Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; Ainulindalë
“For the Children of Ilúvatar were conceived by him alone; and they came with the third theme, and were not in the theme which Ilúvatar propounded at the beginning, and none of the Ainur had part in their making. Therefore when they beheld them, the more did they love him, being things other than themselves, strange and free, wherein they saw the mind of Ilúvatar reflected anew, and learned yet a little more of his wisdom, which otherwise had been hidden even from the Ainur.”
Welcome back to another Blind read! It’s been a while, but we’ve now completed all of H.P. Lovecraft and here is the first J.R.R. Tolkien! This week we dive into the origins of Middle-Earth as we begin our journey through “The Silmarillion.”
What I didn’t realize getting into this was that “The Silmarillion” is actually only a portion of the whole book. Theres’ this entrance, Ainulindalë, then the Valaquenta, and then it gets into the Quenta Silmarillion which is the bulk of the book. All told this story is, “an account of the Elder Days, or the First Age of the World.” Where The Lord of the Rings takes place at the end of the Third Age, this is the genesis story of how that land came to be.
We begin with “Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilùvatar.” I’m sure more will come clear as we move forward, but Arda is what the Elves call Earth, not Middle-Earth, so at some point in the future there must have been a rift which caused a separate world or just continent to come about. That may be because of the first Dark Lord, Melkor, who’s introduced in this history.
So Ilùvatar created the first beings to inhabit the world and the stars, and these beings were called Ainur, The Holy Ones. They “were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made.”
Ilùvatar “spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad.” If that sounds like a bible verse, it’s intentional. Ilùvatar teaches them three themes of music. Bear in mind that he doesn’t teach them songs, but themes. The important distinction is that Ilùvatar is looking to create more than just the Ainur, he wants to see life expand, so the Ainur in turn use these themes to create Arda. The three themes, sung into verse, created different aspects of the world, and began to shape the history of what was to come. The Ainur were content to build this world, and revel in is splendor… except for one exception… Melkor.
“But as the theme progressed, it came into the heart of Melkor to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilùvatar; for he sought therin to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself.”
To do so, Melkor “Had gone often alone into the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame; for desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own.”
Melkor began to sing discordantly and outside of the themes Ilùvatar laid our for the Ainur, “until many of the Ainur were dismayed and sang no longer.” Ilùvatar then rose, “and he lifted up his right hand, and behold! a third theme grew amid the confusion, and it was unlike the others.” This third theme was the creation of Ilùvatar’s children… The Elves and the Men.
The music was discordant, with many battling melodies led from Melkor’s tones, until Ilùvatar stood, “and his face was terrible to behold.” This nearly reminds me of the influence of the one ring on Galadriel, to the point that I had to put the book down and contemplate where the power of that One Ring came from… could Ilùvatar be the source?
Ilùvatar shuts the Ainur down and shames Melkor: “And thou, Melkor, shall see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite.”
This is a very Old Testament thing to do. Ilùvatar created the Ainur from his thought and then gave them the themes to create the world. In text this seems to indicate that Ilùvatar wanted them to run with the themes and create the world (Arda) with the essence of the themes, but to create through their own lens. Melkor takes this a step too far, but Ilùvatar seems surprised that Melkor “The mightiest among them (Ainur)” might be able to actually take that step further. Then Ilùvatar tells them that they need to calm down; that they have no free will, because anything that they create with their music, was already foreseen by him. That everything they create is of him. That they cant in fact create anything that isn’t of his mind.
This seems to me the first big lie of Arda. If, indeed, Ilùvatar felt that this was true (the Ainur only being able to create what he could conceive) then why did he stop them? Why did his anger grow so much that he was “terrible to behold?” It’s because he had a specific vision and Melkor was leading a charge to alter that vision.
This strange reaction embarrasses Melkor and shames him, which only builds to bring out the darker side of desire.
Once Ilùvatar creates his Children (the elves and men), he decides he needs a place to house them, so “he chose a place for their habitation in the Depths of Time and in the midst of innumerable stars.” Which he names Ëa and it houses Arda.
The Ainur, once seeing the creation of Ëa, “…bent all their thought and their desire towards that place.” and this is where Melkor really begins his Satanesque fall. The Ainur are basically Angels (we’ll get into that a bit more in a minute) of which Melkor is one, but because of Hubris and desire, he creates a rift in the Ainur. He, much like many of the other Aniur who went to Ëa to assist in creation of that world, went “to go thither and order all things for the good of the Children of Ilùvatar…” but soon realizes that his jealousy and desire for power brought him there instead to “subdue to his will both Elves and Men,” because of “envying the gifts with which Ilùvatar promised to endow them.” A story which echoes the fall of the Lightbringer very closly.
The other Ainur who went to Ëa, were soon to become known as the Valar. There was Ulmo whom turned his thought to water and who “of all most deeply was he instructed by Ilùvatar in music.” It is because of this teaching that “it is said by the Eldar that in the water there lives yet the echo of the music of the Ainur more than in any substance else that is in this Earth.” (also another interesting aside. This is the only time in this history that Tolkien calls Ëa “this” Earth. Meaning that this was meant to be a history of our own world, which could also account for the very Christian backstory). There is Manwë, “the noblest of the Ainur” who was of the airs and the winds. Aulë who “Ilùvatar had given skill and knowledge scarce less than Melkor” took to the “fabric of Earth.”
These Valar were named “The powers of the world” and shaped Ëa in Ilùvatar’s ultimate vision, “but Melkor too was there from the first.”
Melkor finally had his fall. He claimed Ëa for his own, “This shall be my own kingdom; and I name it unto myself!” but again he was foiled because Manwë “called unto himself many spirits both greater and less, and they came down into the fields of Arda and aided Manwë.” to drive Melkor away.
There was peace for a time and the Valar, whom were imperceptible to the Eldar (the first of Ilùvatar’s children, the Elves) decided they wanted to walk among them, so they clothed themselves to look like Men and Women, but when Melkor perceived this and “His envy grew then the greater within him; and he also took visible form, but because of his mood and the malice that burned in him that form was dark and terrible.“
Again this follows the idea that these Valar are angels and Melkor is the fallen. They are invisible, except for when they wish to walk amongst the mortals and they can clothe themselves in our skin. They are beholden to Ilùvatar (God) and follow his instructions on creating a world for the Children of God, who are given more than they. But it is the Jealousy of Melkor which is the primary forge to create what the world could be. What’s fascinating in this respect is that Ilùvatar gave Melkor more intelligence and ability than any of the other Ainur, but if what he says is true and nothing can be created without his influence, then Melkor’s fall was known and, “Thus began the first battle of the Valar with Melkor for the dominion of Arda.” Of this battle little is known because the Valar struggled to keep the machinations of the Ainur from the Eldar, but Melkor fought against the Valar, and extended the creation of the world.
The only reason we know the outcome of that battle is because we know the world was created so we know Melkor failed in taking over the land, though the next history in the book is the Valaquenta, which is the account of the Valar from the perception of the Eldar, so I anticipate finding more out about these godlike beings and what they have done on Ëa!
Join me next week as we dive deeper into the history of Middle-Earth as we read through Valaquenta!