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  • Myth, Milky Way, and the Mysteries of Tolkien's Morwinyon, Telumendil, and Anarríma
  • Kristine Larsen (bio)

As has been noted in numerous papers,1 Tolkien drew upon astronomical lore and fact in his crafting of the legendarium of Middle-earth. Examples include the use of meteoric iron in Túrin's sword Anglachel, descriptions of auroras and the motions of the Evening Star, the timing of the phases of the moon, and the numerous stars and constellations which were kindled by Varda to herald the coming of the Eldar. Many of these have been unambiguously identified with our primary world stars and constellations. For example, in the "Myths Transformed" essays, Tolkien discusses "the Valacirca or 'Sickle of the Gods', which was one of the Eldarin names for the Plough" (Morgoth 387-8). The Plough is also known as Charles's Wain or simply the Wain in Europe, and the Big Dipper in America (Allen 428-31). The identity of other astronomical objects can be argued through an examination of literary and scientific evidence, for example, Borgil as Aldebaran (Larsen 2005). However, some objects have resisted an unambiguous identification to this day, among them the constellations Telumendil and Anarríma, which are included in the list of six constellations specifically mentioned as being part Varda's starcreation in The Silmarillion (48). Other astronomical mysteries remain in the legendarium, including seemingly strange references to the bright star Morwinyon, identified as Arcturus, (e.g. Lost Tales I 133), as being stationary in the western sky. This paper posits that a solution to both the identification of Telumendil and Anarríma and an astronomically plausible explanation for the lingering of Arcturus in the western sky can be found through a careful study of both astronomical observation, and classical and medieval texts, all of which would have been familiar to Tolkien.

Quiñonez and Raggett argue that in the legendarium, "the constellations are again the same as in our world, and serve the same functions: besides regulating the heavens, they represent events and persons in the beliefs of the native cultures" (12). Therefore it is not unrealistic to expect that all the stars and constellations which Tolkien took the time to specifically name may have counterparts in our skies. The brightest stars in the primary world night sky (in order of decreasing brightness) are Sirius in Canis Major, Canopus in Carina, Alpha Centauri in Centaurus, Arcturus in Boötes, and Vega in Lyra. The second and third of these are not visible from the latitude of the Greenwich Royal Observatory in England. Only Sirius and Arcturus have well-documented counterparts in Middle-earth. Christopher Tolkien explains in his commentary to "The [End Page 197] Tale of the Sun and Moon" in The Book of Lost Tales, Part I that Sirius is Nielluin, later called Helluin in The Silmarillion, and represents Ingil, the son of the Elvish king Inwë, who follows Telimektar, son of Tulkas, "in the likeness of a great bee carrying honey of flame" (200). Tolkien himself identifies Telumehtar as "an older name for Menemakil, Orion" in the notes to "Quendi and Eldar" (Jewels 411), and Christopher Tolkien also identifies the star grouping as Orion (under its later spellings of Menelmakar/Menelmacar) in his notes to "The Later Quenta Silmarillion" (Morgoth 166) and "Annals of Aman" (Morgoth 76).

In the "Appendix on Names" (Lost Tales I 261), Arcturus is named Morwinyon, with the translations "glint at dusk" and "glint in the dark." Neither of these is a particularly unusual name for the second brightest star visible from northern latitudes. However, we read in "The Coming of the Elves and the Making of Kôr" that Morwinyon "who blazes above the world's edge in the west" was dropped by Varda as she hastened back to Valinor after completing her task of placing the bright stars in the sky (Lost Tales I 114). Again, describing brilliant Arcturus as being seen low in the western sky at dusk is not astronomically unusual, and this passage might be of little further interest if it were not for Christopher Tolkien's interpretation of it in his commentary: "It is nowhere explained why Morwinyon—Arcturus is mythically conceived...


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pp. 197-210
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