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Old 02-18-2007, 10:44 PM   #1
Aiwendil
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White Tree Silmarillion - Chapter 08 - Of the Darkening of Valinor

This is a pivotal chapter and, in a sense, the beginning of the central matter of the Silmarillion. Morgoth’s deeds here bring an end to the ages of bliss for the Valar and the Elves; indeed, there is a real sense that this is a great turning point in the whole history of Arda. The Ages of the Trees are afterward viewed as a kind of paradisiacal time to which there can be no return. This is the moment, so to speak, when the Elves lose their Garden of Eden – not because they have been cast out, but because the Garden of Eden has been destroyed by the serpent.

Or should I say by the spider? For we are introduced to a new and important character in this chapter – Ungoliant. Though her role in the Silmarillion is brief, it is of critical importance. An interesting question is that of Ungoliant’s origin. Though it is frequently suggested that she is a Maia, this is never stated by Tolkien – and indeed, she is not mentioned in the account of the Maiar in the “Valaquenta”. Her introduction in this chapter is intriguing:

Quote:
. . . and there in Avathar, secret and unknown, Ungoliant had made her abode. The Eldar knew not whence she came; but some have said that in ages long before she descended from the darkness that lies about Arda, when Melkor first looked down in envy upon the Kingdom of Manwe, and that in the beginning she was one of those that he corrupted to his service.
Does anyone have any theories concerning her? In any case, she is a striking character, lusting after and feeding on the very light which she also hates and fears, consuming it and spinning it forth as darkness.

The essence of the story of the Darkening of Valinor existed from the earliest, ‘Lost Tales’, stage, though there (as usually) many details, particularly with regard to the timing and sequence of events, were different. The ‘Lost Tales’ version contains an interesting and vivid account of the procession of the Elves to the festival at Valmar, a passage that has always struck me as one of the finest in that early work.

Like the preceding chapters, this one evolved through several versions in the Sketch of the Mythology, the Quenta Noldorinwa, and pre- and post-LotR versions of the Quenta Silmarillion. There are also versions found in the ‘Annals’ tradition (the earlier and later ‘Annals of Valinor’ and the post-LotR ‘Annals of Aman’), which were to some extent combined with the ‘Silmarillion’ tradition by JRRT to produce his final version of the chapter.

It’s worth noting that there is in this chapter another instance of Christopher Tolkien’s 1977 text diverging from the latest version his father wrote. In the late 1950s version of the ‘Quenta Silmarillion’, Melkor does not accompany Ungoliant when she leaves Avathar to attack the Trees. Instead, there is an intriguing passage where he goes down to the shore and curses the Sea, saying:

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‘Slime of Ulmo! I will conquer thee yet, shrivel thee to a stinking ooze. Yea, ere long Ulmo and Osse shall whither, and Uinen crawl as a mud-worm at my feet!’
He then waits beyond the mountains until Ungoliant kills the Trees and then comes back in through the Calaciryan, defiles the judgement seat of Manwe and throws down the thrones of the Valar, and departs. Christopher Tolkien surmises that the story was thus altered because Melkor did not want Ungoliant to be with him when he stole the Silmarils; but in any event, in the revised narrative she does catch up with him and accompany him to Formenos. Why Christopher reverted to the older story for the published text I don’t know.

Additional Readings
HoMe I – Lost Tales version
HoMe IV, V – pre-LotR versions in the ‘Sketch’, ‘Quenta’, and ‘Quenta Silmarillion’
HoMe X – post-LotR versions, including the latest one mentioned above.
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Old 02-19-2007, 01:05 PM   #2
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I find the newer story of the death of the trees to be somewhat weaker. In the earlier one, where Melkor pierces them and Ungoliant sucks out their light and life, it's far more explicit that this is a deliberate attempt to destroy the bliss of Valinor. Of course, the story may have evolved that this wasn't his actual motive, and that Ungoliant was merely to be a distraction while he went about his real work - stealing the Silmarils. But somehow having Melkor as the prime mover in the death of the Trees is - to me - a much stronger and more coherent device.

Regarding Ungoliant, I tend to view her as a "neutral" Ainu. One of those who desired Arda and went down into it, but didn't ally herself with either side. In that sense, her motivation is personal gain, which certainly fits with her character as described, as she is not concerned with nor interested in specifically doing evil, but merely with satisfying her lust for light. She certainly would have the whole world for her belly!
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Old 02-27-2007, 03:59 PM   #3
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Contemplating a spider

Yes, Ungoliant does seem to be some how related to those beings that were around before Arda was. And she does seem neutral, serving only her own appetite, but the Ainur were the holy ones, and the offspring of Ilúvatar’s thought. Was Ungoliant the product of some darker mood as one of the Ainur, or was she perhaps something else? Could there have been other beings created that were of his thought, but not holy? Or did some exist independant of Ilúvatar’s thought altogether? I doubt the later.


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Originally Posted by Of the Darkening of Valinor
In a ravine she lived, and took shape as a spider of monstrous form, weaving her black webs in a cleft of the mountains. There she sucked up all the light that she could find, and spun it forth again in dark nets of strangling gloom, until no light more could come to her abode; and she was famished.

Also….

A cloak of darkness she wove about them when Melkor and Ungoliant set forth: an Unlight, in which things seemed to be no more, and which eyes could not pierce, for it was void.
Ungoliant took the shape of a spider. We have previously been told that the Valar could take on a shape, or put on the raiment of the Earth. But this in itself is not solid evidence that she was not terrestrial, putting aside the elves speculation. After all, she could be a sort of primeval skin changer. What is more interesting to me is the talents that she has, they do seem supernatural. She seems a bit of an anti-Varda. And like a mirror of Varda and Manwe’s productive relationship, Ungoliant effectively aids Melkor, but for her own selfish reasons.

Interesting too, is how Tolkien chose to have her consume light, of all things. She perhaps can not destroy it, but swallows it up, concealing it, giving off her Unlight ‘in which things seem to be no more, and which eyes could not pierce, for it was void’. This seems somehow in opposition to Ilúvatar, a type of illusory uncreation. Notice the use of the word 'void' as well. It is a small ‘v’ here, and yet I suspect that Ungoliant knows ‘the Void’ very well. My guess is that she is a creature of it.
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Old 02-27-2007, 11:19 PM   #4
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My guess is that she is a creature of it.
Well, that would presume two things: that the void can bring about to existence new creatures; that these creatures could enter Ea (or that Eru would allow it). As far as I know, both ideas are unwarranted, esspecially the first, seeing that Eru is consistently described as the only source of sentient beings.
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Old 02-28-2007, 05:57 AM   #5
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Yes, I did doubt the later. But is Iluvatar capable of having thoughts that come into being that are not necessarily holy? This is not to say that they are evil, but just not of the same level as the main players we read about.
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Old 02-28-2007, 06:05 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Hilde Bracegirdle
Yes, I did doubt the later. But is Iluvatar capable of having thoughts that come into being that are not necessarily holy? This is not to say that they are evil, but just not of the same level as the main players we read about.
I don't think there is something he is not able to do, unless he so wishes. In various places Tolkien speculates how intentions, events and actions all depend on Eru, so that even evil requires his "toleration". However, we should note that all the ainur were created good, and Elrond too sustains this idea at the Council ("nothing is evil in the beginning).
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Old 03-22-2007, 08:58 AM   #7
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One might speculate that Ungoliant was an 'unintended consequence' of Melkor's discord: he didn't consciously create her, or corrupt her like the Balrogs, but rather she came in to being as a sort of embodiment of the dissonance Melkor introduced into the Music, like volcanoes and earthquakes- and just possibly an analogue to Bombadil, whom I've always envisioned as a sort of self-aware 'exhalation' of Middle-earth.
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Old 03-22-2007, 09:52 AM   #8
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he didn't consciously create her, or corrupt her like the Balrogs
The text implies that he actually did corrupt her as he did with the balrogs
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Originally Posted by Of the darkening of Valinor, Silmarillion
The Eldar knew not whence she came; but some have said that in ages long before she descended from the darkness that lies about Arda, when Melkor first looked down in envy upon the Kingdom of Manwe, and that in the beginning she was one of those that he corrupted to his service.
A similar statement is given in the Annals of Aman version.
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Originally Posted by Entry for the year of the trees 1492
It may well be that Melkor, if none other, knew of her, being and her abode, and that she was in the beginning one of those that he had corrupted to his service.
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Old 03-23-2007, 07:25 AM   #9
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It's more than similar, it's the 'same' statement (i.e. the Silmarillion text here copied from AAm); anyway, the implication here of 'corrupted to his service' means 'recruited,' not that Melkor had anything to do with her 'being.'
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Old 03-23-2007, 08:17 AM   #10
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The paragraph's version of the published Silmarillion is not the same with that of the AAm, but with that of the Later Quenta Silmarillion.
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