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Why Sauron is A Villain for Our Time

I’ve seen many writers (from Michael Moorcock to the present) comment on Sauron as an embodiment of evil, lacking motivation. While I agree that he is hardly a psychologically-realized character in the modern sense, I don’t know that Sauron’s motivation is all that mysterious — at least in the books. He wants to be worshipped. In the Black Years and in the Akallabeth, he sets himself up as a god, holding out promises of immortality, promises the Ringwraiths foolishly accept. He wants a world of subjugated, worshipful slaves whose history he has rewritten for them. His Ring was crafted as a device for controlling other’s minds and perceptions, governing what they could and could not see, so as to make them easily bent to his will while remaining unaware of that bending of their minds; his seizure of the Seeing Stones achieves a similar purpose on a far smaller scale. He wants to see everything, survey everything, watch and monitor everything, while making himself and his rule the only thing that others see or are capable of seeing. He wants to be a god. And he expects to achieve that aim by acting as a prison warden watching the world from the top of his iron, panoptical tower, in which all the world are his prisoners (as opposed to the “Free Peoples” of Middle-Earth) and are, in the end, crushed and manuevered into feeling that it is but natural to be his prisoners. He is part Stalin, part NSA, part theocratic dictator.

In other words, now that The Lord of the Rings is over and Mordor crumbled into ruin, Sauron could probably get a backup job as either the next lord dictator of Uzbekistan or the chair of a national or global surveillance organization, positions for which he is eminently qualified both psychologically and professionally.

(Note: My argument here is indebted to the writings of Tolkien scholar Andrew Hallam, who is also a good friend. His writings on Sauron and the Ring have shaped my own thinking about The Lord of the Rings over the years.)

Stant Litore

Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

4 thoughts on “Why Sauron is A Villain for Our Time

  1. It is my impression in recent years that the position which George Orwell’s “1984” held in the sense of warning us all of the dystopian future we might live in is slowly but surely eroded and handed over to Tolkien.

    Your argument seems to build on this – in an age of information technology and complete surveillance the “All-Seeing Eye” seems to be a more fitting symbol than “Big Brother.” What do you think?

    1. Certainly the ideas are akin. That said, Tolkien’s panopticon is not very new — he wrote it in the 50s. It is the recent films that have popularized Tolkien’s world to the point where you see more writing on its implications.

      I don’t actually see a lot of discussion of this in Tolkien outside of Hallam’s work, though. Most are looking to “The Hunger Games” as representative of the modern dystopia.

    2. Yes, I think the “All-Seeing Eye” is a more accurate label. But that’s because “Big Brother” is a euphemism. 🙂 “Big Brother” stands in for how the Eye disguises itself. It’s on the same level as the Ring trying to sell Sam on being “Samwise the Strong.” It’s propaganda.

  2. Agreed. Although he was following in the footsteps of his fallen-angel master, Morgoth (Melkor). Morgoth was really the one who wanted to be a God. Sauron was just jumping on his monstrous black coattails.

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