The eye of Sauron

Annatar, Gorthaur (the Cruel), Lieutenant of Morgoth, The Black Hand, The Dark Lord, The Dark Power, Lord of Gifts, Lord of Mordor, The Lord of the Rings, The Necromancer, The Red Eye, The Ring-maker, The Sorcerer, The Shadow in the Forest. Sauron was the name given to him by the High-Elves, and means the “Abhorred”.

Sauron was a Maia, created by Ilúvatur in the beginning of the world. He took part in the Music of the Ainur, and initially, he was a great craftsman who served Aulë the Smith. But Melkor soon seduced him, and in all the deeds of Morgoth upon Arda, Sauron had a part. He was only less evil than his master in that for long he had served another and not himself.

While he was of lesser power than his master Morgoth, Sauron remained cooler and more capable of calculation – at least to start with. While Morgoth was still rampaging through the world, Sauron was content to work and scheme in the shadows, desiring only the triumph of Morgoth, whom in the beginning he adored. Because of this, he was often able to achieve things that Morgoth had conceived but, in his blind malevolence, could not complete.

By the time Morgoth was thrown into the Void, he had become obsessed with the obliteration of Arda itself. However, Sauron wanted the world intact. When Sauron inherited the corruption of Arda, he knew that he could not complete the grand plans of his master, and instead focussed his desires on the creatures of the earth, wanting to dominate their minds and wills.

“He still had the relics of positive purposes, that descended from the good of the nature in which he began: it had been his virtue … that he loved order and co-ordination, and disliked all confusion and wasteful friction.” (Morgoth’s RingMyths Transformed)

Sauron’s original desire was to order and organise the inhabitants of Arda, moulding the world to what he saw to be the perfect design, all for the benefits of his ‘subjects’, the peoples of the world. Indeed, this desire for rigid order and organisation was what had drawn him to Melkor in the beginning.

However, while serving Morgoth, Sauron had become infected with the Vala’s lust for destruction, as well as his hatred of Ilúvatar. “He probably deluded himself with the notion that the Valar (including Melkor) having failed, Eru had simply abandoned Eä … It would appear that he interpreted the ‘change of the world’ at the Downfall of Númenor, when Aman was removed from the physical world, in this sense … he imagined [the Istari] as emissaries from the Valar, seeking to establish their lost power again and ‘colonise’ Middle-earth, as a mere effort of defeated imperialists (without knowledge of sanction of Eru).” (Letters)

Sauron by the time of Lord of the Rings

Sauron had become a sorcerer of great power, “master of necromancy, foul in wisdom, cruel in strength, mis-shaping what he touched, twisting what he ruled, lord of were-wolves: his dominion was torment.” (the Quenta Silmarillion in Book of Lost Tales)

“He rose like a shadow of Morgoth and a ghost of his malice, and walked behind him on the same ruinous path down into the Void.” (The Silmarillion)

Sauron was the first of many manifestations of Evil through the history of Middle-earth that mortal Man would be able to overcome. He was also the last source of Evil that had a non-human, angelic, magical nature. Tolkien thought that Sauron was his most evil creation, beyond even Morgoth. “In my story Sauron represents as near an approach to the wholly evil will as is possible. But he went further than human tyrants in pride and the lust for domination, being in origin an immortal (angelic) spirit.” (Letters)

Sauron and the One Ring

Sauron, by Alan Lee

“The chief power (of all the rings alike) was the prevention or slowing of decay (i.e. change viewed as a regrettable thing) the preservation of what is desired or loved, or its semblance … But also they enhanced the natural powers of a possessor” (Letters #131)

To become the Ruler that he wanted to be, Sauron was obliged to let a great part of his power pass into the One Ring. While he wore this Ring, his power in Middle-earth was enhanced. Even if Sauron was not wearing the Ring, this power source still existed and the Ring remained in ‘rapport’ with Sauron – he was not diminished in any way. Furthermore, putting his power into the ring assured him that even if an enemy was to kill him, he would always be able to return to life, as his power was invested mainly in the Ring and not in his actual form.

The downside to this power “boost” was if some other person seized the Ring and became possessed of it, the new possessor – if suitably strong and heroic by nature – could challenge Sauron, become master of all that he had learned or done since the making of the Ring, and so overthrow him and usurp his place.

“But were it to come to the hand of some one of power … then he being the Ringlord would wax ever in power, and the desire of power; and all minds he would cow or dominate so that they would blindly do his will. … And so Sauron would be overthrown utterly and fade into oblivion; but behold, there would be Sauron still ….. but upon the other side.” (War of the Ring)

Furthermore, if the Ring was unmade, then its power would be dissolved, and Sauron’s own being would be diminished to vanishing point, and he would be reduced to a shadow, a mere memory of malevolent desire.

“If it [The Ring] 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.” (The Lord of the Rings, The Last Debate)

However, Sauron never imagined that that could happen. The Ring could not be reshaped, or melted down by any hand but his own, and it would not break down in any fire save the fires of his forge at Mount Doom. Furthermore, the Ring’s power was so strong that whoever wore it, save Sauron himself, was meant to be mastered by it. “It was beyond the strength of any will (even his own) to injure it, cast it away, or neglect it. So he thought.” (Letters, #131)

Sauron’s utter self-belief and, some might say, his short-sightedness, mean that once he had created the One Ring, his doom was set.

“If I were to ‘philosophize’ this myth, or at least the Ring of Sauron, I should say it was a mythical way of representing the truth that potency … if it is to be exercised, and produce results, has to be externalised and so as it were passes, to a greater or less degree, out of one’s direct control. A man who wishes to exert ‘power’ must have subjects, who are not himself. But he then depends on them.” (Letters, #211).

Sauron and the other Rings of Power

Elves – Elves made a large number of rings, but the last three to be created were the Three Rings of Power – Narya, Nenya and Vilya. Sauron had no part of the creation of the Three Elven Rings of Power, which meant that as soon as Sauron set the One Ring upon his finger, they were aware of it. The elves fled from him, and managed to save their Three Rings of Power.


Men – The Nine Rings of Power were created by Sauron and Celebrimbor in Eregion, and they were regained by Sauron in the Wars soon after their making. He later corrupted nine humans to his service, including, it is said, three great lords of the Númenórean race. These nine men became the Nazgûl – the Ringwraiths, who first appear towards the end of the second millennium of the Second Age.

Dwarves – The Seven Rings of Power were also created by Sauron and Celebrimbor in Eregion. Sauron eventually regained some of the Dwarven Rings, taking the last from Thrór in Dol Guldur. He hated the Dwarves, as they had proven hard to subdue – while they could be slain, they could not be made into shadows or slaves, and their lifespan was not affected greatly by the Ring.

The forms of Sauron

Sauron preferred to work “behind the scenes”, lurking unseen in his strongholds while sending out his armies to work his mischief in the world. This desire to work from the shadows is most strongly shown in “The Lord of the Rings” itself – although he gives his name to the book, and is of pivotal importance from the start of the book to its end, he never makes a physical appearance.

Sauron initially appeared in the world in the form of the Children of Ilúvatur, and this was a form he came back to again and again. However, after the Second Age, Sauron could not longer appear fair, and he became the Dark Lord, terrible of aspect, black and burning hot, with a single lidless Eye that was rimmed in fire. It was as yellow as a cat’s and the black slit of its pupil opened onto a window into nothing.

When Sauron appeared on the Earth as a physical actuality in the physical world, and not simply a vision transferred from mind to mind, it took him some time to build up his body. However, when he had built his form up, it could then be destroyed like any other physical form. It took him longer and longer to rebuild his body after each defeat, because each building used up some of the willpower needed for him to translate the desires of his mind into flesh.

During the battle at the end of the Second Age, Sauron had one of his fingers cut off, and later, in the Third Age, he still had four fingers on one hand, showing that Maiar, as well as the Valar, take injuries through incarnations.

In the First Age, Sauron showed a good ability to shape-shift. When fighting Huan, he changed first into a wolf-shape, and then a serpent-shape and a monster shape. Furthermore, when fleeing from the battle, he took the form of a vampire, dripping blood from his throat onto the trees.

Sauron’s most infamous manifestation, however, is the Lidless Eye, the Eye of Sauron.

The Eye
“as from some great window immeasurably high there stabbed northward a flame of red, the flicker of a piercing Eye; and then the shadows were furled again and the terrible vision was removed. The Eye was not turned to them.” (Lord of the Rings, Mount Doom)

While there are some hints that the Eye has a physical presence on Barad-dûr, it seems mainly a manifestation of Sauron’s ever-continuing search for the Ring. However, Tolkien did come to identify the Eye more and more with the mind and will of Sauron: “The Dark Lord was suddenly aware of him, the Eye piercing all shadows looked across the plain to the door in Orodruin … Its wrath blazed like a sudden flame and its fear was like a great black smoke.” (Sauron Defeated)

The Eye is known from the late Second Age onwards.

There is one more way in which Tolkien makes Sauron’s presence felt, and that is through shadows and storms.

“The skirts of the storm were lifting, ragged and wet, and the main battle had passed to spread its great wings over the Emyn Muil, upon which the dark thought of Sauron brooded for a while. “ (War of the Ring)

“And as the Captains gazed south to the Land of Mordor, it seemed to them that, black against the pall of cloud, there rose a huge shape of shadow, impenetrable, lightning-crowned, filling all the sky. Enormous it reared above the world, and stretched out towards them a vast threatening hand, terrible but impotent: for even as it leaned over them, a great wind took it, and it was all blown away, and passed; and then a hush fell.” (Lord of the Rings, Field of Cormallen)
Sauron the Shadow

Sauron’s Servants

Thuringwethil – the bat messenger of Sauron in the First Age who was wont to fly in vampire form to Angband. Her great fingered wings were barbed at each joint’s end with an iron claw. Lúthien took her form when reclaiming the Silmarils from Angband.

Orcs – “The idea of breeding the Orcs came from Melkor … the details of the accomplishment of this wickedness were, however, left mainly to the subtleties of Sauron.”

Sauron had greater control over the Orcs than Morgoth did, bending their minds to his will to an extreme extent. However, the Orcs he inherited were full of inter-racial and inter-family feuds, and some had even set up “realms” of their own after the fall of Thangorodrim. While they had become accustomed to independence, Sauron managed to unite them in hatred of the Elves and Men. Eventually they fell so far under his will that they would willingly sacrifice themselves for their Lord.

Trolls – It is assumed that Sauron bred the Olog-hai at the end of the third age.

Sauron through the ages

First Age

Sauron was appointed first Captain of Angband by Morgoth when he first came to Middle-earth. When Morgoth was later imprisoned by the Valar, Sauron was overlooked, hiding in the depths of Angband, and he escaped ruin. By the time of the Dagor Bragollach, he had become second only to Morgoth in evil.

During the Dagor Bragollach, Sauron’s armies of werewolves and Orcs captured the tower of Minas Tirith on Tol Sirion. Sauron then lived there, in Tol-in-Gaurhoth (the Isle of Werewolves) – for a while as the Lieutenant of Morgoth. At some point during this time, Sauron created the Black Speech to serve as a language for his subjects.

In Tol-in-Gaurhoth, Sauron suffered one of his greatest defeats – at the hands of Lúthien and Huan, who had come to rescue Beren and Finrod from Sauron’s prisons. When Lúthien sung to Beren from outside Tol-in-Gaurhoth, the Lieutenant of Morgoth recognised her voice, and realised that his reward would be great if he could capture her and hand her over to Morgoth. He took the form known as Wolf-Sauron, the shape of a mighty werewolf, and went out to meet his foes. First, he attacked Lúthien, but under her enchantment he stumbled, and Huan sprang upon him. Though he shifted shapes from wolf to serpent, from monster to his own form, he could not escape. Lúthien then spoke to him, reviling him and his weakness, and demanding that he yielded the tower to her. Sauron did so, and fled eastward in the form of a vampire, dripping blood from his throat onto the trees. He went to Dorthonion, where he then dwelt in the dark pine forests of Taur-nu-Fuin, filling them with horror.

Second Age

Sauron survived the breaking of Thangorodrim, but when he was summoned by Eönwë to return to Valinor and face judgement for his crimes, Sauron refused. Tolkien, in his “Letters”, implied that initially Sauron truly did repent for his crimes through fear of the Valar, but, in the end, he still did not do as he was commanded. He remained in Middle-earth, and beginning with fair intentions – the reorganisation and rehabilitation of the Middle-earth that he thought had been abandoned by the gods – he slowly became a reincarnation of Evil, consumed with hate, and lusting for power.

Sauron decided that he should seek a land which he could fortify like the Angband of old. He found Mordor – an empty land whose central volcano had covered the plains around with dark ash. There Sauron built his Dark Tower, Barad-dûr, and the forges of Orodruin (SA 900 onwards, Barad-dûr completed in SA 1900).

But at the start of the Second Age, Sauron was still not wholly evil, and he was able to appear beautiful of face and form. He also bore fair names, many of which showed reverence to Artano (‘high-smith’), Aulendil (one who is devoted to the service of Aulë, or Annatar (Lord of Gifts). Because of his great wisdom and knowledge, Sauron could find words of seeming reason for the persuasion of all but the most wary. He used treachery and deceit as his main weapons, pretending to help the elves heal their lands and suggesting that could make Middle-earth as beautiful as Valinor (Letters, #131).

Gil-galad refused all dealings with him, but not so the Eregion Elves. The Noldor wanted the technical knowledge that Sauron possessed, and so Celebrimbor made a pact with Sauron, who was posing as an emissary of the Valar. Together they began to forge the Rings of Power (SA 1200-1500). When Sauron found how greatly his knowledge was valued by the peoples of Middle-earth, and how easy it was to influence them, his pride became boundless.

Sauron aided the Elven Smiths in their tasks of creating the Nine and the Seven Rings, though the Three Rings were made by Celebrimbor alone. At the same time, slyly and secretly, Sauron forged the One Ring in the fires of Orodruin.

The moment he took possession the One, the Elves were aware of his deceit and his secret agenda. They hid the Three Rings, and tried to destroy the others. In the resulting war, only Gil-galad managed to hold out against Sauron, and even he would have been defeated had not reinforcements arrived from Númenor. Even so, Sauron managed to take the Nine Rings, and possibly also some of the Seven Rings. He then gave the Nine Rings to those that would accept them out of ambition or greed – leading to their ultimate corruption and enslavement.

Through the Second Age, Sauron came to hate the Númenóreans, not only because of Gil-galad’s earlier assistance to the Elves, but also because of the deeds of their fathers, their ancient alliances with the Elves and their allegiance to the Valar.

When Ar-Pharazôn brought his forces to Umbar in SA 3125, the armies of Sauron fled, but Sauron himself was able to twist the situation to further his own purposes. The King of Númenor was a vain man, and when Sauron humbled himself in front of the King, the Maia was carried back to Númenor instead of being killed. There, Sauron’s old gifts of treachery and betrayal reasserted themselves, and he quickly became Pharazôn’s chief counsellor. He started to enhance the corruption already present in Númenor by introducing a cult of the Dark, where the name of Morgoth was spoken with reverence. He also ordered the killing of Nimloth, the White Tree of Númenor, and used the wood to light a fire on the altar of the Temple of Morgoth.

After he had been held captive for less than 50 years, Sauron suggested that Ar-Pharazôn assemble a great fleet to attack Valinor (SA 3319). In the following downfall of Númenor, Sauron’s mortal body was destroyed, but his spirit survived and fled back to Middle Earth.

He was never again able to appear fair to Men “yet his spirit arose out of the deep and passed as a shadow and a black wind over the sea, and came back to Middle-earth and to Mordor that was his home. There he took up again his great Ring in Barad-dûr, and dwelt there, dark and silent, until he wrought himself a new guise, an image of malice and hatred made visible; and the Eye of Sauron the Terrible few could endure.” He became the Dark Lord, terrible of aspect, black and burning hot, with a single lidless Eye that was rimmed in fire. It was as yellow as a cat’s and the black slit of its pupil opened onto a window into nothing.

Sauron on his throne

In SA 3429, Sauron captured Minas Ithil and drove the Dúnedain back across the Anduin. However, he again underestimated his enemies – the Men and Elves made an alliance against him and laid siege to Barad-dûr. In a final combat against Elendil and Gil-galad in SA 3441, Sauron was cast down, and his Ring cut from his finger.

Third Age

For the first thousand years of the Third Age, Sauron slept. Slowly he began to take shape once more, though to start with he remained too weak to recapture Mordor. Instead, he created the smaller fortress of Dol Guldur on a hill in the southern region of Greenwood, where he was known only as The Necromancer.

Through much of the Third Age, Sauron remained in Dol Guldur, lurking in the shadows while his servants went out into Middle Earth to put his evil schemes into practice. He remained so hidden that even the Istari debated whether he had returned or not.

Sauron’s main desire was the recovery of his Ruling Ring. He tried to find its location while remaining hidden from the world, but eventually he was driven from Dol Guldur and had to return to Mordor and openly proclaim his presence (c. TA 2950). He could not conceive of anyone being able to destroy the Ring, so he concentrated on searching for descendants of Isildur, people who would be powerful enough to challenge him if they had the Ring. Near the end of the Third Age, Sauron saw both a hobbit and Aragorn through Saruman’s palantír, and he started to believe that Aragorn had the Ring. “The Eye turned inward, pondering tidings of doubt and danger: a bright sword and a stern and kingly face it saw.” (The Lord of the Rings)

However, he only understood his enemies’ plans when it was too late – when Frodo had put the Ring on his finger at Mount Doom. “The Dark Lord was suddenly aware of him, and his Eye piercing all shadows looked across the plain to the door that he had made; and the magnitude of his own folly was revealed to him in a blinding flash, and all devices of his enemies were at last laid bare. … For he knew his deadly peril and the thread upon which his doom now hung. … The whole mind and purpose of the Power … was now bent with overwhelming force upon the Mountain. At his summons, wheeling with a rending cry, in a last desperate race there flew, faster than the winds, the Nazgûl, the Ringwraiths, and with a storm of wings they hurtled southwards to Mount Doom.” (The Lord of the Rings, Mount Doom)

Sauron’s armies were defeated, his servants destroyed, and Barad-dûr cast down. The One Ring was destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom and Sauron was cast into the Void.

In the Void

What became of Sauron in the Void? Tolkien doesn’t say, though he does give a hint. While no fëa can be annihilated, reduced to zero or non-existence, an evil spirit becomes fixed in a certain desire, and if it does not repent then this desire can become virtually its whole being. If the desire is wholly beyond the limits of the spirit, it will be unable to withdraw its attention from the unobtainable desire, even to attend to itself. It will then remain for ever in impotent desire or memory of desire. (Morgoth’s Ring, Myths Transformed) So maybe that was Sauron’s fate.

Notes from HoME

The evolution of the Dark Lord

Sauron – Prince of Cats?

The Book of Lost Tales suggests that Tevildo, Prince of Cats was a distant forerunner of Sauron. He appears in the version of the Tale of Tinúviel narrated by Vëannë. In this, the Tower of Sauron on Tol-in-Gaurhoth is replaced by the Castle of the Cats.

“It would scarcely be true, I think, to say even that Sauron ‘originated’ in a cat: in the next phase of the legends the Necromancer (Thû) has no feline attributes. On the other hand it would be wrong to regard it as a simple matter of replacement … without any element of transformation of what was previously there.” (Christopher Tolkien, Book of Lost Tales)

Sauron, especially in his wolf-form, retained the Prince of Cats absolute hatred of Huan, and he also still fitted an original description of Tevildo – that of an evil fay in the form of a beast.


The next incarnation of Sauron was Thû, and at this stage of the development of the Silmarillion, he had become a sorcerer of dreadful power, and the Lord of Wolves. He also became associated with Morgoth for the first time.

“Some say also Morgoth or his black shadow and spirit in spite of the Valar creeps back over the Walls of the World … and visits the world, others that this is Thû his great chief who escaped the Last Battle and dwells still in dark places, and perverts Men to his dreadful worship.” (Shaping of Middle-earth, Sketch of the Mythology)

It seems that originally, Thû was the Noldorin form of the name Sauron: “And they came at last even to Mordor the Black Country, where Sauron, that is in the Gnomish [Noldorin] tongue named Thû, has rebuilt his fortresses.” (Return of the Shadow)

Other early names

Gorthû, Sauro, Súro, Sûr, Zigūr (Adunaic)

Sauron the Necromancer

In Morgoth’s Ring, Tolkien suggests that Sauron leads a host of necromancers, and even practises necromancy himself. As such, he could admit evil spirits into unwilling bodies, and then cause those spirits to subjugate its host’s will and body.

Sauron and Gandalf

Interestingly, Tolkien mentions that Gandalf as Ring-Lord would have been far worse than Sauron, even though he would have ruled and ordered things for the benefit of his subjects. “Thus while Sauron multiplied … evil, he left ‘good’ clearly distinguishable from it. Gandalf would have made good detestable and seem evil.” (Letters #246).