In part one of Blogging the Silmarillion, I’m sharing my thoughts on the first two sections of the book, “Ainulindalë,” and “Valaquenta,” as well as Chapter 1 of section three of the Quenta Silmarillion, “Of the Beginning of Days”.
The Silmarillion begins with “Ainulindalë,” which means “Music of the Ainur." This is Tolkien’s creation myth. As I re-read this chapter, I was struck by its affinity with John Milton’s Paradise Lost, both in terms of its imagery and characters, and in its thematic similarity to the Christian fall of man. The language is also similar, biblical and epic and “high.”
In “Ainulindalë” we learn that Ilúvatar is the creator of the known universe, including Arda. This place of wizards, heroes, orcs, dragons, and dark lords, has an omnipotent, single creator. This is an incredibly important fact. We can guess at the presence of a creator in The Lord of the Rings, but only barely. For example, Sam, journeying with Frodo in the heart of Mordor and at the nadir of his faith and endurance, senses the presence of something greater beyond this world, buoying his spirit and giving him the strength to continue:
"Far above the Ephel Duath in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach."
Though we don’t have a name for which to assign Sam’s divine revelation, upon re-reading The Silmarillion I realized that this is Varda (Elbereth), whose face radiates the light of Ilúvatar. It’s always been one of my favorite moments in Tolkien, and The Silmarillion helped me understand why.
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