Why are we creative? Why do we seek to write, sing, and paint? How can we make something from nothing?Tolkien’s The Silmarillion speaks of the creation of the Ainur, the Holy Ones, by Ilúvatar’s hand, by the Flame Imperishable, the secret fire. What is this secret fire? Whatever it consists of, the Secret Fire is heavily associated with sub-creation, the making of a world in which both onlookers and the creator can enjoy.
After rashly making the Dwarves, Aulë the Smith, one of the Valar, says to Ilúvatar, “The making of things is in my heart from my own making by thee and the child (that) makes a play of the deeds of his father…(does so) because he is the son of his father.”
The making of things is in my heart from my own making by thee. Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-Stories” goes further into this concept, but Aulë’s words struck me with their poignancy. We are creative because we were created in the image of the great Creator God. But our acts of creation are not as powerful as his, for while we may paint a rainbow or sculpt a stallion, only he can make the rainbow or the stallion. No matter how real our work is, it is only a mirror of God’s work.
But earlier in The Silmarillion, even before the making of the Dwarves, Ilúvatar sits and listens to the music of the Ainur. He then takes them to the edge of the Void and shows them a vision of the world that is to come. When the vision fades, he speaks of their desire for this vision “shall verily be; not only in your thought, but even as ye yourselves are, and other. Therefore I say: ‘Eä!’ Let these things Be! And will send forth into the Void the Flame Imperishable, and it shall be at the heart of the world.”
At this point, one can see that the Flame Imperishable, the Secret Fire, is of Ilúvatar, and with Ilúvatar, and yet separate from him, for it burns at the heart of the world. But perhaps the most startling reference to the fire lies in a comment about the world after the end of days, when “the themes of Ilúvatar shall be played aright, and take Being in the moment of their utterance…and Ilúvatar shall give to their thought the Secret Fire.”
And the choir that is to sing the themes of Ilúvatar after the end of days does not consist merely of the Ainur, or even the Elves, but of all the Children of Ilúvatar, both Elves and Men.
Would Ilúvatar truly give the Flame Imperishable to the work of mere mortals? Could the stories of Men be given existence in the same plane, the same reality, as the authors?
Such a concept is too hard to grasp. Can you imagine walking with your characters as you walk with your parents or siblings? If you knew that someday, somewhere, your words were given the Secret Fire—that everything you wrote came to pass exactly as you foretold—how would that change your writing?