Alfirin, Simbelmynë, Uilos by Certh

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Alfirin, Simbelmynë, Uilos
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In almost every encyclopaedia or lexicon that deals with JRR Tolkien's legendarium, a search for the entries alfirin, simbelmynë and uilos will reveal that the three terms are synonyms; that alfirin or uilos is the Sindarin name of the flower which the people of Rohan call simbelmynë in their tongue, a flower also known as evermind in the Common Speech. That equation arises from Christopher Tolkien's commentary found in The Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth, and many fans of JRR Tolkien's work and writers of fanfiction set in Middle-earth agree with it. Very few publishings – including David Day's A Guide to Tolkien, the online encyclopaedia The Thain's Book and the online wikibook Guide to the Lord of the Rings – argue that the three terms do not refer to the same flower. David Day, for example, supports that the simbelmynë is that flower which the Elves call uilos, but that the alfirin is a different flower altogether.

A closer examination of JRR Tolkien's published writings can help clarify whether alfirin, simbelmynë and uilos are indeed one and the same or not. All information we readers and fans have on the matter can be found in JRR Tolkien's Letters, The Two Towers, The Return of the King, The Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings and Unfinished Tales.

 

Concerning alfirin

In The Lord of the Rings, there is only one mention of alfirin. There the flower is described as bell-shaped and golden, growing in Lebennin: 

And the golden bells are shaken of mallos and alfirin
In the green fields of Lebennin”

   The Return of the King, Book 5, Chapter IX
 

In Unfinished Tales, the alfirin described is white and grows on the summit of the Halifirien where Elendil's tomb stood, though there is no reference to the flower being bell-shaped:

“Then Cirion went up the stair with Eorl and the others followed; and when they came to the summit they saw there a wide oval place of level turf, unfenced, but at its eastern end there stood a low mound on which grew the white flowers of alfirin, and the westering sun touched them with gold.”

   Unfinished Tales, Part Three, Chapter II, section (iii)
 

In a note to this chapter, Christopher Tolkien writes:

alfirin: the simbelmynë of the Kings' mounds below Edoras, and the uilos that Tuor saw in the great ravine of Gondolin in the Elder Days . . . Alfirin is named, but apparently of a different flower, in a verse that Legolas sang in Minas Tirith (The Return of the King V 9): "The golden bells are shaken of mallos and alfirin / In the green fields of Lebennin." ”

 

In one of his letters, dated 1969, JRR Tolkien writes:

Alfirin ('immortal') would be an immortelle, but not dry and papery: simply a beautiful bell-like flower, running through many colours, but soft and gentle.”

Despite Christopher Tolkien's theory that the alfirin mentioned in The Return of the King might be a different flower from the alfirin found in Unfinished Tales, this last description by JRR Tolkien is in harmony with all cited references concerning the imagined flower: the bell-like shape may very well apply to the white alfirin growing on Elendil's mound, whose shape is not mentioned at all, and the reference to the flower's 'many colours' encompasses both the golden alfirin of Lebennin and the white alfirin of the Halifirien (cf. the description of uilos below).

 

Concerning simbelmynë 

In The Lord of the Rings, the simbelmynë is described as a white, star-like flower, blossoming year-round:

“Upon their western sides the grass was white as with a drifted snow: small flowers sprang there like countless stars amid the turf . . . Evermind they are called, simbelmynë in this land of Men, for they blossom in all the seasons of the year, and grow where dead men rest.”

   The Two Towers, Book 3, Chapter VI
 

In The Nomenclature of The Lord of the Rings – a grouping of Tolkien's notes made after the Dutch and Swedish translations of The Lord of the Rings had been published –, first included in a collection of essays named A Tolkien Compass and published in 1975 (cf. The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull), the description of the simbelmynë is more detailed, and the meaning of its name in the Common Tongue is explained: 

Evermind. A flower-name, translation of Rohan simbelmynë. The element -mind has the sense 'memory'; the name thus resembles 'forget-me-not', but a quite different kind of flower is intended: an imagined variety of anemone, growing in turf like Anemone pulsatilla, the pasque-flower, but smaller and white like the wood anemone. Translate by sense. The Swedish and Dutch versions both omit the element -mind, and so produce names equivalent to 'everlasting flower', which is not the point. Though the plant bloomed at all seasons, its flowers were not 'immortelles'.”

This note made by JRR Tolkien solidifies the fact that the simbelmynë is only white in colour and clarifies that the flower is not an immortelle.

 

Concerning uilos 

There is only one occurrence in JRR Tolkien's legendarium where the name uilos is used to refer to a flower, found in Unfinished Tales. There the uilos is described as a white, star-like bloom, growing in Gondolin, blossoming at all seasons:

“Tuor saw beside the way a sward of grass, where like stars bloomed the white flowers of uilos, the Evermind that knows no season and withers not . . .”

   Unfinished Tales, Part One, Chapter I
 

In a note to this chapter, Christopher Tolkien writes: 

These [i.e. uilos] were the flowers that bloomed abundantly on the burial mounds of the Kings of Rohan below Edoras, and which Gandalf named in the language of the Rohirrim (as translated into Old English) simbel-mynë, that is "Evermind," "for they blossom in all the seasons of the year, and grow where dead men rest." (The Two Towers III 6)
The Elvish name uilos is only given in this passage . . . as the Quenya name Oiolossë ("Ever-snow-white," the Mountain of Manwë) was rendered into Sindarin. 
 

Putting it all together

Examining the available information, decisive conclusions can be made.

The first is that, even though Christopher Tolkien equates the alfirin with the simbelmynë, the two are not one and the same. A bell-shaped flower that is an immortelle and runs through many colours cannot be the same as a star-shaped flower which blooms at all seasons, is not an immortelle, and is expressedly only white in colour. An additional piece of evidence to support this comes from a letter JRR Tolkien sent to Amy Ronald the year following the publication of The Lord of the Rings, dated 1956:

“Botanists want a more accurate description of the mallorn, of elanor, niphredil, alfirin, mallos, and symbelmynë . . .”

If he had meant for alfirin and simbelmynë to be two names for the same flower, he would be unlikely to list them separately.

 

The second conclusion to be made is that simbelmynë and uilos are one plant. Both are called evermind in Westron, both are star-shaped and white, blooming year-round.

One might argue that the fact that uilos “withers not” indicates it is an immortelle, as immortelles are flowers which “can be dried without loss of form or color” after they have been picked up and thus “never fade away” (cf. www.thefreedictionary.com, entry on immortelle; and www.plantesystem.com, entry on everlasting flower).However, since the text in Unfinished Tales which features the description of evermind/uilos took its final form when The Lord of the Rings was finished and the everlasting nature of evermind rejected (cf. The Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth, Introduction; and Nomenclature, entry on evermind), it seems more plausible that the phrase “withers not” is a vivid illustration of uilos' blossoming at all seasons.

 

Thus, the final conclusion is one that supports equation only partially: simbelmynë and uilos are the same plant, while alfirin is a different flower altogether.


Chapter End Notes:

Sources:
JRR Tolkien, Letters
JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
JRR Tolkien, The Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth
Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion
David Day, A Guide to Tolkien
Guide to the Lord of the Rings
The Thain's Book
www.plantesystem.com
www.thefreedictionary.com



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