78

In The Two Towers Gandalf says to Aragorn

Indeed he is in great fear, not knowing what mighty one may suddenly appear, wielding the Ring, and assailing him with war, seeking to cast him down and take his place. That we should wish to cast him down and have no one in his place is not a thought that occurs to his mind. That we should try to destroy the Ring itself has not yet entered into his darkest dream.

~ The Two Towers - The White Rider

My question is that why did Sauron, being clever as he is, did not think that the free people's would want to destroy the One Ring?

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    As stated in the answer, Sauron was correct that nobody would be able to overcome the ring's power to be able to destroy it by their own will and strength, but he made the logical error of inferring that nobody would sincerely want to destroy the ring of their own free will, and the other error of assuming that Eru would not interfere. Indeed, Eru did not interfere except at crucial points where the fellowship truly needed help. One might even argue that Eru merely gave enough insight to some of them (Gandalf) so that they would allow the right situation to come to pass (Gollum at the end). – user21820 Dec 14 '17 at 2:07
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    I've edited the title. The original title is a little ambiguous as it can also mean "Why would Sauron think the One Ring was incapable of being destroyed (I.e. it was invulnerable)?". I believe the intent of the question was "Why would Sauron think no one in possession of the One Ring would want to destroy it?" and I've edited the question to better reflect this. – Deepak Dec 14 '17 at 3:56
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    This is covered explicitly in the movie, and I'm pretty sure the book. – TylerH Dec 14 '17 at 17:43
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    The same reason why Voldemort thought no one would find all his horcruxes (or horcruxi (?) ) – user13267 Dec 15 '17 at 11:26
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    @user13267, if horcrux declines like the Latin word crux, then the nominative plural is horcruces. Since you ask. – Anton Sherwood Dec 16 '17 at 21:12
105

Sauron could not fathom anyone being able to withstand the power

It is stated in the Council of Elrond, as other methods of disposing of the ring are brought up, when Gandalf makes a point that Sauron would never think of anyone wanting to destroy the ring, because of the great power it possesses:

"Into his heart the thought will not enter that any will refuse it, that having the Ring we may seek to destroy it. If we seek this, we shall put him out of reckoning."
The Fellowship of the Ring - The Council of Elrond

And Sauron was right: even for Frodo, who had borne the ring countless leagues, the temptation in the end was too great just before its destruction, and without the help of Gollum the Fellowship would not have been successful.

‘I have come,’ [Frodo] said. ‘But I do not choose to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!’ And suddenly, as he set it on his finger, he vanished from Sam’s sight.
The Return of the King

Frodo is shown giving in to the temptation of the ring when it comes to his final hurdle, and he submits to its power. It was however his initial resilience and Sauron’s mistaken thought that led him to leaving Mount Doom unguarded.

Finally as excellently pointed out by @Pryftan in his answer found here, Tolkien writes, in the famed Letter 131, that Sauron did not need to wield the ring to hold his power unless it was claimed by someone else. It goes on to describe how he was convinced that no one could possibly destroy the ring before succumbing to it. (Which we've shown above to be true).

But to achieve this he had been obliged to let a great part of his own inherent power (a frequent and very significant motive in myth and fairy-story) pass into the One Ring. While he wore it, his power on earth was actually enhanced. But even if he did not wear it, that power existed and was in 'rapport' with himself: he was not 'diminished'. Unless some other seized it and became possessed of it. If that happened, the new possessor could (if sufficiently strong and heroic by nature) challenge Sauron, become master of all that he had learned or done since the making of the One Ring, and so overthrow him and usurp his place. This was the essential weakness he had introduced into his situation in his effort (largely unsuccessful) to enslave the Elves, and his desire to establish control over the minds and wills of his servants. There was another weakness: if the One Ring was actually unmade, annihilated, then its power would be dissolved, Sauron's own being would be diminished to vanishing point, and he would be reduced to a shadow, a mere memory of malicious will. But that he never contemplated nor feared. The Ring was unbreakable by any smithcraft less than his own. It was indissoluble in any fire, save the undying subterranean fire where it was made - and that was unapproachable, in Mordor. Also so great was the Ring's power of lust, that anyone who used it became mastered by it; it was beyond the strength of any will (even his own) to injure it, cast it away, or neglect it. So he thought. It was in any case on his finger.
The Letter of J.R.R. Tolkien - Letter 131, to Milton Waldman

Tolkien clearly outlines that Sauron was unable to realise that anyone would get through Mordor, up the side of Orodruin and into the Sammath Naur without having given in to the temptations of the ring. This is most likely because he had never met Hobbits nor was able to foresee their lack of desire for power and their content for a simple life.

Again, as @Pryftan states, it is speculated that Gollum's "slip" was one of the interruptions by Eru Iluvatar (the Almighty) in the series which ended up destroying the One Ring.

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    I've always thought that Gollum's "slip" was him obeying the command (backed by the Ring's power) Frodo had given just a few pages earlier - "Begone, and trouble me no more! If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom." Gollum touched Frodo again, and promptly went into the Fire. – Douglas Dec 14 '17 at 20:29
  • @Douglas this is the other school of thought, I disagree with said thought on the premise that it’s was Eru carrying out said oath. – Edlothiad Dec 14 '17 at 20:30
  • @Douglas I seem to recall it's in the letters but I am unsure of that exactly. What is certain is Tolkien noted that had Sam understood the relationship between Frodo and Sméagol better Shelob's Lair might not have happened; furthermore he'd have taken the Ring but understand that he couldn't have had both the Ring and life: Sauron would take him and destroy him (just as he would have for Frodo) and so he'd cast himself into the fire ending Sauron and doing Frodo the best service he could do. – Pryftan Dec 14 '17 at 20:34
  • The letter is a good explanation, but I'm surprised no one has added any quotes from The Two Towers. I actually just read the relevant chapter last night and I feel like Sauron's reasoning gets explained pretty well there. I don't have access to my book at the moment unfortunately. – Herohtar Dec 14 '17 at 21:32
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    This comment chain was getting a bit unwieldy, so I've moved it to chat, where you can all continue discussing for as long as you like. – Rand al'Thor Dec 15 '17 at 16:06
39

Tolkien talks about this in Letter #131. It's a rather long letter but the part that is relevant is thus (I am typing this out and so any mistake is my fault).

[Aside: Tolkien explains first how Sauron became almost supreme in Middle-earth wearing the One Ring: he did after all dominate multiplying hordes of Men that had no contact with Elves and had a growing empire. Then he - Tolkien - continues on as below]

But to achieve this he had been obliged to let a great part of his own inherent power (a frequent and very significant motive in myth and fairy-story) pass into the One Ring. While he wore it, his power on earth was actually enhanced. But even if he did not wear it, that power existed and was in 'rapport' with himself: he was not 'diminished'. Unless some other seized it and became possessed of it. If that happened, the new possessor could (if sufficiently strong and heroic by nature) challenge Sauron, become master of all that he had learned or done since the making of the One Ring, and so overthrow him and usurp his place. This was the essential weakness he had introduced into his situation in his effort (largely unsuccessful) to enslave the Elves, and his desire to establish control over the minds and wills of his servants. There was another weakness: if the One Ring was actually unmade, annihilated, then its power would be dissolved, Sauron's own being would be diminished to vanishing point, and he would be reduced to a shadow, a mere memory of malicious will. But that he never contemplated nor feared. The Ring was unbreakable by any smithcraft less than his own. It was indissoluble in any fire, save the undying subterranean fire where it was made - and that was unapproachable, in Mordor. Also so great was the Ring's power of lust, that anyone who used it became mastered by it; it was beyond the strength of any will (even his own) to injure it, cast it away, or neglect it. So he thought. It was in any case on his finger.

Sauron truly believed nobody could destroy it even if they went towards Sammath Naur to do so: as we see when Frodo arrives there he cannot do the task. Tolkien writes about this also though I am not sure what letter it was in. One might argue that of course Sauron wouldn't destroy it (in response to the last bold part of the letter) as it'd destroy his power but that's missing the point: the lure of the Ring was in his mind too powerful and nobody could destroy it. And the closer - as we see with Frodo - the person gets there the more powerful the Ring's influence. Ultimately it would be Gollum's lust for the Ring and Eru Ilúvatar making him fall into the fire, that would allow the quest to not fail.


Edit:

In a comment to another answer I noted that if Sam had understood Gollum and Frodo's relationship better he would have instead helped them into Mordor and would have after taking the Ring from Frodo cast himself into the fire. This is a part of a letter that explains it. As an added bonus it has another bit that explains once again how Sauron didn't think anyone would be willing to destroy the Ring.

If he had understood better what was going on between Frodo and Gollum, things might have turned out differently in the end. For me perhaps the most tragic moment in the Tale in II 323 ff. when Sam fails to note the complete change in Gollum's tone and aspect. 'Nothing, nothing,' said Gollum softly. 'Nice master!'. His repentance is blighted and all Frodo's pity is (in a sense) wasted. Shelob's lair became inevitable.

This is due of course to the 'logic of the story'. Sam could hardly have acted differently. (He did reach the point of pity at last (III 221-222[4]) but for the good of Gollum too late). If he had, what could then have happened? The course of the entry into Mordor and the struggle to reach Mount Doom would have been different, and so would the ending. The interest would have shifted to Gollum, I think, and the battle that would have gone on between his repentance and his new love on one side and the Ring. Though the love would have been strengthened daily it could not have wrested the mastery from the Ring. **I think that in some queer twisted and pitiable way Gollum would have tried (not maybe with conscious design) to satisfy both. Certainly at some point not long before the end he would have stolen the Ring or taken it by violence (as he does in the actual Tale). But 'possession' satisfied, I think he would have then sacrificed himself for Frodo's sake and have voluntarily cast himself into the fiery abyss.

I think that an effect of his partial regeneration by love would have been a clearer vision when he claimed the Ring. He would have perceived the evil of Sauron, and suddenly realized that he could not use the Ring and had not the strength or stature to keep it in Sauron's despite: the only way to keep it and hurt Sauron was to destroy it and himself together--and in a flash he may have seen that this would also be the greatest service to Frodo.** Frodo in the tale actually takes the Ring and claims it, and certainly he too would have had a clear vision - but he was not given any time: he was immediately attacked by Gollum. When Sauron was aware of the seizure of the Ring his one hope was in its power: that the claimant would be unable to relinquish it until Sauron had time to deal with him. Frodo too would then probably, if not attacked, have had to take the same way: cast himself with the Ring into the abyss.

[4] This is a footnote of the letter itself; I didn't notice it until after I took a picture, emailed it to myself and was transcribing it. I don't think I need cite it however.

  • Did Eru "pushed" Gollum into the fire? this is quite a claim. – Mindwin Dec 14 '17 at 17:33
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    I think this is a misunderstanding. It's not that Sauron believed that no one could destroy the Ring if they made the attempt. Rather, he could not understand why anyone, given the opportunity for power provided by possession of the Ring, would not want to take that power and use it for him/herself. – jamesqf Dec 14 '17 at 19:01
  • @jamesqf And that's exactly what he's talking about too... – Pryftan Dec 14 '17 at 20:28
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    How it MAY have gone differently. – Edlothiad Dec 14 '17 at 21:58
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    If and then maybe how. Tolkien isn’t saying if it had happened this is what would’ve happened, he’s saying had sam realised the course of action may have been this but it could also have been something else – Edlothiad Dec 14 '17 at 22:02
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Because Sauron crafted the One Ring to exert power over the other rings ("One Ring to rule them all", etc.)

People have a tendency to view the world through their own filters. If someone finds a given thing desirable, they often expect other people to find it desirable as well. That's sort of human nature.

Sauron desires power, and so he expects everyone else to want power as well. Therefore, the idea that someone might find the One Ring and use it to overthrow him seems obvious.

The idea that someone might find the One Ring and choose to destroy it is completely anathema to him. That would be rejecting the power it contains - something Sauron himself would never do - and so he has trouble imagining anyone else might do it either.

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    This would benefit from a quote. – Edlothiad Dec 13 '17 at 22:16
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    @Edlothiad True. Including Letter #131. Steve is right though that humans tend to think other people think etc. the same thing as they do. Of course Sauron was anything but a human but I'm not sure that's all that relevant here. And of course Aragorn in the palantír certainly scared Sauron but until the very end he remained blind to his folly - the fact that two little hobbits were headed towards his impending doom: because he believed nobody would be able to destroy the Ring not even himself. – Pryftan Dec 14 '17 at 2:39
  • @Edlothiad: Is there a better quote than what Gandalf says in LOTR: "That we should wish to cast him down and AND HAVE NO ONE IN HIS PLACE is not a thought that occurs to his mind." (Emphasis mine.) It seems abundantly clear as it was written. – jamesqf Dec 16 '17 at 18:18
  • @jamesqf Well there are many quotes that give the same idea. – Edlothiad Dec 16 '17 at 18:49
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When your whole being has turned into a self-centered lust for power, the idea that someone else might voluntarily give up that power just doesn't make sense. This was said about Sauron in a different context, but is quite applicable:

'Strange powers have our enemies, and strange weaknesses!' said Theoden. 'But it has long been said: oft evil will shall evil mar. '

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    True although if memory serves me rightly that was about Saruman. Ah, right, it's to do with the palantír so it would be Saruman and Sauron but really this was more Saruman's folly. It's interesting how many thought-provoking things are in Tolkien's works though. Or at least I find it that way this quote included. It's certainly true though: the undoing of bad intentions is often the bad intention itself. And the quotes in my answer add to the one you cite as does the accepted answer. – Pryftan Dec 14 '17 at 2:34
  • That's a possible interpretation, but I think it more likely refers to Sauron because the context of that quote is a conversation after Peregrin Took has looked in the Palantir. He escapes with no more than a scare and a compulsion to tell someone to send him to Sauron. Sauron missed discovering everything because he wanted "you, quickly, so he could deal with you in the Dark Tower, slowly." The question is exactly which of the failings of their enemies Theoden is referring or if he's commenting in general. Of all their enemies' errors, Sauron's failure to probe Peregrin does the most harm. – Mark Olson Dec 14 '17 at 13:42
  • Oh I understand your meaning too. It might be said that it could apply to both of them: not just both of them but also the two of them together. After all certainly Saruman's treason was a big mistake for himself too. It would also make his plight all the worse. It might not be Sauron's fault as such here either: he is after all resilient as hobbits tend to be and he also collapsed in the end. Whatever the case though I don't see how that is suggesting that his own will destroyed himself in this case. Remember also he thought he was in Orthanc still but they weren't. Orthanc got a surprise! – Pryftan Dec 14 '17 at 21:52
  • Otoh however his will over all with the Ring was to be his undoing, that is for certain. I just don't know that the palantír instance is relevant as such. That however is my interpretation but I would say you're still correct because his will to dominate all life - and how he went about it - was his undoing. I think that the palantír part isn't relevant as such but then you didn't technically bring it up except in your comment. – Pryftan Dec 14 '17 at 21:56
8

Why do people who overthrow tyrants so often become (arguably even worse) tyrants themselves?

It's not that the Ring would insidiously corrupt anyone who took it, though it would indeed do that. It's just as Gandalf says: Sauron himself was ruled by his own desire for power, and simply could not comprehend that someone, given the opportunity for power, would not desire it in the same way he did. Yet in LOTR we see a number of people doing just that. Not Bilbo or Frodo, really, who couldn't use the Ring's power, but others like Tom Bombadil, Elrond, Gandalf, and Galadriel, who probably could have wielded it, but chose not to take it.

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    Didn’t one of them, however, choose not to take because they knew they could not resist the temptation? (Been a long time since I read it) – WGroleau Dec 14 '17 at 2:40
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    @WGroleau: But that's my point. They did not want the power, so they chose not to take the Ring. You might compare it to an addictive drug. If the drug's effects seem attractive to you, you take it and may or may not be able to resist the addiction. But if the effects seem profoundly unattractive, you don't take it in the first place. – jamesqf Dec 14 '17 at 7:02
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    Though one could say that they turned it down because they did want the power, but knew that was an unhealthy desire. – WGroleau Dec 14 '17 at 14:22
  • @WGroleau: But someone who really wanted power (or anything else, really) wouldn't think that it was an unhealthy desire, if they were at all sane. – jamesqf Dec 14 '17 at 18:56
  • Well, there’s no point in arguing definitions. I could question the sanity of anyone reaching for that kind of power. – WGroleau Dec 14 '17 at 19:19
7

Others have already well explained why the thought didn't even occur to Sauron, to destroy the most powerful and precious thing in the world would've been an utterly alien concept to him.

One important thing to note though is that the story kind of proves him right not to even consider it, because even if he considered the idea, he'd dismiss it because no one can destroy the ring. Even someone strong enough to withstand its seductive powers like Frodo (of whom it is rather explicitly said "If you can't do it, no one else even stands a chance") breaks down completely when confronted with the task of actually destroying it.

There are only two instances of someone giving up the ring out of his own free will, one was Bilbo who had to be coaxed to do it very strongly by Gandalf, and the other was Sam in Mordor when giving it back to Frodo. And at least in my opinion it's highly doubtful if Sam would've had the strength to actually throw the ring into the volcano in the end had he gotten there on his own.

And Sauron knows how seductive the ring is, because he made it so.

If you think about it like that, the question becomes "Why did Sauron think that no one would try to do something that's plainly impossible to do?", I think the matter becomes rather clear, even made clearer by the fact that he's obviously correct, no being in the world would have had the strength of will to cast the ring into the fire.

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    A very good point you make. As Tolkien notes also even Sauron wouldn't have been able to if he for some reason became suicidal (not that it killed him but it diminished him to an impotent shadow to never threaten Middle-earth again). Of course for Frodo it had been growing stronger as he progressed and at Sammath Naur it would be the strongest ever. But I do disagree that they couldn't have: they knew well what it would be for them if Sauron had actually captured them. If that meant sacrificing themselves instead of being utterly destroyed by Sauron? Who wouldn't do that? – Pryftan Dec 20 '17 at 17:28
  • And by 'disagree they couldn't have' I mean while they had a choice. If the Nazgûl had come they would have (Tolkien imagines which is as good as the truth) offered to him to come see his new kingdom. But they would be under no delusion that Frodo is master. If Frodo were to leave a few of them would destroy the entrance while the others show him his new land. Sauron would have come and it would have been utter destruction of Frodo. He reckons (if) Frodo (would) have realised this (and hobbits being resilient suggests this all the more) and had but no choice but to sacrifice himself. – Pryftan Dec 20 '17 at 17:31
  • I'm not saying that they wouldn't have been theoretically willing to sacrifice themselves, at the end, I think both Sam and Frodo make it very clear that they are not planning for a return trip. But when it comes to actually throwing the ring into the volcano, we know without a shadow of a doubt that Frodo couldn't have done it because that's what happened, he failed to do so. With Sam, of course we don't know, maybe his stubborn single-mindedness would actually have proven strong enough, you could argue that point, we simply do not know. – TheDelta Dec 21 '17 at 9:00
  • Yet Tolkien suggested strongly that this is what would have happened. Because he would have seen the alternative. Because he was in tune enough with the Ring and well aware of the terror and torture he would be subjected to. But I specially refer to 'while they had a choice'. In earlier drafts (or suggestions thereof) it's suggested Sam might fall in with Gollum after they wrestle (this is to do with Sam having to do something before the end as he says much earlier on). But there's a difference between throwing the Ring in and sacrificing himself lest he suffers terribly in Barad-dûr. – Pryftan Dec 21 '17 at 16:29
  • In the end however it's as you say: the tale went a different route because Gollum was unable to repent despite being so close. And Tolkien did make this very clear: He would have repented if Sam wasn't so harsh to him; I reread one of the letters on this earlier today but there is also another letter though the number of both don't come to mind immediately). Tolkien saw that as a real tragedy but he also noted that it couldn't have been anyway because how else could Sam understand it at that point? He would in the end but by that point too late for Gollum. – Pryftan Dec 21 '17 at 16:33

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