MUSIC AND MAGIC IN THE WORLD OF ARDA
In Tolkien’s legendarium, magic as it appears in contemporary sword-and-sorcery stories does not exist. Tolkien makes it clear in essays and debates that his magic is far more complex than the waving of a wand, and does not follow strict, clear-cut rules. Instead, power over the laws of nature and reality lies to a great extent in song and music. The first act of creation in the “Ainulindalë”, by which the foundations for Arda’s creation were laid, was the singing of the Music of the Ainur by Ilúvatar and the divine beings beneath him. When the beings of Arda create song, the result is often ‘magical’, whether in an emotional sense or if it has a tangible effect upon the world around it. In both the “Ainulindalë” and “Of Beren and Lúthien” this is quite evident. Singing in Tolkien’s legendarium is in some ways a magical act, in that any of the Children of Ilúvatar engaged in it are reflecting the original creative acts of the Ainur, sub-creating and greatly affecting the world around them, and that the only limits on a being’s ability to create music are its purpose – whether to dominate or to create – and the sheer force of will it places behind its magical, musical intent.
Singing has a variety of effects within Tolkien’s works, but the most dramatic ones by far are those visible in the “Ainulindalë”. Here, singing is synonymous with creation itself. The notes of the many Ainur, including Melkor, as well as those of Ilúvatar, all coalesce in order to form the basis for Arda and its history. The act of song-making as creation is not metaphorical: the Ainur originally conceive of the world through music, and the voices of the Ainur are even described as “like unto harps and lutes, and pipes and trumpets, and viols and organs, and like unto countless choirs with words” (Tolkien 4). Even the conflict between Ilúvatar, who seeks to create a world of beauty and freedom for its future inhabitants, and Melkor, who seeks to dominate all that is, is done through their respective melodies. No music existed before that of the Ainur in their acts of creation, and although a great deal of music existed afterward, none was ever as powerful or influential in shaping the world, as the passage reads “Never since have the Ainur made any music like to this music” (Tolkien 4) This original music created the first true polarization between good and evil – through the conflict between Ilúvatar and Melkor – and initiated the creation of the world. The fact that the Music of the Ainur created the world itself is no less visible than when Ilúvatar declared “behold your music!” and the Ainur first saw the world (Tolkien 6). In fact, all later music stemmed from this music, in that the Music of the Ainur set the stage for the genesis of all Children of Ilúvatar and the music they would go on to produce.
The effects of song are equally as visible, if not quite so dramatic, in the tale of Beren & Lúthien, particularly through Lúthien herself. Throughout the story, many of Lúthien’s actions revolve around music and song. When Beren first sees her, he is spellbound by her appearance, and it is not until she sings out loud and “flowers [spring] from the cold earth where her feet had passed” that he is released from his shock enough to call out to her (Tolkien 194). Her music is also powerful enough to put the great wolf Carcharoth, as well as Morgoth himself in Angband, to sleep. In addition, it aids her and Huan in combating Sauron at Tol-in-Gaurhoth. Finally, her heartfelt song of sorrow at Beren’s death at the end of the tale proves moving enough to warrant restoring Beren to life, and allowing Beren and Lúthien to spend their final, mortal years together in peace. Indeed, it is stated that “The song of Lúthien before Mandos was the song most fair that ever in words was woven, and the song most sorrowful that the world shall hear” (Tolkien 221). She is not the only character who uses song to great...
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