By Special Holiday Request: the History of Tolkien’s Elves (part IV)
When I left off, Morgoth’s plan was just getting into motion. It’s probably worth it to look at Morgoth for a second, and explain who he was (beyond ‘Tolkien for Satan,’ which is a great capsule but leaves some unanswered questions). Melkor was the most powerful of the Valar, the beings that Eru Iluvatar sang into existence at the beginning of time. They joined Eru’s chorus, and thus assisted in the creation of Middle Earth, et cetera. Melkor was prideful, and rebelled against Eru’s song in a variety of ways prior to the awakening of the elves. This is why he had been more-or-less exiled to Middle Earth, and was there back in part I of this series. However Melkor was one of the Valar, and they didn’t really understand evil as a concept; his actions were mostly baffling to them. It may seem that he got off light, with the million hours of community service (not his literal sentence), but it really didn’t occur to the Valar that he might have been lying when he claimed to repent. Also, everyone at this time called him Melkor; he was renamed Morgoth in a scene that hasn’t happened yet. I’ve just been calling him Morgoth to minimize confusion.
Everything was going great for a while, there. The Noldor basked in the light of the Trees. Fëanor, prince and master artisan, hosted parties wherein all the guests were permitted to stare longingly at the silmarils for minutes at a time. Teleri gradually drifted across the sea from Middle Earth to the Undying Lands.
Rob, in the comments, wanted me to point out that in the First Age, the continent of Aman was located physically on the same planet as Middle Earth, which meant that sailing to it was not a big deal, conceptually. This is true. It’s also the case that in the First Age, the world was flat, so ‘planet’ is maybe a deceptive term. And there’s a further truth: in a big dust-up that we haven’t gotten to yet, Aman breaks off of the planet completely while the world is reshaped from flat to round. The upside is that it becomes impossible to sail west from Middle Earth by conventional means and reach the Undying Lands. However the elves of the later ages who made the trip did so in magic boats capable of sailing across the stars, so, no big.
The easiest way to convey what happens next is with a series of slides, as follows.
- Morgoth at Fëanor’s parties, confiding in him that his younger brother Fingolfin lusted after the silmarils.
- Fëanor accusing Fingolfin of seeking usurp Fëanor’s place as eldest brother and silmaril-possessor.
- Fëanor inventing something new: swords. Like knives, but bigger and just for murdering with.
- Finwë, father of Fëanor and Fingolfin both, decrying this new “weapons” concept.
Fëanor denouncing Fingolfin and locking the silmarils away in a strongbox (strongbox = yet another Fëanorean invention).
- Morgoth, Fëanor, and lots of Fëanor’s second-generation Noldor buddies agreeing with one another that this whole “Men are coming so the Elves have to leave Middle Earth” thing was total bull hockey and their fathers never should have gone along with it.
- Fëanor almost coming to blows with Fingolfin, and rushing out of their father’s house in a rage.
- The Valar convening a meeting to figure out what to do about Fëanor.
- Fëanor angrily shouting down the Valinor, declaring that they might have fooled his parents with their secret plan to rob the Noldor of rulership of Middle Earth, but Fëanor knows Men are coming!
- Baffled Valar scratching their heads and trying to figure out what the heck is up with these Noldor, and why they’re all unhappy and angry with one another.
- Tulkas, the Thor-type Vala, realizing that it must all be Morgoth’s fault.
- Fëanor forcibly relocated from Tirion, the city the Vanyar built and the Noldor made their capital, to the citadel of Formenos (designed and built by Fëanor, duh, of course he was an architect as well as a jeweler and a weaponsmith and a crafter of strongboxes and a linguistic theorist).
- Finwë, in a show of support for poor Fëanor, moving from his own capital of Tirion, to Formenos.
- Fingolfin becoming acting king of Tirion in Finwë’s absence; Fëanor pointing at this and declaring himself vindicated.
- Tulkas scouring Valinor, seeking Morgoth for questioning.
- Morgoth, in his Sunday best, knocking on the door of Formenos and asking Fëanor for asylum.
- Fëanor realizing that Morgoth just wanted the silmarils, and slamming the door in Morgoth’s face.
Morgoth fled to the far southern reaches of Aman, well away from Valinor. There, fleeing Tulkas’s wrath, Morgoth encountered Ungoliant, the Gloomweaver.
I haven’t mentioned Ungoliant up to this point. Ungoliant came from the darkness beyond the stars, and was not part of Eru Iluvatar’s creation; she had no natural place in Middle-Earth or elsewhere. She was a being of night, the original creature of darkness. She looked like a spider, but she wasn’t a spider. Ungoliant was a monster, an evil spirit in the shape of a spider; she was more Shub-Nigurath than Charlotte. In Ages to come she traveled to Middle Earth and spawned a thousand thousand young. Shelob, whom you’ll remember from the Two Towers (or the Return of the King if we’re talking the movies) was merely the greatest of her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The spiders of Mirkwood, too, were part of Ungoliant’s brood. She actually gets namechecked, as such, by Radagast in one of the Hobbit movies.
Morgoth and Ungoliant had cooperated before, to tear down the Lamps; Morgoth because he was jealous and Ungoliant because she was a creature of darkness and hated the light. Now Morgoth wanted the silmarils, and Ungoliant wanted to destroy all light forever. Naturally, they teamed up again, to take out the Trees.
Ungoliant spun webs of unlight, which was like darkness except more so, and shrouded both herself and Morgoth in cloaks of night. They stole into Valinor together, and Morgoth led Ungoliant to the two Trees. There Ungoliant spun more unlight, choking the Trees and throwing all of Valinor into darkness. In the confusion, Morgoth cut the Trees open with his spear (don’t try to visualize this). Ungoliant drank deep at the wound. She sucked dry the wells of Varda, swallowing the light of the Trees. As they grew dark all the artifacts in Valinor that shone with or reflected their light were extinguished, too, even Galadriel’s hair (her hair was still very lovely, it just no longer literally shone). Ungoliant’s unlight spread out and covered all Valinor, seeking out and exterminating every trace of the light of the Trees.
Only Fëanor’s silmarils, safe in Fëanor’s extremely secure strongbox, remained.
Morgoth rushed to Formenos, while all of Valinor trembled in the unlight.
NEXT: FEANOR OF THE TEN FINGERS AND THE RING OF DOOM!
So, was Feanor like Tolkein’s Mary Sue? Did Tolkein have a Mary Sue?
I was going to say “no, of course not,” but then I remembered the philological study Feanor later does regarding linguistic drift between the Quenya spoken in the Undying Lands and Sindarin, the version of Quenya spoken by the Moriquendi of this period.
Of course he had Beren and Luthien put on the tombstone for him and his wife.