Blogging the Ainulindalë and Valaquenta from Tolkien’s The Silmarillion.
If there were some kind of global religious amnesia, and if the cosmogony presented in the first two chapters of The Silmarillion was offered as a genuine religious narrative, its position as scripture might seem entirely natural. This is myth-making at its most remarkable. One uses the word “genuine” guardedly — given Tolkien’s view of myth and Faërie as genuine sub-creations of the ur-Tree, one might already consider the Ainulindalë and Valaquenta as already true, its origin in the mind of Tolkien notwithstanding.
I say that as someone with some knowledge of creation myth — I know a bit about Genesis and have read Enuma Elish in the original Akkadian. Tolkien’s is better, grander. That is my modern aesthetic speaking, of course. The Ainulindalë and Valaquenta enjoy a remarkable verisimilitude with ancient myth but they are, first and foremost, products of the mind of a modern Englishman and Oxford don — my kind of literary creator. Still, if your exposure to Tolkien doesn’t go far beyond the folksy Hobbit, this stuff will blow your mind.
Mormons love it. It’s all there: a council in heaven, free will, a divine plan, God, demiurges (the Ainur), a rebellion and fall. It’s not exactly the Pearl of Great Price — in Mormon cosmology the angelic demiurges are us; for Tolkien, they nearly always remain aloof from the world, or at least Middle Earth — and in these days of rigid monotheism, the near equality of Eru and the Ainur may not sound particularly Christian. However, let us remember that it was St. Augustine who first believed that when Elohim said, “Let there be light,” he was bringing forth the angels, intellectual creatures such as Himself. Genesis was not a lonely creation, nor was the Music of Eru. (That Eru’s plans are made known through music is particularly charming.)
Once again I am led to marvel at the beauty of myth. Tolkien has the advantage of not being saddled with the heavy burden of literality. Without the need to carbon date the age of the Music in the fossil record of Middle Earth we can simply ponder the truths of the story.
Next: the Quenta Silmarillion (at Kulturblog).