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I was reminded by its quotation in Why did Caradhras not want the Fellowship to pass? of the following quote from The Lord of the Rings ("The Ring Goes South" from Book 2"):

We cannot go further tonight,' said Boromir. 'Let those call it the wind who will; there are fell voices on the air; and these stones are aimed at us.'

'I do call it the wind,' said Aragorn. 'But that does not make what you say untrue. There are many evil and unfriendly things in the world that have little love for those that go on two legs, and yet are not in league with Sauron, but have purposes of their own. Some have been in this world longer than he.'

'Caradhras was called the Cruel, and had an ill name,' said Gimli, 'long years ago, when rumour of Sauron had not been heard in these lands.'

But if Sauron was one of the Maiar, who were created before Arda, and who entered the world before ever it was shaped and formed, how can those "evil and unfriendly things" have been in the world longer than Sauron?

I am primarily looking for an in-universe answer.

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    I think "these lands" refers to this part of Middle-earth, not the entire world, and it was only "rumour of Sauron" that had not reached these lands. Also Sauron initially worked for Aule, and was known by other name(s).
    – Eugene
    Jul 12 at 1:29
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    @Eugene I was thinking more of Aragotrn's comment "Some have been in this world longer than he" Jul 12 at 1:31
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    Oh, I missed it. Perhaps Aragorn was only talking about the identity with the name Sauron. Or maybe the Ainur didn't all enter the world at once, think of Tulkas. This reminds me of the "nameless things" in the deep - "Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he" - this comes from Gandalf, so must be accurate.
    – Eugene
    Jul 12 at 1:39
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    When the Ainur first entered Ea, "all was but on point to begin, and yet unshapen". It sounds like something was already there.
    – Eugene
    Jul 12 at 1:53

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There is nothing inherently contradictory about, "Some have been in this world longer than he," with "the world" construed as the whole of Arda. The Ainur did not all descend into Arda at the same time. Illuvatar gave the Ainur the opportunity to enter Arda, but presumably not all did so, nor did they all enter immediately. There is very little specific information about the timing of the Ainur's arrivals in the world—except for the information we have about Tulkas from the Valaquenta, but that does confirm that not all the Ainur entered at the very start:

Greatest in strength and deeds of prowess is Tulkas, who is surnamed Astaldo, the Valiant. He came last to Arda, to aid the Valar in the first battles with Melkor. He delights in wrestling and in contests of strength; and he rides no steed, for he can outrun all things that go on feet, and he is tireless. His hair and beard are golden, and his flesh ruddy; his weapons are his hands. He has little heed for either the past or the future, and is of no avail as a counsellor, but is a hardy friend.

It is also possible that Aragorn could have had access to this kind of information. It is certainly likely that Aragorn had read an in-universe version of the Valaquenta, and it is even conceivable that he had learned about the specific time of Mairon's arrival in Arda (before he was corrupted by Morgoth).

However, I think it is more likely that Aragorn simply may have heard about those very old things from Gandalf (or others among the Wise). Gandalf certainly shared that kind of information with Aragorn later on, in "The White Rider":

Far, far below the deepest delving of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he. Now I have walked there, but I will bring no report to darken the light of day.

Assuming that Aragorn had learned of the various ancient powers from Gandalf or the Elves, Aragorn had presumably trusted his sources' evaluation of their ages. (On the question of what it meant for their ages to be greater than Sauron's, the answers to this question are obvious relevant.)

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  • +1 Excellent answer! I think Ungoliant is another example of things that are not Ainu or Maia, but which came from heckin' long ago… perhaps longer ago than Arda?
    – Lexible
    Jul 12 at 15:54

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