Nothing is Evil in the Beginning? But What About…?

At the Council of Elrond, when they were trying to figure out what to do with the Ring, Elrond made a fairly long speech which contained this little gem:

“For nothing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so.”

He was using this explain why he wouldn’t wield the Ring to fight Sauron, as Boromir suggested.

This one line says so much and has been used since its publication to explain how evil works in Tolkien’s legendarium. And in a couple of letters written around the time of its publication, Tolkien explains further.

“Sauron was of course not ‘evil’ in origin. He was a ‘spirit’ corrupted by the Prime Dark Lord (the Prime sub-creative Rebel) Morgoth. He was given an opportunity of repentance, when Morgoth was overcome, but could not face the humiliation of recantation, and suing for pardon; and so his temporary turn to good and ‘benevolence’ ended in greater relapse, until he became the main representative of Evil of later ages.”

But then take a look at this passage from ‘Of the Darkening of Valinor’ in The Silmarillion about Ungoliante (Shelob’s mother/kin):

The Eldar knew not whence she came; but some have said that in ages long before she descended from the darkness that lies about Arda, when Melkor first looked down in envy upon the Kingdom of Manwë, and that in the beginning she was one of those that he corrupted to his service. But she had disowned her Master, desiring to be mistress of her own lust, taking all things to herself to feed her emptiness; and she fled to the south, escaping the assaults of the Valar and the hunters of Oromë, for their vigilance had ever been to the north, and the south was long unheeded. Thence she had crept towards the light of the Blessed Realm; for she hungered for light and hated it.

Of course, this is from an Elvish point of view and just because some of them said that she actually came from the darkness doesn’t mean that it’s true, but no other explanation was given.

This brings us to a bit of a gray area. It’s simply not explained thoroughly in either text and taken together, both texts seem to possible contradict each other.

‘Of the Darkening of Valinor’ is an incredibly old text. Tolkien first wrote it in 1919 and worked on it until the end of the 1950s. The version that appears in the Silmarillion is actually taken from two different manuscripts, both dating from the late 50s.

The concept that Ungoliante came from the darkness appeared in the very first draft (1919 – Book of Lost Tales). But in this version “even the Valar know not whence or when she came.” It continues: “Mayhap she was bred of mists and darkness on the confines of the Shadowy Seas, in that utter dark that came between the overthrow of the Lamps and the kindling of the Trees, but more like she has always been….”

To be honest, I was hoping that Tolkien would have given a final verdict on this one, but it doesn’t seem like he did.

The concept of things being, at first, good was important to him. This should trump pretty much everything. Add to it the fact that those who did not know Ungoliante’s origin changed from the Valar in the early versions to just the Eldar in the later gives us a big clue.

If the Valar didn’t know of her then I’d say it was incredibly possible that she was just some freaky evil Bombadil or something. If Ungoliante was there from the beginning, certainly the Valar would have at least heard of her (since she’d be one of the Maiar). In the “final” versions, it seems, it’s just the Elves who don’t know her origin. And though the Elves are wise, they’re not Valar, so if she originally came from Valinor, there’s a good chance they just wouldn’t know it.

Camera: Kodak Brownie No. 2 Model D Film: Fomapan 400

Camera: Kodak Brownie No. 2 Model D
Film: Fomapan 400

A Few Notes

  • It’s crazy how much more to the story there is in both the Book of Lost Tales and the later drafts that became the published Silmarillion. The book containing the Annals of Aman is Morgoth’s Ring. I’ve mentioned before how ridiculously essential this is. Get it and read it, please.
  • I didn’t really want to get into Ungoliante, but Elrond left me no choice. Stupid, chatty elf.

About the Photo
“In a ravine she lived, and spun her webs in a cleft of the mountains; for she sucked up light and shining things to spin then forth again in black nets of chocking gloom and clinging fog. She hungered ever for more food.”

Also, I can’t look at pictures of spiders.


  • Day 156
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 771 (317 from Rivendell)
  • 23 miles to the Doors of Moria
  • 120 miles to Lothlórien
  • 1,008 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place in the narrative: Book II, Chapter 3. Moving south along the foothills of Caradhras. 20th day out of Rivendell. January 12, 3019 TA. (map)

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17 thoughts on “Nothing is Evil in the Beginning? But What About…?

    • Weirdly, I’m okay with big fake spiders. But anything else, I’m a total freak. If a spider gets into the house, I have to have Sarah capture it and escort it from the premises.

      • Hahaha! I have to have Eric (not you, my husband) take care of them, too! And if I’m here by myself…it is a trial. Ugh. I get all shaky and gaggy.

        • If I’m alone, it’s no trial at all. They get the room. One time, I was able to put a cup over one. I was pretty proud. But still, Sarah had to do the rest. We had really huge spiders in the last place we lived. Like golf ball to baseball size (in diameter). At the new place, there’s a dust spider or two, but that’s it. *whew*

          • We get large spiders here, too. There was a GIGANTIC wolf spider in our house once when I was here by myself and I didn’t know how to get it. I was gagging, in tears, and about to fall down in a faint. So I did what all sane people do–I took to Twitter for advice. Haha! I ended up sucking it up in the vacuum (we have a canister vac with a LONG extension). It was so big that it sounded like I sucked up a handful of loose change. [GAG]

  1. I love the spiders. 🙂 Your discussion of Ungoliante made the Jewish myth of Lilith leap to mind, for some reason. I guess because she’s another mysterious female demon of sorts. But there’s no allegory here, of course. None.

  2. Yes, I completely agree! Silmarillion is quite literally a gem. I loved it! 🙂
    Though I liked Beren and Luthien’s romance more than Arwen and Aragorn’s…
    And also, I could never really understand why death was such a big deal for the Elves…I mean Men lived pretty long too, and I would probably die of sheer boredom if I had to live longer…

    • Not only that, but once they died, they didn’t really die! They continued on and on. Hell, a couple of them even came back to Middle-earth!

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