As I said in another recent post, I’ve been a fantasy reader ever since I was a kid. Tolkien got me started down that path, and I have a particular affection for his work to this day.
Now, as I mentioned in that same post, I’ve always had a fondness for scary monsters, so of course my deepest fascination was with the Dark Lords.
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of art depicting Tolkien’s Dark Lords, and most of them have depicted huge, dark figures in black armor with crownlike helms that would be worse than useless to anyone who actually had to worry about things like an enemy grabbing a horn and breaking their neck. For example, here’s one you might be familiar with:
But not long, ago, I don’t even remember why, I was searching Deviantart for pictures of Morgoth (Sauron’s former master, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the Tolkien canon), when I found this:
Morgoth is still a huge, dark figure, but…he’s beautiful. And he would be, wouldn’t he? It makes perfect sense. After all, he never had his body destroyed like Sauron. He was never –
Wait. I get ahead of myself. Again, for those not in the know, allow me to explain.
While most fantasy authors since Tolkien have been content to create artificial pantheons for their artificial worlds, Tolkien had two factors that prevented him from doing this:
1) Tolkien’s novels were written with the conceit that “Middle Earth” was just our own world, in a magical era before history as we know it began.
2) Tolkien himself was very, very Christian. Roman Catholic, to be specific.
So what Tolkien did was create a pantheon with an omnipotent creator-god named Eru Iluvatar (who is absolutely the Christian God) and ranks of lesser god-like spirits: the Valar and the Maiar.
Now, there was one among the Valar named Melkor who desired to create and rule a world of his own, rather than be subservient to Eru Iluvatar, but he was doomed to failure, since it’s impossible to create if you’ve separated yourself from Eru Iluvatar.
Yes, he was totally Lucifer with the serial numbers filed off.
The Valar and Maiar descended into Middle Earth, where they shaped the world according to Eru’s plan. They taught and guided the mortal races, but were careful not to accept worship (…as such. It’s easier if you understand the Catholic Cult of Saints).
Except for Melkor. He immediately started tearing shit up, earning himself the name Morgoth, which means “Black Foe of the World” (elvish is a very concise language, apparently). But he was still an archangel (because who are we kidding), and as dark and terrifying as he was, there was no reason to assume he wasn’t still beautiful.
The same applies to the
angels maiar that chose to join him. Sure, some took on ugly forms:
…but not Sauron. He wasn’t even called Sauron – which means something like “The Abhorred” or “The Abomination” – back then. In fact, not only was he still beautiful, but he had a particular talent for shapeshifting.
In time, Morgoth was overthrown and Sauron became the new Dark Lord. But he was still beautiful, if darkly so, because he was an angel.
If you look at the lower right corner of that last picture, you’ll see Sauron looking up at something coming at him. Suffice it to say that one of his schemes backfired on him in a big way, and that this is where he lost his ability to take on pleasing shape, and became the black-armored giant we all know and fear.
I honestly don’t know why this feels like such a revelation to me. I mean, even the movie showed us Sauron’s original angelic form, albeit in a deleted scene:
I honestly don’t know why it feels like such a revelation to me. Tolkien made a point, over and over again, that nothing was evil in its beginning (but how does that explain Ungoliant? No, wait, save that for later.) But just to be reminded…these were angels. Morgoth was an angel. And Sauron, the giant, black-armored terror of the Peter Jackson movies, might well have started out…like this:
You’ll notice that most of my links are to one artist, an individual called Gerwell. This is because I think that he’s captured the dark, majestic beauty of a fallen – but not yet ruined – angel particularly well. Others who I will not link to have chosen a more bishonen version that I don’t think quite does the Dark Lords justice.