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Old 09-27-2019, 04:14 AM   #1
Huinesoron
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White Tree Rainbows in Valinor

I've been coming back to this question again and again, and think I finally have enough of an answer to bring to the Downs:

What would a rainbow look like in Valinor in the Years of the Trees?

To answer this, I've looked at three factors:

1. What would the sky look like? Our sky is blue because sunlight scatters in the atmosphere on the way in, but during the Bliss of Aman the light was coming from inside the atmosphere. My best approximation is that a truly clear sky would be black, but that various atmospheric effects would lead to something more like the light pollution we get from cities - that orange glow on the horizon? So take that and step it up a bit, and you get a bright gold or silver region over the Trees, fading to black at the edges.

As an aside, since the Trees are under the clouds, you don't need any clear skies at all to get a rainbow; so long as the rain isn't so heavy as to physically block the light, you get a rainbow every time.

2. What colours would appear in a rainbow cast by the Trees? Or in other words: which colours were present in Treeslight, and in what quantities?

Gold is the easiest: Laurelin would have given off primarily yellow light, shading into oranges and reds. This is not the same as the Sun, which emits all across the spectrum (and therefore looks white); it's closer to the light you get towards sunset, though I imagine brighter.

As it happens, it's possible to get a rainbow at sunset, often called a red rainbow or monochrome rainbow, and they look something like this:



What about Telperion? Moonlight is actually just reflected sunlight; I think it comes over to us as blue because the blue-light cones in our eyes are more sensitive to low light levels (which is why blue LEDs look so much brighter than red ones). But Telperion had bright silver light, which means we're looking for white light with increased blue levels. I can't share a picture, because actual moonbows are just faint normal rainbows. But you can imagine faint red to green bands, and then a bright, vivid blue on the inner edge. Any double/multiple rainbows would show up as just blue.

3. Where would the rainbows appear? Physics gives the first, simple answer to this: they appear at the far end of a cone with the observer's head at the point, pointing directly away from the light source; and just like here and now, at an angle of 40 degrees from the line between the observer's head and its shadow.

This means that if you were standing under the Trees, you wouldn't see a rainbow at all: it would be down at your feet. You'd have to be at least as far away as the Trees are tall for any part of it to poke above the ground, and if there's anything at all on the horizon you need to go even further.

The Pelori would make it very difficult to see a rainbow in that direction: my feeling is that they're probably tall enough to interfere with any possible rainbow. The exception would be down the Pass of Light; you would be able to see a gold or silver bow arching beautifully over Tirion. To the north, south, and west, the horizon is lower down, so you'd see them most of the time, always directly opposite the Trees.

But there's a catch: sunlight comes into our atmosphere basically parallel, which is why you get a single cohesive rainbow. With the Trees being much closer, you'd get a lot more scattering of the light - it would all be hitting the raindrops at different angles, and bouncing back to form different cones. So rather than one rainbow, I think you'd get an overlapping, shifting curtain of them, covering a section of the sky.

... which ironically might make them look a bit more like a (tied) bow, with a pinched section in the middle where the flat portions of the arches overlap, and broad falls of light on either side.

This effect would only be doubled when both Trees were shining: Laurelin and Telperion would cast their light at slightly different angles, so their rainbows would be offset but overlapping. You'd have a bright blue bow cutting across a red-gold one, with the mingled light casting green and purple highlights everywhere.

This is, to say the least, very difficult to visualise, but I've made an effort:



I think the real thing would look, y'know, actually pretty... I'm not all that confident on the physics, though, so if there's anyone who actually knows anything about rainbows - or anyone else who wants to read Wikipedia about it - I'd love to hear your thoughts on what it would look like.

hS
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Old 10-07-2019, 03:35 PM   #2
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I must admit that the hypothetical science behind the question makes my brain hurt, at least until I've had a pint or three of 1420.

However, I was tangentially curious as to whether or not rainbows actually appear in the books. I seem to remember at least one reference to one created in ground water, but not in the sky. I'm due for a reread before long anyway...

PS- Rainbows In Valinor is a great name for a New Age musician (assuming the Estate would approve).
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Old 10-08-2019, 05:57 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by Inziladun View Post
I must admit that the hypothetical science behind the question makes my brain hurt, at least until I've had a pint or three of 1420.

However, I was tangentially curious as to whether or not rainbows actually appear in the books. I seem to remember at least one reference to one created in ground water, but not in the sky. I'm due for a reread before long anyway...
... huh. I think you're right. Beleriand has the Rainbow Cleft, so named because the sea-spray forms rainbows. Legolas talks about rainbows on the falls of Nimrodel, and Frodo sees them over Rauros. The Ents manage to make one during the drowning of Isengard, and... that's it, as far as I can see. The only reference to a rainbow that's not explicitly linked to water spray or steam is the House of the Heavenly Arch in Gondolin.

You know, there might be a religious justification for the omission. The Bible described the first rainbow as being set after Noah's flood, as a sign that it won't happen again. Given that Tolkien said the Third Age was six thousand years ago, and given that he doesn't describe a Great Flood anything like the Noachian one anywhere in the Legendarium, it's possible he thought of everything as taking place in a literal antediluvian setting. Therefore, there couldn't be any rainbows in the sky, because Iluvatar hadn't yet set the first one.

Would that be reading too much Catholicism into the books? Maybe. But he definitely had Finrod and Andreth discuss the birth of Jesus, so the idea that he imagined the Legendarium to have a specific, Biblical time and place isn't beyond all reason. The space between Adam and Noah is pretty vague; it's basically all passed over in Genesis 5.

... and it's also territory which was rich pickings for the biblical apocrypha. There are all sorts of tales of demons and half-angels bobbing around in the antediluvian period. I'm sure Tolkien didn't need inspiration from the likes of the Book of Enoch (which, I must note, is completely insane), but he may have seen it as license to inject his own subcreation into the same timeframe.

This does lead to the conclusion that everything we know from Middle-earth - Minas Tirith, the Shire, the Line of Kings and the Hobbits - was all wiped out in the Flood. That's a bit grim, and directly contradicts the Prologue. But maybe Tolkien held a more local view of the Flood - it's not like he was averse to wiping out the wicked with them himself!

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PS- Rainbows In Valinor is a great name for a New Age musician (assuming the Estate would approve).
On this point I agree wholeheartedly. ^_^

hS
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Old 10-08-2019, 06:51 AM   #4
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The Bible described the first rainbow as being set after Noah's flood, as a sign that it won't happen again. Given that Tolkien said the Third Age was six thousand years ago, and given that he doesn't describe a Great Flood anything like the Noachian one anywhere in the Legendarium
Unless he saw the Noah legend as a worn-down memory of the Fall of Numenor. Or perhaps a dim memory of the destruction of Beleriand.
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Old 10-08-2019, 08:26 AM   #5
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Unless he saw the Noah legend as a worn-down memory of the Fall of Numenor. Or perhaps a dim memory of the destruction of Beleriand.
Which is perfectly plausible. Though it wouldn't explain why there are three rainbows in LotR, and all of them are in water spray, not rain. Which may not need an explanation, but then there's no reason to consider the Flood myth in the first place...

I think the Flood = Beleriand notion makes more sense than the Flood = Numenor one, given that Numenor = Atlantis, which has its own drowning. But the Drowning of Beleriand isn't presented as a punishment, while Noah's Flood is. Would Tolkien deliberately negate a Biblical Act of God? Perhaps (the Bible describes the creation of the Sun and Moon, which totally doesn't match the Middle-earth version), but I think he'd be more delicate than that.

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Old 10-08-2019, 01:18 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Huinesoron View Post
I think the Flood = Beleriand notion makes more sense than the Flood = Numenor one, given that Numenor = Atlantis, which has its own drowning. But the Drowning of Beleriand isn't presented as a punishment, while Noah's Flood is. Would Tolkien deliberately negate a Biblical Act of God? Perhaps (the Bible describes the creation of the Sun and Moon, which totally doesn't match the Middle-earth version), but I think he'd be more delicate than that.
With Númenor though, we do have the Flood as being the result of wickedness on the part of the vast majority of men. And there were also the protected faithful few, guarded from the destruction meted to everyone else. And Elendil's followers and Noah's family were all saved by ships.
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