In less than 1,000 words, describe what happened during the Lord of the Rings’ struggle against Morgoth
Rings of Power cannot discuss The Silmarillion, but we can
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power by Amazon opens with an info dump. Elves! Trees! War! Destruction, death, and then a tremendous peace.
Is it, however, adequate exposition? Because of the extraordinarily precise manner in which author J.R.R. Tolkien’s material has been licensed for cinema, the creative team can only hint to but not explain many topics. The most important of these is the struggle against the dark deity Morgoth, which takes up the majority of The Silmarillion’s events.
The Silmarillion has been referred to be a “sequel” to The Lord of the Rings. But it’s more difficult than that: it’s a whole history of Middle-earth, from the beginning of time to the end of the War of the Ring, constructed from Tolkien’s drafts and notes to the best of his son’s abilities. It’s more of a compilation of tales concerning the birth of the universe and the millennia-long battle against an evil god than a novel.
The Rings of Power takes place after the end of that conflict, which the writers can only mention to in passing because the film rights to The Silmarillion were never sold. Characters use names like Fanor and Morgoth in the first two episodes, but it’s up to geeks like me to explain everything for the public as concisely as possible.
So, what occurred during Morgoth’s war? We must begin with the formation of the cosmos as conceived by Tolkien.
MORGOTH IS WHO?
The ultimate creator-god Eru Ilvatar produced a swarm of subordinate gods, the Valar, with whom he sung Middle-earth into being. The minor gods’ mission was to prepare Middle-earth for Eru’s most significant creations, the Elves and Men.
Morgoth was a Valar, yet he craved control over living things from the start, and that desire grew into hatred. “From magnificence he sank, via hubris to contempt for all things but himself,” Tolkien wrote. Morgoth’s power was immense. Morgoth had Sauron, while Sauron had the Witch-king of Angmar as his most fearsome servant.
HOW DID THE WAR BEGIN?
When the Valar battled with Morgoth, their abilities leveled mountains and moved oceans, and they finally avoided going to fight for fear of annihilating any freshly born elves. So they travelled to the far west and established Valinor, the celestial city, and invited the elves to live with them. The Valar built two gigantic, glowing trees in Valinor that grew and waned to produce golden light during the day, silver light at night, and mixed light in between because Middle-earth didn’t come with a sun or moon out of the box. Starlight was the only source of illumination elsewhere in Middle-earth.
Morgoth detested and desired the light of the trees, and sought to destroy what he couldn’t make his own. This drove him into battle with the Noldor, a Valinorian Elves tribe, and set the stage for the majority of The Silmarillion’s plot.
MEET FANOR, THE WORST OF THE WORST
Tolkien referred to Fanor as the finest of the Noldor (Valinor’s craftsmen elves) in terms of thought and skill, and said that he devised the written Elven alphabet – high praise from a linguist. But Fanor is most renowned for gem-crafting, creating diamonds more dazzling than anything found on Earth. He constructed the Silmarils, three jewels that caught the light phases of Valinor’s trees.
Fanor was conceited and distrustful, and he grew convinced that the Silmarils would be taken. He wasn’t entirely wrong. Melkor brought Ungoliant, Shelob’s ancestor, into Valinor to drain the trees dry. He robbed the Silmarils and escaped east over the sea in the darkness and disarray. In reaction, Fanor made the worst choice in Middle-earth history: he pledged an unbreakable promise to himself and his seven sons that they would murder anybody, god or mortal, who prevented them from the Silmarils.
It’s not that the last conflict against Morgoth wouldn’t have happened without Fanor; it’s only that his arrogance would have caused it to happen in the worst way possible. Fanor roused the Noldor to pursue Morgoth across the sea, despite the Valar’s counsel, but they lacked ships. And the Teleri elves, Aman’s sole shipwrights, refused to assist.
So Fanor made another contribution to elven history: he developed elf-on-elf murder, a heinous historical monopoly held by the Noldor. The Valar forbade Fanor and everyone who accompanied him from returning to Aman, denied them the privilege of resurrection in Valinor, and cursed them with lifelong desire for their birthplace.
Six centuries of bloodshed, betrayals, and tragedies ensued. Fanor died long before it was finished, and there were several moments when Morgoth might have been beaten sooner or with less fatalities if he and his sons had just moved on.
WHAT WAS THE END OF THE WAR AGAINST MORGOTH?
With their homes devastated and their children assumed killed at the hands of Fanor’s last live sons, two mortals of mixed elf and human blood placed a Silmaril on the prow of their boat and traveled to Aman. Elwing and Eärendil the Mariner persuaded the Valar to intervene.
The War of Wrath between the Valar and Morgoth submerged the majority of Middle-earth under the waves. The Silmarils were lost forever, Fanor’s sons committed suicide, and Morgoth was “thrust through the Door of Night beyond the Walls of the World, into the Timeless Void,” to quote Tolkien. The Valar pardoned the Noldor who had aided in Morgoth’s defeat and rewarded new allies: the men of Middle-western earth’s shores, who were given wisdom, power, and knowledge, and Numenor, a
Fortunately, Eärendil and Elwing’s boys were not killed, and because the Valar couldn’t decide whether they were more elf or more human, the twins were permitted to make their own decision. Elros chose mortality and became Numenor’s first ruler. Elrond, on the other hand — well, you know who Elrond is!
And, in the end, the light of the Two Trees was not completely extinguished. Eärendil and his Silmaril ship were converted into stars by the Valar. The star’s light was collected in a vial, which Galadriel later handed to Frodo and Sam to use against a monstrous spider in their quest to slay a Dark Lord. “Why, come to think of it, we’re still in the same story!” comments Sam. It’s happening. “Don’t fantastic stories never end?”
The stories do not, but this narrative of Morgoth’s war does. You’ll have to read The Silmarillion or The Lord of the Rings to find out what happens next, or just keep watching Rings of Power.