Would Iluvatar’s music be just as beautiful without Melkor’s music? Why did Iluvatar not wipe out Melkor from the very beginning? These questions stuck out to me during our class discussion because they were ones that I myself pondered over as I was reading these various texts. One idea that came up in class was that discord and dissonance lead to resolution in music – we cannot have resolution without discord. Dissonance in music allows us, the listeners, to appreciate harmony more and experience the satisfaction and joy of reaching a resolution. We do not know and appreciate harmony and resolution in music as well when there is no dissonance. Indeed, there can be no resolution in music without dissonance.
So, would Iluvatar’s music be just as beautiful without Melkor’s music? Well, I want to say – and I think – yes, it would be. After all, Tolkien did say that the music before was full of “endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the places of the dwelling of Iluvatar were filled to overflowing” and “never since have the Ainur made any music like this music” (Silmarillion, 15). These descriptions hardly seem to me to be ones of incompleteness and inferior beauty. It was “great music” before Melkor brought discord to it. But just as dissonance allows us to appreciate harmony and resolution in a way that is not available to us without it, I think Melkor’s “music” lets the Ainur – and us, by extension – know and appreciate the harmony and beauty of Iluvatar’s music more.
This idea of contrasts is not one that is unique to Tolkien. Like many of the themes in Tolkien’s work, there is biblical precedent/basis for it. The Bible itself is filled with contrasts in the creation accounts. Genesis 1:3-4 says, “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.” The other seven days continue in a similar vein: there is day and night, sky and water, earth and sea, sun and moon. None of these are evil, per se, but neither would any of these be quite the same without the other. Each pairing serves to highlight the unique qualities of the two things being created and compared: the solidity of the earth stands in contrast with the fluidity of the sea, the brightness of day with the darkness of night. In the Ainulindale, when Melkor’s music comes in, new themes arise from Iluvatar, themes that are “deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came” (Vol. X, 10).
There is this idea of contrasts providing us with greater understanding and appreciation of harmony in Iluvatar’s music, and at the same time, the contrast and discord from Melkor’s music draws attention to how much Melkor himself does not understand Iluvatar and Iluvatar’s music. In the Ainulindale, Melkor first begins to bring in his “matters of his own imagining” to the music of the Ainur because he does not know Iluvatar’s plans and “it seemed to him that Iluvatar took no thought for the Void” (Silmarillion, 16). And yet, how wrong he was because we see later on that Iluvatar did have a plan for the Void – “[Iluvatar] showed to them a vision, giving to them sight where before was only hearing; and they saw a new World made visible before them” (Silmarillion, 17). Melkor thought that there was no plan for the Void, but with the revelation of the Vision, and later on with the coming of the Children of Iluvatar, he and the other Ainur “learned yet a little more of [Iluvatar’s] wisdom, which otherwise had been hidden even from the Ainur” (Silmarillion, 18). Iluvatar himself says, “no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, not can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined” (Silmarillion, 17). Iluvatar has a greater power and plan that even the Ainur do not know about – he is sovereign over his creation and his imagination and understanding is above all else. Melkor’s discord, when taken in light of Iluvatar’s grander scheme, is merely a part, a small portion of the music. The discord allows for resolution and new themes, and draws out the beauty of the harmony in Iluvatar’s themes.
The ironic – and, I think, truly sad – thing is that while Melkor’s willful discord creates a profound appreciation and knowledge of what harmony is and contributes to the beauty of Iluvatar’s music, it only happens because Melkor does not understand Iluvatar and the beauty of Iluvatar’s music. Yet somehow, Iluvatar is able to take the discord arising Melkor’s misperception and misunderstanding, and he uses that to bring others into a fuller appreciation of his music. And that is what lends even greater beauty and majesty to Iluvatar’s music. “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:5). The darkness’ lack of comprehension does not detract from the Light, but darkness – perhaps unknowingly – serves to bring the Light to further glory and brilliance. So, I think Iluvatar chooses not to wipe out Melkor when he begins to bring discord to the music is because he knows it will not take away the beauty of his music, but rather draw out the beauty in it.