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The One Ring Forums: Off Topic: The Pollantir:
Is Sauron a tragic character?
Poll: Is Sauron a tragic character?
Can't decide
View Results (36 votes)

Tol Eressea

May 18 2012, 7:21pm

Post #1 of 18 (981 views)
Is Sauron a tragic character? Can't Post

No, I'm not going to summarize his entire life story. But the basic idea is quite thrilling. He wanted to create order and unity in the tumultous world of Middle-Earth via enlightened absolutism, and joined forces with Melkor, thinking his power would be useful. Gaining power was supposed to be just the means, through which good ends would be reached. Yet, through the long years, the means became the ends. Tyranny and control over other living creatures became the goal itself, the original idealism slowly being forgotten. Tolkien mentions in such a late point as the Second Age of the Sun that he created economic wellbeing (and I guess stability) for his subjects in the East of Middle-Earth. Which could be coincidental, but seems to call back to his original visions of how the world should be run for the best of Eruhíni.

Any thoughts?


May 18 2012, 8:54pm

Post #2 of 18 (723 views)
I see no signs of "enlightenment" in his absolutism. [In reply to] Can't Post

It is fashionable for despots to say they only want to create stability, but there is no evidence of actual concern for his subjects' well-being. And Melkor was bent on destruction for its own sake from the outset, so aligning with him is hard to rationalize. Yes, Sauron "played nice" for a time in the 2nd Age following a severe defeat. The Numenorians were taken in, but we should not be.

(This post was edited by Elizabeth on May 18 2012, 8:55pm)

Tol Eressea

May 18 2012, 10:49pm

Post #3 of 18 (745 views)
This, kids, is why you should read HoME [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien's own words are what I'm basing this on. He discussed Sauron's character in his letters and in HoME. Here, have some quotes, stolen from the net because I'm lazy like that:

"[T]hough the only real good in, or rational motive for, all this ordering and planning and organization was the good of all inhabitants of Arda (even admitting Sauron's right to be their supreme lord), his 'plans', the idea coming from his own isolated mind, became the sole object of his will, and an end, the End, in itself. ... [H]is capability of corrupting other minds, and even engaging their service, was a residue from the fact that his original desire for 'order' had really envisaged the good estate (especially physical well-being) of his 'subjects'."
-Morgoth's Ring

"Very slowly, beginning with fair motives: the reorganizing and rehabilitation of Middle-earth, 'neglected by the gods,' he becomes a reincarnation of Evil, and a thing lusting for Complete Power," eventually rising to become "master and god of Men."
-The Letters of J.R.R.Tolkien

Of course his absolutism, when he finally got to that part, wasn't enlightened in any way. The fall had taken place previously - on his road where he lost his way. I find it interesting, vastly more so than 99% or so of fantasy Evil Overloards. Behind his hunger for power there's a believable character arc that explains his motives. He's not a baddie just because somebody has to be nasty for the story to have an antagonist.

(This post was edited by Faenoriel on May 18 2012, 10:51pm)

Tol Eressea

May 18 2012, 11:04pm

Post #4 of 18 (701 views)
Oh how nice, more quotes [In reply to] Can't Post

Damn you edit lock!

"It had been his virtue (and therefore also the cause of his fall ...) that he loved order and coordination, and disliked all confusion and wasteful friction."
- Morgoth's Ring

About Sauron's allegiance with Melkor:

"It was the apparent will and power of Melkor to effect his designs quickly and masterfully that had first attracted Sauron to him."
Morgoth's Ring

"Because of his admiration of Strength he had become a follower of Morgoth and fell with him down into the depths of evil."

- Letters of J.R.R.Tolkien

Yes, there is an interesting paradox: how Melkor wants to destroy everything and Sauron wants to control everything. This is also lampshaded by Tolkien, if I recall it right. Out of the two, Sauron was certainly the saner one, and the more pragtical.

(This post was edited by Faenoriel on May 18 2012, 11:05pm)


May 18 2012, 11:27pm

Post #5 of 18 (687 views)
He's complex, but not tragic [In reply to] Can't Post

While he has a less evil background than Melkor, his fall was still brought about by his own actions. He may have had good intentions at first, but nonetheless, the choices he made allowed him no other fate than pure evil. To me, tragic characters are those whose destiny is marred by forces out of their control. Sauron had chances to shape his fate and always chose evil. If his only desire was order and unity, he could have seen the error in joining Melkor and humbled himself before the Valar at the end of the First Age. After that point, he was the epicenter of chaos and disharmony in the world.


May 18 2012, 11:45pm

Post #6 of 18 (676 views)
While I agree with your definition of tragic [In reply to] Can't Post

I do believe Sauron was a tragic character. The way I see it is that Sauron's fall and lure towards Melkor was very tragic. He wanted order, unity, structure and coordination, but followed Melkor's destructive path to obtain it. Yes, Sauron was originally a good "servant" of the Valar, but soon got "swept away" with Melkor. Sauron *may* have seen his error in joining Melkor, but would he have had a choice to leave? Would Melkor have let him leave? I doubt it. And even he didn't see his errors, then that is also tragic.


May 18 2012, 11:58pm

Post #7 of 18 (671 views)
I can understand that [In reply to] Can't Post

We're getting to be each other's shadows Daniel. Wink

I don't necessarily disagree with anything you wrote, it's just that for me personally, Sauron had his chance to redeem himself after the War of Wrath. Melkor was chained and defeated and all his servants either dead or fleeing. Order had been restored to Arda, however, he chose to create further chaos in his own selfish desire for power.


May 19 2012, 12:04am

Post #8 of 18 (667 views)
It's my fault - I get around everywhere on here [In reply to] Can't Post

As for after the War of the Wrath, it's not like he caused chaos straight away. He fled and hid for many hundreds of years. Who knows what he did in that time! Wink

We're on the same page, just look at things slightly different!

Tol Eressea

May 19 2012, 1:03am

Post #9 of 18 (690 views)
Definition of tragic [In reply to] Can't Post

I took the trouble of finding out how Merriam-Webster defines tragedy. Here's how they put it:

Definition of TRAGEDY
1 a : a medieval narrative poem or tale typically describing the downfall of a great man
b : a serious drama typically describing a conflict between the protagonist and a superior force (as destiny) and having a sorrowful or disastrous conclusion that elicits pity or terror
: the literary genre of tragic dramas
2 a : a disastrous event
b : misfortune

I'd say my view of tragedy is closer to that of 1a, and yours to 1b. At least if I understand you right. For me it's really not a question of moral judgement, because in sense right and wrong are above pity which is objective while right and wrong ultimately are not - in fact right and wrong are merciless and terrifying. For me tragedy is in the sorrow and terror that arises from the knowledge that something that could have been good turned out bad. The sense of waste, and the suffering brought to everyone included.

(This post was edited by Faenoriel on May 19 2012, 1:05am)

Tol Eressea

May 19 2012, 1:09am

Post #10 of 18 (695 views)
I can't see your vote, DLB.... [In reply to] Can't Post

Off to voting you go!


May 19 2012, 9:04am

Post #11 of 18 (703 views)
I'm not sure who Merrian-Webster is/are [In reply to] Can't Post

But in this context, my definition of tragic would be a mish-mash of 1a, 1b and 2a Crazy


May 19 2012, 9:05am

Post #12 of 18 (667 views)
All done! [In reply to] Can't Post

I forgot there was a poll Laugh

Tol Eressea

May 19 2012, 5:01pm

Post #13 of 18 (784 views)
Merriam-Webster [In reply to] Can't Post

It's a dictionary and a thesaurus. Found here: http://www.merriam-webster.com/

Very youseful when discussions like this bring up the question of what do (english) words really mean.

Btw, I notice a mistake in my post. Pity is subjective and right/wrong is objective, not the other way around.


May 19 2012, 5:29pm

Post #14 of 18 (674 views)
Ahhh I see! / [In reply to] Can't Post


Tol Eressea

May 20 2012, 5:55am

Post #15 of 18 (685 views)
dramatic tragedy [In reply to] Can't Post

In terms of drama, tragedy is the downfall of a great or powerful character due to his/her own flaws or weaknesses.

(Or so says Michael Caine's character in "Educating Rita" where he plays a literature professor. Wink)
Actually, here's a more reliable source:

I don't have an opinion on whether or not this applies to Sauron, I've only read the HOME books that cover the writing of LOTR.
Interesting question though.

(This post was edited by zarabia on May 20 2012, 6:00am)


May 20 2012, 6:54am

Post #16 of 18 (680 views)
But with discrimination! [In reply to] Can't Post

As a matter of fact, Elizabeth has read Morgoth's Ring (http://newboards.theonering.net/...th%27s%20ring;#43673), but she probably knows that Myths Transformed is not the most reliable part to use as a convincing argument (although it is probably the one used the most).
Myths Transformed is a series of short, brilliant essays, which show Tolkien reconsidering his whole mythology, and often turning it upside down. The whole tale of the Sun and Moon was rejected as 'astronomically absurd', and the issue of personality of Orcs finally became hopelessly confused in it (anyway, a serious consideration in that vein should have continued to include wargs and trolls).
So the rethinking of Morgoth and Sauron's roles should be taken at least with a grain of salt.

That is not to say I don't think there is a lot of substance in them, or even that I don't like them - in fact, I once tried to seriously reconsider Sauron and his personality here and here (in the second thread, I've tried to answer my own questions in my repley to hanne).

Tol Eressea

May 21 2012, 2:33pm

Post #17 of 18 (646 views)
I do remember my own poll ;) [In reply to] Can't Post

I think partly this comes down to the fact that in many parts there simply does not exist any M-E canon, and people are left to decide for themselves what they consider to be the "final truth". Other fandoms have the luxury of at least the published material being (mostly) coherent, and therefore arguments can be drawn from them. However, with Tolkien, there are many competing alternatives the reader has to choose from. Which origin story of Galadriel is the "real one"? (That actually was my first poll here. Most people seem to go with Silmarillion!Galadriel.)

Though to be honest, this situation isn't only bad. Middle-Earth is so convincing, so addicting, so tempting, it's good it has this in-built reminder it's not real.


May 21 2012, 9:54pm

Post #18 of 18 (683 views)
It's all good... [In reply to] Can't Post

...that we have multiple competing views of Middle Earth from it's own creator! This situations doesn't exist with other fandoms because either their creator(s) didn't leave copious notes like Tolkien did, or they had no CT to publish them.

I enjoy some of the essays in Morgoth's Ring about topics not treated elsewhere, including LACE and the Athrabeth, but not much of the re-thinking of events and characters portrayed more vividly and convincingly in earlier writings. Galadriel is the most outstanding example, and Sauron is another.


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