The discussion of these concerns is ultimately restricted to the portions of The Silmarillion and The Lost Road detailing the Music of the Ainur. It is true that the Ainulindalë as published in the Silmarillion has a clear narrative and temporal structure. Indeed, notions dependent temporal order are present from the first paragraph:
“There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Illúvatar; and he first made the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding them to themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad. But for a long while they sang only each alone, or but few together, while the rest harkened; for each comprehended that part of the mind of Illúvatar from which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly. Yet ever as they listened they came to a deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony”. [Emphasis added] (Silmarillion 3)This type of temporal language is highly representative of the rest of the Ainulindalë, and rightfully so, for it is still fundamentally a story. Being a story, it necessarily contains a narrative structure. As such, it is not very useful to blindly conjecture on what happened in creation - we should not make guesses as to the ‘true’ nature of events, especially if these guesses are at odds with what is presented in the Ainulindalë. However, in addition to analyzing the narrative presented in the text, we should also analyze the metanarrative, i.e. the frame of the story, or the history of the transmission of the myth from the Eldar to the later (present) ages. Recognizing that the story has come to us through a series of “elf-friends” aides us in seeing past the temporal structure and allows us to gain insight into the “truth” of creation.
The Silmarillion comes to us through at least four elf-friends; first from the Ainur to the Eldalië (Eldar) with the help of the Valar, then from the Eldar to Bilbo via his time spent in Rivendell, from Bilbo to Tolkien via the Red Book of Westmarch, and from Tolkien to us via the work of his son Christopher. For this transmission to succeed, each elf-friend must explain the story in terms that the audience will understand. This means that, as would be expected, there is some diminishing of the true nature of the story over the course of transmission. The Valar had to frame the story of creation in terms that the Elves, embodied and temporal beings, could understand. Similarly, the elves had to transmit the story to Bilbo, a mortal and “simpler” being than themselves. This diminishing continues until we reach the current version of the story presented in the Ainulindalë. I argue that the narrative structure of the Ainulindalë arises out of this transmission. That is, the Ainulindalë is presented with some linear temporal structure not as a reflection of the true events at the creation of Eä, but rather as an artefact of the transmission of those events to us. Creation could be presented as nothing other than a story because we understand the world through stories.
With this reasoning as justification, we can then posit that Eru and the rest of the Ainur exist outside of time without contradicting the texts of the Ainulindalë. This view is not entirely without basis: Eru and the Ainur seem to inhabit some realm separate from our universe. The nature of this realm is not explicitly described, except that it is separate from Eä, and thus somehow separate from all of “that which is”. This notion of a separation between the realms of Eru and the Ainur and the rest of Creation appears to be somewhat constant throughout Tolkien’s drafts: Even in the early drafts of the Music of the Ainur he says “Thereafter [Ilúvatar] fashioned [the Ainur] dwellings in the void…” (Lost Tales 52). If we take temporality or the flow of time to be something that exists, i.e. something that “stands outside of nothingness”, and not simply a quality of existing, then we can say that Eru and the Ainur exist outside of time.
This notion of the Creator outside of time is not new, and certainly would not have been alien to Tolkien, rooted in Catholic thought as he was. St. Augustine discusses such a notion in Book XI, Chapter XIII of his Confessions:
But if the roving thought of any one should wander through the images of bygone time, and wonder that You, the God Almighty, and All-creating, and All-sustaining, the Architect of heaven and earth, for innumerable ages refrained from so great a work before You would make it, let him awake and consider that he wonders at false things. For whence could innumerable ages pass by which You did not make, since You are the Author and Creator of all ages? Or what times should those be which were not made by You? Or how should they pass by if they had not been? Since, therefore, You are the Creator of all times, if any time was before You made heaven and earth, why is it said that You refrained from working? For that very time You made, nor could times pass by before You made times. But if before heaven and earth there was no time, why is it asked, What were You doing then? For there was no then when time was not.This is the key conclusion that resolves many of our initial concerns. If Illúvatar is atemporal, the problem of his pre-knowledge of Melkor’s discord vanishes, as do our concerns about the specific moment in which creation occurs. What are we to make then of the music of creation itself? Assuming a metanarrative point of view, we can ask why the Valar (or Tolkien, depending on where we place ourselves on the line of transmission) chose to describe creation in musical terms if not for its linearity and progression in time. We touched in class on the idea that music is inherently ordered (in the sense of structured), even if this order falls short of being a narrative in its own right. In explaining creation to the Eldar through the myth of the Music of the Ainur, the Valar hoped to convey this order. Creation therefore, like music, is an ordered act by Eru. This notion is reminiscent of the idea of logos, but the full implications of such a view lead far away from our initial concerns, and whither then? I cannot say.
Tolkien, J. R. R., and Christopher Tolkien. "Ainulindalë." The Silmarillion. New York: Ballantine, 2002. N. pag. Print.
Tolkien, J. R. R., and Christopher Tolkien. The Book Of Lost Tales V.1. N.p.: Houghton Mifflin, 1984. Print.
The Confessions of St. Augustine. Translated by J.G. Pilkington. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 1. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. Link