Lewis, Tolkien, and the Creative Power of Music

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Music is powerful. Something inherently in music provides peace and joy amidst stress and turmoil. At least that is the experience I have when listening to music. There exists a certain universal quality to music that draws all mankind together. Below I will provide examples from literature and the tradition of Catholic Church to show evidence of music’s capacity to unite people through its creative power.

1. Aslan’s Aria: Similar to the creation story in the Book of Genesis, the creation of Narnia takes place through the creative voice of Aslan [God]. Here is a brief excerpt from The Magician’s Nephew which gives the reader a glimpse into the inception of Narnia,

Bernth Uhno Aslan_sings_out_Narnia_1980.jpg

A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. It was hardly a tune. But it was beyond comparison, the most beautiful sound he had ever heard.

Words, especially clothed in music, possess a dynamic quality in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Reading Aslan’s Aria moved me. I felt closeness to Lewis’ literary universe and a pull to experience the transcendence of God through music.

2. Evidence from The Silmarillion: According to Peter Kreeft, in The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings, “The most powerful and magical of language is music. The reason for this is that music is the original language. Music is the language of creation” (p. 161). Similar to the creation of Narnia through Aslan’s song in The Magician’s Nephew, C.S. Lewis’ contemporary and friend J.R.R. Tolkien recognizes the creative and unifying power music holds in the creation of Middle Earth. In his great work The Silmarillion, Tolkien details the creation of the universe—and Middle earth—through the creative power of music. Tolkien writes,

Ilúvatar [God] said to them, ‘Behold your Music!’ And he showed them a vision, giving to them sight where before was only hearing; and they saw a new World made visible before them, and it was globed amid the Void, it was sustained therein, but was not of it. And as they looked and wondered this World began to unfold its history, and it seemed to them that it lived and grew. And when the Ainur [angels] had gazed for a while and were silent Ilúvatar said again, ‘Behold your Music!’ (p. 6).

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I will refer back to Kreeft since he has a penchant for simplifying profound truths in easy, memorable, and digestible quotes. The Boston College professor states, “Poetry is fallen music, and prose is fallen poetry…In the beginning was music” (Philosophy of Tolkien p. 162). This makes sense to me. Something innate within music truly moves the hardest of hearts and melts differences among enemies away. Poetry and prose have residue of music within them, but still fall short of the full reality that is communicated through the medium of music!

3. Musicam Sacram: Promulgated on March 5th, 1967 Musicam Sacram [Instruction on Music in the Liturgy] speaks of the importance and weight sacred music has and gives to the Mass. According to this Vatican II document, “The true purpose of sacred music [is], ‘which is the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful’” (no. 4). Moreover, Musicam Sacram mentions that the celebration of the holy Mass is provided a more noble form when song is a frequent part of the liturgy (no. 5). From my own personal experience, I concur with the assertion of the conciliar document that music enhances liturgical worship. Peace is a common fruit of singing at Mass. My oldest son is starting to learn the words to the songs and I have noticed that when he sings throughout the Mass he is calmer. There is certainly a truth to the old adage: “Singing is praying twice!”

The Silmarillion and The Chronicles of Narnia are still relevant works of literature decades after they were initially published. Part of the mysterious appeal and timeless nature of Lewis’ and Tolkien’s works is their tapping into the creative power of music. Both men discovered the mysterious influence music has over mankind. Weaving melodious themes into the creation stories of their literary universes naturally draws people to wonder. Almost everyone I knew likes music of some sort and that is not a coincidence. God uses music to unite our sinful world and the height of the creative power is found during a Catholic Mass. I strongly encourage the next time you go to Mass whether you are Catholic or not to sing along with the music and take note of how your heart is moved.

creative power of music

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