Beyond the Walls of the World
We hear a lot about Tolkien’s world – the lands of Middle-earth and the Blessed Realm of Arda. Even the Sun and the Moon, and the stars in the sky gain a considerable amount of attention. But what about beyond that? Beyond the world, beyond even Arda?
There we have the Void. The Outer Darkness. Kúma, the Void Without.
But what was the Void? Was it only Melkor who lived there for a while? What about the Door of Night – where was that? And where was the Void – beyond Arda? Beyond even Ëa maybe?
1. Where is the Void mentioned?
The Void is discussed mainly in “The Silmarillion”, in particular during the “Ainulindalë”, “Of the Beginning of Days”, and much later, during “Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath”.
The World, when formed by Ilúvatar, is set amid the Void in a distinct echo of the creation myths in Genesis:
“Ilúvatar gave to their vision Being, and set it amid the Void” (Ainulindalë)
“the music and the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void.” (Ainulindalë)
“But when they were come into the Void, Ilúvatar said to them: “Behold your Music!” And he showed to them a vision, giving to them sight where before was only hearing; and they saw a new World made visible before them, and it was globed amid the Void, and it was sustained therein, but was not of it.” (Ainulindalë)
The Void was also the source for much of Melkor’s early thoughts and wanderings, seeking the Flame Imperishable throughout the Universe so that he too could bring into Being creatures of his own:
“He [Melkor] had gone often alone into the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame; for desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own and it seemed to him that Ilúvatar took no thought for the Void, and he was impatient with it.” (Ainulindalë)
And even after the formation of Arda, Melkor still jumps back and forth between the vivacity of the world and the silence of the Void:
“Melkor fled before his wrath and his laughter, and forsook Arda … Melkor brooded in the outer darkness … Then Tulkas slept, being weary and content, and Melkor deemed that his hour had come. And he passed therefore over the Walls of the Night with his host, and came to Middle-earth far in the north” (Of the Beginning of Days).
Then, at the end of the Quenta Silmarillion, Melkor is sent back out into the Void. From “Eärendil”:
“But Morgoth himself the Valar thrust through the Door of Night beyond the Walls of the World, into the Timeless Void; and a guard is set for ever on those walls, and Eärendil keeps watch upon the ramparts of the sky.”
2. So what and where is the Void? Where did Melkor end up pacing around for millennia?
It seems to be that the Void is outside Arda, but not outside Eä (the ‘universe’). It seems to describe the uninhabited regions of the universe, the dark and silent parts of creation outside Arda.
We can say that the Void is contained within Eä as we know both that the Valar can exist in the Void (documented both at the start of time, and from Morgoth’s later sojourn), and that the Valar are constrained to Eä during its entire lifetime.
Tolkien corroborates this notion in “Morgoth’s Ring, Myths Transformed”:
“When that body was destroyed he was weak and utterly ‘houseless’, and for that time at a loss and ‘unanchored’ as it were. We read that he was then thrust out into the Void. That should mean that he was put outside of Time and Space, outside Eä altogether; but if that were so this would imply a direct intervention of Eru (with or without supplication of the Valar). It may however refer inaccurately* to the extrusion or flight of his spirit from Arda.”
“*[footnote to the text] Since the minds of Men (and even of the Elves) were inclined to confuse the ‘Void’ , as a conception of the state of Not-being, outside Creation or Eä, with the conception of vast *spaces* within Eä, especially those conceived to lie all about the enisled ‘Kingdom of Arda’ (which we should probably call the Solar System).”
3. The Timeless Halls of Ilúvatar
One has to then wonder where the Timeless Halls of Ilúvatar are situated. These were also described as being outside of the world, in the timeless void, and it would seem to me that they seem to form a separate area of matter (if Ilúvatar and his Ainur can be considered material in any way) within the outer darkness.
4. An evolving universe
Tolkien’s ideas for his cosmology changed greatly over time, but in general, the changes involved the nature of Arda (in particular the origin and nature of the Sun and Moon, and the shape of the world), rather than the nature and placement of the Void. However, a certain amount of extra information can be gained from a quick study of three of the more important stages of Tolkien’s writings – that of “The Book of Lost Tales” (HoME I), the “Ambarkanta” in “The Shaping of Middle-earth” (HoME IV), and the later manuscripts C and C* discussed in “Morgoth’s Ring” (HoME X).
– “Book of Lost Tales” (HoME I)
Already in “The Book of Lost Tales” we have the basis for the published accounts of the Void. It was called ‘the Night without form or time’, the ‘outer dark’, the ‘limitless dark’ and the ‘starless void’, and it was separated from Ilú (the World) by the cold, invisible and impassable Door of Night.
The concept of a Wall around the World is also in place, though then called the Wall of Things, and it was mentioned that “Vai [the Outer Sea] runneth from the Wall of Things unto the Wall of Things”.
The Walls are described as deep-blue, and formed like walls of cities or gardens, making a ring-fence around the then flat world. The Door of Night was set in the West of the Walls, and because the barricade was originally much lower in the east, there was no corresponding door in that direction.
The idea of the Walls being surmountable in the East survived into the published “Silmarillion”, where Morgoth passed over the Walls of the Night when returning to Arda after his expulsion by Tulkas (“Of the Beginning of Days”). This does, unfortunately, contradict much of the later cosmology built up by the time of the publication of “The Silmarillion” – as Christopher Tolkien says, the lowered Eastern Walls become “an aspect of intractable problems arising in the later cosmology”. Why? Because the idea that Morgoth could simply creep back over the Walls would negate any value placed on Eärendil’s watch.
– “Ambarkanta” (in “The Shaping of Middle-earth”, HoME IV)
In the Ambarkanta, the “World” (“Ilu”) is “globed” within the impassable, invisible Walls of the World (the Ilurambar) and the “World is set amid Kúma, the Void, the Night without form or time:
“It is not indeed explained in the Ambarkenta how the Valar entered the world at its beginning, passing through the impassable Walls … But the central idea at this time is clear: from the Beginning to the Great Battle in which Melko was overthrown, the world with all its inhabitants was inescapably bounded; but at the very end, in order to extrude Melko into the Void, the Valar were able to pierce the Walls by a Door.”
The walls are described thusly:
“About all the World are the Ilurambar, or Walls of the World. They are as ice and glass and steel, being above all imagination of the Children of Earth cold, transparent, and hard. They cannot be seen, nor can they be passed, save by the Door of Night.”
“The Land of Valinor slopes downward from the feet of the Mountains, and its western shore is at the level of the bottoms of the inner seas. And not far thence, as has been said, are the Walls of the World; and over against the westernmost shore in the midst of Valinor is Ando Lómen the Door of Timeless Night that pierceth the Walls and opens upon the Void. For the World is set amid Kúma, the Void, the Night without form or time. But none can pass the chasm and the belt of Vaiya and come to that Door, save the great Valar only. And they made that Door when Melko was overcome and put forth into the Outer Dark; and it is guarded by Eärendil.”
The idea of a Door of Night, as already shown, comes from the beginning of the drafts of the mythology. However, its original use as a gate through which the Sun travelled each day was quickly changed – as here – to being a door through which Melko was thrust from the world.
– Changes after the “Ambarkenta”
Little actually changed after the “Ambarkenta”. The principal alteration, however, was the addition of Melkor’s original foray into the Void after fleeing from Tulkas, giving him two times of exit and re-entry into the World instead of the original one.
A slightly problematic text was published in “Myths Transformed”, concerning the light of Varda and Arien, and leaving us some unanswered questions about this late stage of evolution of the cosmology.
Eru to Varda: “”I will give unto thee a parting gift. Thou shalt take into Eä a light that is holy, coming new from Me … with thee it shall enter into Eä, and be in Eä, but not of Eä.” (Myths Transformed Text II, Morgoth’s Ring)
Not of Eä? Interesting …
And then we have Arien:
“he [Melkor] ravished Árië [Arien], desiring both to abase her and to take into himself her powers. Then the spirit of Árië went up like a flame of anguish and wrath, and departed for ever from Arda;* and the Sun was bereft of the Light of Varda”
marginal note: *”Indeed some say that it was released from Eä” (Myths Transformed Text II, Morgoth’s Ring)
Released from Eä? Is that possible? What is outside Eä? Is the Void outside Eä as well as inside? Or is leaving Eä utter extinction – in which case, we would have the first case of a spirit being completely extinguished.
What was the Void? The Void was the outer darkness beyond the World – the lands, the skies and the Outer Sea. It was dark, cold, empty and measureless.
Was it only Melkor who lived there for a while? All the Valar lived in the Void before the creation of Arda, and the Timeless Halls of Ilúvatar seem to exist somewhere within the Void. Melkor had two periods of his life in the Void, and created creatures of shadow while there. Eärendil sails there, guarding the Door of Night, and it is even possible that the spirit of Arien ended up there.
What about the Door of Night – where was that? The Door of Night was in the Western Walls of the World. Initially, it had no counterpart in the east, but later the Gates of Morning were positioned there.
And where was the Void – beyond Arda? Beyond even Ëa maybe? Beyond Arda, but within Eä.
Beyond that, we know little. The Void is dark and mysterious, and many would say that that is how it should remain.
– “The Silmarillion”
– “Book of Lost Tales I” (HoME I)
– “The Shaping of Middle-earth” (HoME 4)
– “Morgoth’s Ring” (HoME X)