Tolkien’s metaphysics of evil, part 32
The primary difference between preservation and domination is that whereas the sub-creative, artistic impulse of Elvish preservation seeks to establish, protect, and set things free in their divinely-given “otherness” and independence—even if to the sometimes counterproductive point of wrongfully denying them their natural tendency for change and decay—the evil of domination lies in its deliberate suppression of otherness, in its attempted reduction of otherness, as it were, to sameness, to a complete univocity of subjective intention and objective existence.
In the Ainulindalë, this will to sameness manifests itself, first, in the unvarying and highly repetitive music of Melkor which “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,” in contrast to the music of Ilúvatar which “was deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came” (Silmarillion 16-17). After the world has actually been created, Melkor similarly focuses his efforts on undoing the diversity and distinction of being introduced into the world by the other Valar: “they built lands and Melkor destroyed them; valleys they delved and Melkor raised them up; mountains they carved and Melkor threw them down; seas they hollowed and Melkor spilled them; and naught might have peace or come to lasting growth, for as surely as the Valar began a labour so would Melkor undo it or corrupt it” (22).
Here again I find it instructive to relate Tolkien’s portrayal of evil to his Thomistic metaphysics of creation. As I have discussed previously, creation involves the communication of divine goodness, which necessitates on the part of the finite created order a plurality of unequal beings. Failing to achieve the creative power whereby he might bring into being things other than himself, Melkor resorts to a kind of anti-creation, to reducing the otherness of those things already created to the sameness of his own, increasingly empty self. In creation, in other words, the Creator in his generosity gives real, distinct, albeit participatory being to things that were not there before, whereas the envy of domination works in the reverse direction by reducing the independence of things into a state of dependence upon oneself. At the same time, and in keeping with our earlier point about evil always involving some good, domination reveals itself as a parody of creation, for in an important sense the Creator has no true otherness or “outside” where creation can exist, inasmuch as he already embodies within himself the infinite source and plenitude of all actuality or perfection.