Friday, April 22, 2011

Spoiler Alert: Tolkien is actually Melkor.

What are we to do with Melkor and discord? How is it that Eru smiles when the discordant song is first heard? Why should Eru have made Melkor in the first place? In order to deal with these questions let us first go through a retelling of the creation of Middle-Earth, a telling somewhat more true and more false than what is found in the Ainulindalë:

There was Eru, the One, who on Earth is called Tolkien; and he made first the Aspects of stories: languages, cities, and races, that were offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music: and they sang before him and he was glad. But for a long time they worked only each alone, or a few together, while the rest harkened; for there were some stories, but no world to put them together into. Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony.

But now Tolkien sat and harkened, and for a great while it seemed good to him, for in the music there were no flaws. But as the theme progressed, it came into the heart of Melkor to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme; for he was created with the desire to expand his dominion and bring shadow to all things.

Now to the halflings had that Aspect whom we call Hobbit turned his thought. … And Tolkien spoke to Hobbit, and said: Seest thou not how in this little realm in the Deeps of Time Melkor hath made war on thy province? He hath bethought him of cruelty, and yet has not destroyed the beauty of their spirit or of their rhymes. Behold Samwise, and the incredible stoutness of his heart. Melkor hath devised war without restraint, and hath not dried the supply of their courage nor utterly the music of the Shire. Behold rather the actions of Frodo, journeying out into the most dire affairs of Middle-Earth.

Then Hobbit answered: ‘Truly, the halfings are now become fairer than my heart imagined, neither had my secret thought conceived of such bravery, nor in all my music was contained such resistance to evil.
(This is drawn from the version presented in The Silmarillion.)

Although my story has none of the beauty of the Ainulindalë, hopefully my point stands out none the less. It is one thing to talk about the role of discord in a cosmogonic sense, but we should also realize that as a story-teller Tolkien himself becomes Melkor. He creates a fair world, but that is not interesting. In this world he, Tolkien/Melkor, creates discord, war, destruction, and grief. He’s not even very conservative with the dose of evil he gives to Middle-Earth. The list of his evil creations is quite long. He tells the story of not just one war, but several. Every good thing to fall in Arda was destroyed not just by cosmic force, but by Tolkien’s pen.

So what does this mean for us? Is Melkor a necessary part of all sub-creation? That is a difficult question. However, it is clear that any who seeks to create within Tolkien’s world will have to become Melkor, at least in part. It is in this realization that we can better understand the role of discord. We must see Melkor, not as an evil god in the distant past, but as a part of each of us, indeed something that we desire.

To sub-create is to praise the act of creation. Melkor is in the act of sub-creation, so he must be a part of praising creation. From the stories it is easy to see him as opposed to Ilúvatar. The musics of the two contend with each other for dominance. However, it is important to note that they are still using the same medium. In contending with Ilúvatar, Melkor is still using the form of music, with was taught to him by Ilúvatar. It seems that if melkor really wanted to rebel he could have stopped singing. What he did was in fact directly in line with the command he had been given: “ye shall show forth your powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices, if he will” (The Silmarillion p. 3). This is what Melkor did. The version of the story put forth in The History of Middle-Earth Volume 5 states that the theme of Melkor had “grown now to a unity and system, yet an imperfect one, save in so far as it was derived still from the eldest theme of Ilúvatar” (p. 173). Lucifer, Adam, and Eve all go against the command of God, but Melkor doesn’t. His great act of ‘evil’ is literally in line with the word of the creator.

So in the end Melkor is a force for creation. He sings and does not withhold from us his voice. His creations on Middle-Earth were numerous, even if all were monstrous. In order to rebel against the creator he would have to try and obliterate the world. Instead he adds to its richness. If Melkor is in fact a celebrant of creation, then we can be forgiven for bringing him into our sub-creations. With our pens we may go forth and create monsters and great sorrows and still fit into the plans of Eru and Tolkien. It is only when we give up our abilities as sub-creators, when we create nothing, that we truly rebel against Eru and commit evil.

A personal note regarding the music played in class: I once had the pleasure of playing the Vltava piece in a full orchestra. That piece has since been a personal favorite of mine, and the thought of it as part of the music of creation made me quite happy.

Doug MacDonald


  1. "It is only when we give up our abilities as sub-creators, when we create nothing, that we truly rebel against Eru and commit evil." Oh, my, yes, I think that you are onto something here! I like very much your retelling of the creation, but I am not sure now what to think of Melkor: is he an aspect of our soul, our tendency to desire domination? Or simply the necessary disturbance in our story lest we have nothing to struggle against? What is it that, Melkor-like, we desire?


  2. Your blog is really interesting and made me contemplate alot that I hadn't considered. I think as readers we are quick to dismiss Melkor as a force of evil and overlook his role as a "force of creation".
    I just want to add a little to your point about forgiving us for bringing Melkor into our sub-creation. I actually think Tolkien didn’t intend it to be a mistake at all and therefore it is not something that we must be forgiven for. I think Melkor’s existence is not only deliberate but also necessary. Melkor represents the polarity of creation, the fact that good and evil both exist in our world and there are no absolutes, no regions of perfect purity not even in Valinor where ‘good’ essentially rules. It is within this context that the tale of Fëanor and the Noldor becomes relevant because their “corruption” demonstrates that evil is not a single entity (namely Melkor) but rather, a force that can penetrate all regions and people of the world.
    While Melkor’s existence acts as a tangible evil in Arda, it is his music that truly created evil and wove it into the fabric of the world. Thus, it is not just Melkor but all of Iluvitar’s children whose being was forged in Arda who then had the potential for evil. And I think by adding this sub-creation Tolkien’s mythology became far more consistent with reality, making it less of a fairy-tale and more of a myth.
    —Tarika Khattar

  3. Very creative thinking, drawing the parallel between Tolkien and Melkor! I would never have thought of it that way, but they do, in a way, do the same things (of course, their motivations and the repercussions are completely different!).

    You pose the question of whether Melkor is necessary for all sub-creation, and then say that all who seek to create must “become Melkor” and that Melkor is both a part of us and something we desire. Does that then mean that the answer to your question is that, yes, Melkor is necessary for all sub-creation? Or that he is there whether we create or not and so may not be intrinsic to that creation?

    You make a good point that by sub-creating from the existing creation, Melkor is, in a way, praising that first creation – one cannot ‘defy’ God without first recognizing God’s authority! For all the destruction he causes, Melkor creates, as well. I think you’re right to say that the ultimate rebellion against Iluvatar would have been to stop making music!


  4. To your question, RLFB, I'm not sure of the answer. IN the simplest form, we need to become Melkor when creating stories because otherwise the stories are really boring. But that just makes us ask more questions. Why is it that we are drawn to conflict in stories? I don't know. Conflict seems so central to what stories are that to imagine a stories without conflict almost doesn't make sense.

    In another way we need to act as Melkor in order to stress-test our creation. You cannot tell how strong something is without challenging it. By acting as Melkor we are discovering the true strength of the elements of the story. But the issue with this, as Courtney mentions, is that I am talking about the actions of Melkor without talking about his motivations. So if we act like Melkor but for totally different reasons, is that the same thing? If its not the same thing then my point is much weaker than I originally thought it to be.


  5. I love this!

    I hadn’t thought of it before, but it’s true. Tolkien created Middle-earth, even if he claims that he didn’t. He created the gossipy and low-tech but stout and peaceful Hobbits, whose anarchic government and love of the land makes them endearing and (somewhat) ideal. He created the wise Istari, those brought to Middle-earth to serve against evil. He created Men, and gave them great kingdoms.

    But he also created the Sackville-Bagginses, who lead to the destruction of the Shire. And he created Saruman, who creates a bastard race of Orcs and ravishes the peaceful Shire, betraying his trust and his fellow wizards. And he made the kingdoms of Men fail.

    The main question this brings to my mind is, Does beauty not exist if there is no ugliness? Did Melkor inadvertently create a Middle-earth that was more meaningful and interesting?

    If there is no temptation, is there no strength? No courage?

    I am not sure what Tolkien would say about this. Based on his writings, it seems very clear that he really despises the ugly, and really wants it to just have never been created. He wants trees and forests and gardens, and doesn’t care that we appreciate the trees and forests and gardens that we have all the more because there are fewer of them. I wonder if, inadvertently, in destroying and weakening aspects of Men and Middle-earth, did he make it all the more beautiful?