Music was given to the Ainur by Illúvatar: music of what the world would be, music of Illúvatar’s will. But there was one who would not receive the music and instead desired to sing his own will. He began a clamorous and defiant noise, asserting himself against the true song. Melkor sang of desire, power, and dominion, wooing many of the Ainur to his revolt. Illúvatar’s music was marred under the assault of Melkor’s flourish. Again, Illúvatar gave a song for the Ainur to sing. His way was better. His way was beautiful. The Ainur wavered, but Melkor withstood, dismaying the others with his discord. The chaos of Melkor triumphantly declared its own supremacy.

Then Illúvatar sang once more, a song “wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow.”[1] This new, unquenchable music became the object of Melkor’s scorn and hatred, and he strove to silence it, conducting his own song “to drown the other music by the violence of its voice.”[2] Melkor exalted himself and cast his music in rebellion toward Illúvatar’s song. His sound crashed powerfully against the will of Illúvatar, but “it seemed that [Melkor’s] most triumphant notes were taken by the other and woven into its own solemn pattern.”[3] Fight as he may, offend, crush, and hurt as he might, Melkor found that his music appeared always to be in harmony with Illúvatar’s. A devastation deeper than he could know, what he had perceived to be his triumphant self-assertion had instead been subject to the sovereignty of Illúvatar all along. Finally, Illúvatar stood, and, “in one chord, deeper than the abyss, higher than the Firmament, . . . the Music ceased.”[4] The chaos of Melkor, proud and rampant as it had been, proved, in the end, to be only a descant on the theme of Illúvatar. Melkor was defeated, not in a pitched battle, fighting bravely to the end, but by a strength and wisdom so immense that he had ultimately done willing service to his enemy. The one who imagined himself standing, bowed his knee and was silent.

Tolkien’s description of the creation of Arda is a beautiful picture of the Christian hope. God’s good creation has been marred by the sin of men, and yet this is no story of Yin and Yang, no Manichean dualism where good and evil are at war and man’s highest hope is simply the survival of good. Nor is this a story of a conquering king whose armies, one sword-stroke at a time, carve out a victory. No, evil is transformed; the Devil is God’s Devil.[5] The Christian hope is this: the victory was won through a Lamb, loved, and slain, before the foundation of the world.[6] The great Maker of the world will not be mocked and will not be discomfited by his creatures. What is meant for evil by evil is meant by the Maker for the salvation of many.[7]

Melkor’s chaos has bloomed.

Citation Information

George Scondras, “Melkor and Illuvatar,” An Unexpected Journal 3, no. 1. (Spring 2020), 169-172.

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[1] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, ed. Christopher Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977), 16.

[2] Tolkien, Silmarillion, 17.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] This phrase is often attributed to Martin Luther. Tolkien echoes the same through the mouth of Illúvatar: “And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite.” Ibid.

[6] John 17:24 and Revelation 13:8 are particularly in focus here.

[7] Genesis 50:20.