Originally the most powerful of the Ainur created by Eru Iluvatar, Melkor rebelled against his creator because of pride and sought to corrupt Arda, becoming Morgoth. After committing many evils in the First Age, such as the theft of the Silmarils and the destruction of the Two Lamps, Morgoth was defeated by the Host of Valinor in the War of Wrath.
Melkor was made in the beginning, before the world was made solvent, as the first Ainu created by Eru Iluvatar in the Timeless Halls, at the beginning of creation. Manwë is said to be brother to him, yet Melkor was greater in power than any of the Ainur. Melkor was gifted also with the greatest knowledge of all the Ainur, and had share in all of the gifts given to his fellow Ainur by Eru.
Desiring to create things of his own and knowing of but not understanding the Flame Imperishable, Melkor often went forth into the Great Void outside of the Timeless Halls in search of this flame. His quest was in vain; he found not the Flame Imperishable for it lies with Eru alone. Melkor grew ever more impatient of the unclear designs of Eru and the emptiness of the Void, and was often alone and apart from his fellow Ainur. It was during these lonesome periods that Melkor began to have ideas and thoughts of his own that were not in accordance with his fellow Ainur.
When the Ainur sang the Great Music before Eru, some of these alien thoughts he wove into his music, and straightaway Discord arose around him. Some of those nearby attuned their music to his, until two musical themes were warring before the Throne. Then Eru introduced a Second, and then a Third Theme into the music. Melkor succeeded in holding back the Second theme, of which Manwë was the chief instrument. The Third was the theme of Elves and Men, and while it was not overwhelmed by the Discord, it too failed to correct it. When Eru brought the Music to an end, he rebuked Melkor, praising his strength but telling him that all he did redounded only to the glory of Eru's work. And Melkor was ashamed, and resented it; for he thought his Discord an improvement. Thus when the Music was made incarnate as Arda, it was already flawed through the Discord, and immoderate heat and great cold stalked it. He then took in the interest of the World and put his evil wherever he could put it.
Years of the Lamps
When the Valar entered into Arda and began to shape the unwrought matter, Melkor saw the Field of Arda and claimed it for his own, striving against the Valar. He took various shapes. Whenever the Valar did something, Melkor disrupted them. For a long while, Melkor fought alone against the might of all the other Valar and Maiar of Arda, and he long held the upper hand. Then Tulkas came, his strength tipping the balance in favor of the Valar, and Melkor fled before him.
The Valar had built for themselves the isle of Almaren in the midst of Middle-earth, between the Great Lamps. Then, Melkor delved a mighty fortress at the very north-most part of the World and named it Utumno. To defend it he raised the Mountains of the East in the northeast of Middle Earth, east of the Sea of Helcar. Decay arose in the North, and the Valar knew that he was there.
When the Valar had built Valinor, Melkor built his second, lesser fortress of Angband in the west, as a defense from the West should they attack. Angband was delved into the Iron Mountains, and was given to Sauron to command. While the Valar were unsure where the Children of Ilúvatar would awake, they were reluctant to wage war against Melkor, fearing the clash of powers might result in massive collateral damage. Due to this, Melkor discovered the Elves before the other Valar, captured many of them, and transformed them by torture and other foul craft into orcs.
Years of the Trees
When it was discovered by the Vala Oromë where the elves were, the Valar took immediate action against Melkor. This action was called the War of the Powers. When he saw the Valar winning, he retreated into Utumno and shut the great doors. The Valar rent the doors open and Melkor was cast down by Tulkas. Melkor was bound with Angainor and brought back to the Halls of Mandos for three Ages.
After the passing of the Ages, Melkor was brought before Manwë, and feigned to be repentant and abashed. And Manwë ordered him released. At first, it seemed as though the evil of Melkor had been cured, for all who sought his counsel and aid in that time benefited greatly from it; yet Tulkas and Ulmo were not fooled, and watched him closely. Melkor was cunning and more filled with malice than ever. Seeing the bliss of the Elves and remembering that it was for their sake that he was overthrown, Melkor desired above all things to corrupt them. Of all the Elves, he found the Noldor to have a perfect balance of usefulness and open ears, and so worked his malice almost exclusively among them.
Over a long period of time he spread lies concerning the intentions of the Valar in bringing the Elves to Aman, until a shadow fell upon the Noldor, and they began to openly rebel against the Valar. Fëanor, the greatest of the Noldor, was the most vocal in proclaiming the perceived injustices of the Valar. For their part, the Valar remained unaware of Melkor's work, and saw Fëanor as the source of the Noldor's unrest. They let the situation continue until Fëanor threatened his brother Fingolfin with violence, at which point the Valar summoned him to Valinor to explain his actions.
Tulkas sought for him when his lies were discovered but Melkor could not be found. He went to Formenos and feigned friendship to Fëanor in order to acquire the Silmarils. When Fëanor refused him, Melkor passed unseen to the south, and came upon Ungoliant. Promising to sate her unrelenting hunger, she and Melkor came back to Valinor. Melkor thrust his spear into the Trees and Ungoliant drank the sap that poured from the wounds, draining and poisoning them.
In the fear and confusion that followed, Melkor sped to Formenos and broke into the fortress, slew Finwë, father of Fëanor, and stole the Silmarils along with all the other gems that lay there. The Silmarils burned Melkor's hand causing him immeasurable agony, but still he would not release them. He and Ungoliant fled to the North, and the Valar gave chase; but the Unlight of Ungoliant bewildered them. The two thieves crossed the Grinding Ice of the Helcaraxe and entered Middle-earth.
In Lammoth, Ungoliant demanded that he surrender the treasure of Formenos to sate her hunger, and begrudgingly he gave her the lesser treasures he had taken, but he would not give her the Silmarils, which lay hidden within his right hand. With his refusal to surrender the Silmarils, Ungoliant attacked Melkor, weaving its dark webbing about him. His cry of pain and anguish roused the Balrogs from their slumber in the darkest depths of Utumno. With a tempest of fire they came to his aid, and drove away Ungoliant; but Melkor recalled them, and thus Ungoliant escaped. He then began to rebuild Angband, and to gather his servants there.
When Fëanor found his father was slain, he cursed Melkor naming him Morgoth, meaning "Dark Enemy", and by that name was he known ever after. The name Melkor was never spoken again.
Fëanor followed Morgoth to Middle-earth with the greater part of the Noldor in rebellion, hoping to recover the Silmarils, thus began The War of the Great Jewels.
Upon learning of the arrival of the Noldor in Middle-earth, Morgoth sent armies of Orcs to destroy Fëanor's host. Though the Noldor were outnumbered, they swiftly and completely destroyed the Orcs; only a handful returned to Angband. Fëanor and his sons pursued them and there was another battle. Fëanor was eventually struck down by Gothmog and died.
Shortly after Fëanor's death, Morgoth sent an embassy to the Noldor offering terms of surrender, even promising a Silmaril. Maedhros came to the parley, but both sides came with greater force than was agreed, both expecting treachery. Unfortunately for the Elves, Morgoth's force was the greater of the two, and accompanied by Balrogs. The Elven company was quickly slain with the exception of Maedhros, who was captured and chained by the right hand to one of Thangorodrim's many cliffs. Morgoth promised to release Maedhros on the condition that the Elves would depart from the North and cease their war against him, but the Elves knew that Morgoth would not honor his word, and sent no reply.
It was at this time that the host of Fingolfin, which had been betrayed by Fëanor's host in Aman, came at last to Middle-earth. Tension between the two hosts quickly developed and Morgoth, seeing that the Noldor were becoming divided, made plans to destroy his distracted foes. To his dismay however, the Valar revealed the creation of the Sun and the Moon, which confounded Morgoth and his servants for a time. To counter these new lights, Morgoth sent up nigh-impenetrable clouds of smoke from the Iron Mountains to darken Hithlum.
During the time of confusion caused among Morgoth's forces by these new lights, Fingon traveled to Angband, aided by the very darkness Morgoth had set upon Hithlum, and rescued Maedhros. In doing so, he set into motion a series of events that united the Noldor and allowed them to establish mighty kingdoms in Beleriand and Hithlum. When Morgoth initiated his next offensive, the Noldor swiftly and completely destroyed his forces and set a siege upon Angband, hoping to forever contain the evil of Morgoth. When he had waited many years, Morgoth made trial of his foes, causing the Iron Mountains to erupt and sending an army of Orcs down through the passes but to no avail, for the Orcs were easily defeated by the Noldor. After this failure, Morgoth took to capturing what Elves he could, breaking them with the power of his will and chaining their lives to his. These Elves became his spies among the Noldor, and they kept him appraised of the movements and plans of his enemies.
One hundred years later, Morgoth sent an army into the north to approach Hithlum from the side, but an army under the command of Fingon destroyed them yet again. At this point, Morgoth came to realize that the Orcs unaided were no match for the Noldor, and began experimenting with ways to create more deadly creatures for his armies. Another century passed, and the issuing of the first dragon, Glaurung, demonstrated the results of Morgoth's long labor. Glaurung's sudden appearance scattered the Elves in the immediate vicinity of Angband, but a company of archers under Fingon's command engaged him before he could do much more than frighten the Elves. As Glaurung was barely half-grown, his hide was not yet invulnerable to the Elven arrows and he fled the field. Morgoth was displeased with Glaurung for revealing himself before Morgoth had planned, but ultimately Glaurung's youthful foray was of little consequence.
Some time later, when Men first arrived in Beleriand, Morgoth had left Angband and walked among the fathers of Men. Hoping to corrupt them to his service, he spread his lies among them, and found them to be considerably easier to sway than the Elves had been. However, the strengthening of the Elven kingdoms worried Morgoth, and he returned to Angband before his labors were complete. Nevertheless, most Men believed or half-believed his lies and either departed from the North or joined with Morgoth's forces. However, a small group of Men that became known as the Edain resisted him. They provided the Elves with vital intelligence as to the doings of Morgoth in the North.
The illusion of peace was broken 455 years after Fingolfin came to Middle-earth, when Morgoth initiated the Battle of Sudden Flame. One cold winter night, when the Elven watch was least vigilant, Morgoth sent forth terrible rivers of fire and lava from Thangorodrim and poisonous fumes from the Iron Mountains. The Elves were completely unprepared for an assault, and a great many Noldor perished on the Guarded Plain, as the fires consumed it and transformed it into a lifeless wasteland, forever after known as the Gasping Dust.
With the exception of Maedhros and his fortress upon the Hill of Himring, the sons of Fëanor and Finarfin were overthrown and utterly defeated, and Fingolfin and Fingon only just barely managed to defend Hithlum from Morgoth's onslaught. The Elves were completely driven from the forests of Dorthonion, and many of the Grey elves forsook the war altogether and went to Doriath. When news came to Fingolfin of the defeat of the Elven forces, he rode forth from Hithlum. He rode to the gates of Angband and smote upon the doors of Morgoth's fortress, challenging the Dark Lord to come forth to single combat. Though Morgoth did not wish to, Fingolfin's challenge was heard by all in Angband, and was given in such an insulting manner that to ignore it would be to lose face before his captains.
Morgoth issued forth in black armour from Angband to confront Fingolfin. Wielding the terrible hammer Grond, Morgoth repeatedly attempted to smite the Elven king, but succeeded only in carving many fiery pits in the ground from his missed strikes. Fingolfin long managed to avoid Morgoth's blows, and wounded the Dark Lord seven times. But at last, Fingolfin grew weary, and Morgoth thrice drove him to his knees. Fingolfin arose each time to continue the fight, but eventually he fell backwards into one of the many pits formed by Morgoth's missed attacks. Morgoth then set his foot upon Fingolfin's neck and killed him, but not before Fingolfin, with his last stroke, hewed Morgoth's foot with his sword. Then Morgoth broke the Elven-king's body, but Thorondor, the King of the Eagles, swooped down upon Morgoth, marring his face with his talons, and rescued the body of the Elf-king.
Fingolfin's last stroke gave Morgoth a permanent limp, and the pain of his seven wounds could not be healed, nor the scars erased.
After the battle, Morgoth sent out many spies, and he feigned pity to Men, and when the Edain refused him he summoned the Easterlings over the Blue Mountains (Ered Luin). However, he soon realized that he had underestimated the resolve and valor of his foes, for the Elves and Edain, recovering from their initial shock, had begun to make small gains against his outlying forces. He therefore checked his forces, and withdrew the main host of the Orcs to Angband. For though his victory had been great, his own losses were as numerous as the losses that had been accrued by the Elves. Seven years passed before Morgoth renewed his offensive. He assailed Hithlum with great strength but just as he was on the verge of victory, Círdan came at the last moment and helped Fingon to turn the Orcs back.
The Quest of the Silmaril
Some time later, the Elven-maiden Lúthien and her human lover Beren, seeking to recover a Silmaril, came disguised to Morgoth's court. Morgoth was able to see through her disguise, but she was undaunted by his eyes, and offered to sing for him. As she sang, Morgoth conceived a lust and an evil deed more abominable than any he had yet committed, and allowed her to continue singing. This was his downfall; suddenly shadow hid her, and she sang a terrible song of power that cast a spell of sleep.
All Morgoth's court was cast down in slumber, but the Silmarils burned, and became so heavy that the head of Morgoth sagged upon his chest. He fell from his throne, and the Iron Crown rolled away with a clang. Then Beren cut a Silmaril from that Crown, but rather than leaving immediately with his prize, he tried to take another of the Silmarils, and in doing so his knife broke; one shard struck Morgoth's face, and he began to awaken. Beren and Lúthien fled, but the werewolf Carcharoth bit off Beren's hand. Then Morgoth awoke, and in a rage he and his court roared up in pursuit, only to see Thorondor carrying off the raiders.
Soon after, Morgoth became aware that Maedhros was making a great league against him, and driving his orcs off the northern heights. When the Elves eventually made it to Angband, the Battle of Nirnaeth Arnoediad, began. Ultimately, the battle was a complete and decisive victory for Morgoth. The power of the Elves and their Edain compatriots to make war against Morgoth was utterly and permanently broken. The Noldor from the north of Beleriand, and all their great kingdoms besides Gondolin were destroyed. The Edain who did not flee were enslaved by Easterlings, and Húrin was taken captive.
The Cursing of Húrin
Morgoth was also well known for the imprisonment of Húrin of the House of Hador during the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. In the last hours of the battle Húrin and his kin defended Turgon, for he was the last heir to the throne of Gondolin and of Fingolfin after his brother, Fingon, fell in battle. Turgon narrowly escaped the clutches of the host of orcs due to the valor of Húrin and Huor and their men.
Unfortunately, all but Húrin fell after the onslaught of Morgoth's forces. After slaying untold numbers of Trolls and Orcs, Húrin was captured by Gothmog and sent to Angband. Morgoth knew that Húrin had been to Gondolin, and knew of its location. Morgoth sought to extract the information from him but, despite inflicting terrible torment upon his captive, was unsuccessful.
From a distance Morgoth put the son and daughter of Húrin, Turin and Nienor, under a species of diabolic oppression: his thought followed them and gave them bad luck, though they were not possessed. By this means he drove them at last to madness and despair; though there is doubt as to whether in the extremity of his malice he cheated himself, as their madness saved them from damnation.
|“||Behold! The Shadow of my thought shall lie upon them wherever they go, and my hate shall pursue them to the ends of the world.||”|
–The Children of Húrin
Then continuing his curse, roared:
But all whom you love my thought shall weigh as a cloud of Doom, and it shall bring them down into darkness and despair. Wherever they go, evil shall arise. Wherever they speak, their words shall bring ill counsel. Whatsoever they do shall turn against them. They shall die without hope, cursing both life and death.
And so Húrin stayed and was chained atop Thangorodrim, forever watching his homelands fall under the shadow of Morgoth until he released him. Túrin, who was valiant and powerful, nearly escaped the curse, as feared by Morgoth, but could not leave it. He and his sister perished. Thus, the curse of Morgoth on the Children of Húrin was fulfilled.
Fall of Gondolin
Though unable to force Húrin to reveal the location of the last great Elven kingdom, Morgoth eventually captured Maeglin, sister-son of Turgon, the King of Gondolin. Maeglin offered the secrets of Gondolin's defences, and a promise to kill Tuor, having Idril to himself. With the promise of having Idril, Maeglin became Morgoth's servant willingly, and Morgoth sent him back to Gondolin to aid the invasion from within when the time came.
Many true Dragons of the brood of Glaurung were issued. On a night of festival, they mounted the hills in the north, causing a dawn to rise in the wrong place, and fire burst against Gondolin, and it fell.
With the Sacking of Gondolin and the defeat of the Noldor and their allies, Morgoth's triumph was fulfilled. The great kingdoms of the Elves had all fallen, save for the Havens of Cirdan and the survivors at the Mouths of Sirion, and these were ruled by Eärendil; and Morgoth esteemed them as nothing, and laughed when he saw the last and the most cruel Kinslaying as the Sons of Feanor destroyed the dwelling at Arvernien.
Finally, due to the plea actions of Eärendil, the Valar were persuaded once again to take up arms against Morgoth's tyranny. Thus, a great battle began between Morgoth and the Host of Valinor and the remaining free peoples of Middle-earth shaking and devastating the earth. Morgoth emptied all of Angband, and his devices and engines and armies of slaves were so various and powerful the fighting spilled across all Beleriand.
The Balrogs were destroyed, save some few that fled and hid themselves in caverns inaccessible at the roots of the earth, and the Orcs perished. Then Morgoth quailed, and dared not come forth himself, but he had one last weapon at his command, the monstrous Winged Dragons. From out of the pits of Angband they issued, and so sudden and ruinous was their attack, with great power and a tempest of fire, they drove back the host of the Valar. But then Eärendil came with Vingilot, accompanied by Thorondor and all the great birds, and Eärendil slew Ancalagon The Black, whose great bulk fell upon the towers of Thangorodrim, breaking them in his ruin.
Morgoth, utterly defeated stood at bay, and yet unvaliant. He fled into the deepest mines and sued for peace and pardon, but his feet were hewn from under him, and he was cast on his face. He was bound with the chain Angainor, his Iron Crown was beaten into a collar for his neck, and he was thrust through the Door of Night into the Timeless Void.
Legacy and Prophesied return
Melkor's lies, sowed in the hearts of Elves and Men, were a seed that did not die and could not be destroyed, but ever and anon sprouted anew, and bore dark fruit ever after.
According to material in some of Tolkien's writings compiled (but not published) by his son, in the last days Melkor will learn how to break the Door of Night and re-enter the World, and initiate the Dagor Dagorath, the Battle of Battles.
The name Morgoth, which he was called by Fëanor at Valmar after Melkor stole the Silmarils, meant "Dark Enemy", even though it was Black Foe of the World that Feanor named him out loud. It was also used by lore masters and the Wise when discussing Melkor's latter state of being, when he became "ever more bound to the earth", having dissipated his power, and becoming in consequence "the Morgoth." He was also known as Melkor Bauglir when he returned to Angband towards the beginning of the First Age. Bauglir meant "the Constrainer".
He was the world's first Dark Lord. Melkor was also known for giving himself titles and referred to himself as King of the World and the Elder King. After his defeat, his most powerful servant Sauron called him Lord of All and Giver of Freedom and Lord of the Dark as a way of getting the corrupted Númenóreans to worship him.
Material in the Lost Road & Other Writings refers to him as Melko, Alkar, Mardello, and Bauglir.
Initially, Melkor could take on any form he chose. The Ainur took on forms reflective of their moods and might. Melkor, in his arrogance, malice and power, took on a form recorded as
|“||...a mountain that wades in the sea, and has its head above the clouds, and is clad with ice and crowned with smoke and fire, and the light of the eyes of Melkor was like a flame that whithers with heat and pierces with a deadly cold.||”|
–The Silmarillion, Ainulindalë
It is said that out of all the Valar, Melkor was most like Aulë for his craftsmanship. Originally the brightest, most beautiful, most powerful Ainu, he fell through jealousy, pride and hatred of others, into Darkness with ever after a desire to conquer and to rule. When he built Utumno he took on a form shaped roughly manlike but great in size, "a Dark Lord, tall and terrible." This form was chained by the Valar. When he walked in Valinor he wore a much fairer form, so noble and lofty and benevolent not even the Elves (save only Fëanor and Galadriel) are recorded as seeing through it to the malice underneath. This he cast off to escape unclad from the hunt of the Valar, and when he faced Ungoliant he put back on the form of the tyrant of Utumno. In that form he remained ever after. As he spent his might and poured out his power into the very fabric of matter, as well as into all his creations, he grew more stooped and less majestic, and his hands were burned black from the touch of the Silmarils. His eyes shone with a daunting light.
There is some dispute over Morgoth's size. The Silmarillion states:
|“||He stood over the king as a tower...and...cast a shadow over him like a storm cloud.||”|
–Quenta Silmarillion, "Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin"
As Elves typically reached about six feet tall, or close to seven feet for the Noldor, (Men were of similar height to Elves, however, Númenóreans averaged was similar with those Noldor elves and Elendil was said to be nearly eight)... Morgoth must have stood at least twice this length, and with the shadow he robed himself in he may well have seemed taller. In most artistic renderings Morgoth is depicted as towering over other beings, most notably elves (Fingolfin in particular) of the FA.
|“||Morgoth set his foot upon his neck, and the weight of it was like a fallen hill.||”|
–Quenta Silmarillion, "Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin"
This again implies a huge size. It may be wondered how Fingolfin stayed alive so long; but Elves were possessed of a strength and agility many times greater than a human (save exceptional ones like Turin), and Fingolfin could probably leap to great heights.
Initially, Melkor's power was so great that he could contend with all the other Valar and Maiar of Arda and beat them (ere Tulkas came). Over time however, his power was dispersed into the fabric of Arda and into his servants, lessening his might. At the time of his visit to Fëanor at Formenos, Melkor was still referred to as "the greatest being in Eä", though this was before his capture and final defeat by the Valar. It is unknown how much of his power he put into his various slaves after returning to Angband.
Other versions of the legendarium
|Ainur of Arda|
|Lords of the Valar:||Manwë | Aulë | Oromë | Irmo (Lórien) | Námo (Mandos) | Tulkas | Ulmo|
|Queens of the Valar (The Valier):|| |
Varda | Yavanna | Vána | Estë | Vairë | Nessa | Nienna
|Lord of the Valar (The Enemy):|| |
Morgoth (a.k.a. Melkor)
Eönwë | Ilmarë | Ossë | Uinen | Salmar | Melian | Arien | Tilion | Curumo (Saruman) | Olórin (Gandalf) | Aiwendil (Radagast) | Alatar (Morinehtar) | Pallando (Rómestámo)
|Maiar (Enemies):||Sauron | Gothmog | Durin's Bane | Ungoliant | Curumo (Saruman)|