Silmarillion Notes


New Member
I am new to this forum. I'm not sure if there's a better place to post this. I was inspired by Tony Meade's wonderful notes on the Exploring the Lord of the Rings series. I've been listening to past episodes of the Tolkien professor. I thought I would share my notes on those classes. If there's another discussion where this would be appropriate, please let me know.


New Member
Episode 25: WC Tolkien Course 09 - Silmarillion, Part I

  • Some of the selections of the Silmarillion are the earliest things he wrote. The Fall of Gondolin was started in the trenches of WW1.

Difficult to read.
  • Stylistically different. High and lofty. These are legends written in an archaic style.
  • It’s not a novel, it’s a history. These are the ancient legends if the elves. When Frodo meets Bilbo at Rivendelll at end of LotR, Bilbo gives him Tales from the Elvish. That's the Silmarillion.
  • The more you reread it, there more you'll understand it.

  • Lots of characters, with multiple different names.
  • Tolkien was a philologist. He loved names. He'll express the significance of an event with a new name for a character or place.
  • Naming is one of the essential actions of a subcreator. All of language is us attaching names to the things.

Ainulindalë - "The Music of the Ainur".
  • Who are the Ainur? Don't try to answer this question by attaching identities of characters from a myth outside this book. Aule is not Poseidon.
  • It can be profitable to compare and contrast, but don’t pidgeon-hole a Silmarillion character by identifying them as a deity from a different mythology.

The Ainur
  • Eru is transcendent. The Ainur are his powers.
  • They are singers. They are artists.
  • There is a hierarchy.
  • Does each one represent a different aspect of the mind of Illuvatar? Not in a quantitative sense, but they are parts of one unified whole that is Illuvatar. One reflects more perfectly for the love of something: water, music, etc.
  • Their bodies. They wear bodies as we wear clothes. Restriction to a physical form is an act of humility on their part. They condescend to help.
  • Powers are limited. That know much but not everything. They are not omnipotent or omniscient. They appear to make mistakes and forget things.

How does creation occur?

  • Eru signals his intent, then the choir sings the Great Music.
  • Even in Creation, there’s a connection between art and reality. In Tolkien's reality, creation itself is made by God through others -- subcreation.
  • He explained the theme, then each one does their thing. Their music is improv, but in the improv is immense harmony. There’s no sheet music, but it's music that he wanted to hear. He heard it and is glad. It’s as if he presents the idea but leaves it up to them, “What do you want to do.” Somehow in all of them expressing the mind of Illuvatar, there is harmony.
  • There is the direct light of Illuvatar and the light from the Ainur is as light through a prism - refracted light.
  • The exception to this sub-creative process is the creation of elves and men. They come entirely from the mind of Illuvatar.
  • God created the works through instruments. The transgression of Melkor is against Illuvatar’s will, but the music is his will. None can change the music. Melkor tried to make something outside the mind of illuvatar, but he can't. “You will find you are but my instrument. You can't change the music.” What Melkor attempts against Illuvatar’s will -- God will use it. In the end the music is greater than it would have been without the rebellion.

Where does Melkor go wrong?
  • Illuvatar doesn't want conformity or unison.
  • Pride. Melkor brings discord in unison. What motivated him to change the theme? Pride. He wants to make his own part more glorious. He wants a solo.
  • Domination. Matters of his own imagining is not a bad thing in itself. The problem is what his motives are. His desire to bring creatures of his own into being is good. It's the impulse of a subcreator. The problem is where he goes with that. He wants to rule, have dominion over them. His desire to elevate the self is connected to the dearie to lower others. To Beijing others into being so they can serve him.
  • The Ainur perceive there's something other than they. “We will learn something more about Illuvatar in a new way!” They love the children and desire to protect them, care for them and teach them. Melkor covets dominion. There's a difference.

The Ways of Illuvatar
  • Illuvator delegates a lot to others. He doesn't boss or compel. He let's them do their thing. Both the good and the bad. Powerful beings don't have to assert authority.
  • Illustrious does things because they are good. Melkor because he is selfish. As the story goes on, Melkor decreases in greatness. He lessens himself by his choices. God himself is more humble by not being self-regarding. The Ainur are amazed at the patience of Illuvatar. He lets this go on. What Melkor does only ends up contributing to greater beauty.
  • Time questions about God and discussions of infinity always lead to paradox. Eru had foreknowledge. The Ainur’s foreknowledge is limited. Time itself is a product of the song.. Tolkien embraced the doctrines of Boethius and Augustine. God has foreknowledge and in control but his creation has free will. There is no such thing as an evil thing. It's a negation -- good things used for evil purposes, perverted for a twisted end. Even Melkor's impulse at first was good. Evil is a deficiency, not a positive. Illuvatar did not will it, but he allowed it. The most triumphant notes of the song are that evil things will be woven in and leads to greater beauty.

The relationship of history to the song.
  1. The song brings about creation but also tells the story of what is to come.
  2. Her gives them a vision of what will be. They see some of it. When the vision begins they perceive destinies for the first time.
Illuvatar asked, would you'll like this to be? “Yes!” Then God says, “BE!” They enter the world He speaks into being and see they are back at the beginning of the music. They know what's going to happen because it's been foresung. But they have to make it happen. History is recapitulating the song.