The History of Middle-earth Summaries

The Music of the Ainur

By Dawn Felagund

At least two years after writing The Cottage of Lost Play, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Music of the Ainur. The two documents are connected into a continuous whole by a linking passage, and The Music is also one with the myth that follows it, The Building of Valinor. The Music was written some time between 1918 and 1920.

The Link section of the myth picks up where The Cottage of Lost Play left off. Eriol is still in the Room of the Log Fire with his hosts, Lindo and Vairë. Eriol inquires after the Valar--wishing to know more about them--but Vairë suggests that they retire instead, reminding Eriol that he may remain with them until his curiosity is sated. Eriol is led to a bedroom and sleeps soundly, awaking the next morning and deciding to explore the grounds where he is staying.

While wandering down a path, he encounters the Elf called Rúmil, who was the door-warden who admitted him to the house the day prior. Rúmil is angry with a strange blackbird who has happened into his garden, speaking a language that Rúmil--a great loremaster--does not know. Once a thrall of Melko, Rúmil has learned even the language of the dark beings that serve Melko; he speaks the languages of the Elves, the Valar, and all of animal-kind, though he claims that the language of Men changes too frequently for him to master it.

Eriol is made curious by Rúmil's words and asks if there is more than one Elven language. Rúmil explains that the Noldoli speak a different language than the other three kindreds (Solosimpi, Teleri, and Inwir). He explains that the deviation occurred when the Noldoli traveled to the Great Lands and were sundered for many years from their kin. Those Elves who remain in the Great Lands, Rúmil imagines, would speak stranger still.

At this point, the two have reached a meadow, where they stop to rest upon a rock as Eriol asks Rúmil about the Valar and the creation of the universe. Rúmil explains that it began with Ilúvatar, who made the Valar. Eriol has never heard of Ilúvatar, though this comes as no great surprise to Rúmil: The early legends are neglected among the Elves and completely unknown to Men.

Here, the Link passage ends and The Music of the Ainur begins as Rúmil tells Eriol the creation story. Creation began when Ilúvatar sang the Ainur into being and built homes for them in the Void. He taught them many things, the chief of which was Music, and had them sing for him many themes. In this manner, the Music of the Ainur that called the world into being began.

This theme was greater than the others, and Ilúvatar invited the Ainur to sing of what he had described, adding their own adornments to the theme. The Music flowed out to dark places in the Void, and Ilúvatar listened, pleased by the skill of his children.

At this time, Melko began to weave elements into the Music that were not of Ilúvatar's design. Melko was known to wander off into the Void, seeking the Secret Fire and desiring to create life of his own, going to dark and ugly places where Ilúvatar had not yet been. Melko's contributions to the Music became harsh, and those near to him fell into despondency or began to follow his lead. When the Music became its harshest, Ilúvatar raised his left hand, and a second theme began. However, Melko continued to strive against it, and his contributions created chaos with the main theme.

Weeping, Ilúvatar raised his right hand, and a third theme began. Now, there were two separate strains of music: one deep and sorrowful and the other brash and attempting to trump the first with its volume. At times, the two would inadvertently harmonize, despite Melko's efforts. Ilúvatar raised both hands, and the Music ended.

Ilúvatar reminded the Ainur that the Music was not played by them but through them, and that they were only carrying out his wishes. Even Melko's attempt at disharmony would only do greater glory to Ilúvatar's purposes in the end, and though Melko's music had introduced evil into the world, it would serve Ilúvatar in the end and make the world a more beautiful place.

Some of the Ainur were puzzled by this revelation. Melko was ashamed. Ilúvatar led the Ainur first to show them the results of their Music, and they saw that the history of the world had begun. The contributions of each Ainu would form a part of the world.

To Melko's credit was all that was harsh or violent in the world, yet Ilúvatar pointed out that his attempts to dominate the works of his peers had only made them lovelier still. He used the water created by Ulmo as an example: the extreme colds of Melko had created ice and snow, substances more beautiful than Ulmo alone had imagined.

The Ainur then wished to enter the world, and Ilúvatar permitted this. Some of the Ainur remained behind, but the most beautiful and powerful sought to shape and protect that which they had created. Melko went along under the pretense of wishing to control the violence that he'd unleashed upon the world, though in truth, he sought to dominate Elves and Men, the gifts of whom he was envious.

Elves and Men are chiefly of Ilúvatar's thought, and none of the Ainur dared to add to this part of the theme. Elves are most like the Ainur in stature and mood, and the Ainur have dealt chiefly with them. Men are given strange gifts. Their time in the world is short, but they will endure forever, whereas the fate of the Elves after the world's ending is not known. Men are not constrained by the Music of the Ainur--and so they are not constrained by fate--and they are free to add to and finish the world in ways that go beyond what was sung in the Music. Because of this, Men often commit acts that go against Ilúvatar's will, but Ilúvatar is patient with them, knowing that in the end, the harm that they commit will only glorify his purpose.

The Link and The Music of the Ainur introduce many ideas that will remain consistent over the thirty-year development of the creation myth, through to the published Ainulindalë that appears in The Silmarillion. In fact, The Music of the Ainur--unlike the rest of the mythology--remains remarkably consistent through several drafts, each of which builds on the next and involves the same general themes and ideas.

The Exile of the Noldor receives its first mention here when Rúmil discusses how the Noldor were long sundered in the Great Lands from the other Eldar who remained in Valinor. At this point, there are three major kindreds of the Eldar: the Noldoli (or Gnomes), the Solosimpi, and the Teleri. The Inwir are a royal clan within the Teleri.

This idea is used to explain the development of the two Elvish languages that will later be known as Quenya and Sindarin. The modes by which a single language diverged into two different languages is different between the Tales and The Silmarillion, however. In the Tales, all of the Elves began speaking a single language; the language diverges into two languages relatively late in their history. When the Noldor were exiled to the Great Lands, the long estrangement between them and the "Koreldar"--the Elves who remained in Valinor--caused a single language to deviate into two. On the other hand, The Silmarillion describes the deviation of the two Elvish languages as occurring much earlier in the history when the Eldar journey to Valinor and leave the Sindar in Middle-earth. Here, the long separation of the Eldar and Sindar results in the development of two languages that share a common source: Quenya and Sindarin, respectively.

Comparing the texts side by side, several important differences can be seen. While the early passages of The Music of the Ainur are very consistent--even identical--when compared with the published Ainulindalë, the ending of The Music did not make it into the Ainulindalë. Parts of it, however, were transposed to the first chapter of the Quenta Silmarillion.

Christopher Tolkien points out in his commentary that the results of the Music are considerably different between The Music of the Ainur and the Ainulindalë. While the Ainur in The Music find that their song has created a world into which they may descend, the Ainur of the Ainulindalë are only given a vision which Ilúvatar makes into a reality with his pronouncement of "Eä! Let these things Be!" The Ainur then must bring into reality the world that they have seen in their vision.

But several other notable differences exist as well. The Music of the Ainur makes no mention of Maiar distinct from the Valar; these lesser Ainur do not yet exist in the mythology. Many who will later come to play valuable roles as Maiar are now considered Valar, i.e. Ossë and Ónen (later called Uinen). The Valar are capable of having children and Manwë and Varda are said to have a son and daughter; in the later mythology, the Valar cannot procreate.

The Music also discusses in greater details the differences between Elves and Men, including differences in their fates at the world's end. Also interesting to note is the fact that Ilúvatar in The Music of the Ainur lacks omniscience: Melko journeys to places in the Void that are untouched by Ilúvatar and even keeps his thoughts secret. No similar mentions are made in the Ainulindalë.

I would like to thank Doc Bushwell for her help in analyzing the differences between the documents, particularly as they pertain to Ilúvatar's omniscience.

About the Author

Dawn Felagund is the founder and owner of the Silmarillion Writers' Guild and has written about one hundred stories, poems, and essays about J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion, some of which have been translated and published in fan magazines around the world. Dawn is a graduate student in the humanities, and her academic work on Tolkien's cosmogony and the Tolkien fan community has appeared in Mythprint and Silver Leaves (in press) and has been presented at Mythmoot II, Mythmoot III, and the New York Tolkien Conference. Dawn can be emailed at

All References by Author

History of Middle-earth Summaries. The History of Middle-earth project is an ongoing attempt to summarize the entire book series and put together the many ideas, commentaries, and footnotes of the series into easy-to-follow summaries.

Silmarillion Chapter Summaries. Designed as a resource for leading readings of The Silmarillion, the chapter summaries are also a nice review for those returning to unfamiliar sections of the book or who would like guidance while reading it for the first time.

A Woman in Few Words: The Character of Nerdanel and Her Treatment in Canon and Fandom. A review of the canon facts available on Nerdanel and discussion of why she remains so popular with fans despite her scarce appearances in the texts.

The History of Middle-earth Summaries: The Music of the Ainur
© Dawn Felagund