“Two Musics about the Throne of Ilúvatar”: Gnostic and Manichaean Dualism in The Silmarillion
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“Two Musics about the Throne of Ilúvatar”:
Gnostic and Manichaean Dualism in The Silmarillion

In “Ainulindalë,” the opening segment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, Eru, The One, “who in Arda is called Ilúvatar,” composes his great symphony with the participation of the Ainur, “the Holy Ones that were the offspring of his thought” (15). Ilúvatar’s music is the mighty theme of creation. “Of the theme that I have declared to you,” he tells the Ainur, “I will now that ye make in harmony together a Great Music” (15). Then his Ainur respond with their own individual additions to the symphony, creating “endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights” (15). The Ainur are given a vision of the symphony’s creation: Arda or Eä (Tolkien’s names for the earth and material creation); the Elves, or the First Born; and the Followers, or humanity.

When many of the Ainur express their love for Arda, Ilúvatar decrees that “their power should thenceforward be contained and bounded in the world, to be within it for ever, until it is complete, so that they are its life and it is theirs” (20). Perhaps because they are now of this world, they become the Valar and can take on physical forms of great beauty, a choice given them by Ilúvatar. The mightiest of the Ainur, Melkor,1 had “meddled with all that was done” (20) in the ordering of Eä during the symphony, desiring to make Arda his own. Melkor “also took visible form, but because of his mood and the malice that burned in him that form was dark and terrible” (21). He built his kingdom of darkness while Manwë, his brother, and the other loyal Valar created a kingdom of light in Valinor, the Blessed Realm. And so began the battle between good and evil, darkness and light in The Silmarillion, a work dear to Tolkien’s heart.

Clyde S. Kilby, who spoke with Tolkien while he continued working on The Silmarillion long after The Lord of the Rings was published, reports that the author’s “main trouble with it was the lack of a commanding theme to bring the parts together” (11). I would suggest that the finished version of The Silmarillion as Christopher Tolkien arranged and edited the tales from his father’s notes and unpublished manuscripts does have a powerful central theme: an exploration of the nature and origin of evil. [End Page 77]

Critical consensus has long held that J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythos is rooted in his orthodox Christian beliefs. Indeed, in creating the fictional frame for The Silmarillion the author builds on a complex mix of mythologies to create his own, with Christian, Nordic, and Celtic allusions. But a central element that drives the work’s exploration of its theme includes suggestions of ancient dualism, best remembered in the heresies of Gnosticism and Manichaeism.

The Silmarillion presents two possible answers in the discourse on theodicy: the inquiry on the nature of good and evil and the question that asks why evil exists if God is good. The author’s orthodox Roman Catholic faith would suggest that his fantasy world should reflect the Church’s doctrine of a monist creation. The New Catholic Encyclopedia defines monism as a system “that reduces all of reality to some type of unity or one basic principle, where other doctrines admit of two or more” (9: 811). Monists would see God’s original creation as perfect and marred by free will: that of Satan and his minions and then of Adam and Eve, choices that brought evil to a pristine creation. In Milton’s words from Paradise Lost, humans were created “sufficient to have stood, though free to fall” (2: 81) in the world God had given them. From a Christian monist perspective, God permits evil as necessary to a creation that offers free will.

Ralph Wood interprets The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings from a monist perspective:

Tolkien’s world is not the product of a struggle between good and evil deities, as in many pagan...