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Tolkien's Middle-earth:

Lesson Plans for Secondary School Educators

Unit Seven: Tolkien's Moral Universe


The Discord of Melkor

This handout reproduces the opening of "Ainulindalë," the first tale in The Silmarillion. The title means "The Music of the Ainur" (Tolkien's Holy Ones, represented by the Valar in The Lord of the Rings), and the plot relates how, even though the creator-god Ilúvatar is wholly benevolent, evil nevertheless came into the cosmos.

Melkor, the agent of this malevolence, is clearly a kind of Satan figure, and you may want to have students read "The Discord of Melkor" in conjunction with the biblical account of the Fall of Man. What's most impressive about our "Ainulindalë" excerpt, however, is Tolkien's startling use of an idea not found in Genesis: music as the primal form of communication and the essential substance of creation. Through a wonderfully rich and magnificently sustained flight of rhetoric, we experience an angelic choir bringing order to the cosmos and suffusing reality with beauty and meaning, their voices "like unto harps and lutes, and pipes and trumpets, and viols and organs." But even the most glorious harmony entails the possibility of disharmony: the cacophonous and contrary theme of Melkor, seeker of power and sower of discord.

The language of these paragraphs is lofty, variously reminiscent of the King James Bible, Paradise Lost, and William Blake. If the class is fairly sophisticated, you can assign this handout without hesitation. Less able readers will probably fare best if they read "The Discord of Melkor" aloud, guided by your explanations of the more difficult phrases.

"I Do Not Deal in Absolute Evil"

This handout is an excerpt from an unpublished 1956 essay in which Tolkien meditated on W. H. Audenís review of The Return of the King. Tolkien articulates his opinion that Auden emphasized the theme of freedom at the expense of the novel's religious and ethical concerns. Elaborating on his complaint, the author revisits the story of Ilúvatar and the Ainur, so this selection becomes a natural complement to "The Discord of Melkor." Note how in the second sentence Tolkien evokes the Augustinian idea that evil, like the nonnumber zero, has no substance. The "Morgoth" discussed here is the same malign being as the "Melkor" of the previous handout.

Unit Seven Content

Comments for Teachers
Preliminary Quiz
Key Terms
Discussion Topics
Suggested Activities

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