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On The Red Eye


Feb 20, 4:23pm

Post #1 of 2 (689 views)
On The Red Eye Can't Post

The Red Eye is the symbol on the livery of Mordor. It's also used as a euphemism for Sauron himself (also The Eye, The Great Eye, The Lidless Eye etc.)

When the story takes us to Mordor, we see that it has aspects of hell seen as a tyrannical and dysfunctional bureaucracy. So maybe the red eye - always watching you, always angry - is a very good symbol for these aspects of Sauron. For actual watching that his servants and enemies might be afraid of, we know Sauron has a palantir -- and anyway (as Gandalf comments) who knows what Sauron can do?

I don't think that must mean that Sauron is literally a big red eye, any more than any of the Kings of Gondor must literally have been white trees (they just used that as their symbol).

But the eye becomes a symbol for Tolkien to use - references to an eye etc. can make me as a reader think of Sauron, just as Tolkien seems to me to be quite deliberate about who uses the word 'precious', to the point where readers (or at least me as a reader) shudder when it's used.

Here are some actual or possible or symbolic red eyes turn up in LOTR. They're a selection I could quickly think of, and which might do to start a discussion. I'm not going to attempt a comprehensive list or a learned essay about it. As usual, I know already what I think, so what interests me is what other people think.

I'd be interested to read your comments and thoughts on this selection, plus any other 'sightings' you can find and your thoughts about those.

Bilbo only just agrees to let go his ring (it isn't a capital R Ring in the text just yet):

“Bilbo drew his hand over his eyes. ‘I am sorry,’ he said. ‘But I felt so queer. And yet it would be a relief in a way not to be bothered with it any more. It has been so growing on my mind lately. Sometimes I have felt it was like an eye looking at me.”

Sounds creepy doesn't it? I think this one comes before first-time readers have had a chance to make a Sauron -- eye connection. But possibly it's as alarming to Gandalf as Bilbo's use of 'precious'.

Something ominous over Rivendell:

“But low in the South one star shone red. Every night, as the Moon waned again, it shone brighter and brighter. Frodo could see it from his window, deep in the heavens, burning like a watchful eye that glared above the trees on the brink of the valley.”

Is this an everyday astronomical object? It would be understandable for Frodo to be thinking about Sauron and/or Mount Doom with its red flame. Or of course it's possible this is something only Frodo can see...

"Wait - you didn't say this was a two-way mirror!":

“In the black abyss there appeared a single Eye that slowly grew, until it filled nearly all the Mirror. So terrible was it that Frodo stood rooted, unable to cry out or to withdraw his gaze. The Eye was rimmed with fire, but was itself glazed, yellow as a cat’s, watchful and intent, and the black slit of its pupil opened on a pit, a window into nothing. Then the Eye began to rove, searching this way and that; and Frodo knew with certainty and horror that among the many things that it sought he himself was one. But he also knew that it could not see him–not yet, not unless he willed it.”

Is Frodo seeing something that is a real physical object here (Sauron really is or has such an eye)? Or is this a dream-like representation of what Frodo knows is looking for him? I notice we have a capital-E Eye now. Is that significant (like when the lower-case r ring becomes a Ring)?

Two watchful fortresses (Towers of the Teeth and Cirith Ungol):

“A single red light burned high up in the Towers of the Teeth, but otherwise no sign could be seen or heard of the sleepless watch on the Morannon. For many miles the red eye seemed to stare at them as they fled, stumbling through a barren stony country.


“The trough narrowed rapidly. Soon Sam came to a long flight of broad shallow steps. Now the orc-tower was right above him, frowning black, and in it the red eye glowed."

So what are these?
  • Straightforward military lights (to light a building for orcs, who don't like daylight much? As a beacon-like indicator so that neighbouring forts can see all is well? etc.) Is the link with Sauron only in the minds of the hobbit adventurers? (Note Lower-case eyes here, if that is significant.)
  • Or is the red light the symbolic presence of Sauron watching his troops as well as his borders?
  • Or, is it a magical presence of Sauron in some way? (I don't think we can take this idea too far though - if these red lights were a sort of magical CCTV, Sauron would learn too much about who the 'spies' were who got past the Cirith Ungol garrison).

Barad-dûr glimpsed:

“Far off the shadows of Sauron hung; but torn by some gust of wind out of the world, or else moved by some great disquiet within, the mantling clouds swirled, and for a moment drew aside; and then he saw, rising black, blacker and darker than the vast shades amid which it stood, the cruel pinnacles and iron crown of the topmost tower of Barad-dûr. One moment only it stared out, but as from some great window immeasurably high there stabbed northward a flame of red, the flicker of a piercing Eye; and then the shadows were furled again and the terrible vision was removed. The Eye was not turned to them: it was gazing north to where the Captains of the West stood at bay, and thither all its malice was now bent, as the Power moved to strike its deadly blow; but Frodo at that dreadful glimpse fell as one stricken mortally. His hand sought the chain about his neck.”

I think we're getting Frodo's impressions here (but it's hard to be sure). Is there a literal 'flame of red' that anyone (not just the sensitized Frodo) might see, and if so what is it? Or is it a sort of psychic impression? Once again the strongest impression is malice - is the Eye (with its capital E) a metaphor for that?

And that's all I could think of for now. I'll keep an eye (or even an Eye) out for your responses!

"Yes, I am half-elven. No, it does not mean that I 'have one pointy ear' "
Sven Elven, proprietor of the Rivendell convenience store.

(This post was edited by noWizardme on Feb 20, 4:33pm)


Feb 20, 10:49pm

Post #2 of 2 (656 views)
"Sauron," derived from "Soron," derived from "Eyesore" [In reply to] Can't Post

There's your answer.

More seriously, thanks for compiling such a great buffet of eye references for us to munch on, or those of us not averse to eating pickled or fried eyes.

I would say in my head canon that evolved and was no conscious conclusion, the Eye is more symbolic than literal. I felt a literal Eye such as the movies used was downright silly and *not* something that scared me. And Sauron scares me in the books, this demonic presence who is always spying on you or trying to, which is just as unnerving as being told every CCTV in the world feeds one satellite which is owned by MALICE, Incorporated, and they spend their time watching everything you do, including whether you take cream in your coffee or not, all because they have some infernal plot in mind for you which you won't like in the least.

So in my mind, Sauron can be perceived as an Eye without there being a chamber in Barad-dur where a 6-foot Eyeball sits on a throne all day, needing frequent re-wetting drops from minions. I think this way particularly because Frodo is more perceptive than most and can see Galadriel's Ring whereas Sam cannot. So when Frodo sees an Eye in Barad-dur and a flame, I think he's seeing that part of Sauron that is straining to see what's happening on the battlefield and is bending the malice of his mind thither.

Frodo's experience at Amon Hen does a lot to shape my thinking:

And suddenly he felt the Eye. There was an eye in the Dark Tower that did not sleep. He knew that it had become aware of his gaze. A fierce eager will was there. It leaped towards him; almost like a finger he felt it, searching for him. Very soon it would nail him down, know just exactly where he was. Amon Lhaw it touched. It glanced upon Tol Brandir – he threw himself from the seat, crouching, covering his head with his grey hood.

He heard himself crying out: Never, never! Or was it: Verily I come, I come to you? He could not tell. Then as a flash from some other point of power there came to his mind another thought: Take it off! Take it off! Fool, take it off! Take off the Ring!

The two powers strove in him. For a moment, perfectly balanced between their piercing points, he writhed, tormented. Suddenly he was aware of himself again, Frodo, neither the Voice nor the Eye: free to choose, and with one remaining instant in which to do so. He took the Ring off his finger. He was kneeling in clear sunlight before the high seat. A black shadow seemed to pass like an arm above him; it missed Amon Hen and groped out west, and faded. Then all the sky was clean and blue and birds sang in every tree.

So the Eye has a fierce eager will--well, literal eyeballs do not. And it acts like a finger in Tolkien's words as it tries to find him. From the description, one can be literal if they want and imagine a giant eyeball bouncing around, but I think it's somewhere between the abstract and the physical, and the most literal thing I imagine is the "black shadow" that Frodo sees last. (I don't imagine a literal, giant finger bouncing around the hills either.)

Notably, Gandalf at this point is a capitalized Voice, and we know that he had a completely restored physical body. He projects that Voice/thought in ways he can't project his entire body, and Sauron does the same.

Anyway, that's how I think of it.

As for the red lights in the enemy towers, I take them literally as red torches or lanterns. Artistic license, since any fire burning only red is usually at its lowest ebb and produces less light than yellow flame, but I don't begrudge Tolkien this: it creates an appropriately sinister scene.


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