Tolkien wanted to create an “English” mythology, because he felt that the English did not have a mythology of their own. Every mythology needs a good creation account. Tolkien’s account of the creation of Middle-earth reflects his Christian faith, though he often protested against allegations of allegory. He did not intentionally create an allegorical parallel to Judeo-Christian accounts of the creation, but his primary reality did work its way into the secondary reality that he sub-created. In Tolkien’s creation account, music is the instrument—pun intended—of the creative process as well as worship of the Creator for His creative process. The Fall in Tolkien’s sub-creation is similar to that in the Judeo-Christian narratives: the beauty of creation substitutes the Creator as the object of worship. Despite this introduction of evil, the Creator manages to thwart evil intentions by using them for His good intentions. By telling a similar and beautiful creation account, Tolkien rekindles worshipful feelings in his readers.
There are four main accounts of the creation in the Judeo-Christian tradition. In the Genesis account, God speaks creation into being, the only instrument of creation being His own voice (Genesis 1:3). God is the great Orator. In the Job account, the creative process is much more material and concrete. God lays out a foundation, determines measurements, stretches a line, sinks a base, lays a cornerstone (Job 38:4-7). God is the great Builder. In the John account, we see the repetition of God as the great Orator. The Word, who is later incarnated in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, is both God and the instrument of God’s creative process, as well as the life and light of men (John 1:1-4). In the Jubilees account, we see God creating those things and beings whose existence is not explained in detail in the other accounts: the heavens, the earth, the waters, and the angels (Jubilees 2:2). Neither instrument nor mechanism of God’s creative process is mentioned here.
In “Ainulindalë,” Eru Ilúvatar, the God of Tolkien’s mythology, thinks the Ainur into being. Ilúvatar is a great Sage. The Ainur are similar to angels or gods (in fact, the powers they are given later over creation are exceedingly similar to those given to angels in Jubilees 2:2). He has “kindled [them] with the Flame Imperishable (The Silmarillion),” the force for creative power, which is “with Ilúvatar (The Silmarillion).” He then declares musical themes to the Ainur, and they develop these themes. Ilúvatar is a great Conductor. Ilúvatar gives them a vision of their Great Music taking material form in Arda, which is Middle-earth. The vision does not actually come into Being, however, until they hear Ilúvatar cry “Eä!” and see Him “send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it [is] at the heart of the World, and the World [Is] (The Silmarillion).” Ilúvatar is a great Orator here as well, though His instrument is both His voice and His mysterious, creative force.
In all but one of these creation accounts, there is some instance of worship in which someone admires the Creator and His creation. In the Genesis account, God, being self-contained, “saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good (Genesis 1:31).”
In the John account, there is a surprising lack of worship. Indeed, we actually see quite the opposite: His own creation fails to recognize Him and rejects Him, though one man is mentioned as a witness (John 1:6-11). In the Job account, however, the angels “saw his works and we blessed him and offered praise before him on account of all his works because he made seven great works on the first day (Jubilees 2:3)." Not only do created beings worship their Creator, they make musical worship in response to the display of His creative power in the act of creating. In “Ainulindalë,” Ilúvatar Himself declares music to the Ainur that He may “sit and hearken, and be glad that through [the Ainur] great beauty has been wakened into song (The Silmarillion)."
However, Tolkien’s sub-creation experiences a Fall much like that of the Judeo-Christian tradition, when the creation makes music as worship to itself rather than the Creator. “But as the theme progressed, it came into the heart of Melkor to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilúvatar; for he sought therein to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself (The Silmarillion).” Melkor was the greatest of the Ainur, because Ilúvatar had revealed more of His mind to him. He tried to use the Great Music to draw attention toward the beauty of his own music—though it wasn’t all that beautiful—rather than that which revealed the mind of Ilúvatar. Similarly, in Judeo-Christian text, Lucifer, the highest of angels who rebelled against God, Lucifer’s “heart was proud because of [his] beauty; [he] corrupted [his] wisdom for the sake of [his] splendor (Ezekiel 28:17).” Later, he tempted humans in the newly minted creation, beckoning the woman to eat of the forbidden fruit. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate (Genesis 3:4-6).” In all of these cases, created beings esteemed their own beauty or the beauty of other created things higher than the beauty of the Creator.
However, the Creator weaves the corrupted theme into His Great Music, creating beauty even out of evil. As Melkor’s cacophonous music begins to gain power, Ilúvatar integrates his themes into His own, which is “deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came (The Silmarillion).” Later, when the Music is brought into Being, Melkor schemes extreme heat and cold into Arda, but that only brings Ulmo’s waters and Manwë’s winds into a beautiful, new relationship that produces beautiful, new wonders: clouds, rain, and snow. When Ilúvatar explains this to them, Ulmo cries, “I will seek Manwë, that he and I may make melodies for ever to thy delight (The Silmarillion)!” Ulmo knows that creation is ultimately worship to Ilúvatar. Similarly, God promises redemption through evil’s destructive intentions (Genesis 3:15). Joseph, one of God’s created beings, sums it up nicely: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today (Genesis 50:19-20).” In a beautiful response to the introduction of ugliness, the Creator’s sovereignty and goodness thwart the erring worship.Tolkien knew that science as far back as the heliocentric theory of the universe seemed to disprove the Judeo-Christian creation accounts, though he himself did not seem to accept them as completely literal or historical. Scientific advances have caused many people to become embarrassed of the narrative, so that they only begrudgingly believe. In a letter written to his son, Christopher—who would go on to edit and publish The Silmarillion—Tolkien wrote that, “In consequence they have indeed (myself as much as any), as you say, forgotten the beauty of the matter even 'as a story’ (Letter 196)." In “Ainulindalë”, he sub-created a beautiful reflection on that story. His account of the Beginning is so moving that even people outside of the Judeo-Christian faiths find it beautiful. Though this narrative isn’t explicitly musical, in his own way, Tolkien is worshipping the One Father of All by rekindling this admiration for the beauty of creation, both as a narrative and as an existence, in his readers. Tolkien’s mythology awakens in us an appreciation for the beauty of creation, which leads to worship of the Creator.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version), copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Jubilees 2:2 (ed. James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985], vol. 2, pp. 55-57).
J. R. R. Tolkien, Letters, ed. Humphrey Carpenter with Christopher Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000; first published 1981).
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, ed. Christopher Tolkien (New York: Del Rey, 1985).