Manwë and Melkor were brethren in the thought of Ilúvatar.

The mightiest of those Ainur who came into the World

was in his beginning Melkor; but Manwë

is dearest to Ilúvatar and understands most clearly his purposes.

(Silmarillion, p. 16)

Being brethren in the thought of Eru, Manwë and Melkor could not be more unlike in their essence. Mighty and powerful, they could have made a perfect tandem to look after the world after its creation. However, with Melkor going astray and Manwë remaining true, it was never meant to happen. Generally speaking, the two Ainur can be viewed as the opposition of the absolute good and the absolute evil. Being fundamentally different in characters and, therefore, outlook on the world, their actions echo and emphasise their total polarity.

The opposition between Melkor and Manwë began to show long before the world took its shape. When Melkor started his discord in Ainulindalë, Eru chose Manwë as the chief instrument of the second theme to resist the dissonance. Later this reflected in Manwë’s becoming the main defence against Melkor in Arda. After the Ainur, who then became known as the Valar, descended into the world, Manwë was appointed the Elder King, and it was his summons that drew a lot of spirits into Arda who, together with the Powers, were to help Manwë in shaping the world and prevent Melkor from inhibiting their labour and destroying everything they made.

As the two domains, the citadels of the good and evil – the Valar’s Valinor, which followed Almaren, and Melkor’s Utumno, with his later relocation to Angband – were established, they reflected the polarity between their lords. While Manwë resided on top of the highest mountain Taniquetil, Melkor lurked underground in the depths of first Utumno, and later – of Angband, where no light could penetrate. His choice was darkness and secrecy: Melkor could not tolerate light and being in the open. Manwë, of course, was never in need of hiding. His “throne was set in majesty upon the pinnacle of Taniquetil, the highest of the mountains of the world, standing upon the margin of the sea”(Silmarillion, p. 33), as opposed to Melkor’s underground lair. Manwë’s position also commanded a good view of Arda so that the Elder King knew what was going on in his kingdom. A lot of news was brought to him by different spirits in bird shapes, but there were places where even their gaze could not reach, and that was Melkor’s fortress “for where Melkor sat in his dark thought impenetrable shadows lay” (ibid.).

By preferring a deep hidden lair as his abode, it was partially from the Valar’s vigilance that Melkor seemed to wish to hide. Desire for secrecy and self-isolation were not totally unknown to him, though. Ainu’s strive for seclusion began long before Ainulindalë during his lone travels into the Void and “being alone he had begun to conceive thoughts of his own unlike those of his brethren” (Silmarillion, p. 4). Melkor shows that unhealthy wish for solitude and, thus, remaining alone for a long time can be a dangerous experience: it might lead to one’s having thoughts that they otherwise might never have had. Selfish and self-centred, he was unable to grasp the principle of working together, aiming to stand out among his brethren and receive all the glory for himself. Desire for isolation and doing things separately and differently from others was among those early steps that put Melkor on the path of destruction. Manwë seemed to spend most of his time with other Ainur. He understood full well the role of partnership in reaching one single aim: all of the Valar’s labours in Middle-earth, including some of their most beautiful and important creations, were the product of their collective, collaborative effort.

Being the highest authority in Arda and in direct connection with Eru, Manwë was indeed a mighty King. But why did not power and knowledge corrupt him as they did Melkor? The answer to this lies in totally different characters of these beings. Initially Melkor was the mightiest among the Ainur and had the greatest knowledge among all of them. Instead of being content with his gifts “he had gone often alone into the void places seeking the Imperishable Flame; for desire grew hot within him to bring into Being things of his own” (Silmarillion, p. 4) and in Ainulindalë “it came into the heart of Melkor to interweave matters of his own imagining that were not in accord with the theme of Ilúvatar; for he sought therein to increase the power and glory of the part assigned to himself” (ibid.).

Stemming from great knowledge, Melkor’s vanity, arrogance and pride began to show from his very origin. His haughtiness led the Ainu to wishing to usurp Ilúvatar’s place, undermine His authority. Seeking for the Flame Imperishable, Melkor wanted to become the Creator, the one with the highest power. Later, unable to create anything of his own, Melkor turned to twisting the creations of Ilúvatar, and the most hateful of this to Eru was his turning Elves into Orcs, as if in mockery of His most beautiful creation.  In The Tale of Adanel, which is a legend on the Fall of Men told by the wise Edain, we learn that Melkor walked among Men and positioned himself as God, turning the newly awoken race to him – first by treacherous gifts and promises and later – fear. This averted Men from Eru, as Melkor’s lies hit all the right targets in their minds: he took the place of God in front of them, so that they accepted the impostor as their guide, mentor and hope.

Knowing no evil in himself, Manwë simply could not entertain a thought of becoming almighty, for he “has no thought for his own honour, and is not jealous of his power, but rules all to peace” (Silmarillion, p. 33). He was happy and content to serve Ilúvatar, to carry out His will in Middle-earth, help the Children of Ilúvatar as much as he could. Even with his immense knowledge Manwë was humble to the extent Melkor could not dream of. By being totally deprived of evil, Manwë did not become overcome by pride or lust for power, and he estimated everyone through the prism of his good-vision. This quality of his led Manwë to making, what many believe, a serious mistake of giving freedom to Melkor after his imprisonment:

But fair-seeming were all the words and deeds of Melkor in that time, and both the Valar and the Eldar had profit from his aid and counsel, if they sought it; and therefore in a while he was given leave to go freely about the land, and it seemed to Manwë that the evil of Melkor was cured. For Manwë was free from evil and could not comprehend it, and he knew that in the beginning, in the thought of Ilúvatar, Melkor had been even as he; and he saw not to the depths of Melkor’s heart, and did not perceive that all love had departed from him for ever.

(Silmarillion, p. 66)

Here the difference in Manwë’s and Melkor’s characters shows very clearly. Manwë never thought in the same terms as Melkor did. The Lord of Arda never lied – neither to himself, nor to anyone else, so he expected others to be the same and was not able to comprehend lies when he heard them. Melkor, on the other hand, was “a liar without shame”, so he easily deceived not only others, but also himself. Partially for this reason of honesty vs dishonesty Manwë’s mind was always open, while Melkor’s – always shut. Manwë had nothing to conceal, and Melkor could read his mind, while his own “was false and even if the door seemed open, there were doors of iron within closed forever” (Ósanwe-kenta). 

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.

This essay marks one year of Middle-earth Reflections and is dedicated to all the special people, who make my blogging a very rewarding experience. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the following people:

My dear friend Dreamer_Kind – your constant encouragement, support and always being the first to read all of my drafts have been incredibly valuable. Thank you for being an inspiration and a motivation.

Shawn and Alan from The Prancing Pony Podcast – our conversation more than a year ago inspired me to start this blog. If it had not been for you, it might have come into existence much later or not at all.

Tom Hillman, Stephen Winter, Joe Hoffman – your support, shares and comments are invaluable and matter more than you can imagine.

The Green Dragon lot – you know who you are. Our discussions and conversations are always informative, deep and a great fun.

Every single person who has ever read, liked, shared or commented on an essay on this blog. Your interest keeps it going.

And last, but not least, my family for their support, faith, patience and putting up with my nose being stuck in a book on numerous evenings.



Featured image – Creative Common Licence found at Pixabay.

16 thoughts on “Melkor and Manwë: like night and day.

  1. “…remaining alone for a long time can be a dangerous experience: it might lead to one’s having thoughts that they otherwise might never have had.”
    Oh, no: that’s my favorite thing in the world! But perhaps if I have a book with me, it’s not quite the same as being alone.

  2. Thank you so much for this excellent post. I love the way that you address the fundamental philosophical issues of Tolkien’s work. I rather think that Tolkien would have appreciated it himself.
    On the question of solitude I would offer this thought. It was the great German theologian and member of the resistance to the Nazis within Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who said this:
    “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”
    I think that that last clause about the one who seeks solitude without fellowship could have been written about Melkor or Sauron or Saruman. In the great monastic traditions no one has permission to be a hermit without the blessing of the community. The hermit is always a part of the community even when alone.
    The other thought is about Manwe’s forgiveness of Melkor. The good becomes less than itself when it fails to temper justice with mercy. The problem is that evil knows this to be true and so exploits it whenever possible. I don’t think that Melkor fooled Manwe. Manwe took the risk of mercy with his eyes wide open. There is no incarnation in Tolkien’s work, no suffering and crucifixion. It all lies prior to this. But perhaps Illuvatar himself must bear the price of his own mercy expressed in Manwe’s forgiveness.
    I used the word, perhaps, because I am not certain about this but my heart tells me that such a sacrifice is in keeping with the love that the Creator has for the suffering creation.

    1. Thank you, Stephen!
      That’s a very fitting quotation from Bonhoeffer. He is so precise in reflecting this thin line between the two states when they become unhealthy rather than necessary for each other’s benefit.
      I don’t think Manwë made a mistake by giving freedom to Melkor, too. It was a natural choice for him, and he could never have reacted to this in Melkor’s ways, like using violence or force. Otherwise, he would have brought himself to Melkor’s level. So, Manwë was totally right, I believe.
      Thank you for your feedback! I really appreciate it!

      1. Bonhoeffer had a wonderful way of saying something important in a memorable fashion. And it usually translates into English really well.
        I am delighted to offer feedback on your blog as I find it so stimulating.

  3. Another wonderful post — insightful as always!

    I think it’s safe to say I speak for Shawn as well when I tell you that we are glad that our humble little show could inspire you to create such amazing and thoughtful posts over the last year. The Tolkien community is an incredible place, and we’re glad to be a part of it as you are. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Alan!
      It’s indeed wonderful to be a part of such a community. The way we inspire each other and exchange thoughts, ideas and opinions is priceless!

  4. I’m a bit behind, so Alan beat me to this… but great work as always, Olga. The contrast between Manwë and Melkor is so striking that it’s interesting to consider who among the Ainur might have be chosen to rule Arda if the rebellion had been led by another. Eru clearly chose Manwë as the best Ainu for the job, even though it doesn’t always seem like he’s that effective.

    I’m also honored that our show inspired you to start this blog. I’m glad you did. This is among my favorite outposts of the Tolkien community online!

    1. Thank you, Shawn! I really appreciate your support and being a wonderful inspiration! Keep up the great job with the show – in my opinion, there’s no better Tolkien podcast out there 🙂
      It’s an interesting question. There are so many what-ifs here and it would have been great to see what could have happened if the rebellion had been led by someone else. Here our imagination can run as free as it desires 🙂

  5. Really enjoyed this reflection.
    I think that to us, understanding Manwe’s position as someone who always trusts and seeks to do the best is quite difficult, and I esteem Tolkien very highly for having tried.
    To most of us, trust and goodwill seem to be a weakness, because they open to deceive. So Melkor, who can hide his thoughts and make the other so what he wants, seems to be more powerful, and sometimes more clever than Manwe, who seems to be quite naive (as in the passage you cited about the release of Melkor.
    But I think Tolkien’s thinking goes further. What Manwe appreciates and upholds in freewill, for everyone, even for Melkor. Besides, experience taught him the hard way that constraining anyone’s freewill usually brings about disasters.
    Personally, I think Manwe’s position to let everyone decide of their life on their best judgment is a sign of great strength. A kind of strength that very few possess.

    1. Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts! I totally agree that being like Manwë requires great strength. It’s always seems easier to be loud, outspoken, rebellious; try to be in control or totally non-understanding towards other people. Manwë’s approach is not easy, and I admire him for it.

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