*Warning! It gets as confusing as reading The Silmarillion in Khuzdul for the very first time … you have been warned!*
A question often arises within the first few chapters of reading The Silmarillion.
After the initial pages, readers get acquainted with Ilúvatar and the Ainur: the divisions between Valar and Maiar, and their entry into the physical world.
Then this being comes along by the name of Ungoliant – assuming the shape of a giant spider who aides the Vala Melkor, and drains the light from the Two Trees of Valinor.
She (for so we have to call her) is where Shelob and – in turn – the spiders of Mirkwood, descend from.
It also remains a mystery whether Ungoliant was one the Ainur; and yet, we know that she possessed incredible strength (having been able to capture Melkor in her webs).
Some have said that in ages long before she descended from the darkness that lies about Arda […] in the beginning she was one of those that he corrupted to his service. But she had disowned her Master
– The Silmarillion, ‘Of the Darkening of Valinor’; Chapter 8)
Reading this quote, it seems pretty clear that Ungoliant belonged to the race of the Maiar and eventually succumbed to the domination of Melkor. Yet, there are a few factors that do not entirely support this idea. First of all, Tolkien – unlike Sauron and the Balrogs – never tells us directly that Ungoliant was actually a Maia.
Furthermore, the above quote cleverly begins with the phrase “some have said”, which may imply that whatever follows, may not be necessarily true.
Ultimately, it’s interesting that, within the next chapter, Melkor (the greatest of the Vala) finds himself prisoner of a being lesser than himself. (Though yes, when she trapped Melkor in her webs, he had drained much of his power; while she acquired more due to the Light of the Trees).
So Ungoliant may well have been something else entirely …
But since the first chapter tells us that Ilúvatar created the Ainur to inhabit the world, where did Ungoliant come from? Was she not also a creation of Ilúvatar?
Which brings me to the title of this post …
Before the Music of the Ainur and the creation of Arda took place, Ilúvatar and the Ainur resided in the Void; but soon, “the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void” (The Silmarillion, ‘Ainulindalë’).
We are also told that Melkor begins to “interweave matters of his own imagining” and by the third attempt in fashioning the Music, Ilúvatar says to the Ainur:
This is your minstrelsy; and each of you shall find contained herein, amid the design that I set before you, all those things which it may seem that he himself devised or added.
–The Silmarillion, ‘Ainulindalë’
Perhaps Melkor’s own contribution to the Music, was caught up in the final “grand vision” of the world and these fragments became enmeshed with the whole creation. Among such fragments could have resided the essence for Ungoliant’s formation and eventual descent into Arda.
However, it must be clearly stated that by no means does this imply that Melkor created a Being of his own; for we are told many times that he could only corrupt, and that the gift of life resided only in the Flame Imperishable, and hence in Ilúvatar.
But to a certain extent, Melkor DID in fact corrupt the Music of the Ainur …
Ultimately, everything within the world (and outside of it) comes from Ilúvatar; and so did Ungoliant: either directly or (more conceivably) through the elements in Morgoth’s discord.
For whatever is contained within Arda (be it good or bad), was either designed so or corrupted. Ungoliant seems to have been neither and since “she descended from the darkness that lies about Arda” (The Silmarillion, ‘Of the Darkening of Valinor’; Chapter 8), one of the only explanations would have to be as a result of the Music of the Ainur.
Tolkien makes clear the division of the Ainur: the Valar and the Maiar.
We must assume therefore, that although not one of the accounted Valar, Ungoliant was either one of the Maiar or another mysterious entity which descended into Arda (examples of these do exist: such as the equally-ambiguous, Tom Bombadil).
We have seen how the purpose of the Music of the Ainur was to fill the void, and Ungoliant – being a spirit of void itself – seems to have been the complete opposite result of such a vision.
Please bear with me … A reversal on the concept of the Music, in that, she herself was a product of the void which was made non-existent. An inversion of the “filling up of the void” – hence void itself.
Hang in there!
You can see this close reference in one of the passages:
A cloak of darkness she wove about them when Melkor and Ungoliant set forth; an Unlight, in which things seemed to be no more, and which eyes could not pierce, for it was void.
– The Silmarillion, ‘Of the Darkening of Valinor’; Chapter 8
She literally seems to be the equivalent of our own dark matter (physical substance that emits no light, and cannot be directly observed); or the concept of negative space within Art.
Sorry, I lost you.
Let me try one more time:
Ungoliant could have been a representation of “negative Darkness” – not the physical darkness that is the result of lack of light, but almost a black hole; an entity that was a representation of the corruption and discord that weaved itself within the Music of the Ainur and that when Ilúvatar turned that vision into a physical existence, that discord was created as an inversion of creation itself.
(Oh God I’ve confused everyone – include myself! :O But I’m sure Steven over at The Leather Library would be proud of my attempt in a philosophical rationale! 😀 )
The idea that Ungoliant was – in a sense – a “corruption” or a refuse from the Music of the Ainur, might begin to explain why She appeared to outwit and physically restrain one so powerful as Melkor.
Yet, it must also be noted that she feared the other Valar, and at first was not convinced by Morgoth’s plan to come close to Valinor. If you consider the “dark matter” theory, it might explain her trepidation at being in close proximity to the main source of light in Arda; and why Melkor (being himself fallen into darkness), was easy “prey”.
Naturally, as with many of these Tolkien mysteries I have tried to write about, everything is speculation; and it is up to the individual reader to interpret them the way they feel fits within Tolkien’s writing.
(Now please, tell me someone at least got what I was trying to say back there? 😛 )
(Copyright to the illustrations and images belong to the respective artists/studios)