Lord Of The Rings: Who Is Sauron?
Sauron is the primary villain of The Lord Of The Rings. Although he never appears directly in the books and is only shown in the movies in a flashback to the War of the Last Alliance, his corruptive influence is felt nearly everywhere in Middle-Earth.
While Frodo and his companions know that Sauron is an embodiment of evil who must be stopped at all costs, they (as well as the reader) aren't given much information as to the Dark Lord's origins. Read on to find out how the maker of the One Ring came to be.
Spoilers for The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, The Lord Of The Rings, and (presumably) The Rings Of Power begin here.
The Valar And The Maiar
When the universe was created, the supreme being Eru Ilùvatar made a host of lesser gods called the Valar (singular Vala) to do the work of shaping everything that would come to be. The Valar, in turn, were assisted by spirits subordinate to them called the Maiar (singular Maia). The Maiar included beings who would one day be known in Middle-Earth as the Five Wizards; Gandalf, Saruman, and the rest.
Aulë the Smith, the Vala charged with creating raw physical matter, was assisted by his primary Maia, called Mairon. Mairon became a peerless craftsman himself under Aulë's tutelage. However, Mairon was also a perfectionist who despised anything that wasn't optimized or ideal. When creatures of flesh and blood such as Elves were placed in the world, Mairon was aghast at their imperfections and sought to gain control over them to impose order on an increasingly chaotic world.
Mairon found common cause with Melkor, first and most powerful of the Valar, who wanted to destroy Middle-Earth and its inhabitants out of spite for his siblings who he saw as inferior. While Mairon wanted to dominate the world rather than destroy it, allying himself with Melkor was the most efficient way to achieve his goal. While Melkor was exiled by the Valar for trying to destroy all they had created, Mairon acted as his spy in their homeland of Valinor.
After thousands of years of banishment, Melkor had served his sentence and was allowed to return to Valinor. He set about attempting to corrupt the Elves, hoping to sow the seeds by which they would turn on one another. After his deception was exposed yet again, Melkor took a new name – Morgoth – and destroyed all he could before fleeing to Middle-Earth. Mairon took the opportunity to escape as well, following Morgoth to the east to serve as his chief lieutenant in the centuries of war that followed.
Elves led by Fëanor, a prince whose father Finwë had been killed in Morgoth's attack, sailed to Middle-Earth intent on destroying the rogue godlings. Refusing to call the traitorous Mairon by his given name, the elves began calling him Sauron – the Abhorred One.
Sauron quickly established himself as the mightiest of Morgoth's servants. His magic was as insidious as it was destructive, and he was able to command vicious beasts with ease. He was eventually defeated in battle by Lúthien, the wife of Beren and great-grandmother of Elrond, and chose to lie low rather than risk Morgoth's wrath for his failure. This allowed Sauron to remain free when Morgoth was eventually defeated and brought back to Valinor to be imprisoned for all time.
The Rings Of Power
Sauron stayed in hiding for hundreds of years, knowing that if he emerged to quickly he would be defeated again. Slowly, he made the land of Mordor his domain, gathering tribes of Orcs and Trolls to serve him. When he was ready, the Dark Lord put his plan into motion.
Disguising himself as a messenger of the Valar and calling himself Annatar, Sauron went to the Elves offering to teach them how to craft magical rings. Gil-Galad, the most powerful of the Elven kings in Middle-Earth, turned him away, as did Galadriel and Elrond, but Celebrimbor of Eregion – himself a celebrated smith – accepted Annatar's tutelage.
Assisted by the disguised Sauron, Celebrimbor created nineteen Rings of Power – three for the Elves, seven for the Dwarves, and nine for humans. When the rings were completed, Sauron returned to Mordor and used the volcanic fires of Mount Doom to forge the One Ring, which would bind the others to its power.
The Elf-lords who had been given the Three Rings immediately sensed the danger they carried and hid them away. The Dwarves were able to mostly resist the power of the Seven Rings, but their greed and desire for wealth is often attributed to Sauron's corruptive influence. The nine human kings who had been gifted rings became fully corrupted and bound to Sauron's will, becoming the Ring-Wraiths.
The Fall Of Númenor
Sauron's deception triggered the War of the Elves and Sauron, which weakened but did not defeat the Dark Lord. He retreated into his fortress at Barad-Dûr, waiting for his next opportunity. During this time, the Elf-blooded humans of Númenor marched on Mordor with a powerful army. Sauron let them come to his gates, then offered his surrender.
Taken back to Númenor as a prisoner, he slowly converted the island to worshipping Morgoth, whom he claimed could grant them immortality like that of the Elves. The danger in this was sensed from on high, and in one of the few cases of divine intervention in the history of Middle-Earth, Eru Ilúvater destroyed Númenor. The island and its kingdom sank into the ocean, never to return.
The surviving Númenórians went to the mainland of Middle-Earth, establishing the kingdoms of Arnor in the north and Gondor in the south. Sauron, whose physical form had been crushed beyond repair during the island's destruction, used the power of the One Ring to return his spirit to Mordor and began constructing a new body.
The War Of The Last Alliance
After regaining his strength, Sauron attempted to destroy Gondor, which had been founded just outside of Mordor by his nemesis, King Elendil the Elf-Friend. Elendil and Gil-Galad united, marching their armies to Mordor in the War of the Last Alliance. Both were slain by Sauron, but Elendil's son and heir Isildur managed to cut off Sauron's finger, parting the Dark Lord from the One Ring. As the ring contained most of Sauron's power and was the means by which he had created a new physical body for himself, Sauron was forced to return to his spirit form and was terribly weakened.
Despite Elrond's insistence, Isildur refused to destroy the One Ring, already becoming corrupted by its power, and kept it as a trophy. When Isildur was killed in a skirmish with Orcs several years later, the One Ring fell into a river and was lost for centuries.
The White Council
Knowing that Sauron would be a threat as long as the One Ring existed, the most powerful lords and ladies of Middle-Earth gathered to form the White Council. They swore to be vigilant against Sauron's return and do all they could to thwart him until he was destroyed for good.
The known members of the Council were the Elves Elrond, Galadriel, Glorfindel, Círdan, as well as the Five Wizards including Curumo (Saruman) and Olórin (Gandalf). Galadriel advocated for Gandalf to chair the Council, but ultimately it was decided that Saruman would lead their long vigil.
Unable to threaten all of Middle-Earth without the One Ring, Sauron waited for over a millennium before making his next move. Still trapped in his spirit form, he traveled to Mirkwood, the home of Thranduil and the Wood-Elves. There, he took up residence in the tower of Dol Guldur and began to terrorize the region as the Necromancer.
Gandalf suspected that the entity was Sauron in disguise, and after several attempts to infiltrate the fortress was able to offer proof to the White Council. Saruman overruled Gandalf, claiming that without the One Ring Sauron could not be a threat. Thus, the Necromancer ruled over southern Mirkwood for several centuries.
Saruman finally authorized an attack on Dol Guldur after discovering that Orcs had been sighted at the Gladden Fields, apparently having learned the last known resting place of the One Ring and attempting to retrieve it for their master.
Gollum And Bilbo
Luckily, the Ring had been found by chance hundreds of years prior by a Hobbit named Smeagol, who became twisted and corrupted by its power and now lived in a cave below the Misty Mountains under the name Gollum. Nevertheless, the White Council couldn't risk Sauron regaining his full power. As the One Ring was still lost, the White Council was able to use the Three Rings of the Elves to enhance their power and drive Sauron from Mirkwood.
By sheer coincidence, shortly before the battle Gandalf had laid eyes on the One Ring without realizing it. Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit he had recruited for an expedition to the Lonely Mountain, had stolen the Ring from Gollum, believing it to carry a simple invisibility enchantment. The One Ring would serve Bilbo well in the rest of his adventures, and he never knew what a dangerous object he had until decades later.
The Lord Of The Rings
Gandalf was suspicious of Bilbo's acquisition but had no way to know for sure if the trinket his friend carried was indeed the One Ring. He spent the next several decades trying to find out what had happened to the One Ring after Isildur's death. On his 111th birthday, Bilbo left the ring – along with his entire estate – to his nephew Frodo before retiring to Rivendell to live out the rest of his days.
Meanwhile, Sauron had been raising the largest army Middle-Earth had ever seen, drawn from the orcs of Mordor and the Haradrim and Easterling peoples who had fallen under his sway. He also finally corrupted Saruman, who had always coveted the power of the One Ring.
The Fellowship Of The Ring
During his search, Gandalf returned to the Misty Mountains in search of Gollum, hoping to learn where the wretched creature had gotten his "precious." Sauron's minions had gotten to Gollum first, and the Ring-Wraiths were dispatched to the Shire after learning that the Ring had been taken by a Hobbit called Baggins.
Gandalf raced back to Frodo, determining once and for all that the One Ring had been at Bag End for decades now, and gave Frodo instructions to meet him at Bree while he informed the White Council of his discovery. Frodo, along with his companions Samwise "Sam" Gamgee, Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck, and Peregrin "Pippin" Took, evaded the Ring-Wraiths and came under the protection of Aragorn, a Ranger and the rightful king of Gondor.
When Gandalf brought the matter to Saruman, the White Wizard imprisoned him, revealing his treachery. Gandalf escaped and met Frodo at Rivendell, where the Council of Elrond determined that the only hope was to bring the Ring to Mordor and destroy it in the fires of Mount Doom where it had been forged. Sensing the power of the Ring, the Ring-Wraiths pursued Frodo and his companions tirelessly.
The Defeat of Sauron
The Fellowship of the Ring was separated by an ill-fated shortcut through Moria and an attack by Saruman's Uruk-hai, resulting in the temporary death of Gandalf and the permanent death of Boromir. Frodo and Sam eventually captured Gollum, who plotted to steal the Ring back from them while playing the loyal servant, and went into Mordor hoping to complete their mission. With no other options and knowing that Sauron would sense the Ring the closer it got to his domain, Aragorn took his rightful place as King of Gondor and marched on Mordor with his allies the Rohirrim. Aragorn hoped to draw Sauron's attention and give Frodo enough time to reach Mount Doom and destroy the Ring.
Frodo and Sam reached Mount Doom after several close calls, but in the moment of truth Frodo has overcome by the Ring's power and put it on, signaling to Sauron its location. Gollum, in a frenzy at the prospect of losing his precious forever, tackled Frodo and bit off his ring finger before falling into the lava with his prize.
With the One Ring destroyed, Sauron was forever robbed of his power. He could never again assume physical form and was consigned to an eternal existence in the Void, unable to affect the world in any way forevermore. His works were undone, his armies dispersed, and Middle-Earth was finally safe from the Dark Lord.
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