I’d like to talk a little about why one might want to be a bad Númenórean, but first I think I have to talk about the relationship between evil and change.
In lecture today, building on Sayers’s metaphor of artistic creation for God’s creation and bad artistry for evil, we concluded that change is not necessarily an evil. With Hamlet, for example, some changes (like “farthingale” to “petticoat”) can aid in understanding and help preserve the spirit of the original. If the metaphor holds, then, we should expect that there are some changes to God’s creation that can be made without doing evil. But this is a very different picture than the one we get from, for example, Augustine. Augustine writes of the “immutable goods”:
“The things [God] made are good because they were made by him; but they are subject to change . . . . Therefore although they are not supreme goods, since God is a greater good than they, still those mutable goods are of great value, because they can adhere to the immutable good . . . . Any perversion does harm to nature, which means that it is contrary to nature.” (City of God, 472)
Thus, for Augustine, nature is good insofar as it adheres to God—that is, does not change—and evil is that which is contrary to nature—i.e. is a change. Even Tolkien gives us a similar suggestion. What is it that Melkor did wrong, that constituted the introduction of evil? “He had begun to conceive thoughts . . . unlike those of his brethren” (The Silmarillion, 16). That is, he was different—changed. And discord arose because “some of these thoughts he now wove into his music” (16). It seems that Melkor’s sin consisted precisely in his attempt to change the music. So it seems that any change in God’s creation is sin after all.
I think we have to think carefully about Sayers’s metaphor and how it might break down. One major difference between human creative works and God’s creation is that when we talk about Hamlet and possible adaptations of or alterations to the play, we do so from outside the context of the work itself; but it is impossible for anyone to think about God’s creation from a vantage outside of that creation. Attempts to adapt Shakespeare are not evils only because they respond to a changed context: temporal or cultural changes that make the original work inaccessible, or changes in medium (say, from stage to film) that make the original inappropriate. These changes in context actually remove us from the original work: it’s an acceptable creative liberty to change “farthingale” to “petticoat” only because the actual, original goodness of “farthingale” does not and cannot exist for us today. We have “lost” Hamlet (or some part of Hamlet), and are trying to recreate it. But if no such loss has occurred, we are allowed no creative liberties at all.
Augustine writes about nature as though we have lost nothing of its original, God-intended splendor: that is why for him, sin is what is contrary to it. Any change on Melkor’s part to the music of creation is evil because it is a change to the original, God-given music. The question then arises: how does human creative activity become possible (or at least, become possibly not a sin)? And Sayers gives the answer: if we have already lost the original goodness, i.e. if evil has already entered the work, i.e. if there has been a fall, then we have the possibility of redeeming that evil through a creative act. As she says, this is “the only way in which we can behave if we want to be ‘as gods’” (Mind of the Maker, 107). I think Sayers’s brilliance is to reconcile the sort of thinking about nature and God’s ultimate goodness that we see in Augustine or the Ainulindalë with our own commitments to the value of truly creative work.
Which is all well and good, but what about the possibility for creative production before the fall? Insofar as Númenor is a paradise, totally adhering to the original goodness of Eru’s creation (which I don’t think it is entirely, but is at least in large part—Númenor isn’t the original paradise, and comes after the original fall, but it is a sort of sub-paradise and it comes before its big secondary fall), then the possibilities for human creativity are pretty limited: think of the mountain Meneltarma, whose goodness and divinity are characterized precisely by its lack of human construction, i.e. lack of change from its original form. Men find themselves in a state where everything is as it should be: lives are long, death is peaceful, the weather is perfect, the land is beautiful, and so on. In such a state, the only things there are for an aspiring creative to change are the things that shouldn’t be changed: like the direction in which you’re sailing your ship.
In fact, I’m going to go a step further. Not only do I sympathize with the evil Númenóreans, but I sympathize with Melkor. The only thing more boring that singing “glory to God in the highest” all the time would be singing “glory to God in the highest” from God’s sheet music. Any real act of creativity, at the moment of creation as Tolkien describes it, would have to be a sin. Faced with that situation, I would gladly choose any kind of evil. Creativity is the most valuable thing for a human being to have. Denied it, what is the point of life?
Of course, it’s necessary and natural that a human being should feel this way. As Flieger emphasizes, man comes only in the third theme of the music: after Melkor has already introduced evil; after the Fall. This is the world that man was made to inhabit—he is unsuited to another one, in which evil does not yet exist. Bringing Sayers back into the discussion, man (along with the other contents of the third theme) was created to redeem Melkor’s evil, and it is of course precisely our incessant drive to create that allows us to do that, to take an evil world and produce something good out of it. That chief characteristic of man, our desire to create, only makes sense in a fallen world: in a pre-fallen world it is hopelessly inappropriate, and the kind of natural sympathy I think (human) readers should feel for Melkor in the Ainulindalë indicates this strongly.