Friday, April 29, 2011

Evil and Ethics and Eru, Oh My

Five weeks in, what I’ve probably enjoyed most about this fantasy fan-fest we call Tolkien: Medieval and Modern is the fact that I consistently find myself mulling over our in-class discussions well after the lecture has been delivered. And it isn’t necessarily that I’m preoccupied with the specifics of Tolkien’s world twenty-four-seven (although my penchant for randomly quoting Gandalf might suggest otherwise); rather, I’m more likely to be stuck on some larger theme or societal implication. Divinity, dream, the very dawn of existence—we’ve dealt with some heavy-hitters in the past few weeks. Wednesday’s class ushered in yet another bevy of significant topics and extracurricular musings. Which works out, considering that I’m expected to blog about it.

I’ll pick up where we as a class left off: at the uncertain intersection of Evil and ethics. The pace of Wednesday’s discussion picked up noticeably—and understandably—when it was suggested that, in the case of Númenór’s downfall, the Sauron-induced practice of human sacrifice was in no way comparable to Ar-Pharazôn’s disastrous westward voyage. Never mind the modern reader’s initial reaction to the two, whatever that might have been; in terms of category and, by extension, permissibility, the latter alone constituted an evil act.

We’ve all seen enough Disney movies and sorted through enough political rhetoric to know that the concept of “evil” gets tossed around a fair bit in our modern lexicon. Wicked Witch of the West? Evil. Your teacher’s grading policy? Evil. Any given political opponent’s stance on healthcare reform? Evil (insomuch as it is socialist treachery/akin to Nazism). Clearly, the word is nowadays applicable to a slew of disparate scenarios and characteristics, all of which are generally understood to be reprehensible or harmful on some level. Human sacrifice would certainly seem to fit this bill. Moreover, when used to condone a given behavior, “evil” begins to sound a whole lot like immorality—evil and ethics, then, are closely linked by common usage, and human sacrifice appears to fall neatly into both categories. The question is, does any of this mesh with Tolkien’s decidedly scholarly understanding of the word? Given Tolkien’s borderline reverence for the lineage and significance of words, this isn’t a question to be taken lightly.

Enter Dorothy Sayers and her fortuitously relevant delineation of the terms at hand, as described in The Mind of the Maker:

“‘Evil’,” for our purpose, must not be considered as being moral evil. The human maker, living and walking within a universe where Evil (whatever it is) is part of the nature of things, is obliged to take both Good and Evil as part of his Idea. They are the medium with which he works. We can consider only the special type of Evil which may make its appearance in connection with his particular act of creation—the type which is briefly summed up in the expression ‘bad art.’”

Here, Sayers draws a distinction between “moral evil”—that is to say, evil as it regards the ethical behavior of human beings—and “a special type of Evil” which she associates with a supreme (or, in the case of her larger illustration, human) maker. The first notion is relatively straight-forward: Disney movies and philosophers alike discuss it, however imperfectly, whenever they assign human actions praise or reproach. Returning once again to the problem of human sacrifice, we see that society—not to mention half the class Wednesday—is fully equipped and more than willing to judge that act on moral grounds, provided that their particular system of ethics is so inclined (or, if you prefer Kant’s take on the matter, unconditionally, considering that human sacrifice violates the supreme moral imperative to value human life as an ends, never a means—the point being that systems of ethics can rest on rational as well as societal foundations).

All of which is well and good, except that Sayers tosses it out the proverbial window when she narrows her scope to include only the second category of evil. Her purpose all along has been to cast light, via the analysis of the act of creation, on that omnipotent Creator who is truly “beyond good and evil.” Hence, the talk of Ideas: in Sayers’ estimation, the Creator creates (as creators are wont to do) in order to give form to an idea. That which results is deemed “good” in that it embodies the Creator’s initial notion. Accompanying this creation is the previously impossible cognizance of what it means not to exist as said new creation—knowledge of the not-creation, in other words. Sawyer goes on to say that this simple lack of being goodness, so to speak, does not constitute evil; creation of good necessitates the possibility for a lack thereof, but this must be accompanied by malice—the “bad” in Sayers’ “bad art—toward the Creator’s original intent in order to be considered evil.

Which brings us back to Wednesday’s discussion, and the concern regarding the relative reprehensibility of the Númenórians’ two seeming crimes. To compare the two in terms of moral evil is to ground your judgement in the societal; considering first the true nature and intent of Creator and Creation, by contrast, is an approach which sets store by the divine (in a sense that transcends the religious standpoint of any given culture).

Are the two approaches incompatible? I’d like to think not. Sayers demonstrates that the two accounts of evil are not inextricably linked:

In the choice of words, for example, the “right” word will not be the morally edifying word, but the word which “rightly” embodies his Idea, whether the Idea itself is morally good, evil, or “beyond good and evil.”

Still, Tolkien might argue that the God’s Idea—his ultimate intent—is the moral imperative to which all of mankind’s disparate value systems ultimately must answer to. The former beget the latter, so that they need not disagree except in those (all too frequent) cases where human ambition interferes. Such logic holds nicely in the case of Númenór. Eru’s intent was for man to be mortal—any move in opposition of that will could only be considered Evil. Man’s own code of ethics reflected that Idea until Sauron’s deceit sparked inner rebellion. Rebellion beget malice. Malice beget Evil. The downfall of Númenór was sealed.

In the case of human sacrifice, all indications are that it represents a perversion of the Númenórians’ initial code of ethics. If not, they would have presumably been carrying it out well before Sauron’s arrival.

But did it also stand in violation of Eru’s supreme concept of his creation? That much is unclear—and regrettably so, considering that the act’s categorization hinges on that divine designation. Frankly, I don’t have the ability (nor the word space) to guess the mind of Tolkien’s supreme being. But I’m happy to settle for the potentially functional framework of Evil in its multiple forms spelled out by Sayers and illustrated by Tolkien.

-H.M. Glick

Musings Explored

In considering the fall of Numenor, there are some musings that we can toy with, that we began to discuss in class, and about which we were left in confusion and indecision when class ended. I would like to present another perspective on these musings, these “what if?” questions, specifically the questions of 1) What if the human sacrifices had been directed toward Iluvatar, instead of toward Morgoth? Would this have made a difference as to whether they were sinful/evil? And 2) What if the Numenoreans had committed the sacrifices and yet not sailed West? Were the sacrifices evidence that they were beyond the point of no return?

In responding to the first question, I would like to consider the question of, as Dorothy Sayers describes it, what it means to be evil. We discussed how, with the creation of being, for example, there is also the creation of non-being. Evil, however, would be the marring of being, or, in essence, anti-being. So, if we consider “worship to Iluvatar” to be something that was created with the forming of the world, how does this affect our perspective?

When I consider this question, the thing that comes to my mind is that worship, according to its Biblical descriptions, involves both the orientation of the heart and the acted out works of the body. The Bible calls believers, in expressing their love toward God, to “trust and obey” him. Clearly, when the Numenoreans committed human sacrifice for the benefit of Morgoth (in addition to their actions leading up to that event as well), we could safely say that they were neither trusting in Iluvatar nor obeying his intentions in creating being. They were committing acts of “anti-being” in killing other humans, and their acts were oriented in a direction other than toward Iluvatar. If they were to commit these actions toward Iluvatar, would that make the situation any better? Although there is definitely an argument for why it could be less serious, less repulsive, my consideration is this: Evil is oriented toward marring the good. Worship toward Iluvatar is something that would be considered to be very good (regardless of whether it was an expressed requirement or not). But, to worship Iluvatar by destroying his beings does not seem like worship it all. In fact, to do so would not only show a distrust of Iluvatar, to conceive of Iluvatar as being filled of darkness as opposed to light. It displays Iluvatar as a Creator who delights in evil committed toward his creation. By committing human sacrifice in Iluvatar’s direction, the Numenoreans would be accusing Iluvatar of (or “praising” him for) having evil intentions toward his creation. Regardless of whether this is actually “worse” than sacrificing toward Morgoth, I don’t see how being seen as evil by one’s beloved creation could be “better” than being ignored altogether. Frankly, such a situation would be very sad.

Then, we consider what relation the human sacrifice had with the decision to sail West, and whether the first was a true sign of “sin” toward Iluvatar or whether they could have been redeemed if they had not decided to sail West. There was clearly an escalation of their misguided actions, as Sauron penetrated more and more deeply into their society, and as he led them astray increasingly throughout the course of the story. However, this brings to mind the story of the Fall in Genesis. In that story, the serpent comes and speaks to Adam and Eve, leading them astray and turning them against God. And, in that story, they were commanded not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but as the command was given to Adam, some have argued that the Fall didn’t actually happen until Adam himself ate from the tree, and questions have come up as to whether redemption could have happened if Eve had eaten from the tree and Adam hadn’t. However, despite all of our desires to speculate, this is a case where, frankly, what happened is what happened. Was human sacrifice a sign of whether the people had gone past the point of no return? We cannot be sure, and things happened the way that they happened for a reason. Did these actions need to be paired? I don’t know, but they were, and punishment followed.

Like the ban from eating from the tree in Genesis, the ban from sailing west was made for the benefit of those banned—it kept them from the Undying Lands so as to allow them to retain their gift of death, such that they would be able to go to a wonderful place in due time. The committing of human sacrifice was probably a horrible and wretched thing, but it happened in the context of a world where those who were in it would eventually die anyway—it is very different from a scenario where, for example, elves were being sacrificed. However, if they were to be turned away from following Iluvatar, and if they were then to live in the Undying Lands, that would be the worst of both situations—living forever without being able to achieve things fully, as the elves are able to. As we discussed, this is something that the Numenoreans would have understood before Sauron came into their midst and brought fear into their hearts. But they forgot this gift when Sauron came, and this was why they chose to overstep the boundaries of this gift, and why the other gifts that they had been given were taken away.


Tipping Point. Not By: Malcolm Gladwell

When was Númenor doomed to destruction? From the course of the story one might conclude that the imprisonment of Sauron was the tipping point. However, just before Ar-Pharazôn lands in Aman he hesitates. Could Númenor have been saved in that moment?

As a Child of Eru the king had free will, so perhaps still had a choice in that moment. But choices are not made in a vacuum. He was bound by his personality and his previous choices. Would it be believable that Ar-Pharazôn (one who had rejected the Valar, cut down the White Tree, trusted to Sauron, railed against the thunderstorm eagles of Manwë, and had built a great navy for conquest) would turn back within sight of his destination? That seems implausible. Even though he hesitates on the threshold the king is already doomed by his character.

In a similar way we can look at the imprisonment of Sauron. If things had gone differently, could Númenor have survived? Perhaps they could have stormed Mordor and Sauron would have fled or been destroyed. This may have saved Númenor for a time, but I don’t think it would have stopped them from sailing West eventually. We see the sources of their discontent before Sauron. They had begun to fear their ‘gift’ of death. They had turned from gift-givers to conquerors, ruling over men in the East. Always there was a longing in their hearts to break a ban that they did not understand.

So when did it become inevitable that men would attempt to take Aman? I believe that it was inevitable even before men made any choices, before they originally fell in with Melkor. We see that “for in those days Valinor still remained in the world visible, and there Ilúvatar permitted the Valar to maintain upon Earth an abiding place, a memorial of that which might have been if Morgoth had not cast his shadow on the world. This the Númenóreans knew full well” (The Silmarillion, p. 313). Here lies the root of the problem. The Valar create a place free from the touch of evil and bar the entrance to people suffering under evil. Not only that, they make the place not all that distance from the suffering people. The elves regularly go back and forth between Aman and Middle-Earth. In Númenor one could actually see Tol Eressëa. If you hold a feast within sight of people starving to death you should expect trouble. It just is not surprising. It’s like you’re taunting them, deliberately holding the fruit above Tantalus’s reach.

If, upon their awakening, all men had joined together against Melkor they still would have been tempted to go West. Even if they were never servants of the darkness, they still would have suffered because of it. They would have been aware of a land in which they would not be assailed by disease, or orcs, or dragons. From this would come desire for Aman. We discussed the source of such desire in class, but we were much more positive about it. It was suggested that people have a natural inclination to turn to God. Sailing West seems to come directly from that. The West is a place in which there is light whereas the East holds darkness. The West has order, the East chaos. The West has piece, the East has war. Also in the West reside the Valar, children of Eru’s thought. To be close to them would be to be closer to Him. In the East there resided Melkor, who had strived against the plan of Eru. If you were given a choice between East and West, without the ban, it would seem to be not only more pleasant, but in fact more moral, to choose to go West. The ban of the Valar opposes not only the desires of the proud Sea-Kings, but also the natural inclination of every single human.

This argument appears to pose a problem for free will. The inevitability of the fall of man comes before even the first choice of man, residing in man’s nature and the world he is born into. Where is the free will in that account? How do you account for Amandil and the Elendili? For an answer to that question let’s turn to The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, a book written by University of Chicago professor John Mearshiemer. The book seeks to answer the question of why great states behave as they do, often conducting war upon each other? Mearsheimer says “my answer is that the structure of the international system forces states which seek only to be secure nonetheless to act aggressively towards each other…. This situation, which no one consciously designed or intended, is genuinely tragic*.” Such system-level accounts are not uncommon in political science. Forces can be named driving human actions without any mention of individual humans. This demonstrates the way in which things can be predetermined in a world with free will. Free will belongs to individuals. Large societies, or the race as a whole, do not have the same free will. The society is built up with so many tiny choices that there does not seem to be any choice.

Humanity as a whole may move down one path, but every individual must decide wheather to move down that path as well. Amandil chose for himself a different path. If Ar-Pharazôn had chosen a better path he may not have saved humanity forever, but he could have saved himself at least. Following the path of humanity does not excuse us our individual actions.

*Mearsheimer, John. The Tragedy of Great Power Politcs. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001, p. 3

Doug MacDonald

All is Nothing: the Paradox of the Complete

There is a theme which I've noticed often underlying our discussions recently. It pervades the legendarium and, as it is "applicable", real life. This is the idea that the complete, or the perfect, is not achievable in the earthly world, and in fact, if one tries to achieve it, he is likely to lose much more than he stood to gain. Inversely, those people will be happiest who aim high but are satisfied with a proper amount of earthly perfection.

The obvious example, of course, and the one we discussed most in class, is that of the Numenoreans. They were given almost an earthly paradise by the Valar, but they tried to make this earthly paradise complete by gaining immortality; of course, we all know how that worked out for them.

This example's converse might be taken to be the Shire. This land, too, has natural beauty, and its people (usually) live in ease. However, they (unlike the Numenoreans) are content with their simple life, not seeking great wealth or immortality, and thus they are able to maintain it instead of falling into ruin.

Then there is Sauron, who wishes to conquer the entirety of Middle-earth (at least) and become the absolute tyrant of everywhere he can get his, Eye...on. Like the Numenoreans, he looks like he's getting quite close to his goal when he is thrown down and his power broken utterly.

Juxtaposed with this, of course, we have the example of Aragorn. He did great deeds, won back his kingdom, and lived a long life, but he did not seek to conquer more lands, and he chose his time of death when he was old and Eldarion was ready for the kingship, not sticking it out to the bitter end.

Now, what are we to make of this rule of Tolkien's world? Surely it is related to what we discussed in class about how something (or, to be specific, a created thing) could not exist entirely with no possibility for its opposite, such as how Light could not exist without the possibility of not-Light. It is not such a stretch to extend this to say that verygood-Numenor could not exist without the possibility of notsogood-Numenor; that is, a Numenor perfect on Earth with no faults could not exist.

And now we can begin to see the deep Christian foundations of Tolkien's literary philosophy. This "paradox of the complete" is straight out of Christian scripture and theology. The builders of the Tower of Babel, for example, strove to rival God, and were thereupon cursed with confusing languages. Even the problem of free will, which may seem a bit different, is actually closely related; for, were any person to have a will which is all good, then would he have no thought for evil, and his will would hardly be free at all.

The common thread here is simply this: that earthly perfection is unattainable, and, in fact, to attempt it is wrong. For God is the only perfect being, and to try to attain perfection without His guidance, as the Numenoreans did, is evil. "In you all things are the sense that you hold all things in your hand", as says Augustine*, and so we must accept that and not try to attain power through perverted means as did the Numenoreans and Sauron.

--Luke Bretscher

*Confessions VII.xv

Good and Evil: Or, Why Making Human Sacrifice to Illuvatar is Better than Worshipping Morgoth

Had the Numenoreans sacrificed human captives to Illuvatar, it would have been morally far “better” than worshipping Morgoth. Even worse than worshipping Morgoth, breaking the ban of the Valar and attacking Valinor would be the ultimate possible sin. It is for this reason that the Numenoreans are unpunished for all of their ‘evil deeds’ until they sail to Valinor, at which point Illuvatar utterly destroys their civilization.

These claims might seem controversial, but they actually follow quite directly from Tolkien’s conception of Good and Evil. In Tolkien’s mythology, the prime source of evil is rebellion against God, and seeking to usurp his divine authority is the ultimate sin. This follows from a Christian (and particularly Augustinian) belief that “good” is conformance to divine will, and “evil” is deliberate divergence from divine intentions.

Tolkien makes this point quite clear in letter 183. He argues that the “rightness” and “wrongness” of a side is determined by the cause that each side fights for, rather than by actions undertaken in the pursuit of the cause. Tolkien claims that “in The Lord of the Rings the conflict is not basically about ‘freedom’, though that is naturally involved. It is about God, and His sole right to divine honour. The Eldar and the Numenoreans believed in The One, the true God … Sauron desired to be a God-King … if he had been victorious, he would have demanded divine honor”. Thus, the central conflict in LOTR is a religious conflict, with the West indisputably on the right side (since they fought for the true God). Tolkien goes on to say that even if the West had bred orc armies to ravage Sauron’s men allies, their cause would have remained “indefeasibly right”. Even if the West had lived in squalor and fear while Sauron’s allies enjoyed “peace and abundance and mutual esteem and trust”, the West would still have been Good and Sauron would still be Evil. The fact that the good people were “kind and merciful” is “quite besides the point”.

Thus, if the Numenoreans had made human sacrifices in honor of Illuvatar, they would have been, in some important sense, “on the right side”. Worshipping Morgoth, on the other hand, was evil no matter how they conducted themselves. Certainly, the Valar and Illuvatar would (probably) not have been overpleased by the human sacrifices, but it would not have been much of an issue: had they followed Illuvatar, he (or the Valar to whom he had delegated divine authority) could have simply told them to stop. It would have been a mistake moreso than true evil.

Breaking the Ban of the Valar was far worse than either the human sacrifices or the worship of Morgoth because it broke the only divine edict upon the Numenoreans. Illuvatar never demanded worship, nor gave the Numenoreans moral commandments. Because the Ban was handed down by the Valar, to whom Illuvatar had delegated Authority, it was the only divine law upon them. Breaking it cemented their rebellion against God in a way that human sacrifices and Morgoth-worship could not (because Illuvatar had never really told them not to sacrifice people and not to worship Morgoth). Thus, doom hung by a thread when Ar-Pharazon wavered before setting foot on Valinor. Up until the Ban was fully broken, he still could have repented and be saved.

Now, if this moral view seems problematic to you: I agree. In particular, framing the Lord of the Rings’ conflict as a religious war strikes me as quite problematic. The vast majority of the “good people” were fighting for their homes, or families, or freedom from Sauron’s oppression, etc. Perhaps Elron and Gandalf were privately motivated by a desire to see Illuvatar given due honor. But given the lack of overt religion it seems strange to see the conflict as basically about God. Frodo certainly wasn’t motivated by theological concerns – he wanted to save the Shire (and all free people) from Sauron’s malice and oppression.

To drive the point home: it seems to me that if Sauron had been patiently and genuinely working to uplift the peoples of Middle Earth while simultaneously positioning himself as a God, then the people of the West would not have opposed him. Similarly, if Sauron had tried to conquer and oppress everyone without involving a religious agenda, the war would have happened pretty much the same. So it seems to me that characterizing the war as religious in nature doesn’t describe the causes of the conflict well.

I can think of two possible ways that Tolkien would respond to this. The response would be that my hypothetical is impossible and misses the point. Tolkien might argue that Sauron could not have patiently worked to uplift ME while advocating his own Godhood: that as a consequence of claiming to be a God he would inevitably become a repressor. Likewise, given that Sauron was seeking absolute dominion over Middle Earth it was inevitable that he would seek to usurp Illuvatar’s divine authority.

The second response is that even if religion does not characterize the causes of the war or the motivation of the actors, Tolkien is fair to say that it is basically about religion because religion is morally the most important matter at hand. Essentially, Illuvatar’s right to divine honor is way more important than the specifics of whether or not Hobbits are enslaved, so regardless of how Hobbits feel about the dispute divinity is still the heart of the conflict.
I think that within Tolkien’s Augustinian moral framework these responses hold up pretty well, but I also think the whole exercise serves to reveal the flaws inherent to a ‘divine will’ understanding of morality. The structure is too rigid and too absolute to conform with human moral intuition, and leads to seeming contradictions like “sacrifice isn’t totally evil so long as you sacrifice to the right God”.

Tolkien dodges these issues by having the “good guys” behave morally like “good guys” (forgiving and merciful) while the “bad guys” behave in morally bankrupt ways. Thus, we aren’t forced to face the contradiction between divine and human-intuitive morality. However, they’re lurking in the background, in the moral and philosophical fabric of the text. How do you feel about these issues? Can Tolkien’s morality be reconciled with our feelings that human sacrifice is bad in all cases, that the ends do not always justify the means, and that hobbits can fight for freedom without really fighting for Illuvatar?


The Fall of Númenor: The Fault of Fear

“The one permanent emotion of the inferior man is fear - fear of the unknown, the complex, the inexplicable. What he wants above everything else is safety.”
~H. L. Mencken

H. L. Mencken, an editor and contemporary of Tolkien, was not talking about The Lord of the Rings in his discussion of fear, but his words still apply to Tolkien’s world as well as our own. The fear of the unknown is, arguably, the root of all other fears because of its unbridled potential. Once a fear is real, tangible, it can be fought and defeated. Until then, the possibilities float, intangible and nebulous. Smoke-like, they seep in through the cracks in the window frames and can suffocate anyone exposed too long with thoughts of what might be lurking in the shadows. The unknown is dangerous because it cannot be challenged. No defenses can be erected against it. It is terrifying in its invisibility.

Tolkien knew the power of such fear, and it recurs throughout his explorations of Middle Earth as the primal base for other concerns. The Hobbits fear Strider at first, unsure of who he is or what he might represent—only later, once they learn more about him, once he is no longer an unknown entity, are their worries assuaged. The Mines of Moria are frightening because not even Gandalf is sure of what the Fellowship will find there; once inside, the Mines are fearsome because of what each darkened niche might contain. This fear of the unknown plays an especially prominent role in the history of Middle Earth—specifically, in the ultimate Fall of Númenor and the destinies of the remaining Númenóreans

The Fall of Númenor is a story of a paradise lost. The island could be described as a sort of Eden, a star-shaped land sequestered in perfect weather in the midst of the sea. The Númenóreans “grew great and glorious, in all things more like to the Firstborn [the Elves] than any other of the kindreds of Men” (Sauron Defeated, 334). Perhaps their most striking characteristic was their longevity: “Though long in life and assailed by no sickness, the Númenóreans were mortal men” (Sauron Defeated, 332). Mortality, according to Illúvatar, was a Gift particular to men in Arda—Death provided a release from time, an escape from the eventual “wearying” faced by the Elves.

However, whether or not Illúvatar realized it (and it is beyond the scope of this post to discuss what Illúvatar intended), the existence of mortality juxtaposed with the effective immortality of the Elves is a problematic one. Mortality means entropy—decay, deterioration, and eventually death. For the Elves, death meant nothing more than temporary separation, for the Valar promised that all Elves would be reunited in the Hall of Mandos. But for humans—for men of normal life spans and Númenóreans alike—death, and the question of what happens after death, was shrouded in mystery. Not even the Valar can tell them what comes next. Consequently, death itself is the ultimate unknown and therefore the ultimate fear.

But still, the question remains: Why would Illúvatar provide the Númenóreans with such a gift? Why give the Númenóreans something that could be so easily corrupted by Sauron without more information to help prevent its misinterpretation? In fact, I think He did provide a solution, albeit one that the Númenóreans did not fully grasp as such. After all, this gift of Death was not the only gift imparted to mortal men: they received a sister-gift, the gift of Free Will. Free Will is perhaps the perfect weapon against an unknown evil because it means that the bearer can choose how to face it. Consequently, Númenóreans were not fated to fear death—rather, this Free Will gives them the opportunity to choose how to face it, whether honorably and faithfully or through cowardice.

Still, if this is the case, how did the system fail? The process was two-fold, but I hypothesize that it began with Illúvatar’s (and the Valar’s) absence from day-to-day Númenórean life. Religion in Númenor was hardly visible: Illúvatar was honored just three times a year atop a sacred mountain, and clearly, while he was worshipped, the Valar were in charge of the region—when they happen to look in. This laissez-faire leadership from above opened the door for Sauron’s treachery: claiming the possession of powers from Morgoth, Sauron “beguiled the Númenóreans with signs and wonders,” then “promised them life unending and the dominion of the earth, if they would turn unto Morgoth” (Sauron Defeated, 334). This approach played directly into the Númenóreans’ fear of the unknown on two distinct levels. First, the introduction of a god whose “power” could be seen, felt, and invoked (albeit through trickery), a known god, was a direct response to the unknown and absent Illúvatar. Second, the promise of immortality resolved the peoples’ fears of death by ensuring their safety and comfort in the world they already know and comprehend. Attracted by these offers of comfort and security—direct responses to their own nightmares—the Númenóreans fell into idolatry and, eventually, disobedience of Illúvatar Himself.

Given the Númenóreans’ situation in these terms, the choice made by those who followed Morgoth made sense: Faced with an overwhelming fear of the unknown world after death, preservation of the known, familiar world becomes infinitely preferable. Perhaps such avoidance is cowardly and counterproductive, since death comes to every mortal man invited or not, but the reaction certainly makes sense: “What [men] want above everything else is safety,” recall, and life in a simple, comprehensible world feels far safer than existence in the unexplored realms of the dead.

Still, was this search for safety worth it for Númenor? What did it accomplish? As previous posts have mentioned, their quest for immortality ultimately failed; their disobedience in sailing West provoked Illúvatar from His inaction into wrath, and they were expelled from the island Eden. Consequently, their creeping fear of the unknown lingers, exacerbated with the loss of their paradise and the revelation of Sauron’s lies, now so ingrained in their customs that not even Illúvatar’s gift of Free Will can fight it. This fear is evident in the way they live, always one eye on the grave: they construct “mightier houses for their dead than for their living, [endow] their buried kings with unavailing treasure” (Sauron Defeated, 338). Obsessed with their mortality, Tolkien mentions that the Númenóreans became adept at “the art of preserving incorrupt the dead flesh of men,” in hopes that their priests could someday unlock the secrets of immortality of spirit as well (Sauron Defeated, 338). There is something sad about this attention to preservation over investment in the future—the ever-present fear of the unknown, the struggle for certainty and eternity over flexibility, crippled the progress of a civilization entirely. Unable to change, stilted by their fear of what will come, the Númenóreans’ met a different, darker kind of death, one beyond even Illúvatar’s original intentions. Their Fall is complete.

~Carolyn Hoke, 4/29/2011

Akallabeth- Who is to Blame for the Fall of Numenor?

Who is responsible for the fall of Numenor? The Numenoreans for being tempted, or Sauron for tempting them?

"It is said by the Eldar that Men came into the world in the time of the Shadow of Morgoth, and they fell swiftly under his dominion; for he sent his emissaries among them, and they listened to his evil and cunning words, and they worshiped the Darkness and yet feared it" (Silmarillion, 267).

Perhaps neither party is to blame, but rather fear is. Fear of death, mortality, and the unknown prompt the Numenoreans to become rebellious. Furthermore, it makes them obsessed with death and discovering the secret to enternal life. In this way, they do not value the LIFE they have been given, but rather focus on the absence of life. Since they have stopped properly living, it could be said that the Numenoreans are already dead; dreading the end of days is no life at all.

"Fear of death grew ever darker upon them, and they delayed it by all means that they could; and they began to build great houses for their dead, while their wise men laboured unceasingly to discover if they might the secret of recalling life, or at least the prolonging of Men's days. Yet they achieved only the art of preserving incorrupt the dead flesh of Men, and they filleed all the land with silent tombs in which the thought of death was enshrined in the darkness" (Silmarillion, 275).

The Numenoreans' tombs are a morbid and grotesque violation of the natural way of things, as created by Eru Iluvatar. Men are meant to die, to fulfill their years and leave this world. The tombs signify an inability to accept the life the Numenoreans DO have, and instead act as a coveting of the immortal lives of the Eldar. While the Numenoreans are indeed jealous and covetous, they act so without understanding the WHY behind these desires. They are much like children, asking for something without truly knowing what it means.

Should the Numenoreans be punished for their lack of understanding of their own mortality, or should Iluvatar be blamed for not explaining their purpose to them? As an offshoot, should the Numenorans even question Iluvatar's will in the first place? It is presumptuous of them to assume they deserve some kind of explanation for their existence, or that they deserve some sort of extension of life. Have they earned it? Is it even about EARNING more years? As the Valar explain, some beings are meant to have “immortal” life (as long as the world exists) and some are meant to leave this world. Indeed, who should envy the other? To know your purpose in the world and to never change or grow old? Or to constantly wonder why God has put you here and to live your days finitely?

The Numenorans' initial confusion and jealousy turns quickly to greed and a lust for power, as the kings drape themselves in gold and silver, with more and more goods and riches. Ambition is their catalyst for destruction, reaching ever further for what is not theirs to have. The Numenoreans start acting as if they were invincible, almost crying out for someone to oppose them. In this way, the Numenoreans act like rebellious teenagers, testing the limits of their parents (re: Iluvatar). And like any rebellious child, parents are quick to punish them for forgetting their place.

Even once Ar- Pharazon begins his war and tyranny, he is no closer to his goal of immortal life. “The years passed, and the King felt the shadow of death approach, as his days lengthened; and he was filled with fear and wrath” (Silmarillion, 282). Giving in to Sauron’s persuasion has brought Ar-Pharazon only misery, leading him further and further astray.

While the Numenoreans had the desire to sin, Sauron preyed upon their weak hearts to lead them astray. There must be first a shred of faithlessness that develops into sin. Sauron took advantage of an opportunity, to carry out his own will. It is possible that even if Sauron hadn’t aided Ar-Pharazon, that the Numenoreans still would have fallen due to their own desires. As we have discussed in class, Sauron (re: Morgoth) is not an inherently evil being, but rather a corrupted one. The Numenoreans act much in this same fashion, letting their greed cloud their faith.

At some point though, you have to realize that the Numenoreans aren’t children, they’re Men. Men with morals and rules they are meant to adhere to. They are fully aware that they are sinning and disobeying the rules set by Iluvatar. They’ve been told not to sail West, but they do it anyway- defiantly and with a certain amount of satisfaction. At this point, they have fallen forever.

Luckily, Elendil (and Isildur) represents the hope and remains of Numenor- those who were still faithful and did not follow Ar-Pharazon into darkness. While Numenor itself and all it stood for has fallen, a few brave souls can preserve the memory of their culture, while moving on to found new lands. It makes me view Aragorn in a different light, understanding what his history and lineage comes from, and what he has to overcome emotionally to accept his rightful crown. He bears the weight of one of the most tragic falls in the history of Tolkien’s legendarium; to overcome that kind of guilt and grief is no small task.

-Ashley Demma

Creativity and Immortality

The assignment of different facets of Humanity to Elves and to Men was touched on briefly in the last class, and I think it might have some bearing on the source of corruption that in part led to the downfall of Numenor. We said that to Elves, other than the obvious immortality within Arda, was assigned the Human power of creation, whereas to Men was primarily assigned mortality and the ability to escape beyond the confines of Arda, as well as the ability to influence the Music through free will; it is said that they trouble even Manwe with their actions. We also said that to be Evil is to go against that which is Good, or more specifically that which is one’s intended purpose or lot in creation.

We can see this separation of characteristics between the Children of Iluvatar in the chapter of the Quenta Silmarillion titled “Of Men,” in which the differences and broader interactions between the races in the early days are most clearly laid out. Tolkien’s description suggests several reasons for Men to be jealous, for "Elves and Men were of like stature and strength of body, but the Elves had greater wisdom, and skill, and beauty… But Men were more frail, more easily slain by weapons or mischance, and less easily healed; subject to sickness and many ills; and they grew old and died. (104)" Yet of the Edain, who would become the Numenoreans, he said “there were some among Men that learned the wisdom of the Eldar, and became great and valiant among the captains of the Noldor.” (105) It seems that, though the favored men could attain wisdom and valor, great strength of mind and body through learning from the Eldar, they could not acquire two things, those facets we said explicitly assigned to them, creation and immortality. I want to suggest that it is the sundering of these two assigned virtues that leads to the downfall—the Numenoreans are able to create but always overshadowed by the inevitable separation from their creations.

Both of these traits, assigned as we saw to the Eldar, are directly related to the Gift of Numenor, though we see one is addressed and one only hinted at. Though the Valar cannot entirely revoke the Gift to Men, they attempt to compromise or alleviate some of the negativity by increasing the Numenorean lifespan threefold. In addition, Numenor is the first time in the history of Men (that we are aware of) that they demonstrate the act of creation. In Middle Earth, they had appeared in the East, under the eaves of shadow and far from the light of the West, and even when the fathers of the Edain arrived into Beleriand it was to a land under at best a wary peace. They are not credited with any of the creative arts (even city building) while in Beleriand, seeming to live in villages and small settlements, apparently associated primarily with the Eldar to whom they gave their aid, being gifted in valor and destruction rather than creation. With the gift of Numenor they are taken out of Middle Earth, away from the unhappy lot of Men, who “dwelt in darkness and were troubled by many evil things that Morgoth had devised.” (260) In this land of peace and plenty there are no restrictions and no limits to their creativity or movement, save only the Ban. There "they grew wise and glorious, and in all things more like the Firstborn than any other of the kindreds of Men… At the feet of the mountain were built the tombs of the Kings, and hard by upon a hill was Armenelos, fairest of cities, and there stood the tower and the citadel that were raised by Elros son of Earendil (261)" The work of their hands and their increased life span keep them happy for a while, but it seems to be no coincidence that the first murmurings of discontent take the form of complaints against death, which forces them to “(leave) our home and all that we have made” (264). The Numenoreans, having gotten a taste for creation and the work of their hands, don’t want to give it up.

This is similar to the difficulties of Feanor and Aule with the work of their hands. As long as the joy is in the creation and not in the possession, they have not overstretched their bounds as beings whose prime directive is subcreation under the greater creation of Iluvatar. Aule is able to turn away from the evil of going against his intended purpose because he creates the dwarves through joy of sub-creation and his desire to share that joy, rather than through desire for possession and dominance. Feanor, as we see, creates the Silmarils through the joy of sub-creation, but also to preserve something (the light of the trees) in the event of its destruction, and through this to encapsulate, make physical, and eventually possess the light. It is the possibility of the ending of something good (which no one else seems to imagine) that leads to the creation of the Silmarils, for “he pondered how the light of the Trees, the glory of the Blessed Realm, might be preserved imperishable.” (67) It seems to me that the possibility of the ending of the light of the Trees must be considered in order for the idea of ‘imperishable’ to arise in response. The need for possession, in turn, arises primarily from the act of creation, and secondarily from the possibility of the ending of the possession… Perhaps following the vein of true Creation, sub-creation creates both an object, and in turn an owner, which by necessity creates the opposite of ownership, non-possession. This is not in and of itself bad, as we see with the analogy of the Light and the not-Light or Being and not-Being, where the absence is not the antithesis. Rather it is when something attempts to dispossess the sub-creator of his creation that problems arise. With Feanor he turns on those who he sees as the source of his dispossession and so the Numenoreans also, who turn on the Valar who they see as withholding the secret to rectifying their dispossession (or ending the fear of death).

I don’t mean to do anything more than suggest, but: it seems to me that with the giving of the Land of Gift, free from trouble and the Shadow, and allowing the Edain the chance to engage in sub-creation, the Valar are encouraging them to overstep their purpose in making them like to the Firstborn, and yet withholding the primary gift of the Eldar, that of immortality. This implies that there will be possession, but that the dispossession through death in inevitable. Because there is the inevitable separation the creations become all the more dear. The Valar have, by tripling the Numenoreans’ life span compared to other men, and as they themselves are deathless, suggested that they have the power to also give this immortality to Men thus taking away the inevitability of dispossession. By not revoking the Gift, they take on the role of the dispossessors of Men, both of the work of their hands and of their lives, which is the conflict that inevitably leads to the final Fall and breaking of the Ban. I am suggesting that in giving a Gift which makes it possible for the Edain to go beyond their intended purpose and take on a roll which was not, apparently, originally in their knowledge and purpose, that of sub-creator, and yet not fully making them of the Firstborn, only ‘like to,’ the Valar make the fall inevitable by helping the Edain perpetrate the original evil, attempting to be, or attain a roll, other than intended for them by Iluvatar. They are not fully of the Men nor fully of the Elves, a corrupted form, though corrupted through good intentions.


Creator and Creation

In class we pointed out how the situation of the Númenóreans was roughly analogous to that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Both stories center around the Fall of Man, complete with a ban eventually violated and a paradise eventually lost. We did not, however, touch upon the fact that that end of Akallabêth bears a striking resemblance to another episode in the Book of Genesis that follows relatively closely after the creation narrative: that of Noah and the Ark.

Both episodes feature lands of corrupted men that the initial creator then tries to destroy through storms and floods. The similarities extend beyond what happens to how it is recounted in the language of the respective texts. Take, for example, the description of the destruction of Númenor:

“But Ilúvatar showed forth his power, and he changed the fashion of the world; and a great chasm opened in the sea between Númenor and the Deathless Lands, and the waters flowed down into it, and the noise and smoke of the cataracts went up to heaven, and the world was shaken. And all the fleets of the Númenóreans were drawn down into the abyss, and they were drowned and swallowed up for ever… Then suddenly fire burst forth from the Meneltarma, and there came a mighty wind and a tumult of the earth, and the sky reeled, and the hills slid, and Númenor went down into the sea.”

This destruction of the Númenóreans bears close resemblance to the description of Earth’s destruction in the seventh chapter of Genesis:

“All the fountains of the great deep came bursting through, and the windows of heaven were open… And destruction came on every living thing moving on the earth, birds and cattle and beasts and everything which went on the earth, and every man.”

Genesis makes it pretty clear that God decided to flood the earth because He “saw that the sin of man was great on the earth, and that all the thoughts of his heart were evil.” Ilúvatar destroys the Númenóreans when they violate the ban not to sail west, though they had been behaving in an inappropriate manner for some time before that. At any rate, in both cases the men who were eventually destroyed had been behaving in a manner that constituted a corruption of the creator’s Idea. In other words, they were being evil.

What seems like a simple case of transgression and punishment is complicated by Augustine’s assertion in book XII chapter 23 of City of God of God’s foreknowledge of man’s sin. Augustine claims that “God was well aware that man would sin and so, becoming liable to death, would then produce a progeny destined to die. He knew also that mortals would reach such a pitch of boundless iniquity.”

This foreknowledge of sin jives well with Sayers’s conception of creation, namely that the creation of something good necessarily brings with it something evil: “The creative will, free and active like God, is able to will Not-Being into Being, and thus produce an Evil which is no longer negative but positive.” It makes sense, then, for God to know that his creation of man would bring with it sin. What is less clear is why God would choose to destroy his creation for sins he knew men would commit and for an evil that necessarily accompanies the act of creation. The situation with Ilúvatar and the Númenóreans seems to be a little less ambiguous. Ilúvatar destroys them for violating the ban on sailing west, but still this is a corruption which was brought into being with the act of creation itself.

These two episodes both beg questions about the relationship of the creator to his creation once it has already been invested with a power of its own. In Sayers’s analogy of the author, she remarks that “his creation is safe from the interference of other wills only as long as it remains in his head.” As soon as his idea takes form it is subject to wills other than his own and assumes its own power. What, if anything, can or should the creator do in response to corruption?

In the Hamlet metaphor that dominates the essay, David Garrick’s crime—a “kind of grasping at equality with God”—is roughly similar to the Númenórean quest for immortality. Only, Sayers’s solution to Garrick’s corruption of Shakespeare is to enjoy a good laugh at Garrick’s expense and “in so doing we, as it were, absorb the Evil in the anti-Hamlet and transmute it into an entirely new form of Good. This is a creative act, and it is the only kind of act that will actually turn positive Evil into a positive Good. Or, we can use the dreadful example of David Garrick for edification… in the hope that this will prove to be a good creative activity.” Granted, we who are committing this new creative act were not the original author of Hamlet, but it is hard to see how an act of destruction on the part of the creator can do any good, or in other words transmute the corruption of his creation into an entirely new form of good. God and Ilúvatar destroying their respective creations is like Shakespeare coming back from the dead to drown Garrick in the Thames. This sort of destruction certainly doesn’t seem like the type of redemptive creative activity Sayers advocates as a remedy. Why commit the act of destruction at all? Is it really any better than allowing the corruption, which necessarily accompanies the creation, just exist? And doesn’t the destruction comprise an act of corruption in and of itself?

-Curran Boomer

What Did Melkor Look Like?

Maybe something like this?


Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Problem of Melkor and Christianity

Melkor is a problem. I mean this not just in the sense that he is a problem for the Ainur and Iluvatar, and threatens the very existence of Middle-Earth – though this alone would certainly be enough to call him the biggest problem in Arda. I mean that Melkor is a problem in the theological sense, if one were to approach Tolkien’s mythos as a sort of religious metaphor (using Sayers’ definition of a metaphor). Though the Ainulindale certainly does not map onto the Genesis story, nor is it intended to, it suffers from some of the same confusions and apparent inconsistencies that the Christian story does. Most notable is the problem of evil: if God created everything, and everything is good, where does evil come from?

I felt confident that we successfully explicated much of this issue in our Wednesday discussion, which I’ll very briefly summarize and is basically Sayers’ argument mapped onto the Silmarillion. Iluvatar created Being, and that was Light, but everything that was Not-Being was Darkness. In creating Light, he also necessarily created its opposite, Darkness, which was not bad in itself but simply a result of its opposite. Turning from the Light is sin. As Elrond argued of the Ring’s power to corrupt, “Nothing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so.” Corrupting the Light into Darkness is evil. This act is that of Anti-Light, direct opposition to Iluvatar’s will and creation. To use an example, Melkor’s “vilest deed” that was “most hateful to Iluvatar” was the corruption of Elves, the Light, into Orcs, the Dark (Silmarillion).

This is an elegant answer to the first part of the question. Sin is a physical act of turning away from the Light, and evil is the Anti-Light, that which corrupts the Light into Darkness. But then we run into three follow-up questions: where does the Anti-Good come from, what is the line between sinfulness and evil, and how did Melkor become evil, if he was created by Iluvatar? The first and third questions are similar, because Melkor is the ultimate Anti-Good for he is directly opposed to Iluvatar’s will. It is clear that his acts of corruption of others, such as of Feanor and Sauron, are evil, and that makes Melkor evil. But who or what corrupted Melkor? What was the act that turned him from simply sinful to the embodiment of evil?

To approach this, we will first have to explore the concept of free will. This is a tricky concept in reference to the Ainur, because Tolkien never explicitly states that they were granted free will, instead describing them as independent beings, “each with their own thoughts and devices,” but not all-powerful (Silmarillion). Given this, we can assume that they were given some degree of free will, though as offspring of Iluvatar’s thoughts, they could not operate independently of him. Melkor, as the most powerful and knowledgeable of the Ainur, desired to “increase the glory of the part assigned to himself,” and sought the Imperishable Flame in the Void. As Flieger noted, the best and brightest are often the ones to fall the farthest into darkness, and it is no surprise that Melkor grew weary of his limited power and believed that he deserved more. Here, as Melkor develops his own thoughts, we see him turning from the Light and towards sin. But when did this become absolute evil? Many Men and Elves turned from the Light at some point, but they were not evil.

I think that Melkor’s greatest evil was not defying Iluvatar by desiring the Void – it was his contempt for Iluvatar’s creation and will, and his own arrogance in believing that he could create better than Iluvatar himself. He does not just create music in opposition to Iluvatar’s, but rather directly challenges Iluvatar’s power in a musical show down where he has the audacity to compete with Iluvatar. Once defeated, Melkor does not admit his lesser power, but becomes angry and vindictive. By refusing to back down and challenging Iluvatar, Melkor crosses the line from sinful into evil. When one’s inner impulse is turned to actively seeking Darkness, rather than an occasional venture towards it or a tendency towards it, as Men experience, he becomes evil and is no longer just sinful.

But, if Melkor was inclined towards evil, and he was an offspring of Iluvatar’s thoughts, does that mean that part of Iluvatar from which Melkor came was also inclined towards evil? Here, one could again turn to free will as an explanation, but I don’t find that sufficient. Melkor’s desire for Darkness had to come from somewhere. It might be useful here to use Numenor as an analogy (warning: here be speculation, as this is not a perspective explored in the Silmarillion). It was discussed in class that perhaps some of the blame for the fall lies with Iluvatar, for tempting the Numenoreans to pursue Valinor and immortality in the first place. He granted them extended lives and a paradise on earth – but not Valinor. In so doing, he may have made them feel that they were getting “closer” to being Elves, who were seen as a sort of “chosen people.” This temptation, and a fear of death, was ultimately too much for the Numenoreans, who believed that they had become close enough in nature to the Elves that they should rightfully join them in Valinor. In the same way, was Iluvatar’s own power too much of a temptation for Melkor, who believed that he, by being given more power than the other Ainur, was a step closer to being Iluvatar himself? The Numenoreans, like Melkor, were not evil or even inclined towards Darkness in the beginning, for they feared death and desired immortality before being corrupted by Sauron. It was the temptation of Valinor that led them astray. Did Iluvatar mislead Melkor by giving him too much knowledge, thereby planting in him greed for more power? Can we blame Iluvatar partially for Melkor’s fall? This is dangerous territory because it means that Iluvatar was not flawless. It means that Melkor’s tendency towards evil was fostered by Iluvatar himself. Iluvatar did indeed create evil, because he created a being capable of committing evil. This is a statement that I am not bold enough to make. On the other hand, I’m also not convinced that Iluvatar must be flawless like the Christian God.

Bringing this back to Numenor, I would like to briefly defend the Men and maintain that they suffered an unjust fate. Sauron, the treacherous, was to blame because he committed the ultimate sin of corrupting the Light. He directly opposed Iluvatar’s will by interfering in and trying to change the fate of Men. Of course the Numenoreans feared death – none of the Ainur were even able to tell them where they would go or what would happen to them after death. True, they committed a sin by not having faith in Iluvatar’s plan, but that does not make them, or even Ar-Pharazon, evil, just human. Sauron should therefore have been the only one to suffer the punishment for the Numenoreans’ actions, because they did not understand the extent of their sin while Sauron most certainly did. Then again, it could be argued that the Numenoreans were given another gift by being drowned, since we do not know what happens to them in death.

In conclusion, I find the Melkor problem to be irreconcilable with Christian thought. The thing that makes it different from Christianity is that Melkor and the Ainur were offsprings of Iluvatar’s thought, and there is no perfect analogy for this in Christianity. So where did Melkor’s desire for Darkness come from? I can only come to the unfortunate conclusion that it came from Iluvatar himself.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Poor Allegory for Tolkien’s Free Will

Please consider the following allegory as my “hypothesis” about the Downfall of Numenor.

 A man, a young police officer, decides to give a gift to his son.  This gift is a handgun.  Being a cautious father, he has taught him much about gun safety, and endowed him with a strong sense that there is evil in the world.  The boy accepts the gift with a sense of awe and respect.  His father tells him to pass the gun on to his son in due time.

The boy grows older, marries, and has a son.  He, as requested of him, passes on the gift, along with the lessons in gun safety and evil’s existence.

The possessor of the gift finds himself walking by a police officer one day and hears him complain that they are unable to stop drug dealing in a particular neighborhood.  The boy walks to that neighborhood shoots a drug dealer, and kills him.  Then he walks a few more blocks and does it again, and again.  The boy then goes to his grandfather, now the chief of police, and gladly informs him that he has put his gift to good use and describes what he did.

It may be obvious that the boy should be arrested, but is anyone else at fault?  Should the father be blamed for these unintended consequences? Does it reach back all the way to the grandfather? Was teaching the boy about gun safety giving him enough knowledge to make good decisions?  Surely, he could now make a decision, the gun would not fire unless he wanted it to, but did either ever say when he should fire? 

Eru gives a great gift to his children, that of free will.   In so doing, he gives each and every one of his children the ability to make choices, to reference my little story he has given them a gun.  The result is that they can turn toward their nature or to turn from their nature.  He also gifts a world in which decisions will have one of the two effects, of either coming toward or going from their nature, since not making a choice is in itself a choice, like the Sindar who stayed behind and never saw the Trees.  This is Eru’s gift of gun safety lessons- a world which has consequences for those with free will. 

The first choice affecting the Numenoreans is before any of them really existed, and its the choice of Elrond and Elros.  Elrond chooses the Elven path, and Elros chooses to be a King of Men. Given that they each choose one, and have the option of both, in their moment it must have seemed that these gifts were equal, that no wrong choice could have been made.  They were also both judged to be great by others, and so others agreed with their choices.  In other words, there was nothing seemingly evil in their choice.  How did they choose though? 

Eru withheld from even the Valar the information necessary to make the “right” choice.   Only part of their respective gifts was revealed to men and elves.  How did Elros then make the right decision to take on a mortal life if he did not have any idea what the second gift really entailed. What did it mean to escape from Arda?  What was to come for mankind next? 

This problem is not isolated to the decision of Elros.  The decision of the Numenoreans to sail West has the same limitation and frame. Some chose to sail East and “escape” from Numenor.  Many though, led by their King, went to their doom in the West.  How did they make their decision given that the Messengers spoke “Indeed the mind of Iluvatar concerning you is not known to the Valar, and he has not revealed all things that are to come.”?

In creating uncertainty Eru made free will a dangerous weapon. To use a modern slogan guns don’t kill people, people kill people.  Free will gives people the ability to act and cause consequences for themselves and others, but the creator of everything chose to withhold information.  This gift of free will was a responsibility, or trust, but the Messengers in speaking to the Numenoreans warn them that their trust will become a bond if they act wrongly.  To me, this implies that proper exercise of free will, gift number one, is the trust, and that the wrong exercise results in death, which is also a gift.  Yet the right exercise of free will also results in death.  Does free will therefore not affect one’s standing with Eru? (This just downright confuses me, and I hope someone can either correct my logic or provide elucidation in a comment.)
Eru went a step further though than the creation of uncertainty and also planted feelings of certainty in the Numenorean mind as well.  Considering again the Messengers they state “The love of Arda was set in your hearts by Iluvatar, and he does not plant to no purpose.”   Now, as their bliss was fading, they knew that there was a greater bliss out there, and that in some way it was supposed to concern them. Now, they in most ways kept the “trust” and of course kept the Ban, until the crucial turning point.  When Sauron came and posed a new world. 

Sauron offered certainty.  The certainty was that “The Valar have possessed themselves of the land where there is no death, and they lie to you…”  In this world there was no more uncertainty, their desires for long life and Arda were reconciled and their hesitation, the fear of the Valar and the ban was becoming overcome by the seemingly true words of Sauron.  The tipping point to completely overcome this fear is when Sauron reveals himself in power by facing the lightning.  Sauron must therefore be right if he possesses such majesty over the Valar’s power.  They made their decision with the information that they believed to be right and true.  They made a decision in a world that Eru created using the gifts of Eru.  Can we say that Eru did not create evil then?   Their decision, evil as it is, must have been an outgrowth of Eru’s creation.

Eru himself might answer our question in his actions though.  Those who sailed west were killed and buried in the “Caves of the Forgotten.”  Yet, they did not lose their greatest gift, because their tenure there was only “until the Last Battle and the Day of Doom.”  Their fate was still not connected with Arda’s.  Eru didn’t take away the gift of mankind from those who opposed him most of all.  And returning once again to the words of the Messengers, this time concerning the Eldar, “The Eldar, you say, are unpunished, and even those who rebelled do not die.  Yet that is to them neither reward nor punishment, but the fulfillment of their being.”  Men and Elves will still fulfill their being, no matter what their use of their gift of free will leads to.

If all the pieces above hold, than in some way Eru created this evil by giving the gift of free will and not giving everyone with free will perfect information with which to use the gift.  On the other hand, if he had given free will and perfect information, wouldn’t everyone have just been a “good angel?” For if you could know the glory or Eru would you not do everything to bring about its fulfillment? And if that’s true, does free will still matter if everyone would make the same exact choices so that we could all just program a robot to make our choices for us?  Wouldn’t we just become robots, or would we be completely blissful? 

Charles J Martino

P.S. So many questions…sorry!

Fire and Solitude: How Does One Judge Sin?

            Following yesterday’s discussion, I found myself giving a lot of thought to one of the Hebrew translations for sin that we mentioned briefly in class: ‘to miss the mark’. When considering the characters from The Silmarillion and trying to match them up against this definition, I discovered that some interesting trends appeared which primarily revolved around a few, select motifs. Of these, I will touch on solitude and fire. But as one ponders the extent to which characters like Aule, Melkor, and Fëanor are sinners, one has to wonder if the level to which they are sinners correlates directly to how ‘evil’ a given character is.

            In Splintered Light, Flieger makes an important point about the prevalence of the language of fire when discussing Fëanor and the restlessness of nature it implies. His intense skill and creativity have him constantly at work creating something, and he rarely is found not working (Simarillion). He is filled with an urge to create and bring new things into the world. In the case of Fëanor, early on, his works are only tinged with a hint of mastery, as might be implied from the use of the words ‘preserved imperishable’ in Tolkien’s description of Fëanor’s intention behind the Silmarils: “For Feanor, being come to his full might, was filled with a new thought, or it may be that some shadow of foreknowledge came to him of the doom that drew near; and he pondered how the light of the Trees, the glory of the Blessed Realm, might be preserved imperishable.” (Simarillion 67). His compulsion to create leads him to imprison the Light of the Two Trees in jewels which later become for his use alone: “…for though at great feasts Feanor would wear them, blazing upon his brow, at other times they were guarded close…Feanor began to love the Silmarils with a greedy love, and grudged the sight of them to all save his father and his seven sons; he seldom remembered now that the light within them was not his own” (Silmarillion 69). It is when he arrives at this final step that he fully loses sight of Eru’s target-ideal of creation for creation’s sake, not for ownership: he misses the mark.

It is a similar compulsion to bring new things into being that originally drives Melkor (arguably) and Aulë to their own ‘sins’. Melkor is eager for something to fill the empty void outside the realm of the Ainur: “He had gone often alone into the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame; for the desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own, and it seemed to him that Iluvatar took no thought for the Void, and he was impatient of its emptiness” (Silmarillion 16). One could argue that it is ultimately this impatience to create which drives him to feel he must compensate by increasing the “power and glory of the part assigned to himself” (Silmarillion 16) through adding his own themes to Iluvatar’s music. Thus, due to his restless creative impatience, he too misses the mark of Eru’s goal and makes his act rather about himself than pure creation. Aulë’s creative sin is, perhaps, the most forgivable in Eru’s eyes, as Eru chooses to prevent a willing Aulë from destroying the product of his sin. In his love and excitement for the arrival of the Children of Iluvatar, an impatient Aulë’s ever-shifting creative drive compels him to shape beings in their place: “…for so greatly did Aulë desire the coming of the Children, to have learners to whom he could teach his lore and his crafts, that he was unwilling to await the fulfillment of the designs of Iluvatar….” (Silmarillion 43). But, as a result, seven lifeless puppets are made. From his impatience, an imperfect creation is born and the anger of Eru is aroused. However, unlike Melkor or Fëanor, Aulë realizes his mistake and is willing to part with his creations in order to please Eru: “And in my impatience I have fallen in to folly. Yet the making of things is in my heart from my own making by thee; and the child of little understanding that makes a play if the deeds of his father may do so without thought of mockery, but because he is the son of his father’” (43).

Another notable trend among these three is that of solitude. Melkor often walked alone into the void to seek the Fire that made all life live (Silmarillion 16), and it is while alone that he developed ideas that further separated him from the Ainur: “But being alone he had begun to conceive thoughts of his own unlike those of his brethren” (Silmarilion 16). Additionally, all three of these characters hide their actions (Melkor comes to do so later), as if to imply that they have some inkling that what they are doing is wrong in some way. Fëanor tells no one of his attempts to capture the light of the Trees when making the Silmarils: “Then he began a long and secret labor, and he summoned all his lore, and his power, and his subtle skill; and at the end of all he made the Silmarils” (Simarillion 67). Aulë retreats deep into the Earth to make the Dwarves: “But fearing that the other Valar might blame his work, he wrought in secret: and he made first the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves in a hall under the mountains in Middle-Earth” (Silmarillion 43). All this secretive behavior seems to point to, at least on a subconscious level, some sort of self-recognition that their actions are in some way not quite what they are supposed to be, or a sin.

But the question that has been haunting me the most after considering all of this is the following: do characters stop being evil once you understand them? Is there some sort of transition that happens from seeing some sort of abominable action and calling it evil, versus understanding why someone did said action, and then calling it rather a sin? If Eru understands all of the Ainur’s actions, does he see them as sins or evil deeds? Does he see them at failed attempts of doing what he wants, or as purely self-inspired, self-motivated acts intentionally against his will? Does Eru see the restlessness creative fire within his creations/Ainur and weigh that against their guilty solitude in judging their actions? Does knowing why someone does something change how inherently evil that action is? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions….any thoughts?

-C.C. Phillips


This essay is split into three, not wholly unrelated parts.

I: Why they are NOT metaphors—at least, not entirely

  The question arises as to whether the Valar, the Powers, the High Children of the One, are gods, or angels, or intellects, or elements.  Mainly, it is asserted that they, and the myth as a whole, are a metaphor for something at least.  I will try to debunk, or hardily question this claim.  To use an example separate from Tolkien’s work, I’ll talk about those mysterious angels in Genesis.  The sons of God are understood to be angels of God’s court.  Some say that this court of angels is exactly what God is trying to replicate by creating earth: an earthly court to mirror the heavenly one above.  Augustine, we see, would support this.  And yet the angels of God’s court, biblical scholars say, are the remnants of the court of the Canaanite god El.  The god El was in ancient times thought to preside over a court of gods who looked to him as the high god.  One would argue immediately that the angels of God’s court are metaphors for the gods of El’s court.  But I don’t think you can justify saying that.  Angels were a reaction to the pantheon of pagan gods, NOT a metaphor for them.  Angels were the Judaic response to a theological problem, mainly polytheism.  To say they are a metaphor suggests that the angels are really gods, and the properties of these pagan gods have been carried over [meta (over) + inpher (carry)] to the angels.  But that would confuse a reactionary idea with a purposeful transmutation.  Similarly, Tolkien’s myth of creation, is not a purposeful transmutation, or a carrying over of properties from one thing to another.  He himself says: “:References to creation may well be fundamentally ‘wrong’ from the point of view of Reality (external reality).  But they cannot be wrong inside this imaginary world, since that is how it is made,” (Letters:153 p.188). The sub-creation is not subject to the same rules as Creation.  The properties of creation have not been ‘carried over’ to sub-creation.  Creation entails detachment (which is why Eru creates in the first place).  Thus the angels of God are detached fundamentally from the gods of El.

            Myth is thus best understood as alternate history, rather than metaphorical history, for it is detached fundamentally from ‘actual’ history.  Yet they are both histories, and in that way have some link.  Sayers addresses the problem of the metaphor. We are ourselves images.  And an image is fundamentally detached and separated from what it is reflecting, whereas a metaphor is fundamentally linked.

II: Light VS Darkness, Or: Why those two trees aren’t as good as they seem

 The reading concern the conflict of light and darkness, as each throws the other into greater relief.  Just as “the fish out of water is the only one to have an inkling of water,” (Letters:52), only in the presence of darkness can one appreciate life, and vice-versa.  Flieger potently addresses the light/darkness, and congruent good/evil problem when she observes that Tolkien likes the Music of Creation to water, harboring both the storm and the calm.  Light is good; yet it casts shadows.  Civilization is good, but it leads to greed. Feanor, of course, represent this struggle.  He seeks to preserves the trees’ light in the Simarils, but in doing so, seeks possession of the light for his own.  Thus, Flieger asserts: “Desire to possess is the cardinal temptation in Tolkien’s cosmology,” (Splintered Light, p.108-109).  I am reminded of a passage from Vergil’s Aeneid, which I fortunately was translating for Latin class right around when I was doing the reading.  It is a sort of creation myth:

The native fauns and nymphs held these woods and as well as a race of men born from tree-trunks and strong oak, who had neither custom nor culture,  nor did they know how to yoke bulls or store resources or ration them, but the branches and harsh hunting fed them with food.  First Saturn came from heavenly Olympus, fleeing the arms of Jupiter as an exile.  That race, indocile and dispersed in the high mountains, he gave to them laws and chose the place to be called Latium, because he had hidden on those safe shores.  They lived under that rule which men all call the Golden Age.  Thus he ruled the people in calm peace until little by little a worse, tarnished time [came] and the madness of war and the desire for possessing entered. Aeneid, BkVIII. 314-327 (transl. is my own)

I thought this was a nice parallel.  Saturn, this god character, like Prometheus and Feanor, brings civilization to this race.  Saturn is also an ‘exile’, someone banished like Feanor from the Aman, and like Melkor and Galadriel for that matter (Shippey, p.204)  We see how the civilization slowly descends into tumult as the desire for possession begins. 

           So civilization, evidently, is a double-edged sword (as is death, but I’d rather not tackle the meaning of life and death—I’ll leave that to those greater than me).  One may say the Simarils are the best example of this, but I think the Two Trees do an even better job.  One of the trees has “leaves of dark green that beneath were as shining silver.”  This sounds like a poplar tree.  Poplar trees also come up in the Aeneid, and on them, a commentary notes: “The white poplar (bicolor because of the underside of its leaves was white and the upper, green)…was sacred to Hercules.  Servius says he made himself a hat of poplar leaves when he descended into the underworld, the two colors symbolizing light and darkness; this symbolism was formalized in the renaissance in Alciati’s book of emblems,” (Aeneid Commentary, K.W. Gransden).  This has persuaded me to believe Tolkien also intended his tree to symbolize light and darkness.  AN then of course the other tree is golden.  Well, we already know what happens when a Golden Age comes….

III: The dangers of taking yourself too seriously

    In the battle between light and darkness, your downfall may be that you take yourself too seriously—as a creator, I mean.  We first see the dangers of it with Aule, who outsteps his authority and creates the dwarves.  Only in supplication to Manwe does he save himself.  He is also willing to kill the dwarves (parallel to Abraham and Isaac as Flieger astutely notes).  This shows he does not value his creation—and by extension, himself, over the true Creator.  And then of course Feanor is the great Over-reacher.  Flieger likens him to Prometheus, but Icarus is a better analogy, I think, especially since our winged friend is burned by the sun’s flames.  In trying to possess the Simarils, his aim is not to glorify the light contained within, but to glorify and make it an image of himself.  Tolkien also recognized the danger of taking yourself too seriously (Letter 53).  He says he also sought to create images of his own heart, but sometimes took them,--and himself, too seriously, and would rather avoid the downfall of Feanor.  Maybe this is the real reason he never published the Silmirillion himself.  It's a bit too serious, don't you think?

Sam D.

The trouble with Elves: Why seek beauty in creation?

"There, sailing proudly down the stream towards them, they saw a swan of great size... its beak shone like burnished gold, and it eyes glinted like jet set in yellow stones... suddenly they perceived that it was a ship, wrought and carved with elven-skill in the likeness of a bird." -- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Galadriel sails in a boat that mimics natural beauty so elegantly that it can hardly be distinguished from its live counterpart. Upon her head she wears a circlet of golden flowers, and gives gifts of gems with delicate carvings and sword sheaths etched with flowery garlands. Tolkien's Lothlórien overflows with the beauty of Elven craft.

Each time I read through The Fellowship of the Rings, I cannot help but dwell for a moment on the strangeness of what passes in Lothlórien — not only while the Fellowship rests there, but in the greater context of the Third Age. While the hobbits in the Shire and even the Men of Bree are not conscious of the extent of the threat of the Dark Lord, we think of the Elves as an enlightened people. Surely Haldir and the other Elves, watching from their telain, witness the growing threat of the Shadow. However, the haven of Lothlórien remains isolated, and the resources of the Elves seem ever dedicated to craft. Surely Tolkien did not mean to pin to the Elves an ugly habit of materialism — but how else are we to explain their fascination with physical beauty in a time when creating objects of simple utility would seem like the more appropriate choice? Why do the Elves spend time sitting on the hythe polishing jewels when they are among the ones to whom the threat of evil seems most lucid?

But perhaps this is only something I have projected onto the Elves. Perhaps, like the Men of the southern kingdoms, uninitiated in Elven lore, I am too quick to dismiss their craft as indulgent sorcery. There are many arguments in favor of the Elves of Lórien, not the least of which is the inspiring power of beauty in times of darkness. However, this is not the first time that an attachment to beauty troubles an Elf. Fëanor refuses to give up the Silmarils, having come to see them as an extension of himself: "If I must break them, I shall break my heart" (Q. Simarillion 9). Similarly, the Teleri refuse to loan or make a gift of their beautiful ships. Can we blame them, given that the band of Fëanor destroys them once they reach the other side? Uinen of the Maia even causes the sea to destroy many of the commandeered ships of the Noldor as they sail east, which seems to implicate the vessels in the struggle as well as their sailors.

As we discussed in class, there is clear link between the creative process of Aulë and the creative process of Fëanor. Both feel an attachment to their creation that suggests that they perceive their works as an extension of themselves. The Teleri also refer to their ships as "the work of their hearts" (Q. Silmarillion 9). If we focus on this aspect of what is essentially sub-creation, the tendency to consider creation as an extension of one's "heart," the toiling of the elves over their beautiful objects becomes much more compelling. Here, the objects of the Elves must function as metaphor: they say things that the Elves believe cannot be said any other way. The Elves communicate through beauty what they cannot express in any other fashion besides creation.

If we can understand on the most basic level what the Telari, the Noldor, and the Elves of Lothlórien try to achieve in their works of beauty, we can ask this question again, stepping back to the level of the Ainur. It seems that this extension of the heart and self is relevant as well to Aulë, who wishes above all to have "learners" to love and share things with.

Aulë, foolish as he is, realizes the foremost barrier in communication and understanding. Without anyone with whom to converse, he is alone, unable to share the "lore and crafts" that dwell within him, yearning to extend that same "heart" that Fëanor and the Teleri speak of to creatures of his own making (Q. Silmarillion 2). And even more problematic than lacking someone with whom to converse is lacking a medium in which to express it. The Elves must create beauty because they are their beauty; without their beauty, they cannot speak.

I don't think it's necessary or feasible for us to map Tolkien's creators directly onto the hierarchy of the Christian or any faith. However, seeking to understand how creation (even with a lowercase "c") functions within Tolkien's work is essential to understanding the Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion as a continuous whole.  


*Okay, really, how do you pluralize talan?

Locating Tolkien in English Religious History

       While we were discussing how to position and conceptualize the Valar and Ilúvatar in the grand scheme of Tolkien’s work, my first thought was: what exactly is the problem? The way I look at it is, we’ve got a relatively strong division here. It seems to me we can understand Ilúvatar as an incarnation of the omnipotent God portrayed in the Christian canon. He is the prime mover, the creator, the figure to which all others owe allegiance. However, as we discussed in class, that leaves a question as to how exactly we can conceptualize the Valar. If we try to put them in the same paradigm, the natural response is to say that they are the angels to Ilúvatar’s deity. This interpretation comes with many problems, which we discussed in class, including, but not limited to, the inconsistency between the ranks of angels and the Valar, the strong attachment of each Valar to a particular element or attribute, which is not present in the concept of Christian angels, such as it is. Rather, when taken on their own (that is, ignoring for a moment their subservience to Ilúvatar) the Valar map relatively clearly on to the Germanic/Norse pantheon, specifically the Æsir (or perhaps more accurately the ēse, the Anglo-Saxon variant). These gods are often associated with a particular attribute (Thor or Þunor for thunder, Sól or Sunne for the sun), are subject to mistakes, and have unique, knowable personalities and faces. Indeed, the echoes, as we know, of old northern European mythology are extensive, including many links in the cosmology (Middangard, the Anglo-Saxon conception of the human world, roughly translates to Middle Enclosure, thus, Middle-Earth). However, the point that Tolkien is influenced by Anglo-Saxon mythology hardly needs to be made. The real point is, if we accept that we can understand Ilúvatar as a God essentially modeled on the Christian God, and that the Valar map relatively well onto the Anglo-Saxon pantheon, how do they co-exist?

        The answer, I think, lies in Tolkien’s attempt to create his “mythology for England.” Since Anglo-Saxon polytheism and Christianity exist as the two major religious forces in English history (excepting, of course, the imposition of Roman polytheism in the first CE and following which were, of course, not really English), it makes sense that an imagining of an English mythology would contain elements of both. Tolkien’s schema superimposes the two religious systems on top of one each other and in the world of his works, there’s no real conflict. Since Ilúvatar does not come along with a monotheistic “I am your only God” stipulation, it is not problematic to have other figures which, while clearly subordinate, can still be called gods. Thus, the resulting religious structure is a new one that is neither mono- no poly-theistic and yet somehow both. Again, however, this point is relatively elemental. The value of this realization lies in the implications it has for Tolkien’s sub-creationist efforts and how it illuminates to create for England it’s own mythology.

        Specifically, the integration of two very separate systems of belief have roughly the same effect as looking at English religious history, but taking out the dimension of time. That is, flattening the entirety of religious history into one layer which comprises the diverse elements. This has several things to tell us. First, it speaks to the unity of the past and the present of England within the body of Tolkien’s work. However, more significantly, it speaks to the constraints of the framework of what Tolkien is doing. While a work of history has the luxury of discussing a belief system that has been largely ‘discredited’ at the time of writing but which still is understood to have been thought of as true during the historical events discussed, and for the people involved in them, an internally consistent mythology does not. So, it is important that Tolkien is crafting something with elements of mythology and not pure history. Mythology has the quality of needing to be capable of being believed. So, in order to make an English mythology, Tolkien needed to incorporate elements of English religion that could be believed in context. In order to make the narrative(s) apply not only to a modern England, but an England of the past as well, he needed to include edifices of multiple religious epochs, and that’s how we got to where we were. It is the only style, as it were, of religious conception that makes sense in the world that Tolkien created.

         Alternatively, the melding of the pagan and the Christian could help us locate Tolkien’s world in the history of our Earth. Specifically, the union of the pagan and Christian belief systems cannot help but remind us of the cycle of Old English Christ poems. Specifically, the poems contain what seems to be a merging of the Anglo-Saxon cosmology (i.e., Middangard, Neorxnawang etc) with a Christian cosmology (Earth, heaven, etc.). Perhaps more notably, the the first segment of the poem contains the lines: “Eala earendel, engla beorhtast,//ofer middangard monnum sended” and any reader of Tolkien cannot help but spy Eärendil in this verse. So, it may in fact be that in some sense, Tolkien’s world can be located contemporary to this poem (8th or 9th century CE). They both share a melding and overlaying of Christian and Germanic mythology which is manifest not only in the question of the Valar and Ilúvatar, but in the linguistic parallels, which point to Tolkien’s heavy use of Germanic source material. So, we have that Tolkien’s ‘religious’ structure is uniquely fit to include a mythology of all of English history, but perhaps we have located the time in that history where someone would have been willing to write it.

-E. Moore

"Christ A, B, C." Georgetown University: Web Hosting. Web. 27 Apr. 2011. .
Davidson, Hilda Roderick Ellis. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. London: Penguin, 1990.
Schaar, Claes. Critical Studies in the Cynewulf Group. Lund: C.W.K. Gleerup, 1949.

The Corruption of Light and Darkness

Reading the Quenta Silmarillion, I was struck by the importance of the distinction between light and darkness. There is no doubt that understanding the effects of that distinctions provided me with a whole new outlook on Tolkien’s writings. I was able to better comprehend the role of light within the legendarium and how good and evil were defined by its presence.

It seemed to me the first instance where there is an awareness of darkness is when Iluvatar called into existence the song of the Ainur. Prior to the vision, nothing existed. This nothingness, however, did not imply darkness; nothingness is not darkness. But when the Music was made visible, the Ainur “beheld it a light in the darkness” (Silm. 15).  It’s interesting to note that awareness of darkness came about only when light was first manifested. More importantly, light had to be known and seen first so that darkness could be determined.  Fleiger writes that “light and dark exist because of one another as well at each other’s expense” (Splintered, 86). The manifestation of light also brings about the manifestation of darkness, that is, a non-corrupted darkness.

Now, when the Valar go to Arda, “all was but on point to begin and yet unshaped, and it was dark” (Silm, 10). Again, I feel the need to stress the fact that, at this point, light was already conceivable. Arda was dark precisely because there was nothing; the Valar still needed take the vision, the blueprint that had been composed by Iluvatar, fashion it and bring it to existence in Arda. To remedy the lack of light, Aüle formed two lamps which would keep the light flowing in Arda, so that “all was lit as if it were in a changeless day” (Silm, 27). It is only after the establishment of the two lamps, the Source of light in Arda, that the seeds of Yavanna begin to grow throughout Arda, and “wealth there was of her imagining, and nowhere more rich than in the midmost parts of the earth, where the light of both the lamps met and blended” (Silm, 28). There is something extremely unique and spectacular about the idea that, similar to the sun in our primary world, the light produced by the Two Lamps was necessary for the growth and development of the natural beauty of Arda. But why have light every day? An Arda filled with light serves as the ultimate distinction between the world, and everything else; a distinction that I believe will serve to further reinforce the contrast between light and darkness as the mythology develops.

Augustine claimed that happiness came from clinging to God and wretchedness from distancing oneself from God (City, 471); these claims fit in perfectly with the dichotomy of light and darkness presented in the beginning of the Quenta Silmarillion. Taking them into the context of Tolkien and the importance of light, Melkor’s wretchedness and his hatred and jealousy of the Valar’s creations came from his refusal to affiliate himself with the Light. There are plenty of mentions of Melkor “brooding in the darkness” and “growing dark as the Night of the Void” (Silm, 28). His separation from the light and his constant association and interaction with the dark only furthered his corruption. It is in the darkness that hatred and rancor brewed within Melkor, feelings that became his main motivation for destroying the Two Lamps.  The hate and anger residing within Melkor didn’t just lead to the destruction of the lamps. It also resulted in the corruption of darkness. Before that, darkness simply meant the absence of everything; said darkness was not meant to be evil or corrupted. But the hateful intention that came with Melkor, his intent to purposefully rid the world of Light and all that is derived from it (illumination, growth and life, etc) is what ultimately corrupted the darkness. Why feel the need to intentionally plunge the world into darkness? Because light and everything illuminated symbolized the entirety of what he was no longer a part of; it represented what he always wanted to achieve (the creation of his own dominion) but never did. Within the darkness produced by the destruction of the lamps, there lingered remnants of that hatred and evil that would forever be associated with darkness. Ultimately, his failure and unwillingness to adhere to Iluvatar, the Valar and the Light perverted the primary nature of darkness and, consequentially, light.

Throughout the Quenta Silmarillion, there is the constant creation and destruction of light; the diminishing of that light comes as a repercussion of Melkor’s actions. The Two Lamps, the sources of endless and all-encompassing light in Arda, were created and Melkor destroyed them. The Two Trees, which provided gold and silver light in Valinor, were created and Melkor destroyed them too. Out of those trees sprung the Sun and the Moon, sources of alternating light. Light begins to diminish with every destruction, going from all-encompassing (Lamps), to softer and more reserved (Trees offering light only to Valinor) to just the sun and the moon. With every creation and destruction of light, it’s impossible to deny that the darkness is getting stronger; darkness begins to infiltrate places where there was once only light, meaning that light is becoming increasingly aware of darkness. Before the destruction of the two lamps, the Valar could not sense the coming of the destruction of Melkor precisely because of the permanent light produced by the Lamps. They were only aware of the light which surrounded them and not of the coming shadow. Awareness of what was light and what was darkness was a fundamental requirement that had to be established before the arrival of the Children of Iluvatar, the intended dwellers of Arda. It offered them the ability to discern between light and darkness and ultimately, good and evil.  

 -Selene M.