In the final edition of the Silmarillion, Nienna "teaches pity and endurance in hope" to those that listen to her, "brings strength to the spirit", and "turns sorrow to wisdom":
Mightier than Estë is Nienna, sister of the Fëanturi; she dwells alone. She is acquainted with grief, and mourns for every wound that Arda has suffered in the marring of Melkor. So great was her sorrow, as the Music unfolded, that her song turned to lamentation long before its end, and the sound of mourning was woven into the themes of the World before it began. But she does not weep for herself; and those who hearken to her learn pity, and endurance in hope. Her halls are west of West, upon the borders of the world; and she comes seldom to the city of Valimar where all is glad. She goes rather to the halls of Mandos, which are near to her own; and all those who wait in Mandos cry to her, for she brings strength to the spirit and turns sorrow to wisdom. The windows of her house look outward from the walls of the world. (Valaquenta, the Silmarillion)She has great pity and forgives wrongdoers readily. She helped Melkor plead for pardon, for example:
Before the gates of Valmar Melkor abased himself at the feet of Manwë and sued for pardon...and Nienna aided his prayer.When the Two Trees died,
Nienna arose and went up onto Ezellohar, and cast back her grey hood, and with her tears washed away the defilements of Ungoliant, and she sang in mourning for the bitterness of the world and the Marring of Arda.This seems to imply that her tears and mourning are pure and healing, and can wash away defilement. From all of the above points, Nienna appears to be a wholly benevolent figure in the Silmarillion. However, in Tolkien's earlier works, Nienna is somewhat different:
The one was the spouse of Mandos, and is known to all as Fui Nienna by reason of her glooms, and she is fain of mourning and tears. Many other names she has that are spoken seldom and all are grievous, for she is Núri who sighs and Heskil who breedeth winter, and all must bow before her as Qalmë-Tári the mistress of death.and:
The hall she loved best was one yet wider and more dark than Vê, 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. Thither come the sons of Men to hear their doom, and thither are they brought by all the multitude of ills that Melko's evil music set within the world.Here, she is the death-goddess, Fui, married to Mandos.There is a hall of the dead for Men, and she presides over it. She "breeds winter", and has glooms. She is no longer the gentle, pitying figure she was in the Silmarillion, a fact which is revealed even more in the following:
...[Nienna] 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.This passage seems to directly contradict that in the Silmarillion: Nienna weaves black clouds of despair, hopelessness, sorrow and blind grief. This is rather a long way from teaching pity and endurance in hope, bringing strength to the spirit, and turning sorrow to wisdom. Here, Nienna seems to make the grief and darkness, the "lightless webs". I was a little bit surprised that she wasn't married to Melkor! Indeed, as Christopher Tolkien said:
The original conception of Nienna was indeed darker and more fearful...than it afterwards became...Here we come upon ideas in deep contradiction to the central thought of the later mythology.So what, really, is Nienna? Benevolent spirit of pity, or a dark death-goddess? It appears that J.R.R. Tolkien discarded the latter as being unsuitable, so, thank goodness, we don't have to contradict ourselves in our fanfics. Nienna's darker "past" still exists, though, making her a deeper and more realistic character than would otherwise be thought of the Valar.
Aramel, June 2004
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