Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Eru and Eden: How Tolkien's Creation Myth Exemplifies Many of His Biggest Ideas

“Ainulindalë,” the creation myth of Tolkien’s lore extolling a universe fashioned out of the unity of theme producing a song shaped into material form across ages, is embedded with many of the elements of Tolkien’s theories surrounding the importance of storytelling and the process of subcreation. Eru Ilúvatar fashions a theme that is reflected in the songs his creations, the Ainur, compose, which soon swell beyond themselves and create physical life. They are shown the great maw of the Void and the universe forming within it, and battles rage on between discordant songs sung by Melkor and those who follow him and the great, all-encompassing plan. The most fascinating aspect of this story, in my opinion, is the intersection between this tale of creation, our previous discussions of primary and secondary realities, and letter no. 96’s attention to the resounding effects of the Eden story and untold stories. How do the actions, songs, and legendary tales of Tolkien’s creationism reflect many of the themes we have come to know?

In letter no. 96 to his son Christopher, Tolkien dwells on a pondering of C.S. Lewis and his design--the lasting influence of the Eden lore on humanity’s existence, an idea which is well-depicted in the relation of the Ainur, many of whom ultimately became the Valar, to the vision of Eä given to them by Ilúvatar. As a result of seeing this vision, many of the Ainur become infatuated with the idea of this entire history that their song--one at that, at the moment, is wrought with discord--has created. (HME, 5, 176) They willingly choose to leave the divine realm of Eru in order to seek out the Eden for which they saw time begin and end. (HME, 5, 176) Seeking Eden is an idea also present in Tolkien’s discussion of man in his letters to Christopher--as “[humanity] all long for it, and we are continually glimpsing it.” (Letters, 110) Although, here is a crucial distinction between the trials of the Valar and those of humanity in rediscovering Eden: the design and history of Eä and Eden itself, respectively. The Valar were shown the history of the universe and loved it in its totality and descended to be a part of it. (HME, 5, 176) It is that which they now labor on Earth to recreate and in that which they will succeed, as it is contained within Eru’s design. (HME, 5, 174) Conversely, Tolkien notes in his letter to Christopher that the human race is “free not to rise again but to go into perdition”--reflecting an idea that they will always strive for Eden out of a vague recollection of it, but to no avail. (Letters, 110) So too is this idea of man’s fruitless pursuit shown in Tolkien’s creation story, as “[Ilúvatar] willed that the hearts of Men should seek beyond the world and find no rest therein.” (HME, 5, 179)

Further, Tolkien’s letter to Christopher discusses the notion of “untold stories,” an idea which I believe lends well to the tale of the Valar on Earth. Tolkien notes that  “[stories] must be told or there’ll be no story, yet it is the untold stories that are most moving.” (Letters, 110) This phrase is fascinating and wrought with ideas reflected in Tolkien’s creation myth. The Valar, those who saw the vision of the universe’s history and came down to inhabit it out of love, are the real catalyst for the story they loved so much, as they are the ones who must drive history along in order to see it meet Eru’s design. (HME, 5, 179) Functionally, Eru had to tell them the story in order for it to begin to truly be told. Moreover, this story, prior to the Valar’s beginning of it, is untold beyond the vision Eru construct of it in his design, and it is that untold story which moves the Valar the most.

Finally, inextricably bound up in both the “Ainulindalë” and Tolkien’s letter to his son are the ideas of primary and secondary realities, concepts that Tolkien attested to be of the utmost importance to the fantasy sub-creators craft. Moreover, it shows the important role that fantasy plays in expanding our minds and enriching our lives. Each of the Ainur is created from one thought of Ilúvatar and the song they contribute to the greater music they create in grounded in the thought which created them, the only one which they understand. (HME, 5, 171) This is similar to the idea of primary realities and the importance of grounding fantasy novels in a connection between the reader’s primary and secondary realities. By doing so, the secondary reality is strengthened and more applicable to the spectator’s own primary reality. Further, when the Ainur sing the songs grounded in their own primary realities that create this secondary reality (the music filling the Void and creating), their songs begin to join and harmonize with one another, and they comprehend more and more about other thoughts. (HME, 5, 172) This idea is crucial to fantasy, in which Tolkien and our class discussion from the second day noted how an important part of fantasy is being able to come back to your primary reality and have an expanded mind and understanding.

Many of Tolkien’s most prominent theories and philosophies from his works are illustrated in the different representations of the “Ainulindalë” tale, from his discussions of the appeal of untold stories to the significance of the Eden tale to melding primary and secondary realities as an integral component of the storyteller’s rhetoric. Beyond its significance and the intricacies of its prose, “Ainulindalë” is profoundly beautiful and a message I carry with me as I complete my studies--Melkor endeavored to harm the Earth using extreme temperatures that only result in snow, summer winds, and clouds, and the void of creation is filled with music that may be shaped to any form.I read The Silmarillion for the first time when I was returning to Cleveland, Ohio, where my parents live and I spent most of my life pre-Chicago, for the first time Thanksgiving Break of my first-year. It came at a time when I needed it, those stories and the odd lessons they impart. I remember these things, and, somehow, I am reminded that I am alright.

- Megan Porter

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if Tolkien would say that humanity's pursuit if ultimately fruitless. Fruitless within this world perhaps, but he does note that we are continually receiving glimpses. Surely, these glimpses are not of something that ultimately proves to be beyond our grasp or illusory.

    I think you're rightly fascinated by the idea of untold stories (judging by the final projects many have proposed, a lot of us are). I wish you had explored it in a little more depth. Are the Valar discovering a story that was there all along, or are they creating their own story with a set beginning and end? Or, ultimately, is there a recognition that these two processes are one and the same? (This seems to connect to the issues of fate and free will that have cropped up, and will continue to do so, throughout the course.) Digging deeper into this theme along with the others you raise, I think leads to a recognition of a deeper unity among these themes, beyond the fact that they're all emerging from the same story. We might ask ourselves if the entire story of LotR, and Tolkien's legendarium more broadly, is somehow latent within the Ainulindale, and how this relates to our living of the untold stories.