At long last, it appears that Amazon Studios’ highly anticipated television adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings will make it to our living rooms within the next year.
Details about the plot and cast are still sparse and often speculative. One of the things we know for certain is that the show is set during the Second Age, in which Sauron forged the One Ring and set in motion the plot that drives many of the events in The Lord of the Rings.
That’s why some fans were puzzled to learn that the Dark Lord is rumored not to appear in the first season. Some chalk it up to a tactic to leave fans “wanting more,” while other reports have contradicted the news altogether.
Still, if Amazon remains true to its source material, Sauron’s rise to power will probably be a major part of the story at some point. We are likely to see a lot of him—or at least a lot of the consequences of his manipulations—and given the show’s setting, he will be quite different from the flaming eyeball or shadowy Necromancer Peter Jackson’s films. Read on for four major features of Sauron’s character in the Second Age!
He Is Sneaky.
The Lord of the Rings is set at the end of the Third Age of Middle-earth, and Sauron is relatively weak compared to his earlier days. In the Second Age, however, he is at full power—even before the Rings of Power are forged.
Sauron is one of the Ainur, a group of immortal spirits who existed before the creation of Middle-earth (or Arda, in the mythology). They came into being at the thought of Eru Ilúvatar, who can be considered the creator God of Tolkien’s universe, and helped to shape the world.
The Ainur are made up of the Valar and the Maiar, who are roughly analogous to a pantheon of gods and demigods, respectively. Sauron was one of the most powerful of the Maiar, and his name was originally Mairon, “the admirable.” As a Maia, he was originally with Aulë, the Vala who crafted the material substances of Arda such as rock and metal. (Other familiar Maiar are Gandalf and Tom Bombadil, who each has his own area of expertise.)
As the Maiar are essentially spirits, Sauron does not technically have a physical body. He can appear as an animal or a person, and is particularly good at shapeshifting, even compared to the other Ainur. In the Second Age, he has the power to assume a fair form, which allows him to better manipulate others into trusting him. Some call him the Deceiver in part because of this ability.
He Is Hiding to Avoid Punishment.
Sauron spends at least the first millennium of the Second Age in hiding, and for good reason. Back when he was known as Mairon, he betrayed the other Ainur by joining the evil Vala Melkor. Melkor, later known as Morgoth, tried to bring Middle-earth under his control through destruction, violence, and chaos.
Mairon became Morgoth’s most trusted lieutenant, known for his brutality. The Elves called him Gorthaur (meaning “dread abomination”) and, more commonly, Sauron (“the abhorred”).
In the War of Wrath, which ended the First Age, Morgoth was defeated and forced outside of Creation, into the Timeless Void. Terrified of the Valar’s anger, Sauron sought forgiveness. However, he would not endure the humiliation of being judged by the Valar and required to make amends, and so he hid in Middle-earth. Depending on when Amazon picks up the story, Sauron might still be quietly biding his time.
He Wants to Rehabilitate Middle-earth (at first).
Unlike the prideful Morgoth, Sauron was not originally interested in power for its own sake. As Mairon, he wanted to bring order and perfection to Arda for the benefit of its inhabitants. His love of order became an obsession that drew him to Morgoth, who was at that time the most powerful of all the Ainur. Sauron believed that if he could become similarly powerful, then Middle-earth could be organized efficiently in the way he believed was best.
At the beginning of the Second Age, Sauron is still concerned about order. The 40-year War of Wrath has left Middle-earth in disarray, and the Valar have returned to their home in the Undying Lands, in the western continent of Aman. In a letter, Tolkien even describes the Sauron of this time as a “reformer”—at first.
Though his concern for the inhabitants of Middle-earth might be genuinely admirable in the beginning, Sauron inevitably “goes the way of all tyrants.” And, being a spirit greater than humans, this second fall takes him “further than human tyrants in pride and the lust for domination.”
He Is a Skilled Manipulator.
In The Lord of the Rings, Sauron is depending on his military force and terrifying Ringwraiths to return him to power. For much of the Second Age, however, he influences world events from behind the scenes.
As mentioned before, Sauron the Deceiver is great at shapeshifting. In The Silmarillion, Tolkien’s story of the First Age of Middle-earth and one of Amazon’s main source materials for the upcoming show, Sauron’s forms include a werewolf, a serpent, and even a vampire. The most dangerous of all, however, are his “fair” forms—Sauron can “will” himself to seem “noble and beautiful, so as to deceive all but the most wary.” He takes on this attractive form often when engaging with Elves and Men throughout the Second Age, and is thereby able to trick—and corrupt—some of the most powerful people of the time. Unfortunately for Sauron, he will lose this ability when one of his most impressive schemes results in the drowning of an entire island kingdom through divine intervention.
Though Sauron’s presence in the first season of Amazon’s upcoming show is still uncertain, his importance to the events of the Second Age is undeniable. Hopefully, Amazon will provide us with new insight into the machinations of one of the greatest villains in fantasy, before he is confined to an eye on the top of a tower.