One of the neatest things in all of Tolkien is his account of the creation of Arda (the world which Middle Earth is part of). The creator-god, Iluvatar, or Eru (“the One”), sets a musical theme. He directs his deity-children, the Ainur, to sing the world into existence.
Each of the Ainur is free to sing his own way, allowing for much greater beauty and interaction and complexity. The freedom also allows the rebellion of Melkor, the source of the marring of the world, and source of much (all?) suffering.
Cory Olsen often points out that one key idea which pops up again and again in Tolkien is that of harmony. To make beautiful music, characters like Beren and Luthien sing in harmony, not in unison.
Beauty does not come from unison. The only thing unison adds to the song is more volume: louder and louder until it becomes braying. Rather, beauty comes from harmony: complexity, counterpoint, chords, tension and resolution. Far more interesting than unison — and far more lovely!
Melkor thinks he is improving upon the music of the world by writing his own theme. But he doesn’t really want to add anything — rather he wants to drown out everything that isn’t his own theme. He wants total sameness and total obedience, and all in the name of creativity and individuality!
In fact, demanding unison is a sure sign of evil in the world of Tolkien. When listening to a talk by Professor Olsen, I realized this. Iluvatar and all the good angels and people work in harmony. Melkor is the angel of unison: darkness, sameness, and all creatures bowing to the iron crown.
Worshiping and cultivating our own petty differences is enough to make us all in unison underneath, all thralls to the same self-will. Insisting on being mini-deities, mini-Melkors: that is disharmonious and striving after unison, and again all in the name of individuality… that’s the irony.
Deep connection to the wellsprings of life and love are what give us a theme, a melodious tune all our own that is at once unique and in beautiful harmony with the rest of the world. Loving the song of others, loving the song that was written a long time ago, and singing our own thread of that great theme: much more beautiful — and more interesting!