Last Updated on January 12, 2021 by Bruno Lauris
How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand…there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep, that have taken hold.
– Frodo Baggins
Not the most epic of quotes from The Lord of the Rings, neither the most quoted one, but it is one of my favorites.
That was what I wrote four years ago in one of my articles.
I have always considered myself a Lord of the Rings (furthermore – LOTR) fan, yet there are some works of fiction written by J. R. R. Tolkien that I have always wanted to but never got to read.
Since at some point, a television series produced by Amazon Studios, and based on the Second Age of the Middle-earth universe, is coming out during this year, I decided that I would finally read The Silmarilion.
The Silmarillion is a collection of mythological stories by J. R. R. Tolkien, posthumously edited and published by his son Christopher Tolkien.
Spoilers, I still have not finished reading it because the moment I read the first story – “Ainulindalë” – the creation myth in the LOTR universe – I put the book down and immediately started to write this article.
“…this is the Ring of Fire, and herewith, maybe, thou shalt rekindle hearts to the valour of old in a world that grows chill.”
– Círdan to Gandalf
The Ainulindalë: The Music of the Ainur
The Ainulindalë or the Music of the Ainur gives an account of the Ainur, a class of angelic beings, and how they, together with their father and creator god Eru Ilúvatar, created the universe (Eä).
In the story, the creator Eru Ilúvatar ordered the Ainur to perform a Great Song – the progenitor to the creation of the material universe (Eä). After the birth of the universe, some of the Ainur wanted to enter and cultivate the world. Mainly because eventually, the Children of Ilúvatar – Elves and Men – are going to arrive in Eä.
Yet, it also describes the moment when the strongest and the wisest of the Ainur, Melkor or ”He who arises in might” decided to become Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, “Black Foe of the World” and Giver of Freedom.
Reading The Silmarillion and other Tolkien’s works are one of the only ways you can understand the events that lead to the LOTR novels and movies.
For example, why Galadriel giving Gimli 3 strands of her hair was such a big deal? How the elves traveled to Middle-earth in the first place? What exactly are the Undying Lands that the elves are escaping to?
Many based on the trilogy might know Sauron, The Enemy, The Deceiver, and The Necromancer, as the Dark Lord. Yet, Sauron was only a servant, a second-in-command to an even greater being – Morgoth – before becoming a Dark Lord himself.
While reading the story, I had conflicting feelings about how Melkor was portrayed. I always thought that he did something so immoral and cruel that there would be no way to justify it. Yet, in this story that supposedly explains his evil origin, I sympathized with him.
The Creation Myth
The story begins with the creator god Ilúvatar ordering the angelic Ainur to sing the Great Song, weaving their being and thoughts into it and thus inserting a part of themselves into creation.
As a rule, the Ainur should not be able to accomplish something like that. Yet, Ilúvatar shared with them the Flame Imperishable – the power of creation – allowing the Ainur to create as Eru does.
But now Ilúvatar sat and hearkened, and for a great while it seemed good to him, for in the music there were no flaws. 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. To Melkor among the Ainur had been given the greatest gifts of power and knowledge, and he had a share in all the gifts of his brethren. He had gone often alone into the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame; for desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own, and it seemed to him that Ilúvatar took no thought for the Void, and he was impatient of its emptiness. Yet he found not the Fire, for it is with Ilúvatar. But being alone he had begun to conceive thoughts of his own unlike those of his brethren
In short, the paragraph states that Melkor, when singing the Great Song of the Ainur, wanted to add to it ideas of his own, which he had acquired while traveling alone through the Void. During these travels, he started worrying about how empty the Void was and became impatient with Ilúvatar, who did not want to fill that emptiness.
After reading that paragraph, I was like, ”Really, that is it? That is what motivated Melkor to become Morgoth, The Dark Lord!”
So many intriguing events are mentioned in such a matter-of-fact way. I have no idea how can traversing the Void be described in such a boring way. How can anyone read that and be like, “ok, let’s continue?” I have so many questions!
Why was Melkor allowed to go alone? Can we get a description of what it was like for Melkor to travel the Void? Is there something about the emptiness worrying, or is that just a fake reasoning from Melkors part to justify why he wants to take Eru’s place?
Mythological stories have many mysteries and symbolic meaning thanks to the vagueness and the way they are written. That allows readers to interpret them in different ways.
That is one reason why people like me to study the mythology of different cultures and lore from video game/book universes.
Yet, sometimes I wish these stories would have a clear answer. Especially in this instance, when the origin of the evilest being in the universe is described.
Melkor has entered the chat
But soon, faults entered into the great Theme as a result of the discords of Melkor, an Ainu whose thoughts had become strange and unlike those of his brethren due to his wanderings in the Void.
What is interesting about that paragraph is that it explains why Melkor eventually became Morgoth. Supposedly.
By wandering alone in the Void, Melkor had developed a ”strange” understanding of the world, unlike Ilúvatar’s.
I wish Tolkien would have elaborated on why his thoughts were “strange” and how they differed from his brothers and sisters. You can, of course, extrapolate from what happens later in the story.
Yet, only stating that they are “strange” and not to elaborate why implies that the other Ainur never bothered to understand Melkor’s point of view and dismissed him. Maybe there could have been a compromise between Melkor and Ilúvatar, maybe – both sides could have co-existed with each other? Maybe there was some truth to what Melkor was trying to say?
That aside, the short of it is that Melkor was impatient about how empty the Void was, motivating him to find any means necessary to fill it with creation.
Now, you could argue that the text should be read as it stands. That Tolkien never intended there to be anything behind the lines: Melkor is just arrogant and uses the Void and Ilúvatar’s inaction to justify his future evil deeds.
Yet, since the Ainulindalë is written by the elves and functions as the Genesis for Middle-Earth, it is no surprise that all the elves have to say about Melkor is that he is evil.
No analysis of hi’s claims.
No benefit of the doubt.
That reminded me of how unsatisfied I felt about how poorly Saruman’s, the leader’s of the Istari (order of wizards sent to Middle-Earth to aid in stopping Sauron), betrail was portrayed in the LOTR movies.
Attempting to pinpoint the decisive moment when Saruman turns from ally to a traitor requires a bit of digging through Tolkien’s body of work. Just watching the movies is not good enough.
Saruman soon became jealous of Gandalf… Saruman knew in his heart that the Grey Wanderer had the greater strength, and the greater influence upon the dwellers in Middle-earth, even though he hid his power and desired neither fear nor reverence.
– Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-Earth
The way how I interpreted (and projected a lot on) that paragraph about Melkor was that the Void could be an allegory to the emptiness in Melkor himself.
Or even better, it is a feeling of lacking something in one’s life or a perception that something is lacking.
Tolkien writes a lot about power and greed. About how the dwarves dug too deep and unearthed evil. About how Saruman sacrificed the trees of Isengard to fuel the fire of industry, awakening the anger of the ents.
If you would read further into the story, you would be informed that Morgoth also had greed for power, status, etc.
Yet, how I read it was that the emptiness was something more than just greed or lust for power because you could argue that Gandalf also had passed through the Void when he died, after battling the Balrog.
Through fire… and water… From the lowest dungeon to the highest peak, I fought him, the Balrog of Morgoth. Until at last, I threw down my enemy and smote his ruin upon the mountainside. Darkness took me. And I strayed out of thought and time. Stars wheeled overhead and everyday was as long as a life-age of the earth. But it was not the end. I felt life in me again. I have been sent back, until my task is done.
And when Pippin talks about the end during the siege of Minas Tirith, the capital of Gondor, Gandalf replies:
End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it. White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
Those quotes imply that there might be something beyond the Void.
Maybe I am not well-read enough about the mythology surrounding Middle-earth to claim such a connection. Maybe, what Gandalf is talking about is how he was resurrected, about the Undying Lands, or about something different that the Void.
Thus, I have no way of proving or disproving either of my interpretations. Yet, I do not think that Tolkien intended that to be the case.
Yet, I believe that it is safe to say that Melkor did try to persuade Ilúvatar to fix the “issue”, but Iluvatar and Melkor’s siblings never cared to do so.
Again, it is written so matters of fact. Were there no discussions? No arguments? None of Melkor’s siblings even try to go with him to the Void? Not even Melkor’s sister Nienna the Weeper, and the Lady of Mercy from whom Gandalf learned pity and patience?
Unheard, Melkor went to find the Flame Imperishable.
The Flame Imperishable or The Secret Fire was Ilúvatar’s mysterious power of creation in Eä. Gandalf mentioned it when he fought a Balrog of Morgoth called Durin’s Bane in Moria.
With the Flame in his possession, Melkor thought he could fill the Void by himself. He tried to search for it and was often alone and apart from his fellow Ainur. It was during these lonesome periods that he began to develop ideas of his own.
Yet, he was never able to find the Flame Imperishable. Since the Flame only resided with Ilúvatar’s himself.
For me, that reminded me about how people with mental health issues can sometimes go through life: they are born, live life, and eventually realize that there is something “wrong” with them.
They seek out help.
Yet, they do not receive it.
They keep trying to “fix the issue” on their own, fail and try again, only to fail again.
Rinse and repeat until they arrive at a breaking point.
The significance of a myth is not easily to be pinned on paper by analytical reasoning. It is at its best when it is presented by a poet who feels rather than makes explicit what his theme portends; who presents it incarnate in the world of history and geography, as our poet has done. Its defender is thus at a disadvantage: unless he is careful, and speaks in parables, he will kill what he is studying by vivisection, and he will be left with a formal or mechanical allegory, and what is more, probably with one that will not work. For myth is alive at once and in all its parts, and dies before it can be dissected.
– Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics, 1936, p. 14
That might be an unfair interpretation on my part. Yet, mythological stories always have had the function of explaining that which we do not understand. To do so, they are deliberately left quite abstract, vague, open-ended, and filled with symbols, allowing multiple interpretations to be valid. Maybe that is why many psychologists, for example, Jordan Peterson, like using many mythological metaphors?
Some of these thoughts he now wove into his music, and straightway discord arose about him, and many that sang nigh him grew despondent, and their thought was disturbed and their music faltered; but some began to attune their music to his rather than to the thought which they had at first. Then the discord of Melkor spread ever wider, and the melodies which had been heard before foundered in a sea of turbulent sound. But Ilúvatar sat and hearkened until it seemed that about his throne there was a raging storm, as of dark waters that made war one upon another in an endless wrath that would not be assuaged.
Then Ilúvatar arose, and the Ainur perceived that he smiled; and he lifted up his left hand, and a new theme began amid the storm…
As Melkor keeps introducing themes of discord in the song, Ilúvatar kept changing the theme. Yet, each time Melkor was able to add some of his “strange” ideas and distort the new melody.
Who hears music, feels his solitude...
Some of those nearby attuned their music to his, until two musical themes were warring before the Throne. To correct the Discord, Ilúvatar introduced a Second, and then a Third Theme into the music. But Melkor succeeded in holding back the Second theme, of which Manwë was the chief instrument. The Third was the theme of Elves and Men, and while it was not overwhelmed by the Discord as the Second theme was, it too failed to correct it.
What I loved from this paragraph was the detail that the Ainur that were closest to Melkor started harmonizing with his song. It reminded me of when I was singing in my high school’s choir.
One of our national treasures and a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity is the “Latvian Song and Dance Festival”. The festival happens once every five years. During this festival, around 40’000 singers and dancers would meet on one stage and perform our national songs and dances.
I am sure that Tolkien’s idea of a collective singing event functioning as the basis of a creation myth would be well received by Latvians.
Singing is a very precious oral tradition in Latvian culture, and everyone is encouraged to sing from a young age.
And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.
― Friedrich Nietzsche
Because for 700 years, while my ancestors were ruled by other nations, singing was how they preserved their traditions.
What does singing in a choir have to do with the Ainur harmonizing with Melkor?
First, in a high school’s choir practice, you always have singers who would not know the lyrics for songs. If you would be one of these singers, what would you do?
You harmonize with the other singers around you.
I even remember when, before one performance, our conductor named a couple of singers whose lead we should follow if we were struggling.
That aside, as I was writing this paragraph, I remembered another reason why I resonated with this story.
Even though I have willingly and happily attended the Latvian Song Festival three times, while being on the stage and singing with thousands of my fellow Latvians, there was an unexpected emotion that never disappointed to creep up.
It is that feeling when you are in a crowd, yet, it feels like there is nobody there but you. You are a player character among non-player characters – a Lonely Mountain.
Who hears music, feels his solitude
Peopled at once.
― Robert Browning,
Even though the event is supposed to symbolize our unity, I believe that it does the opposite.
We have many cultural events in Latvia that are meant to “unite” us. Yet, we are politically divided by a “rainbow parliament”. Almost half of our populace has left Latvia, etc. About 600 thousand Latvians have left the country ever since the restoration of our independence in 1991, etc.
I think that the festival is fascinating and that every Latvian should experience it at least once either as a singer, dancer or viewer, if possible.
Yet, I disagree with this naive notion that the event unites us. At the very least, I do not feel united with everyone during that event.
While carrying gathered wood: “None of us should wander alone, you least of all. So much depends on you.”
Frodo stays silent.
“Frodo? I know why you seek solitude. You suffer. I see it day by day. You’re sure you do not suffer needlessly? There are other ways, Frodo. Other paths that we might take.”
When I graduated from the gymnasium (high-school) that I attended, I had the chance to take part in the festival for the fourth time. Yet, I declined.
I will not elaborate on why or will I try to explain the feelings of loneliness that I felt. That would require a separate article.
I wrote about this experience because I wanted to illustrate why I can relate to Melkor’s feelings when he sang with hi’s siblings; what the discord could have felt like, especially at the beginning when Melkor was singing alone against the crowd.
A credit to hi's father
Then Ilúvatar spoke, and 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.’
…Then the Ainur were afraid, and they did not yet comprehend the words that were said to them; and Melkor was filled with shame, of which came secret anger…
When Ilúvatar brought the Music to an end, he rebuked Melkor, praising his strength but reminding him that, as an aspect of his thought (since all the Ainur originated from Ilúvatar’s thoughts), anything that Melkor could bring into being ultimately had its source within Ilúvatar himself. As such, even Melkor’s discord has a role to play in Eru’s work and only functions to enhance it.
This rebuke shamed Melkor and at the same time brought on anger in him that he hid.
I do not quite understand why Melkor feels like this. If a family member of mine approached me and stated that everything that I have done belongs to them since I come from their lineage or something, I would be pissed too. Yet, those are just words. What are they going to do?
Ilúvatar, of course, is a God. The God! Thus, he could probably take everything from Melkor or undo him if he wanted. Yet, it is quite clear that Ilúvatar cares about free will and wishes to be a passive observer. I believe that Melkor should have been proud that he was able to “force” Ilúvatar to intervene with hi’s discord. Yet, he doesn’t, because of reasons.
The fundamental defect of fathers is that they want their children to be a credit to them.
– Bertrand Russell, Sceptical Essays (1928), Ch. 14: Freedom Versus Authority in Education.
Further, if you would read other works by Tolkien, you would note that because of the direct and indirect actions of Melkor, Ilúvatar was “forced” to intervene more than just during the Music of The Ainur.
For example, Ilúvatar is the one who resurrected Gandalf after he died fighting with the Balrog in The Fellowship of the Ring. That is a well-known instance in the fandom.
A lesser-known intervention is when Ilúvatar made Gollum trip and fall into the lava of Mount Doom.
Frodo deserved all honour because he spent every drop of his power of will and body, and that was just sufficient to bring him to the destined point, and no further. Few others, possibly no others of his time, would have got so far. The Other Power then took over: the Writer of the Story (by which I do not mean myself), ‘that one ever-present Person who is never absent and never named’…
– Letter 192 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.
Those who have only seen the movies wouldn’t know that Ilúvatar also sank the Black Númenóreans with Númenór, who Sauron tricked into worshiping him and Morgoth.
As the last Númenórean king Ar-Pharazôn felt the bite of old age upon him, Sauron was able to convince him to attack Valinor (where the Ainur and elves lived) and claim the right to immortality by force. He began the building of a fleet, the Great Armament, to attack Valinor. For this transgression, Ilúvatar “was forced” to intervene and sank Ar-Pharazôn’s fleet and all of Númenor beneath the ocean.
I doubt that these and other interventions are a part of hi’s plan. Thus, they do not find their uttermost source in Ilúvatar.
Continuing, if Ilúvatar does intervene, then why is he okay with Melkor’s discord and does not directly stop him when he becomes the Dark Lord and tries to destroy everything?
One reason could be that, even when you listen to The Music of the Ainur that I referenced, you have to agree that the song would quickly become boring if it always stayed the same. The discord of Melkor makes the music more varied and complex. Sadly, I am not an audio guy or a musician. One ring to rule them all by Anato Finnstark
Even when I was singing in the choir, I never even knew the difference between the notes.
Maybe Melkor does not know hi’s notes as well? That would explain the discord.
A different way to explain it would be to look at the stories that we like the best. The best ones always have interesting conflicts embedded within them. Without obstacles and protagonists that struggle against them, the stories are uneventful, at the very least.
Nobody likes a Marry Sue that can do everything and never fail. That is one reason why the new Star Wars sequel trilogy with Rey was so unsuccessful.
Even though horrible things happen to our most beloved characters, we like to see those struggles. Weirdly, you could say that we “like” and “need” conflict in our lives…
Except when we are the struggling protagonists or when the struggle becomes unbearable.
Ultimately, everything is of the Creator!
And Ilúvatar spoke to Ulmo, and said: ‘Seest thou not how here in this little realm in the Deeps of Time Melkor hath made war upon thy province? He hath bethought him of bitter cold immoderate, and yet hath not destroyed the beauty of thy fountains, nor of my clear pools. Behold the snow, and the cunning work of frost! Melkor hath devised heats and fire without restraint, and hath not dried up thy desire nor utterly quelled the music of the sea. Behold rather the height and glory of the clouds, and the everchanging mists; and listen to the fall of rain upon the Earth! And in these clouds thou art drawn nearer to Manwë, thy friend, whom thou lovest.’
That conversation between Ilúvatar and the Ainur Ulmo, after Ilúvatar had made the Music of the Ainur into reality, makes mixed statements.
On the one hand, it looks like Melkor’s attempts to do anything are meaningless since, in the end, Melkor never gets what he wants, and the world is better for it.
On the other hand, it is only thanks to Melkor that the created universe is more complex and beautiful than Ilúvatar could have imagined it on his own. So… Hi’s actions do matter…
The third option, both are true at the same time.
Whichever interpretation you like, Ilúvatar intends to bring greater good out of evil, and so Melkor himself is ultimately serving the divine will. Ilúvatar might not have created evil, but he does allow it to exist and to use it to improve upon his plans.
Ultimately, everything is of the Creator, The One, Eru Ilúvatar!
I am a servant of the Secret Fire!
Then Ilúvatar said to them: ‘Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will now that ye make in harmony together a Great Music. And since I have kindled you with the Flame Imperishable, ye shall show forth your powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices, if he will. But I win sit and hearken, and be glad that through you great beauty has been wakened into song.’
Before I continue with the creation myth, let’s backtrack a little bit to the Secret Fire.
The Flame Imperishable was Ilúvatar’s mysterious power of creation in Eä. It is the power to give life and substance, granting free will and “true” life.
The Ainur, like Melkor and Eä itself, was made through it. That is why everything Melkor created was but a mockery of life. That is why Melkor, for the most part, resorted to corrupting life that already existed.
Granted, that Melkor’s way of creating things is not the same, but it is interesting that other Ainur have dabbled with creation, but got scot-free unlike Melkor.
Either way, quite obviously, the Secret Flame is an alternate name of the Holy Spirit in Tolkien’s mythos. In the same spirit, Eru Ilúvatar is the name of God. By extrapolating that, it follows that Melkor is an allegory to Lucifer. Since, like Lucifer, he goes against the creator’s wishes, and that begins his downfall. There are also other similarities. For example, Melkor’s/Lucifer’s relationship with his brother Manwë/Michael, Melkor/Lucifer corrupting humanity, etc., but I am not trying to analyze the Ainulindalë as a Genesis story. I am noting that because the Ainulindalë is inspired by how Lucifer falls from grace and has a similar structure, Tolkien has also “borrowed” and incorporated the issue that nobody ever considers that maybe what Melkor/Lucifer says could have some truth about it.
I am not necessarily proposing that Tolkien was lazy and re-wrote the story of Lucifer’s downfall. Yet, I am saying that being influenced by theological stories might have worked against Tolkien’s goal of creating a believable mythology. It’s a bit “uninspired”, at times.
Morgoth had no ‘plan’: unless destruction and reduction to nil of a world in which he had only a share can be called a ‘plan’. But this is, of course, a simplification of the situation…
– Notes on motives in the Silmarillion by J.R.R.Tolkien edited and published by Christopher Tolkien in MORGOTH’S RING, Houghton Mifflin, 1993.
If Melkor couldn’t really do anything that did not have its source in Illuvatar, then wasn’t his rebellion part of Illuvatar’s plan? Which means Illuvatar is responsible for all the pain and suffering caused by Melkor? And which may mean free will is an illusion?
Yet, based on the paragraph, Eru Ilúvatar never predicted that Melkor would create discord. It was never part of his plan since he gave hi’s creations, including the Ainur, free will to act as they saw fit, meaning that they could also go against Eru’s wishes. They could choose to be benevolent or not.
Morgoth was supposed to improve on Eru’s creations as the other Ainur had. Instead, he chose the opposite.
Melkor believes that this “free will” that the Secret Fire bestows upon Eru’s creations is a design flaw. Since “free will” means choices and choices means that someone could choose evil over good… “Free-will” is the reason why evil exists, and that is why someone needs to maintain order in the world.
At first, both Melkor and especially Sauron decided to be the ones who would determine and maintain that order that both Eru and the other Ainur have neglected to maintain, leaving the Children of Ilúvatar lost and alone to their own devices.
Melkor believes that by hiding behind this idea of ”free will” Eru and the Ainur have abandoned the world and left it to suffer. “Free will” is just an excuse to be neglectful, like they all neglected the emptiness in the Void.
Yet, eventually, Tolkien just decided that Melkor would destroy everything…
Imagine how more interesting these stories would be if that conflict between control and freedom was set center-stage? If Sauron and Morgoth did all their evil deeds to create an order to protect beings from themselves?
The New Shadow
I did begin a story placed about 100 years after the Downfall, but it proved both sinister and depressing. Since we are dealing with Men, it is inevitable that we should be concerned with the most regrettable feature of their nature: their quick satiety with good. So that the people of Gondor in times of peace, justice and prosperity, would become discontented and restless — while the dynasts descended from Aragorn would become just kings and governors — like Denethor or worse. I found that even so early there was an outcrop of revolutionary plots, about a centre of secret Satanistic religion; while Gondorian boys were playing at being Orcs and going around doing damage. I could have written a ‘thriller’ about the plot and its discovery and overthrow — but it would have been just that. Not worth doing.
– from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter to Colin Bailey
I believe Tolkien is correct about the human condition in peaceful times – that some get satiated with peace. Yet, maybe that is why it would have been worth discussing? Since that is what we are experiencing nowadays.
Not to mention that you could argue that Melkor did the same thing. He had everything – longevity, power, influence, etc. -, but since he did not have this one thing – the Flame Imperishable – he was willing to corrupt The Children of Ilúvatar and commit all the other evil deeds he did.
My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) … the most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.
– Letter to his son Christopher Tolkien (29 November, 1943)
Note that Melkor’s rebellion against Eru is creative. From what I understand, this “temptation of creativity” is further echoed in The Silmarilion when an elf Fëanor, who created the Silmaril gems, loved them so much that he led his entire people to a hopeless pursuit when Melkor stole them. One of the atrocities that Fëanor and his men committed is the first Kinslaying at Alqualondë. To get ships and pursue Morgoth Fëanor’s men were willing to steal ships from their fellow Teleri elves, leading to a massacre between the two elf parties.
Again, I have not read these stories to give a definitive interpretation, yet.
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.
Melkor might have been the creation of Eru, a thought that resided within him, but that also can imply that Eru himself is somewhat arrogant and egotistical. Otherwise, were did those qualities originate in Melkor?
That aside, my interpretation of that paragraph is that “evil” is a part of us all, including Ilúvatar. Or, at the very least, that “evil” is dependant on the beholder.
Yet, then you have quotes like the following.
In my story I do not deal in Absolute Evil. I do not think there is such a thing, since that is Zero. I do not think that at any rate any ‘rational being’ is wholly evil. Satan fell. In my myth Morgoth fell before Creation of the physical world. In my story Sauron represents as near an approach to the wholly evil will as is possible. He had gone the way of all tyrants: beginning well, at least on the level that while desiring to order all things according to his own wisdom he still at first considered the (economic) well-being of other inhabitants of the Earth. But he went further than human tyrants in pride and the lust for domination, being in origin an immortal (angelic) spirit.
– J.R.R. Tolkien, Letters, #184
People who claim that they’re evil are usually no worse than the rest of us… It’s people who claim that they’re good, or any way better than the rest of us, that you have to be wary of.
― Gregory Maguire, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
Middle-earth is born!
Eru would eventually stop the singing, presenting the Ainur with what their song could end up creating. Most importantly, Eä – where Middle-earth and The Children of Ilúvatar – Elves and Men, the Firstborn and the Followers – would exist.
…But when the Ainur had beheld this habitation in a vision and had seen the Children of Ilúvatar arise therein, then many of the most mighty among them bent all their thought and their desire towards that place. And of these Melkor was the chief, even as he was in the beginning the greatest of the Ainur who took part in the Music. And he feigned, even to himself at first, that he desired to go thither and order all things for the good of the Children of Ilúvatar, controlling the turmoils of the heat and the cold that had come to pass through him. But he desired rather to subdue to his will both Elves and Men, envying the gifts with which Ilúvatar promised to endow them; and he wished himself to have subject and servants, and to be called Lord, and to be a master over other wills.
The sentence “…he feigned, even to himself at first, that he desired to go thither and order all things for the good of the Children of Ilúvatar…” is interesting.
I do not know why wishing for an order is portrayed here as a “false reason” and that Melkor was jealous of the gifts Eru bestowed to hi’s children.
It wasn’t false. Melkor just changed his mind and path, from creating order under his rule towards destroying everything.
And What gifts? The longevity of elves? He already has that. The mortality of men? Even though the idea of mortality as a gift is a common theme in Tolkien’s works, and I agree with that sentiment, I do not see why you would envy it? Especially someone like Melkor.
It is also interesting to note that the wish to create and uphold order was the reason why Melkor was able to persuade Lord Sauron (originally named Mairon), the second Dark Lord, to follow Melkor.
The abrupt ending of the vision caused restlessness among the Ainur, and Ilúvatar perceived that they wanted Eä to be made a reality, so that -despite the terrible flaws introduced by Melkor – the Universe would be as real as they Ainur were.
Therefore Eru said, “Eä! Let these things Be!”. He sent the Flame Imperishable into the Universe, and far off in the Void, a light appeared.
Once more, now that the Secret Flame was sent to reside into the created Universe (you could argue that it is not there anymore), Melkor could have gone out and devoted his life to finding the Flame Imperishable and claiming it for himself.
Not possessing the Secret Flame was why he was not able to create and fill the Void. He was also unable to find it since it resided within Eru. Now, at least a part of it was in a somewhat known location. All Melkor had to do, is find it and claim it, but, nooooooo! That would be too reasonable or something.
Eventually, the Music of the Ainur is made a reality, and Eru allows his children, the Ainur, to go forth into this new world, never to come back. They become bound to the world. Those Ainur, who entered Eä, are now known as the Valar and the Maiar. Yet, some Ainur chose to remain with Eru.
The Valar and Maiar jobs were to take care of Eä since the music was just a foreshadowing of things to come. The world still needed to be prepared for the Coming of the Children of Ilvutar.
Sadly, Melkor meddled and tried to undo the work of his siblings, not forgetting the insult that he received from his father, and tried to claim dominion of this new Kingdom.
And Manwë said unto Melkor: ‘This kingdom thou shalt not take for thine own, wrongfully, for many others have laboured here do less than thou.’ And there was strife between Melkor and the other Valar; and for that time Melkor withdrew and departed to other regions and did there what he would; but he did not put the desire of the Kingdom of Arda from his heart.
Melkor turned out to be Satan all along!
The first “chapter” of the Silmarillion is Middle-earth’s version of the Genesis creation story, as stated before.
Ainulindalë could also be compared with the epic poem Paradise Lost. The poem is concerned with the biblical story of the Fall of Man. The temptation of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
Just like John Milton created human motivations and explanations for Satan’s rebellion and downfall, with Ainulindalë, the elves tried to reason Melkor’s rebellion and downfall.
Unsuccessfully, if you ask me.
How Ainulindalë was written, is meant to make sense to us since it would remind us of the Lucifer/Satan dichotomy. These archetypes are so engraved into our culture that we immediately can recognize them and relate to them.
But as to Melkor’s real motivations aside from the Satan/Lucifer comparison, no one knows – which is infuriating to me!
Melkor’s story ends with him exiled in the Void. That does not happen at the end of The Ainulindalë story but many evil deeds later. Nevertheless, it is quite ironic that Melkor used to wander in the Void willingly, but now he has been trapped in it by hi’s siblings that he wanted to help fill the Void.
Theoretically, there is a story/concept called Dagor Dagorat, where Melkor would escape the Void and start The Final Battle that would end with the death and re-birth of the Universe. In short, the Ragnarök of Middle-earth. Yet, from what I understand, Tolkien did not consider that story part of the canon.
At the start of this article, I interpreted that Melkor’s story can be paralleled to someone who suffers from a mental health issue like depression. The Void represents the depression or the hole that Melkor had discovered in himself and wished to fill it. In the same way that people whit depression feel like they are trapped in a Void or that there is a hole in them that needs to be filled for them to live a fulfilling life.
Thus, it was no surprise to me that in the Morgoth’s Ring – the tenth volume of Christopher Tolkien’s 12-volume series of The History of Middle-earth that analyzed the unpublished manuscripts of his father J. R. R. Tolkien – the following is stated.
In any case, in seeking to absorb or rather to infiltrate himself throughout ‘matter’, what was then left of him was no longer powerful enough to reclothe itself. (It would now remain fixed in the desire to do so: there was no ‘repentance’ or possibility of it: Melkor had abandoned for ever all ‘spiritual’ ambitions, and existed almost solely as a desire to possess and dominate matter, and Arda in particular.) At least it could not yet reclothe itself. We need no suppose that Manwe was deluded into supposing that this had been a war to end war, or even to end Melkor. Melkor was not Sauron. We speak of him being ‘weakened, shrunken, reduced’; but this is in comparison with the great Valar. He had been a being of immense potency and life. The Elves certainly held and taught that fëar or ‘spirits’ may grow of their own life (independently of the body), even as they may be hurt and healed, be diminished and renewed. The dark spirit of Melkor ‘remainder’ might be expected, therefore, eventually and after long ages to increase again, even (as some held) to draw back into itself some of its formerly dissipated power. It would do this (even if Sauron could not) because of its relative greatness. It did not repent, or turn finally away from its obsession, but retained still relics of wisdom, so that it could still seek its object indirectly, and not merely blindly. It would rest, seek to heal itself, distract itself by other thoughts and desires and devices – but all simply to recover enough strength to return to the attack on the Valar, and to its old obsession. As it grew again it would become, as it were, a dark shadow, brooding on the confines of Arda, and yearning towards it.
-HoME X: Morgoth’s Ring, ‘Myths Transformed’, text VII
In short, Melkor is trapped in the Void, in the same way as a depressed person is trapped in his mind, obsessing over things. Physically not present or capable of action, but trying to heal, to regain strength, while still not being able to put away his obsessions.
Relating to Dark Lords and antagonists
In my previously mentioned article, I wrote about Gollum and how Gollum, for me, symbolizes what happens to a person who gets consumed by depression. They become unkempt, isolated, obsessed with the wrong things in life, etc.
Four years ago, my biggest “fear” was to become someone like Gollum. Yet, these days, I am more fearful that I am someone like Melkor on the path of becoming Morgoth.
Ever since I wrote that article on The Lord of The Rings, I have tried to go to psychotherapy and have met multiple psychiatrists. I took up marathon running and started going to the gym. I got my higher education diploma and tried to change jobs, etc.
Yet, it feels like none of that has helped me to deal with my suicidal thoughts.
After reading The Ainulindalë, I also re-read my article on LOTR and I was fascinated by how different my mentality was when writing that article and where it is now.
That article was quite hopeful and filled with tips for maintaining good mental health if you have depression/suicidal thoughts.
Where in this one… I am relating to a Dark Lord and talking about how I feel I am at a similar crossroads as Melkor was after Eru insulted him.
That fact fascinates me!
In general, it speaks about how impactful Tolkien’s work can be aside from The Lord of The Rings. I did not think that I would have such a reaction to a mythological story. I have had similar experiences, but not like this one.
Personally, I am curious what other types of thoughts and experiences I will have as I read The Silmarillion and other fiction from Tolkien?
I will be dead before I see the Ring in the hands of an Elf! — Gimli.
A storm of argument erupts around the room.
Never trust an Elf! — Gimli
Do you not understand? While we bicker among ourselves, Sauron’s power grows! No one will escape it. You will all be destroyed, your homes burnt and your families put to the sword! — Gandalf
For some reason, in my mind, I also started comparing Frodo with Melkor. Obviously, there are a lot of differences between the two.
One of them is that Melkor went to his siblings but got ignored. Whereas Frodo had the Fellowship that, yes, was arguing at Elrond’s council and had struggles along the way, yet, they cared about the burden that Frodo was carrying and were willing to share the load.
Then I remembered how I would read stories by people who survived and thrived after a suicide attempt and noticed a common element in these stories – they all had family and/or friends that supported them on the road to recovery.
Those thoughts lead to even more things to consider.
The Joker movie is a masterpiece that everyone should see if able. Yet, there were some who, without even seeing the movie, thought that it would motivate people to become serial killers. I do not know why, but some are primed to de facto hate characters like the Joker, without ever bothering to relate or to find reason in their actions.
You might ask, “Why should I?”
Because any one of us could have been in a similar position to Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker or Melkor, the future Dark Lord, thus, it is worthwhile to imagine and analyze how we would act in such circumstances.
‘I wish the ring had never come to me…I wish none of this had happened. ‘
‘So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil.’