J.R.R. Tolkien: The Silmarillion

I read Tolkien’s “canon” every christmas, and while posting late, I managed to read through The Silmarillion this December too.

While reading The Silmarillion yearly, there are some passages that touches me more than others. Luthien’s rescue of Beren on Tol-in-Gaurhoth. Hurin’s last stand – Aure Entuluva! The killing of Beleg Cúthalion. Fingon finding Maedhros by song. But I am deepest moved by the Ainulindalë, the Song of the Ainur, that is, the creation of the World, simply because it is so beautiful.

God, Eru Ilúvatar, creates the The World, and not the Earth only, but the whole Universe. And how is this done? It is shaped by song. But he does not sing himself. He suggests a theme, and lets his Ainur sing in before him. He’s not even conducting. He sits back, and lets the Ainur sing, improvising in beautiful harmony, inspired by his thought. And when the song is finished, he says Ëa! – Let this be! And the World is created from the void, and the Ainur watches their song unfold in time and matter and space. This is probably the finest image of Tolkien’s idea of sub-creation, and of course, integrated in his own legendarium.

But wait, there is more. The mightiest and proudest of all the Ainur was Melkor, and he tries to turn his song to another theme, where his song stands out. The result is disharmony. But Illúvatar tells him that there is nothing Melkor can do, that has not its uttermost source from him. So when the World is created, there are valleys where there were sung mountains, cold winter where there were sung mild summer, and fires and heat where there were sung water and cool breezes. But thus, there were snowflakes and ice crystals, and there were clouds and rain. Ever more beauty is revealed from Melkor’s attempt to draw the song to himself.

Both Melkor and rest of the Ainur improvise with free will, and as real beauty comes from all the Ainur’s song, Evil also comes from Melkor’s fall from harmony. God did not want evil to be, but while it is often hard and cruel to the children of Ilúvatar – elves and men, afterwards it will have been good to have been, as God will make amends, and from it create more beauty in a better world.

While Tolkien seldom preaches the Christian gospel in his books, the problem of evil and the span between free will and God’s omnipotence, is seldom better discussed than in this text.

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2 Responses to “J.R.R. Tolkien: The Silmarillion”

  1. This is interesting – I’ve not read Tolkein outside the LotR/Hobbit; but, what interested me is that in Narnia, Aslan also creates the world through singing a song. I wonder who influenced who, or if the two friends had the idea independently.

  2. ingvar says:

    David, Tolkien wrote the first drafts for The Ainulindalë around 1920, so he preceeded his friend with several decennia. Lewis wrote his Narnia series after being converted to Christianity (from being a sceptic), from 1945 and onwards.

    Actually, Tolkien’s influence was one of the strongest reasons for Lewis becoming a Christian. So while Tolkien disliked elements of the Narnia series (he thought them, among other things, too preachy), he was one of the birth helpers of the Narnia series. No Tolkien, no Narnia :-)

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