When Ilúvatar shows the Ainur their music as a vision, its true nature as the story of Arda is revealed: the Ainur watch as “this World began to unfold its history, and it seemed to them that it lived and grew” (Silmarillion, 17). By the end of the vision, they are “engrossed in the unfolding of the World… the history was incomplete and the circles of time not full-wrought when the vision was taken away” (20). That the music takes visual form as the history of a world is more evidence that it is fundamentally a story as much as a melody. The Ainur were not necessarily aware in the beginning that their music was creating a story, just as they did not foresee the existence of the Children whose world they had created, yet the telling of a great story was evidently Ilúvatar’s intention. It is crucial that the elements of creation are not, as in biblical creation accounts, light or water or earth; they are harmony, discord, and theme. There are also, from the very beginning, witnesses and actors- sentient beings besides God who are present during creation. It is these fundamentally aesthetic elements which comprise the world. They are best understood as literary elements as well. The music is a drama that plays out first among the Ainur themselves before anything else was made, and second in the physical world.
I would further argue that there is strong evidence outside the Ainulindalё for Tolkien’s stuff of creation being fundamentally narrative in nature. In Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories”, he explicitly identifies sub-creation with story writing, saying that in a successful fantasy “the story-maker proves a successful ‘sub-creator.’ He makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter” (The Tolkien Reader, 60). If this is an example of perfect sub-creation, the original creation must have taken a similar form- and is not the creation of a secondary world, into which other minds could enter, precisely Ilúvatar’s feat in the Ainulindalё? Of course, sub-creative acts can take the form of many types of art, but it does seem that Tolkien specifically had story-telling in mind when describing its successful attainment: “To make a Secondary World… we have a rare achievement of Art: indeed narrative art, story-making in its primary and most potent mode” (70). He even speculates that the real world, created by God, may be well described by this literary explanation: “The Gospels contain… a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories… But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation” (88). Since Tolkien identifies biblical creation with the crafting of a narrative, he may very well have applied this idea to his own creation myth.
If the music is a narrative, then what is Melkor’s role in it, and to what extent was this role anticipated or intended by Ilúvatar? To answer this question, we must view Ilúvatar as an author with similar motivations to Tolkien’s.
Despite his destructive intent, Melkor is credited with creating many beautiful things in Arda, just as he made the third theme possible with his discord. I mentioned my favorite example in class: his creation of ice and clouds from water. These inventions were born out of his conflict with Ulmo, and his attempts to meddle with and disrupt Ulmo’s province. The result, however, is that water becomes “fairer than [Ulmo’s] heart imagined”, demonstrating that “all things have served most faithfully the purpose of Ilúvatar” (19). In this way, a character with Melkor’s motivations proves necessary for the creation of certain good things- and in particular, beautiful things- for the benefit of both Ilúvatar himself and those who have entered into his secondary world, here represented by Ulmo. He plays a similar role within the rest of Tolkien’s story. Without the theft of the Silmarils, for example, the light of Eärendil could not have given hope to Sam upon the slopes of Mount Doom, and could not have inspired the many songs and poems about his voyages. From the perspective of a reader in the primary world, there would be no story worth reading without the Darkening of Valinor and all of Morgoth’s subsequent deeds. We should remember that the music of creation is characterized as “beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from whence its beauty chiefly came” (16-7). Why Melkor’s rebellion? In Tolkien’s own words, “There cannot be any ‘story’ without a fall” (Letter 131). What, then, is Melkor? He, like all other elements in the great story, is a source of beauty- perhaps even one of its chief sources.
To summarize, we can liken Ilúvatar to Tolkien himself in that he is first and foremost an author who desires to create a beautiful story. Ultimately, beauty requires sorrow, loss, conflict and resolution, and unexpected events. It is the task of the creator or sub-creator to combine these into a compelling narrative.
Finally, as an alternative to the songs we explored in class as possible analogues to the Ainulindalё, I would like to propose Tool’s Lateralus. This song has a clear directionality, beginning with a single, simple melody and growing into a complex piece characterized by polyrhythms (lines in different time signatures played simultaneously), with the effect that seemingly different or even incompatible parts come together to create a unified whole. Careful listening reveals even more complexity and craftsmanship- for example, the number of syllables in each line of the verse correspond to the first few numbers of the Fibonacci sequence. Of course, the song’s lyrics also mirror its structural progression toward combined complexity and unity, most obviously in its central image: an ever-growing spiral.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, ed. Christopher Tolkien (New York: Mariner, 2001).
_____, Letters, ed. Humphrey Carpenter with Christopher Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000; first published 1981)
________, The Tolkien Reader (New York: Del Rey, 1966).