Morgoth’s Ring

So, I’ve been reading Morgoth’s Ring (History of Middle-Earth, Vol. 10), and Tolkien’s reflections on Morgoth, Sauron, and the Ring are simply fascinating. In an unfinished essay entitled “Notes on Motives in the Silmarillion” Tolkien compares Morgoth and Sauron, the ultimate evils of their respective eras. While Morgoth is the superior being, he was foremost among the Valar along with Manwë, and Sauron is a lesser spirit, one of the Maiar, Sauron is actually “greater” in his era than Morgoth was in his. But why? First, a little back story may help.

As one of the chief among the Ainur (or Valar), Morgoth was one of those who sang the themes propounded by Eru (or Iluvatar: God) and thereby fashioned the world. He was integrally involved in the process, and was in fact the one who introduced discordant threads into the music in his desire for glory and dominion. When it came time to get their hands dirty and make the world fit for the Children of Iluvatar (meaning elves and men), Morgoth volunteered his services pretending to be rehabilitated after his altercation with Eru. But because he could not stand being confronted with things outside of himself in which his mind and will had played no role, he sought to taint and destroy all that the other Valar attempted, thereby making himself their enemy.

What Tolkien reveals in his unfinished essay is that in his desire to dominate and corrupt Morgoth invested most of his being into the physical constituents of the world, in the same way that Sauron invested the greater park of his power into the One Ring. But where Sauron’s power was localized into one item, small and potent and thereby always at hand, Morgoth’s power was distributed through all things that were “born on Earth and lived on and by it, beasts or plants or incarnate spirits” (395). This means that all matter outside of Valinor (the earthly home of the Valar) contained a little bit of Morgoth–one might say that every atom contained a piece of his being–and therefore every living thing, to greater or lesser degree, leaned toward Morgoth and his ways. His being was disseminated far and wide, so though his power and being were far superior to Sauron’s in his original “angelic” form, he spread himself too thin and fell far from what he was. Sauron had not fallen so low in his era. His power was with him, contained in a ring on his finger rather than spread through every atom of the world outside Valinor.

This also means that the whole of Middle Earth was Morgoth’s Ring. It was the item he had invested the greater part of his being and power into so that he might achieve mastery and dominion over it. This is why the Valar were cautious in bringing battle to Morgoth. They knew that overthrowing his power would desolate parts of the world. And though they cast him down and the world was not wholly broken, neither was it cleansed of his taint.

The only way to cleanse the world of its terminal case is to break it down and build it anew.

At the end of days, Tolkien’s imagined world will, just like our own, need to be made new. The old must pass away and the new must come. Only then can the corruption of Morgoth be exorcised from the very fabric of the world, and the Children of Iluvatar be free of the pull to be like that fallen “angel” and those he has ruined.

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