Tolkien’s creation story

Main characters:

Ilúvatar – Also called Eru. Ilúvatar is the One, who created all things from the Darkness. The Ainur were an offspring of his thought and through music he created all of Arda, including Men and Elves, (by whom he is called Ilúvatar).

The Ainur – Ilúvatar’s “angelic” creations. Divided into the Valar (the most powerful of the Ainur) and the Maiar (servants to the Valar). Much more is said about the Ainur in the Valaquenta.

Melkor is the main Ainu discussed in the Ainulindalë. He was the firstborn of the Ainur, and he was given the greatest gifts of knowledge and power, as well as a share in all the powers of his brethren. He wanted mastery over Middle-earth, and after its creation, he lived there, building the fortress of Angband.
A link to the Melkor encyclopaedia entry is here.

Two other Ainur are also mentioned:

Ulmo – Lord of the Waters, and the King of the Seas. He governs all seas, rivers, lakes, fountains and springs. Because of this, the Elves say that the spirit of Ulmo runs in all the veins of Middle-earth. Ulmo never dwells in one place for too long, and he rarely appears on land. A link to the Ulmo encyclopaedia entry is here.

Manwë – King of Arda, Lord of the West, and husband to Varda. He was the dearest of the Ainur to Ilúvatar. He gave most of his attention on the air, wind, clouds, and birds. Manwë was compassionate and wise, but did not understand evil, and was deceived by his brother Melkor. A link to the Melkor encyclopaedia entry is here.

Before the music

– Ilúvatar created the Ainur – the offspring of his thought – before anything else was created. Each came from a different part of his mind.

– Ilúvatar spoke to the Ainur, proposing to them themes of music, and asking that they sang to him. And they did so, each on their own, songs full of glory of the different parts of the mind of Ilúvatar that each Ainu comprehended.

– And as they listened to each other, the Ainur came to deeper understanding, and they started singing together in groups, increasing their unison and harmony.

– Then Ilúvatar called together all the Ainur and showed them his vision for the world of Arda. He asked them together to create a Great Music, each contributing their own thoughts and devices, which he would listen to and take to adorn his vision.

– The Ainur then all sang together to create a music that would fit and weave round the central vision of Ilúvatar.

The Music

First theme:

As the music started and progressed, Melkor, the greatest of the Ainur, started to interweave his own ideas into the theme, ideas that were not in keeping with those of Ilúvatar, seeking to increase the importance and glory of his own part in the creation.

Melkor had been given the greatest gifts of power and knowledge, and alone among the Ainur, he had been given a share in the gifts of all the others. He had often gone alone into the void, looking for the Imperishable Flame – the spark of life that belonged to Ilúvatar alone – for he wished to bring things of his own into being. It was during these wanderings that he had started to conceive these thoughts that were so unlike those of the others.

And he added these thoughts into his share of the music, causing discord all around. Some who sang near him had their own thoughts disturbed, and their tunes faltered, but some started attuning their music to Melkor’s song, and the resulting discord spread through the whole choir.

Second theme:

When the music had tumbled into being simply a sea of turbulent sound, Ilúvatar started a new theme among the storm, like and yet unlike the previous one.

But again Melkor’s discord rose up against it, and the resulting war of sound was even more discordant than before. Many of the Ainur became dismayed and sang no more, giving Melkor mastery over the music.

Third theme:

Ilúvatar again sent a new theme into the confusion. This theme was unlike the others, being gentle and sweet at the beginning, growing in power and depth as it swept through the music.

“And it seemed at last that there were two musics progressing at one time before the seat of Ilúvatar, and they were utterly at variance. The one was deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came. The other had now achieved a unity of its own; but it was loud, and vain, and endlessly repeated; and it had little harmony, but rather a clamorous unison as of many trumpets braying upon a few notes. And it essayed to drown the other music by the violence of its voice, but it seemed that its most triumphant notes were taken by the other and woven into its own solemn pattern.”

And then at the height of the war of sound, Ilúvatar rose and raised up both of his hands. In one chord, the Music ceased.

Ilúvatar told Melkor that anything he had added to the Music would end up only as part of the greater and wonderful theme of Ilúvatar, and that his imaginings had not altered the Music as originally conceived. After these words, Melkor was filled with shame, and from this arose a secret anger.

The vision of Arda

After the end of the Music, Ilúvatar went into the Void, and the Ainur followed. There he showed them a vision of Arda – giving them sight of their work whereas before they only had hearing. They were shown much of the history of the world, they saw it live and grow. At that time, Ilúvatar told the Ainur of many things, and because of this and because of their own creations in the Music, the Ainur know much of what is, what was, and what will be.

When the Ainur saw the Children of Ilúvatar (elves and men) appear in Arda, they were amazed, for they had not sung these beings into their music. Life in Arda was conceived by the thought of Ilúvatar only, coming in the third theme. When the Ainur saw these beings, they loved them greatly.

The Ainur delighted in seeing their music made real. All except Melkor, who looked at the world and wanted it for himself, that he could be called Lord and be master over the wills of others. But for the time being, he feigned the same delight as the others were truly feeling.

The actual creation of Arda

Ilúvatar then made the vision real:

“Eä! Let these things Be! And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World, and the World shall Be; and those of you that will may go down into it.”

Many of the Ainur decided to descend down into the new world, though some stayed with Ilúvatar beyond the confines of the world. Those that went into Arda had their power bound by Ilúvatar to be contained only in the world until the world’s life was complete, so that they were the life of the world and the world was their life. Thus those Ainur became known as the Valar, the Powers of the World.

When the Valar entered Arda, they realised that the vision they had seen was only a foreshadowing of what was to come, and that they would have to labour with the still shapeless world to form it into the world that knew was to come. The chief architects of the work were Manwë, Ulmo and Aulë.

Melkor also came down into the world, and he started meddling with the work of the other Valar, turning their designs to his own purposes. And then he told the other Valar that Arda would be his kingdom, and that he was taking it for his.

Manwë disagreed with this conclusion, as did the other Valar, and strife was started between Melkor and the other Valar. For a time he then departed to other regions and did not bother Arda.

The Valar then started to take physical forms in the world, usually those of the Children of Ilúvatar, whose coming they eagerly awaited. Some took male forms, some female forms. But these forms were simply as clothing for us, and the Valar may also walk through their kingdom unclad, when even the elves cannot perceive them clearly. And the Valar drew many companions from the Ainur to themselves and together they laboured in the ordering of the Earth.

Melkor remained brooding outside the world, but when he saw the beauty of the forms of the Valar and the world that they were creating, he descended on Arda in fury, and there began the first battle of the Valar and Melkor for the dominion of Arda. When the Valar raised mountains, Melkor cast them down, when they created seas, Melkor spilled them. But slowly and surely, the Valar managed to fashion the Earth and make its structure firm and fair.