The Origins of Middle Earth:
                                           I     Inklings of the Truth

                                                     N.J. Lund, Ph.D.
                                                      August, 2003

J.R.R. Tolkien was an author (small “a”).  He believed that God is the real Author (capital “A”).  Whenever he wrote stories of his own, Tolkien thought that his work was just a small part of a much larger story which is being written by God.  Tolkien also loved mythology (the ancient stories which tell about the gods and their dealings with humankind).  He believed that God, the Author of all things, uses these myths to serve His own purposes.  In the same way that Shakespeare used literary devices like alliteration and foreshadowing, so Tolkien believed that God can use things like mythology to help communicate His story and our place within it. 

Many Christians are suspicious of mythology, and for good reason.  Mythology includes much that is false and misleading.  Mythology is certainly no substitute for God’s truth as revealed in the Bible.   Without the light of Scripture to guide us, mythology could offer little help in finding the truth.  However, as with everything else in the world, God can still use myths for good.  He promises: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

The Bible gives many examples of God’s willingness and ability to speak through unlikely sources.  For example, God spoke through the mouth of Balaam’s donkey (Num. 22:20-29); through the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 2:25-30); and through the poetry and philosophy of the Greeks (Acts 17:22-31).  Tolkien believed that Jesus has fulfilled the promises in pagan mythology much as He fulfilled the promises of Old Testament prophecy.  It was in fact an all-night discussion on this very topic which led to the conversion of C.S. Lewis in September, 1931.

In the book Peace Child, Don Richardson has written about his experiences as a missionary to the Sawi tribe of cannibals in New Guinea.   After many failures and discouragements in the early 1960s, Richardson was surprised to learn that God had planted a redemptive custom in ancient Sawi tradition.  He learned that God had built a bridge, a “redemptive analogy,” for the true story about Jesus.  The Sawis believed that the only way to make peace between enemies was through a “peace child.”  Only if a man would actually give his own son to his enemies could that man be trusted.  Once he made that discovery, Richardson was able to introduce the Sawis to Jesus as God’s “Peace  Child,” and suddenly the cannibals began to believe and to be saved (Regal/ Gospel Light, 1974).

Out of this experience Richardson came to believe that God is far more active in pagan cultures than we ever dreamed, working in myths and customs to prepare lost souls to hear the truth.  All people know that they’re missing something.  Ancient cultural myths and traditions often express that sense of need.  In a second book, Eternity in Their Hearts, Richardson went on to record over two dozen other examples of cultural bridges, or redemptive analogies, which missionaries have used successfully to present the Gospel around the world (Regal/Gospel Light, 1981).

Tolkien didn’t like allegories, in which every detail in a story is supposed to symbolize something else.  However, he did believe in what Richardson called “redemptive analogies.”  Tolkien and Lewis shared a deep love for Norse mythology and the analogies of truth which they found, like treasure, buried there.  For example, there are two stories in the Norse myths about gods who suffer, and die, and then rise again.  One of them involves a god hanging on a tree, all alone, for several days, wounded by a spear (Odin); the other involves the god of light and peace (Balder), who must travel to the underworld, to the land of the dead, as the result of an evil agent in the world (Loki).

One reason why Tolkien and Lewis favored Norse mythology is that the line between good and evil is drawn so clearly there.  The struggle between good and evil is presented as a cosmic battle.   The Norse myths include stories about a great tree (Yggdrasill) upon which the life of the universe depends; and about a great, final battle (Ragnarok) which will bring this world to an end, and lead to a new and better life.  Tolkien took many of his ideas for the Lord of the Rings from the Norse myths, including some ideas about elves and dwarves and even the names “Gandalf” and “Middle-earth.”

In the mythology invented by Tolkien, God is called Eru, or Iluvatar (‘all-father’) by the elves.  Eru dwells in the Timeless Halls and oversees the destiny of Men and their final End.  Long before the creation of the world, Eru’s first creation was the Ainur (‘holy ones’).  The Ainur were immortal, invisible spirits of greater or lesser power: the Valar (greater); and their servants, the Maiar (lesser).  Because they were the offspring of Eru’s own thought, the Valar were themselves considered to be gods.

The Bible reveals that music was associated with God’s creation of the world.  For example, when God answers Job out of the whirlwind, He then asks him: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? ... when the morning stars sang together” (Job 38:4-7).   There are other hints as well (cf. Ps. 65:8; 147:4; 148:3; Is. 49:13).  There is an echo of that music in the world of Middle-earth.  As recounted in the Silmarillion, Eru created the visible world with assistance from the Ainur by means of a great song, the AinulindalŰ (‘Ainu-song’).  Eru created the first music and taught much of it to the Ainur.  Then he invited them to participate in the song of creation.

The AinulindalŰ, or creation song, was divided up into three parts, or themes.  In the first theme Eru presented His basic vision for the world and then brought it into existence in an unfinished form as .  Eń was the entire physical world, comprised of Arda (an early form of the earth) and Ilmen (the heavens of Eń, where the stars were).

Of the Valar who chose to assist their Maker in the creation, the first and noblest was ManwŰ.  He was considered the chief of the Valar, and under Eru the primary architect and King of Arda.  His brother Melkor, who will be mentioned later, became a Satan-like figure, the greatest sower of discord and agent of evil in Arda.  ManwŰ’s wife was called Varda (‘the exalted’), or Elbereth (‘star-queen’) by the Elves.  She worked closely with ManwŰ to resist the evil of Melkor and to keep light in the world.

Second greatest of the Aratar (‘the exalted’), or Valar chiefs, was Ulmo, the Lord of Waters and King of the Sea.  He learned more of Eru’s music than any other, and served as a music instructor for many Elves.  Next in power and significance were AulŰ and his spouse, Yavanna.   AulŰ was the master craftsman of Arda.   Yavanna’s song created the two great Trees of Valinor which brought light to the world.  When Melkor destroyed the Trees of Light, AulŰ fashioned vessels which became the Sun and the Moon.  The one carried the final flower, and the other the final fruit, of the dying trees.

The remaining Valar were these: Mandos, the Guardian of the Dead, and his wife VairŰ, the Weaver; Lˇrien, the master of dreams and rest, and his wife, EstŰ, the healer of wounds and sorrows; Tulkas, the Valiant, bravest of all the Valar, and his wife Nessa, the Dancer; OromŰ, the Hunter and Lord of the Woods and his wife Vana, the Ever-Young, caretaker of flowers and birds; and Nienna, sister of Mandos and Lˇrien, a spirit  pity, comfort and hope for the creatures of Eru.

Of the other Ainur created by Eru the most noteworthy was Melkor.  Like the other Valar, Melkor was created to be good.  In fact he was favored with gifts of knowledge, power, and wisdom above his peers.  But, like Lucifer (Satan) in the Bible, Melkor was not satisfied with what he had been given.  He wanted more.  He wanted to be equal with Eru, his Maker.  He desired to possess the Flame Imperishable, the creating spirit of Eru, possessed by Eru alone.  Melkor was also jealous of the other Valar and their gifts, and he sought to dominate all things in Arda.   He built fortresses against the other Valar: first the stronghold of Utumno; then that of Angband. 

The evil caused by Melkor seemed at times to be unstoppable.   He forged evil weapons and bred ferocious monsters.  Out of captured Elves he created Orcs.  He used deceit and distortion with great skill, seeking always to extend his own dominion.  When Feanor, the Elvish son of FinwŰ, created the Silmaril jewels (from the light of the Trees of Valinor), Melkor was jealous.  Making league with Ungoliant, the spirit of darkness, Melkor poisoned the Two Trees and stole the Silmarils, and fled to his fortress at Angband.  Much is told in the Silmarillion of Melkor’s treachery and the wars against him, until at last the Valar interceded and cast Melkor into the Void.   However, even then the evil influence of Melkor persisted, through Sauron, his chief servant.  Sauron was to become the forger of the Rings of Power, by which he hoped to enslave the last of the Free Peoples of Middle-earth.      

The remaining Ainur in this story were the Maiar.  They were the spirits of lesser power, created by Eru to assist the Valar in the care of Arda.  Some Maiar, like Sauron and the Balrogs, were seduced into rebellion against Eru by Melkor.  Others seemed to choose an independent, evil existence.  These included Dragluin, the werewolf, and Ungoliant, the spirit of darkness which took the form of a spider.  Two other evil Maiar were Thuringwethil, the vampire, who served as a messenger of Sauron; and Saruman, who started out on the side of good, but then coveted the One Ring, was trapped by Sauron, and became his slave.

Fortunately, most of the Maiar remained loyal to their Maker, Eru.  These included: Olˇrin (also known as Gandalf); Iarwain Ben-Adar (Tom Bombadil) and his wife Goldberry, the River-daughter; Arien, the Sun-guide; Tilion, the Moon-pilot; IlmarŰ, handmaid of Varda; E÷nwŰ, herald of ManwŰ; OssŰ and his wife, Uinen, master and mistress of the inland waves and seas of Arda; and Melian, who tended the trees of Lˇrien in Valinor (the land of the Valar) and taught the nightingales to sing.  Melian took mortal form to marry ElwŰ, greatest of the Elven-lords, and to help him found the great Kingdom of Doriath in Beleriand.  She had power to resist Melkor (known to the Elves as Morgoth), and was able to protect Doriath with an enchanted barrier called the Girdle of Melian.   Melian thus became Queen of the Sindar and gave ElwŰ a daughter, LŘthien.  Through LŘthien Melian would become a distant ancestor of Elrond and Aragorn.

Although the powers of evil in his story were great and seemed to be overwhelming, Tolkien planted seeds of hope in the very beginning.  When Melkor first attempted to interrupt and break the creation song, Eru demonstrated His sovereignty and providence.  He drew Melkor’s discord into a second theme and defeated it in a fuller, richer harmony.  Then Eru added a third and final theme to the song in which the Ainur were not allowed to participate.  In this theme Eru introduced the creation of Men and Elves, and kept the destiny of Men and their End to Himself.

Together the two races of Men and of Elves were called the Children of Iluvatar (the Elvish name for Eru).   The Elves were called the “First-born,” and Men the “Followers.”  The Elves were as tall as Men, and often taller. Of all living creatures in Middle-earth, they were the ones described as the most beautiful and gifted.  Although they were immortal, they could be slain in battle. In the beginning all of them dwelt in Middle-earth, but the Valar invited the Elves to settle with them on their protected Island of Valinor.  Many did so, but quite a few also stayed in Middle-earth.  During the Second Age, when Men envied the Elves their immortality, they tried to find Valinor. The Valar therefore hid the Isle and made it invisible, so that none other than the Elves could find it. The path across the sea they had to sail was called the Straight Road.

The Elves who were willing to follow their leaders to Valinor were called Eldar (‘people of the stars’).  They were divided up into three major groups.  The first to reach Valinor, following their leader IngwŰ, were called Vanyar.  The second group to reach Valinor was called Noldor.  Their leader was FinwŰ.  It was his son Feanor who created the famous Silmarils, the three precious jewels which captured the light of the trees of Valinor.  Finarfin, another son of FinwŰ, was considered the fairest and wises of the Noldor Elves.  He was the father of Finrod (‘the faithful’; ‘friend of men’) and Galadriel (keeper of the Nenya, the Ring of Water, in Lothlˇrien).  The final and largest group of Elves was led by ElwŰ (also known as Thingol) and his brother OlwŰ.  They were called the Teleri.  It was ElwŰ for whom Melian (a Maia) took human form to marry.   The Teleri who remained in Beleriand and never completed the journey were called the Sindar.  Those who refused the invitation to live with the Valar were called the Avari (‘the unwilling’).

The first marriage between Elves and Men took place when LŘthien, the Elvish daughter of ElwŰ and Melian, married Beren, son of Barahir, from the race of Men.  The story of Beren and L˙thien is important to the Lord of the Rings, for their descendents were to include such great figures of  Middle-earth as Elrond, master of Imladris (Rivendell), and Aragorn, the Heir of Isildur and the One Ring.  It is also the most beautiful and popular story in the Silmarillion.  When Beren requested L˙thien’s hand in marriage, ElwŰ at first refused.   He gave Beren a seemingly impossible task.   The bride-price for his daughter was to capture one of the stolen Silmarils from the very crown of Morgoth (the Elven name for Melkor) in Angband.  Against all hope, Beren succeeded in this quest.  After facing many dangers, with the assistance and support of L˙thien, his beloved, Beren accomplished “the greatest deed that has been dared by Elves or Men.”  He entered the very court of Morgoth and removed a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown with the renowned blade of Angrist.  However, the sound awakened Morgoth and his demonic sentinel, Carcharoth, the dread wolf with a devouring spirit.  Carcharoth bit off Beren’s hand at the wrist, and with it the precious Silmaril, as he attempted to escape.  Only much later, when Carcharoth was finally killed, was Beren (as he himself was dying) able to retrieve the jewel and present it to ElwŰ, thus bringing the Quest for the Silmaril to completion.

After being stolen by the Dwarves the Silmaril was again retrieved by Beren when he was brought back from the dead by the sacrifice of L˙thien, his beloved.  After Beren’s second death possession of the Silmaril passed first to his son Dior; then to Dior’s daughter, Elwing; who married Eńrendil.  Eńrendil was also of mixed race, the son of Tuor and Idril (the second marriage of Elf and Man.)  Guided by the Silmaril Eńrendil was able to reach Aman, the land of the Valar, and to win the assistance of ManwŰ and the other Valar against Morgoth.  Eńrendil’s sons, Elrond and Elros, were then allowed to choose their destinies, whether that of Elf or Man.  Elrond chose to be an Elf and went on to found the Elvish kingdom of Rivendell.  Elros chose to be a Man and became the first king of N˙menor (Westernesse) and of the mortal Edain.  To reward his valor Elros was granted a longer mortal life of five hundred years.

After ages of peace and prosperity N˙menor was destroyed when the last and greatest king, Al Pharaz˘n, lifted himself up in pride against his protectors, the Valar.  One of the few to escape was Elendil, father of Isildur and founder of the kingdom which later became Gondor and Arnor.  Under Elendil a Last Alliance of Elves and Men was raised against Sauron in Mordor.  It was by his father Elendil’s sword that Isildur was able to lay hold of Sauron’s One Ring, the Ring of Power, as described in the Lord of the Rings.

As mentioned earlier, Elves and Men, the “Children of Il˙vatar,” were the creation of Eru, alone.  The Elves He called forth first, when Varda rekindled the stars and ended the Ages of Darkness (caused by Melkor) some 20,000 human years after the creation of Arda.   The Elves thus awoke to their existence with magical starlight in their eyes.  Men were not to appear for anther 10,000 years.  Il˙vatar called them forth to witness the birth of the sun.  Twice Melkor has destroyed the Valar sources of light: the great lamps of AulŰ (Illuin and Ormal); and the Two Trees of Valinor (Laurelin the Golden and Telperion the White), created by the song of Yavanna and the tears of Nienna.  But the Valar would not give up.

From the dying trees Yavanna saved a single, silver flower (Isil, the Sheen), and a single, golden fruit (Anor, the Fire-golden).  To hold these treasures and to display their light AulŰ forged the sacred vessels of the Sun and the Moon.  In this way the Valar succeeded in overcoming Melkor’s assaults, and in bringing light to all of Arda.  And Il˙vatar blessed their work and honored it with the awakening of Men to the light of the dawn and the beginning of a new age.  The First Age of the Sun lasted for 600 human years.  During this time five major battles were waged by the Free Peoples against Morgoth (Melkor).   Three Houses of Men (the Edain) made alliance with the Elves, learned much wisdom from them, and fought valiantly by their sides.   Two marriages of Elf and Men resulted: Beren and L˙thien; Tuor and Idril.  The First Age witnessed the destruction of Beleriand, the great Elven kingdom founded by ElwŰ (Thingol) and Melian, under the onslaught of Morgoth and his evil hordes.  It ended with the casting of Morgoth by the Valar forever into the Void in response to the appeal of Eńrendil.

It was during the Second Age that Sauron forged the Rings of Power (Nine Rings for Men; Seven Rings for the Dwarves; Three Rings for the Elves; and the One Ring to rule them all) and completed the Dark Tower of Barad-dűr,   When the Noldorian Elves learned  what he had done they attacked Morgoth, but they were defeated.  Only a small number of these Elves survived.  Led by Elrond they escaped into the Misty Mountains and founded the colony of Imladris (which Men called Rivendell).  At the same time the Dwarves of Khazad-dűm retreated into the hidden mines of Moria.  In his pride Sauron then attacked the other Noldorian stronghold of Gil-galad.  He might have defeated them too, but a large band of N˙menˇrean Men (descendents from the Edain of the FA) joined the Elves and succeeded in driving Sauron back to Mordor.

For the next one thousand years Sauron appeared to be held at bay, but secretly he was at work: distributing the Nine Rings of Power to entrap the kings of Men; and creating the Nazgűl, his chief slaves (called Ringwraiths by Men).   At the same time Sauron succeeded in one of his greatest deceptions.  When the N˙menˇreans grew to a power greater than his own, he surrendered himself to them, accepting imprisonment in their strongest dungeon without resistance.   Then, when they feared him no more, he used his guile to corrupt them, tempting them to think that they were invincible.

So successful was Sauron in this temptation that he prompted the N˙menˇreans to attack even the Valar themselves, though they were the representatives of Il˙vatar and devoted to the welfare of Men.  Sauron first convinced the N˙menˇreans that Melkor was the true God and the Giver of Freedom.  Later he convinced them that he himself, Sauron, was also a god, and worthy of worship and sacrifice.  Sauron burned the White Tree, the symbol of allegiance between the Valar and the N˙menˇreans, on an altar in a temple dedicated to himself.  Fortunately Isildur, Aragorn’s ancestor, was able to save a piece of fruit and create a seedling before the tree was destroyed.

Under Sauron’s influence the N˙menˇreans decided to invade the Blessed Realm, seeking immortality.  The brazenness of this deed was so great as to bring about the wrath and intervention of Il˙vatar Himself.  A cataclysm of judgment ensued.  The entire kingdom of N˙menor (Tolkien’s version of Atlantis) disappeared under the sea; the Undying Lands of the Elves were set forever beyond the reach of mortal Men; and the flat world of Arda became the circular earth which we know today.

Out of the judgment against the N˙menˇreans came a remnant who called themselves ‘Faithful to the Valar,’ the D˙nedain, led by Elendil the Tall.  The D˙nedain, who descended from the Edain of old, formed the Last Alliance of Elves and Men to attack Sauron when he escaped the cataclysm of N˙menor.  Even as Sauron plotted against them, the Last Alliance came against him and defeated him in Mordor.  Although several High Kings among the Elves were killed, the D˙nedain King Isildur at last succeeded in cutting the One Ring from Sauron’s hand, thus bringing the Second Age to an end.  Aragorn II, called Strider, was the Heir of Isildur, a D˙nedain descended from the House of Elros, son Eńrendil.  

In addition to the races of Elves and Men, other creatures were found to inhabit Middle-earth.  Eru allowed the Valar to create other races and creatures.  AulŰ created the Dwarves; ManwŰ created Eagles; Yavanna created the Ents and other creatures of field and stream.