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Ainulindalë (Quenya[ˌɑi̯nuˈlindɑlɛ]; "Music of the Ainur") is the first story of fantasy work The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien. In his legendarium, the Ainur compose the great music before time begins, but Melkor disrupts the harmony and corrupts the initial two themes, but is unable to corrupt the third theme. The music of the Ainur is shown to have created Arda, and the Ainur begin to prepare for the arrival of the Children of Ilúvatar, the Elves and the Men, on Arda.

Tolkien wrote the initial version of Ainulindalë between November 1919 and Spring 1920 as the Music of the Ainur, and completely rewrote it in 1930. Following this, future versions of the work were created by Tolkien, and it was published by his son Christopher in The Book of Lost Tales, the first two volumes of The History of Middle-earth. Reviews of Ainulindalë have been generally positive, but the difference in writing style between this story and the rest of The Silmarillion has been a matter of debate.


An illustration of Melkor, who successfully corrupted the first and second themes.

Ainulindalë recounts the creation of Arda by creator deity Eru Ilúvatar. The text begins with describing the creation of the Ainur, described as "children of Ilúvatar's thought". The Ainur were taught the art of music, which becomes the subject of their immortal lives. The Ainu sang alone or together in small groups about themes given to each by Ilúvatar, who proposes a "great" plan to all of the Ainur: a collaborative symphony, where they would sing together in harmony. The Ainur are embodiments of Ilúvatar’s thoughts, but are expected to use their freedom to assist the development of the "great" plan.

The most powerful of the Ainur, Melkor, was introduced into the music. His participation disrupted the harmony, to which Ilúvatar got up smiling and raised his left hand, so that a new theme began to resonate, after the first was spoiled by Melkor with his "loud, and vain" music. This second theme was corrupted by Melkor, and Ilúvatar sternly arose, raised his right hand, and a third theme began. Melkor attempted to corrupt this with the volume of his music, but the third theme was powerful enough to prevent him from succeeding. Ilúvatar ended the music, chastised Melkor, and left the Ainur to their thoughts.

Ilúvatar took the Ainur to see how music, at the end of the Void, had created Arda. The third theme resulted in the arrival of the Children of Ilúvatar, the Elves and the Men, and many of the Ainur desired to go into the world to visit them. While Melkor was the first of the Ainur to be properly named, Ulmo was the first to take action in Arda. Despite Melkor's attempts, Ulmo's water could not be ruined with intense heat and severe cold. Ulmo and Manwë were revealed as the two main servants of Ilúvatar's plans.

Some Ainur stayed in the Timeless Halls with Ilúvatar, while others went into Arda as the Valar and Maiar. The Ainur began to prepare for the arrival of the Children of Ilúvatar, while Melkor repeatedly destroyed their developments. Melkor desired to rule over Arda. Manwë summoned the Ainur to resist Melkor, who withdrew from Arda. However, when the Valar later took bodily form, the first war of began. Nonetheless, Manwë's efforts had made the Earth habitable for Elves and Men.


An image of Tolkien in 1916, several years before he wrote Ainulindalë

The first version of Ainulindalë was known as The Music of the Ainur, and was designed to be a tale in Tolkien's The Book of Lost Tales, written in the 1910s and 1920s and published by Christopher Tolkien in the two initial volumes of The History of Middle-earth.[1] According to a letter sent to Christopher Bretherton on 16 July 1964, Tolkien wrote the first version of Ainulindalë between November 1918 and Spring 1920, while working on the Oxford English Dictionary.[2]

The first draft of the story was written in pencil, and does not vary significantly from the published version. Future changes to the story involved the addition of Manwë and Aule.[3] In this version, the story was told by elf Rúmil of Tirion, so the language differs from the version published in The Silmarillion. "Melkor" is spelt as "Melko", and Ilúvatar is crying in this version before creating the third theme. It also contained a section at the end regarding the Valar, which was later moved to Valaquenta.[3]

Tolkien abandoned Ainulindalë for many years; it did not appear in Sketch of mythology, which he wrote in 1926 as a summary of his legendarium to a professor in Birmingham.[4] The subject was briefly mentioned in Annals of Valinor and Quenta Silmarillion. Tolkien completely rewrote the Music of the Ainur in the 1930s, though not providing much change to the storyline.[5]

In 1946, during the drafting of the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien wrote a new version of Ainulindalë which was lost, except for half a torn page. Following this, there was a radical change in his legendarium; Arda has always existed, the Sun was already existent when the world was formed, and the Moon was formed as a result of Melkor's destruction.[6] The idea of the Lamps of the Valar was abandoned in favour of a more coherent creation myth with scientific elements. The idea of a spherical world was also abandoned, after a reader stated that she preferred a flat world.[6][7]

In 1948, Tolkien began to develop a new version, eliminating the mentions of the Sun and the Moon, and introducing the idea of Ilúvatar creating the world after the visions of the Ainur have died away. The narrator is elf Pengoloð in this version,[8] and a few new details were added.[9]


Mostly, critics of The Silmarillion have focused on the work as a whole, and comments regarding Ainulindalë have been generally positive. British writer Joseph Pearce described the story as "the most important part of The Silmarillion, adding that "the myth of creation is perhaps the most significant and most beautiful of Tolkien's works."[10] Brian Rosebury described Ainulindalë as a success with "proper biblical prose."[11] Several Jesuits have spoken positively of the story; James V. Schall said "I have never read anything as beautiful as the first page of The Silmarillion", and Robert Murray said "in all literature, from the formation of the sacred books of humanity, it is very difficult to find a comparable mythological story of creation by its beauty and imaginative power."[10]

In Fantasy Literature: A Core Collection and Reference Guide, it was stated that "every part of [The Silmarillion] benefits from the power and audacity of imaginative genius Tolkien and his brilliant style," adding that Ainulindalë has "organ tones".[12] Ralph C. Wood described it as "one of the finest and most original of [Tolkien's] writings."[13] However, the fact that the style changes between this story and the rest of The Silmarillion has been a matter of debate,[14] with Daniel Grotta believing that Christopher Tolkien wrote most of this story.[15]


The title page of The Silmarillion, in which, Ainulindalë is the first story.

Ainulindalë first appeared at an early stage in Tolkien's career, showing the importance of music in designing his legendarium,[16] According to John Gardner, "Music is the central symbol and the total myth of 'The Silmarillion,' a symbol that becomes interchangeable with ligth (music's projection)."[17]

The Music of the Ainur, as it appears in The Book of Lost Tales, refers to Norse mythology. Similar to Gylfaginning in the Prose Edda, it provides answers on cosmogony and theogony.[18] Its style has been compared to old Norse texts. While the wording is substantially different, the Valar and the Æsir show certain similarities like influencing the world and recursively being influenced by their actions. Specifically, Manwë has been compared to Odin in this context.[19]

Despite the Norse elements of the story, aspects of Ainulindalë are similar to Catholicism, and it is also comparable to pagan beliefs, as the Ainur are required to perform the creative work of deity Ilúvatar.[20] Despite being designed as a pre-Christian era story,[20] Ainulindalë has been described as "Tolkien's Genesis essay",[21] with yet another source observing that "the Biblical parallels evinced by the creation account of the Ainulindalë ... are inescapable."[22]

According to Marjorie Burns, who worked on the different versions of Ainulindalë, Tolkien increasingly Christianised the Valar over revisions of the text, and away from the gods of Norse mythology.[23] The story allows Tolkien to express a global view of Chrisitianity, and good and evil running parallel with the stories of Genesis.[13] As Gandalf says to Frodo Baggins, "there was nothing bad in the beginning, even Sauron was not."[24] In this story, Ilúvatar serves as God and created everything good, but evil later exists.[25]


Adam C. J. Klein created an opera from The Silmarillion, entitled Leithian,[26] and Frank Felice composed an orchestral version of this story.[27] According to Colin Duriez, Ainulindalë possibly inspired C. S. Lewis to having his fictional world Narnia be created out of a song.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tolkien 1984, p. 67.
  2. ^ Tolkien 1981, p. 345.
  3. ^ a b Tolkien 1984, pp. 88–90. Christopher Tolkien describes the difference between the initial and final version of Ainulindalë.
  4. ^ Tolkien 1986, p. 42.
  5. ^ Tolkien 1987, p. 155.
  6. ^ a b Tolkien 2002, pp. 4—6.
  7. ^ Tolkien 2002, pp. 369—371.
  8. ^ Tolkien 2002, pp. 29—30.
  9. ^ Tolkien 2002, pp. 3—44.
  10. ^ a b Pearce 1998, pp. 87—89.
  11. ^ Rosebury 1992, p. 97.
  12. ^ Tymn, Zahorski & Boyer 1979, p. 167.
  13. ^ a b Wood 2003, p. 11.
  14. ^ Smith 1986, p. 866.
  15. ^ Grotta 1992, p. 161.
  16. ^ Bradford Lee Eden (2004). "The Music of the Spheres: Relationship between Tolkien's Silmarillion and Medieval Religious and Cosmological Theory" in Chance 2002
  17. ^ Gardner 1977.
  18. ^ Le Berre 2004, p. 344.
  19. ^ Vos 2011.
  20. ^ a b Gough 1999.
  21. ^ Bramlett & Christopher 2007, p. 36.
  22. ^ Fisher 2011, p. 47.
  23. ^ Marjorie Burns. "All in One, One in All" in Agøy 1998.
  24. ^ Tolkien 1954, Chapter 2.
  25. ^ Brian Rosebury. "Good and Evil" in Drout 2007, p. 250.
  26. ^ Eden 2010, p. 161.
  27. ^ Eden 2010, p. 164.
  28. ^ Bramlett & Christopher 2007, pp. 141–142, citing Duriez 1992.


Books by Tolkien
Other books

Further reading[edit]

  • Duriez, Colin (2003). Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: the gift of friendship. Paulist Press. pp. 103–104. ISBN 978-1-58768-026-7.