Did Sauron have a physical Form during the War of the Ring?

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Did Sauron have a physical Form during the War of the Ring? Empty Did Sauron have a physical Form during the War of the Ring?

Post by Lorient Avandi on Wed Jan 30, 2019 12:42 am

Hey all, I had been wondering this and was hoping you all could help....

In the films PJ (through Saruman?) makes it explicitly clear that Sauron has no physical form at the time of the films' events, however I was pretty sure this wasn't the case in the books but couldn't remember where that was. I found some references online to a quote from Gollum talking about Sauron's hand as well as a quote from Tolkien that Sauron took physical form as a larger humanoid (but the quote doesn't make the time period clear). If you guys have any ideas, with sources, that would be awesome!

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Post by Eldy on Wed Jan 30, 2019 1:01 am

Hey Lorient, it's wonderful to see you around here again! I hope you've been well. Smile

Book!Sauron definitely had a physical form at the time of LOTR. In addition to the Gollum quote you mention--"He has only four [fingers] on the Black Hand, but they are enough" (TTT, IV 3)--Tolkien most explicitly addressed this in the Letters when discussing what might have happened at Mount Doom after Frodo claimed the Ring, if not for the intervention of Gollum (emphasis mine):

Letter 246 wrote:Until Sauron himself came. In any case a confrontation of Frodo and Sauron would soon have taken place, if the Ring was intact. Its result was inevitable. Frodo would have been utterly overthrown: crushed to dust, or preserved in torment as a gibbering slave.... In [Sauron's] actual presence none but very few of equal stature could have hoped to withhold it from him. Of 'mortals' no one, not even Aragorn. In the contest with the Palantír Aragorn was the rightful owner. Also the contest took place at a distance, and 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. In his earlier incarnation he was able to veil his power (as Gandalf did) and could appear as a commanding figure of great strength of body and supremely royal demeanour and countenance.

This question is also implicitly addressed in the chapter "The Last Debate" when Gandalf discusses what would happen if/when the Ring was destroyed (emphasis again mine):

ROTK, V 9 wrote:Concerning this thing, my lords, you now all know enough for the understanding of our plight, and of Sauron’s. If he regains it, your valour is vain, and his victory will be swift and complete: so complete that none can foresee the end of it while this world lasts. 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.
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Post by Forest Shepherd on Wed Jan 30, 2019 3:55 am

Wait, so Sauron is not vanquished in the "gone from Middle-Earth" sense when the ring is destroyed? In the film his physical representation seems to flicker-out like an imploding light-bulb. But is he actually off in the shadows somewhere in a spirit-form, with Ungoliant perhaps, gnawing away at himself with furious regret?

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Post by Eldy on Wed Jan 30, 2019 4:17 am

No one from any of the categories of sentient beings* totally disappeared when they died. For regular Incarnate beings like Elves, Men, Dwarves, etc., their natural state is for the soul (fëar) to be housed within the body (hröar). At death the body and soul become separated; the ultimate fate of the now-disembodied soul varies by race. Ainur like Sauron were naturally incorporeal--when they chose to take physical form they could normally revert to their disembodied state at will. However, in some cases (including Sauron by the time of LOTR) the only way for their spirit to be detached from their body was physical death in the manner of the Incarnates. But in none of these cases does the soul (or Ainu spirit) cease to exist. Unlike the Children of Eru, there was no predetermined path for Sauron's spirit to take, but it's exceedingly unlikely the Valar would have welcomed him back to Valinor. So his spirit probably remained in Middle-earth, too weak to case any more harm.

I hope this explanation is at least somewhat helpful. Razz I wrote about this topic at much greater length during my Lore essay kick a few years ago, but for the purposes of this thread I'll quote only the portions most relevant to the question of Sauron:

https://terpconnect.umd.edu/~jkeener/tolkien/whenyoudie.html

The Ainur pre-dated the physical universe and were created as incorporeal spirits. They could take physical form, even the same forms as Elves or Men, but they were not by nature bound to these forms (TS, Valaquenta). This was one of the differences between the Ainur and the Incarnates. However, the longer an Ainu spent in the same form the harder it was to change form (and the less they were inclined to do so), until in some cases they became unable to change their physical form at all, as happened to Morgoth (TS, Of the Darkening of Valinor). Morgoth was trapped in his “Dark Lord” form because he had expended so much of his initial being, allowing his spiritual power to pass from himself to the physical matter of Arda and his corrupted servants. After the War of Wrath, his physical body was brought before Mandos to be judged and subsequently executed, leaving his newly disembodied spirit impotent as it was thrust into the Void. However, due to his vast initial strength, Morgoth was in the probably unique position of being able to regrow his power even after being so utterly reduced (HoMe X, Myths Transformed, Text VII).

We see the form-changing ability of an undiminished Ainu in action during Sauron’s battle with Huan, when he takes the forms of a great wolf, a serpent, his standard humanoid form, and a vampire in rapid succession. He shifts between these forms with ease, but remains held in place by Huan. He could have escaped Huan’s grasp by abandoning physical form entirely but he feared the humiliation of being forced to do so (TS, Of Beren and Lúthien). Much later, after investing so much of his spiritual power in the One Ring, Sauron became diminished in the same way as his former master. He was able to create new bodies after the destruction of his physical forms in the Downfall of Númenor and the War of the Last Alliance because the Ring still existed, but he was no longer able to change form at will. Like the Incarnates he could only become incorporeal again through the death of his body, though his disembodied spirit possessed much greater potency than a houseless Elvish fëa. Once the Ring (and the spiritual power he’d placed within it) was destroyed, Sauron could not regain physical form and his spirit was powerless (TS, Akallabêth; ROTK, V 9).


*Except maybe orcs, but that (as well as the question of whether they were sentient at all) is a separate, very long conversation of its own.
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Post by Eldy on Wed Jan 30, 2019 5:15 am

Eldy wrote:So his spirit probably remained in Middle-earth, too weak to case any more harm.

Hmm, so actually, Tolkien Gateway points out that the Valaquenta (in the 1977 Silm) states that Sauron "was only less evil than his master in that for long he served another and not himself. But in after years 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." However, I'm not sure if I agree with the conclusion they draw that Sauron's spirit, like Morgoth's, literally entered into the Void, or if the sentence is more figurative.

In the very last paragraph of the Quenta Silmarillion (1977) we read that "Morgoth himself the Valar thrust through the Door of Night beyond the Walls of the World, into the Timeless Void; and a guard is set for ever on those walls, and Eärendil keeps watch upon the ramparts of the sky." (TS, Of the Voyage of Eärendil) This is very similar to and probably directly derived from a line in the version of the Quenta Silmarillion found in HoMe V, written in the 1930s. Tolkien later wrote a more detailed discussion of Morgoth's fate which goes as such:

HoMe X, Myths Transformed, Text VII wrote:The war was successful, and ruin was limited to the small (if beautiful) region of Beleriand. Morgoth was thus actually made captive in physical form, and in that form taken as a mere criminal to Aman and delivered to Namo Mandos as judge - and executioner. He was judged, and eventually taken out of the Blessed Realm and executed: that is killed like one of the Incarnates. It was then made plain (though it must have been understood beforehand by Manwe and Namo) that, though he had 'disseminated' his power (his evil and possessive and rebellious will) far and wide into the matter of Arda, he had lost direct control of this, and all that 'he', as a surviving remnant of integral being, retained as 'himself' and under control was the terribly shrunken and reduced spirit that inhabited his self- imposed (but now beloved) body. When that body was destroyed he was weak and utterly 'houseless', and for that time at a loss and 'unanchored' as it were. We read that he was then thrust out into the Void. That should mean that he was put outside Time and Space, outside Ea altogether; but if that were so this would imply a direct intervention of Eru (with or without supplication of the Valar). It may however refer inaccurately* to the extrusion or flight of his spirit from Arda.

*Since the minds of Men (and even of the Elves) were inclined to confuse the 'Void', as a conception of the state of Not-being, outside Creation or Ea, with the conception of vast spaces within Ea, especially those conceived to lie all about the enisled 'Kingdom of Arda' (which we should probably call the Solar System). [Footnote in the original text]

It seems fairly clear to me that the account in the Quenta, in its original context, refers to Morgoth being expelled from Eä altogether. However, that passage was written about two decades before "Myths Transformed" and reflected a very different cosmology. The talk about "Arda" meaning the Solar System is only relevant to Tolkien's attempts to retrofit "The Silmarillion" to be consistent with the contemporary scientific understanding of the universe. This all postdated The Lord of the Rings as well. Unfortunately, I'm not sure which period the line about Sauron and the Void from the published Valaquenta dates to. I can't find an equivalent in the relevant portions of either HoMe V or HoMe X so it's possible it was a Christopher/Guy Kay addition, but I can't really say. I don't have my copy of Doug Kane's Arda Reconstructed with me so I can't check to see if he had any insights.

Anyway, Tolkien Gateway also claims, without further citation, that Saruman suffered the same into-the-Void fate as Morgoth and Sauron. I think this claim is particularly tenuous. For the record, here's the description of what happens immediately after Saruman's death:

ROTK, VI 8 wrote:To the dismay of those that stood by, about the body of Saruman a grey mist gathered, and rising slowly to a great height like smoke from a fire, as a pale shrouded figure it loomed over the Hill. For a moment it wavered, looking to the West; but out of the West came a cold wind, and it bent away, and with a sigh dissolved into nothing.

And, for that matter, compare it to the similar passage about Sauron:

ROTK, VI 4 wrote:‘The realm of Sauron is ended!’ said Gandalf. ‘The Ring-bearer has fulfilled his Quest.’ 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.

I interpret both passages as incidents of Ainu spirits passing into impotence. In the case of Saruman, him facing towards the West suggests to me a supplication for forgiveness from the Valar, which seems to be rejected. In neither case is there anything to suggest the spirit being taken into custody so it could be forced into the Void, as with Morgoth. So, in my reading anyway, Sauron's and Saruman's spirits were left to do their own thing since they were no longer of any danger to anyone. Maybe they would have chosen to remain in Middle-earth (with no particular reason to think otherwise, I'd default to that option) but there's nothing stopping us from speculating that they might have chosen to leave.

If we choose to follow the "Myths Transformed" cosmology we could say with confidence that Sauron's and Saruman's spirits stayed in Eä (if not necessarily in Arda/the solar system) since it would've been impossible for them to leave the physical universe on their own. However, the 1930s cosmology remained the most recent during the writing of LOTR, and it's less clear in that context whether spirits could leave Eä on their own. Morgoth came and went over the Walls of Night of his own volition early on (TS, Of the Beginning of Days) and even with his spirit being incalculably shrunken by the end of the First Age a guard was still set on the Walls after his expulsion. Though that raises the question of whether Sauron's disembodied spirit could have passed said guard even if he wanted to enter the Void.

Also worth noting is that the distinction between Eä and Arda was less significant at this point since the whole created universe (Eä) was not that much larger than the habitable world--and IIRC there was no double meaning of "Void" at that stage. So if Sauron's spirit remained in Arda but was not allowed into Valinor, it wouldn't have had a ton of places other than Middle-earth to go. On the other hand, if we choose to interpret LOTR through the lens of "Myths Transformed", then Sauron's spirit could conceivably have ended up in any number of places within Arda (Sauron on Mars!) or beyond (Sauron in the Alpha Centauri system!). But that (a) would be anachronistic, (b) assumes Sauron would have chosen to leave Middle-earth, and (c) is a little too ridiculous in my book.

One final note is to remember that the legendarium was written with the conceit that all of the stories and annals had in-universe authors with imperfect knowledge. We see a reference to that in the "Myths Transformed" quote above, where Tolkien states that there is ambiguity in the Quenta Silmarillion because of the limited knowledge of its authors. Anyone in the Third or Fourth Ages whose material made it into the Red Book must have been working in Middle-earth, and thus probably had no way of asking the Valar (or anyone else in a position to know) for special insight. That, for me, is probably the strongest point in favor of the figurative reading.

...This, uh, is surely more than anyone wanted. Sorry. Razz
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Post by halfwise on Wed Jan 30, 2019 1:36 pm

Welcome back Lorient! cheers

I've always been unhappy with Tolkien't attempts to dismiss his old flat-earth cosmology and weld modern cosmology it to the spirit world.  I feel transforming the earth into a ball that mortals are confined to while immortals still have access to the original cosmology (the seas fall away as the elves sail) should have marked the dividing line between our present mundane world and the old mythical one.

We had discussed this earlier at one point, but I will continue to note my protest that trashing his old cosmology was a mistake.  It discards the magic.


Last edited by halfwise on Wed Jan 30, 2019 3:55 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Wed Jan 30, 2019 3:11 pm

{{ I agree Halfy and also in saying welcome back to Lorient! Great to have you back in your Fourmshire hole Lorient (I suspect Odo was about to try to sell it on the cheap!).
I hope we find you well or suitably drunk enough to cope with it if not pub }}}

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Post by Lorient Avandi on Wed Jan 30, 2019 6:20 pm

Eldy wrote:Hey Lorient, it's wonderful to see you around here again! I hope you've been well. Smile
halfwise wrote:Welcome back Lorient! cheers
Pettytyrant101 wrote:{{ I agree Halfy and also in saying welcome back to Lorient! Great to have you back in your Fourmshire hole Lorient (I suspect Odo was about to try to sell it on the cheap!).
I hope we find you well or suitably drunk enough to cope with it if not pub  }}}

Great to be back! The last five years have seen plenty of ups and downs, but I'm still kicking so I'll call it a win.

Eldy wrote:Book!Sauron definitely had a physical form at the time of LOTR. In addition to the Gollum quote you mention--"He has only four [fingers] on the Black Hand, but they are enough" (TTT, IV 3)--Tolkien most explicitly addressed this in the Letters when discussing what might have happened at Mount Doom after Frodo claimed the Ring, if not for the intervention of Gollum

This is what I thought, though I hadn't been able to find the Tolkien quotes in their whole context, so thanks!

I'm taking a course on Tolkien (course is called "The Lord of the Rings: On Page and Screen"), and I brought this up when my Professor was talking about the nature of Sauron in the films. I asked if it was the case in the books (phrasing it that I didn't believe it was) and he affirmed that Sauron was not physical in the books either, so afterwards I began my own digging, and thought to turn here!

I had kept thinking to come back since I began this semester, but kept forgetting!

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Post by Eldy on Wed Jan 30, 2019 7:48 pm

Lorient Avandi wrote:I'm taking a course on Tolkien (course is called "The Lord of the Rings: On Page and Screen"), and I brought this up when my Professor was talking about the nature of Sauron in the films. I asked if it was the case in the books (phrasing it that I didn't believe it was) and he affirmed that Sauron was not physical in the books either

Extremely Crabbit

{{{Glad you thought to come by here, and I hope the class is an enjoyable one!}}}
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Post by halfwise on Wed Jan 30, 2019 8:13 pm

Lorient: I can see why one would get the impression Sauron wasn't physical: he was described as a spirit escaping the ruin Numenor, and the flaming eye thing and stuff. But someone who professes to teach a class should have read up on his Eldy first. If you can sneak in a return to the topic with some of Eldy's references I think it would be a good way to get the professor to brush up. I know every time a student challenges me I'm driven to dig deeper, often with transformative outcomes.

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Post by Lorient Avandi on Wed Jan 30, 2019 8:27 pm

halfwise wrote:Lorient: I can see why one would get the impression Sauron wasn't physical: he was described as a spirit escaping the ruin Numenor, and the flaming eye thing and stuff.  But someone who professes to teach a class should have read up on his Eldy first.  If you can sneak in a return to the topic with some of Eldy's references I think it would be a good way to get the professor to brush up.   I know every time a student challenges me I'm driven to dig deeper, often with transformative outcomes.

I'm planning on sending him some of the references in an email. He gave an extra credit "assignment" to email him about the Blue Wizards, so I was just gonna include this when I did that.

But yes, anyone who teaches a class on Tolkien should be sure to read his Eldy

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Post by Eldy on Wed Jan 30, 2019 8:45 pm

:3 you guys~

Lorient Avandi wrote:I'm planning on sending him some of the references in an email. He gave an extra credit "assignment" to email him about the Blue Wizards, so I was just gonna include this when I did that.

Apologies if you're already on this, but do you have access to The Peoples of Middle-earth for the brief discussion of the "other two" wizards (not termed "Blue" in this instance) in that volume? It's distinct from the more widely-cited chapter in Unfinished Tales and offers a couple contradictory ideas. Lemme know if you need/want to see it and I'll hook you up.
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Post by Lorient Avandi on Wed Jan 30, 2019 9:32 pm

Eldy wrote:
Apologies if you're already on this, but do you have access to The Peoples of Middle-earth for the brief discussion of the "other two" wizards (not termed "Blue" in this instance) in that volume? It's distinct from the more widely-cited chapter in Unfinished Tales and offers a couple contradictory ideas. Lemme know if you need/want to see it and I'll hook you up.

I don't have access to The Peoples of Middle-Earth I only have Unfinished Tales. Definitely wouldn't mind the help!

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Post by Eldy on Wed Jan 30, 2019 9:59 pm

Will send PM momentarily. study
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Post by Forest Shepherd on Thu Jan 31, 2019 4:01 am

Bloody typical! Hopefully this professor isn't too high and mighty to admit to a mistake!

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Post by Elthir on Mon Feb 04, 2019 6:53 pm

There are no Blue Wizards. Stop the madness!

Eldy will tell you.

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Post by halfwise on Mon Feb 04, 2019 6:57 pm

There's not? Shocked

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Post by halfwise on Mon Feb 04, 2019 9:27 pm

I've been poking the palantir and finding no evidence of them not existing, if that makes sense.  Most I've found is variations on when they came and whether or not they came to a good end.

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Post by Elthir on Mon Feb 04, 2019 9:55 pm

Set the runes in chronological order and the "Blues" vanish into the blue-grey distance!

Eldy can tell you.

Galadriel had white hair . . . but set the runes in order and she had deep golden hair.

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Post by Eldy on Mon Feb 04, 2019 9:59 pm

Elthir! cheers Good to see you 'round these parts. Smile

halfwise wrote:I've been poking the palantir and finding no evidence of them not existing, if that makes sense.  Most I've found is variations on when they came and whether or not they came to a good end.

It's not that the two wizards other than Saruman, Gandalf, and Radagast didn't exist, but whether they were associated with the color blue. Or, really, any other details about them. Razz The most developed text which mentions the Blue Wizards (Ithryn Luin) is what Christopher Tolkien referred to as "the essay on the Istari", which is found at the beginning of the chapter "The Istari" in Unfinished Tales. This was written in 1954, and the Blue Wizards are here nameless. Other, "often illegible" writings which Christopher was unable to precisely date but which came after the completion of LOTR gave the Blue Wizards names, Alatar and Pallando, which is how they are most often referred to in contemporary discourse.

"The Istari" in UT makes reference to some very late notes, probably from 1972, which at the time Christopher found largely unreadable. However, by the time he was putting together The Peoples of Middle-earth he had deciphered more of them and gave a few additional quotes. One of these passages reverts to saying the mysterious two wizards had no names that were known in northwest Middle-earth, but another dubs them Morinehtar and Rómestámo (or Róme(n)star). These texts differ in several significant way from those found in UT and neither refers to them as the Blue Wizards, even in the version where they were given no personal names.

I recall the two wizards' hue being a point of personal interest to Elthir which is why I made note of the terminology in my earlier post. Very Happy If I've forgotten anything or gotten mixed up, though, I hope he will correct me. This is a complex issue as it involves making judgment calls about which texts to prioritize, whether something being the chronologically latest version should count for more than other versions being more fleshed out, etc. I'm personally fond of the c. 1972 version because of the role it ascribes to the two wizards in the East (and I ascribe significance to a lot of Tolkien's late notes even when they would've required substantial rewriting to fully implement), so I should probably be more careful about not (over)using the term Blue Wizards.


Last edited by Eldy on Mon Feb 04, 2019 10:25 pm; edited 4 times in total
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Post by Eldy on Mon Feb 04, 2019 10:12 pm

Aaaand I did indeed forget something. From the Letters, when Tolkien was asked in 1958 about the two wizards' colors:

Letter 211 wrote:I have not named the colours, because I do not know them. I doubt if they had distinctive colours. Distinction was only required in the case of the three who remained in the relatively small area of the North-west.... I really do not know anything clearly about the other two – since they do not concern the history of the N.W. I think they went as emissaries to distant regions, East and South, far out of Númenórean range: missionaries to 'enemy-occupied' lands, as it were. What success they had I do not know; but I fear that they failed, as Saruman did, though doubtless in different ways; and I suspect they were founders or beginners of secret cults and 'magic' traditions that outlasted the fall of Sauron.

This was written after the first essay in UT but it's unclear if it pre- or post-dates the second bit, unless I'm still missing something. study

ETA: I would note that, in my reading anyway, the letter seems to imply that the color system was developed only after the wizards arrived in Middle-earth and started interacting with Elves and Men who might potentially confuse them. This is (arguably) in contrast to "the essay on the Istari" in which the color system is based on the robes all five wizards wore upon their arrival in Middle-earth. OTOH, one could interpret the letter as implying that Saruman, Gandalf, and Radagast arrived color-coded since they were intended to stay in northwest Middle-earth, while the Blue Wizards were given more freedom in their fashion choices.
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Post by Elthir on Mon Feb 04, 2019 10:50 pm

Excellent Eldy!

A) 1954 -- Blue Wizards

B) 1958 -- I have not named the colours, because I do not know them. I doubt if they had distinctive colours.

C) All wizardy texts after 1954 (so far and that I know of!): no blue, rather "other two" or nothing.



Of course I am simplifying, but I wanted to make a mysterious "splash return" as all good fake Loremasters should practice. Tell your teacher you don't believe in blue! Rock his Tolkien world by making some argument out of the above, and maybe you'll get a high grade! Or fail.


Actually, now that I think about, never mind.

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Mon Feb 04, 2019 11:05 pm

{{Bloody hell- Elthir's back now too, and Eldy's here- two Loremasters at the same time when you can never find one when you need 'em!! Mad  They're like buses Mad  }}}

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Post by Eldy on Mon Feb 04, 2019 11:08 pm

Elthir wrote:Of course I am simplifying, but I wanted to make a mysterious "splash return" as all good fake Loremasters should practice. Tell your teacher you don't believe in blue! Rock his Tolkien world by making some argument out of the above, and maybe you'll get a high grade! Or fail.


Actually, now that I think about, never mind.

For maximum radical unpopular opinion points I would say to make an argument that Eriol/Aelfwine was completely excised from the legendarium and that "The Silmarillion" is better for it, but I would be really surprised (and impressed) if he's mentioned in Lorient's class at all. Pokey Tongue

Hmm, let's see. The Eagles would not have been forbidden from flying the Ring to Mount Doom if anyone had asked them. The book version of the Dead Men of Dunharrow were probably capable of killing (I was actually pretty surprised how controversial this claim ended up being). Black Númenórean culture survived--though continually evolving as any culture does--through the end of the Third Age.

That about exhausts my store of controversial opinions that I can quickly find the evidence and argumentation for even when I didn't sleep the night before.
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Post by halfwise on Tue Feb 05, 2019 1:37 am

Let's put it this way: at the time Tolkien wrote LoTR, there were Blue Wizards.  LoTR is clearly canon, so I'd say his thoughts around the time that came out should count more heavily then his possibly revisionist thoughts several years later.  (Remember what happened when we let George Lucas have thoughts? Suspect ).

As for not mentioning the color blue later (okay, perhaps he mentioned a doubt), absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Edit: well, in Bayesian statistics absence of evidence CAN be evidence of absence, but it's situational.

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