(Sorry this is so late in getting up. I've been sick for a while.)
As I was reading Ainulindale, I wasn’t surprised to find that it paralleled the Genesis and John so well. In fact, I expected it given Tolkien’s Catholicism and proclivity towards Christian themes. I wasn’t surprised at all to find the style so like that of scripture. I wasn’t at all surprised to find a Satan figure in Melkor. But one thing, above all other elements, is striking about Ainulindale: the music. Whereas, according to John, “In the beginning there was the Word,” here in the beginning there is music. Why use music to embody creation? Does music help us understand the process of creation? As I read and thought about these questions, the more I started to see how elements of music, as we perceive them, very much parallel the birth of Middle-Earth as depicted by Tolkien.
I want to bring the frame of creation here to the forefront. This story is the organization and performance of the greatest orchestra/choir/collaboration of musicians in history. The story begins only with the existence of our great composer and director, Eru (aka Iluvitar). This is obvious: Iluvitar creates the theme and composes the grand work which his symphony will put forth. He raises his hands in command of his musicians (the Ainur), especially when Melkor introduces discord (which will be central later in this investigation). As I’ve just mentioned, the Ainur are his musicians. But as musicians, they each only play one instrument; they each can only create music according to the part of Iluvitar’s thought from which they were born.
Bear with me; I realize most of this has been pretty obvious thus far, but something strikes me about this analogy in that it simply isn’t complete. More of the story of Middle-Earth fits into the form of music than this segment. This first part of the story introduces the players of the analogy, musicians divided who “sang only each alone, or but a few together while the rest hearkened; for each comprehended only the part of the mind of Iluvitar rom which he came” (Silm. 3). It takes the composer to unite them together and create a true symphony that can create the frame of the world. However, Iluvitar’s initial theme seems strange to me. I feel as though I can’t understand it. Perhaps I’m not meant to understand it. After all, Iluvitar is God, and I, characterized by being less than God, shouldn’t be able to comprehend his song. But at the same time, this music is supposed to be the shaping of this world, a world which we do understand.
The issue here is that music, as we understand it, is not flawless. It is not perfectly united in harmony throughout. That is, we need tension, both in music and in the world. Thus, Melkor, the musician who introduces discord to Iluvitar’s theme, enters the fray. Corruption of the good is fundamental to a creation story; that is the only way we may arrive at a world at all like this one. And so, the creation of Middle-Earth, which is supposed to parallel our own world, is shaped as such because of the discord that Melkor introduced. What’s more interesting, however is the way in which discord contributes to Iluvitar’s theme rather than disrupting it. As Melkor writes his own symphony, Iluvitar changes his song, such that “[Melkor’s] most triumphant notes were taken by the other [Iluvitar’s] and woven into its own solemn pattern” (Silm. 5). Melkor’s dissonance ultimately becomes a component of Iluvitar’s theme. This is the same discord that characterizes the music that we hear every day. From classical music with its constantly interchanging melodies, often battling with each other for prominence, to blues and rock with their dominant 7th chords and movements around the tonic, music as we know it is defined by the constant battle between harmony and discord. At this point in the creation story, the music finally resembles something recognizable, something that seems capable of embodying the complexity, chaos and sin of our world.
However, other versions of Ainulindale in HME 5 and HME 10 make it clear that the theme of Iluvitar is a “blueprint,” as Flieger puts it. The act of creation only comes when Iluvitar fills the Void, and bestows upon the Ainur the duty of creating the world which he has shown them. Here, the music ceases to be the literal device of creation, but the form of music holds when we observe how Middle-Earth is actively built and progresses through time. First there is the filling of the Void, the bringing of the world into being, the physical establishment of the theme. Then, as the Valar attempt to construct Earth flawlessly, Melkor, in his discordant mindset, attempts to destroy their creations. Yet this discord is somehow welcomed by the theme, contributing to the beauty of the song, such as when Iluvitar points out how Melkor’s presence, his dominion over the cold and fire, has in fact contributed to the magnificence of Manwe’s water, creating rain and snow. Even the physical creation of the world adheres to the qualities that make music beautiful. The constant battle between harmony and discord that a great composition necessitates plays itself out in the active creation of this world.
Why then would Iluvitar give to men, who are most like Melkor of Iluvitar’s children, the power to see past the song of the Ainur, to shape their fate beyond the song which has already determined the fate and shape of the world? Furthermore, why would Iluvitar have these figures join in the great music after the end of days, as Ainulindale foretells. All of this suggests one undeniable fact: Iluvitar’s great symphony is by no means complete. The history of the Earth hasn’t ended. In the form of the song, where Iluvitar’s symphony maps out all time, we are still missing one key element: the resolution. In (most) music, we have the establishment of the theme followed by the introduction of discord to question it. Yet in the end, the initial theme almost always wins out. It is only upon retrospection that we appreciate the dissonance for making an interesting story; in the moment of the symphony, we are troubled and challenged by discord and love the resolution when it finally triumphs. So where is the resolution in Iluvitar’s symphony, considering that he cut off his composition in response to Melkor’s introduction of a new theme? This is what men are destined to create: the resolution we crave men crave. Iluvitar gives men two great gifts: death and free will. I found the juxtaposition of these two gifts interesting. Ainulindale says that “the Eldar remain until the end of days, and their love of the world is deeper, therefore, and more sorrowful” (HME 5 179). Perhaps, then, in men’s lesser love of the world as is, they may find more joy in shaping it into something better, seeking a deeper love. I ultimately think this is what Tolkien may have had in mind when he put man in charge of a story characterized by music. The form of a composition is intrinsic to us. Most people can at least feel the power that music has over us, and most people can’t stand when something as emotional as music ends in discord. Thus, it only makes sense to Tolkien that of Iluvitar’s creations, it would be men that would ultimately realize a perfect resolution of Iluvitar’s grand composition, his perfect theme with which this entire symphony and all of creation started.