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The Silmarillion Model

September 14, 2010

Master J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings series and putative father of modern fantasy, created and populated his world with a rich tapestry that, aside from striking the reader with its majesty, also felt alive. The Lord of the Rings, as a series and as a world, is the result of a lifetime’s work. The Silmarillion, as we know it today, is a reflection of Tolkien’s work, outside of the trilogy and The Hobbit, to create a world that had its own myths and legends. These myths included the Ainulindalë, the tale of how all things came to being. In that particular tale, we are privy to the moment of divine creation, where Eru, the One, convenes the Ainur, his divine servants, to sing the world into being. By doing so, Tolkien established what I’ll call the Silmarillion model, which is a schema for the creation of worlds in the fantasy genre.

When Eru created the world with the help of the Ainur, his divine choir, Melkor, who was the strongest amongst them tried to influence the act of creation itself. Melkor’s influence brought chaos to the world in his attempt to influence the shaping of things, and he did so out of pride. This story might be familiar to biblical scholars and mythologists of any caliber, given that this is the pattern of Lucifer’s fall. The scholastic debate regarding the details aside, this biblical story’s pattern is mirrored in the Ainulindalë. The greatest of the Creator’s servants believes himself His equal, and so rises to oppose him with his own creation. The Creator, meanwhile, either allows or wills this to happen, and makes his servant an outcast. Then, the Creator declares to the rest of his servants that this will lead to a greater beauty than they themselves could understand. And so, creation carries on, with the divine host dividing itself between those who follow the Creator and those who are cast out for following the rebel. The world, then, comes into being, shaped by the warring influences of the two sides.

The Silmarillion model goes beyond creating the geography of the world. The creatures, the history, the legends are all influenced, if not dictated outright by the conflict that it, the model, places at the core of the universe it creates. This pattern is founded on three things: conflict amongst the divine host that is tasked with shaping his creation, the unknowable mind of a Creator, and a prophecy that alludes to how this conflict will determine the fate of the world. That instability is the driving force behind the universe, even when (such as is the case in The Lord of the Rings) the story does not address that overarching conflict directly. It is the axis, so to speak, around which the world turns, even if the story being told happens at the periphery. The other two elements, the impenetrable will of the creator and the prophecy are there to provide uncertainty as to how the conflict will be resolved, and to distance the omnipotent Creator from the events that unfold.

I will continue to explore this concept as time goes on.

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