By Martina Juričková
Word Count: 8611
Summary: An examination of Tolkien’s creation story from The Silmarillion.
The books of the British writer John Ronald Reuel Tolkien are very popular, irrespective of age, gender, race, and religion. Most readers enjoy his books because of the heroic events which bring them to an early Middle-Ages-like era, wonderful landscapes which no one has ever seen, and fantastic creatures beyond the imagination of most ordinary people. However, the keen eye of an attentive reader acquainted with Tolkien’s life can easily observe that apart from the magic and enchantment, his texts are interwoven with deeper philosophical and moral issues. One of the essential layers of his books alludes to Christian faith. The word ‘essential’ is used appropriately here, because the Christian religion played an important role in Tolkien’s life, as he often proudly admitted, and much of his belief and values naturally penetrated into his writing.
There have been a number of works written on this subject that are more elaborate or more specific, and by renowned Tolkienists. Here are a few: Tolkien: Man and Myth by Joseph Pearce, Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians by Alison Milbank, and The Philosophy of Tolkien by Peter Kreeft. So, if you already know a thing or two about religious motives in Middle-earth, I’d refer you to those. This article is intended, rather, for those readers who are new to Tolkien’s fictional universe and are only beginning to discover its religious inspiration, most obvious in The Silmarillion and especially its first chapters “Ainulindalë” and “Valaquenta”, in which the biblical allusions are no doubt intentionally the most explicit. These two chapters describe how Eä, the World from Tolkien’s fantasy universe, was created at the beginning of time by Eru Ilúvatar, the greatest divine being who rules over everything, in a way very similar to the story of Creation as provided in the book Genesis in the Bible.
While many readers explain this obvious analogy and refashioning of the biblical story as a manifestation of the author’s love and zeal for his religion and an attempt to introduce its beauty, as he perceived it, to a broader audience, including nonreligious people, some of the extremely orthodox Christian scholars find this rather disturbing and consider it to be only a derision of the Holy Bible—all the more for the fact that Tolkien even dared to mingle it with elements of pagan mythologies.
In the following lines I will identify which motives from the Christian tradition Tolkien implemented into his invented story of creation, in particular, and look at how much he altered them and in what way he used them. Specifically, I focus on five key elements present in both stories: the person of the creator, the process of creation as such, the spiritual super-beings, the evil, and the created children of the god-figure. This careful analysis should in the end lead to justification of one of the two aforementioned opinions on the purpose of this analogy.
The Creation of the World
“[I]n all literatures since the formation of the sacred books of humankind surely there is hardly a creation myth to equal, in beauty and imaginative power, the one with which The Silmarillion begins,” (Murray, R. quoted in Pearce, 1998, p. 88). These were the words of Father Robert Murray, a priest friend of Tolkien with whom he consulted on his visions of the alternative beginning of the world, and they refer to the opening chapter of The Silmarillion entitled “Ainulindalë: The Music of the Ainur”, which is the most significant part of all Tolkien’s work, in terms of relation to Christian teaching. This chapter describes how the World, in Elvish called Ëa, was created by Ilúvatar first in thoughts in the Great Music and then physically with the help of the Valar. Its likeness to Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, is evident.
Within Ainulindalë it is obvious that Eru, The One, also called Ilúvatar, is identified with the Christian God. The meaning of the name Eru is “The One” or “he that is alone” (Tolkien, 1992, p. 396) and actually God in the Bible often refers to Himself as “the only One” and He is believed to be the truest one, and there exists no other god except Him (Catechism, Section Two, Chapter One). Both of them, Eru and God, reside above the “circles of the world”, not on the Earth, and cannot be reached by any creature alive. The Christians call the place “Heaven”, but in Tolkien’s version, this place has no distinct name. However, he mentions that the Ainur, the saint spirits, lived in Ilúvatar’s house with him (Tolkien, 1992, p. 3). Considering Eru Ilúvatar to be the same as God, it can be also be said that they lived in “God’s house”, what is another term used for Heaven.
But before the creation of the Ainur, Eru lived there on his own, just as God lived all on his own before he created the angels. Genesis does not speak about it, but it is noted many times elsewhere in the Bible and affirmed by such Christian philosophers as St. Thomas Aquinas. Both deities existed independently of everything, long before anything else was made. Although Tolkien does not mention what was before the creation, it can be deduced from the fact that the Ainulindalë starts when Eru made the Ainur. So, logically, he must have lived alone before that.
As for the second name, Ilúvatar, its meaning is “Father of all” (ibid., p. 405), again similar to the perception of the Christian God. In most of the Christian prayers, God is called “our Father” according to Jesus’ teaching and He is the Creator who gave existence to everything. Without his will nothing would exist (John 1, 3). The same is true with Tolkien’s Eru Ilúvatar, who is the primary creator in his mythology. Eru planned the creating of the World and all its inhabitants in his Music, and then laid its foundations in the Void. Likewise, God made the world out of nothing, because He is the ultimate source of everything. Yet Eru is perceived as “father” mostly by the Ainur, who lived with him at the beginning of the World, and not by all the other creatures.
Speaking of the Ainur suggests another notable idea about the nature of Eru. He has never been seen by anyone alive, except the Ainur. But they do not count at all because they only have a spiritual nature; they are not alive in the same sense as humans and therefore do not die. One possible explanation may be that Eru lives outside the world where no one can go, because it is impossible. But when the matter is looked at from the religious point of view, it is just another similarity with God. Apostle John writes about Him that: “No man hath seen God at any time” (John 1, 18). So no one can say how He looks, and until the medieval age any attempt to depict Him was forbidden and punished. Even though in Tolkien’s era this was no longer applicable, he does not describe his vision about the appearance of God in the person of Eru. He leaves him without any particular look, transcendent just as God is.
The only difference between the Christian God and that of Middle-earth is that Tolkien’s Eru seems to become a rather passive god, whereas the Christian God often intervenes in the happenings on the Earth and reveals Himself throughout history. After the Great Music and the initial act of creation, Eru somehow recedes from the doings on Arda, the Earth, and remains only a memory of the Ainur. Though life on Earth is not easy, but full of troubles, he never helps its inhabitants directly, nor via any advice. In the next chapters of The Silmarillion, he is a mere observer. And in the other Tolkien’s works that describe later events from Middle-earth’s history, like Akallabêth or The Lord of the Rings, he seems to have totally vanished, for he is not mentioned at all. That is in absolute contradiction to the image of God, who knows everything and always helps those who call on Him.
However, Tolkien’s Eru has not completely disappeared from the later history of Middle-earth, as it may seem on the first reading. After a closer inspection we may realize that he still intervenes in the happenings in the world, only not directly and visibly, but in the form of Providence – mystical coincidences and consequences which often cannot be explained by reason. It is because Tolkien purposefully withdraws all explicit religious references from his later works, as if to prove his point that even pagan (understood as not-the-One-God-believers’) mythology can reveal God’s existence. This issue is thoroughly advocated by Peter Kreeft in his book The Philosophy of Tolkien, where he explains that the reason why “Tolkien never brings God into [the later parts of his history] is that He is never out of it,” (Kreeft, 2005, p. 51). Eru needs to be explicitly present and actively involved at the beginning of The Silmarillion as there could be no creation without the god. But the more the history of Middle-earth becomes the history of his children, Elves and Men, the less evident his presence is. Similarly, the Christian God is very actively influencing the course of history during the time span captured in the Bible, if not directly by miracles, at least by speaking through various prophets. Yet the same can no longer be said about the centuries that follow the events described in the Bible. Christians believe He did not abandon his creation, but his existence is no longer manifested so explicitly. Thus Tolkien’s Eru in the second age and onwards is much like the Christian God in our millennia – acting discreetly as Providence.
Another similarity to the Bible can be noticed within the scene of the creation of the World. Eru gave existence to it, saying: “Eä!” Let these things be!” (Tolkien, 1992, p. 9) This exclamation resembles God’s words: “Let there be light…” (Genesis 1, 3). Both in Ainulindalë and in Genesis the phrase “Let it happen!” was used within the creation, with different modifications. While God is addressing a specific object with that order, Eru meant it generally for the whole universe and all things in it.
Moreover, in both cases the Earth was made at the very beginning. It was exactly at this moment when Eru spoke. However, according to the Bible, the Earth itself came into existence without any directing words spoken, or at least the Genesis states none. It just reports that God created it. He spoke only after that, addressing Himself to the light which He decided to create next. In The Silmarillion the light already existed, but only in Ilúvatar’s house, while the Earth was placed outside it in the Void and Dark. Darkness remained until two lamps named Illuin and Ormal were built on the edges of Middle-earth.
Actually, Eru’s words of origination were the only time he spoke during the whole act of creation, whereas God continued to speak, ordering the firmament to appear, the waters to divide, the plants to grow, the stars to rise, the beasts to live, and many more times, almost in every line of the first chapter of Genesis. As for Eru, from this point on, his role and importance within the development of the world diminishes and Tolkien implements some attributes of pagan mythologies. And thinking about it scientifically, his story of creation then becomes more realistic or at least more acceptable, because he gives no clear span for the forming of the Earth, the time by what it gained its current shape. And so, even as a result of the labour of higher Powers, he in certain degree allows its natural geological evolution. In contrast, the Bible says that the world was created in seven days, more precisely in six days and the seventh day was one of rest. It is known that the number seven had a great symbolic meaning for the Jews, who originally wrote the Old Testament, including Genesis. It represented Fullness—the fullness of time that had been preset for the shaping of the world. In other words, it means that the world was formed in the right amount of time it required. In The Silmarillion, Tolkien managed to interconnect all three visions of the world’s beginning: the Christian, pagan, and scientific.
But now back to the initial exclamation. The word “Eä” means “to be” or “let it be” (Tolkien, 1992, p. 390). This word was later adopted by Elves as the name for the World. In this sense its meaning slightly altered to “It is” or “the World that Is”. Taking into account that God names Himself “HE that IS” and that the whole creation, including the world, exists only because of His will and thanks to it, it can be also said that “IT IS” as He is. Because He gave a part of Himself into everything that He created and therefore He is believed to be present in everything. Metaphorically, He is within everything and everything is within Him. So it can be also called the same: Eä – It Is, The World that Is.
Furthermore, the Bible says: “the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” (Genesis 1, 2). Correspondingly, the World Eä did not have its current look when it was created. When the Ainur saw it for the first time, it was shapeless and dark, too. (Tolkien, 1992, p. 10) Its surface was hard and cold, just a piece of stone engulfed in fire, like the scientists describe the appearance of Earth in its early years when it was being formed. The correspondence between Eä and the biblical vision of the newly created Earth is plain. Both were “without form” and in “darkness”.
In spite of the general likeness, the Ainulindalë is not simply a retelling of the Genesis story of creation, substituting names and a different environment. And especially, it does not follow the chronological order of the stages of development of the world as they are described in the Bible. For example, according to Genesis, the light was created next after the Earth and before everything else. Then the plants were created, and on the following day, the stars and sun and moon. The beasts came into existence thereafter and lastly, as the top of the creation, Man–God’s child–was made. However, in The Silmarillion the light was given to the World only when plants were already seeded and the beasts walked on the Earth, and indeed it was in the form of two lamps, while the stars had existed very long before that. And when the lamps were later destroyed, the world laid in darkness again until two magical trees, Telperion and Laurelin, grew up and became the new source of light. Unfortunately, it was not for long, because they too were destroyed and the next darkness fell on the World. Therefore, the problem of light is much more complex within The Silmarillion than in the Bible. And that is not all, because the sun and the moon supply the World with light, too. And these were created in a time when the Ilúvatar’s children, understood as the children of God, had already lived in the World for probably several centuries or even longer. Hence, Tolkien’s vision of the development of the World seems to be disordered and unsystematic in both scientific and religious terms, and it makes sense only when read as a myth.
The Secret Fire
There is, however, a further point to be considered, and that is how the World actually came into existence according to Tolkien, or better said, what happened after the initial exclamation. It was already mentioned that all things first originated in Ilúvatar’s mind and only later were given substantial form. So the creation of Eä is described in the following quote: “Ilúvatar gave to [the] vision Being, and set it amid the Void, and the Secret Fire was sent to burn at the heart of the World.” (Tolkien, 1992, p. 15, my emphasis). Especially important is the second part of it, accentuated by italics. One possible explanation of the Secret Fire may be that it just represented the earth core, which consists of fiery magma and molten rocks. It is even placed in the middle of the Earth like a heart that is often considered to be a metaphor symbolizing a centre. That would be a scientific approach, but there is a problem. It is written that the Secret Fire “was sent”. Logically, this then suggests that the Secret Fire is something alive, which can be sent. Consequently, this knowledge directs us to a spiritual and religious interpretation of the whole quote.
Considering the Christian motives, the Secret Fire may then represent the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity that often appears in the form of fire or flame. The best evidence for this claim is the scene at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was sent unto the apostles: “And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2, 3-4). The fire, as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, is still used in Christian churches to signify the presence of God. Even the epithet “secret” is appropriate, because the Holy Spirit is very mysterious and does not reveal Himself, so we do not know much about Him (catechism, Section Two, Chapter Three). Tolkien also uses another name for the Secret Fire—“The Fire Imperishable”—to express his eternal nature. He existed from the very beginning, even before the universe was made, and like the Holy Spirit, he is permanent.
We also know that apart from His blessings, the Holy Spirit is a primary source of life, and that He intervened in the process of creation. Likewise, elsewhere in The Silmarillion it is stated that the Secret Fire is needed to give life to the created things. It burns in them, and without it the things would die. That is the same as the Christian doctrine of the Holy Spirit. When God created man, He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul,” (Genesis 2, 7). The “breath of life” also refers to the Holy Spirit, and in this scene it can be clearly seen how the first man started living when the Holy Spirit entered his body.
However, some dissimilarity occurs between these two versions of the story of creation, and it concerns the location of the Holy Spirit that was—in Tolkien’s case—renamed the Secret Fire. In The Silmarillion the Secret Fire was placed in “the heart of the World”, while the Bible says that “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1, 2). According to Augustinian theories, from which Tolkien derived some of his ideas, water is sacred ever since then, because the Holy Spirit moved so close to it (St. Augustine, Confessions). As a result, it has the power to purify, and it is therefore used in the Christian act of baptising as a means through which man is redeemed from original sin. Why Tolkien chose to put his Secret Fire into the middle of the Earth has been already explained when I discussed its understanding as an ultimate source of life. But he did not forget about the special denotation of water, either. He attributed to it a mysterious attraction, because the sound of the waters is the last living echo of the Great Music in which the universe was pre-imagined and pre-created (Tolkien, 1992, p. 8). The miracle of creation is present in it as some audible memory and gives the water divine characteristics. In this manner it is then sacred, too.
The Ainur were already mentioned several times, but I have not explained what they really are, except that they have a spiritual nature. Actually, they have the most important role in the forming of the World after Ilúvatar, though they are rather ambiguous creatures.
The Ainulindalë gives the first account of them in its beginning lines: “There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar, and he made first 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 themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad,” (Tolkien, 1992, p. 3). And in one of his letters Tolkien gives an exact explanation about what they were intended to be: “angelic powers, whose function is to exercise delegated authority in their spheres (of rule and government, not creation, making or re-making). They are ‘divine’, that is, were originally ‘outside’ and existed ‘before’ the making of the world. Their power and wisdom are derived from their Knowledge of the cosmogonic drama, which they perceived first as a drama (that is as in a fashion we perceive a story composed by some-one else), and later as a ‘reality’,” (Carpenter, 2006a, p. 146).
From these excerpts, it can be plainly seen that the Ainur were also created by Ilúvatar and that they accompanied him even before he decided to make the World. And Tolkien himself called them “the Holy Ones” by pointing out that they were saintly or ‘divine’. This whole concept very much resembles the Christian vision of angels. Although the Bible does not mention when the angels were created, they must have already existed before the events that are described in Genesis. And doubtlessly they were created by God, too, and lived with Him in His house just like the Ainur lived in Ilúvatar’s house. Angels are saintly, spiritual creatures; immortals with great wisdom who “do always behold the face of [the] Father which is in heaven,” (Matthew 18, 10). Similarly, Tolkien writes about his Ainur that they were “rational spirits or minds without incarnation, created before the physical world,” (Carpenter, 2006a, p. 284) And as already mentioned when I discussed the problem of Eru, they are also immortal, which naturally results from the fact that they are spirits.
The task of angels, apart from the celebration of God, is to be His messengers. They appear several times in the Bible when they have some important message to reveal to people. And since they do not have human limitations, they can act in His name and mediate His will. Likewise, the Ainur mediate the will of Ilúvatar as a representative of God; or in Tolkien’s own words, they “exercise” his “delegated authority” in the World. However, they do it in such a way that they are allowed to participate in the process of creation, what is a really extraordinary idea in comparison with common Christian thought about angels. Yet, several Church Fathers held an opinion that God used his angels as instruments in creating the physical world, and even though this is not an official teaching of the Church, Tolkien might have been acquainted with it, thus intentionally making his Ainur directly involved in the creation, asked by Ilúvatar to join the Great Music and supplement it with their ideas. “[A]nd they perceived that they themselves in the labour of their music had been busy with preparation of this dwelling [the World], and yet knew not that it had any purpose beyond its own beauty,” (Tolkien, 1992, p. 6). For the Secret Fire was burning in them as well and it presented Ilúvatar’s will through their pseudo-inventions (ibid., p. 3). This thesis is further confirmed by the author when he claims that “they interpreted according to their powers, and completed in detail, the Design propounded to them by the One,” (Carpenter, 2006a, p. 284).
Nevertheless, the role and perception of the Ainur changed rapidly after they entered the physical World. For Ilúvatar made the Earth Eä shapeless and uninhabitable and it was their task to work on it in order to give it such form as it had in the vision in the Great Music. This was the major purpose of their lives; therefore, some of them descended from the Outer Circles onto Eä. Thereafter they had to take on a visible form. They could appear in various shapes, but they mostly preferred a human-like body, similar to angels who often showed themselves in a human shape when they had to deal with people.
The number of the Ainur who descended to Eä was fourteen, the Kings and Queens of the Earth that was consequently renamed to Arda, which means “the Realm” (Tolkien, 1992, p. 380) and signifies that it is now under their dominion. These fourteen Ainur are since then called Valar, “the Powers” (ibid., p. 427). And each of them had a special area of interest and power: Manwë rules the winds and sky, Ulmo governs the waters, Yavanna cares for plants, Tulkas is a fighter, Lórien is the lord of dreams, Nienna is the lady of grief, Mandos is the keeper of the death, Oromë is a friend of beasts and a hunter of demons, Vairë records the history, Estë has healing power, Aulë is interested in ground and metals, and Varda in stars. Such organisation reminds one of some chorus of pagan gods, like those from ancient Greek or Roman mythologies, rather than angels. Albeit, there do exist some Christian theories that some angels may also be “specialized” and assigned only to a certain task, area, or group. This idea was supported by Saint John’s vision, which is described in the Book of Revelation, as he writes: “angels came out from the altar, which had power over fire,” (Revelation 14, 18).
However, according to how the Valar act and function and how they are later perceived in Arda, they are closer to the ancient gods, but without so many negative qualities. Peter Kreeft explains that the European pagan gods are usually half-good and half-bad, and their superiority over humankind is not due to their goodness “but only in power – in fact, in three powers: power over nature by a supernatural or “magical” technology, power over ignorance (cleverness, farsight and foresight), and power over death (immortality)” (Kreeft, 2005, p. 179). Tolkien’s Valar do not manifest their superiority by force, and they display predominantly positive qualities such as mercy and kindness, so the Valar might be understood as an attempt to combine the Christian and pagan elements.
The Maiar are another kind of Ainur present in The Silmarillion. They are described as being lower than the Valar, and with less power. And they interact with people much more easily. If we agree that the Ainur represent angels and use the Christian hierarchy to classify them, then the Maiar could be related to the ordinary angels while the Ainur would represent some higher degree, probably archangels. This comparison may be acceptable because archangels, like the Ainur in The Silmarillion, are better known to us since most of the angelic creatures that appear in the Bible are of this kind. The ordinary angels, to whom the guardian angels belong, are not much discussed there, but it is believed that they often help people in their everyday lives. It is similar with the Maiar, who do not play any significant role in The Silmarillion. However, they became more important in The Lord of the Rings where they appear in human bodies as the wizards. Tolkien says that they were sent to Middle-earth to help its peoples fight against the evil (Tolkien, 2006, p. 397). So the mission of both the Maiar and guardian angels is to help mortals.
Manvë and Tulkas
Two of most outstanding Valar were Manvë and Varda. Manvë is the mightiest of all the Ainur, and Ilúvatar’s dearest. He was chosen to administer Arda and is therefore called its King. This nickname might allude to Jesus Christ, who is the King of the Earth and Heaven. But having examined Manvë’s character more closely, we find out that he by no means represents Jesus, but has much in common with Saint Michael the archangel. In Roman Catholicism he is believed to be the mightiest of all angels, which is analogous to Manvë’s position among the Ainur. He is the greatest enemy of Melkor, who in The Silmarillion represents the Devil, as will be discussed later. Likewise, Michael’s primary task is to fight the Devil, and because of this he is called “the God’s warrior” and in Latin “Princeps militiae coelestis quem honorificant angelorum cives” – the leader of Heaven’s army whom all the angels venerate (http://www.zivotopisysvatych.sk/michal-archanjel/). Correspondingly, Manvë led the Ainur to a battle with Melkor.
Manvë is not the only Ainu who bears some characteristics of Saint Michael. As the apostle John recounts, before the process of creation started “Michael and his angels fought against […] the Devil, […] Satan, which deceiveth the whole world” (Revelation 12, 7-9) and defeated him and cast him out from Heaven. But according to The Silmarillion it was not Manvë who fought and defeated Melkor, but Tulkas (Tolkien, 1992, p. 48-49). Tulkas was the one whom Melkor feared the most, like Satan fears Michael. And like Michael, Tulkas is also called the Fighter or the Warrior.
Just as it is understood that the greatest male Ainu is a personification of Saint Michael, the image of Varda as a representation of Saint Mary the Virgin, Jesus’ mother, is also clear. As Tolkien asserted, her character was “clearly related to Catholic devotion to [Saint] Mary” (Carpenter, 2006a p. 288) who had great significance for Tolkien. He called her Our Lady and his “perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity [was] founded” (ibid., p. 172) on her. In The Lord of the Rings, Saint Mary was visualized by the character of Galadriel, and in The Silmarillion she is doubtlessly represented by Varda.
This resemblance is obvious for several reasons. First, Saint Mary is called the Queen of the World and Heaven. Varda, the mightiest female Ainu, is similarly called the Queen of Arda. Saint Mary is often imagined as the most beautiful human being ever, because she was born without original sin. And Varda is also said to be of such a beauty that it can hardly be described by any words of any existing language. She is the prototype of beauty, and Ilúvatar’s light lives in her face (Tolkien, 1992, p. 16). Likewise, Saint Mary’s beauty comes from God Himself, and when she has appeared in visions, her body radiates light.
Christians ask Saint Mary for help, and the Elves invoke Varda when they have problems, are afraid, or going on a long, strenuous journey. An example of this is a song in The Lord of the Rings where some of Varda’s names resemble those of Saint Mary.
“Snow-white! Snow-white! O Lady clear!
O Queen beyond the Western Seas!
O Light to us that wander here
Amid the world of woven trees!
Gilthoniel! O Elbereth!” (Tolkien, 2011, p. 79)
Varda is also addressed as “the Queen of the Stars, from Mount Everwhite” (ibid., p. 378). The names Elbereth and Gilthoniel mean “Star-queen”, which like the exclamation “Queen beyond the Western Seas” is similar to the name of Saint Mary, Stella Maris – “the Star of the Sea”, derived from her function as a guiding star that leads those who wander and are lost back to God. In the song above, “Lady clear” then refers to Mary’s purity and virginity. And the name “Snow-white” is related to an epithet Saint Mary received after a miracle in Italy. Legend says that by sending a snowfall in the middle of summer, she indicated a hill in Rome on which she wished to have a church built. Consequently, she was named The Lady of the Snow, which was later changed to Santa Maria Maggiore. In visualisations of this miracle, Saint Mary is always displayed in pure white clothes and pale skin. Similarly, Varda is said to be the fairest, and therefore named “Snow-white.” Mount Everwhite is the name of the snow-covered mountain on which Varda dwelled with Manvë. But thinking about it in connection with Mary’s legend, it may well symbolize the miraculous hill in Rome.
The only difference between Varda and Mary is that while Varda was married to Manvë, Mary was not a wife of Michael the archangel. And the whole concept of the Ainur getting married is generally dissimilar to Christian doctrines about spiritual creatures. The angels do not marry because they are totally devoted to God and his love. And they are, of course, genderless. Although Tolkien says that his Ainur were genderless while they lived in the “Outer Circles”, when they entered the Eä they could choose to appear either in male or female body. Their choice was principally only an expression of “a difference of nature in the ‘spirit’” (Carpenter, 2006a, p. 285). And once they had human bodies, they could live as humans, so they could even get married.
The concept of evil in The Silmarillion is represented by Melkor, whose similarity to Satan is even greater than that between Eru and God. Melkor was the greatest of the Ainur, with a share in the powers of all the others of his kind. Originally, he was a brother of Manvë in Ilúvatar’s mind (Tolkien, 1992, p. 16). Likewise, Satan was the greatest and cleverest Angel with power equal to Michael until he was cast out of Heaven because of his rebellion against God. As it is generally believed, Satan was so proud of his power that he soon became jealous of God. He did not want to serve Him anymore; instead, he wanted to usurp the whole world for himself. He did not want to worship God, but he desired to be worshipped himself. So he revolted against God. The account for this is given in the Book of Isaiah: “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God,” (Isaiah 14, 12-13). And he was joined by many lesser angels, whom he was able to persuade. For this reason, Michael the archangel had to expel him and all his followers from Heaven.
Similarly, Melkor revolted against Ilúvatar. When he saw that the things pre-imagined in the Great Music were wonderful, they attracted him so much that he desired to own them all, to govern them and be the king of the whole World. Like Satan, he did not want to participate in Ilúvatar’s plan only as his mediator, but he was anxious to use his great power to create things of his own that were not in correspondence with Ilúvatar’s will. Tolkien perfectly depicted his revolt in the scene when Ilúvatar and the Ainur sang the music of creation. Melkor did not follow Ilúvatar’s melody; instead he sang differently to his own tune. And many of those who heard him were distracted and charmed by his ideas and joined him (Tolkien, 1992, p. 5). And the following excerpt exactly expresses the general perception of Satan’s fall, even though it is applied to Melkor: “From splendour he fell through arrogance to contempt for all things save himself, a spirit wasteful and pitiless. Understanding he turned to subtlety in perverting to his own will all that he would use, until he became a liar without shame. He began with the desire of Light, but when he could not possess it for himself alone, he descended through fire and wrath into a great burning, down into Darkness,” (ibid., p. 23). So the concept of a fallen Ainu is identical with a fallen angel, for they both refused to subordinate to the higher authority of the Creator, but wished to usurp it.
Also, their names are very similar in meaning. According to Tolkien, Melkor means “he who arises in Might” (ibid., p.410), which symbolizes his position among the Ainur at the very beginning, before the creation started. On the other hand, one of Satan’s names, Lucifer, refers to his original purpose, too. Because in Latin Lucifer means “light-bringing” or, as it was already alluded in the quote from Isaiah above, “the morning star” (http://catholic.archives.nd.edu/cgi-bin/lookup.pl?stem=luc&ending=). This name signifies Satan’s primary function, for as the greatest angel he had to be the one most engaged in bringing people to God or in bringing God’s light and love to people. But since his fall, he has been mostly called Satan. Its meaning can be derived from various stems, but it is usually translated as “the opposer”, “the adversary”, or simply “the enemy”. And in the Eä, Melkor was renamed Morgoth, which again has a similar meaning, i.e., “the Dark Enemy of the World” (Tolkien, 1992, p. 23). Even Devil, which is probably the most common name of Satan, is in concordance with the above-mentioned idea of a liar. Because it was derived from the Greek name Diabolos which means “slanderer” (seehttp://biblesuite.com/greek/1228.htm), a synonym of liar. And no less important is the fact that Melkor refers to himself as “the Eldest King” (Tolkien, 2006, p. 77, translated by the author of this work) too, for he was created as the first of all the Ainur, like Satan, who is said to be the first of all angels.
As a consequence of the fall, as soon as he was driven out of Heaven, Satan inhabited the Earth and claimed it to be his property, his kingdom. And in the Bible he is therefore called “the prince of this world” (John 12, 31). It is the same with Melkor, even though he was not forced to leave the “Outer Circles” by anyone and it was his own decision to move to Eä. But in his pride and selfishness he also called himself “the Lord of the World”, as it is several times noted in The Silmarillion. And he cannot be destroyed while the World lasts, just as Satan cannot be destroyed until the Apocalypse.
Evil versus Good
But despite all his attempts and desires, Melkor cannot create anything of his own, no matter how great his power. This again relates him to Satan who “has no ability to create”4, as well. They can only transform and disfigure things that were made by the Creator. Tolkien explained this in one letter to his reader, in which he distinguished between creating and making. He notes that creating is “the act of Will of Eru the One that gives Reality to conceptions” (Carpenter, 2006a, p. 190) while making is understood as permissive manufacturing. Only God can create in the true sense of the word, because He is the only one who can give life to non-living things. The Evil simply cannot give life, for he has not been given the power. In this way both Melkor’s and Satan’s abilities were limited.
The last point that should be considered is the consequence of evil’s doings. In The Silmarillion, Melkor, like Satan, often misuses many good qualities in a bad manner; for example, he pretends to be merciful and kind only in order to fool people and force them to do what he wants. But everything he does always results in misery and torments. However, even the action of evil contributes to the Creator’s plan. Christian doctrine says that God works in all actions of His creatures and that He, in His almighty Providence, can derive good from the aftermath of evil. And the evil cannot in any way thwart God’s ultimate plan (Catechism, Section Two, Chapter One). Even everything that Satan does serves to multiply God’s glory, for by healing what Satan damages, God again and again shows His prevailing power.
Tolkien understood this very well, and he implemented this theory into his writing. In the scene when Melkor revolted against Ilúvatar by singing to a different tune, Ilúvatar successfully managed to integrate it into his primary melody, so it sounded harmonious. And then he said: “Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilúvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined,” (Tolkien, 1992, p. 4-5). And later the allusion to Christian doctrine is even more explicit in Ilúvatar’s words: “These [all critters] too in their time shall find that all that they do redounds at the end only to the glory of my work,” (ibid., p. 36). By this statements Tolkien conveyed the principal belief of Christianity that evil can do only as much as it has been allowed by God and even then it contributes to His intentions.
The Children of Iluvatar
The last thing to discuss about the Christian motives within The Silmarillion, and probably the most controversial, is the understanding of so-called Ilúvatar’s children, the Elves and Men. The likeness of the term “the children of Ilúvatar” to the term “the children of God” that is used in Christianity, is obvious. It is generally known that the children of God are we, the people, and explanation for this is given in Genesis, which says: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him,” (Genesis 1, 27). Because we are made in His image, we have the privilege to be called His children. And Tolkien had a very similar vision about his children of the Creator. He noted that Elves and Men were called Ilúvatar’s children because they were “his private addition to the Design, by the Creator, and one in which the Valar had no part” (Carpenter, 2006a, p. 285). In both cases the children originated from their Creator: they inherited his image or arose from his very own thought.
Elves and Men
However, in Tolkien’s mythology there were two kinds of the god’s children, while Christianity recognizes only one. In The Silmarillion the first children were Elves, the Firstborns, followed several centuries later by Men, who were therefore called the Followers. When the Elves met the Men for the first time they considered them to be wilder and more savage than they were, and with a dark past. The symbolism of Tolkien’s Men is clear; they represent the same race as ours
But a problem appears in our understanding of Elves. Although they are physically the same as Men, something in their nature is different. They are described as beautiful, noble, and wise beings with hidden powers and much love for nature. Kreeft says they are semi-angelic creatures (Kreeft, 2005, p. 78). Due to their immortality, they could seem like angels, but because the angels were already paralleled to the Ainur, such comparison is not relevant. The Elves can by no means represent angels, not even the lowest degree of angels, for they can bear children.
Nevertheless, as Dimitra Fimi noted in her book Tolkien, Race and Cultural History: “Even if the Elves are not angels or overtly religious […], they are at least associated with a more spiritual and mystic religious experience,” (Fimi, 2009, p. 207). So another possible interpretation is that the Elves may resemble Men in Paradise before the Fall. This idea is supported by the fact that they are akin to Men. The pure and innocent Elves may be a good image of what we would be like if the first people did not disobey God by eating fruit from the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden.
A solution to this question can be found in Tolkien’s own explanation of Elves—that Elves and Men just represent two sides of human nature (Carpenter, 2006a, p. 149). This idea is derived from the Christian concept of a human being consisting of two parts: the mortal physical body and immortal spiritual soul. So the Men in Tolkien’s mythology should represent the physical side of humans, while Elves represent the spiritual side. That is the reason why Elves are depicted as higher and nobler and can better perceive the organisation of creation. For some time they dwelled with the Valar, which Men never did, and gained most of their knowledge from them. And because they are immortal, they live for ages, so their understanding of the world is much deeper than that of Men. They do not bother about unimportant things, because they understand what is essential.
On the other side, Men are more temperamental, easily driven by their desires, and less steadfast regarding their opinions. The Bible says that Men became mortal after their Fall, as a punishment, while Tolkien states that mortality was a gift from Ilúvatar given specially to Men. It is the only thing for which the Elves envy them, because they cannot depart from this world so easily and go to places beyond it. Elves are bound to the Earth and its doom. But Men, influenced by Melkor’s lies, stopped believing it to be a gift and started to fear death. Melkor said that after death there is nothing, in contradiction to the truth told to the Elves by Valar. The truth was that Ilúvatar intended a great fate for Men after their death, that in the future, which even the wisest cannot foretell, Men will join the Second Music of the Ainur (Tolkien, 1992, p. 36).
The idea that there is nothing after death—introduced by Melkor—is identical with the atheistic view of death. And the idea of Men joining the Second Music is very similar to the Christian doctrine that describes the creation of a new Earth after the Apocalypse. Because, as it was formerly explained, the Music of the Ainur is the music of creation, so it can be suspected that in the Second Music something new will be created, probably a new world for the Men to dwell in. Similarly, the Bible says that a new world will be created for all those who will be saved, that is, all those who will get to Heaven (Revelation 1, 1-3).
The Concept of Paradise
Speaking about the Christian motives, there is one of lesser importance, though worth mentioning. It is the allusion to Paradise, which in The Silmarillion is represented by Valinor, a holy land where the Valar lived. It was actually a continent that lay westward from Middle-earth. The Firstborn lived there for some time, and they learnt many things from the Valar, and they were content. Likewise the biblical Paradise, Eden, is described as a beautiful and peaceful place full of happiness, and it is quite likely that the first people could have been learning from angels while they lived there.
But when they listened to the Devil’s suggestion and ate fruit from the forbidden tree, they were cast out from Paradise and banned from returning. And it is said that at that time Paradise was removed from the Earth and hidden from people, who cannot reach it during their life. Similarly, when Tolkien’s Elves started to listen to Melkor, their evil qualities began to grow. This finally resulted in murdering members of their own race, which is reminiscent of the biblical fratricide of Abel by Cain. And although the decision to leave Valinor was originally by their own will, as a punishment for this killing, they were banned from returning.
However, unlike Adam and Eve, Valinor was not removed from Arda immediately after this incident. It only happened many ages later because of the disobedience of the second children of Ilúvatar. The whole story is complicated, but in short it was like this: After the greatest war with Melkor, Men were awarded a piece of land for their help and bravery— an island named Númenor, in sight of the shores of Valinor. But they, too, were forbidden to enter it, the same as the Elves. And for a long time they did not mind, until Sauron, Melkor’s follower, came to live with them. He, in the same fashion as Melkor, told them many lies and they listened to him. They stopped believing in Eru, but instead glorified Sauron and tried to break the ban. The Valar got angry at them for this and only afterwards removed Valinor from the earth, what caused a big flood that buried Númenor deep under the water. And ever since then, none of Men was able to reach the holy land, because it was no longer placed in this world.
Apart from the general likeness of this scene to the story of Paradise, there is another similarity involving a different event from the Bible. The idea of the big flood very much resembles the story of Noah and the global flood, when nearly the whole of humankind stopped believing in God’s existence and turned to evil doings. Likewise, the Númenorians, except for Elendil and his family, stopped believing in the might of Valar.
So from all these motives it can be seen that Tolkien’s work has much to give to the readers, and as Joseph Pearce noted, “there is a wealth of spiritual meaning to be found in its pages,” (Pearce, 1998, p. 111). Tolkien successfully managed to combine Christian, pagan, and even scientific theories about the origin of the World, so it can satisfy a wide range of readers. Based on his own theory of how even fiction and mythology can contribute to the revelation of God’s grace, this thesis can confirm Father Murray’s words that Tolkien’s writings are in “a positive compatibility with the order of Grace,” (Carpenter, 2006a, p. 171-172), and show that they do not disturb the traditional Christian perception very much. For, although it is an alternate vision of the creation of the World, it is not a retelling of the Biblical story or a parody of it. All the alterations that can be observed in Tolkien’s fictive account of the creation of the world are induced by two major factors. The first is that in The Silmarillion Tolkien consciously attempted to merge two of his most beloved interests, religion and old mythology, to show that they do not discredit each other, but rather the contrary—they can well complement each other. The second factor is the fact that Tolkien did not derive his conception solely from the biblical story, which is not an actual historical description and only a metaphorical tale in which the timing is relative and the events are condensed, but also found much inspiration in the theories of some of the influential Christian philosophers whose ideas, though not canonical, are generally respected in the Church as divine truth revealed to them in special visions. Indeed, the analyzed part of this book rather shows Tolkien’s devotion to his religion. It can be viewed as an attempt to fulfil his duty of a Christian to spread the good news of Evangelion according to his capability and skills, thus using his gift of art for the benefit of other people. Tolkien’s story of creation is a finely devised way of introducing the basics of his faith to a broad audience in a manner acceptable even for non-believers, and presenting them with the artistic value of—in his opinion—the most beautiful part of the True Myth.
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