for though his might was greatest

of all things in this world,

alone of the Valar he knew fear.

(Silmarillion, p.178)

Quite often throughout The Silmarillion we can read of Morgoth’s being afraid at those especially tense moments when his safety was in peril. While fear is a common reaction in mortals as a means of self-preservation, it does not seem to be a very typical emotion for immortal divine beings, even in their physical forms. Morgoth was the only exception: he could feel fear. But how come the mightiest of the Ainur was frightened of anything at all?

The Valar could take any physical form they wanted to or remain invisible to most eyes. They used bodies as incarnate beings use clothes and were able to change their looks at will. However, the Valar never did anything that could bind them to their hröar so as not to become trapped in their physical forms, and thus not to render themselves vulnerable or weakened. Especially binding actions were those that sustained the life of a hröa, like eating or drinking, as well as begetting and conceiving children. As the Valar did none of these, and eating and drinking for them were necessary only during special rare occasions like feasts, they never became tied to their hröar and retained the ability to change them at will.

Morgoth was different, though. Consumed by hate, malice, desire to dominate and excessive pride, he caused a considerable damage to his spirit and powers. While in the beginning he could still change his physical form when he needed to, later he lost this ability for ever. Let’s have a look at how it came to pass.

As then-Melkor brought discord into the Music, he already made his mission statement by challenging Ilúvatar himself. Having descended into Arda with the other Valar, Melkor continued with his ambitions to conquer the new world and claimed the Kingdom of Arda for himself. From the very start his main aim was to dominate everyone and everything around him and to be obeyed without as much as a question or a murmur.

This lust for domination resulted in his putting a lot of his native powers into numerous servants and agents. By inspiring them with the desire for evil and malice, controlling their wills and, most importantly, turning them into an independent evil of its own capable to recuperate and act even without his instructions,  Morgoth lost a lot of his power by investing too much of it into others:

For now, more than in the days of Utumno ere his pride was humbled, his hatred devoured him, and in the domination of his servants and the inspiring of them with lust of evil he spent his spirit.

(The Silmarillion, p.87)

Another blow to Morgoth’s innate powers was cast by his desire to dominate the world itself. Total nihilism of everything around him and absolute hatred led to his ambition to hold the world in his hands, so Morgoth invested a lot of himself into the physical matter of Arda. Thus he gained «a terrible grip on the world», but dissipated a lot of his powers. In speculations on the nature of evil, Tolkien refers to this as to the Arda with the Melkor-ingredient: as Melkor’s discord started during the creation of the world, Arda came into being in the already marred state and thus everything appearing on it was liable to being tainted, too.

All these actions, as well as his excessive hatred and malice, dispersed Morgoth’s powers throughout the whole of Arda and weakened him to a very pitiful state:

Melkor alone of the Great became at last bound to a bodily form; but that was because of the use that he made of this in his purpose to become Lord of the Incarnate, and of the great evils that he did in the visible body. Also he had dissipated his native powers in the control of his agents and servants, so that he became in the end, in himself and without their support, a weakened thing, consumed by hate and unable to restore himself from the state into which he had fallen.


Having become permanently incarnate as Morgoth, the great Ainu made himself susceptible to physical injury, even of the gravest nature, and lost the ability to heal himself. He could even no longer master his appearance, and it showed the malice of his nature. This is exactly where Morgoth’s fear originated from: it became possible to deal with him by physical force which could cause him severe damage and even, though at a great cost, his defeat. So we do not see Morgoth issue from his fortress to wield war: he commanded his armies right from Angband and never participated in any battles.

He could not refuse Fingolfin’s challenge, though. For fear of looking a coward in front of his agents, Morgoth fought with the Elven warrior, eventually killing the High King of the Noldor, but that was not the battle to be proud of. Fingolfin cast seven painful injuries to Morgoth, that ever after the Ainu went limp on one foot, and when Thorondor came to take the king’s body from the battlefield, the Eagle marred the Dark Lord’s face with several scars. Morgoth never got rid either of the scars, or of the pain from his wounds.

By dissipating his powers, Morgoth made himself vulnerable to physical force. Though great, his powers were finite and in the end he became almost earth-bound, unwilling and unable to leave his fortress, became tied to Arda itself that the whole of it became the holder of his power – his obsession, burden and curse.

Works consulted:

  1. J. R. R. Tolkien – The Silmarillion (edited by Christopher Tolkien); HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 1999.
  2. J. R. R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien – Morgoth’s Ring; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2015.
  3. J. R. R. Tolkien – Ósanwe-kenta.

Featured image – Creative Common Licence found at Pixabay.

8 thoughts on “«Alone of the Valar he knew fear»

  1. What a tremendous insight you offer here into the true nature of evil and the woeful consequences of pursuing an evil path. Morgoth must have kept what he was doing to himself and yet he keeps on going. Or did he fool himself into believing that one day he would win such a victory that he would be able to break free of his self imposed prison?

    1. I loved it when I first read about in Morgoth’s Ring. There’s such an insightful reflection from Tolkien on Melkor’s and Sauron’s actions, and the in-depth comparison of them, their characters. In a way, it helped me understand both of them better or, at least, see why they acted the way the did.
      Sometimes it seems to me he wasn’t quite aware of the consequences of his actions and their destructive effect on himself. Or, alternatively, he knew and saw where his actions were taking him, but in his arrogance and self-assuredness he didn’t care because he thought himself invincible.

  2. Outstanding as usual

    Maybe you have essayed on it already, I am still relishing my journeys in this site. I have yet to understand given my understanding of Sauron’s nature how he would have willingly transferred any of his native powers into an inanimate object such as the one ring. It seems a horrible risk to one so reliant on those very powers.

    Perhaps it was a consequence beyond his powers of foreboding when he cast the one ring itself? Is this addressed anywhere in the history?

    I have read the LOTR and Hobbit more than I care to admit, but have yet to make my way through Sill…. I get lost on the way.

    1. Thank you, Allan!
      That’s a really great question! I’ve been thinking about writing an essay on Sauron and his motives, and apparently you’ve given me an idea. It might take a while before I develop it, though.
      Sauron’s motives are addressed in Morgoth’s Ring, the tenth volume of The History of Middle-earth. What he wanted was power and control. He was not as totally nihilistic as Melkor was, so his actions were not aimed at the annihilation of everything. Sauron didn’t mind the world as long as he could control it and as long as the world did what Sauron wished it to do. His prime motivation to join Melkor was his desire for order, so he believed he could establish order in the world by serving Melkor. That, I think, was what inspired him to create the One Ring: he could keep everything under control with it. It was a risky thing to do, of course. But it seems that he was too arrogant and self-assured to think about how vulnerable it also made him. He learnt the lesson only partly, though. Contrary to Melkor, he didn’t dissipate his powers so much as to reduce himself to a weak, pitiful state, but still he entrusted a huge part of himself to an object. There might also be something in The Silmarillion, in The Rings of Power part. I need to re-read it.
      Concerning The Silmarillion, many struggle with it. There are so many names, words, the narrative itself is very different. I hope you read it from cover to cover one day. It’s a great book! If you have any questions, do let me know. I can tackle them in my blog.

  3. Fascinating.
    I’ve discussed with a friend once about the fact that in Middle-earth stories it appears that to achieve a great good, osmeone has to make a great sacrify. That’s the case of Earendil, of Frodo of course, but also of Arwen. In fact of all the Elves, who, to help Men win their freedom from Sauron’s Shadow, accepted to dimish and ultimatly leave Middle-earth.

    This you are describing is the opposit. By dinding himself to his desire and his incessant work to keep what he had, Morgoth dimished himself to the point to losing his angelic nature.

    In some way, Morgoth is the one who doesn’t sacrify. The one who doesn’t renoice. And this is his wakness and the source of his defeat.

    1. Indeed. Morgoth is the reverse of sacrifice. I’m not even sure the word “sacrifice” was in his vocabulary at all 😀 His being so self-centred is so ridiculously exaggerated, his selfishness is so sheer. If Sauron at least seemed to think of repenting at the end of the First Age and the War of Wrath, such a thought couldn’t even enter Morgoth’s mind. His corruption was so total and absolute.

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