I got a copy of The Silmarillion for Christmas, which I started reading a little bit (though now that we’re into the quarter it will have to wait until summer to be finished). The Silmarillion tells of the creation of Ea (the universe in which Middle-earth exists) and the first three “Ages” (leading up to the events in The Hobbit). I’ve reflected before about how Tolkien didn’t merely write a story; he created a world, complete with its own languages, history, and even metaphysics. My thought after diving into this story a bit is that the essentially Christian structure of the metaphysics of Tolkien’s world are explicit in The Silmarillion as they are only implicit and in the background of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. In Ainulindale, for example, the first part of the book, Tolkien describes the creation of the Ainur (supernatural beings like angels) by Iluvatar (God), and the rebellion of Melkor (Satan). The way Tolkien describes good and evil in this story is very profound. The Ainur make music, and Tolkien writes that Melkor made music that “had little harmony, but rather a clamorous unison as of many trumpets braving upon a few notes” (p. 17 of my Houghton Mifflin copy). I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’ observation that good is wonderfully diverse, while evil is monotonously repetitive and predictable. This is what I learn most about from Tolkien’s world: the nature of evil and fallen-ness. He helps me understand that at its core, evil is a rejection of our God-ordained role in creation – ultimately, it is a rejection of our status as creatures (so while, for example, the elves delight in subcreation, Melkor desires only possession and power and domination: hence the different function of the rings they created). Tolkien helps me understand why ultimately, evil can only be understood with reference to God – why it only makes sense within the categories of Creator and creation. He also makes me see how truly horrific and hate-worthy evil is.
My copy of the book also includes a long letter sent by Tolkien to his publisher in 1951. It was interesting to observe that Tolkien himself seemed to interpret his work as oriented around themes of evil and its effects, claiming that “all this stuff is mainly concerned with Fall, Mortality, and the Machine” (xiii). He even goes so far as to say “all stories are ultimately about the fall” (xv)! Tolkien’s philosophy of evil is more subtle and realistic than that of most other stories I’ve read. He discusses how originally Sauron desired to better the world, and notes that “frightful evil can and does arise from an apparently good root, the desire to benefit the world and others – speedily and according to the benefactor’s own plans” (xiv). I think there is a lot of insight in Tolkien’s philosophy of evil, and I wonder if it is one quality which gives his books so much depth.
Also, it was interesting to observe how deeply Tolkien’s work were a part of him. He writes, “I do not remember a time when I was not building (this stuff)” (xi), and “always I had the sense of recording what was already ‘there’, somewhere: not of ‘inventing'” (xii). Fascinating! I wonder if this is how many great creative works of art come about?