Life in Middle-earth began with music, distinct harmonies woven together by one being. J.R.R. Tolkien’s creation myth for Arda, Ainulindalë, opens The Silmarillion. The book explores Middle-earth’s earliest days, long before Sauron and hobbits and the One Ring. It sees Tolkien weave dense but elegant prose around the Valar and the Children of Ilúvatar. The Silmarillion reads almost like poetry at various points, particularly with the Ainulindalë. Middle-earth’s creation myth sets the optimistic tone for the stories to come.
It all began with Eru, the One, also known as Ilúvatar. This being created Arda. At first, it was only him. But from his thoughts, he made the Ainur. Ilúvatar put themes of music in their mind and the Ainur sang. Each of the Holy Ones listened closely to Ilúvatar and brought their own thread to the song and they all slowly harmonized to create a powerful melody. Their voices like instruments, the Ainur brought something out of nothing. They made Ilúvatar’s great theme and it flowed into the previously empty Void.
But soon a discordant note rose in the music. Belonging to the Ainur known as Melkor, the errant music captured Ilúvatar’s attention. Melkor, in jealousy of his creator, wanted to exert his own will in the music and put himself above the other Ainur. Ilúvatar tried to stop Melkor’s dissonance with a new theme twice, but Melkor kept making his own music, regardless of the other Ainur. His turbulent theme could not be swept into Ilúvatar’s and so Ilúvatar stopped the music. The moment has big “stop fighting or I’m turning this car around right now” energy.
Ilúvatar took the Ainur to the Void and turned their Great Music into a vision of the world. He did so to show them what they made with their harmonies and also to remind Melkor that everything had “its uttermost source” in himself. Ilúvatar cautioned that no one could change the music he orchestrated—that none of it could exist with him.
The Ainur expressed wonder upon seeing the world and the coming of the Children of Ilúvatar, the Elves and Men. Ilúvatar showed them how not even Melkor’s discontent could mar his beautiful world. After he made his point, Ilúvatar took the vision away. The Ainur experienced darkness for the first time, and then unrest.
Ilúvatar felt that unrest and so made the vision a reality, Eä, the World that Is. He gave those Ainur who wished to live in the world permission to leave. Many went into the world and became the Valar, the Powers of the World—Melkor among them. He still coveted a place of his own and would happily have taken control over the entirety of Arda. Envy poisoned his heart. The Valar had to battle Melkor for dominion of Arda. It marked only the first time those in Middle-earth had to take a stand against Melkor.
Middle-earth’s creation myth includes two major themes from throughout Tolkien’s stories. As the Ainulindalë shows, you cannot have light without darkness. Without Melkor’s rebellious music, Ilúvatar might never have turned the Ainur’s theme into Arda. Middle-earth may not have come into existence. Melkor’s tumultous thoughts and desires led to the Valar and everything they brought to Eä. His selfishness paved the way for others’ selflessness.
That goes hand-in-hand with the most central message of The Lord of the Rings trilogy: with hope, all things are possible. Upon hearing Melkor’s deliberate disharmony, the Ainur didn’t stop singing. They didn’t give up and let Melkor transform Ilúvatar’s theme into screeching nonsense. They recognized the presence of darkness but persisted by singing around him, following Ilúvatar’s lead . When Melkor clung to his malice and brought dread unto Middle-earth, the Valar did not despair. They fought for their home, as the people of Middle-earth would fight again and again in the future. Ilúvatar made Arda, yes, but showing those he made how to not give up may be his bigger triumph.
Amy Ratcliffe is the Editor-in-Chief for Nerdist and the author of Star Wars: Women of the Galaxy, The Art of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, The Jedi Mind, and more. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.