Tolkien Encyclopedia > Powers > Maiar > Non-humanoid Intelligences > Spiders > Ungoliant > Ungoliant's Origin

Ungoliant's Origin

July 25, 2004, updated Aug. 9, 2015

  JRRT in early writings made various concepts or things that could became personified, including Ungoliant, Bombadil, and Goldberry. These later had to be adapted, Ungoliant being the most obvious, to fit into the final written scheme of Eru's creation.  He made three groups of "children": Ainur, First-born, and Second-born, with the addition of the adopted robots of Aulë that Eru breathed life into because he accepted Aule's intent. Life came from the Secret Fire within Eru.  He created beings that could have fleshly garments, and he created a vision by song for creation of the material world with the additions from his original children. Of these Ainur, the the Valar went into the vision to make it manifest materially, with aid in their various parts by the Ainur called Maiar, some of whom had nearly the power of the Valar. The personifications of concepts or things changed mainly to Ainur, as the type of being that could think of a material form fitting their thought and clothe themselves with it, and exist before the world, Arda, had been built. But what did Ungoliant finally become?

  JRRT gave Ungoliant a special aura of mystery, but did not leave his readers without clues.  JRRT is fond of leaving clues about for his readers to locate and tells of this in his Letters; this is part of the attraction of his books. Extra confusion is brought in by the various versions of the stories. His son, Christopher Tolkien, tells of tracking down Ungoliant's story in his notes near the end of  The Book of Lost Tales 1, "The Theft of Melko and the Darkening of Valinor". This early Tale was written rapidly in pencil from start to finish, with some later emendations. The indented references inside quotes below are Christopher's words.

  "In the story of Melko and Ungoliant it is seen that essential elements were present ab initio: the doubt as to her origin, ..."

  (Ab initio is Latin for "from the beginning". Melko is an early version of Melkor's name.)

   "Within this structure there are as almost always a great many points of difference between the first story and the later versions."

  "In the tale her origin is unknown, and though this element may be said to remain in The Silmarillion ('The Eldar knew not whence she came', ibid.), by the device of 'Some have said....' a clear explanation is in fact given: she was a being from 'before the world', perverted by Melkor, who had been her lord, though she denied him. "

  A spirit from before the world who called a Vala "lord", is a definition of a Maia.

  In the Tale is the root of the purposeful mystery JRRT placed on Ungoliant. In "The Theft of Melko", the narrator, Lindo, says (italics mine):

  "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; ...."

  The words in italics are an archaic way of speaking. "Mayhap" for "perhaps", sheds doubt on the story version. The phrase "but more like" means "more likely", suggesting that elves put more credence in this version.  If she "has always been", then she would be an Ainu. Only Eru "has always been", so this has to be a poetic way of speaking and one must remember that the Elf, Lindo, is telling the tale, who himself came into existence well after the buidling of Arda, the Earth. He claims the Valar do not know her origin, but how would he know if they knew, so this may be hyperbole.

  Lindo tells that she sits in a cavern in the hills, taking the form of an unlovely spider. In the Tale, the cave is south of the plains of Eruman in the hills. (Lindo claims that Melkor goes there farther south than anyone has yet penetrated, proving that  he is not including Valar in "anyone", as they made the entire physical area). There she spins out a sticky web catching all bright things that fill the airs, including the sun and moon.  Because of her, the light of the Two Trees did not flow as it should into the rest of Arda as much was caught by her. She fed on the light, giving off a darkness that is a denial of light.

  This Tale says that when Ungoliont found Melkor in her caverns, they had friendship from the first. He used her hunger for the jewels he had stolen to gain her aid in attacking the Two Trees, except for the Silmarils. She took the gems, wound them about with webs of darkness, and hid them deep in her caverns. After their deed is done, Melkor flees north and while the Valar chase him, she flees south back home.  Over time, this story is much changed from the penciled original.

  In this Tale, where the name was originally written as Gungliont, it was emended to Ungoliont. (Changes made to names; footnote in the Commentary in BoLT 1 "Theft")

  The Gnomish (later called Noldor) word-list gives the original description of Ungoliant, where Muru is "a name of the Primeval Night personified as Gwerlum or Gungliont."  Then in the Tale of "The Theft of Melko", she is referred to as the Primeval Spirit Móru. Here, Lindo, tells that the people of Arda gave her many names. The Eldar call her Ungwë Lianti, meaning the great spider that enmeshes. They also call her Wirilómë or Gloomweaver. From that name, the Noldor call her Ungoliont the spider or Gwerlum the Black. Although these names are sometimes mixed into the same paragraph during the Tale, they refer to the same being.

The Book of Lost Tales 1
: Chapter VI "The Theft of Melko and the Darkening of Valinor".

The Silmarillion