Formalist Approach: the Character of Morgoth in the Folktale

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Good against Evil in The Silmarillion

First of all, what is Manichaeism? It is commonly known as a religious doctrine established on the fundamental duality of good and evil, but it is not only tied to Christianity61. Indeed it is a faith constructed with elements of different religions such as Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and Christianity62. Its most famous defender was a man called Mani or Manes from the first century A.D. who deeply believed in this idea of a world divided between good and evil, it is a gnosticism about the human condition63. In Tolkien’s work, this theme of good against evil can easily be found and especially in The Silmarillion. Indeed the fight of Morgoth against the Valar and the ultimate defeat of evil are recurring themes in the Manichean philosophy.
In Mani’s gnosticism, the revelation of the human condition is described as a myth64. In Les grandes notions du christianisme, Fernand Comte presents to us this myth as a huge, cosmic myth, which is a complicated construction that is, a generation to the next, overburdened by the apparition of new characters, symbols and symmetries65. This is the first point that we can collate with the story of The Silmarillion. Indeed, Tolkien’s story, if only by its structure, is a myth, a fictive myth of course. This is the story of the Creation of the world and its evolution which can be seen as a cosmic myth. Like the myth of humanity in the Manichean approach, the story of The Silmarillion is a complicated construction following the history of different characters, families, races through years and ages, through generations.
In the Manichean view, this system is composed of three times66. A fore time which is original, where the two substances that are good and evil (Light and Darkness) are separated from each other and independent in their own67. A second time, median or present, where both substance were blended and still are and a future time or final time where the blended substances are separated anew68. These two principles of time and good against evil are what makes Manichaeism. These three times can be found also in the story of The Silmarillion. The fore time is the time of the Ainulindalë, before Melkor rises and opposes himself to the music of his Creator. In this time, there is no fight and both substances are separated. From his opposition, the myth comes in the second time where Melkor, the force of evil, is opposed to Ilúvatar and the Valar afterwards, the forces of good.
In this time we find the dissension of Melkor in the music, his fight with his brethren the Valar and the First Age with the Wars of Beleriand. The final time appears with the War of Wrath. The last war of the Valar against Morgoth where this one was overthrown and his power destroyed. Thus the two substances were separated anew and as we will see, the substance of Light was freed from the one of Darkness. This notion of final battle against evil can also be found in Christianity and notably in the Revelations of John and the part on the Apocalypse. In these chapters of The Bible we can read the final fight against Satan and his followers before those are thrown and destroyed in an eternal fire by Jesus and the angels of God. This vision of the final battle is also found in The Silmarillion with the War of Wrath which brought an end to the power of Morgoth as he was thrown into the Void. Now that we have seen that the Manichean view could be applied to The Silmarillion, we will see how the character of Morgoth slots himself in the philosophy.

Morgoth in the Manichean approach

The Manichean faith assumes that at the beginning of all things God and Satan coexisted together with Satan being introduced as the matter, rather organic or concrete, opposed to the divine substance of Light that is God, the spirit69. Fernand Comte in Les grandes notions du christianisme explains that both sides had its own realm, clearly separated from one another, at the beginning70. The realm of God was the land of Light which infinitely extends itself to the north and is only peace, smoothness and purity71. In the south lies ad infinitum the land of Darkness, the realm of the matter, of Satan, in there everything is only disorder, foolishness and stench72. Both realms are made of five mansions for the Light and five pits for the Darkness: the five mansions of God are the mansions of wit, reason, thought, reflection and of will while the five pits of Satan are abysses of smoke, haze, of consuming fire, of devastating air and of destructive wind73.
This vision of a divided world can be found in The Silmarillion with Morgoth taking again the shape of Satan. In The Silmarillion, the land of Light can be associated to the land of Aman where the Valar dwell. Their land, Aman, literally means “blessed, free from evil” in Quenya. Even if it does not lay in the north of the world, being set up in the west, it is still opposed to the land of darkness that lies in the east of the world which is Middle-earth. Being literally separated by the Great Sea which symbolizes the Manichean separation between good and evil, Aman and Middle-earth coincide with the Manichean lands of Light and Darkness if only because Aman was always bathed in light while Middle-earth knew for a long time only darkness. If the land in the east is not all made of devilry, the abodes of Morgoth in this land easily match with the description of the land of Darkness in Mani’s theory.
Like the land of Satan, the strongholds and lands of Morgoth are pits, deep places of fire, smoke and desolation. His first fortress was called Utumno or Udûn in Sindarin which means “un-west”. With its name the fortress inscribes itself in the Manichean view, identifying itself as a clear opposition to the land of Light in the west of Arda. Furthermore, Utumno was described as “a vast fortress, deep under Earth, beneath dark mountains where the beams of Illuin were cold and dim.”74 Illuin being one of the two Lamps of the Valar that brought light to Arda, we find again this image of opposition between Darkness and Light. Utumno was said to be delved “exceeding deep, and its pits were filled with fires.”75 This image of a land plunged into darkness made of pits of fire is another correlation between the land of Morgoth and the land of Darkness in the Manichean view. In addition, the smoke and haze and the devastating air of the land of Darkness in the Manichean view can also be found in the land of Morgoth such as in Angband, his other stronghold in the north where he established his main place after the destruction of Utumno. Let it be with the rising of Thangorodrim76: “and a great reek of dark smoke was ever wreathed about them”77, the hiding of the holy light of sun and moon: “sending forth great reek and dark cloud to hide his land from the light”78 or the poisoning of the air on the field of battle: “the Mountains of Iron belched forth fires of many poisonous hues, and the fume of them stank upon the air, and was deadly.”79, the images of smoke and haze and devastating air seem to be deeply inscribed in the work of Morgoth as it is in the work of Satan in the Manichean view.
The second time, median, is the set up of the blending of Light and Darkness. Fernand Comte explains that in the Manichean philosophy the mixing happens when Darkness tries to invade the realm of Light because the first one envied and coveted the splendour of the second one80. Thus a part of the substance of Light was blended and enslaved by the substance of Darkness, the matter81. The reason of the blending of the two substances can be found in the reason Melkor had to rise against Ilúvatar during the Ainulindalë. In his pride and envy Melkor tries to take the Imperishable Flame for himself and to wear the same titles as his Creator. Also, this enslaving of the Light can be seen in the enslaving and torturing of the Elves by Morgoth transforming them into the evil race of the Orcs. The Elves being the Children of Ilúvatar given the gifts of the mansions of Light, we can see the opposition of Light and Darkness as the Orcs are the reflection of the land of Darkness. Further, the Balrogs, holy powers corrupted by Melkor in his music can also be presented as such.
Following the invasion of Light by Darkness, only many onslaughts will be needful to free the substance of God82. This is around these fights and wars of Light against Darkness which happen in the primordial time that the mythology of the Manichean philosophy is constructed83. From these events the human soul will be born because some Light was imprisoned in the matter of Darkness giving birth to Adam and Eve84. This explains the divine origin of the soul of Man and the origin of his body inscribed in the matter85. The War of the Powers, the Wars of Beleriand or the War of Wrath and all the fights and battles between the forces of Morgoth and the Children of Ilúvatar that occurred during the Elder Days, during the primordial time of Tolkien’s work, are all inscribed in the fights of good against evil and they form the mythology of The Silmarillion in the Manichean approach. The marring of Arda and the evil deeds of Morgoth also explain the status of the Children of Ilúvatar for their body is inscribed in the earth and linked to the fate of the fight against Morgoth while their soul is forever linked to the Creator.
The end of the fight occurs when all the particles of Light imprisoned in the matter of Darkness will be freed and will go back to the realm of Light that is to say all the particles imprisoned in the world and the bodies of its inhabitants.86 This end occurs in The Silmarillion when Morgoth is overthrown and his realm and devilries are unmade. Thus the world knew peace and the Light was unmatched and freed from his tyranny. But reducing The Silmarillion to this Manichean vision would be demeaning the work of Tolkien as an unsophisticated story about good against evil. While in truth, it is rather more complex.


Critic of this Manichean Approach

The Manichean philosophy is a rather simplistic approach of good and evil. It gives us an explanation of how the World was made and is but it does not answer the question of the reasons of evil. Why is there so much evil in the World? Mani’s theory is that evil was just there, from the beginning and has always opposed itself to good. But of course this idea does not, at large, study the origin of evil. Of course, evil in the work of Tolkien is much more complex than a simple opposition of two sides. In order to explain this, we will see now different theories about the origin of evil that can be applied in The Silmarillion and notably the ideas of Saint Augustine of Hippo and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.

Saint Augustine of Hippo and the First Fault

Saint Augustine of Hippo was a philosopher of the fourth century. His major work, Confessions, is an account of his life and a philosophical study on the questioning of the existence of the Christian God. In his reflections Saint Augustine argued on the issues of God and his Creation and notably on the issues of the Manichean philosophy. Thus, it led him to argue on the origin of evil according to the Manichean myth of which he made a critic. In Confessions, Saint Augustine deconstructed the Manichean approach of evil according to his beliefs on Christianity.
According to the philosopher, the World is not divided between good and evil, between the spirit and the matter as the Manichean view exposes. Using the Genesis of The Bible as the basis of his argument Saint Augustine explains that if God made everything from Heaven to Earth by his own will and power and that he, being all good, saw that what he did was all good, he could not have made evil because evil would have been good also87. Plus, if God made everything, he also made both body and soul of Men in opposition to the Manichean myth where he only had part in the soul while the body was the heritage of evil. Thus, being all good in himself, he could not make something evil and so the body of Men is not evil. It is not part of some kind of evil matter which exists alone because everything was made by God from nothing and all that he did is good. So Adam and Eve were made all good, they were perfect in the moment of their creation88.

Table of contents :

I.Religious Approach of evil
1.Christian Influences of Morgoth
1.Their Past Glory
2.Their Rebellion
3.Their Fall
2.Manichean Approach of Good against evil
1.Good against Evil in The Silmarillion
2.Morgoth in the Manichean approach
3.Critic of this Manichean Approach
1.Saint Augustine of Hippo and the First Fault
2.Leibniz and the Greater Good
II.Structural Literary Approach of the Character of Morgoth
1.Morgoth in the Fantasy Genre
1.The Character of Morgoth
2.The Creations of Morgoth
3.The Actions of Morgoth
2.Formalist Approach: the Character of Morgoth in the Folktale
1.Functionality of Morgoth in the Folktale
2.The Character of Morgoth in the Folktale
3.Analysis of sequences involving Morgoth
3.Semiotic Analysis of the Character of Morgoth
1.Linguistic Views of the Signs of Evil
2.Signs of Evil in The Silmarillion and their significance
III.Discourse Analysis of Morgoth
1.Speech Acts
1.Austin’s theory: Locutionary, Illocutionary and Perlocutionary Acts
2.Searle’s classification
2.Face Threatening and politeness
1.Face and Politeness
2.Face Threatening Acts
3.Advice-Giving as a face threatening acts


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