If you read enough discussions/debates/etc. surrounding Tolkien’s works, you’ll eventually come across the comment that the Ainur (particularly the Valar) steadily cease to care about the inhabitants of Middle-earth. At the very least, they seem to grow rather indifferent about them as time goes by.
In the early days, all sorts of interaction is taking place. From the hunting of Oromë, who found the Children of Ilúvatar, to the mighty Tulkas who fought and wrestled Melkor. Perhaps most famous of all for playing an active role in the lives of elves and men was Ulmo, who continues to stick around and aid them long after the other Valar have seemingly “abandoned” Middle-earth.
But I’m now beginning to feel that this later “standoffishness” may have been foretold all along. Or, rather, it may have been foresang…to coin an awkward word.
Then Ilúvatar arose, and the Ainur perceived that he smiled; and he lifted up his left hand, and a new theme began amid the storm, like and yet unlike to the former theme, and it gathered power and had new beauty. But the discord of Melkor rose in uproar and contended with it, and again there was a war of sound more violent than before, until many of the Ainur were dismayed and sang no longer, and Melkor had the mastery. [emphasis mine]The Silmarillion, ‘Ainulindalë’
The music of the Ainur, we are told, is the very origin of our world (not counting Ilúvatar’s singular theme and vision). The Ainur made a music according to a theme with which Ilúvatar presented to them. The music was transformed by Ilúvatar into a vision. The vision was worked into reality by the Valar.
So far so good. But some of the Ainur actually stopped singing back during the music phase. They stopped taking part in the music when the discord of Melkor became too great.
It is perhaps then not to be wondered at that, following the initial wars with Melkor and their early “failures” when trying to directly influence the lives of the Eldar that the Valar found themselves feeling less willing to jump in with both feet again.
Now admittedly, this is completely out-there and utterly speculative. It has no basis in fact. And a close reading of the text tells us that the THIRD theme is when the Children of Ilúvatar come into the music. Yet the theme during which many of the Ainur cease to sing is the SECOND. We know that the Ainur were still relatively active when the children first appeared, particularly Ulmo. Indeed they really seem to only really slow down post-Second Age.
Still, this idea intrigues me. Further consideration makes me think that perhaps their ceasing to sing signals the point at which Melkor topples the great lamps, destroying the land in fire. Whereupon the Valar (some of the Ainur) depart Middle-earth and establish the realm of Valinor in Aman. Thus, they took a step back but not permanently, as we all know based on events which follow later.
This is a thought in process to which I may return. But I wanted to get it down before I forget about it.