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The Eldar knew not whence she came, but some have said that in the ages long before she descended from the darkness that lies about Arda, when Melkor first looked down in envy upon the Kingdom of Manwe, and that in the beginning she was one of those that he corrupted to his service. But she has disowned her Master, desiring to be mistress of her own lust, taking all things to herself to feed her emptiness [. . . ] Thence she had crept toward the light of the Blessed Realm; for she hungered for light and hated it.

In a ravine she lived, and took shape as a spider of monstrous form, weaving her black webs in a cleft of the mountains. There she sucked up all 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.

Oh, Ungoliant. Why do I love you so much? I mean, not "love," exactly; if you were real, I would definitely not want you anywhere near me, but you are not even a little bit real and you are such a great invention. I never can decide if there's something inherently misogynistic about Ungoliant or not. I think ultimately not, but maybe it doesn't matter? Some of my favorite characters are made entirely out of misogyny, and most of the time they just shake it off and walk away, swinging their hips and sucking on a maraschino cherry. Plus, I love Tolkien's descriptions of giant spiders. They're just so primally horrific. (Excellent giant spider action is also one of the best things about the Peter Jackson adaptations, for me. I love Shelob's horrible and pathetic stumbly legs at the end of her fight with Sam).

Anyway, one of Tolkien's best worldbuilding tricks is the relative ignorance of his characters (makes the world seem bigger) and Ungoliant is one of those unseen children of the ancient discord that not even the Valar know much about. Melkor finds her and promises her whatever she wants in exchange for helping him destroy the Trees, but when she asks for the Silmarils themselves, he refuses. This leads to trouble:

But Ungoliant had grown great, and he less by the power that had gone out of him; and she rose agaisnt him, and her cloud closed about him, and she enmeshed him in a web of clinging thongs to strangle him. Then Morgoth sent forth a terrible cry, that echoed in the mountains. Therefore that region was called Lammoth; for the echoes of his voice dwelt there ever after, so that any who cried aloud in that land awoke them, and all the waste between the hills and the sea was filled with a clamour as of voices in anguish.


Melkor has to be rescued by balrogs. Compared to Ungoliant, he is a creature out of his depth. He shouldn't have promised her gifts with both hands (he shouldn't have done the thing at all).

Meanwhile, Feanor (not realizing they've been stolen) refuses to let the Valar crack open his Silmarils to light the world now that the Trees (and a lot of other things) have been chewed up by spider jaws and spun into counterproductive webs of blackness. He makes kind of a Howard Roark speech about it, but I don't entirely fail to sympathize with him. Maybe he should offer one of the three, a compromise? But that isn't what he wants, and he's hurt by the Valar's assumption that he should be happy to give them up, when he put so much into them and can never make something like them again. There will be serious consequences, I'm pretty sure. I haven't gotten to them yet.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 16th, 2015 07:14 pm (UTC)
I'm in complete agreement: despite hating spiders, the descriptions of these are so perfectly horrific that they come back out the other side and become fascinating and lovely.
Feb. 17th, 2015 07:46 pm (UTC)
I don't hate spiders nearly as much as I used to, but I still love how much Tolkien hates spiders. :)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


blase ev

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