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Melkor is many times driven back and trapped and whatnot after being defeated. At some point, the Valar/gods banish him to some kind of existence from which he cannot come back. Or can he? Why not? I don't understand why Sauron gets to continue the evil deeds as if he is Melkor. Wasn't he just some creature that Melkor created or a man who got corrupted and turned into a powerful but nevertheless servant to Melkor? After all, Sauron isn't himself the Lord of Darkness.

I almost expected Melkor to make a come-back in the end, but perhaps that is intended to happen in the age after the age where LotR happens? It's been a long time since I read the LotR and Bilbo books, but as far as I can remember, Melkor isn't referred to there (much?) – it's all about Sauron.

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    He can't return. That's the whole point. Are you looking to find out the Valar banishing procedure? – Misha R Apr 26 at 16:20
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    Could be worse. Could be “Copy of Melkor copy 2 final FINAL” – rickster Apr 27 at 2:53
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    Melchor Lite, Now with Rings! – NomadMaker Apr 27 at 7:02
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    This is offensive on many levels. – Annatar Apr 27 at 10:10
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    @NomadMaker : Ring: "Hi, I'm ring-y! It looks like you are trying to take over Arda. Would you like some help?" – Eric Towers Apr 27 at 22:38
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Melkor and Sauron are both Ainur, beings which existed before the creation of the universe and, indeed, assisted in it.

In brief, Iluvatar -- God with a capital G -- created the Ainur and asked them to sing before him. From their song, he created the universe. Melkor, the most powerful of the Ainur, rebelled against Iluvatar and tried to make his own song, and seduced others of the Ainur to sing to his tune. Sauron was one of them. After Iluvatar made the Song of the Ainur into a universe, many of them entered into it and became its guardians (the Valar and the lesser Maiar) -- small-g gods. Melkor also entered as did spirits he'd corrupted, and continually tried to disrupt and destroy.

Tolkien gives us some pretty clear answers in The Silmarillion. At the end of the War which ended the First Age,

the host of the Valar prevailed, and well-nigh all the dragons were destroyed; and all the pits of Morgoth [Melkor] were broken and unroofed, and the might of the Valar descended into the deeps of the earth. There Morgoth stood at last at bay, and yet unvaliant. He fled into the deepest of his mines, and sued for peace and pardon; but his feet were hewn from under him, and he was hurled upon his face. Then he was bound with the chain Angainor which he had worn aforetime, and his iron crown they beat into a collar for his neck, and his head was bowed upon his knees...

...But Morgoth himself the Valar thrust through the Door of Night beyond the Walls of the World, into the Timeless Void; and a guard is set for ever on those walls, and Eärendil keeps watch upon the ramparts of the sky. Yet the lies that Melkor, the mighty and accursed, Morgoth Bauglir, the Power of Terror and of Hate, sowed in the hearts of Elves and Men are a seed that does not die and cannot be destroyed; and ever and anon it sprouts anew, and will bear dark fruit even unto the latest days.

In another part of the book, Tolkien writes:

But Manwe put forth Morgoth and shut him beyond the World in the Void that is without; and he cannot himself return again into the World, present and visible, while the Lords of the West [the Valar] are still enthroned. Yet the seeds that he had planted still grew and sprouted, bearing evil fruit, if any would tend them. For his will remained and guided his servants, moving them ever to thwart the will of the Valar and to destroy those that obeyed them.

Melkor/Morgoth was thus thrust out of the universe and could never physically re-enter it. Yet

his will remained and guided his servants, moving them ever to thwart the will of the Valar and to destroy those that obeyed them

so Melkor still influences Middle-earth.

A far as Sauron, one of Maiar corrupted by Melkor, goes:

When Thangorodrim was broken and Morgoth overthrown, Sauron put on his fair hue again and did obeisance to Eönwe the herald of Manwe, and abjured all his evil deeds. And some hold that this was not at first falsely done, but that Sauron in truth repented, if only out of fear, being dismayed by the fall of Morgoth and the great wrath of the Lords of the West. But it was not within the power of Eönwe to pardon those of his own order, and he commanded Sauron to return to Aman and there receive the judgement of Manwe. Then Sauron was ashamed, and he was unwilling to return in humiliation and to receive from the Valar a sentence, it might be, of long servitude in proof of his good faith; for under Morgoth his power had been great. Therefore when Eönwe departed he hid himself in Middle-earth; and he fell back into evil, for the bonds that Morgoth had laid upon him were very strong.

So Sauron went on to trouble Middle-earth for another 6000 years, before he was effectively destroyed at the end of Lord of the Rings in which Gandalf says:

If it [the Ring] is destroyed, then he {Sauron] will fall; and his fall will be so low that none can foresee his arising ever again. For he will lose the best part of the strength that was native to him in his beginning, and all that was made or begun with that power will crumble, and he will be maimed for ever, becoming a mere spirit of malice that gnaws itself in the shadows, but cannot again grow or take shape. And so a great evil of this world will be removed.

In summary:

  • Morgoth: Permanently gone, but still exerting some influence
  • Sauron: Weakened to the point of being negligible
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    Please provide the source for each quote. – chepner Apr 26 at 18:53
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    Silmarillion, innit? – Rand al'Thor Apr 26 at 18:58
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    The answer might profit from explicitly stating that Melkor is a Vala while Sauron is a Maia, an angel or god of lesser power compared to the Valar who're more like gods of a polytheistic pantheon, especially since the expression "Valar" appears multiple times in your quotes. – Pahlavan Apr 27 at 5:40
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    This also fits into the theme of great powers passing out of the world over time. Melkor/Morgoth is banished at the end of the first age. Sauron remains, a lesser being than Morgoth but still great, until he’s brought down at the end of the third age. So while quite distinct from Melkor/Morgoth as an entity, Sauron does serve as a kind of diminished echo of him in the history of the world. – PLL Apr 27 at 9:04
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    @aschepler Buzz's answer shows that (like in most of the Legendarium) Tolkien's concepts evolved. At one time, he seemed to be thinking of something like Surt coming on the Aesir in a great battle which ends the world. (Though even in the early writing, the Valar win.) By the time that Christopher Tolkien distilled the Silmarillion out of JRRT's voluminous writing, that idea had been dropped -- Morgoth would never return -- but not everything had been completely re-written and sometimes the final text still echoes the old ideas. – Mark Olson Apr 28 at 1:03
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The essence of the question seems to be about whether Morgoth will ever return, and the nature of Sauron, his chief servant.

By the time of The Lord of the Rings, the depredations of Morgoth are largely forgotten, except by the elves and other immortals. Sauron is normally "the Enemy" that the Free Peoples refer to; on the rare occasions that Melkor is mentioned, he is usually referred to as "the Great Enemy," "of which Sauron was only a servant." The sole exception is Treebeard, who is older than the sun and who simply refers to Melkor as "the Enemy." However, the elves are aware that any fight against Sauron is, by proxy, a fight against the power of Morgoth—the "black enemy" of the world, as Feanor named him—because all corruption originated with Melkor.

Sauron was the greatest of the Maiar who were corrupted by Melkor; the lesser corrupted Maiar became the balrogs, most of whom were destroyed in the First Age. Sauron was not evil originally (as Gandalf, who is also a Maia, and was thus probably personally acquainted with Mairon, as he was originally known in Arda), but he was drawn to Melkor's desire for an absolute monarchic order. The Ainur, like the elves and men, were gifted with free will—in particular, the freedom to choose good or evil while they remained alive in Arda. Sauron, although he was older than the world, was permanently corrupted by Melkor's evil. (For an utterly absolute ruler such as Melkor, there was probably no meaningful distinction between servant and lieutenant.) In fact, Morgoth's corruption extended to Sauron and the balrogs, but also far beyond that. From the point in the Spring of Arda when the poisons began to seep out of Utumno while the Valar slept, the world had been essentially permanently polluted by Melkor's maleficence (becoming "Arda marred"). Everything imperfect in Arda before the awakening of the elves was due to Melkor's dark influence.

The Valar were able to, firstly, bind Morgoth, then after his repentance was shown to be false (leading to the Darkening of Valinor, with the destruction of the two trees, followed by the War of the Jewels), then secondly, exile him to the outer darkness beyond the world (after the War of Wrath). However, the Valar did not have the power to send him back to the Timeless Halls, where they dwelt before the creation of the world, so there was always the danger of his returning to pursue more evil.

The nature of Morgoth's final return is unclear. Tolkien's earlier vision of it was expressed in the Second Prophecy of Mandos, which appeared at the end early drafts of the Silmarillion:

When the world is much older, and the Gods weary, Morgoth will come back through the Door, and the last battle of all will be fought. Fionwë will fight Morgoth on the plain of Valinor, and the spirit of Túrin shall be beside him; it shall be Túrin who with his black sword will slay Morgoth, and thus the children of Húrin shall be avenged. In those days the Silmarils shall be recovered from sea and earth and air, and Maidros shall break them and Belaurin with their fire rekindle the Two Trees, and the great light shall come forth again, and the Mountains of Valinor shall be levelled so that it goes out over the world, and Gods and Elves and Men shall grow young again, and all their dead awake.

However, Christopher Tolkien did not include this in the published Silmarillion, for a number of reasons. His father's views on many of the factors involved had evolved over time, although they were not set down in a definitive form. The apparent immortality of Túrin was an issue, as was the question of which of the Children of Ilúvatar would participate in the Second Music, which would remake the world anew. There was the also the fact that Tolkien, in later years, apparently gave up the conceit (or at least considered giving up) that Middle-earth was really the ancient history of the real planet Earth.

However, we can still get a rough idea of what will happen at the End of Days, as Tolkien envisioned it: When the guard upon the Door of Night grows sleepy, Morgoth will return. He will darken the light of the sun and moon, until Eärendil (visible to us as a dawnstar Venus, by the light of the Silmaril he carries) forces the Dark Lord to earth. The forces of evil will flock to his banner, and the greatest war of all time will ensue. The details of Morgoth's death are unclear, since the original conception—which Tolkien was apparently later unhappy with—was that he would be slain by Túrin. However, he will eventually be defeated, and in the process, the world will be so damaged and torn up that the Silmarils lost in the depths of the earth and the sea will be accessible again. With the third Silmaril borne by Eärendil in the sky, all the true light of the Two Trees will be accessible again. Fëanor will finally repent his crimes and be released from the Halls of Mandos. He will bear the Silmarils to Yavanna and reveal the secret of how they were made, so that they may be broken open and the true light of Telperion and Laurelin will be revealed. With this light, the trees may be recreated, as part of the Second Music, and the universe will be remade, lighted once again by the trees' brilliance.

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    I'd forgotten this part -- it nicely shows how JRRT's legendarium evolved away from a Ragnarok-style world to something more sophisticated. – Mark Olson Apr 27 at 23:12
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    @MarkOlson You're referring to the Fairing Forth from The Book of Lost Tales, where Melko actually wins? – Spencer Jun 22 at 13:53

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