In The Silmarillion it is said that only Eru possesses the Flame Imperishable, and thus only he can create life. For example, when Aulë tries to create the dwarves, these result in a kind of marionettes without life of their own. It's only when Eru intervenes, when dwarves are given a true life. But then it's also said that forces of evil (particularly Morgoth) are sterile and can't create, but only mock and corrupt others' creations. I don't remember if something about this is said in the actual book, but at least is said in some of Tolkien's late essays (if someone could point to some passage in the book, it would be greatly appreciated).

Then, if this is so, what's the difference between Morgoth and the other Valar? The Valar can create things like mountains, just as Morgoth, but they can't create life either. Wouldn't they be "sterile" as well?

  • What does "sterile" mean here? May 11 '13 at 15:13
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    "Sterile" in the sense that it can't produce life. The actual sentence from Tolkien was "Evil is fissiparous. But itself barren" (HoME vol.X. "Myths Transformed") May 11 '13 at 15:24
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    I'm not totally sure about this, but I believe that the Valar are doing what Eru wants them to do, so He is actually the one doing it. or He is the one supplying their power to create things like mountains and plants. May 11 '13 at 15:28
  • This is largely a duplicate of: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/28173/… May 11 '13 at 17:07
  • @Ward I disagree. While it shares something with that question, this one is not about how Orcs breed. (Yes, if Orcs don't breed then we must solve the problem of how Evil Creates Stuff. But that's a big if. Even then, maybe Evil cannot create, but the servants of Good can, so that's a separate question!)
    – Andres F.
    May 11 '13 at 19:41

The Valar can create things like mountains and plants, because these things are not true life. Life here means sentience. Aulë tried and failed to create Life. Only Eru gave the dwarves sentience. Just like Morgoth can only make a mockery of Elves, Men, and Ents.

I will edit this when I find quotes from the appendix or Silmarillion.

  • Ok, thanks. Then all the Valar are esentially the same and only Eru can create life. I think the passage I was thinking about was this about orcs (from Return of the King, not the Silmarillion): "The Shadow that bred them can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own." I thought that it meant that ONLY evil was unable to create life. May 11 '13 at 17:02
  • If you believe this to be the correct answer could you please mark it correct? May 11 '13 at 20:00
  • Then how did he create the Misty Mountains?
    – Wade
    Aug 7 at 14:18
  • @Wade The same way as every other mountain. Aug 7 at 17:03
  • @suchiuomizu But the point of this answer is that this is the difference between Melkor and them: they could create things like mountains, and he could not.
    – Wade
    Aug 7 at 17:09

Tolkien was specific about distinguishing 'creation' from 'sub-creation'. Only Iluvatar could 'create'. Everyone else was doing only sub-creation, and this act has a couple of related moral perils;

  1. Thinking that you are as as powerful as God, and that you are doing the same kind of thing that God does
  2. Thinking that your creations belong to you, because you created them, which leads to hoarding, and other anti-social behavior.

Remember the Telari making jewels and strewing them all along the beaches of Valinor? That's good sub-creation. Making the Silmarils and locking them away, and refusing to donate them to the common good is Feanor's huge moral mistake.

From a letter of Tolkien, 1951

[The sub-creative desire] has various opportunities of 'Fall'. It may become possessive, clinging to the things made as its own, the sub-creator wishes to be the Lord and God of his private creation. He will rebel against the laws of the Creator...both of these (alone or together) will lead to the desire for Power...and so to the Machine (or Magic)...The Enemy in successive forms is always 'naturally' concerned with sheer Domination, and so the Lord of magic and machines; but the problem; that this frightful evil can and does arise from an apparently good root, the desire to benefit the world and others--speedily and according to the benefactors own plans- is a recurrent motive.

As for the Valar, Tolkien writes:

[The Valar] are as we should say angelic powers, whose function is to exercise delegated authority in their spheres (of rule and government, not creation, making, or re-making)


It appears as if certain Valar can shape (as Aulë did with dwarves and Yavanna with ents) or reshape (as Melkor/Morgoth did when transforming elves into orcs and ents into trolls) the corporeal forms of living beings.

This power alone is probably akin to shaping non-living things like mountains, by the way.

However, supplying living beings with actual sentience (which would have to be included in true creation of life) required the Flame Imperishable, which resided within Eru Ilúvatar himself, and was hence out of reach for any Vala, although Melkor sought the void for it, for a time.

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