I've been reading the Silmarillion. In case you're unfamiliar, its Tolkien's mythology of Middle Earth, from the creation of the world to the founding stories of the Elves, and the coming of man.
Of course, its totally nerdy. Lots of people have read the Lord of the Rings, but even a lot of "fans" of the trilogy have not made it past the first 50 pages in the War of the Jewels (as Tolkien called the history). He would have preferred everyone read its history before cracking open the Lord of the Rings, but his publishers told him it wouldn't be as accessible to the wider audience.
Though it reads like a history book, I find it absolutely beautiful. It begins with the omnipotent, eternal Creator, named Eru Iluvatar, who creates the Ainur, a heavenly race of beings. In creating the world, Iluvatar sings a song, and listens as the Ainur take his themes and elaborate on them, thus co-creating the world through the Music of the Ainur.
The great drama of the Silmarillion begins with Melkor, the mightiest of all the Ainur, decides to sing in a way that clashes with the Theme of Ilúvatar. The Ainur are able to improvise, creating a music that is all the more beautiful even while utilizing Melkor's deviant themes. This infuriates Melkor even further, and he decides to deliberate attempt to thward the music, and thus begins the Great Drama, told in stories not so unfamiliar to the great mythologies of our world.
What's so compelling about Tolkien's project, for me, is the intricacy with which he created such a beautiful world. If we believe a God or gods created the world, and created human beings in his image, then part of what it means to be a bearer of that image is to create things. Beautiful things. Breathtaking things.
For Tolkien, the professional philologist and Oxford don, this meant inventing languages—in the introduction to the Silmarillion he notes that he has a "nexus of languages" behind his world, whose roots are scientifically deduced—and creating a world with a story and a history and a beauty of its own.
There is a beauty all its own in creating. When we make beautiful art we reflect the image of a Great Artist, who masterfully crafted a world filled with breathtaking things. When we move away from the cycle of consumption and seek to create, to bring the thoughts and dreams within into reality, we echo the earlier music upon which the world began.
Here's one of the more beautiful passages towards the beginning of the book:
“it is said by the Eldar that in water there lives yet the echo of the Music of the Ainur more than in any substance else that is in this Earth; and many of the Children of Ilúvatar hearken still unsated to the voices of the Sea, and yet know not for what they listen.”
The earlier music, the soaring melodies from which all the good things in the world came from, cause the ears of the Elves to prick up. Creating, making great art, means listening to the faint echo of the Old Music. It means listening to some primal longing, an ancient craving calling across the waters of the world for them to join in the song.