Of Aulë and Adam

           A number of interesting, and possibly even significant, parallels suggest themselves between Genesis and the story of the Valar Aulë’s attempt at fashioning the Dwarves in The Silmarillion. When the Creator, Ilúvatar, confronts Aulë, he asks him, “Why hast thou done this? Why dost thou attempt a thing which thou knowest is beyond thy power and thy authority?”, questions which may put us in mind of the inquiry Yahweh makes to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: “Where art thou?… Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?” (Gen. 3:9, 11). Aulë, in short, is an Adam figure, a representative or covenant head whose transgression in this story will prove to be no ordinary peccadillo, but is nothing short of a “fall,” an original sin that will have consequences extending far beyond the initial offender himself. Part of that sin, moreover, and as we also see in the case of Adam and Eve, involves an illicit effort to become like the Creator himself. The serpent’s temptation to Eve, after all, was that God had forbidden the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden because he knew that in eating of it “ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (3:5), and Aulë admits to Ilúvatar that his desire in fashioning the Dwarves was to achieve a certain likeness to the Creator himself, the very thing, it is worth noting, that also led to Melkor’s fall in the Ainulindalë. Consistent with Genesis, then, Tolkien portrays the origin of evil as a vain and idolatrous effort to attain something of God’s own power. As I would argue further, there is a very real sense in Tolkien’s world in which this is all that evil ever is.

I said a moment ago that the sins of both Aulë and Adam and Eve involved a “vain” effort to attain a certain likeness to God, but in the case of Adam and Eve, this is perhaps not strictly accurate. Like Aulë, Adam and Eve do attempt that which is clearly beyond their “authority,” but unlike Aulë, apparently not wholly beyond their “power.” In contrast to the situation with Aulë, who manages only in fashioning witless automata and not the free, living beings he had intended, Yahweh himself would seem to bear witness to the limited yet real success of Adam and Eve’s rebellion when he declares, “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil…” (Gen. 3:22). In keeping with this achievement is the argument made by some commentators that because the knowledge of good and evil is elsewhere characterized in Scripture as a good and even kingly gift (see 1 Kings 3:10 and Heb. 5:14), Yahweh’s purpose may have been all along to allow Adam and Eve to eat of this fruit after they had passed a period of probation and the testing of their obedience. In this, however, we have yet another point of comparison with the story of Aulë, inasmuch as his sin, as with Melkor’s original fall, is further identified as one of “impatience,” of being too hasty to realize by his own efforts something that Ilúvatar had determined to bring about in his own good time. The ultimate impossibility and hence utter audacity of Aulë’s intentions, therefore, may seem to be more comparable to the building of the Tower of Babel, by means of which men sought to “reach unto heaven” lest they be “scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (11:4) though here, too, it is interesting to find that Yahweh comments more on the potential success than on the apparent futility of their project: “And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do” (11:6).

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