Welcome to week one of our Silmarillion read-along! In the month of March, we will read and discuss J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. For an in-depth weekly reading schedule, head over to my announcement post.
Disclaimer: All cited passages were taken from The Silmarillion unless stated otherwise.
Week 1: Music & Harmony
Correlation of Music and Harmony
In the first chapter “Ainulindalë” we learn that everything that was, that is and that will be in Arda was conceived by the Music of Iluvatar and the Ainur. Most interesting is the arising tension between personal will and harmony. While the Ainur were given assigned roles in the creation of the music, each had an individuality and certain power within the frames of their assigned roles. By disobeying, Melkor did not simply attempted to break free of his assigned role, he wanted to gain power:“…for he sought therein to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself … for desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own.”
This disobedience immediately manifested itself in a change in music. What once was marked by harmony and beauty turned into a “raging storm” and “turbulent sound” that replaced harmony with a “war of sound”. Already, Melkor introduced violence and destruction to existence. Moreover, those Ainur that “attuned their music to his” not only lost their individuality, but also power. By attuning to Melkor, it is described that those Ainur who followed his music had to abandon “the thought which they had at first”. When following Melkor, beings need to accept his leadership by giving up harmony, individuality, and their own power.
This submission to one ruler is in stark contrast to the harmonious relationship between Iluvatar and the Ainur. While Iluvatar is the source of all being, the Ainur are not enslaved to his will. While Iluvatar propounds “themes of music”, the Ainur sing. While Iluvatar created Adra, the Ainur shaped, built and created everything, except the children of Iluvatar, in it.
Music and the physical world
Again and again, it is described that the Music of the Ainur is deeply embedded into everything that began to fill the void even long after the initial creation of Arda. Creatures of all kinds, including trees, sing, while music is ingrained into every atom of Arda. Nowhere is the relationship between music and the world better symbolized/ defined than in the description of Oromë’s horn:
“The Valaróme is the name of his great horn, the sound of which is like the upgoing of the Sun in scarlet, or the sheer lightning cleaving the clouds.”
In this wonderful simile, Tolkien likened the sound of a horn with events that do not make any sound. Lightning in itself does not make any sound even though we tend to experience lightning mostly in combination with thunder. Moreover, what does sunrise sound like anyway? Yet for some reason, we all have an idea what it might sound like. Just as the Children of Iluvatar “know not for what they listen” when they hear the echo of the Music of the Ainur in the water, we the readers are, in a sense, tricked into believing that we too, may be able to hear an echo of the the Music of the Ainur in our surroundings if only we learn to understand and listen close enough.
While stars and light in general play significant roles on Arda, water is repeatedly described as the only substance, or place “where the echo of the Music of the Ainur” lives “more than in any other sunstance”. Just as the Music of the Ainur, water reaches even the most remote place of Middle-earth. As water is needed to grow trees and plants, “the Great Music had been but the growth and flowering in the Timeless halls”. Also, just as the music of the Ainur, Melkor cannot “subdue it”.
Tom Bombadil and the Music of the Ainur.
This leads me to my final, most controversial thought while reading the first five chapters of The Silmarillion. You are free to disagree with me on this, but I came to believe that Tom Bombadil, alongside Goldberry, is the physical manifestation of the Music of the Ainur. Apart from the most obvious spect of Tom, frolicking and singing all the time while being married to the River-Daughter Goldberry, there are other aspects of him that convinced me.
While we do not know who or what Tom Bombadil is, we learn in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring that he is “the Master of wood, water, and hill”, yet “the trees and the grasses and all things growing or living in the land belong to themselves. Tom Bombadil is the Master” (FOTR). Just as the music of the Ainur is the master, or make up of everything, everything that grows or lives belongs to itself. Moreover, is described as “oldest and fatherless”, as “Last as he was First” and as not being affected by the One Ring’s power (FOTR). Music, just as the Ainur, originated in Iluvatar’s thought. So music may as well exist as long as the Ainur and will cease to exist after everything else vanished.
The idea that Tom Bombadil is a physical manifestation of the Music of the Ainur is, of course, somewhat far-fetched and mostly based on a specific interpretation of descriptions in need of a greater in-depth analysis. Yet, Tom’s constant singing, his marriage to the River-Daughter, his immortality and power, as well as certain detachment from the events in Middle-earth, makes me believe that he may be the music of the Ainur took on a life of its own, yet never truly distancing itself from its close relationship with water.
Do you agree with my theory on Tom Bombadil? What where your thoughts when reading the first five chapters of The Silmarillion? Any favourite quotes or characters you’d love to discuss? Leave a comment down below!
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Silmarillion. Grafton 1992.
Tolkin, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings, HarperCollins 2002.