Salmar: The Forgotten Maia


Researching and Speculating on Tolkien

As I have often remarked on this blog, one of the great things about Tolkien’s works is the large number of mysteries and questions he has left unanswered; mysteries that can be picked up by any reader and researched to their heart’s content: looking for clues and cross-referencing over the thousands of pages of Middle-earth material, trying to dig up further information.

You may have read The Silmarillion numerous times and yet, with every new read, you discover something new. I know this because it happens to me. It has happened to me right now as I’m beginning my 10th or 11th re-read of the book and came across the oft forgotten character of Salmar.

Unless you’ve got a pretty formidable memory, or you have recently looked up information on this character, you’ll find it hard to place him within the Tolkien’s mythology.

The truth of the matter is that, when it comes to the word “Salmar”, you’re literally stuck with a single sentence reference.

So, how do we find out more about this character? Well, here are some tips of how I usually conduct such a process …

1. Switch-off the Internet … Use the books!

There is no greater satisfaction than sifting through the pages of a physical book to reach the index at the back, and then sift back to the appropriate page. Immerse yourself in the trance-inducing scent of the pages and embark on a journey of discovery.

That, or just type your keyword on Google and click the first link that appears on screen … boring!

There’s a wealth of useful information online, but there’s no better way than personally diving into the original sources and uncovering details yourself.

So stop what you’re doing and head to your bookshelf with all your Tolkien books (then come back here to read step two).

2. Consult your book index

Tolkien, both father and son, have gifted us with an index for every one of their major Middle-earth books. This helps in locating the pages where a particular character, place or object has been mentioned.

So if we’re currently looking up the character of Salmar, let’s grab our copy of The Silmarillion and find the name in the index under the letter ’S’. Here we find the following description:

Salmar (index) - The Silmarillion

Hmmm … good start. So we’ve established that Salmar is a Maia under the service of the Vala Ulmo. We’re also given the page in which he’s mentioned, so let’s go back and outline the context within the story.

Our search to the original page, Chapter 1 ‘Of the Beginning of Days’, provides scarce additional details:

Salmar (text) - The Silmarillion

Is this all we can uncover?

3. Discover the Etymology

Anything that has to do with names or specific words in Tolkien’s world must, I repeat (with emphasis), MUST have an etymological root that will expand, no matter how slightly, a blurry background of information.

Any one of his readers will know that Tolkien wrote these stories on a solid foundation of two Elvish languages: Quenya and Sindarin. So you can be certain that what you’re looking for has been constructed using either of these two.

The Silmarillion provides a fairly comprehensive (if limited) vocabulary on the Quenya and Sindarin words used in the book. Let’s split up “Salmar” into two  – “Sal” and “mar” – and have a look at what we’re able to find.

A quick search yields no results. Undaunted, we consider for a moment any other sources for the Elvish language.

Ah yes, the fifth volume in ‘The History of Middle-earth’, The Lost Road and Other Writings, contains a rather extensive list of words. Let’s have a look there.

Nothing. No matter, there’s an appendix of names in The Book of Lost Tales: Part I. Let’s head over to that book.


Salmar Etymology

It would seem that our pursuit for this forgotten character is far from over.

4. Widen your search (look for other books)

I’ve said this many times. One of the joys of the Middle-earth mythology is the intricate detail Professor Tolkien went through in writing these stories. This allows you to find a particular character from one book, and trace them back to another work: expanding on their timelines, relatives, etc.

So if you find yourself looking up information on something specific, reach out for other Tolkien books nearby.

We’ve been looking at Salmar, a character associated with The Silmarillion. What other works are closely associated with it? We have the Unfinished Tales: expanding on some of the stories found in The Silmarillion, and the two-volume The Book of Lost Tales, with the earliest writings of the mythology.

Starting with the less promising of the two, we look for the index in the Unfinished Tales. As expected, no results.

We then proceed to the first volume of The Book of Lost Tales and look for “Salmar” in the index. Success!

Salmar (index) - BOLT I

Now, many of the writings found in ‘The History of Middle-earth’ books, especially The Book of Lost Tales, contain the earliest drafts and sketches of Tolkien’s mythology. Many of the ideas written down were ultimately revised and are significantly altered in their finished, published form. Therefore, any information relating to Salmar may not be truly part of the established canon. Nevertheless, we can gleam the author’s thoughts of the character, and if they match with what we have in the published version, we can establish some interesting details.

Let us now find some of the pages referenced in the index. These will helps us to expand on the character of Salmar. In the chapter ‘The Coming of the Valar’, we find a specific reference.

Salmar (text) - BOLT I

Finally, considering that the history of writing The Silmarillion takes place over two books in ‘The History of Middle-earth’ series, we need to take a look at Part 2 of The Book of Lost Tales. Here, sure enough, is a note made by Christopher Tolkien.

Salmar (text) - BOLT II

So we’ve pretty much exhausted our searches. There are other bits and fragments of information scattered here and there, but they are too obscure or offer similar text to the ones found in The Silmarillion.

This is were speculations begin.

5. Speculation is fun (but be cautious)!

The fact that  “Salmar” made it to the published form of The Silmarillion, with its connection to “harp-playing” and “lyres”, it’s not too difficult to imagine the validity of the early sketches found in The Book of Lost Tales that describe the Maia (originally a Vala) playing his musical instruments in Valmar.

It’s great to speculate and make connections, thinking of ‘what ifs’ and ‘why nots’, but it is also important not to overdo it so much so that the line between what is canon and what isn’t is crossed.

In addition, don’t forget to back up any of your own hypothesis as much as possible. See what other people have written about the subject and your own research. Can you better it? In what way does it improve on the thoughts of other readers?

At this point, I might speculate that Salmar, unlike the Maia Ossë – who was also one of Ulmo’s companions, in charge of the Hither Lands’ coastal regions – may well have been in Valmar during the events of The Silmarillion.

Which makes me wonder … Are there any references in the chapters of The Silmarillion that specifically refer to harps in Valinor? And what about that “twin-brother” of his, does he exist in the published version of the mythology and, if so, who is he?

Let me go back and check …

And the search begins anew.

6. Have fun!

Undoubtedly, this is the most important tip.

No matter how crazy you think your theory is, go for it. Delve deep into your Tolkien library and look for every scrap of reference, page, phrase and genealogy tree you can find and keep at it. Cross-reference with other books and look for the etymological root. Keep searching further and further until you’ve unearthed all that is possible.

Happy researching!


12 thoughts on “Salmar: The Forgotten Maia

  1. Great article James! Lots to think about. Visited some other Tolkien sites as well, e.g. ‘Ask about Middle Earth’ had an interesting discussion with a link to a piece listing what Tolkien wrote about Salmar (which reveals the name of his twin brother as Amillo, greatest of singers, and mentions a sister).

    Based on your writing and the above, my initial take (fan faction wise) is that Salmar was deeply versed in the knowledge (root of Nol, I think as stated in the above) of the Music of the Ainur and playing/singing remembrances of it.

    Then, I need something to address the story of why Ulmo, one of the greatest of the Valar, would have horns made by Salmar. Wikipedia mentions Ulmo as being the best singer and maker of music before the creation of Arda (will need to check this). Perhaps, there is a humility to Salmar that enables him to perfectly accompany another (like his brother or Ulmo) and the horns of Ulmo reflect this in providing a perfect accompaniment to Ulmo’s singing and music making bringing to its hearers a window into the Music of the Ainu before the creation of the world (which of course, they will never forget!).

    1. James: feel free to move this elsewhere or delete it if you find it is not on topic enough.

      Some additional thoughts: the line between canon and non-canon can be greyer than we think because Tolkien had not fully integrated all his thinking and their may even be conflicts between his conscious thought and hidden hopes seemingly left lying in the text. Would I be out of order in this thread in suggesting that at least a fan-fiction ‘big story’ still remains untold and that the unfolding of the Music of the Ainur and where Salmar sits in it did not end with the events of LOTR. ‘Those days, the Third Age of Middle-earth, are now long past, and the shape of all lands has been changed’. Given the events recorded in the Silmarillion and LOTR that described changes in landscape (e.g. the early changes in Arda due to war with Melkor, the removal of Valinor from the world, the drowning of Beleriand and Numenor all arose from great events). Furthermore, even the evil of Melkor is bound up in this. Illuvatar revealed to Melkor: ‘And thou, Melkor, will discover all the secret thoughts of thy mind, and wilt perceive that they are but a part of the whole and tributary to its glory’ (Sil p17).

      Fan fiction hypothesis:

      Silmar’s role sits within the context of the unveiling of the Music of the Ainur including those parts that came directly from Illuvatar (e.g. the Children of Illuvatar). ‘And they saw a new world made visible before them … And as they looked and wandered this world began to unfold its history, and it seemed to them that it lived and grew’ (Sil p17).

      So, this Music of the Ainur is not as we understand music but is much wider than something you hear as it unfolds as more than something that can be heard but something that can be lived in. And yet, music almost touches the spirit of the above creation song in a way other routes cannot and so some key players have important roles in bring the Music of the Ainur to the weary and troubled heart of the People of Middle Earth to help remind them that darkness is just a part and in the end will be tributary to its glory and not main stream.

      Not much is written about Salmar’s role partly because of his humble spirit and how the Children of Illuvatar were attracted to other, more charismatic personalities. Yet, together with the likes of Ulmo, his brother Amillo, and Melian (among a few) echoes of the original music are presented to the Children of Illuvatar through all stages of its history/unfolding.

      Ulmo was the most deeply instructed in music by Illuvatar himself (Sil p19) and second only in might to Manwe (Sil p26). The music of the waters, Ulmo’s abode, echoes the deep themes of the Music of the Ainur being both terrible (awesome to mortals) in its beauty and deep in its sorrows and joys (Sil p16&17 for MoA and Sil p40 for the great music of Ulmo).

      Silmar finds his place with Ulmo bringing some of the gentler (to mortals) music themes and yet enlarging the greatness of the music in the provision of the Horns to Ulmo, which in turn can provide a rising accompaniment to the Trumpets of Manwe. He also accompanies his brother and I suspect in a more innocent way he may also have accompanied Melian almost as an original archetype to the accompaniment Daeron, the musician, provided to Luthien Tinuviel.

      Ulmo may have filled the waters with the echoes of the great music of the Ainur, whilst Melian filled the lands of Middle Earth; there were none more skilled in songs of enchantment than her, and she filled the silence of Middle-earth before the dawn with her voice and the voices of the birds she had taught (Sil p95). This singing, revealing the wonders of the Music of the Ainur, is something that her daughter may have continued.

      1. Certainly keep this here, Bob! Great post 🙂 It’s really trick when talking about canon or non-canon with The Silmarillion. There’s so much we don’t know about what’s been edited by Christopher Tolkien, revised, modified …

  2. The History of Middle-earth Index has references for Salmar for volumes I, II, IV, V, and X.

    The importance of the character obviously diminished quickly after The Book of Lost Tales, but this also, in my opinion, makes it more probable that the character didn’t evolve much. When the Maiar were invented after the completion of The Lord of the Rings, he clearly became a Maia, but apart from such necessary recontextualisations, Tolkien does not appear to have worked on, or cared for, Salmar enough to change or develop the character. What you see is what you get.

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