Has possessed One Ring
|Aliases See Names and titles below|
Book(s) The HobbitThe Lord of the RingsThe SilmarillionUnfinished TalesThe Children of Húrin
Portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, Sala Baker
Title Abhorred, Lord of Mordor, Lord of the Earth, Dark Lord, Lord of Barad-dûr, Lord of Gifts, Necromancer, Lord of the Rings
Powers Shapeshifting, Superhuman strength
Weapon One Ring, Mace, Sword, Sorcery, Powers of the Maiar
Similar Saruman, Gandalf, Morgoth, Frodo Baggins, Aragorn
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Sauron /ˈsaʊrɒn/ is the title character and main antagonist of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. In the same work, he is identified as the necromancer, mentioned in Tolkien's earlier novel The Hobbit. In Tolkien's The Silmarillion (published posthumously by Tolkien's son Christopher Tolkien), he is also described as the chief lieutenant of the first Dark Lord, Morgoth. Tolkien noted that the "angelic" powers of his constructed myth "were capable of many degrees of error and failing", but by far the worst was "the absolute Satanic rebellion and evil of Morgoth and his satellite Sauron".
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- Before creation of the world
- First Age
- Saurons fall
- Second Age
- The Rings of Power
- Resurgence from Mordor
- Destruction of Nmenor
- War against the Last Alliance
- Third Age
- The Necromancer of Dol Guldur
- The War of the Ring
- Names and titles
- Tolkiens illustration of Sauron
- Eye of Sauron
- Concept and creation
- Allusions in other works
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Before creation of the world
The Ainulindalë, the cosmological myth prefixed to The Silmarillion, explains how the supreme being Eru initiated his creation by bringing into being innumerable spirits, "the offspring of his thought", who were with him before anything else had been made. The being later known as Sauron originated as an "immortal (angelic) spirit". In his origin, Sauron therefore perceived the Creator directly. As Tolkien noted: "Sauron could not, of course, be a 'sincere' atheist. Though one of the minor spirits created before the world, he knew Eru, according to his measure."
In the terminology of Tolkien's invented language of Quenya, these angelic spirits were called Ainur. Those who entered the physical world were called Valar, especially the most powerful ones. The (mostly) lesser beings who entered the world, of whom Sauron was one, were called Maiar. In Tolkien's letters, the author noted that Sauron "was of course a 'divine' person (in the terms of this mythology; a lesser member of the race of Valar)". Tolkien noted that he was of a "far higher order" than the Maiar who later came to Middle-earth as the Wizards Gandalf and Saruman. As created by Eru, the Ainur were all good and uncorrupt, as Elrond stated in The Lord of the Rings: "Nothing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so."
Rebellion originated with the Vala Melkor (as Morgoth was called before he turned to darkness). According to a story meant as a parable of events beyond Elvish comprehension, Eru let his spirit-children perform a great Music, the Music of the Ainur, developing a theme revealed by Eru himself. For a while the cosmic choir made wondrous music, but then Melkor tried to increase his own glory by weaving into his song thoughts and ideas that were not in accordance with the original theme. "Straightway discord arose around him, and many that sang nigh him grew despondent ... but some began to attune their music to his rather than to the thought which they had at first."
The discord Melkor created would have dire consequences, as this singing was a kind of template for the world: "The evils of the world were not at first in the great Theme, but entered with the discords of Melkor." However, "Sauron was not a beginner of discord; and he probably knew more of the Music than did Melkor, whose mind had always been filled with his own plans and devices." Apparently Sauron was not even one of the spirits that immediately began to attune their music to that of Melkor, since it is noted elsewhere that his fall occurred later (see below).
The cosmic Music now represented the conflict between good and evil. Finally, Eru abruptly brought the Song of Creation to an end. To show the spirits, faithful or otherwise, what they had done, Eru gave independent being to the now-marred Music. This resulted in the manifestation of the material World, Eä, where the drama of good and evil would play out and be resolved.
Entering Eä at the beginning of time, the Valar and Maiar tried to build and organize the world according to the will of Eru. Each Maia was associated with one of the powerful Valar whom they served; for example, Sauron was prominent among the Maiar who served Aulë the Smith, the great craftsman of the Valar. As a result, Sauron came to possess great knowledge of the physical substances of the world, forging, and all manner of craftsmanship—emerging as "a great craftsman of the household of Aulë". Sauron would always retain the "scientific" knowledge he derived from the great Vala of Craft: "In his beginning he was of the Maiar of Aulë, and he remained mighty in the lore of that people." Sauron's original name was Mairon (the Admirable), but this name was changed to Sauron after he joined Melkor. However, during the Second Age Sauron continued to call himself Tar-Mairon (Lord Mairon).
Melkor opposed the other Valar, who remained faithful to Eru and tried to carry out the Creator's designs. Within the larger universe, they eventually focused on developing the world of Arda (Earth, or the entire solar system). Around this time, Sauron fell victim to Melkor's corrupting influence: "In the beginning of Arda, Melkor seduced him to his allegiance."
As for Sauron's motives, Tolkien noted that "it had been his virtue (and therefore also the cause of his fall ...) that he loved order and coordination, and disliked all confusion and wasteful friction". Thus "it was the apparent will and power of Melkor to effect his designs quickly and masterfully that had first attracted Sauron to him".
For a while, Sauron apparently kept up the pretence that he was a faithful servant of the Valar, all the while feeding Melkor information about their doings. Thus, when the Valar made Almaren as their first physical abode in the world, "Melkor knew of all that was done; for even then he had secret friends and spies among the Maiar whom he had converted to his cause, and of these the chief, as after became known, was Sauron."
Melkor soon destroyed Almaren, and the Valar established a new abode in the Uttermost West: the Blessed Realm of Valinor. They still did not perceive Sauron's treachery, for he too became "a being of Valinor".
At some point, Sauron left the Blessed Realm and went to Middle-earth, the central continent of Arda, where Melkor had established his stronghold. In one text, Tolkien wrote of Sauron that "in Valinor he had dwelt among the people of the gods, but there Morgoth had drawn him to evil and to his service". Sauron deserted his service to the Valar and openly joined their great enemy: "Because of his admiration of Strength he had become a follower of Morgoth and fell with him down into the depths of evil."
The Lieutenant of Melkor
After joining his new master in Middle-earth, Sauron proved to be a devoted and capable servant: "While Morgoth still stood, Sauron did not seek his own supremacy, but worked and schemed for another, desiring the triumph of Melkor, whom in the beginning he had adored. He thus was often able to achieve things, first conceived by Melkor, which his master did not or could not complete in the furious haste of his malice." "In all the deeds of Melkor the Morgoth upon Arda, in his vast works and in the deceits of his cunning, Sauron had a part."
In chapter three of The Silmarillion, Tolkien writes that by the time the Elves awoke in the world, Sauron had become Melkor's lieutenant and was given command over the newly built stronghold of Angband. To protect the Elves, the Valar made war on Melkor and captured him, but could not find Sauron.
Thus, "when Melkor was made captive, Sauron escaped and lay hid in Middle-earth; and it can in this way be understood how the breeding of the Orcs (no doubt already begun) went on with increasing speed". In the Blessed Realm, Melkor feigned reform, but eventually escaped back to Middle-earth, holding the Silmarils of Fëanor. By then, Sauron had "secretly repaired Angband for the help of his Master when he returned; and there the dark places underground were already manned with hosts of the Orcs before Melkor came back at last, as Morgoth the Black Enemy".
Shortly after the return of Morgoth, the Noldorin Elves also left the Blessed Realm of Valinor in the Uttermost West, against the counsel of the Valar, to wage war on Morgoth, who had stolen the Silmarils. In that war, Sauron served as Morgoth's chief lieutenant, surpassing all others in rank, such as Gothmog, the Lord of Balrogs. Known as Gorthaur the Cruel, Sauron was at that time a master of illusions and shapeshifting; werewolves and vampires were his servants, chief among them Draugluin, Father of Werewolves, and his vampire herald Thuringwethil.
When Morgoth left Angband to corrupt the newly discovered Men, Sauron directed the war against the Elves. He conquered the Elvish island of Tol Sirion and its watchtower Minas Tirith, so that it became known as Tol-in-Gaurhoth, the Isle of Werewolves.
Ten years later, Finrod Felagund, the king of Nargothrond and former lord of Tol Sirion, came there with Beren and ten Elves, disguised as Orcs. However Sauron had them brought before him. Finrod battled Sauron using sorcery but was defeated (in part because of the curse of Fëanor). All 12 were thrown into Sauron's dungeons and the 10 Elves were devoured by wolves. Finrod died fighting a wolf to save Beren.
Soon afterwards Lúthien and Huan the Wolfhound arrived, hoping to rescue Beren. Sauron sent werewolves against them, including their sire Draugluin, but Huan slew them all. Aware of a prophecy to the effect that Huan would be killed by the greatest wolf ever, Sauron himself assumed a monstrous wolf-like form and attacked him. But the prophecy actually applied to the still-unborn Carcharoth, and Sauron could not prevail against Huan, despite transforming into a serpent and his own form.
Eventually, Huan had Sauron by the throat. Lúthien gave Sauron two options: either surrender to her the magical control he had established over Tol-in-Gaurhoth, or have his body destroyed so that his naked ghost would have to endure the scorn of Morgoth. Sauron yielded, and Huan let him go. Lúthien destroyed the tower and rescued Beren from the dungeons.
Sauron fled in the form of a huge vampiric bat, and spent some time as a vampire in the woods of Taur-nu-Fuin. Nothing is told of his subsequent activities in the First Age until the end.
Following the voyage of Eärendil to the Blessed Realm, the Valar finally moved against Morgoth. In the resulting War of Wrath, the Dark Lord was defeated and cast into the Outer Void beyond the world. But "Sauron fled from the Great Battle and escaped".
Chastened, Sauron assumed his most beautiful form and approached Eönwë, emissary of the Valar, who nevertheless could not pardon a Maia like himself. Through Eönwë, Manwë as Lord of the Valar "commanded Sauron to come before him for judgement, but [he] had left room for repentance and ultimate rehabilitation". Although Sauron's repentance before Eönwë was genuine, if out of fear, he was ashamed to return to Valinor and receive a judgement or sentence due to his long service to Melkor. Furthermore, the influence of his former master was still strong, so he escaped and hid in Middle-earth.
About 500 years into the Second Age, Sauron reappeared. "Bereft of his lord...[he] fell into the folly of imitating him". "Very slowly, beginning with fair motives: the reorganizing and rehabilitation of Middle-earth, 'neglected by the gods,' he becomes a reincarnation of Evil, and a thing lusting for Complete Power", eventually rising to become "master and god of Men".
As for Sauron's "fair motives", Tolkien emphasized that at this time he "was not indeed wholly evil, not unless all 'reformers' who want to hurry up with 'reconstruction' and 'reorganization' are wholly evil, even before pride and the lust to exert their will eat them up".
"Though the only real good in, or rational motive for, all this ordering and planning and organization was the good of all inhabitants of Arda (even admitting Sauron's right to be their supreme lord), his 'plans', the idea coming from his own isolated mind, became the sole object of his will, and an end, the End, in itself. ... [H]is capability of corrupting other minds, and even engaging their service, was a residue from the fact that his original desire for 'order' had really envisaged the good estate (especially physical well-being) of his 'subjects'."
The Rings of Power
As part of a plan to seduce the Elves into his service, Sauron assumed a beautiful appearance as Annatar, "Lord of Gifts", befriended the Elven-smiths of Eregion, led by Celebrimbor, and counselled them in arts and magic. Sauron hinted that he was an emissary of the Valar, specifically of Aulë, whom the Noldor in Exile held in high regard. Some of the Elves distrusted him, especially Galadriel and Gil-galad, the High King of the Noldor. The Elves in Eregion, however, did not heed their warnings.
With Sauron's assistance, the Elven-smiths forged the Rings of Power, which conferred great power upon their bearers. He then secretly forged the One Ring in the volcanic Mount Doom in Mordor. This "One Ring to rule them all" had the power to dominate the other Rings and enslave their wearers to Sauron's will. The Rings of Power were extremely potent, however; to create an instrument that could dominate even them, Sauron was forced to transfer a great part of his native power into it. Yet "while he wore it, his power on earth was actually enhanced".
Sauron's plan would have succeeded had the Elves not detected his influence when he put on the One Ring. It was then the Elves saw him for who he really was, removed their Rings, and did not use them for as long as Sauron retained the One Ring. Enraged, Sauron initiated a great war and conquered much of the land west of Anduin. The Three Rings, however, had been forged by Celebrimbor himself without Sauron's help. These rings were saved and remained in the hands of the Elves, specifically Gil-galad, Círdan, and Galadriel.
This began the Dark Years. Sauron overran Eregion, killed Celebrimbor, leader of the Elven-smiths, and seized the Seven and the Nine Rings of Power that had been previously forged with his assistance. Sauron besieged Imladris, battled Moria and Lothlórien, and pushed further into Gil-galad's realm. The Elves were hard pressed to defend Lindon and the Havens, but in the nick of time the powerful army from Númenor arrived to their aid, defeating Sauron's forces and driving the remnant back to Mordor. The Númenóreans were descended from the Three Houses of the Edain who helped the Elves in their war against Morgoth. They lived on the island of Númenor in the seas between Middle-earth and Valinor, a reward for their service from the Valar, and theirs was the most powerful kingdom of Men at this time.
In Unfinished Tales, "The History of Galadriel and Celeborn" states that Sauron and his bodyguard were all that was left of his original army. Gil-galad's power after the War was such that Sauron was unable to move out of Mordor for some time.
Resurgence from Mordor
From this time on, Sauron became known as the Dark Lord of Mordor. Sauron fortified Mordor and completed the Dark Tower of Barad-dûr, already centuries in the building. He distributed the remaining rings of the Seven and the Nine to lords of Dwarves and Men. Dwarves proved too resilient to bend to his will, but the Men were enslaved by Sauron as the Nazgûl, his most feared servants. Well aware of the strength of the Númenóreans after his earlier defeat, Sauron withdrew from the coasts and for a long time avoided directly challenging them, although he managed to use some of the Nine rings to snare three of their great lords.
Sauron regained control over most of the creatures that had served Morgoth in the First Age (such as Orcs and Trolls). Sauron also gained power over most of the Men in the East and the South, becoming their god-king.
Toward the end of the Second Age, as the Númenóreans withdrew from the coasts after their people were divided by strife over the fear of death, Sauron began assailing their Middle-earth strongholds and assumed the titles of Lord of the Earth and King of Men.
Destruction of Númenor
Toward the end of the Second Age, Ar-Pharazôn, who would turn out to be the last and most powerful of the Númenórean kings, had just ascended to the throne when he was angered by reports of Sauron's increasing power. In a show of force, Ar-Pharazôn led a massive army to Middle-earth to reassert Númenórean dominance. Sauron, realizing he could not defeat the Númenóreans with military strength, surrendered. Clad in a beautiful incarnation, he came to Ar-Pharazôn's camp to swear fealty to the king, and allowed himself to be taken as a prisoner to Númenor.
This was part of his plan to corrupt Númenórean civilization from inside. "Sauron's personal 'surrender' was voluntary and cunning: he got free transport to Númenor." When Ar-Pharazôn in his arrogance took Sauron hostage, he failed to realise with whom he was dealing: Sauron "was of course a 'divine' person ... and thus far too powerful to be controlled in this way. He steadily got Arpharazôn's [sic] mind under his own control, and in the event corrupted many of the Númenóreans."
The Akallabêth, the account of the history of Númenor, does not specifically mention the One Ring much, and it has been suggested that Sauron left it at Barad-dûr before he became a hostage of Ar-Pharazôn. In his letters, however, Tolkien noted that Sauron "naturally had the One Ring, and so very soon dominated the minds and wills of most of the Númenóreans". Through the power of the Ring, Sauron soon became an advisor of the king, and he used his influence to undermine the religion of Númenor. He represented Eru as an invention of the Valar that they used to justify their decrees, and substituted the worship of Melkor, with himself as high priest, for that of Eru. The worship of Melkor, with human sacrifice, became mandatory in Númenor.
But there was seen the effect of Melkor upon Sauron: he spoke of Melkor in Melkor's own terms, as a god, or even as God. This may have been the residue of a state which was in a sense a shadow of good: the ability once in Sauron at least to admire or admit the superiority of a being other than himself. ... But it may be doubted whether even such a shadow of good was still sincerely operative in Sauron by that time. His cunning motive is probably best expressed thus. To wean one of the God-fearing from their allegiance it is best to propound another unseen object of allegiance and another hope of benefits; propound to him a Lord who will sanction what he desires and not forbid it. Sauron, apparently a defeated rival for world-power, now a mere hostage, can hardly propound himself; but as the former servant and disciple of Melkor, the worship of Melkor will raise him from hostage to high priest.
Besides introducing the worship of Melkor, Sauron also helped the people to design greater engines and amass more wealth, and soon the Númenóreans returned to Middle-earth where they cruelly hunted and enslaved the Men there for eventual sacrifice. While Sauron ruled behind the scenes, Ar-Pharazôn became the mightiest tyrant in the world since Melkor-Morgoth himself.
Ar-Pharazôn, despite his power, eventually became fearful of his approaching death. Sauron convinced the king that he now had the status to take what was rightfully his, and suggested that the Númenóreans send a great armada upon Aman in order to seize immortality by force from the Valar. While he led the King to believe that it was actually possible to conquer the Blessed Realm, Sauron knew well that the godlike Valar would utterly defeat any mortal army. Sauron did expect the Valar to respond by destroying Ar-Pharazôn and his naval might, thus removing Sauron's greatest obstacle to dominance of Middle-earth. But the Valar had no direct dominance over the Children of Eru, so in the face of this challenge they laid down their guardianship of the world and appealed to Eru for a solution.
Eru's divine intervention did indeed bury the king's armies and drown the armada; but Númenor itself was swallowed by the sea, and the Blessed Realm was removed from the physical world. Sauron had not foreseen this, and his body was destroyed in the destruction. Having expended much effort in the corruption of Númenor, he was diminished, particularly as he forever lost the ability to take a fair form. Yet his spirit rose out of the abyss, and he was able to carry with him the one thing that mattered most. Wrote Tolkien, "I do not think one need boggle at this spirit carrying off the One Ring, upon which his power of dominating minds now largely depended."
In "Akallabêth", Tolkien wrote that Sauron "took up" the Ring after his spirit returned to Middle-earth. According to "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age", Sauron then realized that Gil-galad's power had grown great during his absence and now spread across the Misty Mountains and Greenwood the Great, drawing nigh to places that Sauron initially thought secure before leaving for Númenór.
War against the Last Alliance
Led by Elendil, nine ships carrying the faithful Númenóreans were saved from the Downfall and escaped the cataclysm. These Númenórean exiles founded the kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor in Middle-earth. At first they believed that Sauron had perished in the Downfall, but it soon became evident that the Dark Lord had returned to Mordor when Mount Doom erupted. The Appendices in The Return of the King recount that while Sauron's power had not yet been fully rebuilt, he had decided to attack the Númenóreans before they could become too strong in their new realms.
Sauron struck first, capturing Minas Ithil and destroying the White Tree, although Isildur managed to escape down the Anduin and seek Elendil, while Anárion defended Osgiliath and for a time drove Sauron's forces back to the mountains. In "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age" and The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien wrote that Elendil and his sons forged the Last Alliance of Elves and Men with Gil-galad, as they realized that unless they united, Sauron would destroy them each individually.
A great battle ensued between the Alliance and the Host of Sauron on the battle plain of Dagorlad. The Alliance emerged victorious and invaded Mordor, laying siege to Barad-dûr for seven years. Finally, Sauron was forced to emerge from his tower and fight against the Last Alliance himself. During the final challenge on the slopes of Mount Doom, Sauron was slain by Gil-galad and Elendil, who themselves perished in the act. When Elendil fell, his sword Narsil broke beneath him. Isildur, Elendil's surviving son, took up the hilt-shard of Narsil and cut the One Ring from Sauron's hand. "Then Sauron was for that time vanquished, and he forsook his body, and his spirit fled far away and hid in waste places."
Elrond and Círdan, Gil-galad's lieutenants, urged Isildur to destroy the Ring by casting it into Mount Doom, but he refused and kept it for his own: "This I will have as weregild for my father's death, and my brother's. Was it not I that dealt the Enemy his death-blow?"
The traumatic loss of the Ring greatly weakened Sauron; he spent the first thousand years of the Third Age as a shapeless, dormant evil. Nonetheless, his servants were involved in several events that gradually weakened the Númenórean exile kingdoms, although it is unclear if Sauron was actively involved in directing them.
A few years after the War of the Last Alliance, Isildur's army, while marching to Rivendell, was ambushed and overwhelmed by a band of Orcs in what became known as the Disaster of the Gladden Fields. Isildur put on the Ring and attempted to escape by swimming across Anduin, but the Ring—which had a will of its own and a desire to return to Sauron—slipped from his finger. He was spotted and killed by Orc archers. The Ring would remain lost beneath the water for about 2460 years (from year 2 of the Third Age until Déagol found it in 2463).
The Necromancer of Dol Guldur
Around the year 1050, a shadow of fear fell on the forest later called Mirkwood. As would later become known, this was the first sign of Sauron's remanifestation, but for many years he was not recognized. He was known (as in The Hobbit) as the Necromancer. He established a stronghold called Dol Guldur, "Hill of Sorcery", in the southern part of the forest not far from Lórien.
Shortly after the shadow fell upon the forest, the Valar sent five Maiar to oppose this growing power. They took the form of Wizards, the most prominent being Gandalf and Saruman. By about 1100, "the Wise" (the Wizards and the chief Elves) became aware that an evil power had made a stronghold at Dol Guldur. Initially it was assumed that this was one of the Nazgûl rather than Sauron himself. About the year 1300, the Nazgûl did indeed reappear. In the ensuing centuries, the chief of the Nazgûl, the Witch-king of Angmar, repeatedly attacked the northern realm of Arnor, first in 1409 and finally overrunning and effectively destroying the realm in 1974. Though driven from the north in the following year by the Elves and forces from Gondor, the Witch-king retreated to Mordor and gathered the Nazgûl there. In 2000, the Nazgûl issued from Mordor to besiege the city of Minas Ithil in the mountains bordering Mordor. The city fell in 2002, and became known as Minas Morgul. With the city the Nazgûl also captured the palantír of Minas Ithil, one of the seven seeing stones that Elendil's people had brought with them from Númenor at the eve of the Downfall.
As the power of Dol Guldur grew, the Wise came to suspect that the controlling force behind the Witch-king and the other Nazgûl was indeed their original master, Sauron. In 2063, Gandalf went to Dol Guldur and made the first attempt to learn the truth, but Sauron retreated and hid in the East. It would be almost 400 years before he returned to his stronghold in Mirkwood, and his identity remained undetermined.
Sauron finally reappeared with increased strength in 2460. About the same time, the long-lost Ruling Ring was finally recovered from the River Anduin, found by a Stoor Hobbit named Déagol. Déagol's friend and relative Sméagol coveted the Ring and killed Déagol to get it, and was eventually corrupted by it, becoming the creature Gollum. Banished by his family, Gollum took the Ring, which he called his "Precious". His life unnaturally prolonged by the Ring, he hid in the Misty Mountains for centuries.
In 2850, Gandalf made a second attempt to spy out Dol Guldur. Stealing into the stronghold, he was finally able to confirm the identity of its lord. He reported this to the White Council of Elves and Wizards, but Saruman, hoping to acquire the One Ring for himself, dissuaded the Council from acting against Sauron.
Eventually, the Wise put forth their might and drove Sauron from Mirkwood in 2941. During the White Council's delay he had, however, prepared his next move, and was willing to abandon Dol Guldur.
Just before Sauron fled Dol Guldur, the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, on an improbable adventure with a party of Dwarves, stumbled across the Ring deep within the Misty Mountains. After his quest was over, Bilbo brought the Ring back to Hobbiton in the Shire. Decades later, he passed it on to his heir, Frodo.
By then, Sauron's power had recovered to the point that he was able to extend his will over Middle-earth. The Eye of Sauron, as his attention and force of will was perceived, became a symbol of oppression and fear. Following his expulsion from Dol Guldur, he returned to Mordor in 2942, openly declared himself nine years later, and started raising Barad-dûr anew. In preparation for a final war against Men and Elves, he bred armies of monstrous orcs, known as Uruks.
The War of the Ring
The three volumes of The Lord of the Rings tell the story of Sauron's last attempt at achieving world dominion, as the Third Age reached its climax in the years 3018 and 3019.
In The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf deduced that the ring that Bilbo had found in Gollum's cave was indeed Sauron's lost Master-ring. He informed Frodo about the true nature of the heirloom Bilbo had left for him, and its terrible potential if Sauron should ever regain it: "The Enemy still lacks one thing to give him strength and knowledge to beat down all resistance, break the last defences, and cover all the lands in a second darkness. He lacks the One Ring... So he is seeking it, seeking it, and all his thought is bent on it."
Gandalf went for advice to Saruman, but discovered that he had been corrupted by his long studies of Sauron. Using the palantír in the tower of Orthanc, Saruman was now in communication with the Dark Lord and acted as his ally, though he also secretly hoped to take the Ring for himself and use its power to supplant Sauron. Gandalf was held captive atop Orthanc for a time, but soon escaped with the help of one of the giant Eagles of Manwë.
Having captured and tortured Gollum, Sauron learned that the Ring had been found by a Hobbit named "Baggins". Sauron sent the Nazgûl to the Shire, Bilbo's home, where they found that both Bilbo and Frodo had left. The Nazgûl pursued and nearly killed Frodo, but they were defeated near Rivendell by Aragorn, Isildur's heir, whom Gandalf had sent to protect the Hobbits.
In Rivendell, Elrond convened a high council of the peoples of Middle-earth to decide how to handle the crisis. The council determined that the Ring must be destroyed where it was forged, since it was utterly impervious to any other flame than the volcanic fires at its place of making, Orodruin. Frodo and Sam joined the Fellowship of the Ring, accepting the council's mission to cast it into the volcano. The Fellowship was eventually broken when one of its members, Boromir, tried to take the Ring from Frodo; in the ensuing chaos, Boromir was killed by Orcs, and Frodo and Sam went out on their own toward Mordor.
In The Two Towers, Saruman used his own army on Sauron's behalf and invaded Rohan. Gandalf, Théoden King of Rohan, and the Ents, led by Treebeard, finally defeated Saruman's forces. His stronghold at Isengard was overthrown and Saruman left trapped within the Tower of Orthanc. Thus, one of Sauron's most powerful allies was neutralized.
During Saruman's confrontation with Gandalf, the palantír of Orthanc fell into the hands of the Fellowship, and Gandalf handed it over to Aragorn. In The Return of the King, Aragorn used it to show himself to Sauron (who still controlled another Seeing Stone, presumably the one captured from Minas Ithil centuries earlier). Aragorn was leading Sauron to think that he now had the Ring and was preparing to turn its power against its maker. The Dark Lord was troubled by this revelation, and therefore attacked sooner than he had planned by sending an army to overthrow Minas Tirith, capital of Gondor. (See Battle of the Pelennor Fields)
Immediately after the huge army left Mordor from the fortress of Minas Morgul, which was formerly Minas Ithil, Frodo and Sam attempted to enter Mordor through the pass of Cirith Ungol in the mountains above. They had been previously met by Gollum, whom Sauron had earlier released from captivity. For a while, Gollum had acted as a guide for Frodo and Sam. However, he finally betrayed them to Shelob – a monstrous, spider-like creature that guarded the pass. (Sauron is said to have called Shelob his "cat", sending her the occasional prisoner to be devoured.)
In the end, Sam drove off both Gollum and Shelob, but Frodo had been stung by Shelob and appeared to have died from her venom. The Orcs found Frodo's body and stripped him of his gear, but Sam (thinking his friend dead) had already secured the Ring. Frodo regained consciousness and was freed from the orcs by Sam, and the two started the grueling journey across the plains of Mordor towards Mount Doom.
Aragorn marched on the Black Gate of Mordor with 7,000 men, intending to cause a diversion to draw Sauron's armies away while Frodo and Sam journeyed to Mount Doom. After a brief encounter with the Mouth of Sauron, the battle was joined and went very poorly for the outnumbered Gondor/Rohan armies. Now wrongly convinced that Aragorn had the Ring, Sauron apparently reacted just as Gandalf had thought he would: "I will crush him, and what he has taken in his insolence shall be mine again for ever."
Even as the Captains of the West were about to be utterly defeated by the superior might of Sauron's grand armies, Frodo reached his goal, entering the fiery interior of Mount Doom. However, his will failed at the last moment; unable to resist the growing power of the Ring, he put it on his finger and claimed it for his own. Sauron was instantly aware of him, and his gaze turned immediately to the Door in the Mountain. Recalling his remaining Nazgûl from the ongoing battle, he commanded them to hasten to Mount Doom in a desperate attempt to secure the Ring. It was too late, however: Gollum attacked Frodo, bit the Ring from his finger, then lost his footing and fell with the Ring into the fire. With "a roar and a great confusion of noise", the One Ring perished along with all the power Sauron had invested in it. Tolkien later commented in one of his letters that Gollum's convenient slip was an immediate intervention by Eru himself: Gollum's fate was "bound up with that of the ring", as Gandalf predicted in the Mines of Moria.
At the Ring's destruction, Sauron's power was immediately broken and his form in Middle-earth was destroyed. His departing spirit towered above Mordor like a black cloud, but was blown away by a powerful wind from the West (the direction of the Blessed Realm and the Valar). His vast empires collapsed, his armies were defeated, the Dark Tower of Barad-dûr crumbled and the Nazgûl were consumed in a hail of fire from the Mountain as they flew towards it trying to save the Ring. Sauron himself was crippled beyond repair, putting an end to his long reign of terror.
Gandalf had predicted what the destruction of the Ring would mean to Sauron: "If it is destroyed, then he 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."
Names and titles
In some of Tolkien's notes, it is said that Sauron's original name was Mairon or "the admirable", "but this was altered after he was suborned by Melkor. But he continued to call himself Mairon the Admirable, or Tar-Mairon "King Excellent", until after the downfall of Númenor."
The name Sauron (from an earlier form Thauron) originates from the adjective saura "foul, putrid" in Tolkien's invented language of Quenya, and can be translated as "the Abhorred" or "the Abomination". In Sindarin (another Elf-language created by Tolkien) he is called Gorthaur, "the Abhorred Dread" or "the Dread Abomination". He is also called the Nameless Enemy. The Dúnedain (the descendants of the Númenóreans) call him "Sauron the Deceiver" due to his role in the Downfall of Númenor and the forging of the Rings of Power. In the Númenórean (Adûnaic) tongue he was also known as Zigûr, The Wizard.
His two most common titles, the "Dark Lord of Mordor" and the "Lord of the Rings", appear only a few times in The Lord of the Rings. His other titles or variants thereof include "Base Master of Treachery", the "Dark Lord", the "Dark Power", "Lord of Barad-dûr", the "Red Eye", the "Ring-maker" and the "Sorcerer".
In the First Age (as detailed in The Silmarillion) he was called the "Lord of Werewolves" of Tol-in-Gaurhoth. In the Second Age he assumed the name Annatar, which means "Lord of Gifts", and Aulendil, meaning "Friend of Aulë", as well as Artano, meaning "High-Smith", with which he assumed a new identity and tricked the Elves into working with him to create the Rings. In the Third Age he was known for a time as the Necromancer of Dol Guldur because his true identity was still unknown.
Nowhere does Tolkien provide a detailed description of Sauron's appearance during any of his incarnations.
According to The Silmarillion, Sauron was initially able to change his appearance at will. In the beginning he assumed a beautiful form, but after switching his allegiance to Morgoth, he took a sinister shape. In the First Age, Gorlim was at one point brought into "the dreadful presence of Sauron", but the only concrete hint about his appearance is a reference to his daunting eyes.
As part of a plan to destroy Huan, Sauron took the form of the greatest werewolf in Middle-earth's history. When the plan backfired, he assumed a serpent-like form, and finally changed back "from monster to his own accustomed form". The implication is that his "accustomed form" was not, at least, overtly monstrous. It is understood to have been humanoid.
Sauron took a beautiful appearance once again at the end of the First Age in an effort to charm Eönwë, near the beginning of the Second Age when appearing as Annatar to the Elves, and again near the end of the Second Age when corrupting the men of Númenor.
One version of the story describes, in general terms, the impression Sauron made on the Númenóreans. He appeared "as a man, or one in man's shape, but greater than any even of the race of Númenor in stature... And it seemed to men that Sauron was great, though they feared the light of his eyes. To many he appeared fair, to others terrible; but to some evil."
Like Morgoth, Sauron eventually lost the ability to change his physical form (his hröa). After the destruction of his fair form in the fall of Númenor, Sauron was unable to take a pleasing appearance or veil his power again. Thereafter, at the end of the Second Age and again in the Third, he always took the shape of a terrible dark lord. His first incarnation after the Downfall of Númenor was extremely hideous, "an image of malice and hatred made visible". Isildur recorded that Sauron's hand "was black, and yet burned like fire...". Gil-galad perished from Sauron's heat.
In one of his letters Tolkien states that Sauron had a physical form in the Third Age:
...in a tale which allows the incarnation of great spirits in a physical and destructible form their power must be far greater when actually physically present. ... Sauron should be thought of as very terrible. The form that he took was that of a man of more than human stature, but not gigantic.
Tolkien's illustration of Sauron
J. R. R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator includes a watercolour illustration of Sauron made by Tolkien himself (shown at the top of the article). It appears to show a moment in the book occurring immediately after the destruction of the Ring, when the armies of the West saw a towering, dark shape above Mordor, stretching out a threatening arm towards them before the figure dissolved.
Since the illustration refers to a more-or-less visionary moment and is moreover highly sketchy (a second sketch of Sauron's arm appears beneath the arm itself), the image should not necessarily be pressed too hard for details about Sauron's appearance. The head, right arm and upper torso of an apparently humanoid figure are seen. The arm is black, the rest of the body is grey, except for a red eye. No other facial features can be made out. A series of spikes are visible on Sauron's head, possibly suggesting a crown. The mountains of Mordor are seen under the outstretched arm, confirming the enormous size of Sauron's final apparition.
Eye of Sauron
Throughout The Lord of the Rings, "the Eye" (the Red Eye, the Evil Eye, the Lidless Eye, the Great Eye) is the image most often associated with Sauron. Sauron's Orcs bore the symbol of the Eye on their helmets and shields, and referred to him as the "Eye" because he did not allow his name to be written or spoken, according to Aragorn (a notable exception to this rule was his emissary, the Mouth of Sauron). Also, the Lord of the Nazgûl threatened Éowyn with torture before the "Lidless Eye" at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
Frodo had a vision of the Eye in the Mirror of Galadriel:
The Eye was rimmed with fire, but was itself glazed, yellow as a cat's, watchful and intent, and the black slit of its pupil opened on a pit, a window into nothing.
Later, Tolkien writes as if Frodo and Sam really glimpse the Eye directly. The mists surrounding Barad-dûr are briefly withdrawn, and:
one moment only it stared out...as from some great window immeasurably high there stabbed northward a flame of red, the flicker of a piercing Eye... The Eye was not turned on them, it was gazing north...but Frodo at that dreadful glimpse fell as one stricken mortally.
This raises the question of whether an "Eye" was Sauron's actual manifestation, or whether he had a body beyond the Eye. Gollum (who was tortured by Sauron in person) tells Frodo that Sauron has, at least, a "Black Hand" with four fingers. The missing finger was cut off when Isildur took the Ring, and the finger was still missing when Sauron reappeared centuries later.
Tolkien writes in The Silmarillion that "the Eye of Sauron the Terrible few could endure" even before his body was lost in the War of the Last Alliance.
In the draft text of the climactic moments of The Lord of the Rings, "the Eye" stands for Sauron's very person, with emotions and thoughts:
The Dark Lord was suddenly aware of him [Frodo], the Eye piercing all shadows... Its wrath blazed like a sudden flame and its fear was like a great black smoke, for it knew its deadly peril, the thread upon which hung its doom... [I]ts thought was now bent with all its overwhelming force upon the Mountain..."
Christopher Tolkien comments: "The passage is notable in showing the degree to which my father had come to identify the Eye of Barad-dûr with the mind and will of Sauron, so that he could speak of 'its wrath, its fear, its thought'. In the second text...he shifted from 'its' to 'his' as he wrote out the passage anew."
Most adaptations of the story to visual media depict the Eye as visibly present. The film adaptations directed by Peter Jackson depict the Eye of Sauron as an all-seeing eye, and his prequel adaption shows it as an extended aura about Sauron's spiritual essence, which is a silhouette of his physical form and appears as the eye's slit pupil.
Concept and creation
Since the earliest versions of The Silmarillion legendarium as detailed in the History of Middle-earth series, Sauron underwent many changes. The prototype or precursor Sauron-figure was a giant monstrous cat, the Prince of Cats. Called Tevildo, Tifil and Tiberth among other names, this character played the role later taken by Sauron in the earliest version of the story of Beren and Tinúviel in The Book of Lost Tales. The Prince of Cats was later replaced by Thû, the Necromancer. The name was then changed to Gorthû, Sûr, and finally to Sauron. Gorthû, in the form Gorthaur remained in The Silmarillion; both Thû and Sauron name the character in the Lay of Leithian.
The story of Beren and Lúthien also features the heroic hound Huan and involved the subtext of cats versus dogs in its earliest form. Later the cats were changed to wolves or werewolves, with the Sauron-figure becoming the Lord of Werewolves.
Prior to the publication of The Silmarillion (1977), Sauron's origins and true identity were unclear to those without full access to Tolkien's notes. In early editions of Robert Foster's The Complete Guide to Middle-earth, Sauron is described as "probably of the Eldar elves". Yet there were other critics who essentially hit the mark. As early as 1967, W. H. Auden conjectured that Sauron might have been a Vala, long before it became known that Tolkien had indeed described him as "a lesser member of the race of Valar" (see full quote above).
In film versions of The Lord of the Rings, Sauron has been portrayed as either a humanoid creature (as in Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated version, The Lord of the Rings) or a physical, disembodied Eye (as in the 1980 animated The Return of the King), or both.
This last option is shown in the 2001–2003 film trilogy directed by Peter Jackson, with Sauron voiced by Alan Howard. Here, Sauron is shown to have a large humanoid form during the forging of the Ring and up to his losing it, then being "limited" to the disembodied Eye form throughout the rest of the storyline. The 2014 video game Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor presents a related version of this premise. In the game, he regains his physical form sometime after his defeat at Dol Guldur, losing it once more. This depiction preserves continuity with Jackson's film adaptations, at least – if not with Tolkien canon.
Though the 1978 animated film and the 2001 live-action film both contain a prologue featuring the forging of the Rings of Power, the War of the Elves and Sauron goes unmentioned and the films jump straight to the much later War of the Last Alliance. In both, Sauron does not have the form he wore as "Annatar" when he forges the One Ring, but rather the one reflecting his identity as Dark Lord, and he is defeated by Isildur alone.
In Jackson's series, Sauron is originally portrayed as a towering "black knight" wielding a huge black mace (reminiscent of Tolkien's descriptions as well as conceptual artist John Howe's illustrations of Morgoth); in this form, he is portrayed by Sala Baker. While Tolkien never specifically discussed the type of armour, Sauron is shown in spiky plate armor of very high quality: it has very ornate filigree but is also quite functional. In the DVD commentary, the production team explained their intent was to represent Sauron's great skill as a craftsman and ring-maker: Sauron was originally a maia spirit in service to the smith-vala Aulë, and thus was very wise in the lore of physical construction. Sauron may have fallen from his previously angelic state, but a shadow of his great skill in forging and construction remains, even though it has been twisted to making weapons of war. Thus they chose to depict Sauron as wearing frightening, but very high quality and ornate armor of his own creation. Sauron's body disintegrates with explosive force after Isildur cuts off the Ring with the hilt-shard of the sword Narsil. Sauron's spiritual essence remained intact as it eventually consolidates into the Eye of Sauron by the time of Barad-dûr's restoration, stationing himself between the twin horn-like spires above the tower to scan Mordor like a searchlight. The effect in Mordor is seen as a red beam that moves across the land, forever probing. It also seems to be visible to Frodo (and to see him in turn) any time that he is wearing the Ring. Pippin has a brief encounter with the Eye, after gazing into the palantír of Orthanc. In the extended edition of The Return of the King, Sauron's humanoid form appears when Aragorn looks into the palantír. When the Ring is destroyed, the Eye of Sauron collapses in on itself, causing a massive shock wave that destroys his entire kingdom.
In earlier versions of Jackson's script, Sauron does indeed "come forth" at Aragorn's challenge, and does battle with him: The extra materials published together with the extended DVD version of the third movie indicate as much. Scenes of the fight were shot, but later this idea was discarded and was replaced by a scene (in the extended version) where Aragorn kills the "Mouth of Sauron" (a representative of Sauron) before fighting a Mordor troll. In fact, the footage of the battle with the troll was the same footage of Aragorn fighting Sauron, with the CGI troll mapped over a painted-out Sauron, as seen in the DVD special features. In this abandoned scene, when Sauron first emerges from the Black Gate, he appears in his fair and seductive form as "Annatar the Lord of Gifts", trying to entice Aragorn and the other leaders with offers of peace and dominion. When they reject him, he reverts to his true form, as seen in the prologue. Jackson said he removed the scene when he realized it was too much of a departure from the source material and thematically missed the point: the battle was supposed to be a selfless sacrifice by Aragorn and his army, and making it into a duel between Aragorn and Sauron made it more about personal glory. Sauron appears as The Necromancer (a figure only incidentally mentioned by Gandalf in the original novel) and one of the main antagonists in Jackson's The Hobbit film adaptations where he is portrayed through voice and motion capture by Benedict Cumberbatch. The Necromancer appears briefly in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey when Radagast the Brown enters Dol Guldur. In The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Jackson moves Gandalf's decisive expedition to Dol Guldur forward in time to coincide with the Quest of Erebor. Sauron appears an amorphous entity of shadowy mist floating around in the ruins before he assumes his semi-physical form, and then manifests the Eye of Sauron while capturing Gandalf. In The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, and the extended edition of The Desolation of Smaug, Sauron is shown to have been behind Smaug's actions as part of a grand scheme to restore the Kingdom of Angmar. However, the actions of Thorin Oakenshield and company forces Sauron to dispatch his Orc army to capture Erebor. During the third film, as his Orc army is nearing Erebor, Sauron appears before the White Council after they battle the nine Nazgûl and rescue Gandalf from Dol Guldur. He is rendered formless by Galadriel, who uses Eärendil's Light to banish him and the Nazgûl back to Mordor.
Sauron appears in merchandise of the Jackson films, including computer and video games. These include The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II (where he was voiced by Stephen Stanton), The Lord of the Rings: Tactics and The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age.
Sauron also appears as a playable character in the game The Lord of the Rings: Conquest, voiced by Jon Olson.
Sauron is a playable character in Lego The Lord of the Rings. His Necromancer form is playable in Lego The Hobbit.
He is further alluded to in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor as the Black Hand of Sauron, the aspect of himself that resided within the hand cut off by Isildur during the War of the Last Alliance. While Sauron was voiced by Steven Blum, the Black Hand of Sauron was voiced by Nolan North.
Sauron appears as a boss in Lego Dimensions with the voice provided by Steve Blum once again. He is one the villains serving Lord Vortech, and he takes over Superman's hometown, Metropolis. He is stopped by Batman, Gandalf, and Wyldstyle, with Gandalf noting that his power is significantly decreased since he is not in his home realm. Similar to the movie, his armor crumbles up when he is defeated.
The Lego Batman Movie portrays Sauron in his eye form, voiced by comedian Jemaine Clement, as one of the villains who join with the Joker to take over Gotham City. Sauron causes mayhem in the city by spreading lava, and supports the takeover by being able to find anyone anywhere. He is accidentally destroyed by fire blast from the Kraken.
Allusions in other works
The Eye of Sauron is mentioned in The Stand, a post-apocalyptic novel written by Stephen King. The villain Randall Flagg possesses an astral body in the form of an "Eye" akin to the Lidless Eye. The novel itself was conceived by King as a "fantasy epic like The Lord of the Rings, only with an American setting". The idea of Sauron as a sleepless eye that watches and seeks the protagonists also influenced King's epic fantasy series The Dark Tower; its villain, the Crimson King, is a similarly disembodied evil presence whose icon is also an eye.
The Eye of Sauron appears as a visual reference in the Waking the Dead episode "Double Bind".
In S.M. Stirling's Emberverse series, the Eye of Sauron is the emblem of one of the new polities arising in the wake of the "Change".
In his Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz repeatedly characterises Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo as "our Sauron". Multiple references appear throughout the novel.
In the comic series Fables, by Bill Willingham, one character is called "The Adversary", an ambiguous figure of immense evil and power believed to be responsible for much of the misfortune in the Fables' overall history. Willingham has stated "The Adversary", in name and in character, was inspired by Sauron.
In the television series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Meghan McCarthy and Lauren Faust have stated that the third season's premiere antagonist, King Sombra, is mainly based on Sauron, as both are tyrannical dark entities seeking war and the oppression of free peoples.
In their 1974 science fiction novel The Mote in God's Eye, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle refer to the "Sauron supermen," a faction of authoritarian, eugenically-bred warriors who were only with great difficulty defeated by the First Empire of Humanity.