Notes on motives in the Silmarillion


Sauron was greater, effectively, in the Second Age than Morgoth at the end of the First. Why? Because, though he was far smaller by natural stature, he had not yet fallen so low. Eventually he also squandered his power (of being) in the endeavour to gain control of others. But he was not obliged to expend so much of himself. To gain domination over Arda, Morgoth had let most of his being pass into the physical constituents of the Earth — hence all things that were born on Earth, and lived on and by it, beasts or plants or incarnate spirits, were liable to be stained. Morgoth at the time of the War of the Jewels had become permanently incarnate; for this reason he was afraid, and waged the war almost entirely by means of devices, or of subordinates and dominated creatures.

Sauron, however, inherited the corruption of Arda, and only spent his (much more limited) power on the Rings; for it was the creatures of earth, in their minds and wills, that he desired to dominate. In this way Sauron was also wiser than Melkor-Morgoth. Sauron was not a beginner of discord; and he probably knew more of the Music than did Melkor, whose mind had always been filled with his own plans and devices, and gave little attention to other things. The time of Melkor's greatest power, therefore, was in the physical beginnings of the World; a vast demiurgic lust for power and the achievement of his own will and designs, on a great scale. And later after things had become more stable, Melkor was more interested in and capable of dealing with a volcanic eruption, for example, than with (say) a tree. It is indeed probable that he was simply unaware of the minor or more delicate productions of Yavanna, such as small flowers.1

Thus, as Morgoth, when Melkor was confronted by the existence of other inhabitants of Arda, with other wills and intelligences, he was enraged by the mere fact of their existence, and his only notion of dealing with them was by physical force, or the fear of it. His sole ultimate object was their destruction. Elves, and still more Men, he despised because of their weakness: that is their lack of physical force, or power over matter; but he was also afraid of them. He was aware, at any rate originally when still capable of rational thought, that he could not annihilate2 them: that is, destroy their being; but their physical life, and incarnate form became increasingly to his mind the only thing that was worth considering.3 Or he became so far advanced in Lying that he lied even to himself, and pretended that he could destroy them and rid Arda of them altogether. Hence his endeavour always to break wills and subordinate them to or absorb them in his own will and being, before destroying their bodies. This was sheer nihilism, and negation its one ultimate object: Morgoth would no doubt, if he had been victorious, have ultimately destroyed even his own creatures, such as the Orcs, when they had served his sole purpose in using them: the destruction of Elves and Men. Melkor's final impotence and despair lay in this: that whereas the Valar (and in their degree Elves and Men) could still love Arda Marred, that is Arda with a Melkor-ingredient, and could still heal this or that hurt, or produce from its very marring, from its state as it was, things beautiful and lovely, Melkor could do nothing with Arda, which was not from his own mind and was interwoven with the work and thoughts of others: even left alone he could only have gone raging on till all was levelled again into a formless chaos. And yet even so he would have been defeated, because it would still have existed, independent of his own mind, and a world in potential.

Sauron had never reached this stage of nihilistic madness. He did not object to the existence of the world, so long as he could do what he liked with it. He still had the relics of positive purposes, that descended from the good of the nature in which he began: it had been his virtue (and therefore also the cause of his fall, and of his relapse) that he loved order and coordination, and disliked all confusion and wasteful friction. (It was the apparent will and power of Melkor to effect his designs quickly and masterfully that had first attracted Sauron to him.) Sauron had, in fact, been very like Saruman, and so still understood him quickly and could guess what he would be likely to think and do, even without the aid of the palantíri or of spies; whereas Gandalf eluded and puzzled him. But like all minds of this cast, Sauron's love (originally) or (later) mere understanding of other individual intelligences was correspondingly weaker; and though the only real good in, or rational motive for, all this ordering and planning and organization was the good of all inhabitants of Arda (even admitting Sauron's right to be their supreme lord), his plans, the idea coming from his own isolated mind, became the sole object of his will, and an end, the End, in itself.4

Morgoth had no plan; unless destruction and reduction to nil of a world in which he had only a share can be called a plan. But this is, of course, a simplification of the situation. Sauron had not served Morgoth, even in his last stages, without becoming infected by his lust for destruction, and his hatred of God (which must end in nihilism). Sauron could not, of course, be a sincere atheist. Though one of the minor spirits created before the world, he knew Eru, according to his measure. He probably deluded himself with the notion that the Valar (including Melkor) having failed, Eru had simply abandoned Eä, or at any rate Arda, and would not concern himself with it any more. It would appear that he interpreted the change of the world at the Downfall of Númenor, when Aman was removed from the physical world, in this sense: Valar (and Elves) were removed from effective control, and Men under God's curse and wrath. If he thought about the Istari, especially Saruman and Gandalf, he imagined them as emissaries from the Valar, seeking to establish their lost power again and colonize Middle-earth, as a mere effort of defeated imperialists (without knowledge or sanction of Eru). His cynicism, which (sincerely) regarded the motives of Manwë as precisely the same as his own, seemed fully justified in Saruman. Gandalf he did not understand. But certainly he had already become evil, and therefore stupid, enough to imagine that his different behaviour was due simply to weaker intelligence and lack of firm masterful purpose. He was only a rather cleverer Radagast — cleverer, because it is more profitable (more productive of power) to become absorbed in the study of people rather than of animals.

Sauron was not a sincere atheist, but he preached atheism, because it weakened resistance to himself (and he had ceased to fear God's action in Arda). As was seen in the case of Ar-Pharazôn. But there was seen the effect of Melkor upon Sauron: he spoke of Melkor in Melkor's own terms, as a god, or even as God. This may have been the residue of a state which was in a sense a shadow of good: the ability once in Sauron at least to admire or admit the superiority of a being other than himself. Melkor, and still more Sauron himself afterwards, both profited by this darkened shadow of good and the services of worshippers. But it may be doubted whether even such a shadow of good was still sincerely operative in Sauron by that time. His cunning motive is probably best expressed thus. To wean one of the God-fearing from their allegiance it is best to propound another unseen object of allegiance and another hope of benefits; propound to him a Lord who will sanction what he desires and not forbid it. Sauron, apparently a defeated rival for world-power, now a mere hostage, can hardly propound himself; but as the former servant and disciple of Melkor, the worship of Melkor will raise him from hostage to high priest. But though Sauron's whole true motive was the destruction of the Númenóreans, this was a particular matter of revenge upon Ar-Pharazôn, for humiliation. Sauron (unlike Morgoth) would have been content for the Númenóreans to exist, as his own subjects, and indeed he used a great many of them that he corrupted to his allegiance.

§ 1, n. 1. If such things were forced upon his attention, he was angry and hated them, as coming from other minds than his own.

§ 1, n. 2. Melkor could not, of course, annihilate anything of matter, he could only ruin or destroy or corrupt the forms given to matter by other minds in their subcreative activities.

§ 1, n. 3. For this reason he himself came to fear death — the destruction of his assumed bodily form — above everything, and sought to avoid any kind of injury to his own form.

§ 1, n. 4. But his capability of corrupting other minds, and even engaging their service, was a residue from the fact that his original desire for order had really envisaged the good estate (especially physical well-being) of his subjects.


No one, not even one of the Valar, can read the mind of other equal beings:1 that is one cannot see them or comprehend them fully and directly by simple inspection. One can deduce much of their thought, from general comparisons leading to conclusions concerning the nature and tendencies of minds and thought, and from particular knowledge of individuals, and special circumstances. But this is no more reading or inspection of another mind than is deduction concerning the contents of a closed room, or events taken place out of sight. Neither is so-called thought-transference a process of mind-reading: this is but the reception, and interpretation by the receiving mind, of the impact of a thought, or thought-pattern, emanating from another mind, which is no more the mind in full or in itself than is the distant sight of a man running the man himself. Minds can exhibit or reveal themselves to other minds by the action of their own wills (though it is doubtful if, even when willing or desiring this, a mind can actually reveal itself wholly to any other mind). It is thus a temptation of minds of greater power to govern or constrain the will of other, and weaker, minds, so as to induce or force them to reveal themselves. But to force such a revelation, or to induce it by any lying or deception, even for supposedly good purposes (including the good of the person so persuaded or dominated), is absolutely forbidden. To do so is a crime, and the good in the purposes of those who commit this crime switfly becomes corrupted.

Much could thus go on behind Manwë's back: indeed the innermost being of all other minds, great and small, was hidden from him. And with regard to the Enemy, Melkor, in particular, he could not penetrate by distant mind-sight his thought and purposes, since Melkor remained in a fixed and powerful will to withhold his mind: which physically expressed took shape in the darkness and shadows that surrounded him. But Manwë could of course use, and did use, his own great knowledge, his vast experience of things and of persons, his memory of the Music, and his own far sight, and the tidings of his messengers.

He, like Melkor, practically never is seen or heard of outside or far away from his own halls and permanent residence. Why is this? For no very profound reason. The Government is always in Whitehall. King Arthur is usually in Camelot or Caerleon, and news and adventures come there and arise there. The Elder King is obviously not going to be finally defeated or destroyed, at least not before some ultimate Ragnarök — which even for us is still in the future, so he can have no real adventures. But, if you keep him at home, the issue of any particular event (since it cannot then result in a final checkmate) can remain in literary suspense. Even to the final war against Morgoth it is Fionwë son of Manwë who leads out the power of the Valar. When we move out Manwë it will be the last battle, and the end of the World (or of Arda Marred) as the Eldar would say.

[Morgoth's staying at home has, as described above, quite a different reason: his fear of being killed or even hurt (the literary motive is not present, for since he is pitted against the Elder King, the issue of any one of his enterprises is always in doubt).]

Melkor incarnated himself (as Morgoth) permanently. He did this so as to control the hroa, the flesh or physical matter, of Arda. He attempted to identify himself with it. A vaster, and more perilous, procedure, though of similar sort to the operation of Sauron with the Rings. Thus, outside the Blessed Realm, all matter was likely to have a Melkor ingredient, and those who had bodies, nourished by the hora of Arda, had as it were a tendency, small or great, towards Melkor: they were none of them wholly free of him in their incarnate form, and their bodies had an effect upon their spirits.

But in this way Morgoth lost (or exchanged, or transmuted) the greater part of his original angelic powers, of mind and spirit, while gaining a terrible grip upon the physical world. For this reason he had to be fought, mainly by physical force, and enormous material ruin was a probable consequence of any direct combat with him, victorious or otherwise. This is the chief explanation of the constant reluctance of the Valar to come into open battle against Morgoth. Manwë's task and problem was much more difficult than Gandalf's. Sauron's, relatively smaller, power was concentrated; Morgoth's vast power was disseminated. The whole of Middle-earth was Morgoth's Ring, though temporarily his attention was mainly upon the North-west. Unless swiftly successful, War against him might well end in reducing all Middle-earth to chaos, possibly even all Arda. It is easy to say: It was the task and function of the Elder King to govern Arda and make it possible for the Children of Eru to live in it unmolested. But the dilemma of the Valar was this: Arda could only be liberated by a physical battle; but a probable result of such a battle was the irretrievable ruin of Arda. Moreover, the final eradication of Sauron (as a power directing evil) was achievable by the destruction of the Ring. No such eradication of Morgoth was possible, since this required the complete disintegration of the matter of Arda. Sauron's power was not (for example) in gold as such, but in a particular form or shape made of a particular portion of total gold. Morgoth's power was disseminated throughout Gold, if nowhere absolute (for he did not create Gold) it was nowhere absent. (It was this Morgoth-element in matter, indeed, which was a prerequisite for such magic and other evils as Sauron practised with it and upon it.)

It is quite possible, of course, that certain elements or conditions of matter had attracted Morgoth's special attention (mainly, unless in the remote past, for reasons of his own plans). For example, all gold (in Middle-earth) seems to have had a specially evil trend — but not silver. Water is represented as being almost entirely free of Morgoth. (This, of course, does not mean that any particular sea, stream, river, well, or even vessel of water could not be poisoned or defiled — as all things could.)

§ 2, n. 1. All rational minds / spirits deriving direct from Eru are equal — in order and status — though not necessarily coeval or of like original power.


The Valar fade and become more impotent, precisely in proportion as the shape and constitution of things becomes more defined and settled. The longer the Past, the more nearly defined the Future, and the less room for important change (untrammelled action, on a physical plane, that is not destructive in purpose). The Past, once achieved, has become part of the Music in being. Only Eru may or can alter the Music. The last major effort, of this demiurgic kind, made by the Valar was the lifting up of the range of the Pelóri to a great height. It is possible to view this as, if not an actually bad action, at least as a mistaken one. Ulmo disapproved of it. It had one good, and legitimate, object: the preservation incorrupt of at least a part of Arda. But it seemed to have a selfish or neglectful (or despairing) motive also; for the effort to preserve the Elves incorrupt there had proved a failure if they were to be left free: many had refused to come to the Blessed Realm, many had revolted and left it. Whereas, with regard to Men, Manwë and all the Valar knew quite well that they could not come to Aman at all; and the longevity (co-extensive with the life of Arda) of Valar and Eldar was expressly not permitted to Men. Thus the Hiding of Valinor came near to countering Morgoth's possessiveness by a rival possessiveness, setting up a private domain of light and bliss against one of darkness and domination: a palace and a pleasaunce (well-fenced) against a fortress and a dungeon.

This appearance of selfish fainéance in the Valar in the mythology as told is (though I have not explained it or commented on it) I think only an appearance, and one which we are apt to accept as the truth, since we are all in some degree affected by the shadow and lies of their Enemy, the Calumniator. It has to be remembered that the mythology is represented as being two stages removed from a true record: it is based first upon Elvish records and lore about the Valar and their own dealings with them; and these have reached us (fragmentarily) only through relics of Númenórean (human) traditions, derived from the Eldar, in the earlier parts, though for later times supplemented by anthropocentric histories and tales. These, it is true, came down through the Faithful and their descendants in Middle-earth, but could not altogether escape the darkening of the picture due to the hostility of the rebellious Númenóreans to the Valar.

Even so, and on the grounds of the stories as received, it is possible to view the matter otherwise. The closing of Valinor against the rebel Noldor (who left it voluntarily and after warning) was in itself just. But, if we dare to attempt to enter the mind of the Elder King, assigning motives and finding faults, there are things to remember before we deliver a judgment. Manwë was the spirit of greatest wisdom and prudence in Arda. He is represented as having the greatest knowledge of the Music, as a whole, possessed by any one finite mind; and he alone of all persons or minds in that time is represented as having the power of direct recourse to and communication with Eru. He must have grasped with great clarity what even we may perceive dimly: that it was the essential mode of the process of history in Arda that evil should constantly arise, and that out of it new good should constantly come. One especial aspect of this is the strange way in which the evils of the Marrer, or his inheritors, are turned into weapons against evil. If we consider the situation after the escape of Morgoth and the reëstablishment of his abode in Middle-earth, we shall see that the heroic Noldor were the best possible weapon with which to keep Morgoth at bay, virtually besieged, and at any rate fully occupied, on the northern fringe of Middle-earth, without provoking him to a frenzy of nihilistic destruction. And in the meanwhile, Men, or the best elements in Mankind, shaking off his shadow, came into contact with a people who had actually seen and experienced the Blessed Realm.

In their association with the warring Eldar Men were raised to their fullest achievable stature, and by the two marriages the transference to them, or infusion into Mankind, of the noblest Elf-strain was accomplished, in readiness for the still distant, but inevitably approaching, days when the Elves would fade.

The last intervention with physical force by the Valar, ending in the breaking of Thangorodrim, may then be viewed as not in fact reluctant or even unduly delayed, but timed with precision. The intervention came before the annihilation of the Eldar and the Edain. Morgoth though locally triumphant had neglected most of Middle-earth during the war; and by it he had in fact been weakened: in power and prestige (he had lost and failed to recover one of the Silmarils), and above all in mind. He had become absorbed in kingship, and though a tyrant of ogre-size and monstrous power, this was a vast fall even from his former wickedness of hate, and his terrible nihilism. He had fallen to like being a tyrant-king with conquered slaves, and vast obedient armies.

The war was successful, and ruin was limited to the small (if beautiful) region of Beleriand. Morgoth was thus actually made captive in physical form, and in that form taken as a mere criminal to Aman and delivered to Námo Mandos as judge — and executioner. He was judged, and eventually taken out of the Blessed Realm and executed: that is killed like one of the Incarnates. It was then made plain (though it must have been understood beforehand by Manwë and Námo) that, though he had disseminated his power (his evil and possessive and rebellious will) far and wide into the matter of Arda, he had lost direct control of this, and all that he, as a surviving remnant of integral being, retained as himself and under control was the terribly shrunken and reduced spirit that inhabited his self-imposed (but now beloved) body. When that body was destroyed he was weak and utterly houseless, and for that time at a loss and unanchored as it were. We read that he was then thrust out into the Void. That should mean that he was put outside Time and Space, outside Eä altogether; but if that were so this would imply a direct intervention of Eru (with or without supplication of the Valar). It may however refer inaccurately3 to the extrusion or flight of his spirit from Arda.

In any case, in seeking to absorb or rather to infiltrate himself throughout matter, what was then left of him was no longer powerful enough to reclothe itself. (It would now remain fixed in the desire to do so: there was no repentance or possibility of it: Melkor had abandoned for ever all spiritual ambitions, and existed almost solely as a desire to possess and domiante matter, and Arda in particular.) At least it could not yet reclothe itself. We need not suppose that Manwë was deluded into supposing that this had been a war to end war, or even to end Melkor. Melkor was not Sauron. We speak of him being weakened, shrunken, reduced; but this is in comparison with the great Valar. He had been a being of immense potency and life. The Elves certainly held and taught that fëar or spirits may grow of their own life (independently of the body), even as they may be hurt and healed, be diminished and renewed. The dark spirit of Melkor's remainder might be expected, therefore, eventually and after long ages to increase again, even (as some held) to draw back into itself some of its formerly dissipated power. It would do this (even if Sauron could not) because of its relative greatness. It did not repent, or turn finally away from its obsession, but retained still relics of wisdom, so that it could still seek its object indirectly, and not merely blindly. It would rest, seek to heal itself, distract itself by other thoughts and desires and devices — but all simply to recover enough strength to return to the attack on the Valar, and to its old obsession. As it grew again it would become, as it were, a dark shadow, brooding on the confines of Arda, and yearning towards it.

Nevertheless the breaking of Thangorodrim and the extrusion of Melkor was the end of Morgoth as such, and for that age (and many ages after). It was thus, also, in a sense the end of Manwë's prime function and task as Elder King, until the End. He had been the Adversary of the Enemy.

It is very reasonable to suppose that Manwë knew that before long (as he saw time) the Dominion of Men must begin, and the making of history would then be committed to them: for their struggle with Evil special arrangements had been made! Manwë knew of Sauron, of course. He had commanded Sauron to come before him for judgement, but had left room for repentance and ultimate rehabilitation. Sauron had refused and had fled into hiding. Sauron, however, was a problem that Men had to deal with finally: the first of the many concentrations of Evil into definite power-points that they would have to combat, as it was also the last of those in mythological personalized (but non-human) form.

It may be noted that Sauron's first defeat was achieved by the Númenóreans alone (though Sauron was not in fact overthrown personally: his captivity was voluntary and a trick). In the first overthrow and disembodiment of Sauron in Middle-earth (neglecting the matter of Luthien) ….

§ 3, n. 1. Since the minds of Men (and even of the Elves) were inclined to confuse the Void, as a conception of the state of Not-being, outside Creation or Eä, with the conception of vast spaces within Eä, especially those conceived to lie all about the enisled Kingdom of Arda (which we should probably call the Solar System).

The last effort of this sort made by the Valar was the raising up of the Pelóri — but this was not a good act: it came near to countering Morgoth in his own way — apart from the element of selfishness in its object of preserving Aman as a blissful region to live in.

The Valar were like architects working with a plan passed by the Government. They became less and less important (structurally!) as the plan was more and more nearly achieved. Even in the First Age we see them after uncounted ages of work near the end of their time of work — not wisdom or counsel. (The wiser they became the less power they had to do anything — save by counsel.)

Similarly the Elves faded, having introduced art and science. Men will also fade, if it proves to be the plan that things shall still go on, when they have completed their function. But even the Elves had the notion that this would not be so: that the end of Men would somehow be bound up with the end of history, or as they called it Arda Marred (Arda Sahta) and the achievement of Arda Healed (Arda Envinyanta). (They do not seem to have been clear or precise — how should they be! — whether Arda Envinyanta was a permanent state of achievement, which could therefore only be enjoyed outside Time, as it were: surveying the Tale as an englobed whole; or a state of unmarred bliss within Time and in a place that was in some sense a lineal and historical descent of our world or Arda Marred. They seem often to have meant both. Arda Unmarred did not actually exist, but remained in thought — Arda without Melkor, or rather without the effects of his becoming evil; but is the source from which all ideas of order and perfection are derived. Arda Healed is thus both the completion of the Tale of Arda which has taken up all the deeds of Melkor, but must according to the promise of Ilúvatar be seen to be good; and also a state of redress and bliss beyond the circles of the world.)

Evil is fissiparous. But itself barren. Melkor could not beget, or have any spouse (though he attempted to ravish Arien, this was to destroy and distain her, not to beget fiery offspring). Out of the discords of the Music — sc. not directly out of either of the themes, Eru's or Melkor's, but of their dissonance with regard one to another — evil things appeared in Arda, which did not descend from any direct plan or vision of Melkor: they were not his children; and therefore, since all evil hates, hated him too. The progeniture of things was corrupted. Hence Orcs? Part of the Elf-Man idea gone wrong. Though as for Orcs, the Eldar believed Morgoth had actually bred them by capturing Men (and Elves) early and increasing to the utmost any corrupt tendencies they possessed.