The Heart of Melkor vs. The Smile of Ilúvatar (Silmarillion Slow Cooker p16)

So far in the Silmarillion‘s Ainulindalë, we’ve been introduced to only one character: Ilúvatar. And today, on the second page, we meet Melkor. But the way in which he’s brought up seems almost like we should have known of this guy before.

“…it came into the heart of Melkor…”

Excuse me, who?

Just prior to this, Ilúvatar had declared themes to the individual Ainur1 based upon the part of his mind from which they came. They took these themes, sang them, and through the chorus, grew to better understand the themes of the other Ainur.

But the Ainur also had wills of their own, and they added their own thoughts to the themes. This became the Great Music, during which all of the Ainur harmonized their themes. This was, we’re told, “flawless.” That is, until Melkor “sought there in to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself.”

At first, it’s easy to interpret this as Melkor just looking for power and glory for himself. But that’s not what’s said. He wanted power and glory for the theme assigned to him by Ilúvatar. It’s a subtle difference, but one that shouldn’t be ignored.

Ilúvatar had given Melkor more gifts than anyone. Not only did he have the most power and knowledge, but also a bit of all the other gifts given to the other Ainur. His theme, then, wouldn’t just be the most powerful, but could potentially be able to harmonize with any or all of the others.

But that’s not what happened. That’s not the path Melkor chose. He didn’t simply want his theme to be the most powerful, and he certainly didn’t have a desire for the present harmony. Instead, he added “matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilúvatar.”

Melkor was improvising, but then, so were all the others. All of the Ainur added themselves to the theme. But Melkor’s additions, his improvisations, were out of tune with the rest of them. He was creating discord, but again, not (on the surface) for his own power and glory.

We’re told that Melkor had a desire to create, and would venture alone into the Void seeking the Imperishable Flame, and lamenting that there was all this wide open space that Ilúvatar seemed to be ignoring. It was in this solitude that Melkor began to second guess Ilúvatar.

Melkor was obviously knowledgeable enough to understand that he and the rest of the Ainur were created by the Flame. But I have to wonder just why he thought that Flame was in the Void. We’re told that the Flame was with Ilúvatar, but Melkor wasn’t searching for Ilúvatar. Instead, he was basically walking around a blank canvas imagining all the stuff he’d do if he could create.2

Time is something that really can’t be questioned in the Ainulindalë. It doesn’t seem to be linear, though that’s necessarily how it has to be explained. We have to assume that Melkor went there prior to the Great Music. But since there’s not technically a “prior”, maybe he went during. Or even after. Or even some other designation that we can’t comprehend.

However it happened, as soon as Melkor injected his own imagination into the Music, “discord arose about him.” At first, it only effected those near him, disturbing their own themes. But soon enough, some changed their themes to harmonize with Melkor’s. This eventually wrecked everything, laying waste to the melodies, which were replaced by “a sea of turbulent sound.” The whole thing is described as a “raging storm” at sea.

But then Ilúvatar stepped in, “and the Ainur perceived that he smiled….” He lifted his left hand and introduced a whole new theme with new power and beauty.3 It’s really the smile that gets me. Clearly Ilúvatar was stepping in to deal with Melkor, but what about that smile? Why did he smile? How? Was it a knowing smile? A cocky smile? A shit-eating grin?

Camera: Argus C3 Film: Svema 64

Camera: Argus C3
Film: Svema 64

In the Book of Lost Tales version from 1917, we’re told “then did he smile sadly.”4 In the mid1930s version, Tolkien wrote that “Ilúvatar was grieved, but he smiled…”5 Both prior versions indicate sadness, and though that emotion was dropped by the 1948 version, it’s probably safe to think that it was still at least mixed with some sort of sadness or frustration.

Ilúvatar’s new theme was countered by Melkor, the violent sound of which dismayed many of the Ainur and caused them to stop singing. This gave Melkor “the mastery.” But Ilúvatar wasn’t finished. Also, he wasn’t smiling, but was perceived by the Ainur as ‘stern’. He lifted up his right hand and a third theme grew. 6

It’s difficult to see how Ilúvatar’s theme wasn’t influenced by Melkor’s discord. Though it was “deep and wide and beautiful,” it was also “slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow”. But that was where its beauty came from – sorrow. Without Melkor’s discordant influence, neither the sorrow nor the beauty would have been there.

Without Melkor there would be no sorrow, but that sorrow was Ilúvatar’s, not Melkor’s. The beauty that came from Ilúvatar’s sorrow was also Ilúvatar’s. It was in reaction to Melkor, but Melkor could not claim the sorrow or the beauty as his own. Once more, he could not create even this.

But at that point, he wasn’t really paying much attention to subtlety. Instead, he was focused upon his own theme, which was joined by a chorus of other Ainur. They had achieved unity, but little harmony. Tolkien described it as “a clamorous unison as of many trumpets braying upon a few notes.”

The harshest of Melkor’s notes were violently struck to drown out Ilúvatar’s theme. But Ilúvatar was able to take that violence and weave it into his theme’s “solemn pattern.” Melkor’s theme was also described as being repetitious. Each time that it was most successful in its goal, Ilúvatar used that note in his own theme – over and over and over. Melkor didn’t seem to notice that each time he thought he was getting the best of Ilúvatar, it was actually the other way around.

Ilúvatar clearly had the upper hand, though we’re not really told whether or not Melkor knew it. Perhaps to drive the point home, Ilúvatar raised both of his hands and with an all-encompassing chord stopped the Music.

If Melkor hadn’t caught on yet, Ilúvatar seemed about to make sure that he finally grasped the concept.

Some Notes:

  • Look! More footnotes! I’m really coming up in the world. Seriously though, they’re not so bad. I be they’ll stick around.
  • I’m trying to keep the posts as short as possible (hoping for under 1,200 words), but daaaaamn that’s not easy. I’m so gabby!
  • The more I read of the 1917 Lost Tales version, the more I enjoy it more than the later versions. That doesn’t happen often.



1. It’s interesting to note that thus far there’s no distinction at all between the Valar and the Maiar – everyone except Ilúvatar is an Ainu.
2. In the Lost Tales version, we’re told a bit more about the origin of Melkor’s thoughts: “… those thoughts of his came from the outer blackness whither Ilúvatar had not yet turned the light of his face; and because his secret thoughts had no kinship with the beauty of Ilúvatar’s design its harmonies were broken and destroyed.”
3. I’m not sure if this matters, but in the mid-1930s version, Tolkien wrote that Melkor “sat on the left hand of Ilúvatar.” This was dropped in a subsequent draft and didn’t appear in the Book of Lost Tales version before it.
4. Book of Lost Tales, Vol 1, p53.
5. The Lost Road, p157.
6. In the Lost Tales version, (BoLT I, p54) it’s said that “Ilúvatar raised his right hand, and he no longer smiled but wept….” I know that it changes quite a bit, but I wish he would have retained that in later drafts.

Pages & Text

  • Page 16 (and a bit of 17)
  • Chapter: Ainulindalë
  • Starting with:
    “But now Ilúvatar sat and hearkened…”
  • Ending with:
    “…piercing as the light of the eye of Ilúvatar, the Music ceased.”

7 thoughts on “The Heart of Melkor vs. The Smile of Ilúvatar (Silmarillion Slow Cooker p16)

  1. Now we’re getting into it. I picture the other Ainu as musicians in a philharmonic orchestra – gifted virtuosos who wouldn’t dare to go off the sheet music, and Melkor the genius improviso with the irrepressible individualistic streak, just making it up with his eyes closed after he;s down with the gist of whatever’s on paper. Eru’s like the conductor who somehow brings Melkor and the rest to hell. But honestly, I wonder what was Eru doing differently when he made Melkor. The dude would have fitted right in some anywhere in the US with a great jazz/blues culture. But then, that also says something about Eru, doesn’t it? 😛

    • Hmmm.. I see it as that they were all improvising. There was no sheet music, they were all adding their own thoughts. Melkor was just being a dick about it.

      Now, what Iluvatar was doing when he created Melkor is a very good question. In Tolkien’s world, too much power is always bad. Melkor certainly want lacking in that department. So really, what WAS Iluvatar thinking?

      I know that it all works out in the very end, but damn if it’s hard to think that it wouldn’t have been better without that Melkor fellow.

      • Well, allegorically 😛

        Ground rules are a necessary evil I think. So there would be base sheet music Eru passed out to the ensemble. Everyone got the message about basics just so they don’t mess up the structural integrity of the house, so to speak. They all dug the rhythm bit he dished and were chuffed they could improv and build on whatever’s there. The only thing they didn’t know was that each one got a specific sheet.

        • Well of course allegorically! They couldn’t even see yet! 🙂

          If we’re joining Tolkien in the musical allegory, I’d be willing to go as far as to say that they all were supposed to be in the same key. But even that, I think, might be stretching it. Saying that there was sheet music implies that Iluvatar wrote it. But Iluvatar didn’t write the first music, and wasn’t even really the conductor.

          He first suggested (“propounded”) themes of music, and the Ainur sang to him, alone or in small groups. This wasn’t the Great Music yet though. Once they learned and sang this propounded theme and heard the other Ainur’s propounded themes, they grew to understand each other and developed harmony.

          Then Iluvatar “declared to them a mighty theme”. When they played it, they could adorn it with their “own thoughts and devices” if they wanted to.

          In this case, I’m suggesting that the declaration of the mighty theme was something more akin to the key or time signature, something vague and broad, and not something as rigid and set in stone as sheet music. They were all, in this case, jazz musicians, working together in one common key and time, adding their own thoughts to it.

          As for not knowing that each one got a specific sheet (or key/time), I’m not fully sure of that. I think that would have been taken care of by the time the Great Music started, when they were growing to understand each other better. Also when Iluvatar propounded the great theme right before the Great Music. It got them all tuned to the same key and they waled away.

          Basically, we’re saying the same thing, but I think I like the idea that the Ainur had more freedom in this endeavor. It’s clear that even when Iluvatar showed them the Vision of what they had designed, he accredited it all to them – “that ye may see what ye have done.”

          There’s such a crazy mix of predestination and freewill here that it’s really not possible to draw a definite line between the two.

  2. I’m glad you enjoy the Lost Tales more and more. They are something special, with the kind of richness and flair of storytelling that Tolkien has lost with subsequent drafts and versions of the Silmarillion.

    By the way, the whole Music affair reminds me of a symphony in several movements, and it sounds like Morgoth’s intervention would be heavy metal (discordant and repetitive).

    • Oh I really love the Lost Tales. Parts of it a bit stuffy, but there’s so much description in them that was cut in the later drafts. I definitely want to talk about Tulkas a bit when we get to that point.

      I think the problem with a musical allegory is that music changes. I always think of it as Jazz, but Jazz really wasn’t aground in 1917, when Tolkien first came up with it. Symphonies were, but heavy metal wasn’t. I’m really not sure how to best describe it, but I’m really glad that Tolkien left it open-ended and vague.

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