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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
How do you visualize Sauron?

duats
Grey Havens

Nov 7 2017, 7:56pm

Post #1 of 12 (1428 views)
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How do you visualize Sauron? Can't Post

So having done some reading online, I've only recently discovered that it was unlikely that plate armor existed in Tolkien's mythology, and that the most sophisticated armor available at the time of the War of the Ring was chainmail and perhaps some form of lorica segmentata.

This poses an interesting revelation, as Sauron (and Morgoth for that matter) are almost always depicted as being decked out in full suits of spiked armor. If we operate under the assumption that such armor didn't exist in Middle-earth (canonically speaking), what then would Sauron have worn as the Dark Lord?

Tolkien never describes Sauron in any real detail. All we really have to go on is that his appearance was "very terrible," the embodiment of "hatred and malice," of man-shape but greater, black of hand, and giving off of great heat (he burns Gil-Galad to death with his hand alone). There's no actual reference to armor in the text. The only clue of sorts that we have is Tolkien's watercolor painting of Sauron, which depicts him as having great horns upon his head (presumably a crown). However, one can wear a crown without being decked out in a full suit of knight's armor.

I'd like to especially point out the "black hand," which is referenced by both Isildur and Gollum. If Sauron wore gloves during the Seige of Barad-Dur, it would have been extremely difficult for Isildur to cut the Ring from his head, so I imagine that Sauron did not wear gloves, and instead wore the Ring on his bare hand. If that's the case, then "black hand" would suggest that Sauron had black flesh.

Taking all of this into account, I'm left with a couple of questions.

First, would Sauron even have need of armor? Even taking physical shape, he is still a Maiar spirit, made all the more powerful by his possession of the One Ring. It's never made clear how exactly Gil-Galad and Elendil "overthrew" him, allowing Isildur to cut the ring from his hand, but it appears that even with the One Ring he was vulnerable to physical attack. Does Sauron himself know that he can be physically wounded, or would his vanity and arrogance not allow him to see this?

If we operate under the assumption that he would have armored himself, what kind of armor would he have used? If plate armor did not exist in Tolkien's mythology, and we are instead left with chainmail and lorica segmentata, would he have dressed similar to any typical Gondorian or Rohirrim foot soldier? A coat of mail down to the knee, mail hose, mail coif? What about vambraces and greaves? Perhaps segmented shoulder plates and breastplate?

Now, if Sauron's body generated such great heat that he was able to burn someone to death just by touch alone, would it stand to reason then that he could not wear an earthly garment made of cloth? Would that not burn up immediately? Could we then speculate that Sauron could only wear metal garments, as it would be the only material that could withstand the great heat his body gives off?

Or, is it possible that Sauron wore nothing at all, and like the paintings of Christian Angels walked about Middle-earth completely uncloaked?

The more I've given this subject thought, the more I've moved away from the "evil black knight" often depicted in illustrations, and have since gravitated towards something more akin to Gustave Dore's paintings of Satan in Paradise Lost, something a bit more angelic and bare.

Thoughts?


squire
Half-elven


Nov 7 2017, 8:19pm

Post #2 of 12 (1410 views)
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I like your conclusion [In reply to] Can't Post

I wouldn't be surprised if you aren't paralleling Tolkien's own thinking, given Sauron's and Morgoth's mythical relationship to Satan.

And, of course, modern fantasy illustrators and film costume designers are far less likely to go for religious themes and imagery, than they are to give their audiences what they want in the realm of carefully researched militaria and fantastic armor. Tolkien's own visions, to the degree that we know of them, have often been hijacked into quite different directions by cultural forces he was unaware of or uninterested in.

Have you ever seen his own vision of Barad-dur, the Dark Tower of Mordor?



Not a lot like any 'fantasy' version, eh?



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Name
Rohan


Nov 7 2017, 11:02pm

Post #3 of 12 (1388 views)
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Armor [In reply to] Can't Post

I've seen this said a lot but I don't remember ever reading anything about it. How do we know that plate armor probably didn't exist yet in Middle Earth? Is this straight from Tolkien himself?


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Nov 8 2017, 12:24am

Post #4 of 12 (1378 views)
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Process of Elimination [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I've seen this said a lot but I don't remember ever reading anything about it. How do we know that plate armor probably didn't exist yet in Middle Earth? Is this straight from Tolkien himself?


Unless Tolkien wrote anything definitive on the question, it is an educated guess based on the lack of any unequivocal mention of plate armor. Similarly, there is no evidence that anyone in Middle-earth had developed the full-sized two-handed sword.

"I may be on the side of the angels, but do not think for one second that I am one of them." - Sherlock

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Nov 8 2017, 12:26am)


duats
Grey Havens

Nov 8 2017, 12:30am

Post #5 of 12 (1370 views)
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Correct me if I'm wrong [In reply to] Can't Post

But didn't The Hobbit mention somewhere that the dwarves had developed the most sophisticated armor in Middle-earth, and that it was essentially chainmail? I remember them making a big deal about the chain hose that they wore.


Otaku-sempai
Immortal


Nov 8 2017, 12:32am

Post #6 of 12 (1364 views)
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I believe so, yes. [In reply to] Can't Post

That certainly plays into it.

"I may be on the side of the angels, but do not think for one second that I am one of them." - Sherlock


InTheChair
Lorien

Nov 8 2017, 8:50pm

Post #7 of 12 (1334 views)
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Spikes and spires are a favourite evil image of artists but I think only Orthanc a tower built by the Numenoreans is described as actually having them. [In reply to] Can't Post


Quote
I've only recently discovered that it was unlikely that plate armor existed in Tolkien's mythology


Depends on what is meant by plate armour. Imrahil used polished vambraces to take one example, but it is unlikely that anyone would deck themselves out in full 16th century metal plating cap-a-pie. It would be too restricting to movement.


Quote
Sauron (and Morgoth for that matter) are almost always depicted as being decked out in full suits of spiked armor.


I rather blame John Howe and other skilled artists for this. (Though blame is probably not the right word here.) So far as I know there is very little or nothing in the texts to suggest that anyone wore helmets or armour with spikes, horns or other knob-knabs on them.

One thing that is often referenced though are high helmets. Both for good and bad characters. In ME it sometimes seems the higher your helmet the more kingly you be. And the crowns of the great elven kings and of Morgoth too seems to be basically very high helmets with some crownish decorations, and often wings, near the base. So I imagine that Saurons helmet, if and when he wore one would make him out a bit like an evil Pope on steroids.

First, would Sauron even have need of armor? Even taking physical shape, he is still a Maiar spirit


Yes and no. He is still a Maiar, but I think he cannot, at least not without the ring choose what he looks like. Gollum says he has just four fingers on his hand which would be odd as a deliberate choice. Sauron is fixed to one physical form, and when in this form he is vulnerable to physical harm, and he knows it by experience, and so would be very likely to clothe himself in armour if ever he went out to battle.

Most likely chainmail as that would afford him both mobility and protection, though scale is possible too. While in his tower though there seems no reason for him to armour himself, unless he deeply mistrusts his own closest servants.



Quote
Now, if Sauron's body generated such great heat that he was able to burn someone to death just by touch alone, would it stand to reason then that he could not wear an earthly garment made of cloth? Would that not burn up immediately?


Maybe not. We know things like the Silmarils work under special divinity rules that burn evil characters but not good characters, and it is not impossible that evil has it's own curses that will burn good but leave evil physically if not mentally unharmed.

We might ask ourselves what is it that makes the whips of the Balrog burn without melting away, if they are real whips in a similar fashion. I don't think there are any good answer to such questions.


(This post was edited by InTheChair on Nov 8 2017, 9:02pm)


duats
Grey Havens

Nov 8 2017, 9:29pm

Post #8 of 12 (1320 views)
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Thanks for the reply [In reply to] Can't Post

I've been looking at Christian depictions of angels and demons to get some sense of how Tolkien might have envisioned Sauron. I almost want to imagine him as wearing some kind of muscle cuirass, but it's my understanding that Tolkien likely would not have used Roman design influences. Is that the case?

Although to be fair, many paintings and illustrations of Christian angels and demons I have come across tend to borrow Roman influences. The cloaks that you often see wrap around angels are not unlike togas, and there are paintings of Archangel Michael in particular where he is armored in some form of a muscle cuirass. Gustave Dore depicts Lucifer this way as well his illustrations of Paradise Lost.

So we can reasonably conclude that Sauron must have worn some kind of armor, but we are probably looking at something lighter and allowing more mobility ala chainmail? I know full suits of plate armor probably do not apply to Tolkien, but what about breastplates?


(This post was edited by duats on Nov 8 2017, 9:31pm)


squire
Half-elven


Nov 8 2017, 10:24pm

Post #9 of 12 (1312 views)
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Why not go with classical? [In reply to] Can't Post

Tolkien was a Classics major before he moved into northern Europe. He incorporates Classical imagery and sources - more often Byzantine than Augustan, to be sure - as much as he does anything else. I think you should do what feels right to you after doing as much research as you can, both in his texts and in the texts and images that are known to have inspired him.

Such intensive research into real-world mythical analogies is fun and of course helpful if one is trying to come up with fan-driven supplements, art, fiction, etc. based on Tolkien. But I tend to shy away from "...we can reasonably conclude that ____ must have..." (my bold) when speculating about things Tolkien didn't tell us. Statements like that tend to create their own momentum, convincing us we're "right" about something that it's impossible to be "right" about.

Tolkien is original, and his derivations and sources are often found to be unconventional especially in the context of conventional modern-day High Fantasy. For example, few people, I'd guess, imagined that ancient Egypt was one of Tolkien's primary visual images for Numenorean royalty - before his letters were published.

"I feel pretty comfortable about my choice to have ______ do/wear/say ________ in my Tolkien fiction / art / opera, etc." is, to me, the better way to conclude inquiries like this.



squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


= Forum has no new posts. Forum needs no new posts.


duats
Grey Havens

Nov 8 2017, 10:45pm

Post #10 of 12 (1304 views)
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Inspirations [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
I think you should do what feels right to you after doing as much research as you can, both in his texts and in the texts and images that are known to have inspired him.

Do you happen to have any suggestions?

I did not know about ancient Egyptians and Numenoreans. That's very interesting.


No One in Particular
Rivendell


Nov 9 2017, 1:56am

Post #11 of 12 (1297 views)
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Full Metal Dark Lord [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
So having done some reading online, I've only recently discovered that it was unlikely that plate armor existed in Tolkien's mythology, and that the most sophisticated armor available at the time of the War of the Ring was chainmail and perhaps some form of lorica segmentata.


Sauron was a Maia, and if memory serves, he was of Aule's folk. I don't imagine partial or full plate was beyond his imagination. Smile

While you live, shine
Have no grief at all
Life exists only for a short while
And time demands an end.
Seikilos Epitaph


CuriousG
Half-elven


Nov 10 2017, 12:33pm

Post #12 of 12 (1217 views)
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That is a good point [In reply to] Can't Post

If Middle-earth can invent silmarils and palantiri, they could have plate armor as well. I wouldn't rule it out.

My personal mental image of Sauron has been of a humanoid wearing dark clothing, I suppose robes and gowns the way medieval rulers did, but that there was also something a bit nebulous about him too. By that, I think he would stand out in a police lineup because he'd be the one emitting foul vapors, or maybe everyone else looked human and he looked demonic (with or without horns). I've never thought of him in armor of any kind.

Aragorn & Boromir fought very well against the orcs in Moria with no armor of any kind, and they were mortal, yet took no wounds. I just don't see Sauron *needing* armor, or thinking he didn't need it, and overcoming him on Mt Doom may have involved magic as well as a famous spear and sword.

 
 

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