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In the opening battle of The Fellowship of the Ring(I can't recall the name of it), Sauron is putting in work killing many men with the swing of his weapon. Eventually Isildur comes out with a hay maker and cuts off his finger resulting in the loss of the ring, which results in Sauron losing his power.

My question is if Isildur didn't do that, would Sauron have destroyed the entire army that was on the field that day at the first scene in Fellowship of the Ring? I am under the assumption that he is basically invincible when he has control of the One ring, or does he have an Achilles heel like the Witch King did?

So, Besides destroying the One Ring, how can Sauron be defeated?

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In the books he was fighting a couple elf lords and the king gondor i believe, while cutting the ring off of his fingure sped things up i believe that he could have been overwhelmed. or actually have been killed phsyically(while his soul would still be bound to the ring). We see that Gandalf and Sauruman were both able to be killed physically and while sauron seems to be more powerful then they (while all 3 being of the same species) he should have also been phsyically vulnerable to say, a sword going into his heart. –  Himarm Aug 22 '14 at 18:17
FWIW Isidur cuts the ring off of Sauron's finger only after he was already defeated. –  TGnat Aug 22 '14 at 18:32
@Himarm I think it's important to note that while yes, Sauron and the Wizards are all Maiar, the Wizards were given specifically mortal forms by the Valar, and only one "lifetime" in which to do their work; once they died, that was all they had (Note that the Valar weren't able to bring Gandalf back. Only Eru could do that). Sauron had no such limitations –  Jason Baker Aug 22 '14 at 18:59
This question appears to be off-topic because it is about "What if ______ happened?” - scifi.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask –  Darth Satan Aug 22 '14 at 21:04
This question can be salvaged to "Besides destroying the One Ring, how can Sauron be defeated?". Remove the bits about "what would happen if__", and clarify the question. It may then be re-opened. –  Mooz Oct 22 '14 at 2:41

3 Answers 3

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Sauron is a Maia, sort of the Middle Earth equivalent of an angel (or fallen angel, in this case)1. So the real question is "can an angel be killed?" The closest we have to a comparison are the balrogs.

Balrogs are usually considered to be Maiar, fallen angels corrupted by Sauron's old boss Morgoth long before the events of Fellowship. And balrogs can be killed, but it's not easy. I can think of three instances where the death of a balrog is explicitly stated:

  1. In The Silmarillion Ecthelion, an Elf-lord of Gondolin, kills Gothmog, captain of the Balrogs
  2. Also in The Silmarillion, Glorfindel of Gondolin kills another balrog
  3. In Fellowship, Gandalf kills the balrog in Moria

These events have two things in common: all of the beings who killed a balrog had once been in Valinor, Middle Earth's heaven, and they all died in the attempt. So it seems as though killing a balrog is possible, but exceptionally difficult; it takes a special kind of person.

By the time of the Last Alliance, I think the only remaining elf who had dwelt in Valinor was Galadriel2 (The Wizards hadn't yet been sent to Middle Earth at the time), and she wasn't going to be fighting in the battle.

So no individual at the battle was capable of killing a lesser Maia, much less Sauron, a very powerful Maia, short of some astonishingly good luck. So could he have been overwhelmed by the entire army?

Sauron only lost one other conflict in the Second Age3, mostly because of the great Númenórean host at the height of their power and influence:

[I]n the very nick of time the great armament of Tar-Minastir came in; and Sauron's host was heavily defeated and driven back. The Númenórean admiral Ciryatur send part of his ships to make a landing further to the south.

Sauron was driven away south-east after great slaughter at Sarn Ford (thr crossing of the Baranduin); and though strengthened by his force at Tharbad he suddenly found a host of the Númenóreans again in his rear, for Ciryatur had put a strong force ashore at the mouth of the Gwathló (Greyflood), 'where there was a small Númenórean harbour'. In the Battle of the Gwathló Sauron was routed utterly and he himself only narrowly escaped. [...] [B]roken and humiliated he returned to Mordor, and vowed vengeance upon Númenor.

Unfinished Tales Part 2 Chapter IV "History of Galadriel and Celeborn"

It also probably didn't hurt the Númenórean cause that the One Ring was still very new to Sauron, and he presumably had not quite mastered it.

However, centuries after this event the Númenóreans fell, and lost the blessing of the Valar. By the time of the Last Alliance, Elendil and Isildur are the closest things to true Númenóreans still alive, and it takes both of them to take them down, with nearly-fatal effort. In Fellowship, Elrond (One of the few participants in that battle alive at the time) recounts the story of Sauron's fall:

Gil-Galad died, and Elendil fell, and Narsil broke beneath him; but Sauron himself was overthrown, and Isildur cut the Ring from his hand with the hilt-shard of his father's sword.

There are lots of ways to interpret that account, and Elrond is clearly condensing the story for the sake of convenience, but three things are clear:

  1. Elendil died battling Sauron
  2. Sauron was not completely defeated by Elendil4
  3. Isildur had to cut the ring from Sauron's finger to end the battle

It took two men of Númenor, both of whom were alive when Númenor sank, to subdue Sauron. Their descendants at the time of Lord of the Rings have much-diluted Númenórean blood - I'd say that Aragorn is the only living man who can come even close to matching Isildur or Elendil and, as much as Sauron fears Aragorn, it's doubtful that he alone could match his ancestor's combined feat.

However, it is possible for Sauron to lose his form (about as close to death as a full Maia can get). This happened at least once, during the Second Age. Sauron was on the island of Númenor, and convinced the Númenóreans to invade Valinor. They failed, obviously, and Ilúvatar himself sunk Númenor in punishment. Sauron was stuck on the island at the time, and although he wasn't utterly destroyed he lost the ability to assume a pleasant-looking form.

The tl;dr of all this is that it's not inconceivable that Sauron could be forced out of his current form by a sufficiently large and powerful force. However, it's unlikely that any such force remained in Middle Earth by the time of the Last Alliance.

However, even if they succeeded Sauron would not be dead; it's important to note that even after the destruction of the Ring Sauron didn't die: in Return of the King, Gandalf says that:

he will be maimed for ever, becoming a mere spirit of malice that gnaws itself in the shadows, but can never again grow or take shape

1 If we're drawing parallels to Judeo-Christian cosmology, it would be better to think of Maiar as a lesser order of angels; strictly speaking the Valar, often considered the "gods" of Middle-Earth, are more accurately classed as angels (With Eru Ilúvatar as The One True God), and Valar and Maiar are technically the same kind of creature, just with a different level of power.

2 As Mike Scott reminds me in comments, there's some debate over whether there are two Glorfindels or just one. See my comment here for the background knowledge. So it's possible that there was another elf walking around with the ability to at least kill a lesser Maia. Whether or not he could defeat one or Sauron's strength is purely speculative, because we no longer have any canon support.

3 Sauron did, of course, lose occasionally in the First Age, but very infrequently and always against some very powerful beings. The most famous time is probably in the story of Beren and Lúthien, when Sauron is pressured into yielding Tor-in-Gaurhoth to Lúthien. In this instance he's subdued by Huan, a wolf-hound who formerly belonged to the Vala Oromë, and had been granted special powers. Not an ordinary fight.

4 You can argue over how much Sauron was weakened by his fight with Elendil, and the Jacksonverse argues that it wasn't very much - he had enough fight in him to curb-stomp Isildur for a while - but it's clear that Sauron was still alive and kicking when Elendil was killed. What's not clear is how much effort it took Isildur to cut off the ring; it could have been little, it could have been nearly fatal.

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It is stated in the simarillion that Sauron hid the ring and surrendered to the numenorians when he had no chance of winning the war. When Numenor fell he lost his physical body and returned to Middle-earth as a spirit and claimed the ring again. So no, he did not fight in that battle personally. If he had taken the ring to Numenor it would have been lost to the sea alongside his body. –  Hoffmann Aug 22 '14 at 21:15
Actually, according to the text, Elendil and Gil-Galad overthrew Sauron, then Isildur dealt him his death-blow and cut the Ring off. So not only could the Last Alliance have defeated him, it did. The idea that cutting the Ring off defeated and killed Sauron is movie-only. –  Shamshiel Aug 22 '14 at 23:52
@Hoffmann You are coreect; I'll update my answer shortly –  Jason Baker Aug 23 '14 at 4:16
@Shamshiel Do you have a reference for that? All I can find is Elrond's speech in Fellowship, where he says "Gil-Galad died, and Elendil fell, and Narsil broke beneath him; but Sauron himself was overthrown, and Isildur cut the Ring from his hand with the hilt-shard of his father's sword"; I can't find any reference to the exact sequence –  Jason Baker Aug 23 '14 at 4:34
Galadriel was not the only elf in Middle Earth at the end of the Second Age who had lived in Valinor. And the other one was Glorfindel, who had already killed a balrog once, died in the process, and been reincarnated by the Valar. So he could presumably have done it again. –  Mike Scott Oct 22 '14 at 7:09

I am primarily answering the second question:

I am under the assumption that he is basically invincible when he has control of the One ring, or does he have an achilles heel like the Witch King did?

While extremely powerful, Sauron is not invincible. Several times throughout the writings of Tolkien we see Ainur not only being injured but also killed.

  • Saruman is killed by Wormtongue
  • Gandalf is killed by Durin's Bane (and vice versa)
  • Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs, is killed by Ecthelion
  • An unnamed Balrog is killed by Glorfindel
  • Sauron's physical form is, along with all of Númenor, destroyed by Eru Ilúvatar
  • Morgoth is physically injured in combat seven times by Fingolfin

Thus it is apparent that the Ainur in Middle-Earth are vulnerable to physical threats. Tolkien himself directly commented on this:

It was because of this pre-occupation with the Children of God that the spirits so often took the form and likeness of the Children, especially after their appearance. It was thus that Sauron appeared in this shape. It is mythologically supposed that when this shape was 'real', that is a physical actuality in the physical world and not a vision transferred from mind to mind, it took some time to build up. It was then destructible like other physical organisms. But that of course did not destroy the spirit, nor dismiss it from the world to which it was bound until the end.

-Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien - #200

Therefor it is entirely plausable that Sauron could have been defeated, at least temporarily until he once again regenerated, during the War of the Last Alliance.

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incidentally Sauron was also defeated by Beren and Luthien and Huan in the Silmarillion –  Steven Wood Oct 1 '14 at 21:58
When Wormtongue stabbed Saruman, Saruman did not initially die. A spirit is seen rising from his body looking to the West. A breeze from the West dissipates the spirit like smoke. Metaphorically, it seems that Saruman as a Maia, though out of his mortal body was still a living Maia that was ostensibly denied admittance back to Aman and cast into the Abyss. Well okay, I guess that pretty much means dead. –  Stuart Yee Dec 12 '14 at 1:15

To directly answer your question, short and sweet, Sauron is clearly not invincible even with the One Ring. During the Battle of Mount Doom (I believe that's what it was called), the combined efforts of Gil-Galad, Elendil and Isildur defeated Sauron while he was wearing the One Ring.

As previous posts have explained, Sauron is a Maia, a sort of deity-like immortal spirit. As Gandalf had explained to Frodo, destroying the Ring wouldn't technically kill Sauron, rather it would reduce him to shadow in the dark gnawing at himself in the Abyss. So to you or I in Middle Earth terms, dead for all intents and purposes.

But besides destroying the Ring, what could defeat Sauron? Well Sauron is a Mayia, and said to be of the highest order of Maia (Gandalf, the other wizards and Balrogs are Maiar as well). But again, he is only one Maia of many. Also, there are the Valar, to which the Maiar are subservient in class and power (you might say the Valar are the equivalent of Greek or Norse Gods). So what I'm getting at is that Ring or no Ring, the combined might of the Valar and Maiar could easily defeat Sauron.

So why go on a Ring quest when all of the Ainur (Valar and Maiar) can easily deal with Sauron? Well they actually had done just that against the First Dark Lord, Morgoth at the end of the First age. This brought about damage and upheaval to Middle Earth of apocalyptic proportions. So to avoid this fiasco again and to defeat Sauron in Middle Earth, the Valar send the Istari, five Maiar in limited (old man) forms to Middle Earth that we later come to know to be the Wizards. I assume the idea behind the limited forms serves as both initially a disguise from Sauron and to limit collateral damage in any confrontation.

There might have been other ways for the Wizards to defeat Sauron, but centuries of work on their part (well mainly Gandalf and Saruman) show that finding and destroying the Ring to be the easiest "Achilles' Heel" approach.

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I agree with most of your answer, but your assumption about the wizards is wrong, or at least incomplete. The Valar learned through the utterly disastrous War of the Jewels (which they indirectly caused) and the War of Wrath (which caused Beleriand to be sunk into the sea) that direct intervention in the affairs of Middle-Earth is a Bad Idea. The reason for limiting the Istari is so that they can only help through counsel –  Jason Baker Dec 12 '14 at 2:23

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