One of the most confusing things in The Silmarillion is the sheer number of names and terms to know. So let’s dive into the creation myth in Tolkien’s world and learn a little bit more about all of these beings.

It should probably go without saying, but I’ma have spoilers below. If spoilers for a 40-something-year-old book are an issue for you, you have been warned.

Eru Illúvatar

Eru Illúvatar is the supreme deity, the creator, in Tolkien’s mythology. Illúvatar alone possessed the Flame Imperishable (the “Secret Fire” that Gandalf mentions to the balrog), the ability to create new life and new reality. Illúvatar created the Ainur in the Timeless Halls, outside of which was the Void. Illúvatar then created the bounds of the universe, Eä, to separate it from the Void.


The Ainur are the immortal divine spirits created first by Eru Ilúvatar who taught them to sing The Music of the Ainur, called the Ainulindalë. The Ainulindalë shaped Eä and the world, Arda, within it, and Illúvatar gave the shape of the Ainulindalë being, hence creating Eä and Arda. 

One of the Ainur, Melkor, purposefully sowed discord in the Ainulindalë until there were two warring themes, bringing evil into Eä (Melkor eventually became the first Dark Lord). You can read more about Melkor here.

Ainulindalë by Alassea Earello


Once Arda was created, some Ainur decided to leave Eru to descend into Arda to help shape it. Eru required that any Ainur who descended into the world would be bound to stay there until its end. These Ainur who entered Arda became the Valar. The Valar worked to shape the world to prepare for the coming of the Children of Illúvatar.

The fifteen Valar (sometimes referred to as fourteen, as Melkor was later banished) are all named in the Silmarillion. Manwë was the lord of the Valar.


“With the Valar came other spirits whose being also began before the World, of the same order as the Valar but of less degree. These are the Maiar, the people of the Valar, and their servants and helpers.”

 – Tolkien, Valaquenta

But the Valar didn’t go to Arda alone. Created alongside the Valar by Eru Ilúvatar, the Maiar came to Arda with the Valar. We know that the Maiar were more numerous but less powerful than the Valar, but we only know of a handful of Maiar: the five Istari or wizards (including Gandalf and Saruman), Sauron, the Balrog known as “Durin’s Bane”, and Melian (wife of the elf Thingol), among a few others. 

Each Maiar was associated with one or more Vala and though less powerful, they had similar characteristics as their “patron”. 

Involvement of Illúvatar in Arda

Illúvatar had limited involvement in Eä, but he did intervene occasionally.

Illúvatar set the Flame Imperishable in the heart of Eä when it was created.

He also created the Children of Illúvatar, Elves and Men. Dwarves were not created by Illúvatar, but by Aulë the Smith, one of the Ainur, but since the Ainur did not possess the Flame Imperishable, the dwarves only came to life after Illúvatar gave them consciousness. (Where are Hobbits from? If you rely only on The Silmarillion, your guess would be as good as mine since they’re not mentioned, but Tolkien clarifies the origin of the Hobbits in a letter).

In the Second Age, Illúvatar intervened at the request of the Valar when Númenorean Men landed on Aman. The Valar had been wary of Men trying to enter Aman to become immortal (which wouldn’t have worked, but they didn’t know that), so the Valar forbade Men from sailing west of Númenor. After some time and with influence from Sauron, a group of Númenoreans sailed to Arda in defiance of the Ban of the Valar. Illúvatar trapped these Númenoreans and he then changed the shape of Arda, removing Aman from it and making it round so if one sailed to the west they would simply reach the far east. Illúvatar left one pathway from Arda to Aman, the Straight Road, for the Elves to follow when leaving Middle-earth. In reshaping the world, Númenor was sunk beneath a great wave, killing everyone there including the physical form of Sauron.

Finally, in letter 192, Tolkien states that Illúvatar intervened in the Third Age, causing Gollum to trip and fall into the fires of Mt. Doom, destroying the One Ring (although this isn’t mentioned in the text of The Lord of the Rings). 

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