The Fall in Middle Earth vs the Fall in Christian theology

Bruce N H

Hi all,

Last week's Mythgard Academy (August 7, 2002, Morgoth's Ring class 17) included a discussion of the Fall. Christopher quoted a letter by JRRT - it's letter 212 in Letters of JRRT - comparing the difference between Christian theology and the internal theology his sub-created world. In Christian belief God created a good (i.e. unfallen) world. In Genesis 1 after God creates in different stages there is the repeated refrain "And God saw that it was good," even "very good" at the end of creation. There are two falls - the fall of Satan and later the fall of Adam and Eve - but the one that mattered in that it affected all of creation was that second one, which necessarily happened after Adam and Eve were created and were running around. In contrast to this in Arda, there was really one fall - the fall of Morgoth. His discord in the music was part of the very act of creation, so fallenness was worked into the warp and woof of all of Arda Marred.

Anyway, this got me thinking. Within the logic of the story the world was inherently marred because the fallen Morgoth was one of the subcreators involved in the act of creation. Outside the story, in Tolkien's theology he himself as a Son of Adam (to quote Mr. Tumnus) is fallen. Therefore the world he creates will itself be inherently fallen. Back to Letters of JRRT, in letter 131 he writes: "Anyway, all this stuff is mainly concerned with Fall, Mortality, and the Machine. With Fall inevitably, and that motive occurs in several modes. ... There cannot be any 'story' without a fall - all stories are ultimately about the fall- at least not for human minds as we know them and have them." (emphasis mine). Tolkien says here that a story by a human mind will always include fallenness, and so he couldn't create a world that didn't have fallenness in its very DNA. Anyway, I find it interesting that this in some ways connects Tolkien* with Morgoth - they are both fallen subcreators, and their own fallenness infects the worlds they help subcreate.


*And, for that matter, all of us, in Tolkien's theology, as we all come from Adam and Eve and (back to Lewis, here Aslan speaking to Caspian) "that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor in earth. Be content."


Well-Known Member
Good post Bruce,

Let me juxtapose another comparison: The Fall in Middle Earth vs. the Fall in Evolution

I think the story of the Fall in Christian theology is an excellent achetypal story of the Fall (or awakening) of Men into self-consciousness in Evolution.

Once upon a time, our ancestors were all as animals. They had limited self-consciousness, limited perception of time, limited perception of mortality. However, due to some evolutionary processes, over some unknown period of time and generations, Men became self-conscious. In parable, they 'ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil' and became aware of their own mortality, brief span, and suffering. Being aware of their own condition, they could also apply that knowledge to others, becoming aware of how they could help others and also hurt others (either for their own benefit, or just in their own nihilistic despair). Thus becoming aware of good and evil in a way that animals are not.

Now, the chief differences between the Evolutionary world and Middle Earth are that Men in Middle Earth did not evolve, but were awakened self-aware. It might have taken them a few years, or decades, or more than a generation to deduce the full extent of the Human Condition, but it would have happened much more rapidly than in evolutionary terms. Then, of course, Men in Middle-earth, at some point encountered Elves. Beings very much like Men, but with key differences, most obviously, that Men had a short time, with inevitable suffering in Middle-earth and then died, whereas Elves had forever in Middle-earth, and could whisk away to Valinor where there was no (or at least much less) suffering.

My hypothesis is that Men in Middle-earth had all Fallen within a few years or decades of awakening. Elves, however, were mostly unfallen, (at least most of those who went to Valinor, and perhaps many who did not). For sure, Elves can Fall. We see that with many of the Noldor. But consider what is said of Manwe in the Silmarillion, when he grants a seemingly repentant Melkor leave to go freely about the land. "and it seemed to Manwe that the evil of Melkor was cured. For Manwe was free from evil and could not comprehend it." Manwe is un-Fallen. He has not the knowledge of good and evil. That is, he might have some intellectual comprehension of evil, but he knows it not within himself.

Are there Elves that are, like Manwe, unfallen? I think so.
I think it’s important here to talk about different interpretations of the Genesis narrative and actually the ongoing story of the Bible as a whole (but especially focused on the Old Testament). To just go into basic narrative as is the Bible, firstly the Fall of Lucifer is not truly present. Later schools of thought linked the snake to the name ‘Lucifer’ and Milton really helped cement a concrete backstory, but in the Bible itself it’s very hard to ever pinpoint a singular adversary embodying evil forces anywhere in the narrative. It’s just not a primary concern.

There certainly is a created being in the form of a creature who presents humanity with a test which is failed.The test being ‘will you chose to hear the voice of Yahweh and thus fulfil your created purpose, or will you chose to try and attain that inheritance in your own strength, thus defining good and bad for yourselves, and thus miss it.’ Will humanity chose to love Yahweh for who he is or follow him to get what he can give and ultimately try to take it for themselves. This is the test that is failed. Humanity defines right and wrong for itself. The Ancient Hebrews only had to look around themselves to see this is what humanity does, but also that clearly we have the potential to be more than we are. The narrative explains this discrepancy. We are given the choice and choice poorly. Often it seems.

And as with most things in those first pages of Genesis, phrases and imagery and themes repeat throughout the rest of the Torah and onwards. Human narratively set up to be new Adam and restore Creation. Often meeting Yahweh on a high place with a treemicrocosm of The Garden. Presented with test. Fails. And so on and so on. The message is that humanity alone cannot do it.

And peppered throughout Genesis are repeated Fall narratives. Often the Elohim, spiritual beings, mirroring humanity. A sort of image that all is broken.

But the first Fall narrative is decidedly human. Thus the ultimate restoration story is human. It is the fulfillment of the New Adam story arc. Thus the concept of The Garden can be rebuilt.

The first human to chose following Yahweh over obtaining the gift, is Abraham.

Of course, by this point he has been promised to the father of nations, but fails the test as he doesn’t follow the voice and instead ‘sees what is good in his eyes’ and impregnates a slave girl to obtain a child then casts both aside. He spectacularly fails to live up to the potential of humanity’s purpose.

Later, when he is blessed with a child, he must confront himself and ask if he loves Yahweh or his gifts only. He chooses wisely and this achieves all he has been promised. The irony being that things only fall apart when humanity tries to hold things for themselves.

But what is the comparison. Well, it goes back to what humanity was intended to be.

In the Genesis account and throughout the Hebrew narrative, humanity is plainly not developed to be just dropped into the world as another creature. What humanity is meant to be is a co-ruling sub-creator. As certain beings were given command of certain realms, humanity was given the physical world to name and govern. They were in the likeness of Yahweh. Narratively he submits a level of control to them for the express pleasure of co-creating with partners. The irony then is that humanity is lied to and promised falsely that, if it chooses to define good and bad, rejecting the embodied fruit of eternal life, then they will be akin to Yahweh, the very thing they have already been made in the image of. And in striving for it themselves, they lose that which they would have grown into as they developed.

Humanity is the Ancient Hebrew worldview is the sub co-creator. We are all Melkor.

Humanity, to the Biblical authors, missed their mark. Literally ‘sinned’, meaning that they failed to strike the target.

And by failing in the role of governing and cultivating the Earth, as gardeners, humanity marred it.

I’d love to go into repeated themes and imagery but not sure how it all ties to Middle Earth lol

*later in the Job story, a similar figure that is describe as ‘a satan’ is featured, but this literally means ‘one who opposes’ and is more a narrative function than name. At one point Yahweh is desrcribe as fulfilling the role of an opposer ‘a satan’ in the Hebrew, when he blocks a path. The Bible, being an oral history for the majority of its life, had lots of characters memorably named after what they do.
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