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Lindariel's Tom Bombadil Theory

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#1) 

Lindariel's Tom Bombadil Theory

Postby Lindariel » Fri Feb 23, 2007 11:00 pm

I have wondered from time to time whether Tom Bombadil might not be a physical manifestation of Eru's Secret Fire, based on the following little passage:

Eldest, that's what I am. Mark my words, my friends: Tom was here before the river and the trees; Tom remembers the first raindrop and the first acorn. He made paths before the Big People, and saw the Little People arriving. He was here before the Kings and the graves and the Barrow-wights. When the Elves passed westward, Tom was here already, before the seas were bent. He knew the dark under the stars when it was fearless -- before the Dark Lord came from Outside.


In this passage, Tom goes back in time, until he reveals that he was present in Arda even before Melkor, who was the first of the Valar to arrive. As far as I know, the only "entity" that arrived in Arda before Melkor was the Secret Fire that brought the inert planet to life. From the Ainulindale in The Silmarillion:

. . . but Iluvatar called to them [the Ainur], and said: "I know the desire of your minds that what ye have seen should verily be, not only in your thoughts, but even as ye yourselves are, and yet other. Therefore I say: Ea! Let these things Be! And I will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the World, and the World shall Be; and those of you that will may go down into it." And suddenly the Ainur saw afar off a light, as it were a cloud with a living heart of flame; and they knew that this was no vision only, but that Iluvatar had made a new thing: Ea, the World that Is.


Thus, if Tom is a manifestation of the Flame Imperishable, then Tom's imperative is "to be" not "to change" or "to defy," which might help explain the paradox of his undeniable power juxtaposed with his seeming inability to be of help against Sauron. As Goldberry says, "He is." He can influence a living creature's state of being -- i.e., he can influence Old Man Willow to go back to sleep and release his prisoners -- but he cannot change their nature -- i.e., he cannot remove the evil that gnaws at the heart of Old Man Willow. He also has no sway over the weather -- it "is." This is why the Ring has no effect on him, and he can see through its magic (Frodo remains visible to him, even when the Ring is on Frodo's finger), but he cannot negate its evil.

Consider these statements about Bombadil from the Council of Elrond:

"But within those bounds nothing seems to dismay him [Bombadil]," said Erestor. "Would he not take the Ring and keep it there, for ever harmless?"

"No," said Gandalf, "not willingly. He might do so, if all the free folk of the world begged him, but he would not understand the need. And if he were given the Ring, he would soon forget it, or most likely throw it away. Such things have no hold on his mind. He would be a most unsafe guardian; and that alone is answer enough."

"But in any case," said Glorfindel, "to send the Ring to him would only postpone the day of evil. He is far away. We could not now take it back to him, unguessed, unmarked by any spy. And even if we could, soon or late the Lord of the Rings would learn of its hiding place and would bend all his power towards it. Could that power be defied by Bombadil alone? I think not. I think that in the end, if all else is conquered, Bombadil will fall, Last as he was First: and then Night will come."

"I know little of Iarwain save the name," said, Galdor; "but Glorfindel, I think, is right. Power to defy our Enemy is not in him, unless such power is in the earth itself. And yet we see that Sauron can torture and destroy the very hills . . . ."


This theory also suggests an interesting development, should Sauron have recovered the Ring and succeeded in conquering all of Middle-Earth. What would happen to Arda when Sauron and his forces finally overcome the last remaining power in Middle-Earth -- Tom Bombadil? I would postulate that the Dark Lord would suddenly find himself the master of a dead, inert planet. With the destruction of the living incarnation of the Flame Imperishable, the Secret Fire would return to Eru Iluvatar, and Sauron would be left with nothing.

Here's another interesting bit to consider along with my theory, also from the Ainulindale in The Silmarillion:

To Melkor among the Ainur had been given the greatest gifts of power and knowledge, and he had a share in all the gifts of his brethren. He had gone often alone into the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame; for desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own, and it seemed to him that Iluvatar took no thought for the Void, and he was impatient of its emptiness. Yet he found not the Fire, for it is with Iluvatar.


Would it not be the height of ironies if Melkor's greatest lieutenant Sauron could have succeeded in "conquering" Arda, only to have the Flame Imperishable -- his ultimate desire -- return to Iluvatar, leaving him with an empty, dead world -- yet another Void?

**********

This is where my original theory ended. I would like to add one last bit, based on a question from our new friend Per -- If Tom is a manifestation of Eru's Secret Fire, then who is Goldberry?

I think Goldberry is exactly who Tom says she is and who she says she is. She is the River-woman's daughter -- a water elemental who has taken physical shape as Tom's companion.

"Come dear folk . . . . Laugh and be merry! I am Goldberry, daughter of the River."


The hobbits, Frodo in particular, are moved with "a joy that he did not understand. He stood as he had at times stood enchanted by fair elven-voices; but the spell that was now laid upon him was different: less keen and lofty was the delight, but deeper and nearer to mortal heart; marvellous and yet not strange." Frodo KNOWS her because her essence has been around him all his life. She "is" water. Every living creature would experience an immediate intimacy with her.

I certainly do not see her as Yavanna in disguise, the muse/protector of plant and animal life. Goldberry is all about water and its cycle of being -- from raindrop to running stream to melting snow to evaporating water vapor and back to raindrop. She "is" water. Tolkien's descriptions of her always allude to water -- falling, rippling, glinting, shimmering, flashing. Her voice is described "as young and as ancient as Spring, like the song of a glad water flowing down into the night from a bring morning in the hills." The sound of her footsteps "was like a stream falling gently away downhill over cool stones in the quiet of the night."

Later Tom names the autumn rainstorm that settles over his house and land as "Goldberry's washing day and her autumn-cleaning." They hear her singing but do not see her all day -- she "is" the rain. That evening she returns to declare, "The rain has ended and new waters are running downhill, under the stars. Let us now laugh and be glad!"

Later she sings for the hobbits, "songs that began merrily in the hills and fell softly down into silence; and in the silences they saw in their minds pools and waters wider than any they had known, and looking into them they saw the sky below them and the stars like jewels in the depths."

When the hobbits bid her goodbye, she is the epitome of water evaporating in the sun: "There on the hill-brow she stood beckoning to them: her hair was flying loose, and as it caught the sun it shone and shimmered. A light like the glint of water on dewy grass flashed from under her feet as she danced." Isn't that the very picture of dew evanescing in the morning light?

I think Tom's description of his first "meeting" with Goldberry is very interesting:

By that pool long ago I found the River-daughter,
fair young Goldberry sitting in the rushes.
Sweet was her singing then, and her heart was beating!


So very enigmatic! When Tom "found" Goldberry, was he in fact meeting another existing being, or did his appreciation of the beauty of the sound of the water cause her to manifest as a physical entity? To arise from the running water and take form as a creature with a beating heart? I ask this because to me, Goldberry seems to be both a separate entity and a part of Tom. In fact, Goldberry acknowledges Tom as being "the Master of wood, water, and hill." Did Tom so delight in the water that he asked it to take shape, with the result being Goldberry -- "my pretty lady"?

I see Tom and Goldberry as a Yin-Yang relationship; opposites attracting each other; the everlasting creative Fire and the never-ending cycle of Water living in perfect harmony.

Your thoughts?
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#2) 

Postby Merry » Sat Feb 24, 2007 4:34 am

What a fine inaugural essay for this forum--thanks, Lindariel!

I'm not sure when I first learned of your theory--was it here or at WRoR?--but my first thought was that this is a metaphysical concept with which Tolkien would have been quite familiar. Thomas Aquinas' idea of Esse, Being-in-itself and the source of the existence of all beings, is his explanation of the existence of God. Among many arguments for this, he also links it up to what God says from the burning bush when Moses asks Him who He is: the answer is "I am Who am", very similar to the enigmatic "He is" from Goldberry. As an educated Catholic--and one with close ties to the Dominicans at Oxford (Thomas Aquinas was a Dominican)--Tolkien would have been very well versed in these ideas, and I have no doubt that this is what the Flame Imperishable represents.

Now is this Tom Bombadil? That's a whole different kettle of fish! I do think that Tolkien intended for this to be and remain a mystery, and so he hasn't given us enough information to judge for certain. But your theory, Lindariel, makes us much sense in face of the evidence as any other I have read!
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#3) 

Postby Lindariel » Sat Feb 24, 2007 6:12 am

Thanks Merry! I posted my original musings about Tom possibly being a manifestation of the Flame Imperishable over at WRoR, then here in the LOTR discussion thread for the chapter "In the House of Tom Bombadil," and again in the Tolkien Scholastics thread for Per's paper on The Ring.

Iolanthe asked me to give it a title and a tweak and post it here so that it would be easier to find. I'm glad, because it gave me a chance to answer Per's question about how Goldberry fits into my theory.

Do you have any thoughts to add on her? She's fascinating -- not Vala, not Maia, not elf, not mortal, completely familiar, and yet awe inspiring. She is an element personified.

Much the same could be said for Tom -- not Vala, not Maia, not elf, not dwarf, not hobbit, not Man -- he inspires immediate confidence, yet he is also utterly strange and alien to the hobbits. Laughable, yet worthy of reverence.
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#4) 

Postby Merry » Sat Feb 24, 2007 3:46 pm

Yes, that neither character fits into a category or 'kind' is the thing to think about here. Since Tolkien was a linguist, I wonder what their names tell us.
Last edited by Merry on Sat Feb 24, 2007 9:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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#5) 

Postby Lindariel » Sat Feb 24, 2007 7:27 pm

I found an interesting essay by Steuard Jensen entitled "What Is Tom Bombadil?" here: http://tolkien.slimy.com/essays/Bombadil.html#Summary . The essay is quite long, but there is a detailed summary that presents a good outline of his premise. This link will take you straight to the summary with links to an outline and the full essay.

Jensen comes close, but not quite, to agreeing with my theory, and his concept is interesting. He proposes that Tom is the spirit of Arda itself. He is an "echo" of the Song of the Ainur, and he becomes "activated" by the presence of living things that interest him. Hence, his sudden appearance when Frodo and Sam call for help, and his ability to come immediately to Frodo's assistance in the Barrow-downs.

Very interesting!
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#6) 

Postby Iolanthe » Sun Feb 25, 2007 8:40 pm

Thanks for the link, Lindariel, I shall try and read that this week - so much new stuff to read these last few days - and thanks too for expanding and posting your ideas to include Goldberry!

I love what you say about her, as always you have some great insights. I've often thought that she was water, but you've pulled so much evidence together in the descriptions of her. And your idea that somehow Bomabdil calls her into being, or she manifests herself because of his delight in water, is very interesting.

less keen and lofty was the delight, but deeper and nearer to mortal heart; marvellous and yet not strange."

That's quite an important key - the fact that she is known, as you say, by Frodo and the others.
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#7) 

Postby Iolanthe » Mon Mar 05, 2007 11:59 am

I've been reading in Tolkien's letters about his total horror of Zimmerman's story treatment of LOTR for the proposed film and one of the things that really got Tolkien's goat was his misrepresentation of Goldberry:

I am sorry, but I think the manner of the introduction of Goldberry is silly, and on a par with 'old scamp'. It also has no warrant in my tale. We are not in 'fairy-land', but in a real river-lands in autumn. Goldberry represents the actual seasonal changes in such lands. Personally I think she had far better disappear than make a meaningless appearance.

Letter210 to Forrest J. Ackerman, June 1958


So Goldberry not only represents water (I'm convinced by your argument that she does) but represents the seasonal changes in the river-lands. I wish (as ever) that Tolkien had elaborated more. I'm assuming he means the seasonal changes relating to water (rain, flood, mist) not that she represents spring-summer-autumn-winter and all weather. That wouldn't fit what he wrote in LOTR would it :-k? I can't blame Zimmerman for being confused by Bombadil and Goldberry!
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#8) 

Goldberry and the dangers of the real World

Postby Per Håkan Arvidsson » Mon Mar 05, 2007 4:08 pm

Indeed a compelling argument.

Water is the source of life, so it would, however, follow that Yavanna would be closely associated with water and the change of seasons. Of course, it only tracks that Goldberry is Yavanna if Tom is Aüle...

I still find it easier to believe that Tom is Aüle than something as fundamental as the spirit of the world. Tom and Goldberry would never tell mere mortals what they really are, especially not if they are Valar, since they officially are not supposed to be there...

If Tom is something even more important, then he could probably not explain it so that the hobbits would have any hope of understanding what he is. However, if Tom is something so important, it would be strange that Goldberry is only a manifestation of water.

Tom does of course not tell us who he is, so we are none the wiser. Either he cannot because he is not permitted, or because the hobbits would not understand.

So, we just have to decide with the help of Goldberry. If Goldberry's identity could be firmly established, then I believe Tom's would be too. This is why I support the Aüle & Yavanna theory. If Goldberry is Yavanna, then Tom must be Aüle.

The strongest evidence points to Goldberry being Yavanna, because nothing else makes sense. Unless of course Tom is nowhere near as important as we would like him to be. What puzzles me is Tolkien's secrecy in this matter. If Tom is indeed just a lesser being or element in the company of another similar or lesser creature, then Tolkien has us all fooled. Either Tom is important, or he is a joke.

There is such a matter as making sense of a fictional world in spite of the author. Authors are often unwilling to tell us all, and arguably they are also unable to do so. Looking to Tolkien for answers may be a wild goose chase. It is better to look at the text, the evidence at hand. The intentions of the author does not matter. What is important is our interpretations of his work. Tolkien's mythology makes a lot of sense, so why would not Tom and Goldberry fit in as neatly as the rest?

It should also be noted that Tolkien is not the author as such. The words set down by Tolkien only follow the manuscripts presumably dug up in some mythical historical archives. The incomplete understanding of the world is a consequence of the real authors being a couple of hobbits and other scholars of Middle-earth.

You may think this is bull-shit, but whenever an author creates fictional characters to be the 'real' writers, a level of abstraction is created that cannot be torn down without loosing sight of the wholeness of the piece. Studying Middle-earth as if it is a real place is the only way to fully understand it.

It is interesting to study the author, and what their writings say about them. But it is very often dangerous to do the opposite. Unfortunately, it is pretty much the norm. Most critics do tend to use the real world and lives of the authors to analyze their Works. I believe it is important to only do this as a last resort, and even then to do so with extreme caution.

After a couple of years studying literary theories, I find that very little of it is of any use. The theories are mostly very philosophically weak, i.e. they apply poor logic, are based on false or highly questionable assumptions, and are very often cyclic in nature. Close reading and pure critical thinking is far better than any literary theories.

In short, be careful with Tolkien's letters and of critics who draw upon Tolkien's life in their deliberations, and/or apply various literary theories when analyzing his Works.

Obviously, these opinions of mine are partly why I am having trouble with the English Department. They would probably prefer me to apply a particular literary theory. My method is to strive to not do so, because it would inhibit a full and true analysis. Naturally, no analysis is completely unbiased, indeed such an analysis would be meaningless, but one may try to not bring in alien elements to confuse matters.
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#9) 

Postby Lindariel » Mon Mar 05, 2007 6:03 pm

I'm sorry, Per, I just don't see Goldberry as Yavanna at all. Here is Tolkien's description of Yavanna and her area of influence:

The spouse of Aule is Yavanna, the Giver of Fruits. She is the lover of all things that grow in the earth, and all their countless forms she holds in her mind, from the trees like towers in forests long ago to the moss upon stones or the small and secret things in the mould . . . . In the form of a woman she is tall, and robed in green; but at times she takes other shapes. Some there are who have seen her standing like a tree under heaven, crowned with the Sun; and from all its branches there spilled a golden dew upon the barren earth, and it grew green with corn; but the roots of the tree were in the waters of Ulmo, and the winds of Manwe spoke in its leaves. Kementari, Queen of the Earth, she is surnamed in the Eldarin tongue.


Goldberry is not about earth or growing things; any plant metaphors associated with her are all water plants -- reeds, forget-me-nots, flag and water lilies, etc. -- not trees, corn, "fruits of the earth," etc. She is all about water and the effect of the change of seasons on the river from which she was "born." If anything, she is far more likely a creature of Ulmo's people (an elemental, not a Maia), than any relation to Yavanna.

I also do not think it logically follows that Goldberry's identity will automatically tell us who or what Tom is. I do not think they are creatures of equal stature at all. I think Tom far "outranks" Goldberry, not that "rank" means anything to him. Goldberry is an essential part of Tom, but she is very much secondary to him. Tom is "Master," and she acknowledges him as such. Tom is "Eldest," he existed long before her. Tom "found" her, claimed her as his Lady, and raised her from the river to be his companion. He delights in her, probably because of the great paradox of water -- it is ever changing and ever the same. It can take many different forms -- many different aspects of "being" -- but it is still water. Those changes in states of being are also closely associated with the change in seasons.

I do not see Tom as Aule either. Tom is "the Master of wood, water, and hill." Aule's "lordship is over all the substances of which Arda is made." He has no dominion over "wood" or "water." For Tom to be "Master" of these three very different forms -- "wood," which is the province Yavanna; "water," which is the province of Ulmo; and "hill," which is the province of Aule -- then he must be a creature or force far more "basic" than the Valar. Logically, Tom as Aule just doesn't fit.

I maintain once again that the only entity that meets these qualifications and that existed in Arda before "the Dark Lord came from Outside" is the Flame Imperishable. It is the only theory that makes sense to me within the parameters the Professor has established.

In response to your words of caution about the use of external sources, notice that I use only the Professor's words from his books to support and establish my theory -- not his letters or his biography and not any other external literary criticism, analysis, or theory.
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#10) 

Postby Iolanthe » Mon Mar 05, 2007 6:28 pm

It was me quoting from Tolkien's letter - I found his comment about Goldberry really interesting.

As the letters are fascinating and full of insights about his own work, some arising while he was writing and some that show later thought processes about his evolving mythology, I don't really see the harm in using them :-k. Surely they rank differently from literary criticisms?

Per - it seems like you're saying that as Tolkien set himself up as not the true author, but a discoverer of old texts, his own thoughts on his own creation aren't valid or are flawed in some way? I'm a bit :shock: .
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#11) 

Postby Merry » Tue Mar 06, 2007 4:18 am

The profs in our English department say that sometimes authors aren't great critics of their own works--apparently Hemingway was one of the worst!--but I agree with Iolanthe here. I think we have to take what Tolkien said in his letters as pretty authoritative. And secondary sources have their own roles to play in research, although their value depends, obviously, on how well they explain the primary sources.
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#12) 

Postby Per Håkan Arvidsson » Tue Mar 06, 2007 6:26 pm

I know that I had a good ramble, and it was in no way a criticism of your work here, Lindariel, but more a consequence of my own preoccupations.

The letters are dangerous. Especially those from communication with fans.

I believe that Aüle is the creator of all matter, the atoms if you will. This is the main reason he would be one of the first to enter the world. Without his work there is nothing to shape with.

All life need water, but we are not talking of oceans. Yavanna is as far as I know only concerned with what lives on land. Water would still be her most important instrument.

As I said, the main reason I do not support your theory is that it makes Tom extremely important, more so than even any Valar, while his wife is something far below any Valar. It makes no sense to me.
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#13) 

Postby Iolanthe » Thu Mar 08, 2007 4:59 pm

I thought it was Iluvater that made the Ainur's song into a physical reality :-k. Why specifically do you think it would be Aüle? I know you see him as like Prometheus - I'm away from my notes at the moment so I aplogise if you've gone over this before!

I'm also very curious to know why you think Tolkien's letters are dangerous. Is it most specifically the ones to fans? What about the long ones to Milton Waldman and Robert Murray?
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#14) 

Postby Lindariel » Thu Mar 08, 2007 7:31 pm

I thought it was Iluvater that made the Ainur's song into a physical reality.


That is a very important point, Iolanthe! Eru Iluvatar alone is The Creator. He took the "Music" of the Ainur and made it a physical reality by animating it with the Flame Imperishable. Aule has "lordship" over the substances of Arda, but he is not the creator. In The Silmarillion, Tolkien is very specific about what this means:

Aule has might little less than Ulmo. His lordship is over all the substances of which Arda is made. In the beginning he wrought much in fellowship with Manwe and Ulmo; and the fashioning of all lands was his labour . . . . His are the gems that lie deep in the Earth and the gold that is fair in the hand, no less than the walls of the mountains and the basins of the sea.


Aule is not the "Lord of All Matter," he is the "Lord of the Dry Land," if you will -- rocks and stones and earth and mountains. Ulmo is the "Lord of Waters." Yavanna is the "Giver of Fruits," i.e., the Lord/Lady of Plant Life.

Tom, however, is described as "Master of wood, water, and hill." This does not negate the "Lordship" of Aule, Ulmo, and Yavanna; it simply means that Tom's "power" or "influence" runs across and through their disciplines. He is "Master" not "Lord." If Tom is a "manifestation" of the Flame Imperishable, as I theorize, this does not make him "more important" or "more powerful" than the Valar. It makes him utterly different from them. And notice that I do not say that Tom IS the Flame Imperishable itself, but that he is a physical manifestation of it. He is the Flame manifested in a particular place at a particular time, and therefore "Master" within that sphere.

Per, you also seem to insist that Tom and Goldberry must be of equal or very close "rank" in order for any theory about who they are to work. And yet, Goldberry herself acknowledges that Tom is "Master" -- a being of higher rank than her. If Tom is a manifestation of the Flame, where in Middle-earth is there a creature who would be equal to him? He has no peer -- even among the Valar and the Maiar -- he is quite separate and different from them. He is singular. So, the natural solution would be for Tom to "raise" a companion from the elements of Middle-earth that would delight him. The ever-changing, ever-the-same element of water seems the perfect choice to me.

As for this identity making Tom "too important," I think, in fact, Tom is very important, as Glorfindel remarks during the Council of Elrond: "I think that in the end, if all else is conquered, Bombadil will fall, Last as he was First; and then Night will come."

First came the Spark of Life. When it is overcome, all that is left is the Void.
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#15) 

Universal Myth Theroy

Postby Per Håkan Arvidsson » Fri Mar 16, 2007 4:15 pm

I guess I am prone to think a bit too scientifically. One way of thinking about Middle-earth is as a primeval picture of our Earth. Although this is very tempting, I have a radically different view.

In a sense, I think of Tolkien's universe as as real as ours, but separate from ours If we are to believe the multiverse theoy, Tolkien's world must obey the laws of physics in order to exist. I think of Tolkien's world as obeying the same laws of physics as our world. Indeed, I would have a hard time believing in a universe that does not. In short, if Tolkien's world obeys the laws of physics and the multiverse theory is correct, then it follows that Tolkien's universe exist, since every possible universe must exist. There would be fewer variations of less likely kinds of universes, but however unlikely, any universe following the laws of physics must exist.

Myths help explain reality to those who have no other means of understanding it. so the Gods do not really exist in Tolkien's universe. They are its population's explanations for natural phenomena. However, in order to explain the world, it has to be created. Eru/Illuvatar is indeed the one God, who is the actual force behind everything. Think of him as the Big Bang, Everything non-sentient that happens in the history of the universe is a direct consequence of the way the universe started. This is how we can know about the Big Bang in the first place.

On a planetary level it gets a bit tricky, since each solar system is different in layout, solar composition and output, and the composition of each planet varies, which means they will support unique forms of life. In order to explain the planet, usually a bunch of Gods are needed. It matters not that Aüle did not create physical matter as such (He did not create the universe). He did create the composition of matters in Middle-earth (according to Eru's plan). The myth-makers do not understand that oceans are created later, but we know that the geology comes first. Aüle is responsible for the geology that is a prerequisite for the development of various environmental changes, such as the creation of atmosphere, bodies of water and forms of life. Aüle's geological work is used by all the other Gods.

The best example is perhaps Melkor. As you know, Melkor is the force that changes the geology and the climate, and whether Melkor is removed or not, his work is still continually reshaping the world through erosion, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, changes in the size of polar caps, and so on. Pretty much everything extreme could be blamed on Melkor. Perhaps we should declare war on him over the current climate threat?
Per Håkan Arvidsson
 
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