Our Enemy’s devices oft serve us in his despite.

(Return of the King, p.120)

Dark Lords of Middle-earth had a full arsenal of means to wield wars against enemies. Their weapons were not limited to physical objects, like swords, spears or hammers, but also included other, less tangible, means of instilling dread and despair into the hearts of their opponents. One of such means was darkness.

In the hands of Morgoth and Sauron darkness became almost a physical object – a deadly weapon capable of doing terrible things to those unfortunate enough to encounter this evil. Moreover, they used darkness to provide coverage for their deeds and hide their dwellings from light. But was it really such a perfect tool for both – wielding wars and hiding, and what if darkness turned against its own master and hindered him instead of aiding?

The First Dark Lord Morgoth used darkness in many of his devices and filled the notion itself with fear. Mostly due to his evil deeds folk grew afraid of the dark, and night, which was meant to be for rest, turned into the time of dread. Among many of the evil usages Morgoth put darkness to, one of the most tragic and terrible ones was the Darkening of Valinor.

Morgoth was able to carry out this deed with the help of his accomplice Ungoliant. Being the one who he had long ago corrupted to his service, Ungoliant devoured light to produce darkness in its stead, and it was terrible to behold:

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.

(Silmarillion, p. 77)

Covered and aided by such impenetrable darkness, Morgoth and Ungoliant attacked the Two Trees of Valinor and destroyed them. Ungoliant feasted on their divine light and grew even bigger and more hideous so that even Morgoth grew afraid of her.

The darkness that followed the destruction of the Trees, though, was much worse than that. Made out of Light and with malice it was «a thing with being of its own» (Silmarillion, p. 80). This darkness poisoned by evil and spite became a terrible blow to everyone: «it had power to pierce the eye, and to enter heart and mind, and strangle the very will» (ibid.). Caused by the destruction of Light, it also destroyed hope and joy that had been an essential part of Valinor, and being born out of something so divine as the Trees had been, it caused a hard blow to the morale of those living in the Blessed Realm: its very peace was poisoned.

It was Manwë’s winds that blew away the hideous darkness, but the damage had already been done. The destruction of the Trees and the Unlight, which facilitated the theft of the Silmarils and the slaying of Fëanor’s father Finwë, triggered the Noldor’s rebellion which was meant to haunt them for ages on end.

However, Morgoth did not escape unscathed from the mess initiated by himself either. Not only had he done considerable harm to himself and his powers by committing several severe crimes and touching the hallowed Silmarils, but also got hurt by his accomplice. Upon his refusal to hand in the Silmarils for Ungoliant to devour, she cast her darkness around Morgoth and aimed to strangle him, so that the Dark Lord sent forth a terrible cry that echoed in the mountains and then haunted them forever. Had it not been for the Balrogs who rushed to their Master’s aid, who knows what could have happened when the darkness Morgoth lured to his side to perform his terrible deed became uncontrollable and turned against him.

Another instance of the darkness turning against Morgoth was the one he sent from the pits of Angband to hinder the Noldor, who had recently come from Valinor, and hide the newly kindled light in the skies:

In the pits of Angband he caused vast smokes and vapours to be made, and they came forth from the reeking tops of the Iron Mountains, and afar off they could be seen in Mithrim, staining the bright airs in the first mornings of the world. A wind came out of the east, and bore them over Hithlum, darkening the new Sun; and they fell, and coiled about the fields and hollows, and lay upon the waters of Mithrim, drear and poisonous.

(Silmarillion, p. 123)

In his aim to worsen the situation for the Elves and spoil their life in Middle-earth, which had already been poisoned by strife, he, in fact, helped them. It was Fingon the Valiant who set forth to rescue his old friend Maedhros from his captivity on Thangorodrim. Set out by Morgoth, these fumes hid Fingon and helped him get into the Dark Lord’s citadel unnoticed and eventually save Maedhros from his torment. This deed won Fingon great renown «and the hatred between the houses of Fingolfin and Fëanor was assuaged» (Silmarillion, p. 125). As it was Morgoth’s long-time ambition to sow as much conflict as possible among the Elves, turn them into the dissolved people and thus ensure an easier victory over the divided Elvish forces, he could hardly be very happy about it.

Sauron seemed to be his master’s pupil in many things as he rose to power after Morgoth’s overthrow. Just like the First Dark Lord, he exploited darkness in his evil devices. Sauron’s lands in Mordor lay in gloom and his tower of Barad-dûr was wrapped in shadows. He would also send out occasional storms of black clouds over Middle-earth to threaten its dwellers. One of the most vigorous attacks of this kind took place on March 10, 3019 TA and became known as the Dawnless Day. A storm of dark clouds came from Mordor so that the morning came sunless and gloomy:

The world was darkling. The very air seemed brown, and all things about were black and grey and shadowless; there was a great stillness. No shape of cloud could be seen, unless it were far away westward, where the furthest groping fingers of the great gloom still crawled onwards and a little light leaked through them. Overhead there hung a heavy roof, sombre and featureless, and light seemed rather to be failing than growing.

(Return of the King, p. 76)

By blocking out the sun, Sauron helped his night-seeing Orc armies pass to the Pelennor Fields and brought people’s spirits down. Everyone was described as having heavy hearts and on the point of losing all hope – the attitude which could prove fatal in the upcoming battle. For Men the oppressive darkness, worsened by the appearance of the Nazgûl, signified the nearing triumph of Sauron which could have been a possibility should the darkness have lasted longer. For Men, long ago awoken with the first rise of the Sun, its disappearance was a heavy blow.

However, the darkness served Men a good turn. First it aided the ride of the Rohirrim acting as «a cloak» to the warriors hurrying to Gondor’s aid. And later when the darkness was driven away by the wind from the Sea (which could have been Manwë himself aiding the people), the reappearance of the Sun lifted the warriors’ hearts significantly. It was equal to the rebirth of hope (and what a morale booster it was!), and made it more difficult for the armies of Mordor to fight. Thus the enemy lost the battle which otherwise could have made a significant contribution to Mordor’s victory in the war.

Another hindrance created by Sauron himself by means of his own darkness was the shadows around Mordor. A gloomy realm, it was a black and barren land hidden from curious eyes and almost any light penetration. As Sam followed the Orcs that had captured Frodo and put on the One Ring, Sauron felt it, but failed to see the intruder:

Immediately he [Sam] felt the great burden of its weight, and felt afresh, but now more strong and urgent than ever, the malice of the Eye of Mordor, searching, trying to pierce the shadows that it had made for its own defence, but which now hindered it in its unquiet and doubt.

(Return of the King, p. 203)

It was this gloomy hindrance for the Eye created by Sauron himself that allowed Frodo and Sam pass unnoticed into Mordor. Being able to watch only in one direction with the Eye, later Sauron again failed to notice the Hobbits creeping towards Orodruin. These oversights proved fatal for him as eventually Frodo and Sam managed to get to Mount Doom where the Ring was destroyed.

Further reading:

In the hot light of the sun

Works consulted:

  1. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1999.
  2. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.

Featured image – Creative Common Licence found at Pixabay.

7 thoughts on “Under the cover of darkness.

  1. Hobbits come from the far North, and they do not seem to be too badly affected by the darkness. I wonder if those two things are related. For a southron like me, European winter days are depressing. There’s not enough light to recharge my batteries. Maybe Gondorians felt the same way when things got dark. They would admire the hobbits’ ability to keep moving in an eighteen-hour night, which hobbits think of as “just another day around Yuletide.”

    1. I think hobbits can be more immune to usual darkness, like long winter nights and short gloomy days. So they might not be daunted by the lack of sunlight as it is. It could be that for hobbits only the evil and malice of that cloud was of influence, while men were affected by this and sunless days too. Interesting point to think about.

  2. Once again a fine reflection on Tolkien’s great work. Both Morgoth and Sauron are forced by their very nature to hide themselves within a cloak of darkness, one that they devote more and more of their energy to. You show very well how this brings about their downfall.

    1. Thank you!
      I’m amazed how much they managed to overlook because of their thirst for domination and power. One doesn’t notice small details with such ambitions, methinks.

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