The Silmarillion - Ainulindalë & Valaquenta

Discussing Tolkien's foundations for Middle-earth
Iolanthe
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The Silmarillion - Ainulindalë & Valaquenta

Postby Iolanthe » Thu Jul 15, 2010 2:47 pm

Image
Music of the Ainur, Second Movement

© Becky Carter-Hitchen


Let's start at the very beginning...

The Silmarillion opens with Tolkien's great Creation Myth as the world is sung into being through 'the Great Music' of Eru (called Ilúvatar). The Ainur, Eru's first created beings, adorn His great theme with their own 'thoughts and devices' until Melkor, who has been given the greatest gifts of power and knowledge, begins a new theme of his own and discord comes into Creation.

Thus begins Tolkien's great sub-creation of Arda, its guardians the Valar and the toils and troubles of Middle-earth.

There is plenty to discuss here, so dust off your copies of the Sil, have a read and join in when you are ready!

As always, remember the House Rules
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Now let the song begin! Let us sing together
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Lindariel
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Postby Lindariel » Fri Jul 16, 2010 2:23 pm

YAY! I can't wait for this discussion to begin. Unfortunately, this is a VERY busy weekend for me -- a BIG out-of-town wedding to attend on Saturday (3 hour drive away) and ferrying children to two different birthday parties on Sunday (plus must do all of the Saturday chores on Sunday). I shall certainly chime in as soon as I catch my breath.

In the meantime, I will remind you of the following comment I made earlier about Tolkien's extraordinary vision of the Creation of Arda:

I dearly love the Ainulindale, Merry. The idea of the creation of Arda being accomplished through Music, most especially Song, is exceptionally precious to me. There is nothing in this world more plangent or expressive than the human voice. The goal of every instrumental musician is to perfect his/her craft such that he/she can make their instrument SING -- the instrumental ideal is VOCAL in nature.

Song is created through the combination of sound, word, and emotion. I would hate to think of a world created solely on the basis of only one of these elements -- logic without feeling, sound without sense, emotion without discipline -- it would be horrible.

In the Ainulindale, I think Tolkien has in some ways perfected the story of creation as expressed in the Gospel of John. Not "In the beginning was the Word," nor "In the beginning was the Music," but "In the beginning was the Song."
Last edited by Lindariel on Fri Jul 16, 2010 5:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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“Therefore I say: Eä! Let these things Be! And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World, and the World shall Be.”

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Postby Iolanthe » Fri Jul 16, 2010 3:19 pm

No hurry, Lindariel, I think we all have catching up to do!
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Postby Merry » Sat Jul 17, 2010 12:46 am

I'm not as fond of The Sil as many of you and certainly I don't know it as well, but I'll try to keep up!

Lindariel, you express the richness of song well (although I think that Logos of the original Scripture actually does include all those elements). It's interesting to me that a philologist would find Word inadequate on its own. We know from his letters that the Professor did enjoy some kinds of music, though, although I don't think he was a musician himself, was he?

I suppose that if many voices are going to collaborate, music is what comes to mind--although it is possible, I also suppose, for people to speak in unison. (For example, I do this every Sunday!)

For me, the richness in this chapter is more philosophical: Tolkien works out the problems of a good creator God, the existence of evil and free will, divine providence, and the well-founded hope that all shall be well at the end in a solution worthy of St. Augustine! It is quite beautifully done.
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Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
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Postby Philipa » Sat Jul 17, 2010 12:53 am

L the feelings you have for the 'beginning of all things' with music being the way in which it starts hit with me as well.

I'm going to read this chapter again (I think it's been a few years for me) tonight to freshen my memory of it. I love this first chapter.
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Postby Iolanthe » Sat Jul 17, 2010 5:10 pm

Merry wrote:We know from his letters that the Professor did enjoy some kinds of music, though, although I don't think he was a musician himself, was he?


That's right! He didn't play but he appreciated music - Sibelius especially, which makes him a man after my own heart. And, of course, his mother always played the piano and so did Edith. I think that Priscilla said at Exter that the two of them went to a lot of concerts. His insight into how music works in this passage shows that he understood much, even though he was no musician.

As well as the Music of the Ainur we hear about the Imperishable Flame which Melkor goes into the Void to look for. This is such an intriguing concept. Clearly there can be no creation without the Imperishable Flame (Tolkien's equivalent of the Holy Spirit?). And then there's Melkor's desire to fill the Void, which he thinks Ilúvatar is ignoring. I wonder why he thought the Imperishable Flame would be in the Void? There are so many ideas swimming around in this first chapter we could be some time :lol: .
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Postby Lindariel » Sun Jul 18, 2010 6:12 pm

I have just received two lovely new books -- Middle-earth Minstrel: Essays on Music in Tolkien, edited by Bradford Lee Eden, and Music in Middle-earth (also a collection of essays), edited by Heidi Steimel & Friedhelm Schneidewind. I spotted the titles on amazon.com and just couldn't resist the subject. Will scan through to see if there are any essays particularly pertinent to our discussion of the Ainulindale and report back!
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“Therefore I say: Eä! Let these things Be! And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World, and the World shall Be.”

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Postby Lindariel » Mon Jul 19, 2010 2:07 pm

There don't appear to be any essays in Middle-earth Minstrel related to The Ainulindale, but the first three essays in Music in Middle-earth most definitely do! Here are the titles:

"Behold Your Music!": The Themes of Iluvatar, the Song of Aslan, and the Real Music of the Spheres, by Kristine Larsen

Tonality, Atonality and the Ainulindale, by Reuven Naveh

Ainulindale: Tolkien, St. Thomas, and the Metaphysics of the Music, by Jonathan McIntosh

Will try to read through these today and provide my impressions. In the meantime, are any of you familiar with these authors? Have any of them perhaps made presentations at Oxonmoot, etc.?
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“Therefore I say: Eä! Let these things Be! And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World, and the World shall Be.”

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Postby Merry » Mon Jul 19, 2010 3:37 pm

I haven't heard of any of these authors, but the third essay is right up my alley! (a very strange expression, now that I think about it!)

Looking forward to your reports.
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Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
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Postby Iolanthe » Tue Jul 20, 2010 10:55 am

I'm familiar with them. Heidi Steimel gave a talk with one of the Music in Middle-earth essayists, Murray Smith, at the last Oxonmoot. It was meant to be an introduction to the book but the books hadn't been printed in time. Unfortunately it just turned into a precis of each chapter and a long meander off topic from Smith about WW1 popular songs, not what I expected at all! It put me off the book, which I'd been really interested in before. I'd love to know what you think, Lindariel, and hear more about essays you've mentioned - that's much more what I thought we'd be hearing about at the talk.
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Postby Philipa » Wed Jul 21, 2010 11:58 pm

Iolanthe wrote:
As well as the Music of the Ainur we hear about the Imperishable Flame which Melkor goes into the Void to look for. This is such an intriguing concept. Clearly there can be no creation without the Imperishable Flame (Tolkien's equivalent of the Holy Spirit?). And then there's Melkor's desire to fill the Void, which he thinks Ilúvatar is ignoring. I wonder why he thought the Imperishable Flame would be in the Void? There are so many ideas swimming around in this first chapter we could be some time :lol: .


It is quite a mystery why Melkor strived to work in the void. Perhaps he felt that the dark matter could be his personal playground to 'create' his own things in? I would assume his desire for the Imperishable Flame was another greedy attempt at creation and power. Because after all, to create gives one power.
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Postby Iolanthe » Thu Jul 22, 2010 7:43 pm

It's a bit ironic that, in the end, Melkor is cast into the Void after the War of Wrath and gets stuck there.
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Postby Merry » Thu Jul 22, 2010 8:12 pm

I think there's something from traditional Thomistic metaphysics in this. If God made everything that exists, and insofar as it exists, it is good, if one were to turn away from God, one would have to turn to non-being. In these terms, it's kind of a silly thing to do, but one who chooses this must have a strong will to defy for no other reason than defiance, like a child who holds her breath until she turns blue or refuses to eat dinner even when she is hungry, just to be willful.

It is ironic that Melkor ends up with nothing--he got his wish! I can't imagine anything more terrible than to be absolutely alone forever. Give me flames and pitchforks, as long as I have company!
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Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
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Postby marbretherese » Fri Jul 23, 2010 12:28 pm

Merry wrote: Give me flames and pitchforks, as long as I have company!


Hopefully it won't come to that, Merry!! :D

I was struck by the passage where Iluvatar points out to Ulmo that without Melkor there would be no rain or snow. So even while he is turning away from the harmony of the whole, Melkor is playing his part in creating the larger picture. This reminded me of Gollum. Also the fact that the Ainur are only aware at first of the part of his mind which Iluvatar has shown them - they can't see his whole intention. Something along those lines happens in LOTR, where a number of characters 'do their best' against incredible odds without any real hope of success.
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Postby Lindariel » Fri Jul 23, 2010 2:53 pm

I am slowly but surely making my way through the three essays from Music in Middle-earth that deal specifically with the Ainulidale.

The first, "Behold Your Music!": The Themes of Iluvatar, the Song of Aslan, and the Real Music of the Spheres, by Kristine Larsen, deals primarily with the various scientific and philosophic theories addressing the "music of the Spheres." Ms. Larsen takes us very briefly through the writings of Aristotle, Plato, Boethius, and Kepler, the music of Gustav Holst, various tales and fables including the Netsilik of Greenland, the Mayan Popol Vuh, the Hopi tales of Spider woman and Tawa, and the Book of Genesis.

She alludes relatively briefly to the influences of astronomy on Tolkien's work -- specifically the transition from a "flat earth" to a "round earth" at the great changing of the world -- and notes that while much of Tolkien's legendarium morphed and changed a great deal during the long years that The Professor labored over his sub-creation, the tale of the Creation of Arda, the Ainulindale, survived virtually unchanged over this time.

She notes the similarities of the three themes declared by Iluvatar in the Ainulindale, and the three themes of the Song of Aslan, which is the creation story of Narnia.

She then begins a long and meandering discussion of the various kinds of sounds emitted by cosmological formations and the means of detecting them. She spend quite a bit of time on Gamow's Big Bang theory vs the (now largely disproven) Steady State theory of British physicist Fred Hoyle. She notes that the Big Bang theory posits two possible endings for the universe -- continuous expansion until all of the stars slowly die out one by one, i.e., the "heat death" of the universe, or the Big Crunch, in which the universe recollapses in a fiery cataclysm that in turn becomes the initial stage of a rebirth, or a new Big Bang, i.e., the phoenix legend.

She notes the similarities between the Big Crunch and the Norse tradition of Ragnarok, or "The Doom of the Gods," as well as Tolkien's allusion to the Last Battle between Morgoth and the Valar, which brings about the end of Arda, and then the possibility of Arda Remade.

In Narnia, the world ends by being consumed by a Red Giant Sun, and Aslan and the children enter a paradise world, a "parallel world" at the same time that the children are killed in a train accident in the "real" world.

Ms Larsen ends her long essay with a discussion of the various theories for the end of our universe as revealed by studies of cosmic microwave background (CMB) energy. She notes that, like the Ainulindale and the Song of Aslan, the Big Bang is made up of three "themes," each corresponding to the three major components of the universe: (1) radiation, or light; (2) matter; and (3) dark energy, a mysterious force that is accelerating the expansion of our universe. Each of these components has dominated an epoch in the history of our universe in turn, radiation/light for the first few 100,000 years, and matter predominating until a few billion years ago.

Each component also has its own acoustic as discovered by Mark Whittle of the University of Virginia. According to Whittle, the universe began in silence (not a BANG) then proceeded as "a descending scream, building into a deep rasping roar, and ending in a deafening hiss." How pleasant . . . not exactly my idea of the Music of the Ainur by any stretch of the imagination.

She ends her essay by noting that current theory based on these CMB readings postulates two possible ends for our universe. We are now in a phase in which dark energy makes up 70% of the toal mass and energy of the universe. In the most widely accepted models, the universe will either continue to expand exponentially until all stars die and the universe fizzles out into a "heat death," or it will end in a "Big Rip" in which the universe expands so rapidly that all matter and the fabric of time and space violently rip apart (as opposed to the "Big Crunch" in which it all violently collapses together).

My apologies for the wandering nature of this report, but it reflects the wandering nature of the essay. Truthfully, I'm not sure what her point is. There's really no thesis statement anywhere. I think she simply brought together a lot of interesting "related" material and tied it all together in an ambling narrative. Interesting . . . but not especially enlightening about Tolkien or Lewis.

I am now in the midst of reading "Tonality, Atonality and the Ainulindale" by Reuven Naveh, in which he attempts to do a musical analysis of Tolkien's writings (?!). Some interesting stuff so far, but I think his logic wanders, and ultimately I think it is a mistake to try to apply musical structure to prose. Will report more later.
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“Therefore I say: Eä! Let these things Be! And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World, and the World shall Be.”


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