Monday, May 30, 2011

Subcreation as Worship of Creation

I began my reflections for this post by simply looking up the definition of worship, and there were two aspects to it that most struck me: firstly, that it can be to honor a deity through religious rites; secondly, that it can be an expression of reverence toward a deity. This active, participatory aspect to worship is what first called to my mind the concept of subcreation as a form of worship itself, for it is the active participation of a component of creation in shaping that same creation of which it is a part.

Flieger suggests that there are two primary concepts inherent in Tolkien's philosophy: “One is the inevitability and absolute necessity of change. The other is the centrality of language and its importance as both cause and result” (Flieger 167). For Flieger, these two concepts work together in order to “subcreate a new reality” (Flieger 167). Change is a necessity of creation for creation is a process of development towards ultimate fulfillment, and without change this could not be achieved. Subcreation, within this context, is the act of change itself, which works in collaboration with creation and with the designs of the creator in order to achieve this fulfillment of creation. Subcreation is an act of expression on the part of a single component of creation, and for subcreation to bring creation to its eventual fulfillment, it must be in cohesion with creation. For one to commit an act of subcreation in its purest form, one must do so with reverence to creation and to its creator, making it a form of worship.

Language, for Tolkien, has just as important of a role as change in the fulfillment of creation, for language, according to Flieger, is itself an act of subcreation. Where other forms of subcreation make a physical alteration of creation, language is more a subcreation of the psyche, for it affects and shapes human perception of creation, which is as much a part of creation and its fulfillment as the physical aspects. Flieger points out that the purpose of language is communication, and she then points out the etymological ties of communication with community and communion, stating that: “without communication there can be no community. Without community there can be no sense of communion. Without communion...humanity is truly separated not just from others but also from the source” (Flieger 168). Flieger seems to be suggesting that the fulfillment of creation requires the communion of every component of creation with every other component, and simultaneously the communion of creation with its creator. Language, then, acts as a subcreative force that can construct these bonds of communion, and so further creation toward fulfillment. As such, language too could be seen as an act of reverence toward creation, and therefore also a form of worship. This becomes especially evident in the inherently vocal aspect of praise in religious rites.

As an example of this aspect of worship within subcreation, I would posit the tale of Aule and the creation of the dwarves as played out in the Silmarillion. Aule wished to take subcreation to its absolute extreme: as an act of pure creation independent unto itself. It would seem from this that Aule had distorted the purpose of subcreation as an act of reverence and worship towards creation, since he wished not to partake of creation but create his own. Yet even so, his intentions in this aim are pure as regards the purpose of subcreation. Aule's reason for attempting to commit an act of independent creation was that“so greatly did [he] desire the coming of the children...that he was unwilling to await the fulfillment of the designs of Iluvatar” (Tolkien 37). Aule is not attempting to subvert creation, but is merely trying to hasten the fulfillment of creation. When Iluvatar reprimands him for creating the dwarves, Aule responds: “it seemed to me that there is great room in Arda for many things that might rejoice in it, yet it is for the most part empty still, and dumb” (Tolkien 38). From this, it would seem that the purpose of subcreation is to fill the empty spaces of creation so that it is a cohesive whole. I would also point out that Aule calls Arda “dumb,” highlighting the inherently vocal aspect of praise that can be found in the subcreation of language. Aule goes on to say that: “the making of things is in my heart from my own making by thee; and the child...that makes a play of the deeds of his father may do so without mockery, but because he is the son of his father” (Tolkien 38). According to this passage, an act of subcreation is an expression of the traits that we have inherited from the creator and are done so that we might be in greater communion with the creator. As such, subcreation is not just worship of creation in an external sense, but worship of the self because we too are a part of creation and have been crafted in the image of the creator. Therefore, subcreation, in its purest sense, is the worship of the aspects of the creator reflected in creation by forming creation to reflect those aspects more purely.

Tolkien too was aware of this collaborative aspect of subcreation with creation. In one of his letters to his son Christopher (Letter 89), he described this vision he had of a beam of light shining on a speck of dust floating in the air, and how this beam of light made the speck shine white. He says he envisioned it as God emitting a beam of light, which he equated to an angel, bringing the light of God to that speck, which would be some component of creation in his metaphor. The fulfillment of creation is for all of creation to be bathed in the light of God, and the role of subcreation in this is to let this light into yourself and then to project it outward onto the rest of creation until all creation is filled with light. As Flieger points out: “[Tolkien] also knew beyond any doubt that he was the prism, not the light” (173). For Tolkien, subcreation was not only about realizing the light for yourself, but communicating that light unto the rest of creation, and as such it takes on the language of praise and could be seen as a form of worship of creation.

C. Carmody


  1. I think that you've made a very good point about equation of worship and subcreation and the sense of active participation with God's creation. The example you've given of Aule's creation of the dwarves -- that Aule is forgiven even though he did subvert Iluvatar's creation with his own, since he had the pious intentions of subcreation (as worship) -- stands out to me most. I feel that this formulation has larger implications for examining other characters' subversive creations as well.

    I think we can and should expand upon this to determine part of the reason why Melkor and Sauron are so "evil." Not only do they seek to dominate others, as we have discussed in class, but they also pointedly do not subcreate. Instead, they simply create, seeking to subvert or overpower the creations of Iluvatar or the subcreations of others. To put this into the terms of worship that you have brought up, through their creations Melkor and Sauron do not worship Iluvatar or enter into communion with Him or the wonder of His creations. Instead, they commit the hubris of creation; they reject the opportunity to worship or praise Iluvatar by asserting their own power in His place.

    -Catrina D.

  2. Beautifully put! I particularly like the way in which you show the relationship between subcreation, language and praise. I think that this is exactly what Tolkien meant in his letter to Camilla Unwin about the purpose of life being to praise God: Aule makes the dwarves because he is impatient for there to be someone with language to praise Iluvatar's creation. Thus, subcreation is worship, just as you say.


  3. I've always liked what a prominent role language plays in Tolkien's universe, and its relation not only to creation but to change, as you said. It's actually interesting to note the parallel between language and the psyche that you mentioned; as it turns out, people really do think differently depending on what language they are used to speaking as well as what language they are using to communicate. It seems that Tolkien was well aware of this (or at least, thought the relation might exist) based on how he describes languages changing as the people do. New dialects (and ultimately languages) seem to evolve as people discover new ties to creation (such as how Sindarin evolves), and older languages are referenced when people are trying to be reverent (like when the Numenoriens use Elvish names). Connecting the subcreation that is language to worship of creation explains even more about this.


  4. I think you've knit together some key concepts in a very elegant and succinct way here. I really like the idea of Aule trying to hasten the fulfillment of creation on his own and that this is why his (sub)creation ended up flawed. I feel like Tolkien would agree that worship must be a part (though perhaps not always a conscious part) of any subcreative act--the very word "subcreation" itself would imply deference, and I think you extend it nicely into a deferent *worship*.

  5. I think you connected the concepts of worship, subcreation, and language quite successfully here. I really like the point you brought up about language being a "subcreation of the psyche," because as a bilingual who's also studying other languages, I've always found that when one switch between languages, what really happens is that the way of processing thoughts and interacting with the world changes ever so slightly. To me, that's one of the things that fascinated me the most about Tolkien's way of addressing language change because in Tolkien's lengedarium, instead of the Biblical notion of the Tower of Babel, in which the sole purpose of having different languages is to separate and alienate, languages change and branch off into different dialects through a process of active interaction with creation.
    Going off of this train of thought, I'm really interested in how the existence of the Black Speech plays into this. According the Appendix F, the Black Speech was devised by Sauron in the Dark Years and he had "desired to make it the language of all those that served him." Because of this, one might argue that the foul nature of the Black Speech comes from the fact that it wasn't born out of the discovery and appreciation of Arda, or the primary creation of Iluvatar. Also, one might constitute it as a mode of (failed) mental and perhaps spiritual domination, since language does shape one's thought and perception of the world. In light of that, however, it's really interesting to note that the Black Speech doesn't quite take off even among the orcs.

    -Cindy Z.

  6. Catrina, I like your point about "the reason why Melkor and Sauron are so 'evil'" being that they "seek to dominate others...but also pointedly do not subcreate."

    I would propose a refinement, though. You say that they "commit the hubris of creation", but I don't think that's quite right. I would say that they commit the hubris of attempting creation. Surely it is only Eru who can truly create. Melkor and Sauron, on the other hand, attempt creation but end up merely corrupting. Melkor, for example, corrupts elves into orcs, and Sauron corrupts Minas Ithil into Minas Morgul. This is not true creation.

    However, what are we to make of the fact that these corruptions are turned ultimately to good? Melkor's attempted corruption of the Music of the Ainur was turned to great beauty by Eru's power which he could not comprehend. Sauron's attack on the Free Peoples resulted in both his own downfall and the return of the King.

    Perhaps even Melkor and Sauron subcreate, but with evil intentions which are not allowed to succeed. (By the by, it is a good parallel with Judas Iscariot, whose evil intentions were also turned to good effect.) Can we really call this unintended good subcreation? Perhaps or perhaps not; maybe it's just semantics. But I think it's also important to link this with the eucatastrophe. After all, the eucatastrophe is an instance of an evil situation being turned unexpectedly to good. So then eucatastrophe is that which transfigures the intended evil of those such as Melkor, Sauron, and Judas into a wonderful good.

    --Luke Bretscher

  7. I feel like most of what I want to say has been more eloquently phrased by others. But! I enjoyed this post particularly because I made a post earlier about the Ainulindalë,which I believe complements this topic nicely. The origins of Tolkien's universe is created by the combined voices of Illuvitar's subcreation, much like the how in Genesis, Adam gives names to all of the life that God presents to him. Before language is even a firmly established creation, Adam is able to label all of God's creatures; in this sense, language then predates most life. The first action Adam has to perform is using his voice, an action that has holy significance. There's a reason Tolkien has also done something similar with his origin story. In the Ainulindalë, the subcreations of Illuvitar bring forth creation by naming it – perhaps not by direct language, but by the use of voice and by song. It is done largely to please their creator-father, but also to subcreate. They are worshipful, but also bringing forth life. Language is then directly linked to divinity, as you've said. The act of granting language to the elves and to man was seen as a monumental moment, and therefore really makes me feel like language is almost synonymous with enlightenment. By giving voice to creations, it allows for further creation. Thus, language really is the key to subcreation. I love the idea of Tolkien as a prism too – that image is beautiful for me. The scintillation of Tolkien's work is very well reflected in this idea.


  8. I really liked the way in which you connected many of the aspects of the class together in a final class. Sub-creation as we discussed earlier is an act of taking what we see and value in our own world and projecting it in a new and coherent way. I never really realized before that sub-creation could actually be an active form of worship. I also feel that the idea of each sub-creator having their own free will is an important aspect in that each new creation is but at the same time should not be done carelessly or without thought. I also really like the idea that sub-creation is a component of communication with your creator. By looking at the world around you and trying to create a new one based on the aspects found in the primary reality, you necessarily understand more about the primary reality and in a way relate to the creator in that you share some of the same activities. It is amazing to see the care that Tolkien put into all of his creations in order to both create a convincing world in which to place his characters and story and also to better worship the primary creation.
    Brian W.

  9. "For one to commit an act of subcreation in its purest form, one must do so with reverence to creation and to its creator, making it a form of worship."

    I really like your description of language as an act of reverence towards creation, especially given our class discussions about how all language is a metaphor. Abstract concepts are constructed from words that refer to concrete things; in a strange way, then, imagery of that ilk is subcreated within the primary creation of tangible, purely descriptive terminology. Furthermore, this subcreation that actually expands the potential of the creator of language—thought—because it’s clearly difficult to think about anything you can’t describe. It seems as if the subcreation glorifies the creation from which it springs as well as the creator.

    As a side note, you've made me think about a lot of things that have to do with subcreation itself. If we see subcreation as a form of worship, what does that imply about our own subcreation within Tolkien's imagined realms? Also, where does pride and hubris fit into subcreation—when is subcreation acceptable, and when, like Aule, do we as subcreators go too far? Are certain forms considered “right” worship, or at least better worship, than others, i.e. would LOTR-themed epic poetry be considered more “right” than Aragorn/Gimli slash fic? Where would the lines lie? Your post also made me wonder about where the worship inherent in subcreation is eventually directed: By working within the realms of his own subcreation, Middle Earth, are we somewhat worshiping him and his creation, or are we still worshiping (as if by proxy) the God he hoped to praise through his work? How does this idea of worship change if we don’t read the books in a primarily religious light—can you worship something without calling your actions worship?

    I realize this comment consists of more questions than answers, but you’ve made me think and I’d be interested on any of your viewpoints on these. Thanks for a great post!


  10. In response to Luke:

    I think the issue of how to interpret the unintended good side effects of Melkor's or Sauron's acts (whatever we choose to call them) ties back to something Iluvatar says to Melkor after hearing his rebellious music. He tells him that what he has thought was defiance is actually part of a larger plan of Iluvatar's and will lead to greater good than Melkor can possibly imagine. I don't know exactly how to interpret the idea of Iluvatar/God having some sort of ultimate plan; this is an issue that I and others have struggled with in other posts here. Regardless of the technicalities though, I think this relates to the idea of even corruption being turned to good.

    -Catrina D.

  11. Reaction:
    Is there any difference, then, between worship and simply behaving as God created us to behave? For if we subcreate because we are made in the image of a creator, and language is the way in which creation becomes communion, then is there really any way to avoid worship as a piece of God’s creation? And if not, then what of free will?
    Perhaps there is. For we can assume, I think that the creation of the one ring was not a worshipful act, being as it was created for the domination of wills. Domination is one thing that does not fit with Tolkien’s idea of God. It is probably significant that the wearer of the ring is prevented from seeing the light of the world, and therefore God’s light.
    Your identification of language as a force of sub-creation is particularly apt, since with language we understand, and therefore in a sense create, the meaning of the things around us. Another laden question: is language what we use to describe God’s light in the things we see, or is it how we project God’s light from ourselves onto the things we see? Is there a difference between the two?

    Mattías Darrow.