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There is plenty of discussion on this site about why the Valar didn't intervene in more obvious ways in the Second and Third Ages, but I'm asking about the First Age.

Between the return of Melkor to Angband and the arrival of Eärendil in Valinor, a period of over 500 years, Morgoth nearly brought all of Beleriand under his evil dominion, and the Valar didn't do anything about it. The Doom of the Ñoldor makes it clear why the Valar didn't come to the aid of the Ñoldor, but it's not like they were the only people Morgoth threatened.

The Moriquendi (Avari, Nandor, Laiquendi, and Sindar), Men, and Dwarves were there too, and Morgoth sought to bring them all under his control or destroy them. When the Sindar chose to stay in Beleriand instead of going to Aman, wasn't the mutual understanding something like "If you stay here, you cannot go to the land of bliss," not "If you stay here, you will fall under the power of an evil overlord, and he will make you his slaves"?

How could the Valar just let that happen to the Children of Ilúvatar?

Moreover, when the Valar did finally send aid to the peoples of Beleriand, it was because of Eärendil's plea. This implies that if Eärendil had not undertaken his errand, the Valar would have continued not to intervene in Middle-earth and would have done nothing to prevent Morgoth from ruling all of it.

Had they no sympathy for the Moriquendi and Men?

  • possible duplicate of Since when did Eru forbid men from going to the undying land? – Mithoron May 31 '15 at 12:00
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    They weren't doing anything obvious; but they're essentially gods - what leads you to believe they were doing nothing at all? – Matt Gutting May 31 '15 at 16:46
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    @Matt Gutting They didn't do anything significant enough to prevent Morgoth from wiping out or enslaving most of the Eldar and Edain in Beleriand. – Sam Kauffman Jun 1 '15 at 1:02
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    In fairness to the Valar, they did try to help the Elves very early on: they went to war against Morgoth, and invited the Elves to Aman. A direct consequence of those decisions was the destruction of the Two Trees, the first murder in the Undying Lands, and the First Kinslaying. I can understand they'd be a little reluctant to take direct action after that track record – Jason Baker Jun 1 '15 at 1:17
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Tolkien addresses this somewhat in an essay titled "Notes on Motives" (emphasis mine):

Morgoth lost (or exchanged, or transmuted) the greater part of his original 'angelic' powers, of mind and spirit, while gaining a terrible grip upon the physical world. For this reason he had to be fought, mainly by physical force, and enormous material ruin was a probable consequence of any direct combat with him, victorious or otherwise. This is the chief explanation of the constant reluctance of the Valar to come into open battle against Morgoth. Manwë's task and problem was much more difficult than Gandalf's. Sauron's, relatively smaller, power was concentrated; Morgoth's vast power was disseminated. The whole of 'Middle-earth' was Morgoth's Ring, though temporarily his attention was mainly upon the North-west. Unless swiftly successful, War against him might well end in reducing all Middle-earth to chaos, possibly even all Arda. It is easy to say: 'It was the task and function of the Elder King to govern Arda and make it possible for the Children of Eru to live in it unmolested.' But the dilemma of the Valar was this: Arda could only be liberated by a physical battle; but a probable result of such a battle was the irretrievable ruin of Arda.

History of Middle-earth X Morgoth's Ring Part 5: "Myths Transformed" Chapter VII "Notes on motives in the Silmarillion" (ii)

Morgoth's dissemination of his power into the Matter of Arda (which he had been doing basically since the Years of the Lamps; this was not a new problem in the First Age) created an unwinnable scenario for the Valar. Either they destroyed Morgoth, destroying most of Arda in the process, or they let him be and he'd do it himself.

Tolkien further suggests that, from the perspective of the Valar, the Noldor were doing a very useful service, quite effectively keeping Morgoth occupied and contained, and also elevating the race of Men:

If we consider the situation after the escape of Morgoth and the reestablishment of his abode in Middle-earth, we shall see that the heroic Noldor were the best possible weapon with which to keep Morgoth at bay, virtually besieged, and at any rate fully occupied, on the northern fringe of Middle-earth, without provoking him to a frenzy of nihilistic destruction. And in the meanwhile, Men, or the best elements in Mankind, shaking off his shadow, came into contact with a people who had actually seen and experienced the Blessed Realm.

In their association with the warring Eldar Men were raised to their fullest achievable stature, and by the two marriages the transference to them, or infusion into Mankind, of the noblest Elf-strain was accomplished, in readiness for the still distant, but inevitably approaching, days when the Elves would 'fade'.

History of Middle-earth X Morgoth's Ring Part 5: "Myths Transformed" Chapter VII "Notes on motives in the Silmarillion" (iii)

Later in the essay, Tolkien notes that the intervention of the Valar in the War of Wrath was actually a calculated move; Morgoth was severely weakened, and contained to a single region of Arda. He could thus be defeated more easily, and only ruin part of the World, rather than all of it:

The last intervention with physical force by the Valar, ending in the breaking of Thangorodrim, may then be viewed as not in fact reluctant or even unduly delayed, but timed with precision. The intervention came before the annihilation of the Eldar and the Edain. Morgoth though locally triumphant had neglected most of Middle-earth during the war; and by it he had in fact been weakened: in power and prestige (he had lost and failed to recover one of the Silmarils), and above all in mind. He had become absorbed in 'kingship', and though a tyrant of ogre-size and monstrous power, this was a vast fall even from his former wickedness of hate, and his terrible nihilism. He had fallen to like being a tyrant-king with conquered slaves, and vast obedient armies.

The war was successful, and ruin was limited to the small (if beautiful) region of Beleriand.

History of Middle-earth X Morgoth's Ring Part 5: "Myths Transformed" Chapter VII "Notes on motives in the Silmarillion" (iii)

  • That makes a lot of sense. Thank you for such a thorough response. – Sam Kauffman Jan 26 '16 at 3:09
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They didn't want to meddle in the affairs on Middle-Earth anymore. Inviting the Elves to Valinor, even though done with good intentions, eventually resulted in the destruction of the Two Trees and the "darkening of Valinor". I think the Valar got a major hump after that.

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There is another source of help that the Valar provided to Middle-earth that people have neglected to mention. After the two trees die, the Valar take the last two fruits from the tree (the sun and the moon) and set them in orbit around the world.

This one action basically ended Morgoth's plans to dominate Middle-earth. Morgoth and his twisted servants could not tolerate the sun and were limited to hiding underground or around their vast volcanic dungeons where the volcanic dust would block the sun.
Morgoth himself hated the sun and could not bear it, neither could the orcs. Essentially this one act put a huge handicap on his plans to dominate the Earth. He still ultimately conquered Beleriand but it required the help of the dragons and evil men to accomplish this.
Nonetheless it was a hollow victory for Morgoth who was now essentially trapped underground - hardly an impressive stature for the 'lord of Arda'

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