In class, we tried to define what the Valar are. We pointed out that the Valar have definite familial ties, like siblingship and marriage. In many ways, the Valar are similar to the Olympians from Greek and Roman mythology. The Olympians were called siblings, the children of Cronus. However, the Valar are explicitly related to one another. We are told that there are siblings like Melkor and Manwë, Nessa and Oromë, and Namo, Irmo, and Nienna, but it remains unclear how exactly these siblings are more related to each other than to the others. If we look at each of the Valar’s “specialties,” the siblings have related fields of expertise: Melkor and Manwë are fire and air (opposites), Nessa and Oromë are the lover of deer and the hunter (opposites), and Namo, Irmo, and Nienna are the masters of spirits, visions, and mourning respectively (death). Beyond these relationships, there is not much that indicates a stronger bond between these combinations. Likewise, we discussed how the Valar were able to choose which elements they wanted to be in charge of. Were sibling relationships established after they chose their elements? This aspect of the Valar was, in my opinion, the least fleshed out and the most unconvincing in its attempt to help us understand the nature of the divine beings. For the Olympians, there was necessary incest because the siblings only ad each other to marry. Perhaps Tolkien purposely did not make the Valar one big family in order to dodge the moral conflict of adding incest to his story.
To me, it seems like all of the Valar have a sense of “family” because they are all the same kind of being. In this way, perhaps Melkor could be considered the most evil because he is going against his family, betraying Iluvatar and the sub-creations of the other Valar. On the other hand, the elves definitely have familial loyalty. This is most prominent with Fëanor who is incredibly loyal to his father and sons, but threatens his half-brother, Fingolfin. It is this threat which ultimately gets Fëanor exiled from Tirion because “this deed was unlawful, whether in Aman or not in Aman” (The Silmarillion, 71). Fëanor did not actually kill anyone, but his intention to slay his own kin is seen as a sin. We see many similarities between Melkor and Fëanor, like their hostility towards their own kind and greedy creation. Fëanor does differ from Melkor in one big way, however: he remains loyal to his father and sons, those who are closest in blood ties. Tolkien writes, “For Fëanor bean to love the Silmarils with a greedy love, and grudged the sight of them to all save his father and his seven sons; he seldom remembered now that light within them was not his own” (The Silmarillion, 69). Although Fëanor’s attitude towards the Silmarils mirrors Melkor’s selfishness, I think it is the family loyalty that make Fëanor a more neutral character than Melkor.
Of course, we can’t just make the blanket statement that familial disloyalty is the driving force behind our perceptions of evil. I think the idea of evil as a betrayal of family needs to thought of more abstractly than just familial blood ties. Perhaps one of the most evil acts in the Silmarillion is Ungoliant’s destruction of the Two Trees of Valinor. Here, of course, Ungoliant is not betraying her actual family. However, I think an argument can be made that the Valar are a kind of superior beings, much like an older sibling to the children of Iluvatar (and other races). There is some kind of natural relationship that bonds beings both within their own races and between other races. Transgressing this law becomes what we call evil.