But a closer analysis reveals that this thread runs further through the history of Middle Earth. In a 1951 letter to his publisher, Tolkien wrote that there was a sort of “second fall or at least ‘error’ of the Elves” which involved the Elves lingering in Middle-Earth. For some this was fairly innocuous – they simply wanted to preserve their history and position as the highest people, even if this constituted “a kind of embalming.” But others were persuaded by Sauron to try to make “Western Middle-Earth as beautiful as Valinor” by creating the Rings of Power. The chief function of the rings was “the prevention or slowing of decay (i.e. ‘change’ viewed as a regrettable thing), the preservation of what is desired or loved, or its semblance.” Once again, we see the same theme resurface: by trying to preserve the beautiful world they loved against the changes of time, and in attempting to create their own version of paradise, the elves empowered Sauron and created rings which would aid him in his evil designs. Thus possessiveness, and an unwillingness to sacrifice ones own creations to the natural course of change or wyrd, once again brings about a downfall.
In this same letter, Tolkien outlines his greater legendary project, creating a sort of indigenous body of legend for England. He says that Arthurian legend comes close to achieving this role, but it is hampered by the fact that it “is involved in, and explicitly contains the Christian religion.” This is “fatal” – “fantasy should contain elements of moral and religious truth but not explicit, not in the known form of the primary ‘real’ world.” Does Tolkien’s legendarium achieve this subtle, implicit embodiment of religious truth? It certainly contains some elements that are quite reminiscent of Christianity, and Tolkien couched his discussion of it in the Christian theological language of “sin and free will.” But in the story itself, there cannot be said to be any overtly explicit reference to Christianity – many traditional creation myths bear striking resemblances to one another, so that is not necessarily a shortcoming. Rather, it seems that Tolkien achieved something closer to the metaphorical truth behind the explicit Christian dogma.
This relates to our discussion of metaphorical language and going back to an unfragmented understanding of the world, in which the abstract and concrete meanings of words were not separated. In a concrete sense, the Ainur might be seen as angels, Melkor Satan and Eru God – but Tolkien is not proselytizing. Rather, they embody in an epic and mythical mode the abstract truths that Tolkien found to be valuable within Christianity. Similarly, the characters are part of a legend that represents an unfragmented understanding of myth-history, in which the literal history and the metaphorical myth aspects are seamlessly intertwined. In this unfragmented understanding of the world, it does not make sense to draw a dividing line between our present Primary Reality and the myths and legends that we have created over the centuries, and call the former history and the latter fantasy.