The First Age was riddled with evil creatures and unpleasant events, the main villain being the Dark Lord Melkor, or Morgoth. However, during some of those events, Melkor had a dreadful ally, a spider named Ungoliant. The origin of the name Ungoliant is in her earlier name in Quenya, Ungweliantë, a combination of the words ‘ungwë’ and ‘liantë’, meaning ‘dark spider’. Ungoliant is a Sindarin version of her name, and the noun ‘ungol’, meaning ‘spider’, is found in the name Cirith Ungol, which directly translates to ‘Cleft of the Spider’. She was also known by many other names, such as Gloomweaver, Gwerlum, Móru, Delduthling (Noldorin name), and Wirilómë.
Not much is known about how she came into the world during the First Age. Some of the Eldar believed that she arose from the darkness around Arda, when Melkor first enviously gazed upon the Kingdom of Manwë, and was one of the first beings to be corrupted by Melkor in order to serve him. However, Ungoliant had a will of her own, and soon she disowned her Master, in order to feed on the light of the world to feed her emptiness, and eventually made her abode in Avathar. There she sucked up all the light surrounding her, and wove dark webs, which prevented light from reaching her, and, as a result, her hunger for the light grew.
It was then that Melkor found her again, and asked her to help him in his plot to destroy the Two Trees of Valinor. Ungoliant was at first reluctant to do so since she feared the power of the Valar and also feared coming out of hiding, but Melkor knew what she desired, and offered her exactly that. Melkor promised her that if she helped, he will give her whatever her lust demanded, and explicitly stated that he will do so with both hands. Her insatiable hunger and lust overcame her, and she agreed to aid him, so the alliance was formed. However, it would soon be clear that Melkor should not have given that promise as lightly as he did. Melkor set his plans in motion and started moving towards Valinor, shrouded by a cloak of darkness that no eyes could pierce, called the Unlight, woven by Ungoliant in order to hide them as they made their way towards their destination. With the help of her webs, they reached the summit of Hyarmentir, overlooking Valinor. She then created a ladder made of woven ropes, thus enabling Melkor to climb into Valinor. It was during one of the high feasts, made by Manwë in praise of Eru, that Melkor and Ungoliant climbed Ezellohar, the green mound upon which the Two Trees of Valinor grew. Upon arriving at the mound, Melkor slayed the Two Trees with his black spear, and their sap poured like blood over Ezellohar. Ungoliant sucked up all the sap and proceeded to drain all life, and light, from the Two Trees, causing them to wither. Driven by hunger, she even drained the Wells of Varda, belching dark vapors as she drank, and as a result, swelled to a hideous and enormous shape that terrified even the Dark Lord himself. Afterward, they both escaped and continued to spread their darkness everywhere they went.
Seeing Ungoliant’s monstrous shape, Melkor was afraid, but there was no way for him to escape from her, since she kept all her eyes always on him, fearing he might betray her. So they went on, and eventually arrived at Formenos, the stronghold of Fëanor, where Melkor slew Finwë King of the Noldor and stole all the Jewels of the Noldor, including Fëanor’s beloved creation, the Silmarils. Once again, they escaped under the cover of darkness they spread. When they arrived near Melkor’s stronghold, named Angband, Ungoliant perceived the hope in him and realized that he will try to escape from her and the obligation to fulfill his promise. Therefore, she stayed with him in an attempt to force him to fulfill the promise he had given her in exchange for her help. She demanded that he surrendered all the Jewels of the Noldor, as promised, and as he gave them one by one, she devoured them, forever extinguishing their light in the world. Consuming all that light, she grew bigger and bigger, but still, her hunger was present, and she noticed that Melkor was only giving her the jewels from his left hand. Remembering the promise he gave her, she reminded him that he promised to gift her with both his hands, and in accordance with the promise, he should give her whatever jewels he has in his right hand also. However, Melkor had no intention of giving her the jewels in his right hand for her to devour, since they were the jewels he named to himself, the Silmarils.
Angered by his betrayal, she attacked him, overpowering him and enmeshing him in a web to strangle him, after which he cried so terribly that the sound of his cries was heard echoing for many years and the land the terrible cries were uttered in became known as Lammoth, the Great Echo. Melkor’s cries of desperation were heard by the Balrogs, who dwelt under the ruins of Angband, and hurried to aid their Master. They burned all the webs made by Ungoliant, and with their attack forced her to flee into Beleriand and, later on, she settled below the mountain known, because of her presence there, as Ered Gorgoroth, or Mountains of Terror. There she mated with, and devoured, various other foul creatures, creating her terrifying offspring, which is why, even after her departure, the valley below Ered Gorgoroth was infested with her offspring. The valley was later named appropriately Nan Dungortheb, meaning the Valley of Dreadful Death.
The fate of Ungoliant remains a mystery, although some stories suggest that her insatiable hunger made her devour herself at last. In some earlier versions of The Silmarillion, Tolkien imagined a different fate for Ungoliant, one where Eärendel (or Eärendil in later versions) meets her on one of his journeys, and eventually slays her. Be that as it may, the published version of The Silmarillion suggests that she remained in Nan Dungortheb, where she perished under unknown circumstances.