Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The Music of the Ainur

'''Tell me,' said Eriol, 'for I long to learn, what was the Music of the Ainur?''' (The Book of Lost Tales Part I, Chapter II, The Music of the Ainur).

A reader asked for a ''synopsis'' of The Silmarillion. Now, where before I said it was ''impossible,'' that is not so; at least not if we take a look at the various legends that form The Silmarillion individually. I think this is the best way forward. It seems, therefore, logical to look at the first legend, called in High-Elven Ainulindalë, the Music of the Ainur. Since the history, nature and theology of the Music are huge, I shall devote this post to the ''synopsis'' requested, and another, perhaps two others, to the implications.

The Music of the Ainur is essentially a cosmogonical Creation myth. It defines the relationship of the One (Eru Ilúvatar) supreme Creator God with the Ainur (the Holy Ones), angelic beings who dwelt with God before aught else was made. The story first appears in The Book of Lost Tales, cited above, where it is said that the mariner Eriol, who sailed Westward (and found the Straight Road into the ''true'' West), was told the story by a certain Rúmil, a loremaster of the Elves, in the garden of the Cottage of Lost Play.

Like the Genesis account of the Creation of the World, there are various stages found in The Music of the Ainur. The first is that there is God, there was God, there shall ever be God. The second; He made first the Ainur, and taught them; and their power, wisdom, and being are derived solely from Him. The third, God propounds to them a Great Theme, and beckons them to sing to Him of this Theme. And they then sing. The story goes:

''Then the voices of the Ainur, like unto harps and lutes, and pipes and trumpets, and viols and organs, and like unto countless choirs singing with words, began to fashion the theme of Ilúvatar to a great music; and a sound arose of endless interchangeing melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the places of the dwelling of Ilúvatar were filled to overflowing, and the music and the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void.'' (The Silmarillion, Ainulindalë).

But the greatest of the Ainur, Melkor (the primeval Dark Lord, the supreme spirit of pride and hatred - that is, Tolkien's equivalent of Lucifer), began soon to sing of things that had not their origin in the Great Theme of the Creator, and there arose then great discord, so that those that sang nigh to Melkor either faltered, and their own thoughts that derived from the Thought of the Creator were sang of no more; or others attuned their thoughts to that of Melkor; and the discord spread and spread until, it is said, about the throne of Ilúvatar ''there was a raging storm.'' Then Ilúvatar intervened and introduced three new Themes, each of which Melkor contended with, so that at each time, the violence of his voice and the voices of his followers, arose to new violence and new anger. And then, God raised both His hands, and the Music stopped.

And then, Ilúvatar showed to the Ainur a vision of their Music, and the Ainur were amazed. Tolkien writes:

''[They] looked upon this habitation set within the vast spheres of the World, which the Elves call Arda, the Earth; and their hearts rejoiced in light, and their eyes beholding many colours were filled with gladness...'' (Ibid.)

Ilúvatar, knowing the desire of their hearts, then gives ''reality'' to the Vision, and utters the word ''Eä,'' which means ''Let these things Be.'' The Silmarillion then begins in earnest, with the legends of the sub-creation of the Ainur, the primeval wars for the supremecy of Arda and of course the legends surrounding the origins of the Children of Ilúvatar.

Whenever I read The Music of the Ainur, I am reminded not so much of the Book of Genesis as the Book of Revelation, particularly the visions of countless choirs of Angels around the Throne of God, casting their crowns at the feet of God and unceasingly proclaiming: ''Thou art worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory, and honour, and power: because Thou hast created all things; and for Thy will they were, and have been created.'' (Revelation 4:11).

The above image is a ''sketch'' by the Tolkien artist Ted Nasmith, depicting what he thinks The Music was like.

1 comment:

  1. yo, i have just finished reading the hobbit, after three days
    might read the simirilian next,nice blog paddy \o,