Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The chief theme of The Silmarillion is the cosmic struggle of good against evil. Although never explicitly Christian, the tales reflect a value system consistent with strict morality, set in a universe created and ruled by a benevolent Lord. Arda may or may not be Earth, the similarities and differences are both striking, yet Morgoth is very much like Satan, fallen angel and corrupter of creation. Individual will and freedom are prized, yet the search for individual power outside the benevolence of Iluvatar is the source of evil in Arda. The boundaries of the individual within divine foreknowledge are explored, with death a frequent theme.

The Valar are immortal powers, while Elves are bound to the life of Arda, and Men are mortal, free to die and leave the world. The history of Nimenor is centered on this theme, but it is only one. Tolkien’s tale of Beren and Luthien is another, with death endured for love and Elven endurance exchanged for mortality. Turin Turambar accepts his life from Glaurung the dragon and learns death to be kinder than self-betrayal. Elwing and Eerendil escape the bounds of mortality, transcending death with the Silmaril, while their sons make the choice of fates. Overall, the power of death is seen as a gift to mankind and an integral part of humanity.

The struggle of good and evil is expressed in terms of light and dark and in a related motif in terms of openness and closure. Throughout the tales of The Silmarillion, the Valar express themselves primarily through light. They are the creators of the Two Lamps, the Two Trees, the stars, and eventually the sun and moon. Morgoth is the destroyer of light with the Lamps and Trees, the thief of light with the Silmarils. The appearance of the Sun sets him and his forces into disarray. The inner glow of volcanic fires as seen in the smithies of Elves and Dwarves can produce good things but also can lead to evil, as in Sauron’s use of Mount Doom in the forging of the ruling ring. Morgoth’s Balrogs are attended by a paradoxical dark fire, an evil glow unlike the light of celestial bodies, which is good although often sad. Twilight under stars is Elven and beautiful, while the fierce inner glow of Glaurung the...

(The entire section is 908 words.)