One of the striking details of the early Tale of Tinúviel is the depiction of evil and the method by which evil is defeated or, more accurately, circumvented. The nature of evil is explored to some extent through the protagonists’ direct interactions with both Melko and Tevildo. In the three primary confrontations, Beren and Tinúviel deal with their adversaries in very similar manner.
First, Beren is captured and brought before Melko. Melko is at first incensed that a Gnome, one of his thralls, had left his domain to mingle with Men. Beren responds first with flattery, calling Melko “Lord of the World” and extolling his great “splendor and glory,” while also declaring his utmost contempt for the race of Men. Following this praise, Beren begs Melko to permit him to serve as a hunter or trapper. Melko accepts, but there is some confusion in the narrative concerning precisely why. Was Beren’s speech in some manner inspired by the Valar, or blessed by Gwendeling (Melian)?
“Flattery savoured ever sweet in the nostrils of that Ainu, and for all his unfathomed wisdom many a lie of those whom he despised deceived him, were they clothed sweetly in words of praise.” (TBoLT II p13)
The question implied in the narrative is answered, I believe, by the common bond between arrogance and evil. Melko was not always evil, even in the earliest Tales. He began as one of, if not the, most powerful and wise of the Ainur. His fall, as with Lucifer, stems from his overbearing pride. He believes he is superior to all others, even Ilúvatar as evidenced by his contrary themes. He believes he is the greatest of the Valar, and therefore rightfully the overlord of Arda. Every piece of flattery and praise heaped on him by Beren is held as his rightful due, so firmly believed by himself, and so cruelly denied by the other Valar. And so evil is deceived through its own pride and overweening sense of self-worth. As Melko believes the Truth of each of Beren’s appellations, he cannot conceive the thought that the speaker could be only giving lip service.
When Tinúviel confronts Tevildo, the strategy is similar yet subtly different. Upon gaining entry to his stronghold through flattery of one of his thanes, Tinúviel exploits the extreme hatred between cats and hounds. She spins a tale of the near presence of Huan, and his apparent infirmity.
“Now all this that Tinúviel spake was a great lie in whose devising Huan had guided her, and maidens of the Eldar are not wont to fashion lies…Tevildo however, himself a great and skilled liar, was so deeply versed in the lies and subtleties of all the beasts and creatures he seldom knew whether to believe what was said to him or not, and was wont to disbelieve all things save those he wished to believe true, and so was he often deceived by the more honest.” (TBoLT II p24)
Tevildo is in some ways craftier than Melko, in that he does not immediately succumb to flattery. Instead, he waits for the information Tinúviel has come to give. Being basically distrustful, Tevildo is none the less intrigued and inclined to believe the tale of Huan’s illness or, minimally, eager to test it and so not miss a prime opportunity. Presumably, given the great enmity between Huan and Tevildo, Huan has some knowledge of this character flaw, and so exploits it. Like Melko before him, Tevildo exhibits a similar attitude towards all who approach him: that the awe and fear of their presence guarantees truth.
In the third episode, Beren and Tinúviel come disguised before Melko in Angamandi, he in the skin of Oikeroi (one of Tevildo’s thanes) and she in her woven robe. Melko spots Tinúviel, and demands to know who she is and how she entered his halls. She responds, again first with flattery, then subtle manipulations of truth:
“’…Knowest thou not that I am Tinúviel daughter of Tinwelint the outlaw, and he hath driven me from his halls, for he is an overbearing Elf and I give not my love at his command.’” (TBoLT II p31)
Now at first Melko doubts the words of Tinúviel, and suspects some scheme, so he asks her why she has come and warns her not to expect any love or soft words. She responds with a statement of rebellion against her father, followed by an offer of dance in return for a place in his halls. Melko responds:
“’Nay…such things are little to my mind; but as thou has come thus far to dance, dance, and after we will see,’ and with that he leered horribly, for his dark mind pondered some evil.” (TBoLT II p32)
Thus in similar manner is Melko evaded again. He takes Tinúviel’s rebellion against her father at face value, and finds here an easy way to strike at the heart of Tinwelint and his people. Yes, there is some hesitation, even in his acquiescence to Tinúviel’s offered dance, but rather than suspect any danger to himself or the Silmarils (which given his mindset, why should he?) he moves on to contemplate future evils made possible by this encounter. And so, lost in these musings, he succumbs to Tinúviel’s magic and falls asleep.
In each of these encounters, which comprise major battles of wills in the final tale, the antagonists are not necessarily defeated, but sidestepped. They are tricked by their own pride and their apparent inability to even contemplate such deceptions by figures of so much lower stature.
There is an element to each solution which evokes more the sense of the child’s fairytale than the epic love story which was to develop. And yet hints are there, in the confrontations with Carcharoth, which predominantly mirror the final conception. The question this raises, then, is what is different about Carcharoth, which leads to a more confrontational and combative rather than scheming approach? I think the primary difference is that Caracharoth is a beast, devoid of any real thought but unending hunger. His actions are driven by a sense of duty, driven into him by the ministrations of Melko. He is the guard dog, a most vicious one, but little more. So ultimately, as I asked of the orcs, is Carcharoth evil?