The Encyclopedia of Arda - an interactive guide to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien
Entered Arda at its beginning; immortal
Originally dwelt on Almaren in Middle-earth, but long ago removed to Valinor in the West
Among the first and greatest of the beings created by Ilúvatar
The main city of the Powers was Valmar beneath the Two Trees
Other names


About this entry:

  • Updated 28 October 2022
  • This entry is complete

Powers of the World

The Valar

One of the many epithets used of the Valar, the mighty spirits that dwelt in Aman in the Uttermost West.

Early History

At the time of the world's making, Ainur of many orders, greater and lesser, entered into it and took form. The strongest of these beings became the Valar, a name that literally means 'Powers'. There were other Powers in the world, too: the Dark Lord Melkor was known as the Dark Power of the North, and both Sauron and Saruman, at least, would later aspire to become Powers themselves.

Of the Powers that entered Arda in its first days, many joined together and worked to bring about peace and order in the new world, contesting the domination of Melkor. These were the appointed guardians of Arda, known as the Powers of the World or the Powers of Arda, and these were the beings most commonly called the Valar.

There were originally thirteen of these Powers of the World, led by Manwë Súlimo, Lord of the Breath of Arda. They fought the long First War against Melkor, a war in which they were aided by fourteenth Power, Tulkas the Strong, with whose help they drove the Dark Lord into the outer darkness. Free from the threat of Melkor, the Valar were able to order the world as they wished. They raised two mighty Lamps to give light to the world, and they settled on the isle of Almaren in the heart of Middle-earth.

Melkor, however, was far from defeated. In secret he returned to the world and threw down the Lamps of the Valar, breaking much of Middle-earth. The Powers of the World abandoned those lands and found a new home in the distant West, founding the land of Valinor beyond the Great Sea. In this new Blessed Realm they would remain throughout the rest of the history of the world.

The Powers of the World and the Children of Ilúvatar

These events took place in the distant past, before even the first Elves had awakened. The coming of these Children of Ilúvatar had been long awaited by the Powers, and the first Elves were finally discovered by the Valar at Cuiviénen in the far East of Middle-earth. Determined to protect the Elves from the darkness of Melkor, the Powers returned to Middle-earth and fought the Battle of the Powers, which raged across the northern lands and left them broken. The Valar were victorious, taking the captured Melkor back with them to Valinor, where he was imprisoned for three ages. At the urging of the Powers of the World, many of the Eldar chose to make a Great Journey across Middle-earth, and were drawn across the Sea by Ulmo to dwell in bliss in the Blessed Realm.

Three long ages of peace across both Aman and Middle-earth were broken after the release of Melkor. He sowed lies and dissent among the Elves in Valinor, and then engineered the destruction of the Two Trees that filled the land of the Powers with their Light. Stealing the Silmarils from the vaults of Fëanor, the Dark Lord escaped to Middle-earth, with Fëanor leading the Noldor in pursuit. At this time the Powers of the World gathered what Light remained of the Two Trees to form the Sun and the Moon, and set them aloft over the world. They did not themselves pursue Melkor across the Sea, instead fortifying the West against any possible further attack.

At this time the Powers of the World took no hand in the events in Middle-earth, leaving the rebellious Noldor to face Melkor without aid. Meanwhile, far away in the East of Middle-earth, the first Men were awakening in the land of Hildórien. Unlike the Elves, however, no emissary of the Valar travelled to greet the first Men. The only Power they encountered was Melkor, though some refused to worship the Dark Lord and wandered away westwards. The descendants of these travellers would eventually reach Beleriand and join the Eldar in their struggles. Nonetheless, unlike the Elves, few Men ever had dealings with the Powers of the World, and had little understanding of their purposes.

At last, after more than five centuries, the Powers were persuaded to intervene. One of their own, Ulmo, first attempted to sway them without success, but when Eärendil the Mariner made the journey from Middle-earth to Aman to plead for their aid, they were moved to grant his request. A huge force was sent across the Sea and the Dark Lord, who had been on the point of victory, was suddenly embroiled in a new and unforeseen battle. This War of Wrath saw Melkor defeated and finally cast out of the world altogether, but it also shattered the lands of Middle-earth, drowning Beleriand beneath the Sea.

After the End of the Elder Days

The final defeat of Melkor and the destruction of Beleriand brought the First Age - otherwise known as the Elder Days - to an end. Those mortal Men who had joined the effort against the Dark Lord were rewarded by the Valar, who raised a new island from the Great Sea to be their home. This was the foundation of Númenor, a prosperous realm that lay far to the west of the coasts of Middle-earth, within distant sight of Tol Eressëa and the Blessed Realm. Though these Númenóreans were granted lifespans far in excess of most mortals, the Powers were concerned that they might become envious of the bliss of Aman. They therefore established the Ban of the Valar, prohibiting the people of Númenor from sailing westward to the lands of the Powers.

Across the millennia of the Second Age, the Powers of the World played little part in the affairs of the world beyond their own land. Meanwhile Númenor became a mighty realm, and the envy of its people for the undying peoples of the West grew. After more than three thousand years, the last King of Númenor, Ar-Pharazôn, was persuaded to invade the Blessed Realm itself. The attempt was a disaster, and brought about an utter change in the world. Númenor itself was destroyed, and the lands of the Powers were taken away from the world, so that only the Eldar could reach them.

The Downfall of Númenor occurred near the end of the Second Age. The Powers of the World observed that their direct interventions to aid the peoples of Middle-earth had brought about cataclysmic consequences, and they were reluctant to take direct action again. So, when a new evil began to emerge during the Third Age, they held back their power. Instead they sent emissaries to advise and guide those who stood against Sauron, and these were the beings who became known in Middle-earth as the Wizards. Most of these emissaries failed in their task, but one, Gandalf, succeeded in rallying the Free Peoples and defeating the new Dark Lord.

The Powers do seem to have played other parts in the defeat of Sauron, though in subtle and ambiguous ways (for example, the West Wind that dispersed the Storm of Mordor during the War of the Ring was apparently sent by the Powers, though this is far from certain). It is said they will remain in Valinor until the ending of the world, when the Last Battle will be fought. After that battle, the Powers are prophesied to remake that world as they had originally intended, before the works of Melkor broke its symmetry and order.

Though the Powers of the World played little part in the history of Middle-earth after the end of the Second Age, they were still remembered there, and still called on for their aid. They were remembered, too, in the name given to one of the days of the week, called Valanya in Quenya or Orbelain in Sindarin, names that translated as the 'day of the Powers'.

For a detailed list of the Powers of the World, see the entries for Valar and Powers of Arda.

See also...

Lord of the West


About this entry:

  • Updated 28 October 2022
  • This entry is complete

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