Cruelty and Ravening and Darkness – Melkor’s Influence on Ilúvatar’s Vision (Silmarillion Slow Cooker, p18)

As we all know – “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”1 In the Silmarllion‘s Ainulindalë, that counts even more. When last we left off, Ilúvatar had done a bit of musical battle with Melkor before stopping the Music all together. We learned that the Music was made by the Ainur, and was a design for the creation to come. However, we also learned that Ilúvatar was creating from this Music as it was happening. In fact, this whole thing was happening outside of time.

So when Ilúvatar stopped the Music and spoke, telling the Ainur that he would now show forth what they had sung, it’s impossible to fully grasp just when this was happening, because technically there was no “when.” It just was.

Because Melkor wanted his theme to be more powerful than the others, he had created discord in trying to make it come about. In the end, most of the other Ainur had dropped out, leaving Ilúvatar to deal with Melkor and his compatriots on his own.

He told the Ainur that they would now see what he was about to create with their singing. Melkor was included in this, his discordant theme was incredibly powerful and would also be used. However, Ilúvatar had a special message for him. Melkor “shalt see that no theme may be played that had not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself had not imagined.”

In a sense, this was already demonstrated in the Third Theme, when Ilúvatar wove Melkor’s “most triumphant notes” into his own theme. When called out, Melkor, we’re told, “was filled with shame, of which came secret anger.” 2

There was a section of writing that appeared first in the Book of Lost Tales version and then again in an edited form in the 1937 version of the Ainulindalë.3 Both explained Melkor and what his discord had wrought in no uncertain terms.

[T]hrough Melko have terror as fire, and sorrow like dark waters, wrath like thunder, and evil as far from my light as the depths of the uttermost of the dark places, come into the design that I laid before you. Through him has pain and misery been made in the clash of overwhelming musics; and with confusion of sound have cruelty, and ravening, and darkness, loathly mire and all putrescence of thought or thing, foul mists and violent flame, cold without mercy, been born, and death without hope.”

When the Ainur heard what Ilúvatar said, they were frightened and confused. We’re not told whether it was the idea of seeing their music made real or the chastisement of Melkor, or just the whole thing that frightened them. Whichever, the Ainur, including Melkor, followed Ilúvatar when he rose and left “the fair regions that he had made for the Ainur.”

They all entered the Void – a place where Melkor had spent much time (or whatever) alone, contemplating what he would do if he had the Flame Imperishable and could bring whatever he wanted into existence.

But Ilúvatar didn’t yet create anything. First, he “showed to them a vision,” and gave them sight. Prior to this, the only sense they had was hearing. This gives us a strange and bewildering glimpse into the early ripples of creation.

Ilúvatar had created prior to this. Apart from creating the Ainur, we’re told that he had made “fair regions” for them. Though, just how they were fair is unknowable since they had only hearing. I suppose it’s also possible that the regions were fair as we would know it, but that the Ainur couldn’t yet see them.

 Camera: Holga 120N Film: FujiChrome Provia 100 x-pro as C-41

Camera: Holga 120N
Film: FujiChrome Provia 100 x-pro as C-41

The vision that he gave them showed a new world within the Void, but not of the Void. This world then began to “unfold its history”. They could see that the world would be living and growing. Ilúvatar told them that they could see their own parts, their own themes as given to them by him in this coming creation. But they could also see their additions and those improvised parts of their music.

This was especially momentous to Melkor, who was no doubt still stewing in his anger. Ilúvatar explained that when Melkor saw the vision, he could see the secret thoughts of his own mind. It was explained that when he was in the Void, Melkor had “conceived thoughts of his own unlike those of his brethren.”

It was these thoughts created in solitary that Ilúvatar wove into the vision of creation. And now Melkor could see for himself that “they are but a part of the whole and tributary to its glory.” This did not at all sit well with Melkor.

Just how Tolkien wished to end this segment of writing changed over time. The published version ends: “…they are a part of the whole and tributary to its glory.” This is exactly as Tolkien wanted it, as we can see from both the 1948 and 1951 versions – his last.4 And that sentence was there from the 1917 version.

But in that early version, his first, Ilúvatar continued his speech: “‘…One thing only have I added, the fire that giveth Life and Reality’ – and behold, the Secret Fire burnt at the heart of the world.”5

When he returned to it in 1937, where Ilúvatar added instead: “‘But I have given being unto all.’ And lo! the secret Fire burned in the heart of the World.”6

The trend that we can see, as he wrote across the decades, was to sacrifice detail on the altar of subtly. The long, but wonderful, explanations of what Melkor’s theme brought into the world were cut, but the purport remained. The same goes for these last two endings. From the published text, we can see that Ilúvatar brought forth life, though we don’t quite see it just yet. Maybe he thought it would be a bit too soon to reveal it, and wanted the reader to join the Ainur in discovering that it wasn’t just the world that the Secret Fire had kindled, but existence itself.

Some Notes:

  • Only three paragraphs to cover today!
  • Generally speaking, I find the Book of Lost Tales version of the Music of the Ainur/Ainulindalë to be my favorite.
  • It’s really rare that I dip back into my Holga photos. I first started using this iconic/trendy camera when I first got back into film photography. Since then, I’ve focused mostly on antique and vintage cameras, leaving the Holga behind. I don’t think I even have it displayed on a shelf – it’s just tucked away in a drawer somewhere.



1. Does this really need attribution? (Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

2. If we look back to the earliest drafts of this chapter, from the Book of Lost Tales (I, p55), Tolkien there gave us a much deeper look at what might make Melkor harbor this secret anger. “Maybe I shall love these things that come of my song even as I love the Ainur who are of my thought, and maybe more.” Ilúvatar was to have said this right before telling Melkor that no one could “alter the music in my despite.”

3. Book of Lost Tales, Vol. I, p55; The Lost Road, p158.

4. Morgoth’s Ring, p11, 30.

5. BoLT I, p55.
6. Lost Road, p59. A slightly earlier version has “But this I have added: Life” instead of “But I have given being unto all.”

Pages & Text

  • Page 17
  • Chapter: Ainulindalë
  • Starting with:
    “Then Ilúvatar spoke…”
  • Ending with:
    “…but a part of the whole and tributary to its glory.”

17 thoughts on “Cruelty and Ravening and Darkness – Melkor’s Influence on Ilúvatar’s Vision (Silmarillion Slow Cooker, p18)

    • I didn’t even pick it up until well after 30. I always thought it was boring and impossible. But I definitely wouldn’t have been ready for it prior to that time, so it all worked out.

  1. So you’re saying that the Ainur were initially blind? Strange, as nothing I have read in Tolkien’s writings suggests that.
    ” …giving to them sight where before was only hearing” refers to them finally seeeing the “music” which they coul only hear before. I’m absolutely sure that they could see Iluvatar, each other, and their abodes since they were created.

    • But there’s nothing in the text to support that idea. They were spirits and didn’t have bodies. Since there was nothing yet to see, they didn’t need sight. They could sense Iluvatar, but see him “as with sight”, I just don’t think so. It’s not in the text, anyway.

    • I want to clarify that – they weren’t blind, in the sense that they could see if they had eyes, but that there was nothing to see, and so there was no need for sight.

      Look at every reference to a supposed physical feature, and you’ll see the word “perceived” etc. There’s no direct mention of them seeing, and some very clear indications that they did not see until the vision.

      • I’m inclined to disagree. Of course, their existence (and the ability or inability to see) wasn’t in physical terms, but nothing in the Tolkien’s work suggest that they initially had no sight. I think you are reading too much into “giving to them sight” passage. Melko went into the void looking for the Flame Imperisheable, for example. But I guess you’re entitled to your interpretation of those words.
        You say there was nothing to see, but what about Iluvatar, the Ainur themselves, and their abodes?

        • But every reference to the Ainur “seeing” Iluvatar says things like “and they perceived that he smiled”. The two words have pretty different meanings.

          Ultimately, of course, it’s not a huge deal, and I could certainly be wrong. I’d be interested in hearing what Tolkien scholars think on this. I know that Prof. Corey Olsen thinks that they didn’t have sight until the vision (he’s where I first heard it). But I’d love to see what others have to say. If they say anything at all.

          In the end, it might just be speculation and opinion.

    • The music analogy is definitely as perfect as he could get. The language he uses throughout the Ainulindale is beautiful. Maybe you’re biased, but you’re also right! 🙂

  2. For once, your page start is my page start too. 😛

    Late to the party as usual, so I’ll just say the sight discussion is interesting, and I’m inclined to agree with you that “they weren’t blind, in the sense that they could see if they had eyes, but that there was nothing to see, and so there was no need for sight.”

    Because of the the opening of the third paragraph.

    • For once! It’s probably the only time I’ll happen. Soak in the joy!

      Even after quite a bit of thought on this, I still agree with myself, too. There was no sight. I know that in a few revisions, I changed the word “blind” to something like ‘sightless’ or something. That’s what I really mean.

      • *confetti and party streamers*

        Yeah, the more I think about it, the more I agree with you and “myself” 😛 Initially, I’m thinking Eru makes it up as things progressed, but then wait, these are the Ainur. And they don’t exactly have a fixed form to begin with anyway, so why who’s to say they weren’t equipped with everything they need. Things just start kicking in as and when the situation calls for it. Like their choice of forms and whatnots, after they entered Arda. Yeah, meta ftw!

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