Versus!: God as Seen in Narnia and Middle-Earth

2686410782_3e867f115bThe following is a compare-contrast paper (slightly edited for posting here) that I wrote in my freshman year of college for my English Composition class. Need I say that I really enjoyed this topic? It’s one of very, very few papers I was actually excited to write simply because I liked my chosen topic. 😀


In one universe, there was Ilúvatar, “Father of All”. The Ainur – angel-like beings – were the first things created and Ilúvatar taught them “themes of music”. Together, they sang a “Great Music” and their flawless voices echoed into the Void. Then one, Melkor, sang according to his imaginings, exalting his part, longing for power, and causing others’ songs to falter and follow his. Only when the music was as a “raging storm” did Ilúvatar add his own theme. Three times Ilúvatar answered Melkor’s discord. Then Ilúvatar showed them the Void, wherein was now a world. “Behold your Music!”

In another universe, a group of travellers stood in an empty world wherein were only darkness and the ground they stood upon. Then, a wordless Voice. Everything the Voice sang came into being: a young sun ascended, primroses blossomed, fauns danced among the trees, and animals burst from the ground. The light revealed the Singer to the travellers: a great Lion, mouth wide in song. The witch in the group unsuccessfully attacked the Lion and fled. The Lion continued to sing till his work was done.

These two worlds started with a song. Both stories had an ultimate creator unmistakably identified as God. In both creations, evil marred the beauty. The God of Middle-earth and the God of Narnia, however, differ greatly.


Melkor adds his discord to the song of Illuvatar and the Ainur

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion tells of the creation of the world of Middle-earth. Ilúvatar created the Ainur, who, for the most part, created Eä – their name for the world. The Ainur sang what they desired. When Ilúvatar showed the Ainur a vision of the world and what was to come, he said, “This is your minstrelsy; and 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 decided or added.” Ilúvatar called Melkor’s evil-inducing discord “a part of the whole and tributary to its glory.” Ilúvatar’s third song was for the coming of Elves and Men, the “Children of Ilúvatar”. Beyond that, the Ainur sang Eä into existence and almost all therein on their own. Ilúvatar’s direct role as creator of Eä is relatively small.

The vision went away and there was only a bare world in the Void. A select few of the Ainur, called the Valar, went down to Eä to prepare it for the coming of Elves and Men. Melkor went with them and reversed or corrupted whatever the Valar did. So the world was hardly even created yet! The Ainur only saw a vision of what Eä would look like, but then the Valar actually had to go and do what was sung. As for Ilúvatar, he is nowhere to be seen after he sent the Valar. From then on, everything that happened in Eä were doings of the Ainur – the Valar and their Maiar servants – and the inhabitants of Eä.

Ilúvatar only appears in Tolkien’s short story “Ainulundalë”, so we don’t know much about hiim. Ilúvatar is spirit – for so the Ainur are – though actions and facial expressions are described. While Melkor seems very much like Satan, he was not cast out. True, God takes evil and turns it for His purposes, but Ilúvatar did nothing except maybe sing this concept into existence. Melkor’s longing to be lord over Eä went unchecked by Ilúvatar. The inhabitants of Eä knew little to nothing of Ilúvatar but some were in contact with the Valar. Whether he meant to or not, Tolkien wrote of a distant, disconnected creator.

aslan02Now, step into the wardrobe for a look at C.S. Lewis’ Aslan. The Lion did all the creative singing himself. The scene is described thus: “… all the things were coming… out of the Lion’s head. When you listened to his song, you heard the things he was making up: when you looked ‘round you, you saw them.” Though the stars sang with him a little before and after they lit the sky, they did not create: their role was to harmonize. Aslan’s role as creator is very direct and is a solo job.

After Narnia was created, Aslan was always involved, even when it doesn’t seem like it. He is seen, known, and loved by his creation. He set up kings and queens in Narnia at various times, appeared at the most crucial times, rid the land of the threats his creation couldn’t, and though he may not always be physically on every page, he’s just there. We’ll come back to this later.

Aslan is a central character in Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. Aslan is a great Talking Lion. He is a guide, a liberator, and king over all high kings. He died in a traitor’s place, resurrected, and conquered the White Witch (who, like Melkor, desired to supplant). He is described thus: “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” He is omniscient: “There are no accidents. Our guide is Aslan; and he was there when the giant king caused the letters to be cut, and he knew already all things that would come of them; including this.” He loves and protects his own: “… we are all between the paws of the true Aslan.” He is involved: one character shared how unlucky he was to have met so many lions and Aslan replied with a list of things he had done in the boy’s life, beginning every sentence with, “I was the lion….” Aslan’s omnipresence is seen throughout the books, even though it’s not always as clear as the “I was the lion” speech.

Some time ago, I had been thinking through the Narnia books and realized just how much there is of Aslan even though he’s not always physically there. Even in The Horse and His Boy and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where he’s hardly in either story, I felt his presence, so to speak, through the entirety of each book. He’s just there. This same principle is in every book – how Lewis managed to display this without pointing neon signs in Aslan’s direction, I’ll never know. The Narnia stories were never meant to be allegorical, but they are woven through with Lewis’ beliefs.

My peers know that I like both The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. But they always ask why I love Narnia so much more when LotR is “clearly the better one”. LotR – both books and movies – is bigger, more intense, geared toward older audiences, and has the better action. Even simply in the way it’s written, it is the superior work. But God’s not in it; not after creation, anyway. There is so much more to admire in C.S. Lewis’ Aslan. He is not only an involved central character, but also an amazing portrait of Christ. This is more important because if God is to be a character in fiction, the portrayal had better be as close to the Real Thing as possible.


2 thoughts on “Versus!: God as Seen in Narnia and Middle-Earth

  1. What do you make of Gandalf’s words to Frodo that there were other powers at work besides the evil ones, and that Bilbo was meant to find the ring and Frodo was also meant to have it? Is this a reference to some of the creative beings (Valar, Ainur, or Iluvatar) taking part in the direction of the history of middle earth? Or is it more of an idea similar to our concept of fate? I’ve never read any of Tolkein’s works other than the Hobbit and the trilogy, and the concept doesn’t seem to be explained any more clearly there. I’ve kind of always wondered what the author meant to convey by this line…


    • Like you, I’ve only read Tolkien’s Middle-earth writings and not even all of those (I’ve only read Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and Children of Hurin), so I don’t know what he thought of fate/destiny, free will, predestination, or whether God simply wound the clock and let it go (which is what Illuvatar sounds like) or if He is still intimately involved in His creation.
      As for Gandalf’s line, that’s a good question. I don’t know if The Hobbit and LotR preceded the writing of the creation story or not, so I don’t know if Illuvatar was originally a part of the equation in Middle-earth or not, though we know that the Valar certainly were based on the references made to them. Gandalf himself and the other four Wizards are themselves Ainur, so they for sure know the Valar and Illuvatar. My guess is that Gandalf had the “creative beings”, as you put it, in mind — and maybe even the creation song, since there was both good and evil at work there.

      Liked by 1 person

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