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Tolkien's Primordial Spirituality

and Mythical Thought


Table of Contents

§1. Introduction...........................................................................................1
§2. From Myth to Metaphysics...................................................................2
§3. Divine Architecture and Metahistory....................................................4
§4. Atlantis and Hyperborea........................................................................8
§5. Divine Providence and Sacral Sovereignty...........................................9
§6. Conclusion.............................................................................................12
§1. Introduction

It was out of discontent with England's poor mythology that J.R.R. Tolkien started conceiving
the largest legendarium known in modern literature. As he remarks, even the Arthurian myths are not
purely English, and what is regarded as Britain there can also be Bretagne, which shares the basic
coordinates of the myth with its insular version.

Tolkien's intent was indeed to create a mythology for England, one that didn't contain the flaws
of the Arthurian world, especially its lack of cohesion, its focus on the Christian (temporal) world and,
the most important, the feeling that it was improperly naturalized to the British soil. As he says, “I had
in mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to
the level of romantic fairy-story – the larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser
drawing splendour from the vast backcloths – which I could dedicate simply to: to England, to my
country.”

While it is not possible to argue that J.R.R. Tolkien intentionally designed his world to fit in a
traditional pattern, as he rejected the use of intentional allegory, it is somehow evident that his vision of
the world is more than a simple literary tool. In my opinion, the authenticity of his works resides in the
proper understanding of principles once valid, now no longer to be found in the real world. That points
to the necessity of fantasy, a vision of the world different from what we consider to be true. Tolkien
himself did not consider his legendarium as “false”. In a letter dated 1951, he clearly stated that a
certain category of „truth”cannot be perceived by means other than myth. Without explicit allegory, but
with a greater meaning, Tolkien’s mythical world is, in more than a few aspects, traditional. While it
may seem in the first place that there are no higher meanings in the world of Arda, it is erroneous to
think the myth as devoid of meaning just because its author did not intend to put it there. In fact, it is
hardly possible to say that myth has an author, as he is more of a witness to the unfolding of things
most marvellous, and essentially most true.

If one takes the title too literally, an explanation might be in order. Tolkien is not a religious
writer, as he stressed countless times in his letters. He carefully removed all marks of particular religion
from his myths, and did this only to stress more important (more primordial) aspects. The writing of
myths is, as Tolkien pointed out in his essay “On Fairy-stories”, is an act of sub-creation, it involves
the creation of an imaginary construct following the same patterns that point out the work of God in our
world. It is “a tribute to the infinity of [God's] potential variety” (Letters, 153). The religious leaves the
exoteric place which is the narrative so as to be “absorbed into the story and the symbolism” (Letters,
142). It is a switch from the myth (the written one, not to be confused with its timeless essence, which
is not distinguished by name) to metaphysics.

§2. From Myth to Metaphysics

It seems clear to me that any tentative to approach the truth contained in myths leads one to
metaphysics, the attempt to investigate the first principles of all things. Tolkien's Silmarillion is also a
cosmology, from the birth of the Universe to the creation of all things seen and unseen. While
Silmarillion can be read as any other narrative, its majestic beauty perceivable by anyone, thanks to its
mythical essence it contains the Truth. Simply Truth, on the absolute level, which is synonymous with
Being and God, not particular truths. This is why every myth can be understood on the metaphysical
level, on which the essence of things becomes clearer. Or, as Ananda Coomaraswamy puts it, “the
myth is the penultimate truth, of which all experience is the temporal reflection. The mythical narrative
is of timeless and placeless validity, true nowhere and everywhere. Myth embodies the nearest
approach to absolute truths that can be stated in words” (Hinduism and Buddhism).

The legendarium begins, in the same manner as the Book of Genesis, with the Principle. He,
Eru Iluvatar, existing before and beyond Time, first created the Ainur with his thought. As
“emanations” of the divine thought, the Ainur inherently possessed power and virtues of their own.
There is not much to develop on the nature of these beings. The Ainur are personal because they are
pure forms with no matter whatsoever, beings of form and existence, as Saint Thomas described angels
in De Ente et Essentia, intelligentia est habens formam et esse. Their knowledge, which is also the
basis of their authority in the created world, is of divine origin, but limited and particular, and the limits
of their understanding always let obscure parts in Eru’s plan remain unveiled. The true greatness of the
forefather lies in the intimate parts of his thought, where the unity of truth resides, and in the yet
unfolded history, source of wonder and amazement for both mortals and Ainur. The act of Creation,
which Tolkien designed with much detail and originality, is the point where the similarities with
classical myths are abandoned. The History is seen as the Music of the Ainur turned into being by
Iluvatar. Eru himself plays a great role in the act. He has a plan for the world and his thought is
embodied in a theme. He also possesses the active principle, “the Flame Imperishable”. Actually
Tolkien does not imply that Eru was the Flame, he says that it was “with Him”.

„Then the voices of the Ainur began to fashion the theme of Iluvatar to a great
music; and a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony
that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the music
and the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void.”

Later in The History of Middle-Earth, Tolkien describes the Flame in a similar way: “This
appears to mean the Creative activity of Eru (in some sense distinct from or within Him) by which
things could be given real and independent (though derivative and created) existence.” It is important
for the metaphysician to observe that here Tolkien doesn't talk about a Thomist materia prima, but of
that very aspect of God responsible with Creation. He is indeed consistent with the Realist Scholastic
perspective, in the sense that one can observe that beneath the speculative (and mythical, in our case)
construct lies a primordial attitude oriented towards the act of producing things (thus giving them an
autonomous existence), which Heidegger believed to be fundamental for the whole Western
speculative theology. It should be noted that Tolkien draws a lot of ideas from influent theologians
such as St. Augustine, Boethius and St. Thomas Aquinas and it is impossible to get a clear image of his
thought without the Medieval Scholastic thought. This is fortunate in the sense that his work cannot be
'ideologised' to serve other purposes than those envisioned by its author.

There is no myth without metaphysics, such as there is no theology without a conceptual


apparatus to explain its own dogmas. Tolkien's debt to Medieval Scholastics and to the Neo-platonic
philosophy of Boethius is even clearer when studying the nature of the Music of the Ainur. From
Plotinus (though the works of Boethius, whose treatises interested Tolkien as a philologist) the concept
of musica mundana, or the music of the spheres, enters the legendarium. The central idea is that music
marks the existent things according to their perfection. In Tolkien's myth, it is music which forms the
idea (in the Platonic sense) of Arda. Or, as St. Thomas likes to formulate, it is quod quid erat esse,
what was before the world came into being. As a consequence, we realize that the Music of the Ainur
is the essence of the world, while the Imperishable Flame is its existence (the concept of existentia is
understood as 'actuality' in Catholic theology). The Realist Scholastic idea that the name of a thing is
its essence is incorporated in the myth of the Music of the Ainur. Thus the Creation reveals itself as
coherent and essentially identical to the Christian version, both sharing the same metaphysics of Being,
the same distinction between essence and existence. From Ainulindalë we understand that the Music
was existent before it came into actuality in Arda. Thus the distinction between essence and existence
in the world is real, for the Music and the Flame both possess some sort of being. Even though Tolkien
was by no means a theologian, the way in which he constructed his myths shows that he was well
aware of the essence of the Christian spirit. In my view, the only way to show how consistent is his
work with traditional sacred teachings is though the essence of its symbolism. The essence of the
essence of the myth, which is metaphysics, is the key to understand how intimately Traditional is
Tolkien's thought.

§3. Divine Architecture and Metahistory

So Tolkien’s Creation is in fact a craft. The unity of the theme passed into the multiplicity of
things through the work of the Ainur. An episode somewhat similar to the Vedic myth of the three
Ribhu craftsmen who divided into four parts the chalice of the Titan. The Ainur are, like the great part
of Hyperborean divine figures, largely functional. The generic title of „Power” describes the initial
aspect of immaterial divinity of the Ainur. Made to reflect in their own nature the perfection of
Iluvatar, they are still bounded and not limitless. Instruments of Eru in the Creation of Arda, the World
that Is, the Ainur gain personality following their choice to enter Arda and partake in the unfolding of
history, the drama of their own shaping. “Then they put on the Raiment of Earth and descended into it,
and dwelt therein”. Though it may seem that the Valar (the name Elves gave to the Ainur dwelling in
Arda) gained their nature as a result of a weakness, a “desire”, their choice is in full accord with their
divine being. Eru Iluvatar’s vision was just a step in the great plan of bringing the world from
potentiality to actuality, the plan in which their role was to shape the divine seed, both in the unfolding
of history (the Music of the Ainur) and in the corporeal world. “Then those of the Ainur who desired it
arose and entered into the World at the beginning of Time and it was their task to achieve it, and by
their labours to fulfill the vision which they have seen.”

“Therefore Iluvatar gave their vision Being, and set it amid the Void, and the Secret Fire was
sent to burn at the heart of the World.” Again, Tolkien mentions the Flame, the principle of activity
which keeps the World into Being. The first object of Melkor’s desire, which he searched in the Void,
and for that he never found it. That shows that Melkor, despite his great power, was unable of
understanding the divine thought. His music, although majestic, is vain. The power does not reside in
the form, but in the essence, and here the Enemy shows his internal weakness and why he is doomed to
disappear. The continuous struggle between the Children of Iluvatar with Melkor has a correspondent
(if Tolkien’s way of thinking permits the use of the word) in the essential contradiction between the
divine law of the World, the principle of the Imperishable Flame, eternal, occult and immutable, and
the power of Melkor, whose authority resides in fear and illusion, thus being limited and changeable.
His power appears in all things as the result of blasphemous mockery of true nature and authority of the
Valar. That’s why he never managed to subdue the sea or bring it into his domain, as his simulacrum of
order cannot restrain the primordial forces of water, “the fairest of all things”. Incapable of true
creation, Melkor remained a master of illusion and counterfeit, and his desire to corrupt everything that
was new and fair never ceased. Even the Orcs, whom he created by twisting the Elves’ beauty, do not
revere him as their father, but rather obey him out of fear, never ceasing to hate him.

The struggle which reflects the original musical contest in which Melkor arose against the will
of Iluvatar is the basis of the metahistory of Arda. Thus the unfolding of the drama has a deeply sacral
and symbolical dimension, and History appears as the continuous re-enacting of the initial
confrontation. The Music of the Ainur is by no means the ideal image of the World as it existed before
history, in a way similar to Plato’s Ideas. It is not pure, not simple, it is a created thing. Confronting the
Vision of Iluvatar with the World at the beginning of Time, the Valar found that they were not similar.
“For the Great Music had been but the growth and flowering of thought in the Timeless Halls, and the
Vision only a foreshadowing.” The Music is indeed the course of metahistory, and by mixing their own
thoughts in Iluvatar’s theme, the Valar had put the world into motion , revealing for the first time the
becoming which is the cause of all multiplicity. So the order of Arda is much more than the primordial
state of uncorrupted Being. As Iluvatar managed to overcome Melkor’s music by introducing it into his
own, the order of the world is the integration of good and evil, of particular order and particular chaos
in a scheme in which all things gain their value in the thought of Iluvatar. Time is not homogenous, as
the Music itself was not as such, either. It is indeed cyclical. Inexorable in some ways, because it
mirrors the Music of the Ainur, but still incomprehensible, as the Music is only the basis of
metahistory, and its fulfilling often takes aspects that amaze even the Powers, thoughts intimate to Eru
and brought into Being by his own will.

As creation is the first divine act of putting order into chaos, into the vortex of infinite
possibilities which Tolkien calls the Void, the unfolding of history culminates with the contrary
process, the undoing of everything marred by Melkor in the beginning, so as the World to be rebuilt
and the Theme be played aright. Chaos has its own value, as it facilitates regeneration. Overall,
Tolkien’s divinity is conceived as coincidentia oppositorum. Iluvatar reveals to Melkor the illusion of
individual freedom. All good and evil are conceivable in the thought of Eru, so Melkor’s desire of
individuality beyond the the great plan of Iluvatar is pure ignorance. “And thou, Melkor, wilt discover
all the secret thoughts of thy mind, and wilt perceive that they are but a part of the whole and tributary
to its glory.” Tricked by his vanity, Melkor no longer recognizes himself as a part of the divine plan.
However, he never ceases to be. And the order of the world, surpassing all imperfection, is the organic
view in which all things take part, partially and imperfectly, to the achievement of the perfect thing
devised by the perfect mind.

While Tolkien’s world proved meaningful as it revealed its metahistory, the same meanings are
to be found in the shape of Arda. Symbolic landmarks reveal the divine presence in Arda and the
continuous strife between law and chaos. Tolkien’s world is, in the same way as the traditional man
viewed the space around him, geographically consecrated and its features are often cosmologically
relevant. The most common is the symbolism of Center, whose first manifestation is the occult
(“Secret”) principle of the Imperishable Flame. Either an island in the middle of a lake, a sacred land, a
mountain or a tower, these landmarks have a precise function: to organize the universe around them, to
become a place where the World under the Stars comes closer to the Timeless Halls of Iluvatar.
Ritually re-enacting the cosmogonic work of the Valar, Elves and Men confirm the supremacy of the
spirit against the treachery of Melkor. Again and again, the symbolism of the Center is the same
cosmogony on lesser scales, devised to keep the world in order.

Apart from the hidden Flame, in the first ages before the coming of the Elves, the World had a
present and efftective center. Tolkien firstly talks about the Isle of Almaren in the middle of the Great
Lake, the first dwelling of the Valar. The image of land in the middle of water clearly indicates a center
of order amidst the primordial, unshaped and chaotic waters. However, Tolkien’s views on the nature
of water are ambiguous and uncommon. The fairest of all things, water is the image of Time, to which
all Valar are inevitably bound. For Tolkien, fire is chaos, the primordial fire from the depths of the
earth, the tool of Melkor. As the strife between the Powers and Melkor precedes the World, but is
essentially tied to it, cosmology reflects this battle. “When therefore Earth was yet young and full of
flame, Melkor coveted it, and he said to the other Valar: <<This shall be my kingdom, and I name it
unto myself>>”. Subduing the fires under the land is the first act of the shaping of Arda, the first time
when Melkor’s simulacrum on order is contested by legitimate authority. Although fire is the main
chaotic element, water retains a sovereignity of its own, and the Vala Ulmo is often seen as a
distinctive figure among his fellows, not dwelling in their lands and following only his own advice.
Although it doesn’t resemble the water kingdom of Absu and Tiamat, the domain of Ulmo is both
loved and feared by the Children of Iluvatar, who find great wisdom in Ulmo and great peril in
seastorms1.

Returning to the symbolism of the Center, it manifests later in Valinor, as the mountain
Taniquetil, where the Vala Manwe resides. The first sign of a ritual regarding the consecration of the
World appears in the story of the Teleri, the Elves who chose not to dwell in Valinor, but on its shores,
under the stars of Arda. On the island of Tol Eressea they raised a high mound which stood under the
light of the Trees, and their city was built upon it. This is an act of deliberate sub-creation of a copy of
the Undying Lands to sanction the order of the lands around it. The Teleri approached the divine in an
original manner: instead of taking their place in Valinor, they chose to bring the light of Valinor into
the world, thus confirming the unity of creation as the will of Iluvatar was. When they abandoned
Valinor for the search of the Silmarils, the Noldor did indeed break the law of the Valar, but by doing
so they confirmed the way of the warrior, the active resistance against chaos. However, their act sealed
Valinor, thus changing the Center from its effective state to an occult, hibernating land, awaiting the
hero to reactivate the bonds between the Valar and the Children of Iluvatar. The estrangement of
Valinor marks the decadence of Arda. The Deathless Lands were slowly separated from Middle-Earth,
remaining accessible only to those who knew “the straight way”, immortals like Elves and a few
mortals who achieved the right to enter “by special grace” (Letters, 156). After the sundering of
Numenor, Manwe remodeled Arda, making it spherical, and removed Valinor from it. Thus the cycle
of decadence closed and became inescapable, as the Center was no longer effective since mortals broke
the Ban of the Valar. “Men may sail now West, if they will, but return only into the east and so back
again; for the world is round, and finite, and a circle inescapable, save by death.” The True West
remained an occult land, inaccessible by physical means, but only by truly heroic nature.

Overall, the shape of Arda is by no means unintentional, but reveals a sacred geography, a
traditional world to which Elves are naturally bound, even in decadence, and in which Men struggle to
pursue a spiritual way that goes both according to their mortal nature and against it, for the true
transcendence is in the Principle, beyond the confines of the World.

§4. Atlantis and Hyperborea

We already suggested that an important part of Tolkien's legendarium is the scheme of history

1 Like Élivágr, the flow from Hvergelmir present in the Eddas, the sea in Tolkien's legendarium bears the rhythm of the
breath of the universe.
and the underlying metaphysical causality of its creation and decay, which we named metahistory. And
because it's an epic myth, a doctrine of the Ages and the subsequent changes which mark the decadence
of later times is inherent to it. From the heroic age of Beowulf to the Hesiodic myths, every
fundamental myth contains a version of cyclical history. Tolkien's variant is on one side similar with
the general model, but on the other side clearly individualized by moral and Christian patterns.

Hesiod's succession of ages is clearly amoral, where differences between ages are largely
intrinsic and where there is no continuity between ages, as there is no humanity to survive the divine
ordeals which mark the end of every age. Tolkien's ideas, on the other hand, are firmly rooted in the
Christian paradigm, to which morality and free will are essential. Thus, there aren't great differences
between ages. Even though Men appear later than Elves, they all partake in the events of the First Age
of Myth. Evil, and the subsequent battle it wages against all that is good and lawful, is also unchanged.
Temptation leads the fair people to evil and perverts their nature, a corruption which is visible first of
all in the ever-decreasing lifespan, a motif present in both Classical and Christian myths. In the struggle
of the free races against the corrupting powers of evil and the important role of moral and spiritual
imperatives we see a remnant of Augustine's philosophy of history from De Civitate Dei.

There is a clear association in every myth between old ages and everything that is beautiful and
majestic. Tolkien's myth makes no exception. The Stone of Erech, a relic of Numenor, the blades of
Westernesse which Tom Bombadil gives to the hobbits, one of which was used by Merry to impale the
Witch-King (Gimli acknowledges that “in metal-work we cannot rival our fathers, many of whose
secrets are lost”), the walls of Minas Tirith and the masterwork mithril helms of the Citadel guards are
all remnants of lost Ages and all recall memories and longing for the fair past, in antithesis with the
decadent present. There is a a strong sense that the majesty and beauty of Elves and Men fade and the
deceitful abilities of the Enemy grow as history unfolds, yet the fight is always present. Somehow we
understand that decadent Ages require even more heroism, even more selflessness and spirit of
sacrifice to overcome the assaults of the Enemy. If in the First Age great hosts of Elves face Morgoth in
his realm, the Third Age sees more unusual heroes. This can be interpreted through the Catholic idea of
Providence, but it will be done later.

It is common among reviewers to consider that Middle-Earth was set in a remote time and
place, separated from ours. Tolkien disagrees with both assumptions. “I have, I suppose, constructed an
imaginary time, but kept my feet on my own mother-earth for place. I prefer that to the contemporary
mode of seeking remote globes in ‘space’. [...] Middle-earth is [...] a modernization [...] of an old word
for the inhabited world of Men. [...] Many reviewers seem to assume that Middle-earth is another
planet!” (Letters, 286). The dimension of 'Northerness' pervades the mythos in such a fashion that the
result is not an acultural narrative, but a deeply-rooted dimension of Europe's mythical past. It is not
wrong to say that Tolkien's legendarium is not only English, but European. Middle-Earth is indeed our
world, and its history is also, in its general lines, ours. It is a mark of of the modern decadence that we
no longer understand the true European spirit, rooted in the values of identity, honour and sacrifice.

In the Notion Club Papers Tolkien described that a drastic change in the course of history
(which could be the passing into a new Age) could be able to change not only the present and the
future, but also the past. Our history could be no more than an illusion, as current history and the
timeline of the myth are clearly different, and in their very essence. The sinking of Atlantis (or the
Downfall of Numenor, as Tolkien preferred to call it) is no longer present in our history not because it
never existed, but because we live in a degraded world which rejected its past. But, as Tolkien says, it
is in myth's power to influence the modern man by waking up memories of humanity's dead past. This
is something a positive mind would reject as nonsense, but for the Traditional man it is the truth.

“And now is the end of the fair times come very near . . . all the beauty that yet was on earth
fragments of the unimagined loveliness of Valinor whence came the folk of the Elves long long ago
now goeth it all up in smoke. . . .” (The Book of Lost Tales, Part Two). Again and again, Tolkien insists
that the longing for a distant past is nothing more than a restoration of a sense of wonder in our lives,
which is also a restoration of the human mind. He calls it in his article On Fairy-Stories a Recovery.
But it is the sense of loss, the elegiac tone of the epic which certify that Tolkien indeed sensed those
things as real, however not in the empirical sense we use.

§5. Divine Providence and Sacral Sovereignty

We have already shown that Tolkien is indebted to Christian theologians such as St. Augustine
and Boethius. His myths are deeply concerned with the relation between good and evil, in both
ontological and moral senses. As Augustine, and later the Conservative philosophers of the XIX
century Joseph de Maistre and Donoso Cortes, Tolkien agrees that evil is present and potent, and its
presence in history is dreadful and corrupting. "I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I
do not expect "history" to be anything but a long defeat—though it contains (and in a legend may
contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory" (Letters). Temptation is
always present, and what is good can become evil if it succumbs to the lust of power and selfishness.
It is a recurrent motif in Tolkien's myths that evil corrupts every being, from the highest Valar,
Melkor, to the lowest mortal. But there is always the hope of redemption. Gandalf comments to Frodo
that in sparing Gollum's life he let him have his moment another day. Gandalf's invocation of
Providence is significant to the understanding of the Christian bases of Tolkien's mythical thought. The
world may be full of evil, but it is not arbitrary. If even arduous efforts lead to failure this is not
because the world is beyond hope, but because human (and not only human) nature is weakened by
evil. Frodo travels all the way to Mount Doom wearing the Ring and succumbs to its temptation at the
foot of the hellish furnace, just as Isildur at the end of the Second Age.

Evil is powerful, but not all-powerful, because its existence is illusory, so it cannot but fail in
the end. How can we reconcile, then, the long strain of failures that the free races of Middle-Earth
knew (the fall of Gondolin, the Downfall of Numenor, to name a few) with the hope of the defeat of
Evil in the very end? This is the point in which Augustinian theology speaks about Providence. It is
Boethius who gives us an appealing definition: "Thus Providence is the unfolding of temporal events as
this is present to the vision of the divine mind; but this same unfolding of events as it is worked out in
time is called Fate. Although the two are different things, one depends upon the other, for the process
of Fate derives from the simplicity of Providence." (Boethius, De Consolatione Philosophiae) It seems
clear that hope is nothing that the belief that our understanding of events may not be the way it looks in
the divine minds. And all heroes of Middle-Earth ignore Fate. In their selflessness they abandon
themselves to the work of Providence. Even if Valinor is closed, Eȁrendil journeys into the unknown to
find the divine land and bring the plea of mortals to the Valar. Frodo ultimately fails, but it is the the
action of Gollum that brings his mission to an end and redeems Gollum, even his intent was not good.
Why was Frodo found by Rivendell Elves after his battle with the Ringwraiths? The work of
Providence is an eternal mystery, but it is its existence which deems human actions worthy. Without
the divine presence, and this is a clear Augustianian idea, every human action, however honourable, is
a failure. There is free will, but divine grace perfects it and makes it effective. This is why Melkor may
seem powerful, but he is doomed to defeat, because he rebelled on his will. The concept of free will as
the voluntary attempt of man to harmonize his will with the divine will is central in Augustine's
Confessions. Even in myth, divine grace can be unmerited. Gollum does succumb to the Ring and his
defeat (and the destruction of the Ring) is the key to salvation both for him and Frodo. As Tolkien said,
the story is about the ennoblement of the meek, those who make themselves vessels of the divine plan.

As Aristotle wrote, "Nature makes nothing in vain." Everything has a purpose. St. Thomas
finished Aristotle's thought: "Grace perfects nature." When Frodo complains of living in an evil,
burdensome time, Gandalf replies: "'So do I ... and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not
for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." The meaning of
the events that shape our fate is hidden, yet our acts reveal themselves as meaningful only in
accordance with the divine grace.

There is a mythical figure in Tolkien's works which appears a bearer of grace, and that one is
the hero. Sometimes a king like Aragorn, sometimes a cursed warrior like Turin. It is in the
transcending dimension of heroism that the world finds its salvation, the moment in which the divine
intervenes to stop the decay. The hero is not a superhuman, separated from the world in his quest to the
ultimate Enlightenment, like in most Classic myths (as an example, Herakles seems fitting), but the one
who realizes in his person the pinnacle of selflessness and mercy. Aragorn is the rightful king, and his
being radiates with the majesty of kingship. This is what ancient Iranian literature called xvareno, the
transcendent glory of kings.

It is worthy to be noted that for Tolkien it is essential to distinguish between legitimate and
illegitimate authority. When Saruman invokes the principles of order and rule to explain his siding with
Sauron, Gandalf is quick to rebuke him. Preaching tyranny in the name of the high ideal of order is
what an illegitimate ruler does. In fact, few people from the Third Age name themselves kings. The
powerful Galadriel, bearer of a Ring, does not. Neither does Elrond. Gondor is ruled by a long line of
stewards who rule in the place of the missing king. There is a feeling that true kingship belongs to the
lost Ages of myth, and that the present world is without a center, with civilization scattered and weak
before the Enemy. We understand that in this context the role of the king is salvific. He is both a ruler
and a healer, a bastion against evil and a protector of the free races. Somehow, the king is the bearer of
divine grace2. Kings are providential, tyrants are powerful.

The most common trait of heroes in Tolkien's myth is that they bring destruction with them.
Beren passes through the Girdle of Melian unharmed into the realm of Thingol (thus breaching the
protection of the city), Turin brings death everywhere he seeks shelter, Earendil begins his journey in
the aftermath of Gondolin's fall to the Enemy. Melian tells Thingol that none can stop Beren to reveal
the hidden kingdom of Doriath by passing through the Girdle. It is a sense of destiny, of a higher
calling that is visible in heroes' lives, and this is exactly what we undestood as providence. Their will

2 Under Aragorn's rule, the silver tree in Minas Tirith flowers again, echoing the Medieval myth of the eschatological
coming of the Empreror of the Holy Roman Empire, who will make the Dried Tree flower again.
and providence shape the circumstances of their quest. In this Boethian (but of clear Aristotelic origin)
view, free will and fate are not incompatible, as free will operates within the universal order, fate being
only the temporal manifestation of that order.

Now we can understand what was wrong with Saruman's apology of order 3. The order as
reflected in his speech was a particular order, with no tie with the plan of Illuvatar. Yet agreeing to the
same ideal, no Steward of Gondor ever raised himself to kingship, as kingship is a mark of special
grace. Between the brutal, mechanized power of Sauron and the subtle, providential authority of kings
one can see the distinction that marks the entirety of Tolkien's thought, who found himself in an age of
tyrants, who used extensively religious symbolism as a means to legitimize their power. Following the
Christian ideas on sovereignty as they appear in St. Thomas Aquinas' work, kingship is essentially an
act of ministry, the humbling of the self in service of the people. Aragorn is thaumaturge, a trait which
echoes Medieval beliefs in the healing powers of kings (the kings of France were traditionally able to
heal scrofulous abscesses), Sam Gamgee, as Mayor of the Shire, heals its broken land.

§6. Conclusion

So the time came to sum up this essay and end in the hope that, at least in a shallow manner,
some of the traits of Tolkien's mythical thought have been presented. It was asserted in the beginning
of the essay that Tolkien's legendarium possessed some sort of spiritual background, albeit not
explicitly rooted in any historical tradition. We are now able to understand its basic dimensions, which
are the qualitative space and time, the problems of fate and providence and the heroic ideal. It should
be mentioned that it is intrinsically a flawed attempt to disclose some meanings from patterns that
might appear in Tolkien's work. The myth is in itself elusive as its beauty and truth always find a way
for themselves into the reader's mind. The idea of Ananda Coomaraswamy cited earlier in the essay
makes it clear that mythical thought is closer to the truth than every other form of human knowledge,
so trying to apply to myths our own discursive reason is foolish. Yet such attempt is not at all useless,
as it exposes ideas that are relevant for the history of ideas, and in our context the history of mythical
ideas.

3 This is also an example of how Tolkien chose to attack the totalitarian regimes of his time, by asserting that order is not
necessarily divine and it can be espoused as an ideal by individuals completely resistant to transcendence, as historian
Ernst Nolte labeled the Nazis.
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