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During the time period of The Hobbit, a character is mentioned called the Necromancer. Radagast even (in the movie) specifically states that the Necromancer can "summon the spirits of the dead." (It's been a while since I read the book so I don't know if this exact phrasing is used there, but given the name it seems reasonable.) This character is later revealed to be Sauron.

Since when can Sauron summon the spirits of the dead? He can extend life ad infinitum, like Gollum's, for example, and he can twist people into half-alive monsters, like the Ringwraiths, and he himself seems impossible to kill so long as the One Ring remains, but I can't recall ever actually seeing him "summon" something that was once fully dead. In fact, the only character I remember doing that was actually Aragorn, though he merely commanded them and didn't raise them himself.

Is this just an unfounded rumor about the power in Dol Guldur, some hushed-whisper nightmare that isn't actually an accurate description, or is there a reason he is called the Necromancer?

It seems like if Sauron could actually resurrect the dead, what little chance Middle Earth had of defeating his hordes would be long, long gone...

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"It's been a while since I read the book so I don't know if this exact phrasing is used there, but given the name it seems reasonable". Given the fact that Radagast is mentioned exactly once in The Hobbit, but never says a thing I'm pretty sure the quote is utterly fake. –  Bakuriu Jan 10 at 11:08
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@Bakuriu As anyone who has read Tolkien's works and then seen the movies knows, Peter Jackson regularly takes lines from one character and gives them to another. Faramir may have a line from Gandalf, Gandalf may say a line of Elrond's, Bilbo may have a whole speech that in the book was just narration. You're right, Radagast doesn't have any lines in the book, and it's true that the heavy use of italics makes your argument especially compelling, but anyone can see that that doesn't mean the line isn't Tolkien's. –  Nerrolken Jan 10 at 17:55
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that's a reason why I hate the films. –  ShinTakezou Jan 18 at 14:43
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I think the most obvious is his creation of the Ringwraiths. Wraiths are actually a form of undead and if Sauron created them he is therefore a Necromancer. –  dphil Sep 23 at 18:41

6 Answers 6

up vote 71 down vote accepted

First of all, the Necromancer was always intended by Tolkien to be Sauron (who was at the time named Thû). The most explicit evidence is to be found in the History of the Hobbit, when the Necromancer is first mentioned, and reads:

"Don't be absurd" said the wizard. "That is a job quite beyond the powers of all the dwarves, if they could be all gathered together again from the four corners of the world. And anyway his castle stands no more and he is flown to another darker place - Beren and Tinúviel broke his power, but that is quite another story."

(My emphasis)

There's also reference in the Lay of Leithian ("Men called him Thû...In glamoury that necromancer held his hosts"), as well as in the pre-LotR Letter 19 ("even Sauron the terrible peeped over the edge") - of course the full concept of the Rings of Power only emerged during the writing of LotR, but other ideas - such as Sauron's survival beyond the First Age, the Fall of Numenor (where Sauron is explicitly identified as being the same character as Thû), the Last Alliance, Sauron's lairs in Mordor and Mirkwood, the name "Sauron" itself - had already emerged and gone through several revisions before the Hobbit was even published.


As for why he's called a "Necromancer", the most obvious early explanation comes in the quoted lines from the Lay of Leithian, and I'll give them again in full:

Men called him Thû, and as a god
in after days beneath his rod
bewildered bowed to him, and made
his ghastly temples in the shade.
Not yet by men enthralled adored,
now was he Morgoth's mightiest lord,
Master of Wolves, whose shivering howl
for ever echoed in the hills, and foul
enchantments and dark sigaldry
did weave and wield. In glamoury
that necromancer held his hosts
of phantoms and of wandering ghosts...

This however does nothing much more than establish that Sauron/Thû was called a Necromancer, but doesn't go into much detail about what exactly he did. For that we need to look to a later text, published in HoME 10 (Morgoth's Ring) and again I'll quote in full (with some added emphasis):

It is therefore a foolish and perilous thing, besides being a wrong deed forbidden justly by the appointed Rulers of Arda, if the Living seek to commune with the Unbodied, though the houseless may desire it, especially the most unworthy among them. For the Unbodied, wandering in the world, are those who at the least have refused the door of life and remain in regret and self-pity. Some are filled with bitterness, grievance, and envy. Some were enslaved by the Dark Lord and do his work still, though he himself is gone. They will not speak truth or wisdom. To call on them is folly. To attempt to master them and to make them servants of one own's will is wickedness. Such practices are of Morgoth; and the necromancers are of the host of Sauron his servant.

So there we have it: Sauron/Thû communed with spirits of the dead, mastered them and made them his servants.

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None that I'm aware of, but there is the case of Eilinel in the First Age: "he had only seen a phantom devised by wizardry to entrap him; for Eilinel was dead". –  Darth Satan Jan 9 at 22:24
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We might expect unbodied spirits to be more common during the Third Age, given the fading of the Elves. Also, I think the Barrow-wights can be safely categorized as products of necromancy. –  Shamshiel Jan 10 at 1:22
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How, on God's green earth did you find all those quotes :| +1 indeed :) –  JAnderton Jan 10 at 9:27
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Excellent answer! I remember reading these passages you quoted. They have always made me wonder about what Aragorn did with the unbodied spirits of the Paths of the Dead if "To call on them is folly. To attempt to master them and make them servants of ones will is wickedness" and "such practices are of Morgoth". –  Ron Smith Jan 10 at 15:56
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@RonSmith I think it should be kept in mind that the Army of Dead served Aragorn willingly in order to break their curse by assisting the Heir of Isildur. Aragorn never attempted to master them or control them, and released them once their oath had been fulfilled. –  ssell Jan 10 at 16:58

Well, out of universe the answer is pretty clear: at the time Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, the character of Sauron as it appears in The Lord of the Rings didn't exist. It wasn't until later, as he was conceiving the story of The One Ring, that Tokien decided to retrofit the events of The Hobbit as a prequel.

To be very pedantic: the character that would eventually become Sauron existed in Tolkien's unpublished writings about the history of Middle Earth, and that's who Tolkien had in mind when he wrote The Hobbit. But the character would undergo a lot of changes between The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, including his name and his entire backstory with the Rings of Power, which is why the descriptions of him in the two novels don't mesh very well. In The Hobbit, The Necromancer is merely supposed to represent a vague threat from the world outside of Bilbo's experience, to give the reader the sense that the story is part of something bigger.

In-universe, it's probably in large part due to people not actually knowing that it was Sauron, but merely seeing a powerful being capable of things that one would normally associate with the wizards. Necromancer, in this sense, is probably just a general name for "mysterious but evil-looking magical guy".

As far as summoning the spirits of the dead, we have no indication that Sauron can literally summon spirits, so it's unlikely that's what Radagast actually meant. He may just be repeating a rumour, since that sounds like the kind of thing that someone might say if they saw a ringwraith working for Sauron but didn't recognize it. It's also possible that Radagast is being figurative, similar to his declaration that the Morgul blade he found in Dol Goldur was "not from the world of the living." His reference to "spirits of the dead" may be a poetic way of saying that the Necromancer is digging up ancient magic or beings that the Istari had thought long-since gone away.

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Good answer. In-universe, out-of-universe, comprehensive and articulate. Thanks! –  Nerrolken Jan 9 at 20:01
    
Also, if I remember it correctly, Necromancer in "Hobbit" was Kong of Ringwraiths / Nazgûl (the one prophecy was about), not Saruman. –  Jakub Narębski Jan 9 at 21:28
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This is completely wrong; the Necromancer was always intended to be Sauron. –  Darth Satan Jan 9 at 21:46
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that's only partly true. Tolkein had always connected The Necromancer with that character from his early work (his First Age stuff), but the entire concept of Lord of the Rings and the One Ring and the final character we see as "Sauron" in those books didn't even exist when he wrote The Hobbit. –  Michael Edenfield Jan 9 at 23:50
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I agree, and done. I did forget that Necromancer was one of Tokien's early names for Sauron, although I don't see much evidence that the people of Middle Earth would know that... ? –  Michael Edenfield Jan 10 at 0:06

Sauron can twist people into half-alive monsters, like the Ringwraiths.

Well, what is more undead than a Wraith? Putting an extra noun in front of it doesn't make them no longer Wraiths. Twisting people into half-alive monsters is pretty much what making something undead is. Aren't Zombies are Skeletons also half-alive monsters?

TL;DR; A Necromancer is pretty much someone who creates undead and Sauron clearly created the Wraiths.

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I'm not entirely happy with that edit, but it seemed like the most coherent way to make your point. –  Sean Duggan Dec 16 at 11:47

Perhaps not what you are after, but a necromancer is actually just a being who communicates with the dead. Mancer, the suffix is Greek for divination, which, used with Necro is divining info from the dead, normally about future events. So if they were saying it accurately, which in all fairness they almost certainly were not, he would call up spirits and they would just kinds be chilling, talking lots. Not a great army.

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Is this just your own opinion or can you back this up with a quote (from one of the books, perhaps) or some other kind of proof? –  Richard Jan 11 at 10:40
    
+1; while today, "necromancer" is taken to mean "reanimater of undead minions," Tolkein was a word-nerd of the highest order, and likely had the original meaning in mind. Not to say that Sauron didn't have other powers, such as creating wraiths. –  Jon of All Trades Dec 17 at 2:24

So,in these kinds of questions ("Why this name ...?") there is always what the author himself may or may not say that might explain the name, and then there is the inner logic of his choice, often unexpressed, for why a particular name might be given. As for the latter then, I think it is pretty clear that the name Necromancer is meant to put us in mind of two things:

  1. that Sauron, tho a Maia, nevertheless lost his body as a result of the destruction of Numenor (there is some apparent confusion here as Tolkien is clear that he last his body and yet at the same time, following his defeat during the last Alliance of Men and Elves, the One Ring was "cut from his finger"), and thus was something like a wraith himself. Additionally,

  2. Sauron was lord of the Nine and they surely are considered "wraiths" themselves. These two corresponding facts, that he himself is a wraith and that he commands wraiths, lends an inner logic to his being named the Necromancer (and this is true whether or not the White Council understood that logic and so could identify him as Sauron).

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Necromancy's definition is the ability to communicate with the dead. You don't have to be dead. Same with wraiths. You can communicate without being one. –  Meat Trademark Jun 10 at 16:22

Just would to add Sauron could raise the dead, because he could tap into the unseen world and somehow tie it with physical.

Other things Tolkien specified were like this are the Barrow-Blades or the swords meant to kill or wound Ring-Wraiths (Nazgul Sauron Servants), Also some characters like Tom Bombadil could actually bring back to dead evil spirits or dispell them at will, Aragorn Commanded them and muster the men of dunharrow (dead).

Also Dol Guldur, means tower of sorcery his reach is even nature twisting, animals go insane and evil creatures appears.

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Ummmm....can you source any of this? I' pretty sure this is 200% wrong (especially since you can't spell Dol Guldur) –  SSumner Apr 8 at 0:00

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