In Tolkien’s universe various notions can have special significance, which sometimes shows in small details and aspects. The concepts of light and darkness are deep and far-reaching: sometimes they are not a mere background for a story, but a very important player in the events of Middle-earth. In the present reflection I am going to look into the matter of sunlight and its influence on the dark powers of Middle-earth.

The Sun rose above Arda after the Moon. It signified the beginning of the Men’s dominion and the Elves’ waning. The Sun was created from the last fruit given by Laurelin following Morgoth’s deadly blow to the Two Trees of Valinor. The Valar all laboured together to create a great radiant star from the golden fruit, which was stirred across the skies in a vessel on its due course by the Maia Arien. She was a spirit of fire and did not fear the heats of the fruit. The Moon was created from the last flower of Telperion and stirred across the sky by the Maia Tilion, one of Oromë’s hunters.

The concept of the Sun being female and the Moon male is not alien in Germanic cultures. In the German language the Sun is die Sonne and the Moon is der Mond, with die and der being definite articles signifying feminine and masculine genders respectively. As languages and different notions in them usually mirror various cultural traditions of a particular people, this division offers a glimpse into their beliefs and ideas stemming from the past. Furthermore, in Old Norse mythology the goddess of the Sun was Sól and her brother Máni was the god of the Moon. Just like it was with Arien and Tilion, Máni and Sól were chosen to drive the chariots with the Sun and the Moon across the sky, and after due instructions from the gods they rose into the skies and began their daily routines.

A rare evil character in Tolkien can easily stand the light of day. Eol the dark Elf lives in the shadows of Nan Elmoth and never leaves them unless urgent need drives him; Orcs prefer to move and operate at night and find it hard to function in daylight; the Nazgûl are less dangerous and potent during the day as “only the noon sun destroys“ the shadows that people’s forms cast in their minds; Trolls turn into stone under the light of the Sun, while both dark lords — Morgoth and Sauron — hide their respective strongholds in veils, clouds and vapours to block out the Sun. True, the light of Anar the Sun is a menace to the bad guys because, as Thorin’s words can be fittingly applied here, “dark for dark business”.

It was exactly the purpose of the Valar to help Elves and Men and to hinder Morgoth’s dark deeds with light by creating the Sun and the Moon. When the Sun rose to the skies Morgoth was not at all happy about it. He regarded the lights of the Sun and the Moon as a stroke from the Valar:

Then Anar arose in glory, and the first dawn of the Sun was like a great fire upon the towers of the Pelóri: the clouds of Middle-earth were kindled, and there was heard the sound of many waterfalls. Then indeed Morgoth was dismayed, and he descended into the uttermost depths of Angband, and withdrew his servants, sending forth great reek and dark cloud to hide his land from the light of the Daystar.

(The Silmarillion, p. 111)

Even though Morgoth tried to unsuccessfully assail Tilion, he feared Arien and never approached her: his powers were no longer sufficient enough as he had dispersed them in various evil deeds and attempts to control the very matter of Arda. Thus Morgoth had no choice, but to hide from the lights altogether:

With shadows he hid himself and his servants from Arien, the glance of whose eyes they could not long endure; and the lands near his dwelling were shrouded in fumes and great clouds.

(The Silmarillion, p. 113)

Another character, whose hatred and intolerance of the Sun is made very prominent, is Gollum. As he was growing more and more wretched, his desire to escape the Sun was growing in the equal proportions. Being in possession of the Ring — and coming into this possession with killing Déagol — Gollum was gradually becoming more and more corrupted until he could endure the Sun no longer:

One day it was very hot, and as he was bending over a pool, he felt a burning on the back of his head, and a dazzling light from the water pained his wet eyes. He wondered at it, for he had almost forgotten about the Sun. Then for the last time he looked up and shook his fist at her.

(Fellowship of the Ring, p. 71)

It was the desire to escape the Sun and the allure of deep secrets hidden under the mountains in the dark that drove Gollum into the Misty Mountains where he then lived for a long time until Bilbo stumbled into his existence and found his precious Ring. Later it was Gollum’s hate towards Bilbo that drove him from under the mountains for the first time in many years. After the Ring disappeared, Gollum began to revive a bit, but total revival was out of the question. He hated the Ring, the dark, but he also hated the light, so when his desire to find Bilbo and avenge his stealing of the Ring became too much to endure, Gollum ventured outside. He learnt to avoid the sunlight and moonlight, hide from them to move further in his journey without any hindrance from the hateful lights, urged only by the wish to find the one who had wronged him.

The sunlight was ever the hope of Men, as it was with her first lights that they awoke in Middle-earth. For them it was the sign of hope and faith. So, unsurprisingly, mortal Men felt downcast and dispirited when Sauron darkened the skies so that the Sun was not visible before the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, thus turning darkness into a weapon. That is what darkness sometimes was for the evil powers, while the Sun was always regarded as an obstacle that hindered their evil deeds, so they could hardly endure the hateful light of the bright star and tried either to avoid it, or block it.

I would like to thank my dear reader Tony Meade for involving me into a discussion about the Sun and the Moon that helped to make this reflection better.

Further reading:

On lighting in Arda and its evolution

On the darkness and its being a weapon for the evil forces

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 Fellowship of the Ring; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.

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11 thoughts on “In the hot light of the Sun.

  1. Very good analysis of Tolkien’s use of the symbolism of light and darkness.

    Personally I have always regarded it as a disappointing aspect of his work that he opted for the trope of darkness as evil. It is not the case in all cultures: in Paganism and Hinduism, the night is a time for reflection and dreams, the power of rest and sleep. I would argue that it is the fear of death in Western culture that leads us to abhor the dark.

    However, Tolkien did not totally dismiss the darkness and the night – the Elves sing of the starlight, and as you mentioned, the first rising of the Sun is the sign of the coming dominance of humanity. So perhaps Tolkien took more care than we think to emphasise the positive aspects of the night.

    1. Thank you!
      Indeed, Tolkien’s depiction of light and darkness can have more to it than a mere good vs evil opposition. It seems to be a rather deep matter woven out of different beliefs within Middle-earth, the actions of its different inhabitants and events happening. Darkness is an altogether mysterious thing.

      1. That’s what I really like about Tolkien. With Arda representing our world in its imaginary past, it’s very relatable 🙂

  2. Perhaps the daylight is “our” time, and the dark belongs to others. The dark itself is not evil, as you noted, but in the dark all the advantages are with beings whose interests don’t align with ours. Some of those will fit our definition of evil.

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