Tolkien's Most Beautiful Work
Although The Lord of the Rings is my favorite of Tolkien’s works, I think the Ainulindalë may be his most beautiful work. The Ainulindalë is the creation myth at the beginning of the published Silmarillion. What is so striking about it is the imagery of the creator of this imaginary world using music as the means of creation.
The creator is called Eru Ilúvatar. He first creates mighty spiritual beings called Ainur to whom he gives certain musical themes which they sing before him. For a time, each of the Ainur sang their own theme alone before Eru while the others listened. Each knew only the part of the creator’s mind from which he originated. But slowly as they listened to the others sing, they begin to find harmony.
Then Ilúvatar calls all of the Ainur together and reveals a new “mighty theme.” The Ainur are in wonder and amazement at what has been revealed to them. Ilúvatar tells them to make a “Great Music” from the theme he has revealed. They are each to adorn the theme with their own thoughts. Ilúvatar indicates that he will “be glad that through you great beauty has been wakened into song.”
The Ainur begin to sing and develop the theme of Ilúvatar into a great music. The harmonious melodies interweave. When this music goes out into the Void, the Void is no longer a Void. Tolkien’s equivalent of a Satanic fall occurs when Melkor, one of the Ainur, introduces music that weas not part of Ilúvatar’s theme. He causes dissonance in the music. He did this to bring more glory to himself.
As Melkor increases the discord, Ilúvatar arises and introduces a new theme that brings beauty again. Melkor resists, and the cacophony reaches a disturbing level. Eventually Ilúvatar speaks. He says to Melkor, “And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.” Another way we might say this is: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20).
The Ainulindalë goes on to describe the creation of the universe from the music. One of the reasons I find this fascinating is because music can help us think about one part of the true creation. The living God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1), but He also continually upholds all of creation in being by the word of his power (Heb. 1:3). We can see an analogy with music here. A singer creates a musical note with his or her voice, but that note stays in existence only as long as the one who creates it continues to sing it. Similarly God calls all of creaturely reality into existence and it stays in existence because He continues to uphold it.
The Ainulindalë is obviously fiction, but Tolkien uses this fictional creation account to draw attention to true things in a new way. If you have only ever read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, I would encourage you to read the Ainulindalë. It’s a short work of about ten pages found at the opening of the published Silmarillion. Perhaps if you enjoy it, you will continue on and read the rest of the Silmarillion.
And that is an encouraging thought.
Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Caltech/P.Ogle et al; Optical: NASA/STScI; IR: NASA/JPL-Caltech; Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA