U is for . . . Ungoliant

Ungolilant, a monstrous spider with the ability to consume light, is one of the most powerful character’s in Tolkien’s Silmarillion. If you don’t know the Silmarillion, here’s a handy three-minute version.

Fortunately, I don’t have to write a character summary for Ungoliant today, because the always-fabulous A Tolkienist’s Perspective already has one – and check out the post for an awesome discussion just who Ungoliant is and where she came from.

That leaves us with the same question I asked of Lilith: Just what sort of warning is Ungoliant? In the story, the Melkor entices Ungoliant to poison the two light-producing trees with the promise of elf-gems (which also contain light) to feed her insatiable hunger. Eventually she demands all the gems – including the Silmarils, which contain the last light of the two trees.

She almost gets the better of him in the fight, and he only fends her off by summoning his Balrogs (fire-spirits he has corrupted and transformed into demons). I don’t think Tolkien is trying to teach us a lesson the way the ancient myths use Lillilth to teach a lesson. In fact, he was famous for insisting that he’s only telling stories, and for resisting didactic interpretations of his work. That said, there’s an entire constructed theology that defines good and evil in Middle Earth. Ungoliant must mean something.U

Because Ungoliant consumes light, and because she is described, not as black, but as void, I think she represents pure chaos. Melkor is originally corrupted because he wanders the Outer Void in search of the fire of creation. Ungoliant is the void itself represented as a monstrous spider, and I find it interesting that she is represented as female.

So, even though I’ll not attempt to read a moral into one of Tolkien’s stories, this is what I take away from the alliance between Melkor and Ungoliant. Chaos is insatiable. Be careful about feeding it, because no matter what you get out of it in the short term, eventually, it will try and eat YOU.

What do you think about all this?

You can find many more Tolkien-related posts from me here. If you’re looking for even more, you might want to give Sweating to Mordor, A Tolkienist’s Perspective, The Leather Library, and Middle Earth News a look.

A to Z image by Jeremy of Hollywood Nuts

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22 Comments

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    1. It’s worth a retry. You have to just push through the creation story. It’s important and sets everything else up, but it’s a bit like reading Genesis or Gilgamesh. Fortunately, it isn’t very long. The rest is the best collection of fantasy tales I have ever read.

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    1. LOL, I had to come back to the actual thread to see what I missed. It got some comments. I agree, she is a chaos monster, but only because of the context/subtext of the larger work. See Alex’s comment below for an Eastern Philosophy perspective. Ungoliant works as a personification of chaos here only because order and creation are so entertwined that it makes sense to conflate “void” with “chaos.” That is a very Western thing to do, and the Silmarillion is a very Western work of art. Void and chaos are not actually the same concepts, unless we make them so.

      #AmPondering.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I agree, her ability to consume light makes her especially terrifying to me. And the void is even worse–not blackness, because at least blackness is something. It reminds me of the first time I learned about antimatter and my inability to find reason in the concept. Definitely chaos.

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    1. Thanks! She’s one of the more interesting characters. I can only think of one more female monster in the Silmarillion — Thuringwethil (sp?) — a flying female vampire in the story of Beren and Luthien.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Perfect place for it! My son has started asking about the Silmarillion, so I think I will show him that. 🙂

        Like

  2. That interpretation makes a lot of sense. Her ability to consume light makes her extremely scary – it’s like sucking the life out of everything until all you’re left with is nothing. She would consume even hope, so you would embrace the void and even welcome the chaos!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, something like that. There’s passages where she is described, basically, as a spider-shaped absence. She’s like a black hole, incarnated as a monstrous arachnid.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It could be because I was raised in an Eastern philosophy household, but I found thinking of her as a Void, capital V was more satisfying than thinking of her as Chaos. I think your reading is valid, of course, but I have to wonder (personally) if having an absence of something makes the void chaos. It’s a complicated thought to unpackage in a comment, but you’ve definitely gotten me thinking!

        Liked by 1 person

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