Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of the Darkening of Valinor
“Then the Unlight of Ungoliant rose up even to the roots of the Trees, and Melkor sprang upon the mound; and with his black spear he smote each Tree to its core, wounded them deep, and their sap poured forth as it were their blood, and was spilled upon the ground. But Ungoliant sucked it up, and going then from Tree to Tree she set her black beak to their wounds, till they were drained; and the poison of Death that was in her went into their tissues and withered them, root, branch, and leaf; and they died.“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we transcend mythology and enter into the true darkness of Middle-earth history.
With Melkor’s rise and an introduction of a surprising and terrible new antagonist, we get a return of Christianity in this chapter and with it, comes the darkest twist of Middle-earth’s history.
We begin this chapter centering upon Melkor, who has become even more adept at fooling the denizens of Valinor:
“Thereafter the watch was redoubled along the northern fences of Aman; but to no purpose, for ere ever the pursuit set out Melkor had turned back, and in secrecy passed away far to the south.“
Melkor finds his way to Avathar, “that narrow land lay south of the Bay of Eldamar,” where he approaches Ungoliant, a giant spiderlike creature who is the ancestor of Shelob of “Return of the King” fame.
Coming across this creature, I wondered where she originated. The Valar created the world with their song, so how could something like a giant evil spider come into being? It turns out that Melkor had a hand in this as well. Suppose you remember that Melkor created the Balrog through his corruption of the Maiar (the assistants of the Valar). It seems that Ungoliant “was one of those that he corrupted to his service.” So just like the Balrog, Ungoliant was not a Giant Spider but transitioned to become a demon much like the Balrog. Still, because she lived amongst the creatures of the forests and mountains, she took the visage of a giant spider instead of the beasts of fire the Balrog became.
These two evil creatures teamed up and created what was known as the Darkening of Valinor, both in metaphor and reality. The quote to begin this essay shows the two killing the Trees of Valinor, blanketing out their light, and blanketing the hope of the Valar.
The most exciting aspect of this chapter is the depiction of the two of them, which is the correlation to Satan (Ironically called the Lightbringer). Melkor, ruled by jealousy, is not outright evil, but because he felt slighted his anger and jealousy grow and eventually devolve him into the demon he is destined to be. Beyond that, we’ve only seen from him as a trickster, much like the demons of other religions and mythologies. This chapter has a few choice quotes to indicate his nature, such as “Thus did the great thief set his lure for the lesser.” (meaning Ungoliant) and another which describes Ungoliant, but has an indication that it duplicates for Melkor: “she hungered for the light and hated it.”
This duplicity perfectly encapsulates the transition from good to evil, but with that sliver of hope, that sliver of light, means that one is not truly evil. Just as Satan was born an Angel and fell because of his jealousies, Melkor was born a Valar of the light of Ilùvatar, but fell to darkness because he believed he deserved more. It was here that Melkor decided that he had indeed chosen his path. The path of darkness instead of light. The Valar could take on any avatar they wished and it was at this point, just before the darkening of Valinor, that Melkor “…put on again the form that he had worn as the tyrant of Utumno: a dark Lord, tall and terrible. In that form he remained ever after.“
But even as darkness comes, and sometimes because darkness comes, the most light shines through. During this time of Darkening, Fëanor made up with his brother Fingolfin to bring the world back together. It was when “The Light failed, but the Darkness that followed was more than loss of light.” It was a time when “all song ceased.” Seeing this, the death of the Trees of Valinor is what spurred on the fellowship of the light.
This light, at a time when Melkor’s “vengeance was achieved.”
Join me next week as we take a look at the Extended Edition of “The Fellowship of the Rings” and tie it to these histories!
There is a mention of another history I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for; The Aldudénië. It is not present in this book, and I hesitate to look forward to other books of the Histories because I don’t want to spoil the nature of the Blind Read, but this is supposedly the tale of the time of the Darkening of Valinor: “So the great darkness fell upon Valinor. Of the deeds of that day, much is told in the Aldudénië, that Elemmírë of the Vanyar made and is known to all the Eldar.” Look out for it in the future!
wonderful post. I have read the book and am a fan.
March 1, 2022 at 6:47 pm
The Silmarillion is possibly the most intriguing work by Tolkien in my mind. It’s not just the story itself (which reads like scripture), but the significance it was to Tolkien himself. It was pretty much his earliest work in his legendarium, but he used it more as a guide for him to shape The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, only to get published after his death.
As funny as this sounds, he reminds me a lot of the Rev. W. Awdry and his strong attention to detail in his world of The Railway Series.
March 26, 2022 at 1:32 pm
Oh wow, you know I’ve never read Awdry. Was he a fantasist like Tolkien, or was he more based in reality?
March 26, 2022 at 1:49 pm
And I agree wholeheartedly. My plan right now is to work through the entirety of the Histories of Middle Earth, and I can’t wait to see what comes next!
March 26, 2022 at 1:50 pm