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Letter 212

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The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
Letter 212
RecipientUnsent draft of a continuation of Letter 211
DateProbably October 1958
Subject(s)Clarifying relations of Valar, Elves, Men, Sauron, and Wizards

Letter 212 is a letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.


The Valar were the first "creation": rational spirits without incarnation created before the physical world. Actually these spirits were the Ainur; the Valar were the greatest of those who entered the world after its making, and who took the imaginative but not theological place of "gods". The Ainur helped make the world as "sub-creators" – they interpreted and detailed, according to their powers, the Design propounded to them by the One in musical form. In this form Melkor introduced alterations and created discord. The One then presented the "Music", including the apparent discords, as a visible "history". At this point it was still a "story", just in the minds of the teller or hearers. The One (the Teller) then said Let it Be and the Tale now existed on the same plane as the hearers. The ones most "in love" with the creation were the Valar who entered the world and must abide in it.

The Valar could incarnate themselves in visible physical forms, although this was more comparable to clothes as a matter of personal expression. The forms need not be anthropomorphic but "habitually" were because of their intense concern with Elves and Men.

Elves and Men, the "children of God", were an addition by the Creator introduced into the Music when the discords of Melkor arose. The Valar had no part of their making, knew that they would appear later (at some imprecise time), but knew little of their nature. The uncorrupted Valar yearned for them as creatures “other” than themselves, as “children” weaker than they but of equal lineage. The corrupted, Melkor/Morgoth and his followers (Sauron was the chief) saw them as ideal material for subjects and slaves. The corrupted hated and envied the Children, in proportion to their rebellion.

In this mythology immortality, strictly longevity with the life of Arda, was part of the Elves' nature. Mortality, a short life-span unrelated to the life of Arda, was the nature of Men. Mythically the tales (in "prehistory") were Elf-centered. The Elvish view had nothing to say about the Christian belief that "death" is not part of human nature but a punishment for sin. A divine "punishment" is also a divine "gift" if accepted. The Creator invented "punishments" to produce a good not otherwise attainable. To seek longevity was thus a supreme folly and wickedness of "mortals". Counterfeit "immortality" was the chief bait of Sauron, leading the small to a Gollum and the great to a Ringwraith.

Míriel the mother of Fëanor tried to die, which disastrously lead to the "Fall" of the High-elves. Elves were not subject to disease but could be "slain", the body destroyed or made unfit to sustain life. But they were reborn and eventually recovered their memories and thus remained "identical". But Míriel refused rebirth.[note 1]

The difference between his myth and what Tolkien said may be called Christian mythology is that the Fall of Man followed the Fall of the Angels. Evil was thus brought in from the outside by Satan. In Tolkien's myth the rebellion of created free-will preceded the creation of the world and thus had evil in its nature when Let it Be was spoken. Corruption of all things in it was a possibility if not inevitable. Trees may "go bad" as in the Old Forest; Elves may turn into Orcs (which required the special perversive malice of Morgoth) or as Elves may do evil deeds. Even the "good" Valar could err or the lesser of their kind (as the Istari or wizards) could become self-seeking.

One of the great, Aulë, "fell" in a sense. Being impatient to see the Children he tried to make children according to his imperfect knowledge of their kind. After he had made thirteen (the eldest alone and six with wives) God spoke to him angrily but with pity, knowing that Aulë had made them not to dominate but to share his love for the One and the materials of which the world was made. The One rebuked Aulë for trying to usurp the Creator's power. He could not give independent life to his makings, they only had Aulë's will and movement, and could only report to him his own thought.

Grieving and repentant, Aulë humbled himself, asked for pardon, and prepared to destroy his creations. But the eldest flinched and cowered, which astonished him, and Aulë heard Ilúvatar's laughter. Having seen Aul'’s humility the One took pity and took his images into his design, giving them life. However, they were put into long sleep until the other Children had awakened.


  1. In a side note, Tolkien said that the Elvish and uncorrupted Númenórean view was that a "good" man would die voluntarily by surrender with trust before being compelled. He then discussed the Assumption of Mary.