1.51 Sky, Heavens
- Q. fanyarë n. “the skies (not heaven or firmament), the upper airs and clouds”
A noun used in the 1960s version of the Markirya poem described as “the skies — not heaven or firmament — the upper airs and clouds” (MC/222-223). It is a (singular) abstract noun based on fanya “cloud” and hence refers to the portion of the sky where the clouds reside, as opposed to menel “the heavens” which is the dome of the sky and the realm of the stars.
- ᴹQ. helle n. “sky”
A noun in The Etymologies of the 1930s glossed “sky” derived from the root ᴹ√ƷEL of the same meaning (Ety/ƷEL).
- Q. menel n. “the heavens, firmament, sky”
A word for the firmament or “the heavens” (but not “Heaven”), derived from the root √MENEL of the same meaning (PE17/24, 152; PE21/84), possibly √MEN + √EL “*direction of the stars” (RGEO/64). It was often used in contrasted to cemen, “earth”, “the earth” (but not “Earth”), as the surface of the world versus its (apparent) “roof”. Tolkien clarified that “these were ‘pictorial’ words, as the lore of the Eldar and the Numenoreans knew much astronomy” (PE17/24), so that menel as the dome over the world was metaphorical rather than actual.
At one point in the Legendarium there was an actual dome of heaven created by Varda, but over Aman rather than the entire world:
Later, when the Valar took refuge from Melkor, and the imminent ruin of Arda, and built and fortified Valinor in Aman, it was Varda who made the great dome above Valinor, to keep out any spirits or spies of Melkor. It was made as a simulacrum of the true firmament (Tar-menel), and the patterns were therein repeated, but with apparent stars (or “sparks”: tinwi) of greater relative size to the total visible area. So that the lesser firmament of Valinor (Nur-menel) was very brilliant (PE17/22; MR/388).
This notion was not mentioned in The Silmarillion as published, however.
Conceptual Development: At various points in his work on the Legendarium Tolkien considered having a literal firmament or “upper airs”, ᴱQ. Vaitya (QL/100) >> ᴹQ. Vaiya. See for examples, his diagrams of the world in the Ambarkanta (SM/243, 245). How literal this notion was depended on whether Tolkien was considering the Legendarium as a cycle of myth or as an actual description of the world. In earlier documents the term for the firmament or “outermost airs” was often ᴱQ. Vaitya >> ᴹQ. Vaiya (QL/100; SM/241-245) or Q. Ilmen (SM/241-245, LR/12 etc.), the last term surviving into The Silmarillion as published (S/99).
The term menel appeared in the 1940s, mentioned as “heaven” in an early draft of Lord of the Rings Book I (RC/671) and also appearing in The Notion Club Papers and related document of the 1940s where it was a cognate of Ad. minil or minal and derived from the ancient Elvish root ᴹ√MENEL (SD/241, 414). In these document it was distinctly “the heavens, the firmament” (SD/401), but in the 1950s Quenya prayer Átaremma, Tolkien used menel = “Heaven” a number of times (VT43/8-12), though in the final draft of the prayer he used the term Eruman for “Heaven” (VT43/12). For the most part, though, Tolkien used menel for “the heavens” rather than “Heaven” in later writings.
- N. ell n. “sky”
An element meaning “sky” in several names from The Etymologies of the 1930s: N. Elfaron “Sky-hunter” (Ety/SPAR) and N. Elthoron “Eagle of the Sky” (Ety/THOR). It was derived from the root ᴹ√ƷEL “sky” which had an Old Noldorin form: ON. elle (Ety/ƷEL). However, Tolkien said “In Noldorin and Telerin this is confused with EL star”, implying that the word was not used in modern language; an earlier but rejected version of this entry had archaic N. †ell, el “sky” (EtyAC/ƷEL).
Neo-Sindarin: Despite the above statements, ell is probably the best attested option for “sky” in Neo-Sindarin, and I would use it as such, since it is in fact distinct from S. êl “star”.
- S. menel n. “the heavens, firmament, region of the stars”
Conceptual Development: This word began to appear as an element in Sindarin in late Lord of the Rings drafts (SD/45) and drafts of Lord of the Rings appendices (PM/130) from the early 1950s. In the Sindarin prayer Ae Adar Nín from the mid-to-late 1950s, Tolkien used Menel for “Heaven” as in ae Adar nín i vi Menel “our Father who [art] in Heaven” (VT44/21), but this seems not to be the proper Elvish usage, so could perhaps be considered a Mannish misconception. Elsewhere Tolkien only used S. menel for “the heavens”, such as in o menel aglar elenath “from heaven [the firmanent] on high the glory of the starry host” from the A Elbereth Gilthoniel poem (LotR/238, 1028; RGEO/63-64). Note that menel did not appear in the earliest drafts of Elbereth Gilthoniel from the 1940s (RS/394).
- ᴱN. sky n. “sky; [G.] roof”
G. telm or telum was glossed “roof; sky” in the Gnomish Lexicon of the 1910s, both derivatives of the root ᴱ√tel (GL/70). ᴱN. telum “sky” appeared again in Early Noldorin Word-lists of the 1920s (PE13/153), but by The Etymologies of the 1930s N. telu meant only “dome, high roof” (Ety/TEL), and its connection to “sky” seems to have been abandoned in Noldorin/Sindarin, though retained in Quenya telume.