© 2018 by Padraig Timmins.

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Last Updated: February 2019

How big was Morgoth?

Much of the artwork of Tolkien's world is amazing and perfectly adequate in helping to visualise his magnificent world.

But one thing that artists keep getting wrong, in my opinion, is the height of Morgoth. He is pretty much always presented as a massive giant, especially in depictions of his combat with Fingolfin. I guess to try and illustrate how much more powerful and scary than Fingolfin he was meant to be.

But such illustrations make any combat between the two so overwhelmingly in favour of Morgoth, it makes it impossible to even conceive of Fingolfin delivering a single meaningful strike, before being squashed flat.

I think Tolkien was a realist in some key ways, one of which was his serious consideration of re-fashioning his legendarium to better fit the growing body of knowledge about the real creation of the Universe and the Earth that was being discovered during the course of his life. So I would hope he would take a similar realistic approach to the size of the people in his world.

It seems quite clear to me, for the available texts, that Morgoth was a large being, but he was never the size that he is almost always depicted as in fan images (whether professional or amateur).

Someone has done this analysis before (in exactly the same way), and their logic stands up perfectly now as it did then, but I can't find it on the net. So, credit to whoever calculated Morgoth’s size using the below method; based on what is actually written, as opposed to what fans would like to think about Morgoth's size. It is, I am sure, much closer to the text, than the kind of images that get produced.

I think we should all also bear in mind that Morgoth's was of a form, from which he could not change. There is no mention of whether he could increase his size or decrease it after he lost his ability to change form, but since it says no such thing, and such an increase in mass would have certainly been something that Tolkien would have alluded to, I think we can assume he couldn't do this.

Enthusiastic fans might point to Gandalf's apparent growth when talking to Bilbo, but this would merely serve to re-enforce my point that it would have to have been mentioned by Mr T to have actually happened. Besides, one can easily put Gandalf's apparent growth down to just an illusionary effect of Gandalf showing off a bit of power to temporarily cow Bilbo into silence.

So, what can we glean from Morgoth's size in this fight from the actual text? I think they can be classified into two groups. The first are, to my mind, merely fantastical descriptive aids to indicate that Morgoth was big and terrifying, that he wielded huge over-sized equipment and that Fingolfin was clearly inferior in physical stature.

The second are much more useful in honing down the actual size difference between the two combatants:

DESCRIPTIVE AIDS

  1. ...he [Morgoth] stood before the King [Fingolfin] like a tower...

  2. ...his [Morgoth's] vast shield...

  3. ...[Morgoth] cast a shadow over him [Fingolfin] like a stormcloud.

  4. But Fingolfin gleamed beneath it as a star...

SIZE CONTEXT AIDS

  1. ...Morgoth bore down his shield upon him [Fingolfin].

  2. ...Morgoth set his left foot upon his [Fingolfin] neck.

I'm going to ignore the descriptive text, as it tells us nothing specific.

The first bit of size context text helps us a little. The shield was large enough to bear down on Fingolfin and knock him to the ground, but not to utterly flatten him. The shield of a 50ft Morgoth would be so huge and so heavy, that any contact on Fingolfin, would surely have killed him.

But it is the foot on neck text that is the most telling in working out Morgoth's size. Indeed, as far as I am concerned it is the only relevant text needed to help us understand their relative sizes to a reasonable degree of accuracy.

"...Morgoth set his left foot upon his neck." These words allow us to specifically comment on this size difference, as both were basically humanoid in shape and proportions.

Given these words, Morgoth's foot must have been narrow enough to fit on Fingolfin's neck. We know Morgoth's foot must have been armoured, as he came out "...clad in black armour...". I am going to ignore this for the moment, but this won't make any difference really, as to include armour in the width of the foot, would only serve to shorten Morgoth, as would any armour around Fingolfin's neck and chin. So, I am assuming naked necks and feet, as this will allow for a big a Morgoth as is possible.

So how big was Fingolfin's neck? There is no doubt that Noldor were fundamentally human in shape and proportions. The main difference is that they were taller. They will, therefore, follow the same general proportions as humans, with the absolute values being a little bigger/longer. Any other interpretation is introducing factors for which there is no evidence.

There have been lots of studies that have identified ratios between things like human foot dimensions (generally length) and human height. Plus, there have been studies into how foot length and foot width relate to each other.

The long and short of it is as follows:

Foot Width to Foot Length ratio:       1 to  2.5
Foot Length to Body Height ratio:     1 to  6.5
Neck Length to Body Height ratio:   1 to 20.0

So how tall was Fingolfin. Let's make him REALLY heroic, and say 8' tall. After all the taller he is, the longer his neck will be, the wider Morgoth's foot can be, and therefore the taller Morgoth will end up.

So, at 8' tall, his neck would be around 5". He wasn't ever described as being a particularly long necked individual, so no one has any cause to deviate from this proportional measurement too much.

But let's be a bit extravagant and give him another inch. So, 6" long. Remember the longer Fingolfin's neck, the tall Morgoth can be. Also, it must be the case that when something big is stamping on your neck, one’s head gets pushed back, opening up the distance between collar bone and chin, so the available space for a foot would increase. Let's say it doubles. So, we are talking 12" of foot width to play with.

So, from this 12" wide foot this makes calculating Morgoth’s height really easy:

Foot Width to Foot Length ratio:  12" x 2.5 = 30" length foot
Foot Length to Body Height ratio: 30" x 6.5 = 16' 3" height

And that, as you'll have to admit, is being generous!

Now the foot width I have used is across the widest section of the foot, from the first big toe knuckle (ball of the foot knuckle) to the first little toe knuckle at the outside of the foot, but Morgoth could easily have been pressing down with his foot arch, which is much narrower, or his heel, which is narrower still (if only by a bit). I don't think he would have, as it is much easier to control something under one’s foot with the front part of the foot than the arch or the heel. But let's just go the whole hog and say it was the narrowest part of his foot, the heel.

The ratio between heel width and foot length is about 1 to 3.8, so this is going to add considerable height to Morgoth, as the calculation is now:

Heel Width to Length ratio:  12" x 3.8 = 46" length foot
Foot Length to Height ratio: 46" x 6.5 = 24'11" height

So, even the most crazily generous reading of the text put Morgoth's maximum height at around 25' tall.

Now let's consider Morgoth's physical power and strength for the respective heights. Humanoid weight does not double as height doubles. It increases by a much higher factor, for as each dimension (L, H and W) must roughly double. A forearm of a humanoid twice as tall, will itself be twice as long, twice as wide and have twice the breadth. So strictly speaking it would be roughly 8 times as heavy.

This is the square-cube law. It is not perfect, but it is good enough.

The average healthy weight for a 6' human is 160 lbs, according to multiple source I have looked up. Note this does not mean surveys of actual weight distribution will validate this, as surveys of actual weight is not the same as healthy weight.

So according to the square-cube, a healthy, normally proportioned 25' humanoid would weight around 11,600 lbs! That is 5.27 tonnes! Can you imagine that weight pressing down on your neck? There would be no final heroic strike with Ringil. Your neck would be squashed flat and your head would pop off, shooting off like an untied balloon.

This is clearly ludicrous.

So, what about 16'3''? using the square-cube law, Morgoth would still be almost 3,200 lbs or slightly under 1.5 tonnes. I might be convinced that a heroic humanoid might survive such a weight for a short time before suffering a crushed neck. Long enough to get off one more strike before dying. Maybe.

It's just not rational to think that Morgoth is as gigantic as displayed in just about all fan art. And in all honestly, any other text in The Silmarillion or any other book, now becomes utterly irrelevant, and should be seen for what it is; author licence to make the battle appear more interesting; to illustrate that Fingolfin didn't really have a chance at all against Morgoth, but put up a good fight nonetheless.

And if we add armour, so let’s take half an inch off for Morgoth's boot and half an inch off for Fingolfin's armour and work the maths again, then we arrive at a much more realistic height for Morgoth of around 13'6'' and a weight, therefore, of around 1,800 lbs for a normally proportion humanoid. Let's say 2,000 lbs for a well-defined muscle bound one (I doubt he was proportioned like Hafthor Bjornsson). So well under a tonne in weight.

This makes the fight much more realistic. I could see a 400 lbs athletic 8' humanoid being about to take two or three direct bashes from the larger opponents shield before being flattened. Much more so than from an opponent that was almost 30 times your weight, as Morgoth would have been (at least), if he were 25' tall.

A 13'6'' tall Morgoth still allows him to "tower" over Fingolfin. It still allows him to have a "vast" shield. And it still allows him to cast a shadow over Fingolfin like a "stormcloud", both figuratively and literally. And it has the added benefit of being broadly anatomically realistic, given the text that specifically allows us to extrapolate size.

And I believe that thinking Morgoth is any larger is at best wishful thinking, and at worst complete delusion. But then, it's only a book......right!