Friday, March 7, 2014

J. R. R. Tolkien: THE SILMARILLION--"Ainulindale"

J. R. R. Tolkien
Part One of The Silmarillion

"Ainulindale" is the first part, appropriately enough, of The Silmarillion, which is a collection of stories set in Middle Earth prior to the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I say appropriately enough since an alternate title for "Ainulindale" could easily be The Book of Genesis.  In Genesis, the Lord says, "Let there be Light."   Iluvator, in "Ainulindale," essentially says let there be music.

I find it difficult to read "Ainulindale"  (A) without thinking of Genesis (G) , because of  the similarities and the differences between them.  There is but one God in both creation myths,  and both depict God as the First and Only being who is responsible for all of creation.

And in both are spiritual or non-material beings: angels in G and the Ainur in A.  However, I can find no specific mention of the creation of the angels in G, although one might assume they were created sometime during the six days of creation.  The first mention I can find of an angel occurs when a Cherubim was stationed at the gate of  Eden to prevent Adam and Eve from returning to eat the fruit of the Tree of Life and becoming immortal after they had been expelled for eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  In contrast, in the first line of  "The Ainulindale" Tolkien specifically states that Iluvatar created the Ainur. 

Iluvatar, unlike the Creator in Genesis, does not work alone in the act of creation.  He proposes a "Great Music" to the Ainur.

"Then the voices of the Ainur, like unto harps and lutes, and pipes and trumpets, and viols and organs, and like unto countless choirs singing with words, began to fashion the theme of Iluvatar to a great music: and a sound arose of endless interchange melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the place of  the dwelling of Iluvatar were filled to overflowing, and the music and the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void."

Such is the act of Creation in "Ainulinidale."

In spite of Tolkien's great, in-depth knowledge of Northern European myths, he elected to base his Creation myth on those of the Mediterranean area, and his treatment of the existence of evil in the universe comes from the same tradition.  Melkor, like his counterparts in the Judeo-Christian-Moslem traditions, is actually a creation of God or Allah, and is one who turned against his creator as a result of pride.

Satan or Lucifer is not actually named as the tempter of Eve in the Garden, but later Christian theologians have decided that must be who the serpent was.  Like Satan, Melkor was considered to be the brightest of  Iluvatar's creations, and, just as in Christian teachings, Melkor could not created something that would live on its own.  Melkor could only debase that what was already alive.

Evil has always been a problem for those religious traditions that posit a Supreme Good who creates all things.  How does evil appear in the world created by one who is All Goodness, and why?  One of the first thinkers who confronted the idea of evil in the world is Zoroaster, in the 7th BC.   There may have been earlier conceptualizations of this problem, but the writings of Zoroastrianism are the earliest we have.  From the Wikipedia entry on Zoroastrianism, we find the following:

"Zoroaster simplified the pantheon of early Iranian gods into two opposing forces: Ahura Mazda (Illuminating Wisdom) and Angra Mainyu  (Destructive Spirit) in the 7th century BCD.  Zoroaster's idea led to a formal religion bearing his name by about the 6th century BCE and have influenced other later religions including Judaism, Gnosticism, Christianity, and Islam."

Zoroaster appears to have been the first to have proposed the Final Judgement Day in which the forces of Good and Evil would meet in a final battle to determine who shall control the universe and these forces would include not only all those living but also those who had died before.  According to Zoroaster,  which side would win was in doubt.

The religious traditions that were influenced by Zoroaster all made several significant changes.  In Zoroastrianism, the Destructive Spirit was an independent entity and equal in strength to Ahura Mazda and that evil might ultimately win out.  In later religious traditions, the evil side is actually a creation of the Good and is one who has through pride isolated itself from the Supreme Good.  In addition, in the later traditions the Evil force is weaker than the Good and is doomed to ultimate failure.

Melkor is clearly within this tradition as he cannot create anything on his own.  He can only debase and deform what is already existing.  He can create destructive storms but only because the elements are already there.  Orcs are not created by Melkor, or his follower Sauron, but are the result of experiments on captive elves.

Many of the Ainur became enamored of Iluvatar's universe and elected to assume physical shapes and reside there, in order to protect it from Melkor's destructive meddling.   These were called Valar, and each of the Valar assumed responsibility for a particular aspect of this new world.  A more specific listing appears in the next part of The Silmarillion, "The Valaquenta."  A great struggle ensues between the Valar and Melkor and his followers for control of Arda (Earth) and while Arda did not correspond to the ideas of the Valar, it slowly took shape.

In the  next part, "Valaquenta," we learn much about Iluvatar's first creations: the Valar, the Maiar, and Melkor and his followers.  Two names appear that will play an important role in The Lord of the Rings--Sauron, who was Melkor's chief follower,  and Olorin, one of the Maiar, who is sometimes called Mithrandir, but who is probably better known as Gandalf.

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