Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Creativity and Free Will- II

"We may redeem the Fall by a creative act"

I was struck in this reading by the supposition by Sayers that a creative act could redeem an act of evil, and I wanted to examine what this might add to our interpretations of Akallabeth and the Ainulindale. First of all, the creation of Numenor itself was originally in response to the evil of Morgoth, as the island was created for the descendants of the men who had aided the elves in their fight against him in the First Age. The Valar, the creators of Numenor, gave the Dunedain a beautiful paradise where they could develop their skills of shipbuilding and sea-craft, among others.

Creativity and evil also intertwine at a fundamental level with the creation of men. As described in the Ainulindale, men are endowed with free will, but also have the discord of Melkor as an essential part of their being. Therefore, although they can choose whether or not to act for good or for evil, and they have the power to forge their own paths in fate, they are also therefore able to seek redemption in Sayers' sense-- redemption for evil as an absorption of the evil and transmutation of it into another form of good.

When the Numenoreans, led by Ar-Pharazon, sailed West to make war on the Valar and seek for himself and his company immortal life, this was clearly deliberately an evil act. However, when the Valar called upon Eru Iluvatar, he decided to transform the world entirely, shaping it almost anew from what it was before. This represented another splintering of the light, as Valinor was taken from the world and moved to the hidden realm, where it could only be found by elves that knew how to find the Straight Road. However, the rounding of the planet could also be seen as Iluvatar's creative act that redeems the evil that the world had concentrated in the decline of Numenor and the influence of Sauron. In this sense, the drowning of Numenor was physically the world's absorption of the evil that resided there and the fashioning of a new order.

Not all was lost of Numenor after its sinking, and we can see the tradition of the original good of Numenor in the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor, founded by the Faithful and led by Elendil. These surviving true Numenoreans also used creation to redeem evil, in founding their kingdoms in Middle-Earth, and as symbolized in the fruit of the white tree that was rescued and grew into the White Tree of Gondor.

Creative will is found in acts of evil as well, as Sayers' suggests that all evil is an active, deliberate force against the corresponding good. She writes that all is derived from the original good of God, only some evil can morph the negation of that good into its true and active opposite. Therefore, her interpretation suggests that human creativity, which is dependent on the free will of the human race and its ability to imagine a world that does not yet exist and bring it into being, itself is neutral, it is just used for good or for evil. This does not quite mesh with Tolkien's world, however- the Valar were strong enough to raise Numenor out of the water, but they had to call on Eru Iluvatar to sink it. Their considerable power, therefore, is used chiefly only for creation and cannot be called upon to destroy this creation when it became sour. As we have seen, the making round of the world and the changing of the geography accompanying the sinking of Numenor was a destruction and a creation at once, an example of the supreme will of Iluvatar.

Perhaps destruction is not a great way to redeem evil. Using Sayers' example of Hamlet and anti-Hamlet, where would we be if we just destroyed all record of Hamlet's existence, and made humanity forget that it was ever real? This seems, just by itself, rather evil. Erasure itself just brings the whole system back to the pre-Hamlet state where nothing had the property of being Hamlet. However, the lost knowledge of Hamlet would have to be traced back little by little from the derivative works and the influence that it had. It would be ridiculous to presume that a good work of such influence would be entirely erased- as it had already made its mark on humankind. With the escape of the Faithful to Middle-Earth, Numenor escapes this tragic fate, and although it only resides in the memories and tales of the people who came after, it still has a very real existence there, as an example and a lesson.

This discussion could be expanded to where destruction fits into the overarching theme of splitting light and how this is possibly redeemed by good when the world just gets darker and darker with each assault. For example, the two great lamps, Illuin and Ormal were destroyed by Melkor, forcing the Valar to leave Middle-Earth and settle in Valinor. This destruction splintered the light and marred the Earth forever. Did the Valar redeem this evil by creating the trees in Valinor, or did they just abandon Middle-Earth?

Where destruction fits into creativity and free will is also interesting because destruction belongs in these stories to either evil forces acting on evil wills or to Eru Iluvatar himself, acting on his good and all-powerful will. The men of Numenor actually destroyed Numenor by worshipping Melkor and darkness and turning away from the light, but the dramatic sinking of the island in response to its fall was an act of destruction by Iluvatar. I would be interested in what you think about how this would fit into Tolkien's legendarium as well as Sayers' interpretation of good and the redemption of evil through creative acts.


1 comment:

  1. Lovely musings on the ways in which creative action and proper use of free will can redeem, or at least counter, evil acts! I particularly like your description of the artistry of Numenor and the choice to use their will for the good as “redemption for evil as an absorption of the evil and transmutation of it into another form of good.”

    I'm a bit lost in your argument as to how destruction fits into this system—how does human creativity as neutral, to be used for good or ill, conflict with the Valar's collective inability to sink Numenor? I follow you in your Hamlet examples—destroying the original Hamlet does not erase all our memories and traditions of Hamlet, just as the loss of Numenor does not erase the history of the Dunedain. I also agree that “ where destruction fits into creativity and free will is also interesting because destruction belongs in these stories to either evil forces acting on evil wills or to Eru Iluvatar himself, acting on his good and all-powerful will.” I think there are resonances here with the story of Noah and the “resetting” of the Earth through the flood—it does not erase the fall or the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise, but perhaps serves “as an example and a lesson.” Is the destruction of evil a creative act, much less an act of redemption?