Ilúvatar, also known as Eru (the one), his name meaning “father of all.” He is the creator of Ea (the universe) and of Arda (the earth). He first sang into being the Ainur, a race of angelic beings who then helped him to sing into existence the universe and finally the earth. Although all the Ainur (except Melkor the rebel) know part of his thoughts, no single Ainu knows them all; their amazement at his creativity and compassion never ceases, and they love best his newest creation, the Children of Ilúvatar: humanity. All things involving Arda are woven into the ultimate design of Ilúvatar; nothing, not even Melkor’s rebellion, happens without Ilúvatar’s foreknowledge or permission.
Manwë, the chief of the Valar (those Ainur who came to dwell on earth either permanently or temporarily) and ruler of Arda. His special delights are winds, clouds, and the regions of the air. He takes no kingly power in the sense of forcing humans or Elves (created before humans on earth and therefore called the Firstborn) to serve him, but he is the wisest of the Valar, so they seek his counsel. He submits always to the will of Ilúvatar. From his mountaintop home, he can behold almost everything that occurs in Arda.
Varda, Manwë’s spouse, also called Elbereth (lady of the stars), one of the Valar. She knows all regions of Ea and loves light above all creations of Ilúvatar. With his blessing, she creates the stars and is often invoked by both Elves and humans, who revere her above all other Valar. She creates the mighty lamps that first light Middle-earth (where humans and Elves dwell) and places several especially bright constellations in the sky when those lamps are thrown down by Melkor. He fears her power above that of her peers because his strength lies in darkness.
Melkor (he who arises in might), originally the mightiest and most favored of the Ainur, renamed Morgoth (dark enemy) after his theft of the Silmarils. Lucifer-like, he turns his power to selfish ends and eventually loses his surpassing beauty, rebelling against Ilúvatar and seeking to destroy the Music. After eons of undermining and perverting the works of the Valar, he is taken captive and imprisoned for centuries in the halls of Mandos, the realm of Namo, keeper of the houses of the dead. When he eventually “repents,” he is paroled by Manwë, who is incapable of understanding evil; eventually he escapes, enlists the aid of the ferocious spider-creature Ungoliant, and destroys the Two Trees that light the Blessed Lands of Valimar. After he steals the Silmarils, jewels of incredible beauty in which the light of the Trees is preserved, the Valar join forces with Elves and humans to overthrow his kingdom at tremendous cost: Ainur, Maiar, Elves, and men die, and the earth itself is rent and twisted by the tremendous forces unleashed in the battle. Melkor has corrupted others of the Ainur and multitudes of the Maiar, a lesser order of angelic beings, in addition to seducing many humans, so his evil cannot be fully eradicated from Arda. Able only to pollute or to imitate, he perverts captured Elves into Orcs, which become some of Sauron’s most terrible servants. His most terrible “creations” are the ferocious demons called Balrogs, which may be twisted Maiar. His most powerful and deadly convert is Sauron.
Sauron, one of the Maiar perverted by Melkor. Originally the lieutenant of Morgoth (the Valar refuse to call Melkor by any other name), he becomes a Dark Lord himself after the downfall of Melkor, taking the Black Land of Mordor for his own and building the mighty Barad-dur (Dark Tower) as his chief fortress. Desiring to rule all Middle-earth, he seduces many humans and a few Maiar, as well as drawing to himself sundry dark creatures devised by Melkor in imitation of Ilúvatar’s true powers. Sauron’s deadliest weapon is the One Ring, which he forges in the fires of Orodruin (Mount Doom), pouring into the ring much of his own power. It controls the nine rings, which he gives to mortal men to enslave them, and exerts some power over the seven rings of the Dwarves and the three rings of the Elves. Cut from his hand by Isildur during the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, it is lost for an age in the river Anduin, then found by Gollum and taken by Bilbo Baggins, and finally destroyed by Frodo, Bilbo’s heir, thus casting down Sauron and bringing the Third Age to an end.
Ulmo, one of the Valar, the lord of waters. Close to Manwë in might, he seldom goes to the councils of the Valar, preferring to roam the seas, streams, lakes,...