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Old 02-06-2020, 10:06 PM
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LOTR: Was Ungoliant more powerful than Melkor? How could she?


I was re-reading the Silmarillion and was going past the part where Ungoliant and Melkor kill the two trees of Valinor and Melkor steals the Silmarils (I am compressing things a bit but basically that's the upshot).

Ungoliant wants to eat the Silmarils. She craves their light and demands them from Melkor who refuses. They get in to a fight over it and Ungoliant gets the better of Melkor. Melkor cries out in desperation and his Balrogs respond and come and save him from Ungoliant.

My question is how is Ungoliant powerful enough for any of this? Melkor is undisputedly the most powerful of the Valar. Indeed, it takes ALL of the other Valar throwing everything they have at Melkor to defeat him in the War of Wrath. So close was it that Tulkas, the best fighter (also Valar) had to enter at the last moment to take Melkor down. And the battle sank a whole continent. Yet Ungoliant gets the better of him by herself? If so she had unsurpassed power in Middle Earth.

Near as I can tell Ungoliant is not Ainur of any sort (like Melkor or Tulkas or Gandalf or Balrogs).

Where did she come from to have such power to defeat the most powerful, by far, Ainur?

(NOTE: If I got details wrong certainly correct me...honest mistakes)
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Old 02-06-2020, 10:25 PM
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Her power may have been temporary but she was indeed greater in that moment than Melkor. It was from drinking all the light of the Two trees and Varda Wells that her pwer was so great. She had grown far larger in absorbing the light.

We never really hear anything else about Gloomweaver or Ungweliantë, I suspect her vast power faded with the years.


In the Silmarillion the Valar thought she was one of the Maiar. In the Lost Tales she was implied to be the spirit of the night. That never made it into the Silmarillion.
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Old 02-06-2020, 11:03 PM
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We never really hear anything else about Gloomweaver or Ungweliantë, I suspect her vast power faded with the years.
I have a vague memory reading something that Ungoliant eventually cannibalized herself. There simply was nothing sufficient left to feed her vast hunger except herself. Certainly she is gone and we were left with Shelob who, while big and scary, was nothing like her mother in power.
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Old 02-06-2020, 11:18 PM
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I have a vague memory reading something that Ungoliant eventually cannibalized herself. There simply was nothing sufficient left to feed her vast hunger except herself. Certainly she is gone and we were left with Shelob who, while big and scary, was nothing like her mother in power.
You remember right, that was mentioned somewhere in the writings.
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Old 02-07-2020, 07:39 AM
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I barely made it through the first half of the Silmarillion years ago so my memory is bit fuzzy but wasn't Melkor also wounded or diminished by the act of taking out the trees thus leaving him vulnerable to attack? I have vague memories of it being a perfect time to try and harm Melkor and Ungoliant took advantage. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Side question: What the hell was the purpose and power of the Silmarils? I figure they had to be special if Melkor wanted them so badly but I never made it the end of the book so this question has always bothered me.
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Old 02-07-2020, 08:30 AM
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I barely made it through the first half of the Silmarillion years ago so my memory is bit fuzzy but wasn't Melkor also wounded or diminished by the act of taking out the trees thus leaving him vulnerable to attack? I have vague memories of it being a perfect time to try and harm Melkor and Ungoliant took advantage. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Side question: What the hell was the purpose and power of the Silmarils? I figure they had to be special if Melkor wanted them so badly but I never made it the end of the book so this question has always bothered me.
Morgoth was diminished by putting so much of his power into Arda itself. The entire world was Morgoth's Ring. He didn't sustain any damage from his attack on the Trees, he just let Ungoliant (Gwerlum) power up on them.

The Silmarils were noteworthy as a wonderful work of creation by Feanor. They had also been hallowed by Varda, who declared no evil could touch them without pain and injury. They became more important due to the death of the Trees; only in the Silmarils was the Light of the Trees preserved. If Feanor had been willing and able to surrender them after the attack on the trees, they could have been broken open and the Trees revived.

Once that revival was no longer an option, they were revered as the last example of the light before Sun and Moon. And they continued to burn bad guys like Morgoth, Carchoth, and even the sons of Feanor.
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Old 02-07-2020, 08:38 AM
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Morgoth was diminished by putting so much of his power into Arda itself. The entire world was Morgoth's Ring.
I'm midway through my every-few-years re-read of Tolkien, and just came across this section of The Silmarillion. What you say is accurate, I believe -- what I remember reading while I was on a plane the other evening was that, as Morgoth created (or re-created) his servants and his domain upon returning to Middle-Earth (after stealing the Silmarils), he empowered them with his own evil, and was thus diminished.
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Old 02-07-2020, 09:37 AM
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I'm midway through my every-few-years re-read of Tolkien, and just came across this section of The Silmarillion. What you say is accurate, I believe -- what I remember reading while I was on a plane the other evening was that, as Morgoth created (or re-created) his servants and his domain upon returning to Middle-Earth (after stealing the Silmarils), he empowered them with his own evil, and was thus diminished.
Check out JRRT's writings in Morgoth's Ring for further details of how he lost power by putting it into Arda and his creations.
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Old 02-07-2020, 01:30 PM
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As for Ungoliant, she was of an order of beings Tolkien referred to as fey: Embodiments of some aspect of the World (and hence part of it, and not pre-existing the World like the Ainur). They played a much larger part in Tolkien's early writings, as may be found in the Lost Tales, but they weren't yet completely absent in The Lord of the Rings: This is also the category that Bombadil's wife Goldberry presumably falls into, and the evil spirit associated with the mountain Caradhas. Tom Bombadil himself might also be one (or of course, might also not, because Bombadil).

In any event, Shelob might perhaps be thought of as the embodiment of specifically the darkness under Cirith Ungol, but Ungoliant is the embodiment of Darkness, as a whole.
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Old 02-07-2020, 04:28 PM
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Note too that it is not necessarily saying that she had the power to *kill* Morgoth, but perhaps simply that he did not have the power to stop her from taking the Silmarils.
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Old 02-08-2020, 01:40 PM
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Originally Posted by BeagleJesus View Post
Side question: What the hell was the purpose and power of the Silmarils? I figure they had to be special if Melkor wanted them so badly but I never made it the end of the book so this question has always bothered me.
The Silmarils are the LOTR MacGuffin. As far as I know they have no power of their own (i.e. holding one does not imbue you with extra power). Think whatever it was that was in the briefcase in the movie "Pulp Fiction".

They are, basically, the most coveted thing in Middle Earth due to their unsurpassed beauty. This motivates others to posses them at all costs and drives the story a bit (ok, a lot). So much so that Melkor would not relinquish them to Ungoliant even when it might save his life.
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Last edited by Whack-a-Mole; 02-08-2020 at 01:43 PM.
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Old 02-08-2020, 09:00 PM
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They do have Power, but Power in Tolkien's terms is a lot more vaguely defined than we've gotten used to in games. It's not like "Three times per day, the wielder of a Silmaril can use it to cast Sunbeam as a 7th-level spell". It's more like "the wielders of the Silmarils are doomed to accomplish great deeds".
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Old 02-09-2020, 08:57 AM
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They do have Power, but Power in Tolkien's terms is a lot more vaguely defined than we've gotten used to in games. It's not like "Three times per day, the wielder of a Silmaril can use it to cast Sunbeam as a 7th-level spell". It's more like "the wielders of the Silmarils are doomed to accomplish great deeds".
That's a pretty good summary of it, Captain Eärendil of the Spaceship Vingilótë used the Silmaril upon his brow to good effect against the greater of all dragons, Ancalagon the Black. Sadly we have no details of how it functioned for Eärendil against the Dragons.

Keep in mind that just the captured light of the Star of Eärendil in Galadriel's Phial was powerful enough to drive off Shelob and apparently drive out the evil of the Two Watchers guarding the tower of Cirith Ungol.
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Old 02-10-2020, 04:02 PM
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That's a pretty good summary of it, Captain Eärendil of the Spaceship Vingilótë used the Silmaril upon his brow to good effect against the greater of all dragons, Ancalagon the Black. Sadly we have no details of how it functioned for Eärendil against the Dragons.

Keep in mind that just the captured light of the Star of Eärendil in Galadriel's Phial was powerful enough to drive off Shelob and apparently drive out the evil of the Two Watchers guarding the tower of Cirith Ungol.
IIRC the Silmarils could have been used to revive the two trees in Valinor after Melkor/Ungoliant killed them but Feanor refused to part with them.

I guess the Valar were too nice to tell him they wouldn't take "no" for an answer.
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Last edited by Whack-a-Mole; 02-10-2020 at 04:03 PM.
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Old 02-10-2020, 04:25 PM
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Some believed that they might have been able to revive the Trees. Nobody knew for certain.
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Old 02-11-2020, 09:41 AM
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The Silmarils were noteworthy as a wonderful work of creation by Feanor. They had also been hallowed by Varda, who declared no evil could touch them without pain and injury. They became more important due to the death of the Trees; only in the Silmarils was the Light of the Trees preserved. If Feanor had been willing and able to surrender them after the attack on the trees, they could have been broken open and the Trees revived.
Once that revival was no longer an option, they were revered as the last example of the light before Sun and Moon. And they continued to burn bad guys like Morgoth, Carchoth, and even the sons of Feanor.
Quote:
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IIRC the Silmarils could have been used to revive the two trees in Valinor after Melkor/Ungoliant killed them but Feanor refused to part with them.

I guess the Valar were too nice to tell him they wouldn't take "no" for an answer.
From a long-ago post of mine:
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Actually, it does strike me that, particularly in the First Age, the Elves have more of everything than do Men: Wisdom, skill, power...pigheadedness, arrogance, and hubris. Come right down to it, Feanor and his sons were pretty much complete dicks.
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