The Gates of Morning and the Door of Night, Eä and the Void

Banner (Cosmology Arda)

[Highly complex illustration follows below]

The Silmarillion contains two obscure references to places or “structures” that seem to be the opposite of each other. Both are fascinating concepts but difficult to grasp given how little information we have access to.

The Gates of Morning are mentioned in passing within the pages of the Akallabêth, describing how the Númenóreans sail to the uttermost east of the world and behold this monumental structure. Throughout the Second Age, Arda is still a flat world and the trajectory of the Sun passes through the skies and down into the west, only to traverse back to the east under the earth. The Sun then passes through the Gates of Morning over Arda as a new day begins.

Once the downfall of Númenor takes place and the world is bent and made round, the fate of the Gates remains uncertain. Whether they remain visible as a physical structure within the mortal world is not known.

It would seem that at the other extreme end of the world, towards the Uttermost West, lies the so-called Door of Night through which the fallen Vala Morgoth is thrust through after the end of the First Age. Eärendil the Mariner guards the Door with the aid of his ship, Vingilot, and a Silmaril.

I’ve always found some difficulty in visualising and grasping the concept and function of these ambiguous locations in Arda. The lack of information is tantalising but also somewhat frustrating in being unable to fully comprehend the nature of these remote and alluring locations. References of their conception are found in both The Book of Lost Tales: Volume I and The Shaping of Middle-earth, but given the complexities and contradictions in some aspects of Tolkien’s writing, I’ve always wanted to obtain the information directly from a source which is closer to the canon, as that of The Silmarillion (if you consider it to be so).

The cosmology of Arda is something that has been intriguing ever since I read The Silmarillion for the first time. Yet, it’s not easy to comprehend all the grandiose thoughts that Tolkien poured into his writings.  Terms like the Void, Arda and Eä soon come into play and, even though I’m in my eight reading, I still sometimes confuse one from the other.

Here’s how I understand the whole concept …

Arda is the world itself in which we find Valinor, Beleriand, Middle-earth and the other lands, and within which are set all the stories.

In turn, Arda is found within Eä, the universe created by Ilúvatar and the Music of the Ainur. Eä encompasses the physical world of Arda, the Sun, Moon and the Stars and the physicality of Time itself. This is where all the histories unfold and, tentatively, just like Arda, there might be other worlds beyond the one we are told about.

Then comes the Void, which seems to lie outside of Eä and, as the word itself implies, nothing exists within this region. This is where Morgoth is sent at the end of the War of Wrath during the First Age.

A boundary clearly divides the Void from Eä, and the Door of Night serves just that exact purpose: a direct passage (almost like a wormhole) from the physical world of Arda to the nothingness beyond Time.

Here’s a highly-complex illustration of mine that might help explain it better:

Cosmology of Arda

This was not an easy post to write (or draw) and not as straight forward as it may initially seem. My interpretation of it all may not be in accordance with other readers’ ideas or Tolkien’s writing, and I hope others will provide their own thoughts and comments about this. In the meantime, I hope I have managed to somewhat clarify any doubts and concerns about this tricky concept to any readers starting out in The Silmarillion.

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14 thoughts on “The Gates of Morning and the Door of Night, Eä and the Void

  1. I just finished my Second reading of The Silmarillion last night, and I you’ve managed to interpret these object quite similarly to how I would have interpreted them.

  2. A very interesting concept, James; and actually it is very close to my own vision of Eru’s creation. I was fascinated by your idea that there are other worlds like Arda, which are not mentioned. But there are still some questions I’d like to ask. Is the Door of Night the only way to the Void? And if it is, how does Arien make her way through the Void and come out through the Gates of Morning? Or does the Door of Night have two passages, one of which leads to the Void and the other is the way to another part of Ea? Once again, a wonderful article! Thank you very much for the effort you put into this blog. In addition, the little Doctor Who reference made me chuckle. Have a wonderful day!

    P.S. I found an image of the universe as it is seen by the Elves after the Downfall of Numenor, if you are interested. Here’s the link: https://academy.realelvish.net/2017/05/18/last-illustration-complete/

    • Thanks for your comments vainole!

      Now onto your thought-provoking issues…

      There’s no reference to the Door of Night having two passages. It is only mentioned once in connection with Morgoth being thrust through them after his defeat. In the abandoned ‘Last Battle’ concept, Tolkien wrote that he would come back through the Door of Night one final time.

      In the meantime, I don’t think it’s specifically said whether there were other passages to the void but Ungoliant is said to have “descended from the darkness that lies about Arda”. Whether this is a reference to the Void or merely the physical sky which/universe which was not yet inhabited by the stars that Varda fashions, is not made clear.

      It’s an obscure concept which I don’t think Tolkien delved much into, or provided a clear explanation for it (unless I’m missing sometime which others may provide reference to).

      PS. lovely illustration there, thanks 🙂

    • To make this even more interesting, there are some references that might imply existence of other worlds in Ea, within larger collection of writings in tomes of HoME, which might be both ‘different globes in space’ or even a sort of ‘dimensions’:

      “they [the elves] hold that all Creation of any sort must be in Eä [the actual, existing universe], proceeding from Eru in the same way, and therefore being of the same Order. They do not believe in contemporaneous non-contiguous worlds except as an amusing fantasy of the mind. They are (say they) either altogether unknowable, even as to whether they are or are not, or else if there are any intersections (however rare) they are only provinces of one Eä”

      “After the Valar, who before were the Ainur of the Great Song, entered into Ea, those who were noblest among them and understood most of the mind of Iluvatar sought amid the immeasurable regions of the Beginning for that place where they should establish the Kingdom of Arda in time to come. And when they had chosen that point and region where it should be, they began labours that were needed. Others there were, countless to our thought though known each and numbered in the mind of Iluvatar, whose labour lay elsewhere and in other regions and histories of the Great Tale, amid stars remote and worlds beyond the reach of the furthest thought. But of these others we know nothing and cannot know, though the Valar of Arda, maybe, remember them all.”

      Of course figuring out how the Undying Lands after removal outside circles of the world and Straight Road, or the Unseen, the wraith-world the second layer of reality just besides ordinary plays into this is great unknown (though I guess continent of Aman and surrounding seas and islands might be after Second Age in a sort of ‘pocket dimension’ with Straight Road some sort of dimensional wormhole that only “specially made and hallowed” elven ships can reach :)).

      “We cannot say that there ‘must’ be elsewhere in Ea other solar systems ‘like’ Arda, still less that, if there are, they or any one of them must contain a parallel to Imbar. We cannot even say that these things are mathematically very ‘ likely’. But even if the presence elsewhere in Ea of biological ‘life’ was demonstrable, it would not invalidate the Elvish view that Arda (at least while it endures) is the dramatic centre. The demonstration that there existed elsewhere Incarnates, parallel to the Children of Eru, would of course modify the picture, though not wholly invalidate it. The Elvish answer would probably be: ‘Well, there is another Tale. It is not our Tale. Eru can no doubt bring to pass more than one. Not everything is adumbrated in the “Ainulindale”; or the “Ainulindale” may have a wider reference than we knew: other dramas, like in kind if different in process and result, may have gone on in Ea, or may yet go on.’ But they would certainly add: ‘But they are not going on now. The drama of Arda is the present concern of Ea.’ Actually it is plainly the view of the Elvish tradition that the Drama of Arda is unique. We cannot at present assert that this is untrue.”

  3. How interesting! I am working on reading The Silmarilion for the first time, and let’s just say… its uphill work for someone who is not used to reading that type of thing. Its hard to keep all of the characters and stories straight… but I really want to finish it; and I am going to do it.
    By the way, I finished watching the Hobbit movie trilogy a few days ago. I actually really liked the trilogy, even though they changed some things and added a ton; but it was still good and I loved it. 🙂 Despite the many, many (many), tears I shed at the end of The Battle of Five Armies. 😥

    • Oh wow that’s fantastic! Just a few tips: stay calm and read right through till the end. Don’t worry if you may not grasp all the different story threads or fully comprehend what’s going on. The important things is to keep persisting till you reach the final page. After thaty, re-read 🙂 Also, make it a habit to check the index of names and places if you encounter them during your reading, and keep checking the maps for frame of reference. You can do it!

      Re: Hobbit trilogy, that’s great. Yes, I have a few issues but overall it’s a very enjoyable trilogy.

      • Thank you! That’s very helpful and I will do those things. 🙂
        There are some things that I definitely don’t like about the Hobbit trilogy, but like you said, it is still enjoyable and I can tolerate the things I don’t necessarily like.

    • If you’re really interested in delving into the Silmarillion, I would recommend reading “The Silmarillion Primer.” It’s another blog of sorts by a guy named Jeff LaSala which breaks down The Silmarillion a chapter or 2 at a time. Aside from explaining some of the more complex parts of the book in a very clear (but still intelligent) way, he also has a sense of humour that sometimes makes me laugh so hard I have to stop reading for a few minutes to catch my breath.

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