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I have watched only the movies but the question is about Sauron in the books.

Sauron is said to be an aggressor who wants to conquer Middle-earth and bring all the people living in it under his domain. But to what ends? What was the motive behind his desire to conquer the World? What did he plan to do with all that land and people if he were to prevail?

In the movies it seems like he and his followers wanted to wipe out the Elves, Hobbits and Humans and replace those with Orcs i.e. How Aragorn says to King Théoden that Saruman's armies are attacking to destroy the People of Rohan down to the last Child, how the Commander of Orc Armies at Osgiliath declares that the age of Men was over and how he ordered his orcs to kill everyone upon entering Minas Tirith. But why would Sauron be so generous to Orcs to conquer the whole world and then just give it to them?

Reading the Wiki Overview of Sauron in the books, it provides a better picture. It claims Sauron merely wanted to reform and reorganise Middle-earth, in the beginning at least. To do that he needed to bring everyone under his rule for the "Greater Good".

But what are these reforms he wanted to bring if he had won? What did he plan to do after his victory?

Note: I prefer answers from the books even though I haven't read them.

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    Well, Morgoth was driven by an intense hatred of the Children of Ilúvatar and wished to spoil things big time for them, also to get back at the Valar. I would guess Sauron picked up a few of his attitudes. A big theme in Tolkien's work is how the desire for power over others, to manipulate things to one's own will, has a corrupting effect. – David Roberts Jul 20 '18 at 7:56
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    To add to this: In the Second Age, Sauron repeatedly used his fame among Men as Morgoth's erstwhile lieutenant to portray himself as Morgoth's representative and thus gain the allegiance of his former master's worshippers. ... By the Third Age, Sauron came more often to propound himself, rather than Morgoth, as the object of worship for his servants and subjects, but in his pride, also portrayed himself as Morgoth returned when it was more convenient for him to do so (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morgoth#The_Cult_of_Melkor, see there for sources, incl. Morgoth's Ring and the Letters) – David Roberts Jul 20 '18 at 8:11
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    Being in charge isn't a plan? – Valorum Jul 21 '18 at 8:34
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    Make Middle Earth great again ! – atayenel Jul 23 '18 at 14:17
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    @atayenel - I want a MMEGA! hat... – Valorum Jul 23 '18 at 15:14
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To be Lord of Middle-earth

Through the control and domination of the peoples of Middle-earth.

And he would've gotten away with it if it wasn't for those meddling Hobbits!

Sauron's plan followed that of his master, Melkor. He planned on controlling Middle-earth and rebuilding it in the image Melkor had imagined during the Music.

The Enemy in successive forms is always ‘naturally’ concerned with sheer Domination, and so the Lord of magic and machines; but the problem: that this frightful evil can and does arise from an apparently good root, the desire to benefit the world and others – speedily and according to the benefactor’s own plans – is a recurrent motive.
Letter to Milton Waldman in 1951

Sauron's ultimate plan, after the failure to ensnare the Elves (as outlined below) is most clearly presented in Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age:

Now Sauron’s lust and pride increased, until he knew no bounds, and he determined to make himself master of all things in Middle-earth, and to destroy the Elves, and to compass, if he might, the downfall of Númenor. He brooked no freedom nor any rivalry, and he named himself Lord of the Earth.
The Silmarillion - Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age

Both Sauron and Melkor were convinced their plans were that of good, that they were in fact benefiting the peoples of Middle-earth.

From Myths Transformed in Morgoth's Ring1, it is told that Melkor wanted all or nothing, and given that he could not find the Flame Imperishable to create life, he decided to destroy it all. Sauron however did not have the same destructive mindset, wanting just to dominate

Sauron had never reached this stage of nihilistic madness. He did not object to the existence of the world, so long as he could do what he liked with it. He still had the relics of positive purposes, that descended from the good of the nature in which he began: it had been his virtue (and therefore also the cause of his fall, and of his relapse) that he loved order and co-ordination, and disliked all confusion and wasteful friction. (It was the apparent will and power of Melkor to effect his designs quickly and masterfully that had first attracted Sauron to him.) ... But like all minds of this cast, Sauron's love (originally) or (later) mere understanding of other individual intelligences was correspondingly weaker; and though the only good in, or rational motive for, all this ordering and planning and organization was the good of all inhabitants of Arda (even admitting Sauron's right to be their supreme lord), his 'plans', the idea coming from his own isolated mind, became the sole object of his will, and an end, the End, in itself.
History of Middle-earth - Volume X, Myths Transformed

In Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age, we are given a few more details of Sauron's motives:

And in the south and in the further east Men multiplied; and most of them turned to evil, for Sauron was at work ... Men he found the easiest to sway of all the peoples of the Earth; but long he sought to persuade the Elves to his service, for he knew that the Firstborn had the greater power; and he went far and wide among them, and his hue was still that of one both fair and wise.
The Silmarillion - Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age

Now the Elves made many rings; but secretly Sauron made One Ring to rule all the others, and their power was bound up with it, to be subject wholly to it and to last only so long as it too should last. [...] And while he wore the One Ring he could perceive all the things that were done by means of the lesser rings, and he could see and govern the very thoughts of those that wore them.
But the Elves were not so lightly to be caught. As soon as Sauron set the One Ring upon his finger they were aware of him; and they knew him, and perceived that he would be master of them, and of all that they wrought.
ibid.

We see from his initial plans in the Second Age was to gain the trust and control of the People's of Middle-earth and to live as their ruler/king. However, when he found out he couldn't dominate the elves, he took to destruction and war. As with his master, if he couldn't have everything he'd destroy what he couldn't have (Note: The difference is that Sauron would only destroy what he couldn't have whereas Melkor would destroy everything).

But he, finding that he was betrayed and that the Elves were not deceived, was filled with wrath; and he came against them with open war...
ibid.

His resistance to ultimate destruction is shown by his attempt to then sway the Men and Dwarves, while the Men proved simple to corrupt the Dwarves were more stubborn. Although they were corrupted Sauron never gained control of their will.

But Sauron gathered into his hands all the remaining Rings of Power; and he dealt them out to the other peoples of Middle-earth, hoping thus to bring under his sway all those that desired secret power beyond the measure of their kind.

The Dwarves indeed proved tough and hard to tame; they ill endure the domination of others, and the thoughts of their hearts are hard to fathom, nor can they be turned to shadows.

Men proved easier to ensnare. Those who used the Nine Rings became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old.


1 Melkor and Morgoth are the same person, Morgoth is just his epithet.

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    but what are control and domination good for? they are a means to an end, not an end itself, at least to a rational mind. – ths Jul 20 '18 at 9:51
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    @ths: It says it right in the answer: Sauron wanted to make the world 'orderly' and at least nominally planned on doing so in a way that benefited all its inhabitants, though as time went on the means did become the ends. – Shamshiel Jul 20 '18 at 10:09
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    @ths "he loved order and co-ordination, and disliked all confusion and wasteful friction". The only way for Sauron to obtain that order is through domination. A desire for order is no more or less rational than a desire for money, power or social status. – Nicola Talbot Jul 20 '18 at 10:51
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    Control and domination are usually means to an end, but they could be ends in themselves. Perhaps Sauron just wanted to be able to look himself in the mirror and say "You're the one in charge." – PlutoThePlanet Jul 20 '18 at 13:36
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    I'm reminded of the quote from Nineteen Eighty-Four: "Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power." – Max Barraclough Jul 20 '18 at 16:51
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To usher in the age of industrial and mechanized production.

Mairon was originally a Maia of Aule. Like his master, his interest lay in production and craft; but his sensibilities were less those of the individual smith or craftsmen:

he loved order and co-ordination, and disliked all confusion and wasteful friction.

to paraphrase - he loved the well-greased, well-tuned many-part machines...

When he got into the ring fashioning business, he did not engage in it as an individual project, but rather set about to organize many smiths; and the result was a production line of rings, albeit a short-lived one. Now, true, the Elves made their rings more special and unique - but they are the least susceptible to Mairon's influence, or in other words, the most traditionalist and the least compatible with activities of masses.

In Mordor, and by influence in Orthanc - there was mining, dust, soot; there was a huge black tower, reminisicent of a factory chimney. And the population - they were not the noble-born, nor the yeoman farmers or the landed gentry, but the ugly race of Orcs, and to some extent migrants from the East and South, easier to control and manipulate.

Indeed, Mordor is the "nightmarish" version of late-19th-century industrial society: The innards of the dirty factory, with dirty huddled creatures skulking around, taking orders from their intendants, the fires of the forge and the towering chimney. That is the world Mairon was creating and that is what can be conceived as the movement he represents at the end of the Third Age of the Sun. This also explains why it's reasonable to describe his intentions as having "merely wanted to reform and reorganize Middle-earth".

Notes:

  • This analysis does not at all square with his activities in the 1st age, the werewolves and vampires etc.
  • This claim/vision/perception should really be developed more thoroughly, and perhaps literary criticis have done so; I'm just relating my own half-baked thoughts on this.
  • I would contrast this aspect of LotR with the view of industrialization in Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke, in which the Capitalist baron of industry, lady Hiboshi, is afforded a more humanizing, less monstrous characterization, while the mythic, pre-industrial have both nobler aspects and darker, atavistic ones. In both stories, the mythic and fantastic "side" has some sort of a pyrrhic victory and inevitably recedes.
  • I've always liked this (general) reading of both the books and the movies, of pre-industry vs industrialization coming to a head, but I've also felt like it might just be me reading my own values into the book and seeing what I want. I always wanted to see a good analysis of these themes supported by some of Tolkien's other writings. – Scribblemacher Jul 23 '18 at 12:44
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    @Scribblemacher: Do you remember when the Dale men dethrone their ruler, Girion, calling "We have had enough of ... the money-counters!... Up the Bowman, and down with Moneybags" - a dead giveaway if you ask me. Anyway, it doesn't matter all that much what Tolkien said elsewhere; the books are what they are. If many people read this in them, then it's there, even if Tolkien meant something else. Plus, I'm not sure he would admit to being an anti-Modernist pro-Aristocrat racist. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Jul 23 '18 at 13:23
  • Regarding first age activities: He was then a servant of Melkor, so he had to do what he wanted. Perhaps Sauron thought that he could manage the mines and firges of Angbad better, but had no choice but to hunt ouzlaes for his Master – b.Lorenz Jul 30 at 22:47
8

To the good answers given already, I would like to add that in the Third Age, Sauron was motivated by hatred and revenge. In the Second Age Sauron almost dominated Middle-earth for whatever reasons. That age was known as the Dark Years. Then he was driven back by the Elves who rebelled against him, and the Numenoreans. The final victory of the Numenoreans was his defeat in the hands of Isildur.

In the Third Age Sauron returns and tries to conquer Middle-earth again. This time he is fueled also by his grudge against the realms of his hated Numenoreans, and his actions are directed against them, almost succeeding in destroying them.

6

Understanding Morgoth helps in understanding Sauron. Sauron started out as a mere servant of Morgoth, who was the greater "enemy" and the metaphysical originator of evil.

In the Silmarillion, the universe is created literally from song. (This helps explain the huge role poetry and song plays in Tolkien's works as a whole, as well as other things that can sometimes seem strange or obscure, such as the nature of Tom Bombadil's powers.) The music that creates the universe started out as a harmony, with each part subordinate to the whole. Morgoth was a part of that harmony, but then decided that he wanted to express himself as an individual, and departed from harmony to sing for himself. This created discordance, which turns out to be the root of evil.

Morgoth goes on to oppose the Valar, and to oppose their creation with his own (inferior) individual creation. Orcs as degenerate copies of elves; trolls as degenerate copies of ents; etc. Sauron continues this work after Morgoth is defeated. Although there was a time when Sauron had a fair appearance, he seeks to rule Middle-Earth so that he can destroy what is fair (because it is harmonious) and replace it with discordant ugliness, for the sake of defying and opposing the Valar.

3

I believe there was some talk of subdividing the Shire into housing tracts, with zillions of identical cottages built 16-to-the-acre on straight streets which all met at right angles, but it never got much beyond the "blue-sky" talking-about-it stage. Golf courses along the Anduin, ski resorts in the Misty Mountains, cutting down Mirkwood for the necessary lumber and etc, etc, etc. Umbar, along the southern coast of the Bay of Belfalas, was going to be turned into a resort area for vacations and etc - I believe that there was a big pirate-themed amusement park complex planned for the City of the Corsairs. Mordor, of course, would have been renamed as The Land Of Happiness, the orcs would have gone into the candy delivery business, and Sauron would have made a nice tidy profit developing this, subdividing that, and in general just having a good time as a real estate tycoon with bad hair and a penchant for tyrants.

All gone, now, alas, and the world plunged back into another age of darkness where a bad case of the sniffles could wipe out entire countries, women regularly died in childbirth because midwives didn't know enough to wash their hands, and starvation and misery were considered "God's Will". Kinda makes you wish you were written out of that will, eh..?

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    The orcs would have gone to work for the cable company. – EvilSnack Sep 3 '18 at 14:47
  • <ahem> Harvard Lampoon's Bored of the Rings is not part of the Tolkien canon. – Invisible Trihedron Aug 29 at 15:47
  • When I was in high school I was, sad to say, serious about three things: 1. Grades 2. Music 3. Lord Of The Rings. There seemed no way out. It was not until I found myself laughing uproariously at "Bored" that I realized that recovery was a real possibility... – Bob Jarvis Aug 29 at 18:46

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