One of the questions that has puzzled me from the very beginning of this exploration is the topic of the devil. Specifically, who is he? Daymon states in the intro to Faithful that Melkor approximates the Christian devil. Fine. No real problem with that. Except that Melkor is gone and has been for a very long time. By “gone” I mean not in this world and not even whatever he once was, being much diminished by the time he was cast out of Arda.
The question of whether Melkor will ever return seems to be open for debate depending on how much stock you put in things like the Dagor Dagorath (good reasons exist to doubt it’s still an accurate prophecy). As such, I’ve set aside the question of whether the devil Melkor will return. I assume since he is a spirit he can’t be destroyed but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was so diminished that his spirit lacks any meaningful potency.
Perhaps the fate of Sauron isn’t much different than the fate of Melkor such that we could look at Sauron as type or “shadow” (see what I did there?) of what happened to Melkor? Gandalf states in Return of the King:
“If [the ring] is destroyed, then [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.”
So assuming something like that also happened to Melkor (or even if it didn’t, it may not matter since he has been gone for ages), the question of “who is the devil” becomes more pressing. Why? Because the devil is referenced quite a bit in “scripture” as if he were a real being with real power now, then, and in the future. He’s not referenced as if he were a fallen Power that had lost his power/glory and has been MIA for many thousands of years with no real prospect of returning.
I suppose, then, that “devil” refers to his lasting influence in one sense. After all, Melkor spent himself by literally giving his power to those who followed him in exchange for their oaths of allegiance to carry out his will. By the time of the War of Wrath he was a shadow (I did it again!) of his former self. Of course, the extent of his efforts to thwart Eru’s song at his own expense was so severe that he marred the very nature of Arda, leaving “seeds” to sprout forever that Eru alone could heal.
And even after he was removed, he left behind no shortage of laborers who were apparently still bound to serve him. It is said that Sauron initially repented after Melkor was removed but it was short lived. His oath of allegiance perhaps could not have broken without doing as instructed to return to Valinor and face judgment (healing, more like). He was soon back to his old ways, bringing to pass Melkor’s visions of dominance and corruption.
I suppose in that sense, Sauron was the “devil” for a time. He followed Melkor’s example in creating powerful servants who were bound by oath to do his will to the uttermost. But as Gandalf explains above, Sauron is long gone and his power too so can he still be the devil? On the other hand, Slumbered speaks of three remaining wraiths even in our day:
“Three Sons remain, wraiths to a spectre King Imaginary, Thû resident on Arda no longer, who once was feared by all, here;”
It has been told that those three were recently made “no more”, as in, no longer here raising hell, having been defeated by Thingol’s Lay (as I understand it). But that was only very recent. At the time Slumbered was published, those three with Carcaroth had Thingol trapped in a cave and nearly defeated. But as all good stories, the good guy prevailed and those three are “no more” (though we mourn that they did not instead repent and be healed).
What have those three been doing all these many years? Apparently serving a fallen master! An imagined king who was here and powerless to carry out his own will. But to those three, bound still by oaths, Sauron’s sway over them was not diminished.
I suppose those three were the “devil” the past 10,000 years. Now that they are gone, who carries the banner? I would guess that they did what their predecessors did in establishing lieutenants, oath-bound sycophants, to carry out their will, which is really Sauron’s will, which is really Melkor’s will. I doubt whoever is left is as powerful as those 3, but there are certainly robbers and Gadiantons in our day (as Ether foretold). Who knows what actual form they take. World bankers and politicians would be at the top of my list but maybe they are mere pawns to something more sinister.
The BOM warns us against saying there is no devil. It warns that the devil himself whispers that he doesn’t exist. Perhaps he doesn’t whisper these lies himself anymore but others who have taken up his cause spread these lies. Although frankly, it seems like a huge portion of the world believes the devil exists so the lie isn’t all that convincing perhaps.
Apparently Melkor’s seeds have serious lasting power though:
and in the writing of the tale of Izilba, you have committed to paper an ancient thing, the unfolding of which will undo all that remains of the flowering of Melko.
It’s a really hopeful thing that these tales are going to undo whatever remains. Better days are hopefully soon upon us. But man still does what the prior devils are no longer here to do themselves:
“and among these seeds sprouting are also to be found men implementing his desires. To break the word from the heart, and to make of it a thing to think on, only, yet outside of one’s soul, pondered: this and more he would do, has done, and may yet undertake.”
It’s curious that Pengolodh says Melkor “may yet undertake” these things. Maybe M does somehow come back at the end? Or maybe he may attempt his work again elsewhere, outside Arda, like he did at Endar, and Pengolodh merely admits that he doesn’t know Melkor’s fate.
At any rate, I think I have a much better idea now of what is meant by “the devil” in scripture. I’m not sure the writers of those records didn’t have an inaccurate view of the devil and such that the way they present him doesn’t fully match with these views. But that’s ok. False tradition is everywhere, and I surely have it wrong in some ways myself.
My other question in this vein is what the hell is hell? Does it even still exist? Is there really a lake of fire and brimstone or did that end with the destruction of Mordor, or perhaps with the resurrection of Christ? Is this Arda marred all that’s left of hell? That’s a pleasant thought, actually. But I don’t really have much more than questions at this point so I’ll leave that topic for another time.