In Monday’s lecture, we discussed the Middle-earth mythology of Eru and the Ainur in comparison to the Christian concept of God and angels in the Creation. To what extent does Tolkien’s story mirror the Christian Creation in its various interpretations? How would a Christian, such as Ælfwine, receive the Elvish creation myth? Above all, how much do the differences or lack thereof actually matter? It seems that the Christian and Elvish stories have a lot in common, at least in the general scheme of things, but the disparities appear to me to have serious implications for the way the Creator and the world are viewed. In the Christian creation story, God makes everything exactly as He wants it, but Middle-earth, due to the mischief of Melkor, is from the beginning an imperfect world.
In Genesis 1, God simply creates each aspect of the earth without interference and the result is as intended. The phrase “it was good” is repeated six times (1.4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25) and the chapter ends with an emphatic, “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (1.31). Nothing gets in God’s way and all things are completed in a manner that is satisfactory, if not perfect. The Gospel of John says, “All things were made by [God]; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1.3). There is no mention of angels or any other helpers in either of these texts; God does all of the work directly. The Book of Jubilees lists various angels, but they are not given an active part in the Creation.
In “Ainulindalë,” Ilúvatar’s helpers are of the utmost importance. He makes the Ainur before anything else and employs them in creating Middle-earth. Ilúvatar himself does not physically make the world. Verlyn Flieger notes, “Unlike the biblical God, Tolkien’s Eru is a strikingly remote and disengaged figure” (Splintered Light 53). He is the head architect who directs the plans, but he lets the Ainur draw the blueprints with their music and build the structures they have designed. Eru only conducts the choir and then shows them a model of what they made under his supervision before sending them off to be the construction workers, or sub-creators. Unlike in Genesis, the world does not come out exactly as planned. The Valar try to make lands, valleys, mountains, and seas, and Melkor destroys them. He does not ruin everything, but “nowhere and in no work was their will and purpose wholly fulfilled, and all things were in hue and shape other than the Valar had at first intended” (The Silmarillion 22). Things may still be “good” enough, but they are not perfect, as a world made by the Almighty would be.
Who is to blame for this imperfection and original sin, and how far back does it go? In Christian theology, it is out of God’s hands. After He makes heaven and earth perfectly, He gives free will to Lucifer, Adam, and Eve, and they misuse it. He renounces control over his creations, with good intention, and they are separate from him when they sin. In “Ainulindalë,” evil arises much earlier, while its agent is still connected to Eru, and infects all of Creation. These small details of whether the Creator makes angels before or during the Creation, when trouble first begins, and if he makes the world himself or delegates the task to agents that are part of him alters the source of sin.
The big question this raises for me is whether there is evil in Ilúvatar. The Ainur are described as “the offspring of his thought” (The Silmarillion 15). He warns Melkor, “…[N]o theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite,” a sentiment reminiscent of the aforementioned quotation from John 1.3 (The Silmarillion 17). Melkor has indeed introduced his own music! If everything is derived from Ilúvatar, wouldn’t that mean that Melkor’s discord had to come from the One? This is a rather terrifying thought! Even Ilúvatar seems unable to restrain evil. Still, he claims that one who attempts to change the music “shall prove [Eru’s] instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined,” and that Melkor will see that his evil thoughts “are but a part of the whole and tributary to its glory” (The Silmarillion 17). Now Ilúvatar seems prepared for Melkor’s misconduct and capable of overriding it, but Melkor is able to do so much damage throughout the history of Middle-earth, and only gets a scolding from Eru. This leaves us with two equally disturbing possibilities: either Eru has evil within him that he cannot control or he allows evil to interfere. Is this not blasphemy?
This is actually not so different from questions of belief in Christianity. People wonder how terrible things can happen if there is a God, whether He causes such things or allows them, and if He has a reason for everything. “Ainulindalë” makes these issues even more pressing by giving sin an earlier source closer to the Creator.
Flieger’s point in Splintered Light about literalizing metaphors can be of use here. She says that “Tolkien has used fantasy to reinvest metaphor with literality” (64). Maybe Ilúvatar is not as anthropomorphic as he seems to be, a single character responsible and blamable for everything. Isn’t God beyond human conception? As much as He is anthropomorphized in the Bible, referred to as one being with thoughts and feelings, might He be more of a manifestation of the universe as a whole, which contains good and bad and works in mysterious ways? The best way for us to understand God is to give him human attributes, but He is really so different from us that it is not a truly accurate way to describe him. Tolkien does the same with Ilúvatar, putting evil in more direct contact with Eru to give a more literal representation of evil in God’s Creation. The origin of sin doesn’t truly matter, since an all-powerful Creator would be equally able to stop it at any point, if he so chose.
If we apply the Christian reading to “Ainulindalë,” Eru has everything worked out. Tolkien indicates that Ilúvatar has a greater plan, but “the Valar have not seen as with sight the Later Ages or the ending of the World,” and only during the second music shall all “understand fully his intent in their part” (The Silmarillion 20, 16). The idea that someone omnipotent and loving knowingly permits tragedy and suffering when he could prevent it is somewhat disturbing, no matter the justification. But what would be the point of Creation if the result could not exist on its own after being produced? Ilúvatar does not go to Middle-earth himself, relinquishing control earlier than God, and despite Melkor’s crimes, it is a work of art with plenty of beauty and good, which hopefully has a happy ending in store. His logic may seem fallible at times, but maybe that is because he, like God, is not a person and doesn’t possess human “logic.” Whenever angels and sin come about, “Ainulindalë” can mesh with a Christian interpretation of God with Eru as the literalization of an unpredictable universe, always striving toward balance.