J. R. R. Tolkien's watercolour illustration of Sauron
|Alias||Dark Lord, Necromancer|
Sauron //[T 1] is the title character[a] and the main antagonist of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, where he rules the land of Mordor and has the ambition of ruling the whole of Middle-earth.
In the same work, he is identified as the Necromancer of Tolkien's earlier novel The Hobbit. In The Silmarillion,[T 3] he is also described as the chief lieutenant of the first Dark Lord, Morgoth. Tolkien noted that the Ainur, 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".[T 4]
The Ainulindalë, the cosmological myth prefixed to The Silmarillion, explains how the supreme being Eru initiated his creation by bringing into being innumerable good,[T 5] immortal, angelic spirits, the Ainur, including Sauron, one of the lesser Ainur, the Maiar.[T 6][T 7] In his origin, Sauron therefore perceived the Creator directly.[T 8] He was of a "far higher order" than the Maiar who later came to Middle-earth as the Wizards.[T 9] The Vala Melkor (later called Morgoth) rebelled against Eru, breaking the cosmic Music with discord.[T 10][T 11] So began "the evils of the world",[T 12] which Sauron followed.[T 13]
Sauron served Aulë the Vala Smith, acquiring much knowledge;[T 14][T 15] he was at first called Mairon (Quenya for "the Admirable") until he joined Melkor. In Beleriand, he was called in Sindarin Gorthu "Mist of Fear" and Gorthaur "The Cruel".[T 16] Sauron was corrupted by Melkor,[T 17] who attracted him by seeming to have power to "effect his designs quickly and masterfully", as Sauron hated disorder.[T 18] Sauron became a spy for Melkor in Almaren.[T 14] Melkor soon destroyed Almaren, and the Valar moved to the Uttermost West: the Blessed Realm of Valinor, still not perceiving Sauron's treachery.[T 19] Sauron left the Blessed Realm and went to Middle-earth, the central continent of Arda, where Melkor had established his stronghold.[T 20] Sauron openly joined the Valar's enemy, now renamed Morgoth.[T 9]
Sauron became Morgoth's devoted and capable servant,[T 21] helping him in all the "deceits of his cunning".[T 22] By the time Elves awoke in the world, Sauron had become Melkor's lieutenant and was given command over the new stronghold of Angband. The Valar made war on Melkor and captured him, but Sauron escaped.[T 23] He hid in Middle-earth, repaired Angband, and began breeding Orcs. Melkor escaped back to Middle-earth with the Silmarils.[T 24] Sauron directed the war against the Elves, conquering Minas Tirith. Lúthien and Huan the Wolfhound came to this fallen stronghold to save the imprisoned Beren, Lúthien's lover. Sauron, transformed into a werewolf, battled Huan who took him by the throat; he was defeated and left as a huge vampire bat. Lúthien destroyed the tower and rescued Beren from the dungeons. Eärendil sailed to the Blessed Realm, and the Valar moved against Morgoth in the War of Wrath; he was defeated and cast into the Outer Void beyond the world, but again Sauron escaped.[T 25]
About 500 years into the Second Age, Sauron reappeared.[T 21] He planned to take over Middle-earth and rule as a God-King.[T 26][T 19][T 27][T 28] To seduce the Elves into his service, Sauron assumed a fair appearance as Annatar, "Lord of Gifts",[T 29] befriended the Elven-smiths of Eregion, led by Celebrimbor, and counselled them in arts and magic. With Sauron's assistance, the Elven-smiths forged the Rings of Power. He then secretly forged the One Ring, to rule all other rings, in the volcanic Mount Doom in Mordor.[T 30] The Elves detected his influence when he put on the One Ring, and removed their Rings. Enraged, Sauron initiated a great war and conquered much of the land west of Anduin. Sauron overran Eregion, killed Celebrimbor, and seized the Seven and the Nine Rings of Power. The Three Rings were saved by the Elves, specifically Gil-galad, Círdan, and Galadriel. Sauron besieged Imladris, battled Khazad-dûm and Lothlórien, and pushed further into Gil-galad's realm. The Elves were saved when a powerful army from Númenor arrived to their aid, defeating Sauron's forces and driving the remnant back to Mordor. Sauron fortified Mordor and completed the Dark Tower of Barad-dûr. 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. Orcs and Trolls became his servants, with Easterlings and men of Harad.[T 31]
Toward the end of the Second Age, Ar-Pharazôn, king of Númenor, led a massive army to Middle-earth. Sauron surrendered, to corrupt Númenor from inside.[T 32][T 6] With the One Ring, Sauron soon dominated the Númenóreans.[T 32] He used his influence to undermine the religion of Númenor, making people worship Melkor with human sacrifice; Sauron was his high priest.[T 6][T 33]
Sauron convinced Ar-Pharazôn to attack Aman by sea to steal immortality from the Valar.[T 6][T 34] The Valar laid down their guardianship of the world and appealed to Eru.[T 35] Eru destroyed the attacking fleet and armies, but also drowned Númenor, which was removed from the physical world, and destroyed Sauron's body, with his ability to appear beautiful.[T 36][T 36]
Led by Elendil, nine ships carrying faithful Númenóreans were saved from the Downfall; they founded the kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor in Middle-earth. Sauron returned to Mordor; Mount Doom again erupted.[T 37] Sauron captured Minas Ithil and destroyed the White Tree; Isildur escaped down the Anduin. Anárion defended Osgiliath and for a time drove Sauron's forces back to the mountains.[T 38] Isildur and Anárion formed an alliance and defeated Sauron at Dagorlad. They invaded Mordor and laid siege to Barad-dûr for seven years. Sauron was killed by Gil-galad and Elendil, who perished in the act.[T 39] When Elendil fell, his sword Narsil broke beneath him. Isildur took up the hilt-shard of Narsil and cut the One Ring from Sauron's hand, vanquishing Sauron.[T 40] 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.[T 41]
Sauron spent a thousand years as a shapeless, dormant evil. A few years after the War of the Last Alliance, Isildur's army was ambushed by Orcs at the Gladden Fields. Isildur put on the Ring and attempted to escape by swimming across Anduin, but the Ring, trying to return to Sauron, slipped from his finger. Isildur was killed by Orc archers.[T 42]
Sauron concealed himself in the south of Mirkwood as the Necromancer, in the stronghold of Dol Guldur, "Hill of Sorcery". The Valar sent five Maiar as Wizards to oppose the darkness, supposing it was a Nazgûl rather than Sauron himself. The chief of the Nazgûl, the Witch-king of Angmar, repeatedly attacked the northern realm of Arnor, destroying it. When attacked by Gondor, the Witch-king retreated to Mordor, gathering the Nazgûl there. The Nazgûl captured Minas Ithil, which was renamed Minas Morgul, and gained its palantír, one of the seven seeing stones brought from Númenor.
Gollum's friend Déagol found the One Ring in the River Anduin,[T 43][T 44] Gollum killed Déagol to get it, and was swiftly corrupted by it. Banished, he went to hide in the Misty Mountains. The Wizards discovered Sauron in Dol Guldur,[T 45] and drove Sauron from Mirkwood; he returned to Mordor, openly declared himself, rebuilt Barad-dûr, and bred armies of specially large Orcs, Uruks.[T 46]
Gandalf identified Gollum's ring as Sauron's One Ring.[T 47] Saruman, seeking power, used Orthanc's palantír, and was corrupted by Sauron. Sauron captured Gollum and learnt that the Ring had been found by a Hobbit named "Baggins". Sauron sent the Nazgûl to the Shire; they pursued the ring-bearer Frodo, who escaped to Rivendell. There, Elrond convened a council. It determined that the Ring should be destroyed in Mount Doom, and formed the Fellowship of the Ring to achieve this. Saruman attempted to capture the Ring; his army was destroyed and his stronghold at Isengard was overthrown. The palantír of Orthanc fell into the hands of the Fellowship; Aragorn used it to show himself to Sauron as if he held the Ring. Sauron, troubled by this revelation, attacked Minas Tirith sooner than he had planned. His army was destroyed at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam entered Mordor through the pass of Cirith Ungol. Aragorn diverted Sauron's attention with an attack on the Black Gate of Mordor.[T 48] Frodo and Sam reached Mount Doom; Gollum seized the Ring and fell into the Cracks of Doom, destroying the Ring. Thus Sauron was utterly defeated, and vanished from Middle-earth.[T 48]
Tolkien never describes Sauron's appearance in detail. He was initially able to change his appearance at will, but when he became Morgoth's servant, he took a sinister shape. In the First Age, Gorlim was brought into "the dreadful presence of Sauron", who has daunting eyes.[T 49] In the battle with Huan, the hound of Valinor, Sauron took the form of a werewolf. Then he assumed a serpent-like form, and finally changed back "from monster to his own accustomed [human-like] form".[T 50] He took on a beautiful appearance at the end of the First Age 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 to corrupt the men of Númenor. He appeared then "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."[T 51] After the destruction of his fair form in the fall of Númenor, Sauron always took the shape of a terrible dark lord. [T 52] His first incarnation after the Downfall of Númenor was hideous, "an image of malice and hatred made visible".[T 53] Isildur recorded that Sauron's hand "was black, and yet burned like fire ...". Gil-galad perished from Sauron's heat.
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[T 55] (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"[T 56] 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.[T 57]
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.[T 58]
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.[T 59] 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.[T 60] 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 ..."[T 61]
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."[T 61]
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 correctly conjectured that Sauron might have been one of the Valar.
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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, and its sequel, Middle-earth: Shadow of War presents a related version of this premise. In the games, he regains his physical form sometime after his defeat at Dol Guldur, losing it once more, only to regain physical form again and later become the great eye over Barad-dûr after trying to assimilate himself with the spirit of the elf lord Celebrimbor. 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 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 armour 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 wise in smithcraft. The fallen Sauron retained a shadow of his skill in forging, twisted to making weapons. Thus they depicted Sauron as wearing frightening but ornate armour of his own making. Sauron's body disintegrates when Isildur cuts off the Ring with the hilt-shard of the sword Narsil. Sauron's spiritual essence remained intact and consolidated into the Eye of Sauron by the time of Barad-dûr's restoration, appearing between the twin horn-like spires above the tower to scan Mordor like a searchlight. It also seems to be visible to Frodo (and to see him in turn) whenever he wears 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 "come forth" at Aragorn's challenge, and does battle with him, as shown in the extra materials published with the extended DVD version of the third movie. Scenes of the fight were shot, but later this idea was replaced by a scene (in the extended version) where Aragorn kills the "Mouth of Sauron" before fighting a Mordor troll. 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, trying to entice Aragorn with offers of peace and dominion. When he is rejected, he reverts to his true form, as seen in the prologue. Jackson said he removed the scene when he realized the battle was supposed to be a selfless sacrifice by Aragorn and his army, not a personal duel for glory.
Sauron appears as The Necromancer 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 force 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 Fred Tatasciore), The Lord of the Rings: Tactics, and The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age.
He is alluded to in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor as the Black Hand of Sauron, the aspect that resided within the hand cut off by Isildur during the War of the Last Alliance. While Sauron was voiced by Steve Blum, the Black Hand of Sauron was voiced by Nolan North. Sauron returns in the sequel Middle-earth: Shadow of War.
Sauron appears as a boss in Lego Dimensions with the voice provided by Steve Blum once again. He is one of the villains serving Lord Vortech, and he takes over Superman's hometown, Metropolis. He is stopped by Batman and Gandalf, with Gandalf noting that his power is significantly decreased since he is not in his home realm, and is cleansed of the Locate Keystone. Similar to the movie, his armour crumbles up when he is defeated.
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.
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. Ainur Sauron and Ainur Narsil, a Russian based Android audio modification tool, were named after Sauron and Narsil.
The first syllable of Sauron is like English sour, not sore