Sauron is one of the most famous villains of modern literature and pop culture. He’s been portrayed in books, movies, and in endless Deviantart illustrations. He’s been discussed, dissected, and parodied, but who is he, really? J.R.R. Tolkien explained a lot more about Sauron than most people probably know, so here are 25 facts that you might not have known about Sauron.
25. Only a Humble Servant
Sauron is often called a Dark Lord by the characters of Lord of the Rings. But for those who read the books, they’ll know that at one point, the wizard Gandalf remarks that Sauron is “but a servant or emissary” of evil. In Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, this is taken literally, where Sauron is a servant of Morgoth, the real Dark Lord of Middle-Earth. Later, after Morgoth’s defeat, Sauron even set up a religion around Morgoth’s legacy.
24. Awkward Relations
Tolkien put real thought into his world-building when he wrote The Silmarillion. Morgoth is one of the demi-gods of the world, which Tolkien called the Valar. Sauron is in the class of beings right below, called the Maiar. Who else counts as a Maia you might ask? The Balrogs and the monster Ungoliant (most likely) are also Maiar, along with the Five Wizards who were sent to Middle-Earth to help defeat Sauron. Those five wizards include Gandalf and Saruman, who both play significant roles in his story in Lord of the Rings.
23. Typical Perfectionist
Tolkien made it clear in his writing that Sauron was meant to be an example of total evil, but he didn’t start out that way. His desire for order and perfection led him to seeing that this could be accomplished while serving Morgoth. Sadly, this led him down that path of corruption that brought him to embracing evil with open arms.
22. An Unworthy Apprentice
While he’s usually associated with Morgoth, Sauron was originally a student of Aulë. Aulë was the blacksmith Valar, associated with craftsmanship, as well the person who created the first Dwarves. This internship with Aulë would prove handy (no pun intended) a few millennia down the line when he got around to becoming the Lord of the Rings.
21. Just Call Me…
Tolkien fans will know that Sauron goes through more names and titles than Daenerys Targaryen. Before he decided to turn to the dark side with Morgoth, he was known as Mairon. Later, when he decided being good was overrated, he was called Sauron. He was also called Gorthaur the Cruel, Thû the Necromancer, and the Lord of Wolves. He also named himself Annatar for a while, but that name didn’t stick. By the time of Lord of the Rings, Sauron actually forbids anyone in his service from using his name, presumably because he was so sick of the endless confusion on which of his names he meant.
20. What’s in a Name?
The very name “Sauron” was given to him as an insult by his worst enemies. His original name, Mairon, meant “the admirable,” and he was well known for seeking perfection in everything. After he and Morgoth made enemies out of the Noldor Elves, they called him “Sauron,” which means “abominable” and plays off of his original name. No doubt he appreciated the cutting humour when someone told him about it.
19. Useful Talents
During the time of The Silmarillion, the Elves waged war on Morgoth in Middle-Earth for the Silmaril jewels (it’s complicated). Sauron proved to be Morgoth’s best lieutenant during the wars. This was partly because he was a shapeshifter, a sorcerer, and had control of dangerous beasts such as werewolves and vampires. But what made him so dangerous was his ability to fool people and deceive weak minds into trusting him. The One Ring especially features this gift for manipulation.
18. Hot Hands
In one of his many letters, Tolkien described another talent that Sauron had. Allegedly, his body gave off heat, such that the heat-sensitive markings on the Ring were visible when Sauron wore it. Not only that, he apparently caused the Elven King Gil-Galad to literally burst into flames just by grabbing onto him during their last battle.
17. Terrible With Promises
Even before Sauron became the Dark Lord, Tolkien wanted us to understand how despicable he was. During the events of The Silmarillion, Sauron is hunting a rebel leader named Barahir, and he promises a man named Gorlim that he’ll reunite Gorlim with his long-lost wife if Gorlim gives up Barahir’s location. When Gorlim betrays Barahir, Sauron reveals that his wife’s been dead for some time, but he’ll keep his word by killing Gorlim.
16. Say You’re Sorry
Much later, when Morgoth was defeated by the other Valar, Sauron approached another Maia named Eönwë to beg forgiveness for his actions. It’s debatable whether he really meant it. We’ll never know for sure because when Eönwë told Sauron he needed to go to the Valar for judgment, Sauron decided to flee instead.
15. Summer Homes
Sauron had a number of home bases throughout his life. Under Morgoth, he managed the dark fortress of Angband. Later in the First Age, Sauron conquered the island of Tol Sirion and renamed it Tol-in-Gaurhoth. Later on, he moved to Mordor, but he also had a retreat in the south of Mirkwood called Dol Guldur, which was later portrayed in the Hobbit trilogy.
14. Like Putting on a New Suit
After laying low for hundreds of years, Sauron showed up again in a beautiful form and tried to make friends with the Elves of Eregion. He claimed to be a friend of Aulë, and while many of the elves living in Middle-Earth distrusted the new guy, others couldn’t ignore his knowledge of magic and crafting. They decided to work with him on a new project.
13. Arts and Crafts
Together with the Elf Celebrimbor (Tolkien clearly loved naming things), Sauron created the Rings of Power that feature in The Lord of the Rings. Sauron was involved in forging the Seven Dwarf Rings and the Nine Men Rings, though the Elf Rings were made without him. Meanwhile, Sauron secretly crafted the One Ring so it would rule them all.
12. A Bad Work Relationship
Eventually Celebrimbor realized that Sauron wasn’t what he seemed, around the same time that Sauron demanded that he get all the Rings of Power. The Elves predictably said no, leading to a devastating war during which Sauron nearly conquered Middle-Earth. As for Celebrimbor, he sent the Elf Rings into hiding before being captured by Sauron. Sauron never found out where the missing rings were, so instead he tortured Celebrimbor to death and used his body as a war banner. Remember that if anyone ever doubts that Sauron was really that bad of a guy.
11. That Gift Horse Has Rotten Teeth
Sauron managed to get the other rings, and he gave them to the seven dwarf lords and nine powerful kings of men. Little did they know that the rings were cursed. The nine kings went on to become the famous Nazghul, or Black Riders, who hunt for the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings. The dwarves, meanwhile, paid for it by having their treasures plundered and lost to them even while their desire for gold increased. This lust for treasure led the dwarves of Moria to dig too deeply and doom themselves.
10. A Near Miss
As for the Ring wars, Sauron did actually come close to conquering all of Middle-Earth, until the island kingdom of Númenor stepped in. King Tar-Minastir sent a fleet and an army to the mainland to join in the effort to stop Sauron. Their efforts worked, Sauron was defeated, and spent several centuries lying low, swearing revenge. Unfortunately, he was left alone in Mordor to build up his power all over again (a continuing pattern of foolish decision-making that the Free Peoples didn’t break for a long time).
9. Cheap Knockoffs
Just like his master, Morgoth, Sauron made use of evil men, orcs, and trolls. The orcs are warped versions of Elves, as is stated throughout the movies, but the books go further and point out that trolls were actually made in mockery of the Ents. Safe to say that Sauron was better at making rings than he was at making servants.
8. A Fair Fight
In the film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, it’s shown that Sauron was only defeated when Isildur cut the ring from his hand to avenge his father, Elendil. However in the books it was a three-on-one duel between Sauron, Isildur, Elendil, and Gil-Galad. This ended a siege of Barad-Dur that had lasted seven years!
7. Sneak Attack
Lord of the Rings features some epic fights against Sauron’s huge armies, but what book-readers and gamers alike will know is that Sauron actually had a whole other strategy planned to conquer Middle-Earth. He sent a huge army north to sweep into Eriador and conquer it while everyone wasn’t looking. This would have meant that the Shire, Rivendell, and all the rest of that region would have been annihilated. Why didn’t that happen? The Dwarves of Erebor and the Men of Dale, featured in the Hobbit series, managed to defeat said army until Sauron was destroyed.
6. Surprise Cameo
Sauron was actually supposed to appear in physical form at the end of the film version of The Return of the King. He was meant to fight Aragorn just before the One Ring was destroyed. Ultimately, the filmmakers decided that it would be too distracting to have Sauron himself show up, so they had the battle take place with an armored troll instead at the last minute.
5. He Should Have Called Him “Whiskers”
Originally, Tolkien had a much different idea in mind for Sauron. In original versions of Middle Earth and its books, Sauron was supposed to be named Tevildo. He would be known as the Prince of Cats, and take on a cat form for at least part of the story. All that remains of these origins is the brief description Tolkien gives of the Great Eye being as “yellow as a cat’s” when Frodo sees it.
4. Ancient Rivalry
The reason for Sauron’s cat origins is due to a chapter in The Silmarillion where Sauron makes a major appearance. At one point, he’s forced into an epic fight with a legendary hound named Huan. The “cats vs dogs” scenario that Tolkien thought up was eventually switched to focus on wolves instead, and so Sauron turns himself into a huge werewolf to win his fight against Huan. The fight goes so badly for Huan that he has to run away and go into hiding.
3. Hail to the (Real) King
Eventually Sauron began to call himself king of the world again, but unfortunately the latest King of Númenor, Ar-Pharazôn, had an even bigger ego than Sauron did. He launched the biggest fleet ever seen in Middle-Earth to Mordor, so much so that Sauron’s followers had a contest to see who could abandon him fastest. Sauron came forward on bended knee and surrendered to Ar-Pharazôn, who took him back to Númenor as a hostage.
2. Good Advice?
In another example of people being dumb, Sauron was kept alive on Númenor and was actually promoted to one of the royal advisors. Ar-Pharazôn loved power and hated the fact that he was a mortal man. Sauron managed to persuade him to invade the Elven Undying Lands, known as Valinor, to get the gift of immortality. This led to the gods of Middle-Earth (roll with it) to destroy the entire island of Númenor. Sauron managed to survive and return to Mordor, but he was cursed to a hideous form for the rest of his days.
1. Long Live Sauron
Most fans think that Sauron died when the ring was destroyed, but the truth is much darker. In Tolkien’s words in The Return of the King, the destruction of the ring caused Sauron to fall so low that “none can foresee his arising ever again. For he will lose the best part of his strength that was native to him in the beginning, and all that was made or begun with that power will crumble, and he will be maimed forever, becoming a mere spirit of malice that gnaws itself in the shadows, but cannot again grow or take shape.”