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.