Genesis and creation six days of creationThe wisdom of poetic cosmology is that it gives us a complete experience of the hierarchies of order within creation, ranging from the celestial to the corporeal. We ourselves can see the poetic wisdom about song and creation operative, for example, in the book of Genesis. This is possible if we read the poetry of Genesis with a little help from the poetic visions of J.R.R. Tolkien.

The opening of Genesis tells of the six days of creation. It is possible to sum up the action as follows:

On the first day, God’s creative action separates (that is, differentiates) light from darkness. On the second, God’s creative action separates heaven from earth. On the third, plant life from the earth and the seas. On the fourth, sun from moon and stars. On the fifth, sky animals from sea animals. On the sixth, God separates man from other land animals.

Leo Strauss argued for the rational integrity and rich coherence of the Genesis account simply from a philosophical point of view; that is, from what unaided human intellect is able to access and appreciate purely as cosmological speculation, quite apart from any theological or literary merits of the text.[1]

Strauss points out that the first three days (days one to three) are parallel to the next three days (days four to six), but that the first three are characterized by sequences of mere separation (i.e., differentiation, or distinctness, or otherness), whereas the next three are in addition characterized by a classification of types of local motion:

“There seems to be a kind of parallelism in the biblical account. There are two series of creation, each of three days. The first begins with the creation of light, the second with that of the sun. Both series end with a double creation.”[2] (The double creations are: earth and vegetation on the third day; animals and man on the sixth day.)

Stratford Caldecott observes that “Tolkien’s creation myth,” the Ainulindale, the opening section of The Silmarillion, “belongs in the great tradition of Platonic speculation, and was intended to support and elucidate Genesis.”[3]

“I am not sure how far we can correlate the two accounts at a superficial level,” cautions Caldecott regarding the pursuit of an exhaustive comparison of Genesis and Tolkien. “More helpful might be to analyze the structure of Tolkien’s account in its own terms to find its underlying logic.”[4]

J.R.R. Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien

For full pursuit of this logic, I would recommend reading Caldecott’s own reflections on the poetic riches of Tolkien’s creation myth. But Strauss has drawn our attention to the underlying logic of why the sun is created on the fourth day and plants on the third: namely, in the cosmological hierarchy, heavenly bodies are characterized by local motion, whereas plants are not so characterized. Similarly, we can also approach the structure of Tolkien’s account and take Tolkien’s observations as an uncanny elucidation of the “underlying logic” of the Genesis account.

Therefore, I would go even further than Caldecott. Not only is Tolkien’s myth a profound poetic meditation that stimulates our grasp of the poetic riches of Genesis. I would say also that even a so-called “superficial” correlation of Tolkien’s sequence with the six days of Genesis is indeed possible, once we see that Genesis is structured, as Strauss points out, by “two series of creation, each of three days.”[5]

Yet Caldecott has noted the key point for our interpretive task:

“Tolkien saw the creation of the world as taking place in some way through music. … God first proposes the world as a musical theme, which he gives to the Angels (the Ainur) to develop and express, much as a composer might give the score to an orchestra—although a jazz analogy might be more appropriate, given the amount of improvisation the players are allowed.

One of the Angels, Melkor (Lucifer), tries to force the music in another direction, but his rebellious dissonance is finally integrated within the whole design, much as in the real world evil is at first tolerated and eventually becomes the occasion for a greater good that could not have been anticipated. But this is not yet the creation proper, only the composition of the music ‘which is over all’. Now God turns the music into light, and shows the Angels the world in a vision in the Void. But even this is not yet the creation. That takes place when music and light become Being through the Word of Iluvatar, ‘Ea! Let these things be!’ God sends into the Void the Flame Imperishable (Holy Spirit) which forms the heart of the world and sustains it in existence. … It seems that for Tolkien, the creation is envisaged in three stages—music, light, and being—corresponding in some way to the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Yet the whole Trinity is involved in every stage, and the Logos or Word, who is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, can justly be called the order, harmony and meaning of the cosmos, revealed to the Angels but only expressed in creation through the Breath of God.”[6]

heaven and earthTolkien’s creation myth only takes up a few pages at the beginning of The Silmarillion. I would argue that we can begin to grasp his myth comprehensively as isomorphic with the Hexaemeron, the six days of Genesis, if we recognize that both accounts, Tolkien and Genesis, consist of “two series of creation, each of three days”: the first series embraces the events in heaven, and the last series the actual material creation of the earth and the material universe.[7]

Caldecott notes the progression within Tolkien’s account: from divine Idea, to angelic Music, to the dynamic Image of light shown to the angels, to the living Drama of the actual material creation. I would maintain that the first three stages—divine Idea, angelic Music, dynamic Image—correspond to the first three days of creation:

(1) Iluvatar’s thought creates the Ainur;

(2) the music shared between them is involved in the angelic fall;

(3) the translation of the music into a luminescent vision happens when God shows the angels the light in the void.

The next three days in the second series of creation comprise the actual creation as executed in material being. The drama of being culminates with humans being created in the divine image on the sixth day.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.


[1] Leo Strauss, “On the Interpretation of Genesis” (Lecture: 25 January 1957), in Kenneth Hart Green (ed.), Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity (Albany: SUNY Press, 1997): 362–367.

[2] Strauss 1957: 364.

[3] Stratford Caldecott, The Power of the Ring (Crossroad, 2012): 190.

[4] Caldecott 2012: 188.

[5] Strauss 1957: 364.

[6] Stratford Caldecott, “Ainulindale: Music of Creation in Tolkien.”

[7] Strauss 1957: 364.

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