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It is thought that she may have been one of the Maiar whom Melkor corrupted long ago, but she is not listed among the Ainur. It is also said, arguably separately, that she came from the darkness above the skies of Arda, and this reference has led some to believe she may be an incarnation of darkness or emptiness itself, as this seems very consistent with the rest of her character.
Ungoliant aided Melkor in his attack on the Two Trees of Valinor; she drained the Trees of their sap and poisoned them after Melkor wounded them, and she drained dry the Wells of Varda, so that nothing remained of the Light that was before Sun or Moon, except in the Silmarils of Fëanor. She and Melkor fled to Middle-earth to escape justice at the hands of the Valar.
Melkor had promised to reward her, "Yea, with both hands", and after their flight from Valinor, the Dark Lord indeed gave her many gems of the Ñoldor, but withheld the Silmarils in his right hand. He refused to give them to the Great Spider to be devoured, for he desired them greatly, and Ungoliant would have slain Melkor in the ensuing battle had not the Balrogs come and saved their master, causing Ungoliant to flee to the Ered Gorgoroth in Beleriand.
While there, she had many offspring, as well as various creatures infesting the Ered Gorgoroth, which came to be a place of horror. The dates of her existence are not precisely known; in The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Chapter 9, Of the Flight of the Noldor, we are told that she "went whither she would into the forgotten south of the world" shortly before the First Age, and that "some have said that she ended long ago, when in her uttermost famine she devoured herself at last." In contrast, a rough sketch of Eärendil's voyages by Tolkien suggests that he slew Ungoliant in the south.
Ungoliant's origin and nature is not exactly clear. Within the Silmarillion, it is said she was an evil being from "Before the World" that took on the form of a spider. This quotation has led to much speculation, somewhat similar to the Tom Bombadil debate:
- Ainu: A common thought is that she might have been one of the lesser Ainur whom Melkor corrupted long ago, and entered Eä with the Dark Lord, only to grow independent later.
- Incarnation of darkness: In early writings, Ungoliant's name was Múru, a Quenya word for the Primeval Night. Combined with the above quote, this has led to speculation that Ungoliant is Night itself. This has also led to speculation that Ungoliant is actually the opposite of Eru Ilúvatar (though whether or not Tolkien would have even allowed this theory on theological grounds is unknown).
- Discord in the Music of the Ainur: similar to the previous theory.
- A nature spirit (similar if not identical to the incarnation of darkness theory)
In the book Morgoth's Ring, which is somewhat later in date than The Silmarillion, and which it expands upon somewhat, Morgoth explicitly refers to Ungoliant as having abandoned him. Also she is clearly shown as being weak and desperate before Morgoth, until she devours the light of the two trees and grows greater, so she can not be some opposite of Ilúvatar, which would far outstrip Morgoth. Morgoth's Ring explicitly refers to her as a servant of Melkor who had abandoned him. Whether this means she was an Ainu or some creation of his work is not clear, but given her power she was probably a Maia[source?], perhaps a Maia of Melkor's own native people given her lust for destruction, just as Sauron was of the Maiar of Aulë. Vairë the Weaver, wife of Mandos, is another possibility. Taking the form of a great, dark spider would be logical for a corrupted Maia that once served The Weaver.
The great spiders of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (including the spiders encountered by Bilbo Baggins in Mirkwood and Shelob ) were descendants of Ungoliant. Assuming she is some form of Ainu, this makes her a rarity, as the only one known to have definitively had a child was Melian.
The name is pronounced [uŋˈgɔ.li.ant]. In the form Ungoliant the name is technically Sindarin, but is a direct loan from Quenya ungwë + liantë: "dark spider"; the strictly Sindarin form being Delduthling "dark terror spider." She is also called "gloomweaver," Wirilomë in Quenya, Gwerlum in Sindarin.
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