Greetings, everyone! By now, you have noticed that I have been away for many months, and the primary reason is simply due to school and vacations. I was on vacation in late December and immediately began the semester when I arrived home. During that time, I took the risk of doubling up on classes. While my final were grades were top-notch, the risk was postponing my hobbies, including the blog site.
I must admit that this 2020 year has gone far different than expected – Overwhelmingness of school, personal heartbreak, depression therapy, and now the COVID-19 quarantine. During this time, I thought much of Gandalf’s words to Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring.
“‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo. ‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.'”
I hope that you all are doing well, and I hope that you find this new blog post intriguing and thought-provoking. I only wish that the subject was lighter due to the global pandemic because today’s focus will be on Chapters 8 and 9 of The Silmarillion – Of the Darkening of Valinor and Of the Flight of Noldor. With this short introduction out of the way, let us begin our time together.
Chapter 8: The Emptiness within Gluttony
In chapter 7, Melkor departed from Noldor, leaving no trace or lead for the Valar to find him. During this time, his heart continued to grow dark along with his hatred, which pushed him to turned to a mysterious creature that would become his ally.
South of Valinor, in between the Pelóri Mountains and the Enchanted Isles lade Avathar, an area that was deep in the shadows. Here, we are introduced to Ungoliant the Spider. To describe her character and her mythological origin, it is best to simply quote Tolkien himself.
“The Elder knew not when she came; but some have said that in ages long before she descended from the darkness that lies about Arda, when Melkor first looked down in envy of the Kingdom of Manwë, and that in the beginning she was one of those that he corrupted to his service. But she had disowned her Master, desiring to be mistress of her own lust, taking all things to herself to feed her emptiness; and she fled to the south, escaping the assaults of the Valar and the hunters of Oromë, for their vigilance had ever been to the north, and the south was long unheeded. Thence she had crept towards the light of the Blessed Realm; for she hungered for light and hated it.
In ravine she lived, and took the shape as a spider of monstrous form, weaving her black webs in a cleft of the mountains. There she sucked up all the light that she could find, and spun it forth again in dark nets of strangling gloom, until no light more could come to her abode; and she was famished.”
Since I was about 6 years of age, my arachnophobia kicked in due to the exposure I had to spiders, including a dream where I saw one eat my brother alive. Since then, they have scared me, especially during my first viewing of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King when Shelob the spider made her first appearance. That was a lot for 10-year-old boy at the time.
In the last Silmarillion related blog post, we covered The Seven Deadly Sins of Melkor – i.e. Wrath, envy, greed, lust, and pride. In this post, I want to focus on Ungoliant’s relation to the Seven Deadly Sins, primarily gluttony and lust.
Of all Seven Deadly Sins, one that I have not heard of in a while was in fact gluttony. The main thought that perhaps comes to most minds about gluttony is overeating. In today’s times, especially in the United States, we have unlimited options in what we can eat and how much we can have. From food that is fresh and clean to food that is greasy and dangerous, we have the final decision on what to consume. But beyond the food itself, there is a spiritual significance about gluttony. To quote Sam Guzman of The Catholic Gentleman,
“Gluttony is never being quite content with what we have, always wanting more…filling not only our stomachs but our entire lives with excess and still wanting more. It bloats and distracts the soul, causing us to form idols out of things we think we ‘need,’ and helps us avoid reality by filling our lives with distractions.”
Ungoliant heavily represents this type of gluttony as she constantly absorbs everything around her, even light itself and eventually the Trees of Valinor. Aligning with Melkor, Ungoliant and the Dark Lord pursued to destroy the Trees of Valinor during a gathering of the Valar.
The significance of the trees was the fact that they brought light to Arda (or Earth). By this point in Middle-Earth history, Melkor had already destroyed former sources of light, the Lamps of Valar – Illuin, the silver lamp of the north, and Ormal, the golden lamp of the south. After their destruction, Yavanna of the Valar sang into existence the Trees of Valinor – Telperion the silver tree and Laurelin the golden tree.
I give all this information not just for the sake of context, but to point out that even with these Trees that such great wealth and meaning, Ungoliant still hungered for more afterward, for it was not enough. As shown in the text below,
“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; and the poison of Death that was in her went into their tissues and withered them, root, branch, and lead; and they died. And still she thirsted, and going to the Wells of Varda she drank them dry; but Ungoliant belched forth black vapours as she drank, and swelled into a shape so vast and hideous that Melkor was afraid.”
Chapter 9: The Dangers of Lustful Desires
Later on in chapter 9 after their tasks were complete, Ungoliant demanded her end of the bargain of the jewels they stole. Melkor, now named Morgoth (which we will get into next time) grudgingly gave them over from his left hand. For her, it was not enough to consume, for she desired the three Silmarils of his right hand, despite Morgoth’s denial to give them over. Her lust and gluttony over the Silmarils resulted in a great conflict between the two.
“But Ungoliant had grown great, and [Morgoth] less by the power that had gone out of him; and she rose against him, and her cloud closed about him, and she enmeshed him in a web clinging thongs to strangle him. Then Morgoth sent forth a terrible cry, that echoed in the mountains…The cry of Morgoth in that hour was the greatest and most dreadful that was ever heard in the northern world; the mountains shook, and the earth trembled, and the rocks were riven asunder. Deep in forgotten places that cry was heard. Far beneath the ruined halls of Angband…Balrogs lurked still, awaiting ever the return of their Lord; and now swiftly they arose, and passing over Hithlum they came to Lammoth as a tempest of fire. With their whips of flame they smote asunder the webs of Ungoliant, and she quailed, and turned to flight, belching black vapours to cover her; and fleeing from the north she went down into…that dark valley that was after called NanDungortheb, the Valley of the Dreadful Dead, because of the horror that she bred there…Of the fate of Ungoliant, no tale tells. Yet some have said that she ended long ago, when in her uttermost famine she devoured herself at last.”
Ungoliant would never be satisfied despite all that was offered or could be offered to her, whether food or materials. Even in her last days and her death, nothing was enough…not even herself. Her gluttony and lust continued on and on and on, never seeing a day of rest or of fulfillment.
Gluttony can be dangerous. This is beyond the physical aspect, but also the spiritual.
“Food is to be taken in so far as it supports our life, but not to the extent of enslaving us to the impulses of desire…gluttony engenders love of pleasure and many other passions as well. It is the root from which the rest of the passions spring up in vigorous growth.” – St. John Cassian
Tied within gluttony can be lust. Similar to chapter 7 where Melkor lusted after the Silmarils, so did Ungoliant in chapter 9, but for different motives. Melkor’s motives were out of revenge, power, and pride. Ungoliant’s was out of gluttony and lustful craving in order to fill the great void within her. That fulfillment, however, can only last only so long. Going back to Sam Guzman from The Catholic Gentlemen,
“Lust offers a quick solution to the already-numbed out soul of modern man living in the post-Nietzschean era – instead of facing the existential crisis of human existence in any small manner, instead of facing reality, hardship, suffering, fear, woe, or anything else, man can temporarily ‘forget his emptiness in the intensity of a momentary experience. ‘6 (Ven. Fulton Sheen).
Like its sister sin, gluttony, lust allows a soul unable to confront the reality of life with a brief escape. Indulge in lust, and all of life’s troubles and worries disappear for a moment – only to reappear again unchanged, and with one’s soul in a state of peril. Like many sins, lust is often not fallen into because it is somehow awful and hurts; no, it offers us something, and we think we benefit from it. I assume it is like taking drugs – no one would do drugs if there was not some kind of benefit that, at the time, they thought outweighed the risk. In this case, lust offers that high, seemingly without any responsibility, worry, or effect.
The reality, of course, is much different. Indulging in lust of any kind has a kind of hollowing-out effect on the soul – it sells the person out for all they are worth, simply in order to feel good for a little while. Such is the desperation of our age, and the human condition. We want to feel good at any cost, and to openly deny oneself the pleasures of lust for a higher cause is looked upon as some form of insanity.”
Whether it is lust, or gluttony, satisfaction and fulfillment within them will be almost nonexistent. This is more than just dealing with food consumption, but material wealth, money, sexual desire, power, and much more. Gluttony and lust long to satisfy without the promise of doing so. Even when one would finally get what they wanted, such as Ungoliant, it will not be enough, even if they think it will be.
“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” – Socrates
That concludes for this section of the in-depth look at The Silmarillion. During this time of Quarantine and after, I will be looking to get more reading and writings done for the site. Until next time. And stay safe indoors!