The Metaphysics of the Vision

Metaphysics of the Music, part 27

In addition to this progressive, eschatological element within the Music, and again, notwithstanding the exceeding level of beauty already accomplished within it, Tolkien depicts a similar transformation from glory to greater glory as taking place in the transition from the Music to the Ainur’s Vision of the world’s history following after it. In comparison with the attention that has been given to the Music, the Ainur’s Vision has been a much neglected subject in discussions of the Ainulindalë, yet it is not at all apparent that the Vision is any less important than the Music where the underlying metaphysics of Tolkien’s mythology is concerned. In the earliest editions of the Ainulindalë Eru had created the world, unbeknownst to the Ainur at the time, simultaneously with their playing and singing of the Music, with the Vision of the world’s history being given only after the fact. In the revised edition published in The Silmarillion, Tolkien heightens the dramatic role of the Vision by placing it between the Music and the actual creation of the world. On the one hand, the Vision represents simply a visual counterpart to the Music, as when Ilúvatar tells the Ainur that in the Vision he has merely given them “sight where before was only hearing,” and a little later, when he further explains that “each of you shall find contained herein, amid the design that I set before you, all those things which it may seem that he himself devised or added” (Silmarillion 17, emphasis added). As the Ainur quickly realize, however, the Vision is no mere superfluous repetition of the Music, but goes radically beyond the Music in its representation of a reality not at all anticipated by the Music. We see this, for example, in the Ainur’s differing responses to these two stages of the creation-process. Contrary to the nascent avarice and presumption of Melkor, who alone during the Music foresees the possibility of his thoughts being given their own existence, the humility of the rest of the Ainur is reflected in their utter astonishment at the Vision:

And so it was that as this vision of the World was played before them, the Ainur saw that it contained things which they had not thought. And they saw with amazement the coming of the Children of Ilúvatar, and the habitation that was prepared for them; and they perceived that they themselves in the labour of their music had been busy with the preparation of this dwelling, and yet knew not that it had any purpose beyond its own beauty. (18)

Not only does the Vision, then, contain “all those things” which the Ainur “devised or added” in the Music, it also contains “things which they had not thought” in the Music.

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