Melkor, mostly known as Morgoth, firmly belongs among the darkest characters in Arda. He is clearly associated with darkness, night and he is responsible for making these two notions frightening. However, Melkor’s downfall was a complex matter, and one of its constituents was his desire of Light. As he was becoming more and more corrupt and turning away from the light, he had two options: either to destroy light, or to possess it.
Melkor was created to be the mightiest of the Ainur. He enjoyed the greater knowledge and skills than any of his brethren. That, however, was never enough for him. Melkor wanted to have absolute power, thus he kept searching for the Flame Imperishable. Reserved solely in the possession of Eru Ilúvatar, it was the divine spark that gave life and independence to Eru’s creations and was definitely not Melkor’s, or any other of the Ainur’s, to have.
Melkor’s reasons for having the Flame Imperishable were far from noble and generous. Never a team player, he was egotistical and selfish, had no patience and wished to bring his own designs into being:
He began with the desire of Light, but when he could not possess it for himself alone, he descended through fire and wrath into a great burning, down into Darkness. And darkness he used most in his evil works upon Arda, and filled it with fear for all living things.
(Silmarillion, p. 23)
Unable to have Light, Melkor turned to Darkness. He always gravitated to the shadiest places in Middle-earth, tried to hide from any kind of light as much as he could and used physical darkness a lot in his wars against the free peoples of Middle-earth. At the same time, he attempted to either destroy very prominent sources of illumination or possess whatever light he could. This unsatisfied desire for Light is seen prominently in many of Melkor’s deeds.
The first source of light that the Valar brought to the lighting of Middle-earth was the Two Lamps — Illuin and Ormal. Once they were raised in Almaren, life began to burgeon under the new illumination as the seeds planted by Yavanna began to grow. In his wrath, envy and in order to spite the Valar, Melkor attacked the lamps, destroyed them and thus achieved many things at once. He deprived the land of light, hindered new life, damaged all the original designs of the Valar so that they could never be remade and forced his brethren to move from Almaren to a different dwelling.
Melkor’s second attack on the source of light happened in Valinor. That time he, alongside his accomplice Ungoliant, destroyed the Two Trees Laurelin and Telperion. That caused a truly devastating effect:
The Light failed; but the Darkness that followed was more than loss of light. In that hour was made a Darkness that seemed not lack but a thing with being of its own: for it was indeed made by malice out of Light, and it had power to pierce the eye, and to enter heart and mind, and strangle the very will.
(Silmarillion, p. 80)
Both these deeds of Melkor’s are gruesome and horrible. By destroying the Lamps and the Trees, he deprived Almaren and Valinor of light and, thus, of something that brought life, growth and enlightenment in many aspects. However, neither the Lamps, nor the Trees were just mere sources of light. They were the hearts and souls of their realms, the very core of them. Thus, with just a couple of blows Melkor also made an attack on the bliss, the good, the divine, the source of life itself. Most importantly, he shook the stability, safety, spirits and the sense of comfort.
Melkor’s final attack on the sources of illumination happened after his escape from Valinor. When the Sun and the Moon ascended the skies, the Dark Lord, already referred to as Morgoth at the time, could not bear their light. He made a failed attack on the Moon, but lost it and had to make do with veiling his dwelling in fumes and clouds to hide from the newly kindled light as far as he possibly could.
At the same time, deep down in his fortress of Angband Morgoth remained in possession of the Silmarils and thus the unsullied light of the Two Trees captured within the jewels before the Trees were destroyed. As soon as Fëanor made them, “Melkor lusted for the Silmarils, and the very memory of their radiance was a gnawing fire in his heart” (Silmarillion, p. 69). Melkor wanted to possess the Silmarils, was drawn to their radiance, aimed to get hold of at least some light as a compensation for not having the Flame Imperishable. However, it is rather curious that the mere desire of the Silmarils caused him agony. When he stole the jewels and put them into his crown, the pain only increased: Melkor’s hands were burnt by the jewels and the weight of the crown with the Silmarils was cumbersome. Still, he never let go of the Silmarils and kept suffering, albeit in possession of the light.
As we can see, divine illumination was a big problem for Melkor. He did have his own light of a sort, though, but it was a complete opposite to that made by the Valar. First, we can see it early on in his eyes:
[…] and the light of the eyes of Melkor was like a flame that withers with heat and pierces with a deadly cold.
(Silmarillion, pp. 11-12)
Melkor could not create anything new, but was only capable of corruption and destruction. He did have light in his eyes, but it was deadly and destructive, hence its comparison with a flame. As they say, the eyes are the window of the mind, so Melkor’s eyes tell us a lot about his personality without even having to look into it in details.
Fire was also something that Melkor used a lot in his dark designs. While fire can be a source of light, it can also be an instrument of destruction and death. Contrary to the reviving light of the Valar, fire does not give life, but can take it away, so it was a very Melkorish device to use.
According to the tale of Adanel, Melkor did use fire when he aimed to ensnare Men, too. It was his way of showing a contrast between a kind Melkor and an angry Melkor, a way to frighten Men into worshipping him even more. Although he first appeared clad in shining garments, like that of gold and silver, with gems in his hair all looking like bright light, Melkor did show a different kind of destructive, scorching fiery light and shining when he was displeased with the Men’s actions. Still gnawed by his desire to possess Light and to make his person appear more powerful, Melkor lied to Men that he created Light, and all his actions together swayed some Men to his side .
Melkor’s relationship with light is a very complicated matter and full of juxtapositions. He wants to possess Light, but it pains him; he hides from natural light, but uses fire in his wars. His being unable to possess Light solely for himself alone, catapulted Melkor all the more quickly into Darkness, both physical and spiritual.
Today marks Middle-earth Reflections’ birthday. Over the years I have been absolutely dazzled by all the support I’ve received, and I’m happy to see more people discovering my blog. A warm welcome, everyone, and thank you so much for reading, commenting, sharing, passing by or just finding Middle-earth Reflections! I feel humble and blessed to have you all in my life!
 Morgoth’s Ring, pp. 346-347.
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.
Featured image: pixabay.com