The Darkening of Valinor in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Silmarillion” and its Possible Romantic Influence

In The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, Valinor, the Blessed Realm is shown before the light of the Two Trees was dimmed, the eternal light shone on the land of the gods. The destruction of the Two Trees and its Light is briefly surmised by Galadriel: “We thought our light would never dim. So when the Great Foe, Morgoth, destroyed the very light of our home, we resisted. And a legion of Elves went to war.”

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, this catastrophe is told in much more detail, the account in the show omits Morgoth’s alliance with the foul creature Ungoliant, a malevolent spirit in the shape of a gargantuan spider (Shelob, which appears in The Lord of the Rings is its offspring). Ungoliant arrives to Valinor and consumes the Two Trees along with its Light, while the Elves and Valar (the gods) were celebrating with a feast. Tolkien writes:

“Now it it was a time of festival, as Melkor knew well… And even as it was then the delight of the Valar… to clothe themselves as in a vesture in the forms of the Children of Ilúvatar, so also did they eat and drink, and gather the fruits of Yavanna from the Earth, which under Eru they had made. Therefore Yavanna set times for the flowering and the ripening of all things that grew in Valinor; and at each first gathering of fruits Manwë made a high feast for the praising of Eru, when all the peoples of Valinor poured forth their joy in music and song upon Taniquetil. This now was the hour, and Manwë decreed a feast more glorious than any that had been held since the coming of the Eldar to Aman… It is told that even as Fëanor and Fingolfin stood before Manwë there came the mingling of lights, when both Trees were shining, and the silent city of Valmar was filled with a radiance of silver and gold. And in that very hour Melkor and Ungoliant came hastening over the fields of Valinor, as the shadow of a black cloud upon the wind fleets over the sunlit earth; and they came before the green mound Ezellohar. Then the Unlight of Ungoliant rose up even to the roots of the Trees, and Melkor sprang upon the mound; and with his black spear he smote each Tree to its core, wounded them deep, and their sap poured forth as it were their blood, and was spilled upon the ground. But Ungoliant sucked it up, and going then from Tree to Tree she set her black beak to their wounds, till they were drained… So great darkness fell upon Valinor… Varda looked down from Taniquetil, and beheld the Shadow soaring up in sudden towers of gloom; Valmar had foundered in a deep sea of night. Soon the Holy Mountain stood alone, a last island in a world that was drowned.”

In his Hymns to the Night, German Romantic poet Novalis writes:

“In times now passed there ruled over the far-flung races of people an iron fate with silent force. A dark and heavy blindfold lay upon their heavy soul – Earth was infinite – the god’s seat their home… Impotent in their destructive raging  against the new rule of the race of gods, and their relatives, the happy people… The wine poured by a visible fullness of youth – a god in the grapes – a loving, maternal goddess, growing upwards in full, golden sheaves – love’s sacred intoxication a sweet duty to the fairest of god ladies – Life, like spring, thundered down through the centuries, an endlessly bright feast of heaven’s children and earth’s inhabitants – all races honored, child-like, the tender thousand-fold flame as the highest thing in the world. Just one thought there was, just one atrocious dream image- That, hideously, stepped to the festive tables/ And wrapped the soul there in wild terror./ Here even the gods had no suggestion/ How to fill uneasy hearts with comfort./And this monster’s path was full of mystery,/ And no plea or gift could still its rage;/ For it was Death who interrupted/ This revelry with fear and dread and tears./ And forever, now, cut off here/ From all that rules the heart in sweet delight,/ Divided from the loved ones who inclined away,/Moved by vain longing and long sadness,/ A languid dream seemed granted to the dead one/ Only futile struggling imposed on him/ The wave of pleasure – broken/On the rock of endless dismay.”

Altough there are visible differences in the accounts of the coming of the Night and estinguishment of the Light, there are also similarities. In Novalis’ poem, there is a festivity, just like in Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, gods are celebrating a feast with “earth’s inhabitants”, a monster appears, Death itself, and all that’s left is a futile struggle, just like the one the Elves are experiencing in Middle-Earth, all joy is ended „on the rock of endless dismay”. Novalis’ words echo Tolkien’s account of the darkening of Valinor in many ways, Elves and gods were in Valinor truly like children, intoxicated, in eternal youth, until that bliss and joy were broken by the appearance of a destructive force. There is no way to know if this passage from Hymns to the Night inspired Tolkien in any way, but there are certain similiarities and it is interesting to draw parallels between these two great authors.

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