Morgoth was the name given to Melkor, the highest of the Ainur by Fëanor after his flight from Valinor with the Silmarils. He was known ever-after by that name among the Elves.
|Art by Ted Nasmith.|
Morgoth (Quenya for “Dark Enemy”) was originally the mightiest of the Ainur, angelic spirits that were “offspring of [Illúvatar’s] thought”. He is the brother of Manwë, the Lord of the Valar.
He and the other Ainur participated in the “Great Music” of Illúvatar before the making of the world, but Melkor (as he is first known), interwove discordant elements into the music, in the desiring for things he could not possess.
When Illúvatar had created the world, and the Ainur descended into the world to prepare it for the foretold coming of the “Children of Illúvatar”, Melkor descended as well, but his jealousy and desire to dominate caused him to work against the other Valar, thwarting their designs.
Much has been made of the similarity of Melkor’s fall to that of Satan in Christian theology, and they certainly parallel the same theme – that of the Fall. But there are many outside elements as well, taken from Tolkien’s store of mythological knowledge.
Tolkien scholar Anne Perry, in her book Tolkien in the Land of Heroes, notes the convergence of the Christian and pagan ideas in Morgoth:
- “It is possible to interpret much that occurs in Tolkien’s fiction from either Christian or non-Christian viewpoints with equal success.”
She goes on to note:
- “It would be more accurate…to say that Tolkien’s interwoven ideas of rebellion, fall, and retribution are world archetypes common to numerous religions and mythologies” (TLoH pgs 30, 36).
Morgoth also corrupted many of the lesser Ainur, the Maiar, into his service.
The chief among these was Sauron, originally a Maiar in the service of Aulë, who became Melkor’s chief lieutenant, and in later years the foremost foe of the free peoples of Middle Earth.
Melkor built a stronghold in the far North called Utumno and brooded upon ways to foil the designs of the Valar. Thus, as the Valar turned to the creation of Light, creating the Two Lamps, Melkor’s thoughts turned to darkness, following as ever the note of discord and disenchantment he had woven into the Great Music.
When the Valar finally determined the time was ripe to deal with Melkor, ere the coming of the Children of Illùvatar, Melkor destroyed the Two Lamps and fled into the deep caverns of Angband in his stronghold of Utumno.
THE BATTLE OF POWERS
When the Elves, the Firstborn of Illúvatar, awoke by Cuiviénen in the starlight, Melkor became aware of them first, and sought to corrupt them.
The Valar soon became aware of the Elves, and of Melkor’s attempts at corruption. So began the Battle of Powers, when the Valar assaulted Utumno and Melkor was captured and taken to Valinor in chains, where he was thrust beyond the world into the void.
After “three ages” of imprisonment, he became contrite, and begged of the Valar their forgiveness and release. Manwë, who was unable to conceive of Melkor’s secret thoughts, was taken in by this apparent change, and Melkor was released from bondage.
Melkor quickly began to sow discord amongst the Elves of Valinor against the Valar, though it was done in secret, with an outward show of humility.
His prime target was Fëanor of the House of Finwë, who had created the Silmarils Melkor coveted. But Fëanor perceived Melkor’s intent, and Melkor fled Valinor ere the Valar could capture him.
THE RAPE OF THE SILMARILS
He fled in secret to Avathar, in the far south, and solicited the help of Ungoliant, a spider of monstrous form (and perhaps a fallen Maiar as well). Together they attacked Valinor, at a time of festival when the Valar and Elves were feasting.
They destroyed the Two Trees of Valinor, and Ungoliant sucked up their light and belched it forth as clouds of darkness.
They fled North before the host of the Valar, hidden behind Ungoliant’s veil of darkness, and attacked the house of Finwë, slaying him and taking the Silmarils of Fëanor.
Fëanor, coming upon his slain father and missing jewels, cursed Melkor, naming him Morgoth, the “Dark Enemy”, and it was by this name that Melkor was known ever after.
Morgoth re-entered his abode at Angband, and from there established himself as the ruler of Middle Earth. He fashioned for himself an Iron Crown as a symbol of his power, and set into the brow the stolen Silmarils of Fëanor.
Fëanor gathered many of his brethren and, against the counsel of the Valar, pursued Morgoth across the sea to Middle Earth, incurring the Doom of Mandos after the Kinslaying at Alqualondë, where elf fought against elf amongst the ships of the Teleri Elves.
THE WARS OF THE FIRST AGE
The return of the Noldor to Middle Earth launched a long series of battles and wars against Morgoth in the First Age.
The returning Noldor established kingdoms and domains amongst the existing Elven inhabitants of Middle Earth, and set themselves against the dark power of Morgoth in the far North.
Shortly after the arrival of Noldor in Middle Earth, Morgoth assaulted them in hopes of catching them unawares. This became known as the Dagor-nuin-Giliath, the “Battle Under Stars”. His army was thrown back, but the anger-driven Noldor overextended themselves, and Fëanor was slain by a Balrog.
Shortly after came the first rising of the sun and moon, and Morgoth fled into the deep recesses of his fortress in fear of its light. There he bided his time and bred his evil armies.
He created ever greater armies of Orcs, and gathered together once again his Balrogs, and plotted deeper and darker designs yet.
With the rising of the sun and moon also came the awakening of Men. Morgoth learned of this early, and corrupted many of the early Men, for they were more easily corruptible than the elder Children of Illúvatar.
When he foresaw that his designs were nearly complete, he unleashed his armies, and over the next few centuries, several great battles ensued, namely the Dagor Bragollach (“Battle of Sudden Flame”) and the Nirnaeth Arnoediad (“Battle of Unnumbered Tears”).
These battles unveiled at last his great dragons, and they armies of Elves and Men were driven back and defeated with great loss, until the Dark Lord’s shadow covered most of Middle Earth.
Of interest during this period is his capture of Húrin during the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. Morgoth demanded from Húrin the location of the hidden Elven city of Gondolin, but Húrin mocked him. So Morgoth set a curse upon Húrin and all of his bloodline.
The story of Húrin and his cursed family became one of Tolkien’s most developed and well-known stories of the First Age, the Narn i Chîn Húrin. This tale is told in full in The Children of Hurin.
These bleak years were not entirely without small triumphs for Elves and Men. Fingolfin, High King of the Noldor after the death of his brother Fëanor, challenged Morgoth to personal battle in a fit of despair and rage, and the Dark Lord accepted.
Fingolfin was finally slain, small and overmatched against the great Vala, but he sorely wounded Morgoth, and he would never be free of the pain of those wounds.
Soon after, Beren and Luthien infiltrated Angband to the very seat of the Iron Throne and, enchanting him, stole one of the Silmarils from the Iron Crown.
This actually worked toward the advantage of Morgoth for a time, incurring the Doom of Mandos upon the descendants of Fëanor, but it also signaled his impending downfall.
At the end of the First Age, Eärendil, descendant of Beren and Luthien, took the recovered Silmaril across the sea to Valinor, where he plead with the Valar to rid Middle Earth of Morgoth.
The Valar accepted, and thus began the War of Wrath, where the host of the Valar assaulted Morgoth’s stronghold of Angband and battled with the great winged dragons. During the battle, the upheaval was so great that the entire land of Beleriand and the shape of Middle Earth was altered.
Morgoth was captured and chained and thrust once more beyond the “Doors of Night” into the void, there to stay until the End of Time, when prophecy says he return for the Final Battle.
THE NATURE OF MORGOTH
Morgoth was gone, but the evil of his works remained, and echoes of his presence reverberate even into the Third Age of Middle Earth, six thousand years later.
Much as his lieutenant Sauron concentrated his power into the One Ring (see The Lord of the Rings) so Morgoth dispersed his power into the very matter of Arda. This was an idea that Tolkien returned to often in his later writings of the First Age, and he often pondered the nature of Morgoth and his lasting effect upon Middle Earth.
Tolkien’s “Notes on motives in The Silmarillion”, published posthumously in Morgoth’s Ring, contains the idea that, in his attempt to dominate all of Middle Earth, Morgoth “let most of his being pass into the physicalconstituents of the Earth” (MR pg. 394).
Tolkien pondered long on Melkor-Morgoth’s desires and ambitions. This, perhaps, is the most revealing statement from his later studies:
- “Melkor’s final impotence and despair lay in this: that whereas the Valar (and in their degree Elves and Men) could still love ‘Arda Marred’, that is Arda with a Melkor-ingredient, and could still heal this or that hurt, or produce from its very marring, from its state as it was, things beautiful and lovely, Melkor could do nothing with Arda, which was not from his own mind and was interwoven with the work and thoughts of others: even left alone he could only have gone raging on till all was leveled again into a formless chaos” (MR pg. 396).