[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:
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.