Given that Sauron spent a whopping 47 years (Second Age 3262-3319) in Númenor corrupting the people and making them do unspeakable things (burning Nimloth, human sacrifice, Morgoth worship, slaughtering the wild men of Middle-earth, the Great Armament), why didn't the good Powers stop him at the outset?

One wonders if the Powers truly cared about the race of Men, the Secondborn Children of Eru...

  • One wonders indeed...
    – Annatar
    Mar 4, 2019 at 9:11

3 Answers 3


The first thing you need to understand about Tolkien's writing is that even though he was being influenced by Norse mythology, he himself was a Catholic and that shaped what he wrote. It's why he waffled so much on the nature of orcs, because Catholic theology said that the Devil couldn't create but he needed the orcs to be a race of disposable mooks with no moral agency for the plot. It's why Gandalf got a power upgrade after his death and resurrection, because contact with holiness topped up his spiritual tank.

And in Catholic theology, God is not a micro-manager. He allows humankind to choose our way into corruption. Eru (who is God) would not directly intervene or allow his servants to intervene until they were being directly challenged.

  • 11
    Without free will, man has no choice weather or not to love God, and if man had no choice, then man’s love of God would be meaningless. That is my understanding of the Christian explanation of free will. This is why there was a tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden of eden in the first place. Adam and Eve has to have the ability to choose or else they are not separate entities from God and there is no point in creating them. Mar 3, 2019 at 6:25
  • Good answer and good comment, especially combined with @miroxlav's answer.
    – Mark Olson
    Mar 3, 2019 at 13:29
  • I thought Catholics believe in predestination? (which would make god the ultimate micro-manager)
    – TylerH
    Mar 3, 2019 at 19:53
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    @TylerH The Catholic Church teaches that humans have free will. It also teaches a kind of predestination, but it's not the Calvinist kind you're thinking of. From the Catechism: "When therefore he [God] establishes his eternal plan of 'predestination', he includes in it each person's free response to his grace" (CCC 600). The tricky thing with predestination is that everyone uses the word in different ways... Mar 3, 2019 at 22:24

There are numerous reasons I elaborated below. And there is also one meta: Why any storytelling works do not eliminate the evil immediately at the beginning? That would set the story unrealistic (compared to human experience) and ultimately there would be no story at all. (Your question could be even rewritten into deeper one: Why Eru didn't destroy Melkor yet before he had chance to disrupt anything in Eru's world?)


What you describe reflects the fact that intervening by "good powers" is never a straightforward matter. Even in daily reality, if after each transgression of laws there came immediate law enforcement response (from "Eru", from police, from other authorities, whomever...), everyone would end as a kind of a criminal after some time. How do we set a clear line for distinction which, as you wrote, "unspeakable things" are still tolerable and which are not? This always leads to a complex discussion with no end. Also, if the "corrections" would came too quickly, there would be no space for character development through challenges (which is not only a matter of plot construction, but an important aspect of real life, what in turn makes the story more believable).

From supposed Eru's perspective, there is no need to interfere if the things in bigger picture are still under Eru's control and cases of the corruption can be still contained without destroying the entire civilization. The mightier the Powers are, the more space for tolerance they give. Actually, from some viewpoint, there were interferences of Eru inside the books, in those uncountable "details" where protagonists were just "very lucky" to effectively hide at the last moment or to hear something important from the enemy at the right time, to inadvertently find something valuable, to survive uneven battles, to meet key person in the middle of the barren lands/woods etc. So from this perspective, we cannot deny that what happened was influenced. There is even a pun to it in the last chapter of Hobbit (see below). And today, there is a famous quote of Albert Einstein: Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous.

“Then the prophecies of the old songs have turned out to be true, after a fashion!” said Bilbo.

“Of course!” said Gandalf. “And why should not they prove true? Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”

“Thank goodness!” said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco-jar.

  • 1
    Good answer! The problem that the OP asked has been asked in real life for at least 2500 years that we know of. In philosophy it goes under the names of The Problem of Pain and The Problem of Evil -- and is still unanswered and probably logically unanswerable. This is not an easy question in real life or in LotR. (C. S. Lewis also wrote a good book on the subject.) And as the other answer, by @David Johnston, points out, free will can only be real if pain and suffering are allowed.
    – Mark Olson
    Mar 3, 2019 at 13:28

For Eru, the history unfolds as it must since the music has been played and history will follow it.
In the published books, Eru is a bit of a jerk here: Melkor's dissonances made Eru's themes stand out better in the music; the consequence is that Melkor's evil will make the story of the world better because it makes Eru's work stand out better.
There's unpublished work with a prophesy that there will be a second Music eventually, and everything that was wronged will be made right. If that's what Tolkien intended (which is unclear), then Eru is accepting a merely temporary evil to make a better story.

For the Valar, the answer is easy: They cared, a lot actually, but Eru had told them to not interfere with mortals.
They were also generally reluctant to punish evildoers, for a multitude of reasons: Partly because they had not yet seen how bad the evildoers really were, partly because they didn't want to overdo punishment and be evil themselves, partly because they knew that any direct action would come with a lot of collateral damage, partly because the amount of evil throughout history was predetermined by the amount of dissonance in the music anyway (the last reason is my speculation, the others have been alluded to in various places in the Silmarillion).

BTW none of these reasons have any relation with Free Will. I don't know if Tolkien ever cared about that specific debate, and as far as I'm aware of his stories, the issue never arises.
The protagonists in his stories generally don't theorize much about ethics; they fail to achieve their goals mostly due to hubris, with a good dose of mistrust, jealousy, and falling to the deception of the evildoers.

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    I don't think it's that "it makes Eru's work stand out better," it's that Eru is able to take the bad things that Melkor makes and make better things out of them than would have been if the bad things had not existed. Eru is pretty clear about this: "No theme can be played that has not its uttermost source in me.... For he that attemptest this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined" ("Ainulindalë"). It's based on the Catholic doctrine of the happy fault of Adam. Mar 3, 2019 at 22:53
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    Do you have a source for "Eru had told them to not interfere with mortals?" Mar 3, 2019 at 22:54
  • @BrianMcCutchon I don't have the source available right now, IIRC it's where Eru announces the awakening of the mortals that he tells the Valar that they are to leave them alone - mostly to properly play out their role in history, whatever that may be.
    – toolforger
    Mar 5, 2019 at 21:19
  • About Eru's motives to let Melkor's themes stand - I guess there are different interpretations possible. However, whatever the musical interpretation, there's still the question why Eru finds it acceptable to make Melkor's themse cause so much suffering in the world.
    – toolforger
    Mar 5, 2019 at 21:20
  • Melkor's theme introduced the suffering, not Eru's interpretation of it. Rather, why did Eru not simply remove Melkor's theme, and the answer is that Eru wanted to demonstrate that Melkor didn't accomplish anything on his own that Eru doesn't ultimately allow and improve upon. Don't focus so much on the human interpretation of Melkor's theme (aka the experience of suffering) when it is such a minor aspect in terms of Eru's full plan (remember, Men live a vanishingly small fraction of their existence in Arda before moving on entirely).
    – chepner
    Mar 10, 2019 at 17:24

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