion. "Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor."
  5. The Silmarillion. Quenta Silmarillion. "Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor."
  6. The Silmarillion. Quenta Silmarillion. "Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor."
  7. The Silmarillion. Quenta Silmarillion. "Of the Flight of the Noldor."
  8. Ibid.
  9. The Silmarillion. Quenta Silmarillion. "Of Beren and Lúthien."
  10. Ibid.
  11. The Silmarillion. Quenta Silmarillion. "Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath."
  12. The Silmarillion. Valaquenta. "Of the Valar."



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About the Author

Dawn Felagund is the founder and owner of the Silmarillion Writers' Guild and has written about one hundred stories, poems, and essays about J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion, some of which have been translated and published in fan magazines around the world. Dawn is a graduate student in the humanities, and her academic work on Tolkien's cosmogony and the Tolkien fan community has appeared in Mythprint and Silver Leaves (in press) and has been presented at Mythmoot II, Mythmoot III, and the New York Tolkien Conference. Dawn can be emailed at DawnFelagund@gmail.com.

All References by Author

History of Middle-earth Summaries. The History of Middle-earth project is an ongoing attempt to summarize the entire book series and put together the many ideas, commentaries, and footnotes of the series into easy-to-follow summaries.

Silmarillion Chapter Summaries. Designed as a resource for leading readings of The Silmarillion, the chapter summaries are also a nice review for those returning to unfamiliar sections of the book or who would like guidance while reading it for the first time.

A Woman in Few Words: The Character of Nerdanel and Her Treatment in Canon and Fandom. A review of the canon facts available on Nerdanel and discussion of why she remains so popular with fans despite her scarce appearances in the texts.




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