Posted by: Andrew G | May 3, 2010

Creation Stories and Tolkien

I mentioned on Friday that May is going to be Music Month for me.

So please forgive me if I end up rambling a little more than I should with words rather than getting to the important stuff. I just wanted to make sure I started in the right place, and what better place to start than with Creation?

I want to look at how creation stories are understood. I’m going to try and tie together some ideas from the Christian, Jewish and Hindu traditions and compare them with the creation story written by J.R.R. Tolkien.

I am picking Tolkien for really quite deliberate reasons. I adore his work. Plain and simple, I get a sense of genius every time I read something by him. He is the architect of many modern storytelling archetypes  (just wanted to fit both words into a sentence — architect, archetype). But also, we know that the fiction he wrote is, well to be redundant, fiction.

Also, the man was a great collection of contradictions. He could be a very close friend but he could also be a jerk, especially to his closest friends. He was a devout Catholic but he loved languages and mythologies with very pagan roots. And what I find most important is he tried to create a mythology for his beloved people, the Britons, in order to harmonize his Catholic beliefs and his pagan inspirations.

Ok. So the Christian creation story is one of turning void and chaos into order and form. And it’s done by commands:

“Let there be Light!”

This fits really quite nicely with the Christian idea of the “Lord”, an authority in charge and making things so. The Word of God isn’t just “Word, yo!” It’s a declaration and a command. And even more than this, once something is named or given a word, it then can be harnessed to really mean something.

The original Hebrew is something more like an exalting (or exulting?) exclamation:


[Little note here—I don’t know ancient Hebrew, so I’m just borrowing this ‘translation’ and idea from Jack Miles]

God is figuring out something, and creating some needed thing, and also celebrating its existence all in one.

In the Hindu tradition, there is a cyclic creation and destruction to all things and all worlds. A sleeping Vishnu, in some incarnations of the tale, gives birth to Brahma, and then Brahma as a faithful servant fulfills Vishnu’s request to create the world.

A lot of stuff goes around and around in Hindu. And when you look at how the world works, it isn’t really that big of a surprise where the Hindu idea may have come from, right?

Why bring all this up? Well, I just think that whether you literally believe something, or just metaphorically believe something, it has a real effect on how you see the world. I’m going to be way too general here, but if your creation story is a story about an authority giving commands, that will affect how you see the world. And what has the Christian authority been obsessed with since about 400 CE to the present day? Being in charge, being right, and having control. Just sayin’.

Now, Tolkien was a genius at language. He must have known just how precisely the Christian and Jewish stories were put together. But he went on a very different path when he wrote his own creation story for his own little invented world. I want to quote the first three paragraphs of his creation story because, well… I’m just going to keep repeating myself but it’s genius. (It’s a 20th century writer using a very archaic style, so I didn’t gender-neutralize the text or anything like that.)

There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Ilúvatar; and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of music; and they sang before him, and he was glad. But for a long while they sang only each alone, or but few together, while the rest hearkened; for each comprehended only that part of the mind of Ilúvatar from which he came, and in the understanding of their brethren they grew but slowly. Yet ever as they listened they came to deeper understanding, and increased in unison and harmony.

And it came to pass that Ilúvatar called together all the Ainur and declared to them a mighty theme, unfolding to them things greater and more wonderful than he had yet revealed; and the glory of its beginning and the splendour of its end amazed the Ainur, so that they bowed before Ilúvatar and were silent.

Then Ilúvatar said to them: ‘Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will now that ye make in harmony together a Great Music. And since I have kindled you with the Flame Imperishable, ye shall show forth your powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices, if he will. But I will sit and hearken, and be glad that through you great beauty has been wakened into song.’

What happens if in your creation story your God is most interested in song? More than that, what if your God is particularly interested in teaching the song and making sure each thing has a part to add to the song? And what if your God is even looking forward to how the song might be improvised upon once people really get into it?

Would it make you look at the world any differently?

I believe in song.

I believe in music.

I believe in Music.

How about you? What do you believe in?

Last bit, from TED – Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir – ‘Lux Aurumque’.

185 voices  from 12 countries around the world come together to share a moment of music and song.



  1. Isn’t it strange that its things like music and sports that bring us together and things like religion and politics divide us!

    • Hi preacherlady!

      Thanks so much for dropping by. Sport is a strange one – it brings us together and tears us apart.

      Then again, the Canadians and the Leafs are bitter rivals but they are in the same league at least, all striving for the same goal.

      Do you think we could resolve religious and political squabbles with national teams instead of national military units?

      Come to think of it, that would be a really really great step forward for the human race 🙂 ….


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