In J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion, the creation myth is based on music - the creation of elves, etc. are new themes in the music, the "devil" introduces discords that are then used to develop the music further, etc.

Are there any real world creation myths that Tolkien based his work on that use music as a metaphor for creation?

4 Answers 4


I have a couple of references that, if I remember correctly, indicate that the song of Illuvatar is derived from the ancient Greek concept of Musica universalis; however, I'm having difficulty locating the precise quotes at the moment, but I will update this answer when I locate them.

OK, here's the reference I was thinking of. In Tolkien the medievalist , Bradford Lee Eden wrote:

A cursory examination of Tolkien's biograph and letters indicates that Tolkien himself did not refer to [the music of the spheres] in the construction of his mythology. Yet, as a classicist and medievalist, the "music of the spheres" concept would have been deeply ingrained into his educational training...the entire history of Middle-earth follows an interesting decay and descent in the uses and appearances of music that closely follow Boethius's model regarding the three types of music in medieval cosmological theory.

The "Boethius" mentioned above is this man, whose work De institutione musica introduced to much of the Western world the medieval concepts of Musica mundana and Musica divina (the music of the spheres/world and the music of the gods, respectively).

There's a lot more supporting material in Mr. Eden's article, but I think this captures the essence of the argument.


I know of no actual creation myths involving music.

However, the idea of music as a godlike endeavour is not unusual. One of my favourites is Väinämöinen (I studied Finnish folklore at school, it's very dramatic) who is known as the "eternal bard".

Ironically when I was looking him up on Wikipedia to give you a link I notice Tolkien's work has been linked to him! Although it does not mention the Silmarillion.

Music and song is a key part of Nordic folklore and legend; so it is not unlikely that this is where the influence came from.


Well, this may be a bit of a reach, but the creation myth of the Judeo-Christian mythical structure has the creator god speaking creation into existence. I know Tolkien was quite Christian and that mixed with his career as a philologist certainly suggests he may have considered the Original Language as a kind of music. I admit this is a stretch and I have no supporting evidence of this.

I also find it interesting that the other Answer speaks to Nordic mythology, because the first thing I though of when I read this question was Wagner.

  • There is also, of course, the Alchemical Music of the Spheres . . . EDIT: Oops, this is identical to the Musica universalis referred to below. Aug 18, 2011 at 3:21
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    Even more of a reach, but the Genesis creation account is also very musical in nature - it has several repeated (with slight variations) motifs, presumably indicating that it was intended to be sung, or at least chanted.
    – Jivlain
    Nov 6, 2011 at 15:43
  • Deleted under our policy that religious texts are not to be regarded as works of fiction.
    – Null
    Jan 30, 2017 at 17:00

I'm guessing that Tolkien didn't draw on this, but it is the only other creation myth I have managed to find that is based on music:

"And then it came about that these Two had one Thought and it was a might Thought -- that they would make the Earth to be between the Above and the Below where now lay shimmering only the Endless Waters. So they sat them side by side, swaying their beautiful bronze bodies to the pulsing music of their own great voices, making the First Magic Song, a song of rushing winds and flowing waters, a song of light and sound and life."

The quote is from a Hopi Native American creation myth. I found it on this website although the 'site is quoting from a book - The World of Myth by David Adams Leeming.

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