One of my first experiences with The Silmarillion was my husband beginning to read it. He, as of yet, hasn’t made it past Ainulindale, but over and over he told me how beautiful this story of creation is. Once I read it, I had to agree. Reminding me heartily of Lewis’s creation of Narnia, the singing of nothingness into existence is nothing short of lovely. What strikes you in Tolkien’s account, however, is the harmony; harmony that is vital for both music and for a complete creation. Harmony that is necessary to adequately represent the fullness of Illuvatar.
I think it’s striking that Illuvatar put in each of the Ainu something – but not all – of himself. I also think it’s striking that the one exception to this rule (Melkor) is the one who disrupted the harmony. It reminds me much of the New Testament analogy made about the church – many parts of one body. Here, and elsewhere, throughout scripture we’re reminded that while each of us are different, we each play a vital role in God’s creation and His plan. I think we’re seeing something very similar here. Tolkien, as a devout, practicing Catholic, would know this metaphor well. He would have a deep understanding of roles and boundaries and rules, not for their sake, but for wholeness and order. He would have seen it even in the story of the Garden of Eden. Two trees, given two distinct gifts with two distinct rules surrounding them. As long as those boundaries and rules were respected, fullness and harmony reign. When abandoned, the opposite occurs.
And so we see with Melkor. Possessing a little bit of everything, he chooses to forego the boundaries set for him and instead seek for himself power, control. Does this seem familiar as well? It does to me. The harmony is broken and the Ainur and the song suffer for it. Some become despondent, some stop singing altogether, and some turn away, while Illuvatar asserts his power and his will. He will not be overshadowed or outshone. Creation will suffer by the devices of Melkor, but it is “but an instrument of [Illuvatar’s] will” nonetheless. What was evil will be made right. We see this also in scripture. Adam and Eve’s choices in the garden severed wholeness and harmony, but God still made a way. He devised a plan and turned their darkness into light at every turn. He is still doing so.
Up until now, we’ve had only the song itself. But then Illuvatar shows them a vision of what that song could be – and then, at the Ainur’s wishes, he speaks that vision into existence. We see here power greater than almost any you will see in literature. One word! Just one – “Ea!” “Be!” You really have to wonder about Melkor after witnessing that. You just witnessed Illuvatar speak an entire universe into existence with a single verb – what makes you think you can rival that? But pride comes before the fall, as they say.
As we begin to be introduced to each of the Ainur turned Valar, two further extensions of the earlier though on differences and harmony emerge. First, that of the Valar possessing certain characteristics of Illuvatar. When I think of an all-powerful deity, it certainly occurs to me that no one being could possess them all. Hearkening back to Tolkien’s Catholic roots, it seems relatively plain to me that each of the Vala possessed something of his own deity – that in the Valar, we can see qualities of our own God. No single Vala can do it all, but together – in harmony – they can care for the world. Which brings me to a second extension: seeing the Valar, harmoniously possessing the qualities of Iluvatar – as caretakers and guardians of creation. Much like us. We are image bearers of our God – whether we are choosing to follow and imitate Christ or not, we have been made in God’s likeness and tasked with the responsibility of caring for His creation. Each of us, given different talents and personalities and tendencies, has a different role to play in the guardianship of the world. And the way we do that best is by taking on the posture of the Valar (which always excludes Melkor): humbly dedicating all works of our minds, hearts, and hands to the one who is ultimately in charge; recognizing your own place and your own role and living harmoniously in it, alongside others.
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.Romans 12:18