Why music is absolutely central to Tolkien’s Catholic vision in Middle Earth – LifeSite

(LifeSiteNews) — Recently I sat down with Paul List, the man who theorizes that J.R.R. Tolkien’s great The Lord of the Rings contains a message for us about the dangers of artificial intelligence (AI).

Tonight he once again joins me on The John-Henry Westen Show to discuss the role music plays in the The Lord of the Rings universe, how music is a language, and how parents should treat music while raising their children.

Looking at Tolkien’s great fantasy world, List opines that music is the “essence” of creation. He explains that Eru Ilúvatar, the being corresponding with God in The Lord of the Rings, gave the ainur, angelic beings, a musical theme upon which he instructed them to perform variations in the beginning of The Silmarillion.

One of the ainur, Melkor, a being that List says represents original sin, started a competing melody. However, Eru gave the ainur a vision of what they created after several variations of a different theme and after Melkor’s rebellion, showing them reality. Eru himself gave the vision reality by giving it a “flame imperishable,” something List likens to the Holy Ghost.

Likening music in Tolkien’s world to electromagnetism, something that in ours holds everything together, List notes that music itself is a universal language. As Tolkien was a philologist, or someone who studies language, he believes Tolkien would not have neglected to put the most common language in the work.

“Music is … fundamental to everything,” says List. “It’s the language of motion. It’s a physical property that’s unchangeable and immutable throughout the created material world.”

READ: J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ prophecy of coming AI tyranny uncovered

Upon explaining the meaning of modulation in musical keys, List tells me that the trees of light, Laurelin and Telperion, “wax and wane” according to the modulation of musical keys and the chromatic scale. The trees themselves are killed when Melkor introduces “mortal sin” and Ungoliant. The spirit of the trees, however, Aulë takes and gives them bodies. List identifies them as Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, representing the rational will and conscience, respectively.

Turning to the idea of music as a language, List says this is possible because of a consistency found in music allowing one to find relationships between keys. Motifs, further, allow one to place a “personal character” in the music, acting like an “event,” something he says allowed the music of Ludwig van Beethoven to be more “penetrating,” as opposed to that of Tchaikovsky.

List also touches upon the potency of music. Recalling that he wept when he first heard rap, List tells me that he “knew the end was near.”

“I could tell how evil, I could tell how destructive it was, I could tell how debasing it was,” he says. The influence that music has, List contends, is “undeniable.”

“You can’t just claim something’s harmless,” he maintains. “There’s nothing that’s harmless out there, especially something that’s so universal, so fundamental as a physical law in language.”

Considering how parents should treat music, List warns that parents should not let their children listen to popular music, calling it “destructive,” “numbing,” and says that it “desensitizes you to real music.” The problems in music began with the avant garde, who in the late 19th and early 20th centuries experimented with atonality, or the lack of a key signature, something that coincided with the replacement of philosophy with mathematics as the chief science.

Children’s imaginations, he continues, need to be protected – and yet the educational system, based on the ideas of philosopher John Dewey, raises children to be “cogs” that seek to make money, ultimately leading to their damnation. What parents should teach their children, List says, is that music is a language, how to write, and the importance of what they “subject themselves to.” Looking to the music children should listen to, List refers to Gregorian chant, the music of the Renaissance, the Baroque and Classical periods, and points to composers such as Palestrina and Victoria.

For more from List, tune into this episode of The John-Henry Westen Show.

The John-Henry Westen Show is available by video on the show’s YouTube channel and right here on my LifeSite blog. 

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