The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 226-231
There, I’ve said it. I have named the music to which Frodo becomes a part in the Hall of Fire as the Music of the Ainur, when Ilúvatar declared a mighty theme and bade the Ainur to “make in harmony together a Great Music”, and thus is Arda created, sustained and completed. I have no authority to make this statement; nowhere (as far as I know) does Tolkien refer to the music that Frodo hears in these terms, and yet when I read these words it is the sense that there is a river that flows through history, a river that is made of music itself and that the river “fits somehow” with Bilbo’s poem about Eärendil the Mariner, that I find no other way to speak of Frodo’s experience than to say that for one brief moment he touches the divine word that makes all things even as it speaks in music.
Please listen to these words.
“At first the beauty of the melodies and of the interwoven words in elven-tongues, even though he understood them little, held him in a spell, as soon as he began to attend to them. Almost it seemed that the words took shape, and visions of far lands and bright things that he had never yet imagined opened out before him: and the firelit hall became like a golden mist above seas of foam that sighed upon the margins of the world. Then the enchantment became more and more dreamlike, until he felt that an endless river of swelling gold and silver was flowing over him, too multitudinous for its pattern to be comprehended; it became part of the throbbing air about him, and it drenched and drowned him. Swiftly he sank under its shining weight into a deep realm of sleep.”
Yes, I can see that the music begins with the Elves in the Hall of Fire. Yes, I know that Frodo is still tired after his perilous journey in the wild and that he has enjoyed his first good meal, served with copious drafts of the very best wine, since he left Bree. But I ask you to note how the experience in the hall becomes something quite other, how the hall becomes sea and then “an endless river of swelling gold and silver” in which Frodo drowns and then how it becomes Bilbo chanting the words, “Eärendil was a mariner that tarried in Arvenien”.
The recognisable is transformed, transfigured and then becomes recognisable once more but somehow different. By the time Bilbo finishes the recitation of his poem he is once more an elderly hobbit and yet it seems to Frodo “to fit somehow”. Wisely he does not try to describe what he has experienced at this point. He needs to ponder what he has experienced in his heart until it takes the form of words that he writes in The Red Book of Westmarch.
Frodo does not hear the whole music. He will have enough experience of Melkor’s anti-music in the days that lie ahead. He does not need to hear this strain now. He hears the strain of which he and Bilbo are a part, the weaving together of the destinies of mortals, of the elven firstborn and of the Valar, the Ainur whose music this is. Next week we will think about the tale of Eärendil; now we note that Frodo and Bilbo will be the first mortals to be permitted to set foot in the Undying Lands since Eärendil himself.
There will be times when Frodo will be conscious of divine beauty, of the slow rhythm of time that flows towards the moment when Ilúvatar raised his hands “and in one chord, deeper than the Abyss, higher than the Firmament, piercing as the light of the eye of Ilúvatar, the Music ceased”. There will be times when the darkness within and without will be all that he can see. But the Music of the Ainur will never cease to flow to its conclusion, carrying him and all things living to the moment of the last chord.
A Note to My Readers: I believe that for those who stay awake, who look for them, signs of the Music of the Ainur are all about us. They are to be found in great music, poetry, wise discourse, great science and all the best of human endeavour, in the surprising beauty of the faces of those with whom we dwell and in the world in which we dwell. When I wrote this piece I listened to a modern masterpiece by John Luther Adams entitled, Become Ocean. Not because it is the Divine Music in and of itself but because it conveys a wonderfully imaginative sense of what that music might be. I have put a link to it on a separate post.