Tolkien stated in The Silmarillion that Melkor was the mightiest of the Ainur and surpassed his brethren in many ways. He had a share in everything others knew, but how he chose to apply his unique gifts is a matter for another discussion. While very often Melkor comes across as a pure machinery adept and keen on technology, he had a talent which could make even Fëanor twitch with envy: the First Dark Lord was a gifted linguist.
From The Silmarillion we catch a glimpse of how good Melkor was with words, and possessed a power of persuasion by means of his speeches:
When he saw that many leaned towards him, Melkor would often walk among them, and amid his fair words others were woven, so subtly that many who heard them believed in recollection that they arose from their own thought.
(Silmarillion, p. 69 )
Tolkien speaks more explicitly on this matter in his manuscript Ósanwe-kenta, which was published in Vinyar Tengwar (issue 39, 1998). While the whole work looks mainly into the issue of thought-transmission, a part of it is dedicated to Melkor’s linguistic talent and usages he put it to. It backs the idea put forward in The Silmarillion of how masterful the Ainu was in using Quenya:
«Alas!» says Pengolodh, «in Valinor Melkor used the Quenya with such mastery that all the Eldar were amazed, for his use could not be bettered, scarce equalled even, by the poets and the loremasters».
However, his interest in languages did not end in pure learning and polishing its usage to the state of perfection, and was not an innocent interest at all. Melkor mastered Quenya with ease and could do the same with any language spoken by incarnate beings. He also created the language for those who served him. But being who he was, Melkor twisted this gift and turned it to evil purposes, for he used language as a weapon in mastering those he wanted to make use of.
It needs pointing out here, that among themselves the Ainur could communicate by thought alone and they were not in a dire need of a physical language. They could penetrate other minds but never did so as it was, strictly speaking, illegal if a mind was unwilling to open and be read. No law could stop Melkor, though. When he realised that those who were uncorrupted at heart – and those who he mostly desired to dominate – could feel his intrusion into their minds and shut him out of their thoughts, he took to mastering languages as a tool of reaching his evil purposes. It is made very clear why he chose language as his weapon:
And their language, though it comes from the spirit or mind, operates through and with the body: it is not the sáma* nor its sanwe**, but it may express the sanwe in its mode and
according to its capacity. Upon the body and upon the indweller, therefore, such pressure and such fear may be exerted that the incarnate person may be forced to speak.
Using threats in some cases and subtlety in others, but always based on deceit, treachery and lies, Melkor managed both – to worm secrets out of some reluctant minds and to plant the ideas he felt fit to into others’ so that they did not perceive them as an outside intrusion but rather as their own thoughts. These lies, subtly woven into seemingly fair speeches, sowed the seeds of doubt and unrest among the Noldor which led to their rebellion against the Valar.
Thus Tolkien puts yet another emphasis on how powerful a tool a language can be, and also how dangerous when put to evil uses.
*sáma – mind
**sanwe – a thought; an action of sáma.
- J. R. R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1999.
- J. R. R. Tolkien – Ósanwe-kenta.
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