Eru Ilúvatar

Eru Ilúvatar is the name of the supreme being in the legendarium of J. R. R. Tolkien. However, he has delegated most actions within to the Ainur, including the shaping of Arda (the Earth) itself. Eru is an important figure in Tolkien's Silmarillion but is not mentioned by name in Tolkien's most famous works, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (he is alluded to as "the One" in the part of The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A that speaks of the downfall of Númenor).

Eru as Creator

The Quendi (ie. Elves) and the Atani (ie. Men) were created by Eru. In The Silmarillion both are synonymously referred to as the Children of Ilúvatar. The Dwarves were "adopted" by Eru in the sense that they were created by Aulë but given sapience by Eru. Animals and plants were fashioned by Yavanna after themes set out by Eru in the Music of the Ainur. There is a case to be made that the Eagles of Manwë are actually Maiar. Also, since Huan was initially a Hound of Oromë and was able to overcome Sauron (himself a Maia), it is possible that he too was one of the Maiar. Another possibility is that Huan's sentience represents the limits of the gifts of the Valar to creatures, endowing them with purpose and cleverness that may nevertheless be something other than true sapience in the sense of independent existence before Eru. Melkor was able to instil some semblance of free will into his mockeries of Eru Ilúvatar's creations (Orcs, Dragons, Trolls). While Orcs were possibly ruined Elves, and thus possibly derived from the initial Children of Ilúvatar, the other races mentioned — particularly dragons — seem to lack this correspondence, or any particular connection with the Music of the Ainur.

Eru is the sole creator the Flame Imperishable, and hence the only being in Tolkien's world able to truly create independent life. All beings not created directly by Eru, (e.g. Dwarves), still need to be blessed by Eru through the Flame Imperishable in order to be more than mere puppets of their creator. Melkor desired the Flame Imperishable and long sought for it in vain, but failing to find it because it was within Eru himself, Melkor could only twist that which had already been given life.

Eru in Arda's History

Eru exercised his power within Arda only if completely necessary. He did, of course, create Arda. He also created and awakened Elves and Men. Eru also buried Ar-Pharazôn and his men when they landed at Aman in . He also caused Arda to take a round shape , drowned Númenor, and caused the Undying Lands to be taken "outside the spheres of the earth". When Gandalf died in the fight with the Balrog, it was beyond the power of the Valar to resurrect him: Ilúvatar himself intervened to send Gandalf back.

Tolkien on Eru

Tolkien understood Eru not as a fictional deity but as a fictional Quenya name for the actual monotheistic Christian God, although in a fictional context. A clear explanation of this appears in a draft of a letter that Tolkien wrote in 1954 to Peter Hastings, manager of the Newman Bookshop (a Catholic bookshop in Oxford). In the letter, Tolkien, a devout Catholic, defended the non-orthodox portrayal of God (Eru) in his writing as rightly within the scope of his legendarium, as an exploration of the infinite "potential variety" of God.

Regarding the possibility of reincarnation of Elves, Hastings had written:

God has not used that device in any of the creations of which we have knowledge, and it seems to me to be stepping beyond the position of a sub-creator to produce it as an actual working thing, because a sub-creator, when dealing with the relations between creator and created, should use those channels which he knows the creator to have used already.

Tolkien's reply contains an explanation of his view of the relation of (divine) Creation to (human) sub-creation:

We differ entirely about the nature of the relation of sub-creation to Creation. I should have said that liberation "from the channels the creator is known to have used already" is the fundamental function of "sub-creation", a tribute to the infinity of His potential variety [...] I am not a metaphysician; but I should have thought it a curious metaphysic — there is not one but many, indeed potentially innumerable ones — that declared the channels known (in such a finite corner as we have any inkling of) to have been used, are the only possible ones, or efficacious, or possibly acceptable to and by Him!

Hastings had also criticised the description of Tom Bombadil by Goldberry: "He is", saying that this seemed to imply that Bombadil was God.

Tolkien replied to this:

As for Tom Bombadil, I really do think you are being too serious, besides missing the point. [...] You rather remind me of a Protestant relation who to me objected to the (modern) Catholic habit of calling priests Father, because the name father belonged only to the First Person.

Inspiration and development

In earlier versions of the legendarium, the name Ilúvatar meant "Father for Always" (in The Book of Lost Tales, published as the first two volumes of The History of Middle-earth), then "Sky-father", but these etymologies were dropped in favour of the newer meaning in later revisions. Ilúvatar was also the only name of God used in earlier versions — the name Eru first appeared in "The Annals of Aman", published in Morgoth's Ring, the tenth volume of The History of Middle-earth.


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