Once the Valar discovered Melkor had returned from beyond and started causing havoc in Middle-earth, destroying the Two Lamps and capturing, torturing, and mutilating Elves into what would later be known as Orcs, the Valar waged war on Melkor, destroyed his fortress Utumno, and dragged him all the way to Valinor to be sentenced and then imprisoned in the Halls of Mandos for three ages.

After the Elves had come to Valinor and lived blissfully and undisturbed for many years, the Valar decided to bring Melkor before them for sentencing, and he played the innocent card in convincing most of the Valar (save Tulkas, Ulmo, Orome, and Mandos) that he had changed his ways, when in reality he had only grown more malicious and vile, spending three ages imprisoned.

Why didn't they sense his treachery and deception upon hearing his plea and use their common sense to deduce the possible outcome of releasing him among the Elves?

The end result was:

  1. Corrupting the Noldor against the Valar

  2. Turning Feänor to threaten Fingolfin and become banished from Tirion

  3. The Destruction of the Two Trees

  4. The Slaying of Finwë

  5. The Kinslaying at Alqualonde

  6. The Doom of Mandos against the Noldor

  7. The Valar shutting Valinor off to the Noldor forever (until the end of the First Age)

  • 3
    Mandatory maximums?
    – Valorum
    Jun 12, 2018 at 23:02
  • Didn't Nienna plead for Melkor's release? Somewhat ironic... Jun 13, 2018 at 3:46
  • 3
    @MishaR I suggest you (re)read the letters. Tolkien discarded the idea of elves being mutilated Elves because Elves were the only immortal species and Melkor did not have the power to “grant” Elves the gift of death when mutilating them, that was reserved for Eru. Orcs were NOT mutilated Elves, and Melkor could NOT make immortal beings mortal. You may ask what Orcs were, this is unclear, but mutilated men is commonly accepted, one must just accept that the timelines are slightly off (it is for this reason that CT chose to mutilate Elves in the Silmarillion)... [1/2]
    – Edlothiad
    Jun 17, 2018 at 17:06
  • 2
    [cont] ... this is however a mistake and one acknowledged by CT (mistake/simplification same thing). But, and I will swear my life on it, Orcs should not be thought of as immortal, and they are not mutilated Elves.
    – Edlothiad
    Jun 17, 2018 at 17:07
  • 1
    @Pryftan Edlothiad is in any case correct here like it or not - well, can't argue with that reasoning.
    – Misha R
    Jul 28, 2018 at 22:36

3 Answers 3


It was Manwë's decision via the will of Eru*

Manwë foresaw that out of this evil "new good should come."

It is rather clear from the published Silmarillion that Manwë was the deciding vote when it came to Melkor's re-trial. However, Manwë had more knowledge then we can perceive, and although his decision may look wrong, it was the right decision to allow for the growth of good in the world, it was also in line with the Will of Eru Ilúvatar, the Maker


When Melkor was chained. He was sentenced to "three ages" (Silmarillion, III) of imprisonment in the Halls of Mandos before he would be allowed a re-trial. The Valar being pure beings were forced to keep their word, and therefore after the time was deemed elapsed, Melkor was once again brought before Manwë,

For it came to pass that Melkor, as the Valar had decreed, completed the term of his bondage, dwelling for three ages in the duress of Mandos, alone. At length, as Manwë had promised, he was brought again before the thrones of the Valar.

Then Manwë granted him pardon; but the Valar would not yet suffer him to depart beyond their sight and vigilance, and he was constrained to dwell within the gates of Valmar.

... therefore in a while he was given leave to go freely about the land, and it seemed to Manwë that the evil of Melkor was cured. For Manwë was free from evil and could not comprehend it, and he knew that in the beginning ... Melkor had been even as he...

The Silmarillion - Chapter VI, "Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor"

From the published Silmarillion, we get the idea that Manwë had been deceived once again by the trickery of Melkor and that he had, through deceit, found his freedom and could once again carry out his machinations.

* However, in "Myths Transformed, Text VII" (HoME X, "Morgoth's Ring") in an essay titled Notes on motives in The Silmarillion, specifically in part (iii), Tolkien gives us insight into the motives of the Valar during the Unchaining of Melkor. In "Myths Transformed", the Professor notes that one should be wary when finding faults in Manwë's judgement.

But, if we dare to attempt to enter the mind of the Elder King, assigning motives and finding faults, there are things to remember before we deliver a judgement. Manwe was the spirit of greatest wisdom and prudence in Arda. He is represented as having had the greatest knowledge of the Music, as a whole, possessed by any one finite mind; and he alone of all persons or minds in that time is represented as having the power of direct recourse to and communication with Eru. He must have grasped with great clarity what even we may perceive dimly: that it was the essential mode of the process of 'history' in Arda that evil should constantly arise, and that out of it new good should constantly come. One especial aspect of this is the strange way in which the evils of the Marrer, or his inheritors, are turned into weapons against evil.

As Tolkien states in the essay, Manwë had more knowledge than us as a reader and was aware, either through his wisdom or communication with Eru, that the release of Melkor was a necessary part of the "process of 'history' in Arda". This idea is similarly repeated in the Ósanwe-kenta (left at the bottom because it is incredibly long). In the Ósawne-kenta, Tolkien discussed the viewer's perception of the folly of Manwë in his decisions and the ease with which Melkor deceived others. However the professor again suggest that Manwë could not have forced Melkor to speak the truth, nor could the other Valar (through telepathy) as this would be using evil to deceive evil, which the Valar could not do. Manwë was open to the thoughts of Eru and carried out his will, this is perceived to be greater than wisdom. Manwë's actions ensured Eru's plan would unfold. In a similar vein, it was only by word of Eru that Manwë finally beheaded Melkor and sent his spirit to wander the void.

If we speak last of the "folly" of Manwë and the weakness and unwariness of the Valar, let us beware how we judge. In the histories, indeed we may be amazed and grieved to read how (seemingly) Melkor deceived and cozened others, and how even Manwë appears at times almost a simpleton compared with him: as if a kind but unwise father were treating a wayward child who would assuredly in time perceive the error of his ways. Whereas we, looking on and knowing the outcome, see now that Melkor knew well the error of his ways, but was fixed in them by hate and pride beyond return. He could read the mind of Manwë, for the door was open; but his own mind was false and even if the door seemed open, there were doors of iron within closed for ever.

How otherwise would you have it? Should Manwë and the Valar meet secrecy with subterfuge, treachery with falsehood, lies with more lies? If Melkor would usurp their rights, should they deny his? Can hate overcome hate? Nay, Manwë was wiser; or being ever open to Eru he did His will, which is more than wisdom. He was ever open because he had nothing to conceal, no thought that it was harmful for any to know, if they could comprehend it. Indeed Melkor knew his will without questioning it; and he knew that Manwë was bound by the commands and injunctions of Eru, and would do this or abstain from that in accordance with them, always, even knowing that Melkor would break them as it suited his purpose. Thus the merciless will ever count on mercy, and the liars make use of truth; for if mercy and truth are withheld from the cruel and the lying, they have ceased to be honoured.

Manwë could not by duress attempt to compel Melkor to reveal his thought and purposes, or (if he used words) to speak the truth. If he spoke and said: this is true, he must be believed until proved false; if he said: this I will do, as you bid, he must be allowed the opportunity to fulfill his promise.

The force and restraint that were used upon Melkor by the united power of all the Valar, were not used to extort confession (which was needless); nor to compel him to reveal his thought (which was unlawful, even if not vain). He was made captive as a punishment for his evil deeds, under the authority of the King. So we may say; but it were better said that he was deprived for a term, fixed by promise, of his power to act, so that he might halt and consider himself, and have thus the only chance that mercy could contrive of repentance and amendment. For the healing of Arda indeed, but for his own healing also. Melkor had the right to exist, and the right to act and use his powers. Manwë had the authority to rule and to order the world, so far as he could, for the well-being of the Eruhíni; but if Melkor would repent and return to the allegiance of Eru, he must be given his freedom again. He could not be enslaved, or denied his part. The office of the Elder King was to retain all his subjects in the allegiance of Eru, or to bring them back to it, and in that allegiance to leave them free.

Therefore not until the last, and not then except by the express command of Eru and by His power, was Melkor thrown utterly down and deprived for ever of all power to do or to undo.


It wasn't up to "The Valar", it was solely Manwë's decision.

Before the gates of Valmar Melkor abased himself at the feet of Manwë and sued for pardon, vowing that if he might be made only the least of the free people of Valinor he would aid the Valar in all their works, and most of all in the healing of the many hurts that he had done to the world. And Nienna aided his prayer; but Mandos was silent.

Then Manwë granted him pardon; but the Valar would not yet suffer him to depart beyond their sight and vigilance, and he was constrained to dwell within the gates of Valmar.

But Ulmo was not deceived, and Tulkas clenched his hands whenever he saw Melkor his foe go by; for if Tulkas is slow to wrath he is also slow to forget. But they obeyed the judgement of Manwë; for those who will defend authority against rebellion must not themselves rebel.

The Silmarillion, "Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor"

As for Manwë, that goes back to your previous question of why he did not understand evil:

Why did Manwe not understand the concept of Evil?


This is an interesting question, and while I can handwave multiple theories — I did just that while trying to frame an answer to this question — in the end none of them were at all convincing. I'm forced to conclude that the Valar seem to have screwed up. They made a (very big) mistake.

I don't see how it can be that Manwë, et al, were hoodwinked because they were good and hence naïve. Letting Morgoth go was so obviously a mistake that I suspect most people, when they came to that point in the book, were thinking to themselves No, no! Are you out of your minds!? Anyway, I do not believe that good => naïve, and Tolkien didn't either. (I believe that there's a question where this is discussed, but I'm having trouble finding it. Update: I thank @suchiuomizu in his answer for finding it: Why did Manwe not understand the concept of Evil?)

Did Ilúvatar tell Manwë to do let him go as part of an ineffable plan? Perhaps, but Tolkien doesn't say so anywhere or even hint at it, so I don't think that's a workable answer.

Was it fated by the Music? Perhaps. The Silmarillion says:

Therefore he willed that the hearts of Men should seek beyond the world and should find no rest therein; but they should have a virtue to shape their life, amid the powers and chances of the world, beyond the Music of the Ainur, which is as fate to all things else...

This would imply that the Valar (and Maiar and Elves) were ruled by Fate, while Men were not. But whatever that passage means, everywhere else in the book Valar and Elves and Men all act pretty much the same as self-willed creatures. So I don't buy that, either.

Morgoth used his Jedi Mind Trick on Manwë et al? This, actually, is the only explanation that I can sort of accept. Morgoth was the most powerful of the Ainur — more powerful than Manwë or any of the others — and I can sort-of-possibly-maybe accept that he said, "I'm not the Dark Lord you're looking for," wiggled his fingers, and was released. But I don't really like that explanation, either.

I'm forced to conclude that the (in-universe) answer is that the Valar made a mistake: They're only human...

  • 1
    You're forgetting something. Something that overrides your statements: Tolkien was a very strong believer in Pity. Not only is it in The Hobbit but also The Lord of the Rings too and he wrote about it in letters also. Think of Gollum! And see how if it wasn't for Gollum the quest would have failed numerous times over. And you know one Silmaril was recovered...
    – Pryftan
    Jul 28, 2018 at 23:03
  • 2
    Oh and they're absolutely not human.
    – Pryftan
    Jul 28, 2018 at 23:05

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