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? Commented May 11, 2013 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") Commented May 11, 2013 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. Commented May 11, 2013 at 15:28
  • This is largely a duplicate of: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/28173/… Commented May 11, 2013 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.
    Commented May 11, 2013 at 19:41

4 Answers 4


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. Commented May 11, 2013 at 17:02
  • If you believe this to be the correct answer could you please mark it correct? Commented May 11, 2013 at 20:00
  • Then how did he create the Misty Mountains?
    – Wade
    Commented Aug 7, 2021 at 14:18
  • @Wade The same way as every other mountain. Commented Aug 7, 2021 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
    Commented Aug 7, 2021 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.


The Valar could endue things with life, but not independent minds. They could also shape new things out of erma (prime matter) that Eru had created.

The Valar had power to endue things that they designed with corporeal life; but they could not make things with independent minds or spirits: sc. they could not make things of equal order, but only ones of lower order. In ultimate truth they did not in fact “make” even corporeal life, which proceeded from Eru. But they had assisted in the general design of Eä, and severally, in different degrees and modes, in the production from the erma (or prime substance) of things of many kinds. The idea of life and growth came from Eru, but the Valar, under Him, devised the shapes and forms of living things. When Eru gave being to this design, in general and particular, and it became Eä, unfolding in Time, He set in motion life and growth, or those processes which would in time lead to this. But when he permitted the Valar to descend into Time, to carry out in Eä (or reality) the things that they had designed in thought, then viewed in Time they appeared to make things which were alive. Indeed it is held that being themselves in Time they experienced the making as a new thing, differing in this experience little, save in degree of power and art, from the makers or artists among the Incarnate. Neither they nor the Incarnate could make things utterly new; they could not “create” after the manner of Eru, but could only make things out of what already existed, the erma, or its later variations and combinations.
The Nature of Middle-earth - "The Powers of the Valar"

As far as the difference between Morgoth and the the other Valar, it seems that due to Morgoth's various flaws, everything he made would feel like an imperfect imitation of other things, and would be completely tied to his will.

It is said that of the Valar Manwë had the greatest knowledge, so that no lore or arts of any of the others were to him a mystery; but that he had less desire to make things of his own, great or small; and under the cares of the Kingship of Arda the desire ceased, for his mind and heart were given rather to healing and restoration. The harms and evils of Melcor were to him the greatest grief, and he ever sought to redress them or turn them to good.

Melcor on the other hand desired even with passion to make things of his own, being restless and unsatisfied with all that he did, were it lawful or unlawful. Within Eä he had small love for anything that had been, desiring always new things and strange. He would ever be altering what he had made, and would meddle with the works of the other Valar, changing them, if he could, or destroying them in wrath if he could not. Though his mind was swift and piercing, so that, if he would, he might have surpassed all his brethren in knowledge and understanding of Eä and all that is therein, he was impatient and overweening (believing his powers of mind greater than they were). Too quickly he assumed that he had grasped all the nature of a thing, or all the causes of an event; and his plans and works often went amiss for that reason. But he learned no wisdom from this, and charged his failures ever upon the malice of the Valar, or the jealousy of Eru.

Since he had no love even for the things that he had himself made, he came at length to reck not at all how things had come into being, considering neither their natures nor their purposes. Thus he desired only to possess things, to dominate them, denying to all minds any freedom outside his own will, and to other creatures any value save as they served his own plans. Thus it was seen in Arda that the things made or designed by Melcor were never “new” (though at first he strove to make them so) but were imitations or mockeries of works of others.
The Nature of Middle-earth - "The Powers of the Valar"

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