Friday, April 29, 2011

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


  1. What should the creator do in response to corruption? I'm not sure that what Sayers is suggesting is that the Creator destroy Garrick or even Garrick's Anti-Hamlet. Rather, while acknowledging that Anti-Hamlet is evil, we the readers can make something good of it, just as (which is her implicit parallel) God made something good of the Fall by becoming incarnate as Christ so as to save all of humanity. The story of the Flood is anomalous in this sense that the good that comes of man's sin is only available to Noah and his family, but that is still a good. I suppose the question is then whether the Creator has a right to destroy his own creation--or an author to destroy his work.


  2. You pose some very interesting questions: Is destroying the source of evil as bad as the evil itself? Is allowing evil to continue evil? I think this goes back to the question of the origins of evil, namely, that it is a byproduct of free will. If actively trying to destroy the good is evil, then actively aiding evil, or willfully choosing not even try to stop it, would also be evil. To me, the inevitable conclusion of this line of thought is that all individuals therefore have a responsibility to stop evil from spreading; though they cannot hope to undo it completely. With respect to the Creator’s role, it would seem to be too great a violation of free will to destroy the evil thing or block the evil, à la deus ex machine (to mix my linguistic references). Like the creations, the Creator seems to also have a responsibility to try to make things as good as possible within the existing limitations – the main one of which is that the Creator cannot violate the free will of its creations.