Being the person who sub-created a vast and detailed literary world, J. R. R. Tolkien felt sympathetic with those who made things, too, whether the results were the creations of their hands or minds. However, as a sub-creator Tolkien was very well aware of the pitfalls of being one, the worst of them — becoming unhealthy attached to one’s work. The Professor clearly shows in his books that remaining humble is one of the key aspects of not falling victim to the work of one’s hands or mind. A perfect example of such an attitude is Aulë.

Driven by his wish to create and have pupils to teach and love, to pass his knowledge to, Aulë creates the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves in secret long before the Children of Ilúvatar awaken in Middle-earth. However virtuous Aulë’s intentions are, it is still a grave folly which earns the Vala a severe reproach from Eru: such a deed is neither in the smith’s power, nor in his authority. In this deed Aulë attempted what is by right Ilúvatar’s work. Thus the Dwarves become dependent on the smith’s thoughts and can act only when their maker thinks to move them.

Aulë’s reaction to Ilúvatar’s reproach shows his great humility, even despite falling into folly, which sets him way apart from many other makers in Middle-earth:

I did not desire such lordship. I desired things other than I am, to love and to teach them, so that they too might perceive the beauty of Eä, which thou hast caused to be. For it seemed to me that there is great room in Arda for many things that might rejoice in it, yet it is for the most part empty still, and dumb. And in my impatience I have fallen into folly.

(Silmarillion, p. 37-38)

The way Aulë repents is very important as the essential part of his nature which prevents his moral downfall. This makes him very different from Melkor who is impatient of the Void and wishes to create things of his own only because of his excessive pride and as a means of increasing his own glory. In contrast to Aulë, Melkor wishes to have subjects and be their master rather than share his knowledge and do something for the good of Middle-earth and its inhabitants.

Aulë’s repentance goes as far as being willing to give away his creation to Ilúvatar freely as well as to destroy the work of his imagination, even though the Dwarves are living beings. It clearly pains the great smith, and he weeps raising his hammer over the Dwarves to strike them. However, even amidst his folly Aulë remains loyal to Ilúvatar and does not stray from the path of wisdom. This very repentance, ability to acknowledge the mistake made and unprecedented humility bring Eru’s compassion rather than anger on Aulë. As a way to acknowledge how worthy such attitude is, Ilúvatar allows Aulë to keep his creation under certain conditions, as well as gives life of their own to the Dwarves so that they can live and move independently from the Vala’s thoughts. This would not have been possible without his humility and readiness to make amends no matter how much it pains him.

It is no wonder that Aulë shows a deep understanding of Fëanor’s agony when the Noldo is asked to break the Silmarils in order to restore the Two Trees of Valinor. The Vala knows what it is like — to be about to destroy one’s dearest creation: he has been there:

Be not hasty! We ask a greater thing than thou knowest. Let him have peace yet awhile.

(Silmarillion, p. 82)

One maker understands another perfectly well. Fëanor, alas, is not even close to Aulë in the level of humility. The Elf has grown proud and arrogant, very much attached to the Silmarils, unhealthily possessive of the work of his hands. His downfall at that point is beyond any amends. The fact that by the time the Noldo was asked to break them, the gems had already been stolen by Melkor, moves to the background here. Fëanor’s positive answer to that hard request could have meant that there still was a possibility for him to avoid total downfall: his further deeds could have been very different had he not grown so proud and selfish.

Aulë’s humility is exemplary. Totally deprived of pride and unhealthy ambitions, he never grows dependent on his creations and never allows things to be his masters. The words that perfectly sum up the Vala’s nature are those: “the delight and pride of Aulë is in the deed of making, and in the thing made, and neither in possession nor in his own mastery; wherefore he gives and hoards not, and is free from care, passing ever on to some new work.” (Silmarillion, p. 8). This is the ultimate way to stay independent of a thing while creating something beautiful.

Further reading:

On the dangers of becoming too possessive

On humility

Works consulted:

  1. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1999.

Featured image – Pixabay.

8 thoughts on “On Aulë’s humility.

  1. Indeed, it is Aulë’s humble response — recognizing not only the error of his actions, but acknowledging his place in submission to Ilúvatar — that distinguishes him from those who create from a place of pride. I’ve always found Aulë’s decision to repent to be one of the most significant moments in the legendarium — the deeper importance to Tolkien and, hopefully to the reader, of humility is easily missed, but quite central to the rest of the tale.

    1. I admire Aulë for that. So deprived of pride, of unhealthy ambition. What a great example he is!
      The more I look into the matter of being/not being possessive, the more I realise the magnitude and the importance of it in Tolkien. So many things, situations and events are built around possessive vs non-possessive attitude.

  2. As a creator myself, it is good to receive warning of these dangers. I hope to never become so proud of my works that I forget the joy of creation.

  3. The thing that struck me that I have never really thought about before is that Aule succeeds in creating whereas Melkor fails despite his efforts. Melkor is only able to alter that which already is. Perhaps we should say he can only mar it. Do you have any thoughts on this?
    I love your remark about unhealthy attachment to one’s work. It is a theme that Tolkien returns to again and again. Thank you again for a thought provoking reflection.

    1. Thanks for reading, Stephen!
      Well, my idea is that Melkor can’t create anything because of his own marred state. First of all, he’s evil. Then he dissipated his power and put a lot of it into the very matter of Arda, into his servants and even before that — into his own malice. So by doing all these he lost his ability to create anything at all. Aulë, on the other hand, has a pure spirit, even despite his falling into folly. He remained true to Ilúvatar, to his purpose in Arda and never turned to evil ways. So he preserved his power to create while Melkor in his malice could only twist and mar. It seems that whenever we do something, we put a bit of ourselves into it. Even blogging — the best write-ups are those done with joy, passion and love. When in a foul mood, writing is either hard, or turns rather malicious, too.

  4. There are two ways I see Aulë’s humility play out: 1) understanding the importance of “Love not too well the work of thy hands and the devices of thy heart,” which Verlyn Flieger called “the only commandment” in Tolkien’s world, and also 2) the recognition that “We make still by the law in which we’re made” — that the impulse and the inspiration to create does not belong to the artist himself. Both are excellent lessons for artists of all kinds. And of course, Fëanor failed at both. 🙂

    1. Thank you for your insight, Shawn! Indeed, Aulë is an example of perfect maker — humble, gifted and knowing his place. This balance is a great talent, methinks, to create, enjoy it and remember that it’s only tributary to the glory of Ilúvatar.

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