Notes on Entries - The Question of Eden and the Fall

Text in italics is squire's commentary

   Nicholas Bonnal's Tolkien, les univers d'un magicien (Tolkien, the Worlds of a Magician) is the first book-length study of Tolkien written in French for a French audience.

But in conclusion, Bonnal wants to suggest that in The Silmarillion, Tolkien has created a pre-Adamic world whose inhabitants are not touched by Original Sin. But The Silmarillion states the Men arrived in the West, glad to have "come at last to a land without fear" and that "a darkness lay upon the hearts of Men" (140, 141), although it is never explained what this might be. In his letter to Milton Waldman, Tolkien makes it clear that Men are fallen, although the "first fall of Men, for reasons explained, nowhere appears" (Letters 147). He reaffirms this on other occasions, in particular when he states "the Fall of Man is in the past and off stage" (Letters 387). Bonnal will have Middle-earth to be some sort of earthly paradise, the locus amoenus (pleasant place) of classical and medieval writers (Curtius 196-202), even though Middle-earth is too complicated a concept to be so easily categorized.

-- Reviewed in TOLKIEN WORLDWIDE by Shaun F D Hughes. Modern Fiction Studies. West Lafayette: Winter 2004.Vol.50, Iss. 4; pg. 980, 35 pgs

  The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien

But partly as a development of my own thoughts on my lines and work (technical and literary), partly in contact with C.S.L., and in various ways not least the firm guiding hand of Alma Mater Ecclesia, I do not now feel either ashamed or dubious on the Eden ‘myth’. It has not, of course, historicity of the same kind as the NT, which are virtually contemporary documents, while Genesis is separated by we do not know how many sad exiled generations from the Fall, but certainly there was an Eden on this very unhappy earth. We all long for it, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of ‘exile’. . . . We shall never recover it, for that is not the way of repentance, which works spirally and not in a closed circle; we may recover something like it, but on a higher plane. (pp. 109-110, Letter 96 to Christopher Tolkien, 30 January 1945)

The Downfall [i.e., Akallabeth, the fall of Numenor] is partly the result of an inner weakness in Men—consequent, if you will, upon the first Fall (unrecorded in these tales), repented but not finally healed. Reward on earth is more dangerous for men than punishment! The Fall is achieved by the cunning of Sauron in exploiting this weakness. Its central theme is (inevitably, I think, in a story of Men) a Ban, or Prohibition. (p. 154, Letter 131 to Milton Waldman, c. late 1951)

   J. R. R. Tolkien: Myth, Morality and Religion, by Richard Purtill, New York: Harper & Row, 1984.

Discussion of Tolkien’s creation of a world that has evil inherent in it from the creation, rather than introduced to it by Satan at the time of the Fall of Adam and the Expulsion from Eden. Reference Letters p. 286-87.

Still, the Lewis suggestion or the Tolkien myth does go against a certain picture we have of the original state of the human race before the Fall as completely innocent and happy: ‘Eden’ and ‘paradise’ carry these associations for us. But perhaps it is our picture at fault, not the Lewis/Tolkien suggestion. Tolkien once said that ‘a safe Fairyland is false to all worlds.’ (note 11) Perhaps a safe paradise, a safe Eden is false to reality too. Perhaps even a safe haven is also; it may be that in any situation fitted for finite creatures like ourselves, there must be challenge and therefore danger. The speculation would lead us into some rather deep theological waters, but Tolkien’s world in which Elves and Men must struggle and survive in a world already made dangerous by Melkor’s rebellion has an emotional validity: it seems to have the ‘taste of primary truth.’ (p. 96)

Use this to back up the observation that the Elves’ and Men’s Eden, or place of origin, in the East of Middle-earth holds no happy memory for these races, removing one of the prime positives that East holds in the real medieval imagination.

   The Gospel According to Tolkien: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle-earth, Ralph C. Wood, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003)

The hobbits’ problem is, ironically, that they have no problems. They enjoy a virtually Edenic existence – so peaceful are their relations, so delightful are their pleasures, so just are their laws. The life of the Shire constitutes, in fact, Tolkien’s vision of life as it is supposed to be lived. Hobbits were not meant to bear the burdens of the world, but rather to preserve a last unspoiled corner of Middle-earth as a haven of modest and exemplary life. Yet the hobbits have lived in safety and comfort for so long that they are threatened by complacency and self-satisfaction. . . . Inward complacency and decay, Tolkien suggests, is altogether as threatening as outward assault. . . . Though the Shire is immediately threatened by the lurking presence of Saruman’s and Sauron’s agents, the perennial temptation of the hobbits arises from their own fallen nature. The Company’s commitment to justice requires them to combat their own injustice – especially the anti-communal sin of greed. (pp. 90-91)

Wood seems to ignore the idea of an eastern Eden entirely in his book, since it doesn’t exist in Tolkien. Here he comes up with a substitute: the Shire as Eden. Not particularly good, I think.

England and Always: Tolkien’s World of the Rings, Jared Lobdell, Grand Rapids, Mi: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1981

Lobdell goes on to speculate on the nature of original sin, God, and Eden in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

The Hobbits seem thus to be without original sin as they are without God. By our own standards, their theological status is very odd—as odd as the idea of a yet unfallen world, upon which, indeed, that theological status is based . . . .The progress of the Hobbits . . . can be seen as a progress toward spiritual awareness, toward the gift of knowledge if you will, indeed toward the gifts of the Holy Spirit generally. (p. 56)

Lobdell posits that some in LotR are destined to be saved, and some, such as Boromir, are not, despite his high rank and status. He says that only Christ, who has not yet come to Middle-earth, is the great leveler who can save everyone.

It is only the knowledge of Christ (and therefore of the Holy Spirit) that does not exist in pre-Christian times. But Christ exists, and the Spirit also.

This lack of knowledge . . . has led some observers to think The Lord of the Rings an irreligious book. It is not irreligious: it merely, and necessarily, portrays a world in which religion is not practiced as we practice it. Let me now return to a different and more debatable characteristic of the world: the fact that it is (or may be) prelapsarian, that there is not inherent tendency toward evil.

Granted, this seems to be the case—but there is no inherent tendency toward good, either, at least in most places. . . . There are Easterlings and Southrons deep and long in evil servitude (III, 280), but there are those who are not. In short, so far as outward appearances are concerned, it is a world much like ours (these Easterlings and Southrons might even worship pagan gods in the way discussed above). But the closer we look . . . there is a kind of epic certainty about, and epic gulf between, good and evil . . . .If this is a fallen world, the fall is assuredly incomplete.

What then? Is this an unfallen world? With Morgoth in its history . . . that too seems questionable. I am driven to conclude that this turns out to be in keeping with a three-directional universe. Middle-earth [the real-world Medieval model] betwixt Heaven and Hell can be fallen, to all the round world’s four corners. But when Middle Earth is middle betwixt West and East, the whole round world cannot be fallen (and in any case, we have noted there is no Uttermost East, no Hell on earth). Moreover, we cannot draw a simple progression from West (Heaven) to East across the map of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Lothlórien is, after all, east of the Barrow Downs. (pp. 59-60)

Lobdell concludes that with Paradise on earth in the West, and its opposite area the East also on earth, that is not actually a Hell, it is impossible to condemn Middle-earth to a pre-Christian state of original sin – rather it is the site of a constant battle between those who have fallen and those who have not.

This captures some of Flieger’s argument about Light and Shadow, but by applying medieval cosmic geography instead.

In both Arguments, the East represents a state of relative sin, not absolute sin; and all creatures in Middle-earth must choose how to respond to its presence in their world.

But perhaps this is not a fair example, since neither the Barrow Wights nor the Elves of Lothlorien are men, and it is with men that we are here concerned . . . At least within The Lord of the Rings it is only Men and Hobbits (and trees) who are mixed good and evil, and even for Men the West-to-East progression from Good to Evil is not complete, while for Hobbits (and trees) it does not hold at all. We must reject that supposition and conclude (despite some signs of this West-to-East progression) that the whole of Middle Earth is poised on the brink of the fall. It is angelic presences who have fallen, and some of mankind with them. It is as though Mankind, collectively . . . is Adam—the old Adam, though not in the colloquial sense: ‘Male and female created He them, and blessed them, and called their name Adam’ (Genesis 5:2). And if mankind is Adam—which is what the Hebrew word signifies—then the One Ring, besides all other things it may be, is the apple of the tree—though an apple of power, not of knowledge. (pp. 60-61)

This ignores the material in the Silmarillion and elsewhere that Men originated in the East, and were almost entirely corrupted by Morgoth – only the most Western tribes of edain escaped, having fallen and then repented. [n.b. Lobdell grants that he ignores the Silmarillion at the end of his book].

The temptation in The Lord of the Rings is multiple: the Adam, as we observed, is collective . . . .The more we draw the comparisons between Tolkien’s world and ours—its temptation, the nature of its timeless moment, its prelapsarian (or its fallen) state—the more we see that Tolkien’s theology is that of the Catholic church, as we would expect. But the shutter has been clicked—the exposure taken—at a different point in the process. Indeed, in the end, the Adam does not fall, at least not in the Third Age. Almost, but not quite. (pp. 61-62)

Lobdell here explains the missing Eden in the East: it is instead Middle-earth itself, the beautiful, natural surrounding environment that Tolkien’s readers so respond to. All of Middle-earth is an Eden, and all of it’s inhabitants are collectively being tempted by the Ring instead of an apple.

But suppose, just suppose, a world in which Eden, though it must be striven for to be maintained, has never been lost. Suppose we have a myth of anti-progress recognizing that change may be ill, but not that it is inevitable. Suppose the contending forces are the machines and the countryside, Eden not at the confluence of the four rivers, nor whose gate is guarded by the angel with a flaming sword, but Eden in an English shire. . . . But is England’s green and pleasant land so powerful a myth within itself that it refreshes us? . . . The question is whether another land could serve the purpose. Could the intersection of the timeless moment be France or Germany? Or must it be England? . . . Tolkien’s ancestry was English, as was Kipling’s. Ours may not be.

But languages are the chief distinguishing marks of peoples. . . . It is not merely a key to Tolkien’s critical doctrines or day-to-day belief. It is true, and The Lord of the Rings is evidence of its truth . . . .We who read it in English are, as English-speakers, the inheritors of Tolkien’s English mythology, heirs through that grace of his kingdom. By the fact of our language, whatever our ancestry, we are native to that northwest corner of Europe that is the scene of The Lord of the Rings. (pp. 87-88)

Here he centers the Eden even more specifically, in the Shire, and claims that the English language, or rather Tolkien’s use of it in composing his story, fits his readers to accept an alien part of the world (rural England) as their Edenic homeland.

   The Hobbit: A Journey into Maturity, William H. Green (New York: Twayne, 1995)

Naming by capitalization immerses us in a worldview where home is the center of the universe, and we are ignorant of larger landscapes that would require our hill to be anything but The Hill. This is Bilbo’s initial worldview, an Edenic one to which we can all return in imagination. (p. 109)

Noted because of Tolkien’s use of the East, the South, etc. Interesting connection to the idea of the Shire as Eden in Lobdell.

The Song of Middle-earth, by David Harvey, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1985

Death has been seen in myth as a punishment for some transgression against Divine law. When Man is in the Golden Age he is without sin and beloved of God (or the Gods). He does not die but lives in a state of bliss. As a result of sin, tragedy or foolishness, but usually the first, the perfection of the Golden Age comes to an end. Man learns the meaning of death, and his life becomes a brutal struggle for survival, dedicated to avoiding death for as long as possible.

Was there such a Fall in Arda? Not for Men, for death was not intended as a curse, but was the Gift of Ilúvatar. Why was it a gift? Because upon a man dying, his soul would return to Ilúvatar. This happens regardless of any error into which Man may have fallen. Thus, Ilúvatar can be seen as totally benevolent and totally forgiving. It was within the Plan of Ilúvatar that the desires and fate of Men should extend beyond the pre-ordained pattern of the Ainulindale. The Elves are not aware of where Men go after death. ‘Mandos has no powers to withhold the spirits of Men that were dead within the confines of the World, after their time of waiting.’45 The ultimate End is the return to the loving Creator. Clearly, death was not appointed as a punishment.

. . . [quote Messenger of Valar to Men of Numenor in Akallabeth]

It was only after the corruption by Morgoth that Men themselves decided that death was a burden. But that was not Ilúvatar’s reasoning. Within the Tolkien myth, Man has already fallen. In the early days, Men were befriended by both Elves and Morgoth. In the First Age there is mention only of the Edain and the Easterlings. The Edain were the Elf-friends who knew Ilúvatar and the Valar (in the religious sense) and thus appreciated the true nature of Morgoth. Apart from the Edain, the Race of Men lived in darkness, fearing or worshipping Morgoth.46 (pp. 36-37)

45. Foster, The Complete Guide to Middle-earth. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1978, p. 254.

46. Carpenter, J. R. R. Tolkien, a Biography, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1977, p. 93.

Harvey points out the difference between mainstream myth of the Golden Age and the Fall, as epitomized by the Eden story, and Tolkien’s myth, where Men have fallen to their own fears, not by breaking God’s edict.

Of Aragorn’s acts during his withdrawal we know little. Five years after leaving Imladris he met Gandalf. He then traveled east and south, learning of Men and their ways, acquiring that knowledge of the world that would enable him to become a good ruler if and when that time should arrive. At all times he was directing his energies against the servants of Sauron and of Evil. (p. 85)

Harvey points out that East and South are the realms of Men, both the good men of Rohan and Gondor, and the evil men further south and east.

   "The anthropology of Arda: Creation, theology, and the race of Men", by Jonathan Evans, in Tolkien the Medievalist, ed. Jane Chance, London: Routledge, 2003.

Tolkien’s conception of all the races with which he populates the world of Arda stipulates on central unifying theological theme – all are fallen. More than an incidental affectation conducive to greater verisimilitude in relation to our world, however, the manner and the consequences of the fall of Men are connected deeply with Tolkien’s anthropological conceptions, with his views concerning the powers and limits of human and divine creativity, and in particular with the nature of creative art exercised in the invention of myth and the making of literature. (p. 200)

There [in the 1915 poem "Kortirion among the Trees"] we first meet Men as westward-travelers from an eastern home, curious and eager for adventure but at the same time by nature faint-hearted and treasonous. When they make their initial appearance much later in The Silmarillion, the chapter titled "Of Men" retains this essential definition: "Men feared the Valar rather than loved them, and have not understood the purposes of the Powers, being at variance with them and at strife with the world." (p. 201)

The essential definition of the moral fallibility of the human race that Eriol represents would remain unchanged throughout all the writings, serving as the impetus and the driving force for the many complex narratives that would emerge. The fraility of the human spirit is one of the primary facts around which the vast narrative of all of Tolkien’s imaginative work—not only The Silmarillion but also The Lord of the Rings and many of the shorter stories and poems—is spun. In Tol Eressëa, Eriol encounters Lindo and Vairë—two Elves, storytellers—who propose to relate to their mortal visitor tales

of the Great Lands, and of the dwellings of Men; of the Valar and Valinor; of the West and its mysteries, of the East and its glory, of the South and its untrodden wilds, of the North and its power and strength; or of this island and its folk, or of the old days of Kôr where our folk once dwelt. (BLT1, 18) (Evans, p. 201)

When we meet Men, then, they are already fallen, even in this earliest of narrative compositions from which Tolkien generated the rest of the mythology and history of Arda—of Aman and Middle-earth, the west and the east—and the stories that grew out of it. (p. 202)

In Tolkien’s secondary world, in Arda, this human impulse (to remake the world as if it were our own) is represented in the legendarium in a number of ways through the diverse characteristics of the various races found within it—which, earlier, we said represent particular facets of fallen human character. The theological sources of this understanding of human nature are found in the Old Testament passages describing the Fall, expanded in the New Testament, and developed into Christian doctrine in patristic and medieval exegesis; narratively an important source for Tolkien, as for much of English-speaking Christendom, is probably not the Bible itself but John Milton’s imaginative retelling in Paradise Lost. . . . For Tolkien, the artistic implications of the fallen definition of humanity were thematically central, both inside and outside his imaginary universe. . . . Like Milton also, Tolkien portrays evil as originating not within the human world but in a time before time, in the fall of angelic beings. (p. 205)

[Cites Shippey on omitting the Fall from the narrative in Silmarillion, see Road, p. 236 in pb edition]

Evans develops the argument that fallen Man is central to the legendarium by attracting the sympathies of his readers into the otherworldly moral universe whose primary inhabitants are the immortal Elves.


   The Road to Middle-earth, by Tom Shippey, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2003, 3rd edition.

Significantly, he left a gap in The Silmarillion, or designed a dovetail, for the Fall of Man as described in the Old Testament. In his work the human race does not originate ‘on stage’ in Beleriand, but drifts into it, already sundered in speech, from the East. There something terrible has happened to them of which they will not speak: ‘A darkness lies behind us . . . and we have turned our backs on it’ (p. 141). Furthermore, they have met ‘the Lord of the Dark’ before they meet the Elves; Morgoth went to them as soon as they were created, ‘to corrupt or destroy’. Clearly one can, if one wishes, assume that the exploit of Morgoth of which the Eldar never learnt was the traditional seduction of Adam and Eve by the serpent, while the incoming Edain and Easterlings are all descendants of Adam flying from Eden and subject to the curse of Babel. The Silmarillion, then, tells the story of the fall and partial redemption of the elves, without contradicting the story of the Fall and Redemption of Man. (p. 236)

Paradise Lost, one might say, exists to tell us that death is a just punishment, and anyway (see Paradise Regained) not final. The Silmarillion by contrast seems to be trying to persuade us to see death potentially as a gift or reward—an attitude to which other authors in this skeptical age have felt drawn. [note 8] While the legends of the First Age are a ‘calque’, then, their resemblance to a known pattern directs us primarily to difference from that pattern; the elvishness of the elves is meant to reflect back on the humanity of man. (p. 237)

Shippey begins to touch on the distinction between Christianity and Tolkien’s world, where death is a reward for Men, and there is no Hell or Heaven for the Elves or Men.

‘Earendel’ is the old name of a star or planet. Grimm [in Teutonic Mythology] also referred, though, to the German poem of Orendel, written about 1200. In this Orendel is a king’s son shipwrecked in the Holy Land, but rescued naked by a fisherman. He retrieves a grey robe from a whale they catch, and in it returns to his own land to convert his heathen countrymen . . . What this may have suggested to Tolkien is that if the Old English and Old Norse sources agreed that ‘Earendel’ was a star, the Old English and medieval German ones agreed he was a messenger of hope to the heathens . . . The notes in Cook’s edition [Christ, 1900] would meanwhile have told Tolkien that the Old English lines were based on a Latin antiphon, ‘O Oriens . . .’ (‘O Rising Light, splendour of eternal light and sun of justice: come and shine on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death’). In a Christian context this appeal is to Christ; in a pre-Christian context they could be a pagan’s appeal, to a forerunner of Christ, to a Saviour whose nature he did not know. (p. 246)

Connection between Earendil the Morning Star, and the Dawn he proclaims. As such, he rises in the East, and has a Christian association and a pre-Christian association. Tolkien went with the pre-Christian version.