Constructing the account of the Dagor Dagorath –
the Last Battle of Arda
Many mythologies in literature make several references to their own interpretation of events related to the end of the world. No different is the case in J.R.R. Tolkien’s own fantasy world. Clues are to be found sparsely scattered in some of his major works – hinting at the end of the world and the rebuilding of Arda.
Christopher Tolkien however, has made it somewhat clear that the concept of the Dagor Dagorath (“the battle of all battles”), was abandoned earlier on from his father’s mythology, due to a number of reasons. Conflicting accounts and unsustainable bases seemed to indicate that this event had no possible place within Middle-earth’s ranging history and it ever seeing the light of day seems altogether dim.
Nonetheless, that does not mean that one cannot embark on a journey of research, trying to piece the existing fragments together; collating early drafts with more revised ones and fleshing out an account of the details of events that lead to the Last Battle itself.
That is precisely the purpose of this article. To use entirely Tolkien’s own words (whenever possible) and to construct a thorough and flowing tale of all the known facts of the Last Battle – structuring it in such a way as to be a fitting chapter within the legendarium, and acting as a kind of appendix perhaps in the last page of The Silmarillion or a short chapter in Unfinished Tales.
Most of our knowledge of the Last Battle comes primarily through a selection of early drafts found in The History of Middle-earth series – most often containing the same concepts, except for changes in the text and amendments to the names of particular characters, objects or places.
Rather than describing, step by step, the events leading to and after the Battle, this article has endeavoured to provide a complete text constructed of several phrases, sentences and paragraphs written by Tolkien himself. By avoiding any unnecessary editorial intrusions, it is hoped that the structure of the narrative is of a cohesive and flowing nature – shifting between sources that span a period of over 50 years of writing.
It has long been an interest of mine to bring forth the “entire” text pertaining to this specific event, and collect all relevant data under one essay. References to the Dagor Dagorath are substantial, but still lack the essential ingredient of Tolkien’s storytelling; one finds rather pieces of sentences or paragraphs from the author’s drafts amidst long discussions and descriptions from different points of view.
In order to lay out the text as coherently as possible, all quotes, references and phrases that had any connection to the Last Battle were listed and then rearranged in sequential order of the events that would have taken place. Text fragments were also taken from the earlier drafts (which had long been abandoned) and placed within more recent renditions, in order to add more detail and amplify the narrative.
The entire text is made available here, and includes notes which have been compiled at the end, in order to provide references to the quotes and expand upon certain concepts of the Dagor Dagorath, without interfering with the text itself – explaining certain editorial decisions in structuring the account and analysing some of the insights into the events within Tolkien’s own universe.
The Tale of the Dagor Dagorath
Never was there before, nor has there been since, such a music of immeasurable vastness of splendour; though it is said that a mightier far shall be woven before the seat of Ilúvatar by the choirs of both Ainur and the sons of Men after the Great End. Then shall Ilúvatar’s mightiest themes be played aright; for then Ainur and Men will know his mind and heart as well as may be, and all his intent.
Yet while the Sons of Men will after the passing of things of certainty join in the Second Music of the Ainur, what Ilúvatar has devised for the Eldar beyond the world’s end he has not revealed even to the Valar.
Manwë will not descend from the Mountain until the Dagor Dagorath, and the coming of the End, when Melkor returns. To the overthrow of Morgoth he sent his herald Eonwë. To the defeat of Sauron would he not then send some lesser (but mighty) spirit of the angelic people, one coeval and equal, doubtless, with Sauron in their beginnings, but not more? Olorin was his name. But of Olorin we shall never know more than he revealed in Gandalf.
Now Varda took the light that issued from Telperion and was stored in Valinor and she made stars newer and brighter. And many other of the ancient stars she gathered together and set as signs in the heavens of Arda. The greatest of these is Menelmacar, the Swordsman of the Sky. Varda gave him stars, and he bears them aloft that the Gods may know he watches; he has diamonds on his sword-sheath, and this will go red when he draws his sword at the Great End. This, it is said, was a sign of Túrin Turambar, who should come into the world, and a foreshadowing of the Last Battle that shall be at the end of Days.
But Morgoth himself the Valar thrust through the Door of Night beyond the Walls of the World, into the Timeless Void; and a guard is set for ever on those walls, and Eärendil keeps watch upon the ramparts of the sky, until he witnesses the last battle gathering upon the plains of Valinor.
During the tumults of the Second Age that afflicted Númenór, Ar-Pharazôn the King and the mortal warriors that had set foot upon the land of Aman were buried under falling hills. There it is said that they lie imprisoned in the caves of the Forgotten, until the Last Battle and the Day of Doom.
Thus spake Mandos in prophecy, when the Gods sat in judgement in Valinor and the rumour of his words was whispered among all the Elves of the West. When the world is old and the Powers grow weary, then Morgoth, seeing that the guard sleepeth, shall come back through the Door of Night out of the Timeless Void.
For ’tis said that ere the Great End come Melkor shall in some wise contrive a quarrel between Moon and Sun, and Tilion shall seek to follow Arien through the Gates and when they are gone the Gates of both East and West will be destroyed, and Arien and Tilion shall be lost and he shall destroy the Sun and Moon. But Eärendil  shall descend upon him as a white and searing flame and drive him from the airs. Then shall the Last Battle be gathered on the fields of Valinor. In that day Tulkas shall strive with Morgoth, and on his right hand shall be Eönwë, and on his left Túrin Turambar, son of Húrin, coming from the halls of Mandos; and Melkor and his drakes shall curse the sword of Gurthang  and the black sword of Túrin shall deal unto Morgoth his death and final end; and so shall the children of Húrin and all Men be avenged.
Thereafter shall Earth be broken and re-made, and the Silmarils shall be recovered out of Air and Earth and Sea; for Eärendil shall descend and surrender that flame which he hath had in keeping. Then Fëanor shall take the Three Jewels and bear them to Yavanna Palúrien; and she will break them and with their fire rekindle the Two Trees, and a great light shall come forth. And the Mountains of Valinor shall be levelled, so that the Light shall go out over all the world. In that light the Gods will grow young again, and the Elves awake and all their dead arise, and the purpose of Ilúvatar be fulfilled concerning them. But to Men in that day the prophecy of Mandos doth not speak, and no Man it names, save Túrin only, and to him a place is given among the sons of the Valar.
1. ‘The Music of the Ainur’, The Book of Lost Tales: Part 1, p.53, p.59-60; It seemed fitting to begin with a reference to the introduction of The Silmarillion narrative which predicts the Second Music (see note 28) for the rebuilding of Arda after the Last Battle.
3. Tolkien’s note is found in the essay on ‘The Istari’, p.511 in Unfinished Tales; This statement has been left as written in the book, for although it takes the form of a commentary, the construction of the words follows closely with the flow of the narrative.
It is interesting to note that whilst Manwë is said to come down from Taniquetil during the Battle, it is not he who will battle against Morgoth, but rather his herald. What Manwë’s role will be during the Dagor Dagorath and whether he will be engaged in the fighting, remains unknown.
The quoted text is followed by a short poem regarding the Five Wizards, of whom only Olorin (Gandalf) will return prior to the Dagor Dagorath:
Wilt thou learn the lore. that was long secret
of the Five that came from a far country?
One only returned. Others never again
under Men’s dominion Middle-earth shall seek
until Dagor Dagorath and the Doom cometh.
How hast thou heard it: the hidden counsel
of the Lords of the West in the land of Aman?
The long roads are lost that led thither,
and to mortal Men Manwë speaks not.
From the West-that-was a wind bore it
to the sleeper’s ear, in the silences
under the night-shadow, when news is brought
from lands forgotten and lost ages
over seas of years to the searching thought.
Not all are forgotten by the Elder King,
Sauron he saw as a slow menace …
The verses are enigmatic and allude to the foreshadowing of the Valar and the coming of a darkness.
6. ‘The History of Eriol or Ælfwine’, The Book of Lost Tales: Part 2, p.281; this quote is a direct reference to Telimektar. In Tolkien’s early drafts he was the son of the Vala, Tulkas and eventually the name was changed to Menelmacar. Any other reference to Telimektar as the son of Tulkas is only found in the first few versions of the mythology – eventually the character was altogether discarded and replaced with the constellation.
9. Eönwë’s name has been corrected from Fionwë – whom in earlier versions of the mythology was the son of Manwë and the one who would eventually slay Morgoth in the Dagor Dagorath. Later on, his name was changed to Eönwë, and Tolkien substituted his role from son, to herald of Manwë and is present near the end of The Silmarillion; leading the forces of the Valar against Angband during the War of Wrath.
As with Menelmacar (see note 4, above), any earlier names have been substituted with the more recent and updated words (such as: Melko to Melkor).
17. ‘The Akallabêth’, The Silmarillion, p.334; As with most of the information regarding the Dagor Dagorath, it is left unclear what part the Númenórean army will play in the Battle and whether Ar-Pharazôn will fight for the evil side or not. Furthermore, the exact location of the mysterious Caves of the Forgotten have long been of particular interest to any Tolkien enthusiasts and nothing more definite is known than them being situated somewhere along the coasts of Aman. Reading the text on Ar-Pharazôn’s approach to Aman, we know that his fleet passed along the isle of Tol Eressëa and that they landed on a beach – most definitely the Bay of Eldamar. Reasons for this include the fact that the army could witness the Mountain of Taniquetil and later on were encamped around the hill of Túna. After their imprisonment in the Caves, it would appear that since they “were buried under falling hills [of the Calacirya]“, these would have been situated around the Bay of Eldamar.
It is interesting that both the Last Battle and the Day of Doom have been clearly made distinct. Such is the little information that we have on this prophecy that only speculations can be made as to the whole meaning of the Dagor Dagorath, in conjunction with the ending of the world (or the concept of Arda Marred). Analysing the overall text presented here in more detail, it would seem that Tolkien intended for the Day of Doom to comprise both Morgoth’s escape from the Timeless Void (and subsequent arrival in Arda) and the events of the Last Battle. Whether the Battle would take place on that same day or over several is unclear; however, considering the constant references to these events occurring in one particular period in time, does strongly suggest that one specific day will entail most (if not all) of these events.
19. Originally, the names for the guides of the Moon and Sun were written as Urwendi and Ilinsor (as found in the actual text). However, these have been modified to retain the most recent changes and replaced with the more accurate names of: Arien and Tilion, as found in The Silmarillion.
23. The extent of the Battle is never explicitly described – including the forces involved and the damages incurred. However, it is interesting to point out that in many of the early drafts, Tolkien used the terms “Last Battle” and “Great Wrack” for both the Dagor Dagorath and the War of Wrath at the end of the First Age.
Indeed, in one of the later revisions of The Silmarillion, Tolkien rewrote Turin’s return to the living world, making him a participant in the “Last Battle”. In a prophecy given by “Andreth the Wise-woman”, it is said that “Turin in the Last Battle should return from the Dead, and before he left the Circles of the World forever should challenge the Great Dragon of Morgoth: Ancalagon the Black, and deal him the death-stroke” (‘The Problem of Ros’ The Peoples of Middle-earth, p.374). This is clearly a reference to the final stages of the assault on Angband at the end of the First Age.
The similarities between this event and the later version of the Dagor Dagorath are evident, replacing Ancalagon with Morgoth, and retaining the same element of the “resurrection”. It is therefore possible to be able to discern a few hints from the earlier mythology and the published Silmarillion, on the scale of the Battle and draw out certain conclusions. Naturally, considering that this event will take place at the end of the world, before it is rebuilt, we can safely assume that the engagement would be astronomical in number and be of such violence that it will lead to the devastation of Arda.
To begin with, in one of the early accounts on the fall of Gondolin, Tolkien wrote: “Then Melko assembled all his most cunning smiths and sorcerers, and of iron and flame they wrought a host of monsters such as have only at that time been seen and shall not again be till the Great End.” – ‘The Fall of Gondolin’, The Book of Lost Tales: Part 2, p.170; So not only is the scale of the Last Battle being hinted at in the attack on Gondolin, but there is also a clear indication towards the similar outcome in the War of Wrath. (However, the “Great End” may once again be referring to the War of Wrath – thus, some ambiguity is still present).
The conflict at the end of the First Age, in which the host of the Valar comes to the aid of the inhabitants of Beleriand and overthrows Morgoth, is of such a massive undertaking that the shape of the world is also changed. The West lands of Beleriand are completely submerged under the Great Sea, leaving only the North-western parts of Middle-earth. Whether this geographical change was made by the will of Ilúvatar or the War itself is unclear; however, the sheer enormity of the event does indeed point towards a physical global alteration. Considering the links between this event and the Dagor Dagorath, we can be certain of the profound effect that the Battle will have on the natural world and the scale of the conflict involved – “dwarfing” the already colossal event that brought about the end of the First Age.
25. ‘The History of Eriol or Ælfwine’, The Book of Lost Tales: Part 2, p.281; The original text has the name Mormakil as Túrin’s sword, however this was later on changed to Gurthang – hence, the alteration made in the text.
28. ‘The Later Quenta Silmarillion’, The War of the Jewels, p.204; It is interesting to note that, although the account of the Dagor Dagorath relates events that pertain to the rekindling of the Two Trees, the rejuvenation of the Valar and the restoration of Arda, the element of the Second Music of the Ainur is still present (found also, as exactly the same text quoted above, in The Silmarillion).
Both the rebuilding of Arda and the Second Music of the Ainur point towards the same outcome since, as is told in the Ainulindalë, the First Music brought about the visions and foundations of the Universe itself. This points to a very specific placing within the text constructed above – very strongly implying that the Second Music of the Ainur will take place before the recovery of the Silmarils and the rekindling of the Two Trees. “Thereafter shall Earth be broken and re-made”, and with the assistance of the Dwarves and Men (as declared in the prophecy), the events mentioned after will follow.
Illustrations by Ted Nasmith, John Howe and Jordan Patchak respectively